How to Spend: December

December: my absolute favourite time of year. The Christmas tunes are playing as I type (a bit distracting, but excellent for the general Christmas cheer). I’m full of festive spirit, present plans and mince pies. I’ve been spending every spare minute online shopping (mainly for myself…), I’ve put up the tree and I’m sporting my hopelessly tasteful Christmas jumper at every opportunity. Merry Christmas everyone!!

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*Go ice skating: One of my very favourite Christmas traditions. There’s nothing more festive than seeing the ice rinks start to pop up with skaters spiraling around and onlookers cheering them on (while searching out the person most likely to take a tumble…) Tiarnan and I always visit Somerset House, but there are so many in London – the ice rink at the Natural History Museum is looking particularly stunning this year. Somerset House has the Fortnum’s Lodge though where you can sit by the fire and have champagne, fondue or the Chocolossus – the most ridiculous (but amazing) hot chocolate I’ve ever seen.

*Book in to a festive class: Is it just me, or has wreath making suddenly become a thing? Instagram is bursting with festive creations, but sometimes the DIY approach just doesn’t work out. Round up your friends or bully your boyfriend into coming with you – there’s gingerbread house making, Christmas baking, wreath decorating… The choices are endless! I’m going to Christmas cupcake decorating with my Mum and sister and can’t wait.

*Stay in for movie night: Christmas parties are all good and fun, but this time of year is as much about staying in as going out. There are so many festive films to work through this month that multiple movie nights are absolutely essential. All you need is a roaring fire (or at least an exceptionally large and warm blanket) and an industrial size vat of popcorn and you’re all set.

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Memories from Paris

Do you ever find that life can get so busy and crazy things completely pass you by? That’s exactly what happened to me last month with our little weekend away in Paris.

Tiarnan and I went two weeks before Christmas and it was wonderful while we were there, but the second we got back we were drawn into celebrating Tiarnan’s birthday, finishing the Christmas shopping and then all of the Christmas and New Year festivities. Now, looking back on it, I feel as though I instantly forgot about our trip. I didn’t even look through the pictures.

On a rainy evening wishing I was planning a trip, I finally got round to flicking through our Paris snaps, and I instantly wanted to share them all with you. I did give you a glimpse into our visit with Teatime in Paris, but today is going to have a more relaxed vibe and just document our wanderings. Paris is such a beautiful, wonderful place, it seemed such a shame not to!

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This was not our first time in the city of lights. We visited as part of our interrailing trip in summer 2013, and then again in April 2014 for Tiarnan to run the Paris marathon. Both trips were done at lightning speed and completely crazy. This time we wanted to wander, not plan too much and just see what we stumbled across.

We also tried Air BnB for the first time which was a resounding success. If you haven’t done it yet, definitely consider it for your next trip. We found the cutest little apartment on Île Saint-Louis, just above Berthillon ice cream parlour. It really was tiny, but being tucked into a little mouse hole is all part of the Parisian experience!

Having our own apartment was amazing because we could cook for ourselves and come and go as we pleased, with no strict check in and out times. It was also in such an incredible location, everything was on our doorstep. Every morning we took full advantage of this and popped into our local boulangerie to pick up pastries and coffee to enjoy by the river for breakfast, before setting off on the day’s adventures!

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One of our first stops was the Louvre, as it was our favourite spot when we visited a couple of summers ago. The glass pyramid is surrounded by water fountains, so after a particuarly busy day we had sat outside and dipped our weary feet into the water. Of course, we were absolutely not repeating that this time but to just admire the grandeur and take silly tourist photos was definitely worth the visit. We didn’t venture inside as we had plenty more to see, but it’s something that will remain on our Parisian ‘to do’ list.

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You already know about our visit to Angelina’s from my last post, but it is one of the best things to do in Paris in winter! They are famous for their hot chocolates for a very obvious reason, they are so thick and creamy. Angelina’s also have a gorgeous little shop so you can buy the mix and recreate your own version at home.

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We spent the rest of that afternoon wandering through the Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées. We found the enormous Christmas market and most of the afternoon was spent perusing the stands, choosing the best crepe for lunch and singing along to the Christmas tunes while watching the world go by. I picked out some gingerbread to take home and agonised over choosing a beautiful bauble for the Christmas tree (which smashed on the way home! Sad, sad times). There are a few markets but if you are in Paris at Christmas time, I would definitely recommend the one on the Champs-Élysées. There’s a huge variety of stands, plenty of places to sit, eat and be merry and even an ice rink.

