Halloween Chocolate Bark

If pumpkin picking is one way to do Halloween without the scares, then getting creative in the kitchen is the other. And baking is always more fun when you have a theme to follow.

This Halloween chocolate bark is unbelievably simple. It requires absolutely minimal skill, effort, ingredients, equipment and time. I really mean it. You could make this bark now and it will be ready for tonight’s scary movie session.

You just need a lot of chocolate and as many toppings as you wish. I went a bit crazy in the Halloween aisle of Waitrose and ended up with skeleton faces, tiny bats, chocolate stars (big and small), mini ghouls, crunchy bronze glitter and fudge chunks amongst other things. But the choices are endless, and you don’t need as many decorations as I have. I also used milk, dark and white chocolate (because why not?) but again, do whatever you prefer. I would recommend at least two chocolates though, as the bark will look prettier and the combinations taste great.

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Simply melt the chocolate in separate bowls. Line a baking tray with parchment and pour your base chocolate onto it. Spread out using a spoon into a neat rectangle. If you are using a second chocolate, drizzle over the top. Don’t spread the second layer as the chocolates will mix together into one big mess.

Then decorate! Go crazy and put as much as you want on top, the spookier the  better. You can also drizzle leftover melted chocolate on top, which is what I did with one of my slabs.

Then put in the fridge/freezer (depending on how imminent the scary movie session is) until the slabs have completely hardened. Remove and break into shards.

And that’s it! I’ll be spending tonight watching The Nightmare Before Christmas (for the first time!) with plenty of chocolate bark while listening out for the trick or treaters… Happy Halloween everyone!

Three Tier Biscoff Cake

I have heard a lot of people talking about Biscoff lately. I assumed it was an American thing and not for us Brits. Loaded with sugar and not even remotely natural, I was sure Waitrose and co would turn their noses up. How wrong I was. It is everywhere.

Biscoff is a brand of biscuits (for those not in the know) but they aren’t just biscuits. They have the biscuity answer to Nutella. Biscoff spread is delicious – you can spread smooth, biscuity goodness over anything!

If I had to choose my best baking creation, this would be it. My sister and I always stick to cupcakes and cookies, but we decided it was time to be ambitious and attempt a layer cake. It turned out to be quite the monster. But this enormous, biscuit tasting cake is actually pretty easy to make. You can use Biscoff spread with anything (cupcakes, cookies, cheesecake, crumbles…) but I reckon this is a pretty good place to start. We got the recipe here and it worked really well.

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YOU WILL NEED

For the cake

  • 400g butter
  • 400g light brown sugar
  • 400g eggs (roughly 7 large eggs)
  • 400g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp whole milk

For the Biscoff buttercream

  • 250g butter
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 300g Biscoff spread
  • 40-60ml whole milk

For the decoration

  • Crushed Lotus biscuits
  • Whole Lotus biscuits
TO MAKE

Heat the oven to 180C and line three sandwich tins.

Beat together the butter and the sugar. Add the flour, eggs and baking powder and beat until combined. Use the milk to loosen if it gets too thick. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes.

For the decoration, beat the butter to loosen it. Add the icing sugar at a slow speed until fully combined. Add the Biscoff spread, then the milk until you have the desired consistency.

When the cakes are cool, pipe on the icing and add crushed biscuits on top. Put the next cake on top and repeat. Add the top layer and decorate as you wish!

How to Spend… October

Is it just me, or does everyone seem obsessed by autumn? My social media feeds have been playing fancy dress in anything red, orange or yellow and I’ve seen more pumpkin pictures than I could have ever fathomed, accompanied by an endless stream of excitement for the change in season.

Now, I am not autumn’s answer to Scrooge. I bought a teeny, tiny pumpkin entirely for decorative purposes this weekend (yes, I know it was a completely bonkers purchase and no, I do not care). But all that excitement in September felt like the world was furiously over-egging the pudding. It was definitely still summer in September. My legs were without tights and my face was with sunglasses. We hit over 30C. Records were broken.

