Thursday, 28 November 2013

Festive Baking Ideas

This year I’ve decided that instead of dragging myself through shop after shop to find gifts for all the family I’m going to bake my way to their hearts. I came up with a master plan a few weeks ago to bake three different types of cookies and present them beautifully and individually. 

I found several different recipes online to give me ideas on what flavours to choose. I decided on traditionally festive gingerbread men, lemon flavoured snowflakes topped with lemon icing, and large orange and cranberry cookies. 

It may seem early to have baked these Christmas cookies (don’t worry they’re not the ones I’m giving out at Christmas) but I wanted to give the recipes a trial-run to see how they turn out rather than discovering on Christmas Day that they are absolutely repulsive! 

As it turns out they were all absolutely divine (hopefully the family will agree with that too!) 

Cranberry and Orange Biscuits with an Orange Zest Icing
I can’t decide which one is my favourite out of all three types, but these orange and cranberry biscuits are a definite strong contender. They’re not too sweet and with the real orange zest they are fantastically fragrant. 

Ingredients (makes 35-40)
– 300g plain flour
– 225g unsalted butter
– 200g caster sugar
– 100g light soft brown sugar (or dark soft brown sugar)
– 1 egg
– 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 225g dried cranberries
– 1 tsp orange zest 
– 2 tbsp fresh orange juice

Orange Icing
– 200g icing sugar
– 3 tbsp fresh orange juice
– 1 tsp orange zest

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. In a mixing bowl cream the butter, caster sugar and brown sugar together, then add the egg with one teaspoon of orange zest and the juice. Now add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Once the mixture is smooth stir in the cranberries. Spoon the mixture out onto baking trays using a tablespoon to create a consistently round shape. Make sure they’re not too close otherwise they’ll merge and you’ll end up with one big cookie in the tray! Bake for 12 minutes and allow to cool. Now you can start with the icing.

To the icing sugar add half a teaspoon of orange zest with three tablespoons of orange juice. Mix until smooth and then drizzle over the cool cookies in any old manner. You don’t want the mixture too stiff but you don’t want it too runny either!

Without giving them the chop of a festive cookie cutter I dressed them up with a single icing holly sprig to liven them up a bit. I found these icing decorations for just 10p each from a shop in Brighton. Brightonians get down to Purple Heart on North Street – Bakers heaven!

Ginger and Cinnamon Gingerbread Men
Who doesn’t love gingerbread men at Christmas?! The smell of the spiced ginger and cinnamon instantly reminds me of Christmas and baking them makes the whole house feel like a winter wonderland. I simply decorated mine using red and white icing pens adding bow ties to the lucky few dapper men.

Ingredients (makes 20-25)
– 350g plain flour
– 125g unsalted butter
– 175g light soft brown sugar (or dark soft brown sugar)
– 1 egg
– 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
– 2 tsp ground ginger
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 3 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and the butter. This can be quite tricky to get the butter to mix so don’t be afraid to get your hands in there to knead it all together! Add the sugar with the cinnamon and ginger. The mixture should look quite crumbly so now add the egg and golden syrup. Tip the mixture out onto the kitchen surface and knead all of the mixture together.

Move the mixture into the fridge to cool for a about 15 minutes, then you can start rolling and cutting! The trick is to have plenty of flour on the table and rolling pin to make it easier to roll, especially with this sticky dough. Roll the dough out to a half cm thickness and use the cookie cutter to bring the men to life. Lay all of the guys out in their trays and make sure they’re not too close to each other otherwise you’ll end up with siamese twins! Bake for 10 minutes and check to see how they’re doing. I left mine in for 12, but they ended up a bit too crispy so 10 minutes should be perfect. Allow them to completely cool before decorating. 

Lemon Snowflake Biscuits with Lemon Icing

I love these zesty little biscuits. It’s amazing how quick and easy they are to make. I especially love how pretty they look! I went all out on decorating these with edible glitter and heaps of icing. The base icing is lemon flavoured with a touch of yellow colouring, and then white icing detail to create a snowflake.

