Christmas at home and away

I’m ahead of the game this year with Christmas planning but there are still lots of things to do, especially as I want things to actually be ‘planned’. What I mean by that is that I so often underestimate the time it takes to think about what people might really like to eat or receive as a gift. I want to make my own foodie gifts and hampers for those very close at hand and send lovely hampers for those not so near. I know that the right choices will be enjoyed so much more than a gift-packed ‘smellies’ box bought because I don’t know what else to get and have run out of time.

With all that in mind I was really excited to have found a fantastic Hamper Emporium which delivers free throughout Australia. My son and his girlfriend moved out there two years ago and like so many others with family in Australia I struggle to find them something for Christmas. I tried sending presents but the cost of sending even the smallest, lightest items is ridiculously expensive. I often resort to transferring money which is great as they can get what they like but it feels meaningless sometimes. The Hamper Emporium has a fantastic range of Hamper choices for all occasions and I was genuinely happy to find that I can send them something that they would enjoy. The great thing is that the delivery is completely free so you know that the price on the Hamper is exactly what you will pay.

I decided to try out a birthday surprise Hamper for my son who is celebrating his 30th birthday shortly. It’s times like that I hate him being so far away. I know he has his girlfriend with him and lots of great new friends but it’s not the same as being able to give him a hug and a special gift on the day. I chose him a Beers of Australia Hamper because when I went to visit he’d taken me on a tour at Margaret River where we visited vineyards and tasted wines and beers. We also took a trip to Little Creatures in Freemantle to sample one of his favourites. I loved being in Australia with him and his girlfriend and the memories are strong so to send something so meaningful felt amazing. When he received the Hamper he said, “It’s great! It was amazing to come home to such a fun parcel. All my favourite things yippee!!!!”


I was able to add a personal message and the quality of the Hamper and contents was excellent. The Hamper Emporium  has a variety of Christmas Hampers all with free shipping Australia wide. So if you are like me and have family or friends in Australia, I would recommend you take a look. Even if they can’t be with you to share your Christmas cake you can share the experience of enjoying something delicious with love and best wishes.

Holly Jolly_

Chocolate Surprise Halloween Cake

This cake is a devilish mix of rich dark chocolate, lime and chilli – just perfect for Halloween! I baked it in two small semi-spherical cake tins and stuck them together with chocolate buttercream. I then covered the whole cake with chocolate buttercream and roll-out fondant – coloured to look like a dark sky. I then modelled the witch and her broomstick, her cat, and bats from coloured sugar-paste. She looks quite gruesome!

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The cake recipe is adapted from a plain chocolate cake in ‘Cake Decorating Motifs’ by Sheila Lampkin.

The idea for the witch was adapted from Debbie Brown’s Enchanting Magical Cakes.


100g Butter, softened

165g Caster Sugar

2 Eggs, beaten

40g Self-Raising Flour

115g Plain Flour

40g Cocoa Powder

½ Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda

1 teaspoon Lime Juice and Zest 1 Lime

A good pinch of Chilli Powder

140ml Milk

100g Dark Chocolate Chips

I mixed all the ingredients together well, but beating only for about a minute. The mixture was divided between the two prepared tins and baked for about 35 minutes at 170c. (Note: the tins need to be stood onto another tin to support them as they will tip over in the oven.)

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This a rich chocolate cake with a surprise kick, from the lime and chilli – probably a little adult for Halloween but why shouldn’t we have some fun too!!

Entering into the spirit of all things ghoulish, I am entering this cake into this month’s ‘We Should Cocoa’ Challenge. This month’s spooky spectacular bakes are being hosted by Hannah  at Honey and Dough and you can check out Choclette’s lovely chocolatey Chocolate Log Blog for more details about ‘We Should Cocoa’.

We Should Cocoa

…And just in case the children feel left out I’ve made some chocolate orange cupcakes with pumpkin head toppers! The basic chocolate sponge was the same as above but without the chilli and lime. I added a square of galaxy chocolate to each cupcake  instead and then made a buttercream icing with orange juice and zest.

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Great British Bake Off – Entremets

This year’s series of The Great British Bake Off has now sadly finished but I have a few bakes still to try. I was unable to keep up with the challenges that the intrepid bakers in the ‘Bake Off’ tent managed but have been inspired to continue to try lots of new bakes. The semi final included making Entremets – something I’d never heard of but which looked stunning. I had a quick look online and they seem to be mini cakes made up of layers of thin sponge, sometimes biscuit or something crunchy and mousses, flavoured creams, jellies and ganaches. They are then topped with something special such as fruit, macarons, meringue, spun sugar or chocolate.

