Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies

DSCF6069Like most Mums I think that the hardest thing that I have to deal with is seeing my son in pain. Ben is 16 now and suffers from Chronic Pain syndrome. He took the very brave decision to drop back an academic school year and repeat Year 10 due to the amount of time he missed from school last year.

I am so proud of my son because not only is he keeping up with his studies and doing his GCSE examination but he is managing to do this on a few hours sleep every night, very potent medication and varying levels of pain, from bearable to not being able to walk and screaming all night long! Most people don’t realise quite what Ben has to go through on a day-to-day basis.

We don’t have much spare money, I gave up a full-time teaching job to look after him and now make wedding and celebration cakes from home. Consequently if Ben wants a treat, a meal out or a new game for his X-box, he has to wait until I have sold a cake or two.

My way of treating Ben is to let him choose what baking he wants me to do. Usually it is chocolate chip cookies but this week he asked for whoopie pies. I can’t take credit for this recipe as I found it in the Hummingbird Bakery’s “Cake Days” recipe book. I did, however, switch their natural yoghurt and milk for buttermilk as I had some that needed using up.

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 150ml buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 75g melted margarine
  • 275g plain flour
  • 0.75 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.25 tsp baking powder
  • 150g chocolate chips (I used a mixture of milk and dark)

Icing 

  • 170g butter
  • 2Tbs cocoa
  • 280g icing sugar
  • 220g vanilla marshmallow fluff

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C / 150C fan
  2. Line a baking tray with parchment paper
  3. Beat the egg and sugar together until pale and fluffy
  4. Slowly add the buttermilk, margarine and vanilla to the eggs
  5. Add the dry ingredients
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips
  7. Heap large spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, allowing plenty of room for the mixture to spread. (I used and ice cream scoop but I think it was too big as the pies were HUGE!)
  8. Bake for 10-13 min then cool on a rack.
  9. Beat the icing ingredients together then pop in the fridge to firm up a little.
  10. Use the icing to sandwich the pies together. I made 6 pies but I think 10 is a better number as mine really were massive!

Salted Caramel Flapjack

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I don’t know about you but all this salted caramel and salted  chocolate trend is old news to me! I’ve had a passion for chocolate coated salted pretzels for years. I always used salted butter in my baking. Why would you want to deprive your taste buds?

I can’t claim any credit for this recipe at all as I saw it on the Food Network channel and liked the look of it. It is from a chappie called Andy Bates who seemed to be sponsored by Tate and Lyle. I liked the look of it because I had everything I needed in my cupboards and it looked really straight forward. Plus it has one of my favourite ingredients in it, condensed milk!

Ingredients for the flapjack

Ingredients for the caramel

  • 397g can of condensed milk
  • 95g golden syrup
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 2 Tbs glucose syrup
  • 175g white chocolate, chopped
  • sea salt.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan/ gas 4
  2. Grease and line 10 in square tin
  3. To make the base, melt the butter and syrup together then stir in the oats.
  4. Tip into the prepared tin and press down firmly.
  5. Bake for approximately 15 min or until golden brown. Set to one side to cool slightly.
  6. Add the sugar, milk, butter and syrups to a heavy based pan.
  7. Heat gently, stirring until all the sugar dissolves.
  8. INcrease the heat and bring to the boil.
  9. Simmer for 8-10min , stirring constantly to prevent the caramel from sticking.
  10. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate.
  11. Once smooth, pour the caramel over the flapjack and level with the back of a spoon.
  12. Sprinkle the salt flakes over then cover with another piece of greaseproof paper and gently press the salt into the caramel surface.
  13. Allow to set and cool then cut into finger slices.

 

Lactose and Gluten Free vanilla cookies

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With food allergies appearing to be on the increase, I thought it was high time that I started to work on a few allergen free recipes. One of the ladies who attends my sugarcraft class is gluten intolerant, since I always provide cake or cookies to my sugarcraft class I felt really mean giving Holly shop bought gluten-free food.  In addition my son’s best friend, Lisa has recently been diagnosed as lactose intolerant. Lisa regularly eats with us so I have had to radically rethink my menus.

Gluten free flour is readily available in most supermarkets these days as is lactose free milk and cheese. This recipe uses a vegetable oil based margarine and gluten-free self-raising flour. The resulting biscuit is crisp on the outside and soft inside.

Ingredients

  • 100g vegetable oil based margarine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g gluten-free self raising flour
  • 1 tbs golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 170C fan or gas mark 5
  2. Put all the ingredients in a food mixer and mix to a smooth dough
  3. Form into 16 small balls.
  4. Flatten them with your hand and place on 2 baking trays, allowing room for spreading.
  5. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until pale gold in colour
  6. Allow to cool slightly on the tray before moving to a rack to cool completely.

