How to make an edible Robin

DSCF5083

This little Robin is not one of my designs by one from Frances McNaughton from her book “20 to make Sugar Bird”. If I am honest the book is a little too basic for my own needs but it is great for absolute beginners. My one criticism of the book is that the actual stages of construction are not shown, simply text and one overall photograph which is fine it you know what you are doing but not so great for the novice.

I thought I would have a go at making the robin, partly because it is really cute but also because I have been asked to do a demonstration for the W.I. and I thought this would be something seasonal for them that they can then try at home.

One  omission from Frances McNaughton’s book, is the inclusion of either Gum Tragacanth or CMC in the sugarpaste. It is really important that you knead the powder into the sugarpaste prior to modelling as it is needed to strengthen the paste and helps to maintain the shape of your finished piece. If you don’t include it you may find that your Robin looks like he has been at the Christmas Sherry Trifle!

Equipment:

  • 25g brown sugarpaste strengthened with gum tragacanth or CMC.
  • small amount of white and red sugarpaste
  • heart cutters
  • dried spaghetti
  • Dresden tool

 

Method:

  1. Reserve a small ball of brown sugarpaste for the wings and face then mould the remaining into a teardrop shape. Flatten the narrow end and squeeze the fat end to form a headDSCF5065
  2. Roll out the white paste and cut out a heart shape and attach to the breast of the bird.DSCF5066
  3. Repeat with the red paste but remove the point of the heart with the cutterDSCF5067
  4. Add the inverted heart to the robin breast.DSCF5069
  5. Form two small cones of brown paste then flatten them. Score the wings with a Dresden tool to look like feathers.DSCF5072
  6. Add the wings at a jaunty angle.
  7. Add the eyes and a small cone to form the beak. You might need to attach the beak with a small piece of dried spaghetti or you may find that his beak will be down by his knees!                                                                                                   DSCF5083

 

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

There are certain recipes that take you back to your childhood. Now, whilst pineapple upside down cake is not really one of my childhood recipes, it is one of my sister’s. There is an 8 year age gap between me and Naomi so she spent a lot of time with me when she was little due to Mum being a nurse and working long shifts.

One of my sister’s favourite past-times was “helping” me in the kitchen. I say helping but that is being kind, hindering may be a more accurate description! She used to drop eggs over the floor, knock the flour everywhere and generally cause chaos but I love her anyway!

Another of my sister’s little foibles, when she was younger, was her aversion to custard! She flat-blank refused to try it! Why I hear you ask? Because it was yellow and sounded like mustard which she had a pathological fear of! This fear was due to the fact that like many children, Naomi went through a phase of biting when she was about 2 years old. Mum punished her by putting mustard on her tongue! I am glad to say that she has finally grown out of both biting and avoiding custard which is a good job because this upside down cake is glorious warm and served with custard.

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C fan/ 180C
  2. melt the butter and brown sugar together and pour into a greased and lined 8 inch cake tin
  3. Arrange the pineapples and cherries in the tin.
  4. beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy
  5. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract
  6. Fold in the flour and baking powder
  7. Pour into the cake tin, ensuring all the fruit is covered
  8. Bake for 30-45 min or until golden brown and passes the skewer test.
  9. Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes.
  10. Place a serving plate on top of the tin then carefully invert it.
  11. Remove the tin and baking parchment.
  12. Serve either hot or cold.

 

 

 

 

 

Millionaire Shortbread

When it comes to Millionaire shortbread I am only allowed to make it if my sister is visiting! She is a bit of a Millionaire shortbread expert through years of taste testing. She doesn’t make it, of course, simply eats it!

Over the years I have tried several recipes but have always found them to be lacking somewhat. Eventually I decided to make my own version and knew I was on to a winner when Naomi phoned me up on complain. Not about the shortbread, I hasten to add, but because in her words “You’ve spoilt it for me! I will never be able to eat another piece without comparing it to yours! They just don’t compete, not even Marks and Sparks!”

I did point out that was a good thing because she would lose loads of weight to which her reply was “No, I’ll still eat them but I will complain whilst I do it!” Little sisters! What are you supposed to do with them?

The very fact that I have photographed this batch of millionaire shortbread is testament to the fact that my sister and her family are visiting me this week-end. I can guarantee that after the initial “hellos” the first thing Naomi will say is “Got any cake?”. This is usually said as she has her head buried in my fridge or she is rummaging through my cupboards.

I do find it really funny  that even though I’m 42 now and Naomi is 34, that we automatically slip into our Big Sis / Little Sis roles. If she sits next to me on the sofa Naomi has to lean on me; she will insist on “doing my hair” (that is until I get bored – my hair is very long and very thick so it is usually washed, brushed and plaited and that is it!); she will pinch the last of my drink rather than go and fetch her own!