My Entremets consisted of a sponge base with a crunchy coconut topping, mango jelly, white chocolate ganache, passion fruit curd cream and they were topped with mini passion fruit meringues filled with white chocolate ganache. My attempt at Entremets had some lovely flavours although some parts started to melt very quickly whilst I was trying to photograph them! They didn’t look that great, I have to be honest, but they are something I would attempt again and try to perfect as they tasted delicious. Also, all the leftover components got thrown together to make a scrumptious trifle – not Patisserie perhaps but very yummy!

Mango, Passion Fruit, Coconut and White Chocolate Entremets

Sponge Base

120g Self Raising Flour

120g Caster Sugar

120g Butter, softened

2 Medium Eggs, beaten

I beat these ingredients together well for just a minute to combine and poured into a prepared Swiss roll tin to make a thin layer. I then sprinkled 2 tablespoons of dessicated coconut over the top to add a crunch. This needed 15 minutes to bake at 160c fan. I then left the sponge to cool in the tin.

Mango Jelly

200ml water

1 medium Mango

2 sachets (12g) Vege Gel (Gelatin)

Cube the mango and mash down with a potato masher. Add the water and vege gel then blend everything well with a blender. Place in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring until the jelly starts to thicken. Pour into lined circular food rings on a lined baking sheet and allow to cool. (I used 4 rings) Put into the fridge to chill.

White Chocolate Ganache

Heat 150g White Chocolate ( I used Green and Black’s Organic White Vanilla) with 50g Double Cream in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Stir until melted, combined and thickening. Allow to cool then pour a layer over each of the rings containing Mango Jelly. Put back in the fridge to chill.

Passion Fruit Curd

Take the inside fruit from 2 Passion Fruits and heat in a pan for a while then strain and keep the liquid. Add this along with 50g Butter, 2 Eggs (beaten), and 200g Cater Sugar to a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Stir well continuously until the liquid thickens then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Save 2 teaspoons for the meringues and drizzle a thin layer over the Entremet rings containing the Mango Jelly and White Chocolate Ganache. Then beat the rest together with 200g of very thick double cream. This will be used to pipe swirls on the top of the Entremets.


Whisk 3 Egg whites until thick and add a pinch of Cream of Tartar. Gradually stir in 150g Caster Sugar and then swirl in 2 teaspoons of Passion Fruit Curd. Pipe mini swirls onto a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 120c Fan for about 20 minutes until firm then turn off the heat and leave in the oven to cool.

To finish the Entremet:- Cut circles from the sponge the same size as the food rings. Gently push the Jelly, Ganache and Curd toppings in the food rings onto the sponge circles. Top with piped cream swirls and sandwich two mini meringues together with a little white chocolate ganache to finish.

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Fruity Christmas Crumble

Sometimes the simplest things give the greatest pleasure and a simple fruit crumble always pleases me. I often experiment with different fruits and different topping mixes and I’d like to share my Fruity Christmas Crumble…


2 Medium Bramley Apples

1 Tablespoon Golden Syrup

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

1 Tablespoon Fruity Mincemeat ( Or any Mincemeat)

For the topping:

100g Plain Flour

50g Oatmeal

50g Butter, very cold

50g Demerara Sugar

1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger


Peel and roughly chop the apples and add them to a pan with the lemon juice and syrup. Heat until slightly soft but not pulpy. Add the mincemeat and then tip into a pie dish.

Rub the butter, lightly into the flour and oatmeal until resembling chunky breadcrumbs. Then stir in the sugar and ground ginger. Crumble the topping over the fruity mixture and bake in a medium oven until the topping is golden brown. Enjoy served with custard or cream for Afternoon Tea, dessert, supper or even at breakfast served with a spoonful of natural yoghurt – sounds good to me!

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Rosehip Jelly

Recently I’ve been following The Great British Bake Off series on TV and have been trying to attempt some of the baking challenges myself. I love the programme and have been caught up in all the baking excitement along with so many others. Sadly the series ended last week but the bakers were brilliant and Nancy became the Bake Off champion. Her calm and collected approach along with her experience and baking talent just gave her the edge in a tightly fought Final.

Back in my kitchen, reality has meant that I can’t keep up with all the baking challenges as I would like to. For one thing we just can’t eat all the cakes produced quickly enough. (I know that’s shocking – who can’t eat cake?)So last week, despite dreaming of Entremets and Baklava bakes, I’ve had a slight detour.

I’ve often wanted to pick Rosehips and make a syrup or jelly. They are like ripe red jewels covering rose bushes once resplendent in blooming roses. You can find them in hedge rows and often unwanted in friends and neighbours gardens as I did, as well as in your own garden. Rosehips are overlooked but are very rich in vitamin C and the syrup was often used as a tonic in years gone by. It was surprisingly easy to make a delicious jelly and so that I didn’t feel too bad about slipping behind with my Great British Bake Off challenges I attempted a Fig and Toasted Hazelnut Wholemeal Loaf. The recipe was taken from ‘The Great British Bake Off – Big Book of Baking’. I’m past caring what Paul Hollywood would think of my bread-making attempts – this recipe should be tried at home as it was scrumptious with a selection of cheeses. The Rosehip jelly went rather well with it toasted. :)

To make Rosehip jelly I ‘topped and tailed’ the rosehips (just cutting off the stalk and tip) and soaked them in cold water, then washed them well. I put them in a large pan along with two whole lemons roughly chopped (include pips).