But now it’s October (and I appreciate that I am no authority on this), autumn is actually here. I’ve bought a coat. I can see my breath in the mornings. I’ve remembered why I love jumpers, and my electric blanket, and chai lattes. So from kicking your way through piles of leaves to scaring yourself silly on the 31st to starting the silent panic of how on earth you are going to fund Christmas… Happy October everyone!

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*Invest in an enormous scarf: October is a really awkward time of year. First thing in the morning you are a frostbitten, sorry soul. By lunchtime you are a hot, flustered mess furiously ditching the layers. The solution is a blanket scarf – possibly the world’s greatest invention. You look cool and you are essentially wearing a blanket. So you can plod along to the station all swaddled up like a baby in the morning and, when the sun puts in an appearance, you can hide it away in your bag. And it will cooperate with this in a way that no coat ever will. Zara do the best, biggest, softest scarfs, but the H&M ones are also amazing and not quite such a hit to the bank balance.

*Stay in and cook: It’s getting cold outside and we have to be sensible and start thinking about the monstrosity that is Christmas spending. I gave up cooking for a year (it became a “boy job”) but I am back on that bandwagon and really loving it. In the summer it is far too hot to be slaving away over the oven. But now it’s getting cold, that’s the only place I want to be (as it’s not acceptable to spend all evening, every evening, in bed). Find some fun new recipes and spend your time cooking rather than your money eating. Then eat in front of the TV. Bliss.

*Make your home a cosy, autumnal den: Other than new recipes, the thing I am obsessing over is interiors. In summer, who wants to be surrounded by blankets and candles and fairy lights? But now it’s autumn, who doesn’t?! We’ve just moved into a new place and the bare whiteness of it was depressing me. So, seeing as I can’t nail anything into the walls, move anything around or spend much money, I’ve been finding other ways to make it cosy and homely. The aforementioned tiny pumpkin is one of my exciting autumnal touches. And  I’ve bought a crazy number of candles (you can never have too many), fairy lights and new bedding – which was from ASDA and it is so soft and was so cheap! I’ve also got some fake plants because I cannot be trusted to look after anything living. The ones from Oliver Bonas are cheap, realistic and (being fake) don’t require any maternal attention.

*Go pumpkin picking: Pumpkin picking seems to have suddenly become a thing here in the UK. And it makes sense. We harp on about picking strawberries in the summer, so why not pumpkins in autumn? Lots of the Pick Your Own farms are now offering pumpkins and squashes and there couldn’t be a more autumnal activity. Admittedly, picking and shifting pumpkins is slightly more back-breaking than strawberries, but cart them home and cook up an American pumpkin pie. Or just carve a ridiculous face out of it.

Summer Baking: Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Is it an ice cream? Is it a cupcake? It’s a celebration that The Great British Bake Off is back. That’s what it is.

Paul Hollywood’s steely stare is back and Mary Berry’s delightful way of saying ‘layers’ (watch out for it). Mel and Sue’s innuendos, union jack bunting, blue plasters and an entire batch of new contestants who will inevitably get teary over tarts. I can’t wait.

Most important of all though, you can’t watch an episode of the Bake Off without some kind of baked treat to hand. When I discovered that Martha from a few series back had teamed up with Waitrose, I was immediately lured in by the recipe cards showing off her incredible baked creations. And believe it or not, they aren’t that impossible to recreate at home. Hallelujah! 

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These ice cream cone cupcakes are simply an ice cream cone filled with fluffy vanilla sponge and a dollop of whipped meringue on top, complete with chocolate flake. One word against them – they aren’t that easy to actually eat. Prepare to have meringue on your nose.

YOU WILL NEED:

For the cones

  • 12 flat bottomed ice cream cones
  • 12 squares of dark chocolate
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 5 tbsp milk

For the icing and topping

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 80g golden syrup
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 Cadbury flakes, halved
  • Coloured sprinkles

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4.

Place each cone into a muffin tray. Place a square of chocolate in the bottom of each and put in preheated oven for 5 mins.