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We walked back along the river to our apartment, and stopped off at the love locks bridge which is always a sight to behold. We put one on a couple of years ago but failed to find it, concluding it has probably been cut off. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have had any negative consequences…! We decided to not risk any future severing of our love and passed on putting another one on, instead browsing through all the others and wondering if the couples were still as in love.

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The next day, we wandered further up the river to see all of the sights we’d missed. It’s a fairly long walk, but by far the best way to get around and soak up the city. It was very quiet on Sunday morning and we were mainly joined by early morning runners. On our way to the Eiffel Tower we stopped off in a little cafe by the river for breakfast, and guiltily ate pain au chocolats while counting the runners.

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You don’t need me to tell you that the Eiffel Tower is a must, but do make sure you visit! I would highly recommend whizzing up to the top, whether you opt for the lifts or are a little more hardy and take on the stairs. Get there early to beat the queues and the panaromic view is definitely worth the climb! This time we passed on going up, as we had in the summer and when we arrived the top was shrouded in a pretty atmospheric mist.

We finished the trip by walking through the fancier shopping districts admiring the stores (and the high end shoppers), even though we could feel our bank accounts screaming whenever we got too close… We spent the rest of the morning in Ladurée taste testing the iconic macaroons before reluctantly getting back on the Eurostar to London.

I really hoped you enjoyed this little recap of Paris – it turned into rather an epic! If you have any suggestions for Paris then I would love to hear them. There is still plenty on my list, including an Alice in Wonderland tearoom, the department stores, actually going into one of the museums and cocktails at Hotel Costes! Now just to plan the next trip…

A Few Favourites: December

Oh December, how I love thee. This month has been filled with mad shopping dashes, endless present wrapping, cosy film nights and countryside walks. And it has gone by all too quickly!

This year, we spent Christmas at home. For the last two years we have dashed off to Switzerland for a family Christmas, so to enjoy the festivities in Kent was a real, relaxing treat. It is strange to think that this time last year I was on the slopes (can it really be a whole year?!) and we’re having many a wistful conversation about going back. We will. At some point.

But until then, there’s plenty to do. Before December finishes we have Stars Wars to watch, plenty of leftovers to eat (it’s turkey sandwiches for the foreseeable) and 2016 to ring in.

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*Bluebird Tea Co.: December is the time for hot drinks, and this month I discovered the Bluebird Tea Co. They do the most amazing tea blends which are all so fun and inventive, but it was their Christmas collection that really pulled me in. I found Mulled Wine and Snowball in my stocking on Christmas morning (thanks Santa!), and my personal favourite is the Gingerbread Chai. They ship worldwide, so be sure to check them out!

*Christmas films: One conversation with my sister led to the discovery that she had seen pitifully few Christmas films, so I was soon on Amazon ordering the best ones. We’ve had many a cosy film night, but the highlights have to be The Holiday and Love Actually – it wouldn’t be Christmas without them! Aside from the festive offerings, we’ve also had a bit of a Richard Curtis/Hugh Grant extravaganza with Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the Bridget Jones films. It’s been amazing.

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*Lush The Magic of Christmas: I’ve had many a Lush Christmas bath this month, but their reusable bubble bar, The Magic of Christmas, has been my favourite from the lot. Not only does it look adorable on a cinnamon stick, covered in glitter and complete with a bell, but it smells amazing. It also worked so well with some of their other bath bombs to create Lushie bath cocktails!

*Festive beauty bits: This month I seem to have fallen back in love with make up. I’ve been particuarly enjoying the Maybelline Lash Sensational mascara, which is as sensational as everyone says it is. I haven’t been parted from bareMinerals The Soundtrack eye palette, which is perfect for shimmery, festive looks and I finally got round to using OPI Red Fingers and Mistletoe, which is an amazing deep, shimmery red. I’m probably going to have to drag the festive make up into January, as I’ll just miss it too much otherwise!

*Big city life: I think there is no better time to see a city than at Christmas, and I’ve been lucky enough to be in London and Paris this month. In London we rode Boris Bikes around Hyde Park, ate festive food in many a restaurant, did yoga in the sky and went out for celebratory cocktails. In Paris we dashed around all the landmarks, perused the Christmas markets, drank coffee by the river and admired the Christmas lights. It’s been a great month!

Homemade Christmas Gingerbread

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Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! This post is, of course, as festive as they come (even though it’s a bit of an embarrassing contrast to my last post about detoxing and wellness). Today I’m going to share with you a homemade Christmas gingerbread recipe, with all the butter, all the sugar and all the treacle.