I then added 1 litre of water, brought the pan to the boil then simmered gently for about two hours until all the fruit was soft. I then removed the pan from the heat and mashed down all the fruit to a pulp using a potato masher, then left the mixture in the pan, covered overnight. It’s difficult to give exact quantities when making something like this as you don’t know how many Rosehips you are likely to collect. I only had a small amount so 1 litre of water was plenty to cook the fruit in adequately but more can be added after the fruit is mashed down if necessary.

The next day the fruit needs to be sieved so that you end up with just liquid and no pulp. You can squeeze it through a muslin cloth or push it through a sieve – try to get out all the juice. You will need to measure the resulting liquid.

I added the equivalent grams in granulated sugar as there were mls of liquid and put this all in the large pan. It needs to be heated gently at first, stirring to dissolve all the sugar and then boiled. The mixture needs to be boiled until setting to a jelly. Mine took about 20 minutes, rapidly boiling without stirring. To test when it might be ready I put a saucer in the freezer to cool, then drop a little of the mixture onto it – you can see if its setting by pushing it with your finger, When it is setting, take the pan off the heat and pour the jelly into sterilised jars. It should set well as although Rosehips contain very little pectin the lemons (especially the pips) will have added enough.

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Great British Bake Off Advanced Dough

Episode 8 of The Great British Bake Off saw the bakers challenged with ‘Advanced Dough’. Paul Hollywood boasted of having made 30,000-40,000 doughnuts and officially became King of all doughnut makers; Nancy used a microwave to prove her dough; and the Technical Challenge was once again a bake which most people had never heard of never mind baked – Povitica.

I an still on Beginners Dough stage never mind Advanced but after my successful attempt at Paul’s Ciabatta’s I was up for the challenge. I chose to make a Swedish Tea Ring like Richard but I followed a recipe from The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book Of Baking. I altered the filling by using 2 tablespoons of fruity mincemeat, 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade mixed with the juice of 1 orange. I then brushed the top liberally with an orange and lemon syrup as soon as it came out of the oven. I left it to cool and the drizzled lemon icing over the top, made with a teaspoon of lemon juice and icing sugar.

I’m not sure how Paul Hollywood would have judged my attempt but it tasted scrummy – a bit like a fruity Lardy Cake :)

Richard’s Fruity Swedish Tea Ring recipe is here. 

Unfortunately, Martha, the youngest baker, left the Bake Off Tent. It’s only when you actually attempt to bake along with some of the challenges that you realise how incredibly talented the bakers are and I’m sure Martha and her family are extremely proud.  

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Baking with a Luxury Food Hamper

…..or ‘How to turn a Luxury Food Hamper into a Christmas Party!’

I’m sorry to start talking about Christmas already but this year I’m planning to be ahead of the game. I’ve tried to do Christmas, over the years, in a variety of ways – the nonchalant last minute ‘do it all in one go’ thing, the starting at the beginning of December thing as before that you shouldn’t even mention Christmas, but the truth is I just never have enough time to do everything I’d like to. So, yes it may be extreme to start thinking about it at the end of September but I’m going to be so well organised I will, for once, have a relaxed and stress free Christmas that I can actually enjoy :)

One of the things I always have difficulty with is finding a thoughtful gift for friends and family who I won’t see over the Christmas holiday. With that in mind I was really happy to have found some lovely Christmas Hampers to order online. They are presented beautifully and are very reasonably priced and I have cheekily tried one myself just to ensure the scrumptiousness!

My White Christmas Hamper was described as ‘A beautiful fresh & fruity Prosecco is the centrepiece of this glorious basket of treats, which also includes flavoursome white chocolate pralines from Belgium, indulgent English afternoon tea and exotic French Apricots in Syrup & Monbazillac Wine. Packed with sweet and savoury items to suit every palate, White Christmas is a high quality present for friends, family or colleagues.’

It sounded delicious and as soon as it arrived I started to plan how I might use it to create a Christmas Treats Tea Party.

Inspired by the recent Great British Bake Off TV series, the French Apricots were perfect to use in a Savarin. This was baked in a Savarin tin, soaked in the syrup and finished with the fruits using a recipe adapted from this Soaked Savarin Recipe.

I used the gorgeous High Dumpsie Dearie – Pear, Plum and Apple Jam in a batch of Madaleines. These look good together with the luxury mince pies and slices of flapjack, displayed on a vintage cake stand along with some of the sweets also in the hamper. The little box of tea bags is just enough to serve lots of hot steamy tea; or for those who prefer a little alcohol, a ‘naughty’ tea can be made by adding a little Prosecco to half a teacup of cold tea!