Beat the butter and the sugar. Add eggs one a time and the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Add to mixture gradually until it is a thick batter. Pour in the milk. Distribute between cones, make sure you don’t overfill them. Bake for 20-25 mins.

For the icing, place sugar, syrup and 2 tbsp water in a pan. Cook on a medium-high heat until it reaches 118C on a sugar thermometer). Beat eggs whites until soft peaks form then, with the mixer on a slow speed, pour in the hot sugar. Increase to high speed and whip until mixture is thick and glossy. Add the vanilla extract.

Using a piping bag, pipe and swirl and decorate with half a flake and sprinkles.

London Cupcakes: Crumbs & Doilies

To say Soho is a busy place would an obvious (and rather stupid) statement. But today I have a quiet little corner right at its very centre for you, and they serve London’s best cupcakes.

Crumbs & Doilies is quite easy to miss, hidden down a little cobbled street from Kingly Court, but you absolutely musn’t miss it. The shop is only small but the selection of cupcakes, cakes and brownies is enormous, with inventive flavours and excellent coffee.

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Crumbs & Doilies is the mastermind of Cupcake Jemma who shares all of her baking genius on YouTube and she’s just released The Cake Book with over 50 recipes. Crumbs & Doilies also have a Saturday stand on the Kings Road and deliver their cakes all over London. Using just the finest ingredients and no weird additives, preservatives or short-cuts, there are over 40 flavours of cupcake to choose from and the selection is changing all the time.

If you can make it to the shop in Kingly Court, it feels like a calm, cupcake oasis in the middle of the Soho hubub. For the huge selection that they have on offer it seems a little small in the shop but the flavours are always incredibly inventive and varied, and if you really can’t decide they have selection boxes that you can fill to enjoy at home. And if cupcakes aren’t your favourite sweet treat, there are plenty of others to choose from. From tiffin to rocky road to shortbreads and brownies, there really is something for everyone. Wash all that down with some excellent coffee and you’ll never want to leave.

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Super Simple Gingersnaps

When it comes to tea dunking, you can’t get much better than a gingersnap.

My sister and I have been making gingersnaps since we were very small. It’s been years since we last attempted them as we are more likely to whip up a batch of cookies now, but this weekend the mood for ginger struck and we pulled out our kiddie cookbook. Sure, the instructions are incredibly basic (it specifics that you need an oven) but the gingersnaps are delicious, and it’s a recipe that kids can join in with.

These are really quick, really easy and absolutely perfect with your Sunday afternoon cup of tea.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 100g butter
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 160C (fan).

Melt together the butter, sugar and golden syrup. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ginger into the mixture and combine until it forms a smooth, soft dough.

Take a teaspoon of the mixture and roll into a small ball to form the biscuits, you should make around 25.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until the tops have cracked and are just starting to brown (our oven was too high so the tops didn’t crack..!) Enjoy!

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A May Reading List

This month’s reading list is quite a mixed bag. What with all the commuting I’m doing, I’m getting through roughly a book a week (it’s becoming a very expensive pastime!) With the amount of time I now have for reading, I’ve been making myself pick up books that I would never usually consider. It’s such a great way to discover new favourites and the variety means you can never get bored. Here are my latest discoveries.

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*For a read that feels like a chat: Wildflower, Drew Barrymore. I never, ever read memoirs. But Drew Barrymore’s Wildflower did the rounds on Instagram (with that gorgeous cover) and my attention was caught. This is not a tell-all autobiography, but that’s why I loved it so much. Each chapter tells a different anecdote, fronted by a relevant snap. Some are funny, such as her skydiving experience with Cameron Diaz, some are touching, such as the chapters dedicated to her two daughters and some are quite tragic, such as the stories from her childhood. I’m not a particular Drew Barrymore fan, but you don’t need to be to enjoy her memoir. Curling up with this book feels like catching up with an old friend.