This is a recipe that my sister and I found after trawling the internet and it’s a pretty good one. Warning, the dough is very oily because of the melted butter, but wait for it to cool before you start cutting your shapes and try not to use too much flour and you’ll be fine. It also makes the entire house smell amazing. Perfect to whip up just before the celebrations begin tomorrow!

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Makes: Roughly 20 gingerbread shapes. Baking time: 10-15 minutes.

YOU WILL NEED

  • 75g light brown soft sugar
  • 2tbsp golden syrup
  • 1tbsp black treacle
  • 1tbsp water
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 95g block butter
  • 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 225g plain flour

TO MAKE

Put the sugar, golden syrup, treacle, water, cinnamon, ginger and butter in a pan and melt over a low heat.

Mix the bicarbonate of soda in as it’s melting.

Sift the flour and add to the mixture, mixing in well.

Leave the mixture to cool and roll it out to 3mm thick. Cut your shapes!

Bake for 10-15 minutes (keep an eye on it).

Leave the gingerbread to cool and ice. We used a simple water icing but do whatever you feel like!

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Sky High Yoga

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After one too many Christmas parties drinking champagne, and evenings on the sofa eating mince pies, a detox was in order. Christmas is great but the festive spirit can be dampened when you start to resemble Mr Blobby. Today’s post is all about London’s coolest yoga class (and a delicious breakfast!)

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The Sky Garden should be on your radar for a place to visit in London anyway. It costs nothing to whip up to the top of the “Walkie-Talkie” building and gaze out at London’s sky line, whilst also admiring the gardens inside. All you have to do is book a time slot. Or, visit in the evening for cocktails and dinner as the sun sets over London.

The Sky Garden also holds yoga classes at (brace yourselves) 6.30am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. It’s an early wake-up call, but it’s an amazing way to begin your day, surrounded by greenery while watching London wake up. Classes last an hour and are very beginner-friendly. I had never done yoga before but absolutely loved it, and felt like I’d worked hard by the end. It’s a big, mixed group and there’s always someone good at the front to copy!

And, to reward you for your efforts, you get 20% at Darwin Brasserie for a post-yoga breakfast. They have quick, healthy options like granola and yoghurt to grab and go, as well as cooked breakfasts. We feasted on smoothies, coffee and avocado toast in our relaxed, yoga bubble while watching the sun rise.

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Classes are starting up again in mid-January, and I will definitely be going along as part of the inevitable, new year fitness kick.

On a side note, I have finally sorted out a Bloglovin’ account. It’s the best way to easily follow all of your favourite blogs, so please head on over and check mine out (and maybe even follow it…) by clicking here!

Festive Make-Up Essentials

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With just five days until Christmas (eee!) I’ve started to pull out all of my favourite festive make-up items that are a bit OTT at any other time of year. Christmas calls for glitter, does it not? And even if you dress casually for the big day, it’s still fun to spend a bit of extra time on your make-up. Here are my favourite (mainly glittery) beauty bits and pieces for this time of year.

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First up, let’s talk eyes. One of the easiest ways to incorporate a bit of sparkle into your look is through eyeshadows. My absolute favourite eyeshadow quad for this is bareMinerals The Soundtrack. It has a deliciously creamy, matte champagne to use as a base and then three shimmer shades to play with! My favourite is the copper eyeshadow, and a wash of this all over the lid makes for a really easy, Christmassy look. For single eyeshadows, MAC All That Glitters (an absolute classic) and L’Oreal Pin-Up Pink are the best for a more subtle look with a hint of sparkle. And finally, bareMineral Prime Time, their brightening eyelid primer not only keeps your eyeshadows look amazing all day, but also adds a really nice glow.

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Moving on to pigments, because if you want to do glitter properly, they are the only way to go. I find them a bit of a messy faff usually, but for Christmas I’m willing to make an exception. I always feel that bareMinerals is such an underrated brand. Their foundations get a lot of hype, but their eyeshadows (both loose and pressed) are amazing. Here is a selection of the bareMinerals Eyecolour in (moving left to right) Flawless Diamond, Zany and Centre Stage. All three are beautiful colours, but zany is a bit more unexpected as a super glittery forest green. bareMinerals also do amazing gift sets for Christmas, and you can get great selections of their Eyecolours in them. If you are feeling a little more bold, look out for the Illamasqua Precision Ink. This one is in Wisdom which is a gold, glittery liquid eyeliner. They have a selection of crazy (and more conventional) colours, and you can create some really fun eye looks with them for parties and the festive season.