 

Flapjack

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There are some recipes that are just so simple and so brilliant that they can be overlooked when searching for something yummy to bake. Flapjacks is one of those recipes. Yes, I know they are not the healthiest of snacks but I’m not suggesting you eat the entire batch to yourself and they keep really well in an airtight container.

I love the fact they are so versatile too. The ones in the photo are plain ones because my son is culinary challenged but I love them with a handful of glace cherries in, or a bit of coconut, topped with melted chocolate or with a bit a cinnamon and raisins in. I’ve even chopped up an eating apple and thrown that in too. This is a very forgiving recipe.

Ingredients

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan.
  2. Line a small Swiss roll tin with baking parchment (8 x12in)
  3. Melt the margarine, syrup and sugar together in a large saucepan.
  4. Add the rolled oats and any extra ingredients.
  5. Stir it well and tip into the tin.
  6. Press the flapjacks into an even layer using the back of a spoon or a spatula
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.

 

Courgette Tea Loaf

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I think I’ve mentioned before that I always provide a freshly baked “something” for my ladies to have with a cuppa at sugarcraft class but it is not often they provide me with food. That is exactly what happened last night! I was given two large, homegrown courgettes (zucchini) with instructions to “Do something with them!”.

So when I got home I hit the books and found several recipes for courgette cake and zucchini bread. I have tried to make a courgette cake before but I really didn’t like it as I found it quite dense and tasteless. The recipe I settled on was by Rachel Allen, from her book “Bake”. I liked the look of this recipe because it had plenty of spices added to it and reminded me of a good carrot cake but with courgettes instead of carrots.

I took the liberty of tinkering with the ingredients slightly to suit my palate and the ingredients I had to hand. Rachel’s recipe calls for walnuts but I substituted them for sunflower seeds as I didn’t have any walnuts in stock.

This tea loaf is lovely and moist with the warm, spicy hit of traditional tea loaf. Rachel said her recipe is lovely toasted with a bit of butter and I can safely say I will be trying that in the morning for breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (heaped)
  • 0.5 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 0.25 tsp ground cloves (level)
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 100g Demerara  sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 200ml sunflower oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g grated courgette (skin and flesh)
  • 75g sunflower seeds

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C /130C fan or gas mark 2
  2. Line 2 loaf tins
  3. Sift together all the dry ingredients into a large bowl
  4. Add the courgettes and seeds
  5. Add the wet ingredients and mix well
  6. Divide the mixture between the 2 tins
  7. Bake for 1hr – 1hr 15min depending on oven and how evenly you divided the mixture.
  8. Allow to cool int he tin for 20-30 min before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Apple Crumble Cupcakes

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As it is is National Cupcake week here in the UK, I thought I would treat my sugarcraft class to some. I’m not really a fan of cupcakes. I can’t see the point of all that buttercream and I get bored when I’m asked to decorate them.  I can, however, see the point of a really good apple crumble. I’ve always said that if I was on death row my final meal would be apple crumble and custard!

This particular recipe is a bastardization of one by Eric Lanlard and Patrick Cox from their book, “Cox, Cookies and Cake”. I liked the idea of this cake because not only does it feature the flavours of my favourite pud but it also doesn’t have any buttercream topping.

The original recipe calls for 2 Bramley apples but I found the apple flavour a little lacking and dominated by the cinnamon. Having tinkered around with the recipe a little, I think I may have hit apple crumble gold! I tried it out on my class last night and was bombarded with requests for the recipe. So this one is for you, Janice!

 Ingredients

For the crumble topping:

50g plain flour

50g soft brown sugar

0.5tsp ground cinnamon

40g butter

For the cupcakes:

1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and diced

1 – 2 eating apple, peeled, cored and diced

1tsp ground cinnamon

0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda

100g butter

200g soft brown sugar

2 free range eggs

350g self-raising flour

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan / gas mark 6 and line a muffin tin with cupcake cases
  2. Make the crumble topping by rubbing all the ingredients together. Set to one side for the moment.
  3. Place the Bramley apple into a saucepan with the cinnamon and 0.5Tbs water. Heat gently whilst stirring until the apple becomes soft and mushy.
  4. Allow to cool then push the apple through a fine sieve or ricer.
  5. Weigh a total amount of 250g of pureed apple and eating apple. Ideally you should have equal amounts of each but it really is just to personal taste.
  6. Stir the bicarbonate soda into the apple and leave to rest.
  7. Beat together the butter and sugar.
  8. Beat in the eggs
  9. Fold in the flour and apple sauce.
  10. Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases using an ice-cream scoop. This makes between 12-14 cupcakes.
  11. Sprinkle the crumble topping over each cake
  12. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.