But, dear reader, don’t feel sorry for me because I will always get me revenge! You see, Naomi is terrified of, wait for it, tortoises! Sha has been since she was a little girl when she got trapped in a tent in the garden by one. It wasn’t exactly the Usain Bolt of tortoises so why she couldn’t just run away I will never know! So when the opportunity arises for a tortoise to be included in some way we take it. I had a tiny sugar one put on her wedding cake; we bought a cuddly toy one for my nephew when he was a baby; my son put a wooden one in her bed when she came to stay with us; on a visit to Mum’s, Ben hid a brass tortoise in the biscuit barrel, knowing  that is always Naomi’s first port of call. As I said I always get my revenge!

Tortoise
Tortoise (Photo credit: frefran)

Ingredients:

Base 

Toppings

  • 200g butter
  • 397g can of condensed milk
  • 4 tbs golden syrup
  • 325g chocolate ( I tend to use a mixture of milk and dark)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C / 150C fan. Line the base and sides of a 10 inch square cake tin.
  2. Rub together the flour, butter and sugar together to form a soft dough (i do it in the Kenwood mixer)
  3. Tip the dough into the cake tin and press down. Make sure the dough is evenly spread over the base.
  4. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until pale gold in colour. Leave in the tin to cool.
  5. In a heavy bottomed saucepan put the butter, condensed milk and golden syrup.
  6. heat the mixture until it has all melted together. Stir to combine.
  7. Increase the heat slightly and bring to a rolling boil and heat until the mixture has thickened and is a golden brown colour. Stir constantly to prevent it burning. (be very careful as this mixture is like molten lava and is prone to spitting!)
  8. Pour the mixture over the base and allow to cool.
  9. Top with melted chocolate.
  10. Once set cut into 16 pieces.

Feel Good Minestrone Soup

I don’t think you can beat a good bowl of soup especially when you are feeling a bit run down or it is cold, wet and windy outside. I seem to get soaked to the skin every time I take the dogs out at the moment. I come home caked in mud up to my knees, with 3 equally mucky whippets and looking like a drowned rat! So today I decided that I would cheer myself up and make a pan of my minestrone soup.

Now I am sure that the Italians out there will say that I haven’t made it right but it is MY minestrone and it is the way I like it. I have to say I haven’t had any complaints from anyone who has had it.

I have been making this soup for well over 20 years since it kept me feed when I was a student in Liverpool. I would make a pot of it up and it would last 3 of us for the best part of the week. It was relatively cheap, packed full of healthy vegetables and more importantly soaked up the booze before a night out!

You can, of course, make this completely vegetarian but simply omitting the bacon and that is how I used to make it but I think the bacon just adds and extra depth of flavour. Leaving the soup overnight helps the flavour to develop, that’s if you can resist it, and it freezes really well too.

I love this soup and hope you will too!

Ingredients:

  • 500g chopped bacon, pancetta or lardons
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 2 courgettes, julienne
  • 4 sticks of celery, sliced
  • 0.5 a small white cabbage, shredded
  • 500g green beans, topped and tailed, cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 handfuls conghigliette pasta or any other small pasta
  • 2 tbs pesto
  • 1 ltr passata
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1.5-2 pints stock.
  • 1tbs brown sugar
  • salt & black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. put a splash of oil into a very large pan or stock pot and heat gently
  2. Add the bacon and fry until golden brown and crispy
  3. Add all the vegetables and stir to combine for a few minutes.
  4. Add the passata, tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30-40 minutes.
  6.  Add the sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes then test for seasoning 
  7. Throw in the pasta and cook for a further 10-15 minutes (depending upon pasta used)
  8. Stir in 2 tbs pesto.
  9. Serve with a dusting of parmesan and plenty of crusty bread.

 

Easy peasy chocolate fudge

This is possibly the easiest fudge that I have ever made! My great-aunt, Ollie, was the family fudge-maker and her recipe was closely guarded secret. I inherited all her cook books and with that her highly prized chocolate fudge recipe. Her recipe used evaporated milk, a whole bag of granulated sugar and several hours of beating the fudge into submission!

Yes, Ollie’s fudge was lovely, if a little sweet for my palate, but to be honest I just do not have the time or the energy to make it these days. It is, however, my grandmother’s favourite sweet.

When I stumbles upon this recipe in the “Good To Know” magazine I thought it was worth a try. It only have four ingredients so if it didn’t work I wouldn’t have wasted too much money.

