Friday, 20 December 2013

Once upon a time

A very poor woodcutter lived in a tiny cottage in the forest with his two children, Hansel and Gretel.

Know the story? 

Everyone loves a gingerbread house don't they?! I've been planning to make a gingerbread house this Christmas for a few months and have a board on Pinterest with a few ideas. I know that Mary Berry made one on the GBBO special last week but I've not got round to watching it yet.

I believe her recipe, amongst others, uses dark muscovado sugar but I've just run out. So I used a different recipe. Eeeeek. Stress. Would the gingerbread go hard enough? Dark enough? Rise too much?

Mine did rise but not too much and it didn't affect the building of the house (phew). I'd already made some royal icing at the weekend for my Christmas cake and I make mine with powdered egg white.
1 x 8g sachet of powdered egg white, 250g icing sugar, 45ml water is my recipe for royal icing.

On to the gingerbread. I did use Mary Berry's template in a fashion (, I reduced the size by about 1cm top and sides and omitted the star (because I forgot). I then also forgot to cut windows but did remember the door at least. 

Ingredients: enough to make one house plus two extra gingerbread men

350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon 
125g butter (vitalite)
175g light soft brown sugar
1 egg
4 tbsp golden syrup

Add the flour, bicarbonate and spices to a food processor and blitz to mix. Add the butter and whizz until it's like breadcrumbs then add the sugar. Mix the egg and syrup together and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip out and knead briefly until it forms a dough then chill for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180/160 fan and line baking sheets with baking paper. Take out the dough and roll until it's about 5mm thick. Be careful when transferring to the sheets that they keep their shape. Bake until turning golden brown then leave to cool completely.

To assemble, I first stuck one front and one side together with icing also on the base to stick to the board (I used a square cake board). Use the icing like mortar. The icing shouldn't be overly runny either. 

Add the back then another side so you have the complete base. I should have taken photos at this stage but didn't. I then left it a couple of minutes to harden a bit. When I was confident to continue I added the roof panels. Here gravity really comes into play and I used cups of the correct height to hold the roof in place. Then added the second roof panel. There's a chimney too but mine was at the wrong angle to use - abandoned to the children's awaiting mouths. 

At this point I realised I had no actual plan of how to decorate and realised I'd forgot to cut windows in. So I piped windows on with extra icing on the tops and sills to look like snow. I filled in all the edges of the house and roof, piped around the door frame then decided in a millisecond to pipe on roof tiles. At this point I thought it best to raid the cupboards to see if I had any sweets. I found a small packet of chocolate buttons and some fruit pastilles so stuck those on. I then went round to add more "snow" then stood back to admire my work. So it's plain, not very inventive at all after all my Pinterest planning, but it was done and it was standing. Success!

The boys had the gingerbread men for tea and they're rather scrummy

Next year I'll try and be more inventive!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Oh the weather outside is

Mild actually!

But Christmas is almost upon us and so it's time I bake a Christmas cake.

I don't go in for the baking of the cake in October and feeding it until it's gluttonously rich with alcohol and popping currants. Instead I bake it whenever I feel like eating Christmas cake ever since coming across this recipe from the (I'm ignoring the allegations) fabulous Nigella. Whatever may be being said about this woman, you can't take away that the fact that she can cook and a lot of my baking repertoire is Nigella simply because her recipes work! #nigellafanclub

On to the recipe. It's for a chocolate fruit cake. Ignore the word chocolate really as it literally contains 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, which in a recipe which contains 725g of dried fruit, is negligible. But it's there. So there!

Of course I have a slight twist on it as usual, so here's my version.

350g prunes (chopped with scissors)
175g mixed dried fruit (tesco do a bag)
200g morello cherries (stoned and chopped)
175g butter (or margarine)
175g dark muscovado sugar 
175ml honey
1tbsp coffee powder*
125ml water*
Juice and zest of 2 oranges 
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp cocoa powder 
3 eggs (beaten)
150g plain flour
75g almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

*The original recipe calls for 125ml Tia Maria. I had none, nor any brandy or rum so just added water and coffee granules.