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And finally, it wouldn’t be Christmas without festive nail varnish! I always think nail varnish is so much fun to play around with and it’s really easy to build up a collection of your favourite colours. December calls for a classic red shade, and the best I’ve found is Essie Russian Roulette. It looks great on its own or as a base for glitter. As far as red glitters go, you can’t go wrong with Barry M Ruby Slippers – super cheap and super festive! For a more high end option, OPI always have beautiful Christmas collections. This is one of their’s from last year, Red Fingers & Mistletoes and probably my favourite festive nail colour, a stunning blend of red and gold glitter. If you aren’t a fan of red or just want to mix it up a little, gold, silver and copper are my favourite options. butter London have a great selection, but I love Champers (copper) and Posh Bird (silver). Sally Hansen Coat of Arms is one of the sparkliest shades I own and Essie Buy Me a Cameo  is a bit more subtle, and a beautiful rose gold shade. And if you’re looking for something a little different, Tanya Burr Cosmetics Under the Sea is an amazing blend of chunky blue, green and silver glitter. Perfect for New Year!

I hope this has given you some festive beauty inspiration, what are your favourite Christmassy make-up items? Merry Christmas, everyone!

Teatime in Paris

This weekend, Tiarnan and I popped on the Eurostar over to Paris. They say “the best thing about London is Paris” and while I can’t entirely agree, we are certainly very lucky to be able to visit so easily.

Christmas meant that our budget had taken a hit, so we decided to skip the restaurants and soak up the cafe culture instead. What is more French than sitting out on the pavement drinking coffee? Here is a little round-up of my favourite places we stumbled into when it got too chilly outside.

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*Angelina: Paris’ most famous hot chocolate. As it’s just behind the Jardin des Tuileries on Rue de Rivoli, it is the perfect pit-stop after a morning in the Louvre or some shopping on the Champs-Élysées. They are known for their signature Chocolate L’Africain, and we didn’t even hesitate in ordering it. It is the thickest, creamiest hot chocolate I have ever had. It is made from four different cocoa beans to make it really rich and sweet but be warned, finishing one is no easy feat.

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*Ladurée: A towering force of all things sweet on the Champs-Élysées, we felt we couldn’t leave Paris without a quick visit. As the best known maker of macarons in the world, we left Sunday afternoon open to sample some, just before we got back on the Eurostar. Inside, the decor is wonderfully decadent, with queues stretching through the boutique with everyone desperate to get their hands on the iconic green box filled with pastries. We were settled on a table in the corner, where we could watch the hustle and bustle and compare macaron flavours. Our verdict: don’t miss the pistachio.

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*Berthillon: This is one of my stranger suggestions for deep midwinter, but bear with me. We tried Air BnB for the first time on this trip, and got a really cute little apartment on Île Saint-Louis, just above Paris’ most famous ice-cream parlour. It seemed rude to not try some! We skipped the queues by going late in the evening as an after dinner sweet treat. If you are there around Christmas, try the gingerbread ice cream. With little pieces of gingerbread mixed into the deliciously smooth ice cream, you won’t regret feeling a bit cold after eating it!

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These are Paris’ most celebrated stops for coffee and pastries (or ice cream), but we also spent the weekend grabbing breakfast from boulangeries and stopping at cafes by the river to warm up. And we are already planning a return trip to try more … a weekend in Paris is just not enough.

SKATE at Somerset House

When the ice rink goes up at Somerset House, you know that Christmas has arrived in London.

London has many an ice rink at this time of year. For the city dwellers, there’s the rink at Canary Wharf  (I love the idea of business men spinning around fully suited). The moat at the Tower of London is turned into a rink, there’s a beautiful one outside the Natural History Museum (complete with Christmas tree at its center) and the biggest ice rink belongs to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. But Somerset House has always been my favourite.

P1030202 (2) P1030209 (2)Somerset House host Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas pop-up SKATE each year in their courtyard and, of course, they have decked it out beautifully. Complete with fairy lights, festive music and an enormous Christmas tree, it’s just tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Strand, so a crowd tends to form to cheer the skaters on.

Aside from the beautiful rink, what they really get right is the food. Nothing builds an appetite like ice skating, and Fortnum’s hold the best apres-skate in London. The Fortnum’s Lodge smells entirely of mulled wine, and has all kinds of warming treats to enjoy while nursing the inevitable bruises.

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As we were there for Tiarnan’s birthday, we celebrated with champagne and chocolate truffles (which were completely delicious), but we looked on with envy at our fellow skaters.

The Chocolossus particuarly caught our eye, Fortnum’s ultimate hot chocolate. Complete with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, the biggest marshmallows I’ve ever seen and a cheeky shot of something alcoholic if you so wish, Starbucks will never be the same again! Many of the other skaters also feasted on fondues, tartiflettes and cheese boards, leaving Tiarnan and I wishing we were up a mountain, strapped into ski boots and fueling for the next piste.