I have to say it really is a doddle! My tip would be to pour the mixture into your Kenwood mixer or food processor and let the machine do the tiny bit of mixing for you. It will save you lots of energy and prevent you burning yourself in the process.

I used a mixture of milk and dark chocolate but you could just as easily use all dark or all milk. Cut it up, pop it in a fancy box with a bit of tissue paper and “Hey, Presto!” you have a beautiful gift for someone! How easy is that!

Ingredients:

400g milk or dark chocolate (I used 300g milk and 100g dark)

397g can of condensed milk

25g butter

100g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Put the chocolate, milk and butter into a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat gently until melted.
  2. Stir the mixture until smooth
  3. Beat in the icing sugar until completely combined (I tipped into the mixer!)
  4. Pour into a lined 8 inch square tin.
  5. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour until set then cut into pieces. I found a pizza cutter worked brilliantly for this.

 

 

Maple and Pecan Biscotti

 I don’t know about you but I love the combination of maple syrup and pecan nuts. They are a perfect match. Recently, however, I was asked to make a Bon Voyage cake for a young man emigrating to Canada. The brief was very specific; they wanted a maple syrup cake with maple syrup buttercream and decorated with the Canadian flag but in Chelsea Blue!

I tried several recipes to achieve the perfect maple syrup cake but I really struggled to find the right balance or flavour and sweetness. To get the maple flavour I needed to add more syrup but then that made it too sweet! Arrgh!!

My best friend, however, was an absolute life saver!

I had better explain about me and Su. Su was my mentor 12 years ago when I first started teaching Science in a very difficult comprehensive school in deepest, darkest Liverpool. She kept me on the straight and narrow in those early years and calmed me down when some little runt kicked off because I foolishly expected him to sit down! Su has children my age, early 40s but unfortunately one lives in Australia and the other lives in Colorado. Needless to say I am not only her best friend but a substitute daughter.

It was the result of her last trip to Colorado that Su saved my cake!  Whilst I was sharing my maple cake woes, Su suddenly jumped up, ran into the kitchen then produced a little bottle of maple flavouring. Apparently it came back to the UK in Su’s hand luggage but since she didn’t know what to do with it I might as well have it. The resulting cake was a huge success and it is this flavouring that I have used in this recipe.

 

Ingredients:

12 oz plain flour

2tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp maple flavouring

9 oz caster sugar

3-4 free range eggs, beaten

6 oz chopped pecan nuts

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C / 160C fan.
  2. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking parchment
  3. Place the flour, sugar & baking powder in a mixing bowl then a stir in the eggs and maple flavouring until a soft dough forms.
  4. Add the nuts
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and split the dough into 4 equal pieces.
  6. Lightly flour your hands then roll each piece of dough into a sausage shape approximately 12 inch long.
  7. Place the dough onto the prepared trays, making sure they are well spaced.
  8. Bake for 15-25 mins until the dough is well risen, firm to the touch but not too brown.
  9. Allow to cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack.
  10. Reduce the oven temperature to 140C / 120C fan
  11. Cut the dough diagonally, using a bread knife, into 1cm thick slices.
  12. Place the slices back onto the baking sheets, cut side down, and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  13. Turn the slices over and bake for a further 10-15 minutes.
  14. Allow to cool completely.

Pistachio Biscotti

Now that I have discovered how to make biscotti it has become a bit of an addiction, rather like playing Angry Birds! Since the biscotti are so versatile and keep so well in an air-tight container they are the perfect treat for my sugarcraft class. Each week once the ladies have got underway I make everyone a hot drink and offer them whatever goodie I have. I used to make scones, brownies or sponge cakes but my class has grown so much that the most cost-effective treat is biscuits especially biscotti.

 

Ingredients:

12 oz plain flour

2tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp lemon oil or zest of half a lemon

9 oz caster sugar

3-4 free range eggs, beaten

6 oz shelled pistachios

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C / 160C fan.
  2. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking parchment
  3. Place the flour, sugar & baking powder in a mixing bowl then a stir in the eggs and lemon oil until a soft dough forms.
  4. Add the nuts
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and split the dough into 4 equal pieces.
  6. Lightly flour your hands then roll each piece of dough into a sausage shape approximately 12 inch long.
  7. Place the dough onto the prepared trays, making sure they are well spaced.
  8. Bake for 15-25 mins until the dough is well risen, firm to the touch but not too brown.
  9. Allow to cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack.
  10. Reduce the oven temperature to 140C / 120C fan
  11. Cut the dough diagonally, using a bread knife, into 1cm thick slices.
  12. Place the slices back onto the baking sheets, cut side down, and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  13. Turn the slices over and bake for a further 10-15 minutes.
  14. Allow to cool completely.