These cupcakes are lovely served with a cup of coffee but they are truly gorgeous served warm from the oven with a dollop of custard!

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Triple chocolate tiramisu

ImageMany, many years ago, whilst I was working for Liverpool University, I had the good fortune to work with a lovely lady called Mariana Catapano. Mariana was living in student accommodation whilst on sabbatical with us but unfortunately didn’t have a television in her room. As an avid football fan who never missed a match, this was a fate worse than death. Consequently she would often come to my house for her tea and to watch the footie. Her contribution to the meal was a homemade tiramisu.

Now. Mariana told me that this was her grandmother’s recipe and that truly authentic tiramisu does not contain alcohol. Hey, she is Italian so I’m not going to argue with her!

 

I have been making Mariana’s tiramisu for the past 20 years and have never had a complaint. Not everyone likes coffee flavoured desserts, however. I’m sure if I tried to give it to my sister she would think I was trying to poison her! As a consequence and because I have a friend coming for tea who is in need of a bit of cheering up (tiramisu actually means “pick you up”), I have had a play with the recipe and come up with this coffee free alternative.

Ingredients

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites, whisked to a stiff peak
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 1 standard tub of mascarpone cheese
  • 300 ml hot chocolate or chocolate milkshake, warm
  • 1 pack of sponge fingers
  • 300g grated chocolate
  • 4 – 5 tbs cocoa

Method

  1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Beat in the mascarpone
  3. Fold the whisked egg whites into custard.
  4. Dip the sponge fingers into the hot chocolate and allow to soak up a little of the liquid then layer into a glass bowl.
  5. Pour over a layer of the custard
  6. Sift a little of the cocoa over the custard and then sprinkle over a layer of grated chocolate
  7. Repeat the layers until you have used up all the ingredients, making sure to finish on the cocoa and grated chocolate layer.
  8. Pop it in the fridge and chill for 3-4 hours or ideally overnight.

Obviously this recipe does contain raw eggs so should not be given to pregnant women, the elderly or infirm and the very young.

 

 

 

 

 

Comparing Flower Pastes

As a teacher of sugarcraft I think it is really important for me to know about new and innovative products and techniques. I also believe in value for money. Sugarcraft can be a very expensive hobby. Admittedly once you have invested in a particular flower cutter or piece of equipment, it is yours for life but it is all the other little bits that add to the cost. For example, a pot of colour gel is approximately £2.50, depending upon where you buy it from. Yes, they last a relatively long time but that is still £2.50 for just one colour.

This was really brought home to me the other day when I was teaching a workshop to a High School Year 11 class. Although the school provided the bulk of the consumables I still took my tray of colour gel pots, dusting powders and spare sugarcraft tools with me. During our tea break I was sat talking to some of the most keen pupils and explaining what various tools were for and giving a rough cost estimate for various bits of kit. One of the boys then shocked me by telling me that I had in 68 pots of colour gel in the tray which, at approximately £2.50 each, meant that there was roughly £170 worth of equipment in that single tray of colours! I didn’t like to tell him I had even more at home!

I am very conscious when I am writing my sugarcraft courses that we reuse cutters as much as possible. For example the daffodil and freesia cutters are almost identical so I tell my class to buy one or the other, not both. I do not see any point in wasting money on cutters that are essentially the same. It is with cost in mind that I turned my thoughts to flowerpaste.

When I first started sugarcraft Squires flowerpaste was pretty much the only one available. Over the last few years. however, baking and sugarcraft has become the new Rock’n’Roll. Everywhere you look there are cake decorating magazines and cookery programmes. As a consequence the availability and variety of flowerpaste and sugarcraft equipment has significantly improved. For the purpose of this blog, however, I am going to concentrate upon the three “Big Names” in flowerpaste; Squires, the new kid on the block, Beau Products and our American friend, Satin Ice gum paste. There are, of course, many other manufacturers of flowerpaste, some better than others!

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For this blog, I looked at value for money, how easy it is to work with and how well the product keeps in the manufacturers packaging. Here are my findings:

Value for money

Manufacturer

Pack size (g)

Cost per unit (£)

Cost / 10g of product

Squires

200

4.25

21.25p

Beau

200

4.09

20.45p

Satin Ice

2500

20.99

8.4p

How easy is it to work with?