Add the fruits, butter, sugar, orange juice and zest, spice and cocoa powder to a large pan and bring to the boil. Stir and simmer for ten minutes then leave to cool for half an hour. 

Prepare the tin and set the oven to 150c.
For the tin, I can't remember what I used in the past, but the recipe says to line a 20cm/8" tin that's 9cm deep. After lining my tin I realised mine wasn't 9cm deep so I added the remaining batter to two medium sized silicone cupcake cases (

Line the sides and bottom of a round loose bottomed tin with greaseproof paper making sure the paper comes above the top of the tin.

Add the eggs and other dry ingredients to the pan and mix until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours until the top of the cake is firm and looks shiny and sticky. Leave to cool in the tin on a rack.

I left mine overnight before covering. As it's not a traditional Christmas cake recipe, you don't have to cover it in icing. You can eat it as it is or like Nigella does, add some edible gold stars and glitter.

But I LOVE icing and marzipan so I cover mine. I couldn't settle on a decoration this year so as I love gingerbread men I decided to do an iced flooded gingerbread man. I initially made little ones to go round the side of my cake, bit when I botched up the cake tin sizing, I used two of them to go on the smaller cakes. I also decided not to cover the whole cake and just give them a marzipan and icing top

Merry Christmas everyone xx


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Der Hatton Weihnachtsmarkt

It's with much sadness that we're not going to Germany this year to the Christmas markets. So today I decided it should be 'der Hatton Weihnachtsmarkt' (the Hatton Christmas market)

For tea we had bratwurst (sausages) with bread cakes, mustard and sauerkraut. Yesterday I'd made a start on my Lebkuchen so we've just had a few now with a mug of steaming glühwein.

I came across this recipe for Lebkuchen on my Facebook feed. I'm a huge Lebkuchen fan. They just taste of Christmas. So it was only fair I finally made my own. 

Making these in Germany, you'd buy a packet of Lebkuchengewürz but you can't lay your hands on it easy over here. But this recipe just uses easy ingredients (all of mine except one I didn't have, were in fact store cupboard).

It is perhaps one of the oddest recipes I've ever made but the results are brilliant and I will use this recipe again and again and again.

The recipe gives a nice spiced chewy not soft, not hard biscuit that's not too heavy on the spice. Just right!

Makes around 24 depending what cutter you use. I used a star cutter I have that's about an inch and a half wide.


85ml honey

115g dark brown sugar

30g butter/stork/Vitalite

225g plain flour, sifted

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

*1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 egg, beaten

50g ground almonds

* I had no nutmeg so I left that bit out bit added 1/2 tsp allspice (which contains nutmeg). I also only had 27g almonds but it made no difference.

In a large pan place the honey, sugar and butter. Heat over a gentle heat until the butter and sugar have melted then remove from the heat.

Beat the egg then add half with half of the flour, spices and bicarb. Add the rest of the egg and dry ingredients followed by the ground almonds.

At this stage it's very very very sticky. 

Spoon it into a bag and pop in the fridge overnight. You'll be wondering how this floppy runny mess will make biscuits but trust me it will. You can leave the dough for three days.

It hardens up in the fridge to one big sticky mass. No laughing at this photo ;)

Take out of the fridge and roll out to about 7-10cm thickness. It's an absolute bu***r to roll out. You need to place it between two sheets of greaseproof and roll out, but it's very hard, very stiff and difficult to do but please persevere.

Then cut out with the cutter of your choice. Again they're not the easiest thing to cut out as they stick easy so the shape can get distorted (why in my eyes a star cutter is best as you can do a little tweaking to the shape). I used bake o glide so can't comment on the use of paper or just the tin but whatever you use (unless it's bake o glide) then grease well!

Bake in a preheated oven at 170c fan for 8-9 minutes until golden. Leave to cool for five minutes then transfer to a wire rack.

Make a loose icing mixture of icing sugar and water (quite runny) then use a brush to dab over the cooled Lebkuchen.

Apparently they will keep for three weeks in an airtight container

Yeah right!