I could have quite happily munched my way through the entire contents of the hamper alone but my Tea Party was well received and enjoyed so I had to agree it was a great way to share the deliciousness! It’s a perfect way to plan a party as you have so many ingredients to hand. I have also chosen several Hamper Gifts I will be ordering for Christmas so it’s all going to plan. I may just have another sip of my Prosecco tea :)

For Christmas Recipes see my Christmas Baking Page

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Great British Bake Off – Pastries

Week 7 on Great British Bake Off saw our intrepid bakers challenged with lots of different pastries. The competition is so fierce now that the slightest mistake made a difference and the lovely Kate had to leave the tent. These bakers are incredibly talented and my bake along challenge is no where near as challenging as what they are experiencing. The time constraints and judging would terrify me before I’d even had time to panic about the actual baking.

So my feeble attempts are just my own little challenge to myself to improve my baking. This week I attempted mini eclairs, filling them with rose flavoured crème pattissiere and topping with pink icing and strawberries.

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I also baked mini pasties which I enthusiastically overfilled. I used a pastry recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg book and filled them with caramelised onions, sweet potato and brie. I caramelised the onions first in a pan, then added finely chopped sweet potatoes to brown them off. I then turned off the heat and added chunks of brie which melted into the mix a little. The mixture was left to cool and then added to the middle of pastry circles (saucer sized). These were then cooked until golden brown. They were actually quite tasty even though they did overflow a bit  and were nice eaten hot or cold. :)

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

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Lemon Griestorte

Last week was European Cake Week on Great British Bake off. We saw Yeast Leavened Cake, Kugelhopfs, Savarins and Tortes and the final challenge was Mary Berry’s Prinsesstarta .

I was slightly unsure where to start baking – not too sure what was a Kugelhopf and what was a Savarin; and slightly unnerved by the amount of sweetness in the Tortes and Tarta’s. After a few weeks of trying to bake along with the Great British Bake Off I’m starting to struggle a bit with eating it all! I decided to try to find a lighter European Cake and found a lovely Lemon Griestorte in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.

My Lemon Griestorte was baked following Mary’s recipe. ‘Self-Raising Flower’  has baked her way through Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and has a lovely blog post describing how to make Lemon Griestorte.

I filled my cake with a lemon, cream, mascarpone filling and added blueberries. I also piped some of the mascarpone mix onto the top of the cake to make it look pretty. The cake did need some ‘prettying’ as it was rather plain when baked and hadn’t risen very much as it has no flour. The end result however, was very scrummy. It’s a light cake with a slight graininess from the semolina and ground almonds it’s baked with. It would be very bland without a filling and the lemon, cream and mascarpone filling with blueberries was perfect. It was scrumptious without being over sweet – and would be suitable for afternoon tea as well as for a special occasion. Mary states that the cake keeps well but it would have to be stored in the fridge with this filling.

To make the filling I used 250g Mascarpone whisked together with 300g Double Cream and 4 teaspoons Lemon Extract ( I used Nielsen-Massey)until thick. For the blueberries, I made a syrup with the juice of 1 Lemon and 50g Caster Sugar – heated gently in a pan while stirring to dissolve the sugar then bring to the boil for a few minutes. When the syrup started to thicken I added a punnet of Blueberries, stirred them in so that they had a little heat and were covered in syrup, then I turned the heat off and allowed them to cool. The thick, syrupy blueberry mixture should be cooled fully before spooning onto a layer of the mascarpone mix in the middle of the cake.

A beautiful Prinsesstarta was baked by Kat at The Baking Explorer, who is also challenging herself to bake along with Great British Bake Off – it looks stunning!

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Great British Bake Off – Tarts

Week 5 on The Great British Bake Off saw the intrepid bakers challenged with pies and tarts. I decided to make a Raspberry and Lemon Custard Tart. I used Pate Sucree – a French recipe for a sweet pastry but added lemon zest to the mix. I blind baked it to provide a cooked tart base. I made crème patissiere (a French set custard) with added lemon extract and allowed this to cool before it was added to the pastry base. I then made a raspberry curd to drizzle over the top, finally adding some fresh raspberries and a dusting of icing sugar.

Created with Nokia Smart CamCreated with Nokia Smart Cam

Raspberry Curd Recipe

200g Raspberries

Juice 1 Lemon

225g Caster Sugar

50g Butter, melted

2 Eggs

Cook the raspberries and till soft and mushy then strain to get all the juice but leaving all the seeds behind. Then add all the other ingredients and place in a bowl or pan over another pan of boiling water. Keep the water boiling while stirring all your ingredients continuously until starting to thicken. Allow the curd to cool before using.

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