Manufacturer

Malleability

Ease of use

Drying out time

Squires

Paste is quite stiff until well kneaded

Rolls out well but dries out very quickly and cracks easily

Very quick. Most flowers are completely dry within a couple of hours

Beau

Very sticky paste as it is freshly made that needs a dusting of cornflour

Quite sticky to roll out but with cornflour you can roll it very thin.

Generally requires overnight to dry completely

Satin Ice

Lovely smooth paste. It feels tacky but not sticky

A little sticky to roll out but with cornflour you can roll it very thin.

Several hours

Packaging

Manufacturer

Type of packaging

How well does it keep?

Squires

Thin foil package with a press seal at the top.   Vacuum packed

Difficult to open and then difficult to seal   effectively. The paste dries out very quickly.

Beau

Small transparent plastic tub

The pot seals well and can be reused. As long as   the tub is not cracked and the lid is on tightly the paste keeps very well.

Satin Ice

Large white plastic tub and then wrapped in   plastic bag inside

As long as the lid is on tightly the paste keeps   excellently.

Any other information

Manufacturer

Other relevant information

Squires

Good range of colours.

Widely available

Brilliant for demonstrations and for beginners

Beau

Good range of colours that keep very well.

The finished product has a porcelain-like feel   to it.

Satin Ice

Smells of vanilla.

Very light weight finished product.

Only available in white so you have to colour it   which can be difficult for dark colours.

Not readily available in the UK as yet although   the number of suppliers is increasing.

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My recommendation

Having taken the time to assess these products, I feel that each has its own merits and downfalls. I have preferred to use Beau Products but in light of this blog, I think I will be using Satin Ice gum paste for all my future sugarcraft. It is good value for money and easy to work with. I just wish it was available in a range of colours.

UPDATE:

I have had a lovely conversation with the lady from Beau Products today. She has asked me to remind people not to use any Trex or fat with her products as it affects how they perform. If like me you use a lot of flowerpaste, Beau Products also offer very competitive prices if you open an account with them.

http://www.beauproducts.co.uk/

Smartie Cookies

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I have had such a chaotic week! Monday my son had a hospital appointment; Tuesday I was teaching a workshop at the local high school; Wednesday my whippet, Felix, was taken into the vet hospital to have some more metalwork removed from his leg and I had a birthday cake to make, Thursday I had a Christening cake to make and I was teaching night school and Friday I had a birthday cake to make and my son had Hydrotherapy! So today I am having a pyjama day! I think I deserve one!

I am pottering around the house sorting out the washing, doing a bit of baking for us and singing along to the Carpenters on the radio, all whilst wearing my snow leopard print fleecy pyjama bottoms and my huge “I love my whippets” sweatshirt with my hair tied up in a very scruffy bun! It might not be cutting edge fashion but boy is it comfortable!

I thought I would have a go at this Smartie cookie recipe from Good Food Magazine today because it just looked fun! It was stupidly simple to make and I have to say the cookies are bloody gorgeous! Crispy on the outside and soft and gooey inside. And if you happen across an orange smartie, they are pure heaven!

Ingredients:

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan
  2. Place all the ingredients except the smarties into a mixing bowl.
  3. Mix to a soft smooth dough
  4. Add the smarties
  5. This dough made 14-16 cookies when rolled into balls or formed with a mini-icecream scoop. DO NOT flatten the balls, just leave plenty of room between each cookie to allow spreading.
  6. Bake for 10-12 mins
  7. Leave on the tray for 5 mins then transfer to a cooling rack.

Nutella Roly Poly

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I don’t know about you but I don’t think you can beat a good old-fashioned stodgy pudding on a cold, wet, wintry day. Spotted dick, treacle tart or sticky toffee pudding with buckets of custard is simply heaven on a plate. My personal favourite is jam roly poly. It reminds me of school dinners back in the days when you got what you were given whether you liked it or not!

I really fancied making a jam poly this weekend for Sunday pudding but my pain-in-the-posterior son doesn’t like jam so I racked my brains to think of something that would work as well but that he would like. The answer was simple, Nutella!

It was a bit of an experiment, especially since I haven’t made a suet pudding for donkey’s years but I’m pleased to inform that it was bloody gorgeous!

Ingredients:

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C /160C fan
  2. Mix a;l the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
  3. Slowly add the cold water until a soft dough is formed.
  4. Knead until smooth then roll into a rectangle , 10 x 8 inch
  5. Spread with the nutella
  6. Roll up from a short end
  7. Place in a lined loaf tin
  8. Bake for 30 minutes.

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