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If you visit, be sure to check out Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade – the pop-up version of their Piccadilly Store. In my opinion, nothing can beat the real Fortnum’s at Christmas, with the decorations, luscious red carpets, stands piled high with all kinds of festive goodies and the assistants rushing about in their pillar-box red tailcoats. But the Christmas Arcade comes pretty close. We wandered through the rooms, trying every taster we saw, hinting at possible Christmas presents and admiring the bauble selection.

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So if you’re in London, pop along to Somerset House. Even if you don’t brave the ice, cosy up with a Chocolossus and get that last minute Christmas shopping done.

A Lush Christmas

There are some things that are pretty good year round, but really come into their own at Christmas. Like Starbucks (with their red cups and flavoured lattes) and Michael Bublé (with that Christmas album), Lush is one of those things.

For someone who isn’t completely obsessed with baths, I’ve bought quite an embarrassing amount of Lush goodies over the past couple of weeks. Everything is just so glittery and smells delicious, how could I resist?! So today I’m going to chat you through everything for some inspiration on the perfect, festive bath…

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Moving across the picture left to right… 

*So White: This apple scented bath bomb smells Christmassy, but not in the typical way. It has a slow melting, rosy centre which will turn your bath snow white with pretty flecks of pink.

*Butterbear: Before they’ve had loads of cute bath bombs (think penguins and snowmen!) but this is one of the only ones this year. A Lush classic, it’s vanilla scented and super creamy with cocoa butter that will leave your skin feeling really soft.

*Peeping Santa: This one looks super cute, and the shea and cocoa butter will make for an amazing, creamy bath, but I don’t think it’s strawberry scent really has a place in the Christmas collection… Just me?

*Holly Golightly: This is the most eye catching of them all, with the almost ridiculous layer of silver glitter (but who doesn’t love a bit of glitter at Christmas?) It has spicy cinnamon leaf and patchouli essential oils to make you feel like you are bathing in hot toddy.

*Dashing Santa: He smells like the satsumas that lurk at the bottom of your stocking on Christmas morning, and his golden boots fizz away first which make him “dash” around your bath – cute!

*Yog Nog: This one is super sweet, leaving your whole bathroom smelling like a biscuit tin. The shea butter makes your bath really creamy, and the outside leaves the water an amazing golden colour.

*Cinders: Another Lush Christmas classic, this is meant to create the warming sense of a hot fruit punch. It also has popping candy, and the sweet orange oil makes it really uplifting (this is one of my favs!)

*Luxury Lush Pud: This one is meant to be soothing enough to put you to sleep on Christmas Eve. It creates amazing, colourful foam and smells of lavender, but not overwhelmingly so.

*The Magic of Christmas: This reusable bubble bar is the one I am most excited for! Complete with a bell, it has cinnamon leaf and clove to get your circulation going, while smelling entirely of Christmas.

If only baths could be this exicting all year round… Happy bathing!

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Toffee Frosting

The tree has gone up and everyone is getting into the festive spirit, so it seemed only right to whip up some Christmassy goodies. This time, my sister and I decided to have a go at gingerbread cupcakes with toffee frosting, which is one of Tanya Burr’s recipes and her video can be seen here.

I wouldn’t normally bake from a YouTube video, I much prefer to have a recipe in front of me, but my sister had made them before and persuaded me. These cupcakes are so delicious, and so easy to make! We bumped up the original measurements to make 16 cupcakes.

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Makes: 16 cupcakes. Baking time: around 15 minutes. 

YOU WILL NEED

FOR THE CUPCAKES:

  • 200g butter
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 4 eggs

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 200g butter
  • 50g soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 200g icing sugar (plus extra)

TO MAKE

THE CUPCAKES:

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Cream together 200g butter and 200g sugar, then add 200g of self-raising flour and 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger. Mix together well. Crack in 4 eggs and mix.

Put the mixture into cupcake cases and put in the oven. Bake for around 15 minutes but keep an eye on them. Leave them to cool.

THE FROSTING:

To make the toffee syrup, melt 50g butter and 50g brown sugar over a low heat, then add 2 tablespoons milk. Leave to cool.

Mix together 150g butter and 200g icing sugar. Pour the cooled syrup into the mixture and combine.

The syrup will make the mixture sloppy, so keep adding icing sugar until it is stiff and ready to pipe (this might be quite a lot!).

When the cupcakes are cool, ice and decorate!

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