Ingredients (makes 20-25)
– 175g plain flour 
– 110g unsalted butter 
– 50g caster sugar 
– zest of 1 lemon

Lemon Icing 

– around 400g icing sugar
– 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Mix the flour with the butter adding the lemon zest too. Like the gingerbread dough it may be a case of rubbing the mixture together with your hands to make sure the butter mixes. Add the sugar and once it is smooth put the dough onto the kitchen surface. Make sure there’s plenty of flour on the surface because I found these really difficult to scrape off once they’d been cut into shape. Roll the dough out to about a half cm thickness and cut them into snowflake shapes. Place on a baking tray and bake for 8 minutes.

Allow to cool and get to work on the icing. Combine the icing sugar with the lemon juice and a touch of yellow colouring. I only used a small amount of colouring but I think next time I’ll use more. Smooth all over the top of the cookies and leave them aside to set. Once set, you can get creative with your icing pen and draw a snowflake onto each one. I had a wide nozzle icing pen and definitely need to get a thinner one for next time to make it easier to decorate with fine detail. I then sprinkled edible glitter (fairy dust) over the top.

I can’t wait to give everyone their gifts this year, especially when I’ve put them all into their individual jars and boxes with pretty ribbons. I think people will appreciate the effort that’s been put into these rather than being given some socks or pyjamas that they never wear! Nearer the time to Christmas I will write a post on how to present your biscuits in all sorts of jars and boxes…I’m talking ribbons, fabrics, stickers and more! 

Happy Baking.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Snoopers Paradise

Brighton is famous for all of its quirky individual stores dotted around the lanes, so today I decided to explore the flea markets. Even with no intention to buy anything, walking around flea markets can be a day out in itself (although you most probably won’t leave empty handed!)

Snoopers Paradise is a flea market cram packed with anything from fur coats to crystal glasses and jars. Every corner you turn is a mystery and it became my goal to try to look at every single thing in there – it’s impossible! I must’ve spent about an hour aimlessly walking around and busying myself into the many treasures and trinkets. 

Every now and again you stumble upon a chest full of photographs and polaroids. I became transfixed on these, knowing every one holds a story or secret but not knowing what that story is. For 20p each I couldn’t help but take a few home with me. I have no idea what I’ll do with them! Maybe I’ll put them in Christmas cards and let people decide for themselves what the story behind the photo is. 

These ones were my favourite because at first glance they are just a plain black film but as soon as you hold them up to the light they come to life and the picture emerges. So old fashioned – I love it! 

After leaving Snoopers Paradise with a glass jar and a handful of random photographs, I headed towards the next flea market in the area. Hidden away in a residential road, this one is a lot smaller and doesn’t have as many exciting corners to explore but it’s still fun to stroll around. 

I was fascinated by this old decorating paint pot. Why would anyone keep this? And more importantly why would anyone want to buy this? I was so intrigued that I nearly did buy it for myself so I guess that answers my own question – Curiosity! 

Exploring flea markets is something you can do when you’re bored and can’t think of anything else to do. There are plenty around in all different kinds of towns and cities, it’s just a case of finding them as they can often be tucked away in unexpected places. Go and explore!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cast A Christmas Spell

Last week I attended a Christmas party at the Harry Potter studios organised by Gleam Digital. Despite not being one of the ‘die hard fans’ of the books and films I was overly excited and was curious to see if I could be turned. 

I Am Wearing
Dress – Needle & Thread

It was a pleasure meeting you Fang!

And you too Hedwig.

Being a chocoholic I wanted to dive straight into this Chocolate Feast; whether it was real or not.

I was amazed to be told that all the drawers located in Dumbledore’s office are all realistically filled including sealed letters containing handwritten letters even though they were never actually shown in the movies. I feel very, VERY sorry for the person who must’ve spent hours writing all of these!

Halfway through the tour we were led outside where we drank butter beer on Privet Drive, right outside Harry Potters house.

What are you laughing at? Do I have something on my face?

Just taking a quick trip to Gringotts bank and then a stroll along Diagon Alley…

And here’s the whole group!

Thank you Crookshanks for our Christmas presents! 

Where better to pose with the lovely Tanya than in front of a white Christmas tree to get us into the Christmas spirit. 

Before tucking into the dinner we all chose a cocktail at the bar. I went for a dry ice martini, which overflowed with smoke (OK dry ice, I know) with golden flakes sprinkled on the top. 

It was lovely to meet the beautiful Rose (better known as The Londoner). 

I have to admit that since the party on Thursday night I have already started watching the Harry Potter films again. I think I may have turned into a major fan. 
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