*For a real surprise: We Were Liars, E. Lockhart. This is a Young Adult read, another genre I rarely dip into. I didn’t expect much from this (unfortunately, I’m always a little snobby about YA)  and was proven completely and entirely wrong. I loved it. We Were Liars centers around the beautiful, blonde and very rich Sinclair family. They put up a perfect front but as the narrator, eldest Sinclair grandchild Cady, tries to piece together an accident that she cannot remember and her family refuses to discuss, the cracks start to form. The general confusion builds into an explosive twist which will have you immediately flip back to the beginning to work out how the author had you so fooled.

*For a much needed sweet fix: Life is Sweet, The Hummingbird Bakery. If you’re ever in London, don’t miss The Hummingbird Bakery. Famed for their red velvet cupcakes and rainbow layer slices, this American-style bakery always hits the spot. My sister and I always turn to their original cookbook when we want to whip up something sweet, but Life is Sweet is the newest addition to our collection. With red velvet brownies and pancakes (!), a tunnel of fudge cake and pink champagne cupcakes, it’ll be keeping us very busy over the May bank holiday weekends.

Healthy Chocolate and Almond Spiced Cookies

Since working in an office, I have become much more interested in what I’m eating.

I’ve never eaten particularly badly, but I would always eat what I wanted without giving anything a second thought. It turns out that attitude doesn’t cut it in an office. When you’re sat at a desk all day, burning those calories is so much tougher. And therefore, I have entered the wonderful world of healthy snacking (and it really is a whole world of deliciousness).

While I usually make a beeline for WH Smith’s ‘nutritional snacks’ stand, these cookies are one of my first homemade efforts. They aren’t the sugar explosion you expect when you bite into a cookie, but that is part of their charm. You can eat them all day and not feel sick! The banana really sweetens them, and the spices make your entire house smell incredible while they’re in the oven. I followed this recipe – they are so easy to make and turned out really well.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 heaped tbsp coconut oil
  • 9 small squares dark chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger, nutmeg, salt and baking powder

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 170C. Mash the banana together with the chocolate.

Heat the coconut oil on a low heat. Add the syrup, spices and salt and stir until combined.

Mix the ground almonds, baking powder and almond butter together with the banana and chocolate. Add the melted ingredients and stir until combined.

On a tray, take a tablespoon amount of mixture and press down to form a cookie. Bake for 10-15 mins and enjoy!

Creme Egg Rocky Road

Today I’ve got a special bonus post for Easter Monday (you lucky things!). There’s more than enough chocolate around at the moment, but this sugary creation is for all those discounted Creme Eggs. Beware though, you need a serious sweet tooth to fully enjoy this!

We followed this recipe (but skipped the faffing with the food colouring) and they turned out really well. They are super simple and quick to make, and only require a couple of hours in the fridge to firm up.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 150g butter
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 200g milk chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tbsps golden syrup
  • 180g mini Creme Eggs
  • 180g mini marshmallows
  • 150g Digestive biscuits, crushed
  • 150g white chocolate, chopped
  • 6 Creme Eggs

TO MAKE:

Melt the butter. Add the milk chocolate, dark chocolate and golden syrup and continue to mix and melt until it’s a thick consistency. Set aside to cool slightly.

Add the mini Creme Eggs, marshmallows and Digestive biscuits. Stir until everything is well coated.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment and press in the mixture firmly. Cut the Creme Eggs in half and place on top.

Melt the white chocolate and drizzle over the top. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours until firm, cut into chunks and enjoy!

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Sunday Tea and Cake

Sometimes on a Sunday, only tea and cake will do.

After a Saturday raceday for Tiarnan (and countryside trek in pursuit for me) the aches had set in. We couldn’t bear to stay stuck indoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon but also couldn’t quite face any serious movement. So we threw on our comfiest trainers and took a drive, in search of cake. We ended up at one of our favourite local cafes, Juliet’s.

They serve whopper slices of cake and have an enormous selection. With tea in cute, mismatched china and a little table tucked in the corner, it’s a pretty perfect way to spend the first Sunday of spring.

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Happy Sunday, everyone! Here’s to sunnier days fast approaching…