Christmas gifts: two-cheese biscuits

When you’ve lived away from home for a while but still go back for Christmas, you get used to hearing, “Is there any particular food you want me to get in?” around the first week of December. This year, there was one less thing on my usual list of Christmas visit must-haves, because my mother entrusted me with the secret of these two-cheese biscuits. They don’t look much, these wee biccies, but oh boy do they pack a punch. Supposedly, they taste even better after a few days, but they’ve never been around long enough for us to test that theory.

Although I’m posting these as a Christmas gift (in-laws, I’m lookin’ at you), they’d also be great after Christmas to help to use up the leftover nuts and Stilton you just couldn’t fit into your stomach. Yep. they’ve got Stilton in them – but in my experience, even Stilton haters love these.

Recipe makes around 50 biscuits 5cm in diameter – perfect to pop straight in your mouth! They are happy to be frozen (and I confess to sneaking to the freezer to eat a few there and then. Oops).  Continue reading

Christmas gifts: a baker’s dozen


Christmas can be really tricky. With only two weekends to go until the big day, and the chance of one-time delivery shrinking with every day that passes, I can’t help but feel like the pressure’s on. I’ll be that person huffing and puffing on public transport on Christmas Eve. I’ll be the one hopping around with one leg in a pair of tights as I hurry to get ready for the evening.

In my family, we’re all medium-snobby about something different, which makes it doubly hard. We’re appreciative of good things. I have one brother who, after several years of chocolate addiction*, has quite a taste for the sweet stuff, and another who’s pretty specific about what wine he’ll drink. My mum’s easy peasy – whereas my dad asks for socks and cheap sweets when he secretly appreciates some fancy fruit and nut. But a love of good kitchenware has been passed down to us all, whether that means super sharp knives (brothers) or excellent bakeware (me).

So for this baker’s dozen, here’s thirteen whatchamajigs that are, in my experience, indispensable to a budding baker, that this little “bakehouse” couldn’t run without.

Click here for more Christmas gift ideas.

One. Be-Ro Home Recipes cookbook. A lot of us food-fans are guilty of having bookshelves groaning with tomes on cake, bread, and cookies. You’ll probably find the odd volume dedicated to perfect pastry hidden down the back of the sofa. But a lot of us have one book that we always come back to – and for me it’s the Be-Ro book, which contains the first recipes I learnt. It’s no frills, and contains all the basics you’ll need – and with regular updates since the first edition was published in 1923, its recipes are definitely tried and tested.

Two. Lakeland tin liners. They’re the best loaf liners I’ve ever used. Simple.

Three. Good quality vanilla extract. Oh sure, you can buy vanilla flavouring, which is wayyy cheaper. It also doesn’t really have a vanilla flavour. Equally, who can afford to use vanilla pods? Vanilla is one of those flavours that’s really a case of go hard or go home, and you can’t beat a good quality vanilla extract in…well…a lot of things. You can buy a litre of Neilsen-Massey vanilla extract at the bargain price of £24.50 here.

Four. Measuring spoons. Because all my mismatched teaspoons don’t seem to have a standard measure.

Five & Six. Edible glitter & sugar paste food colouring. I learnt early on that people are really impressed by these little things that add minimal time to the baking process, just by turning a cake into a rainbow cake, or giving your cupcakes a bit of shimmer. Rainbow cupcakes are a really easy way to make new friends. As for the virtues of sugar paste colours in particular, the fact that they’re so concentrated means they’ll last for ages and won’t make your icing soggy.

Seven. Digital scales. Now, I’m pretty old school about my cooking sometimes. But after all, it is chemistry, and judging scales by eye when your sight is poor is a recipe for disaster. During the first month in my flat we had no scales, just a Tala measuring cone to go by. Some of our creations that month were…interesting.

Eight. Pampered Chef decorating bottlesNo piping bag disasters here! This icing bottles can be a little fiddly to wash up but are so worth it for ease of control and the fact that it makes tasks like injecting jam into cupcakes effortless.

Nine. Silicone tartlet mould. You know when you have to make enough desserts to feed about 30 people and you just can’t fathom how a pie or a cake will cut into that many pieces? Problem solved. I’ve used this mould to make feeding a crowd easier – and the results are pretty cute too.

Ten. Joseph Joseph nesting bowls. It’s time for an embarrassing story. When I first started getting into baking, I read a lot of American blogs and couldn’t for the life of me work out how to measure in cups. I went into our drinks cupboard and looked at every cup in there – and they weren’t the same size. Was a “cup” just a rough measurement? It can’t be! I went around absolutely puzzled for ages before I discovered cup measures.

These bowls include cup measures (thank goodness) and are an amazing space saver in my teeny kitchen – leaving more space for more goodies!

Eleven. Good palette knife. Because we’ve all had to hack at the underside of a biscuit with a normal knife when it’s stuck to the worktop and it ain’t pretty.

Twelve. Spatulas. It’s a bit of a simple one, but how else are you meant to lick out the bowl thoroughly use all your mixture?

Thirteen. Round cookie cutters of varying sizes. I have loads of cookie cutters. A whole jar full. I have bunnies, and houses, and a lobster. Yeah, I’ve made a gingerbread lobster before – he was delicious and not at all snappy. But sometimes you just need a plain cutter, you know? This Tala set is magic – it contains 6 reversible cutters, and only costs about two quid.

And you know the really great thing about buying people baking equipment? The consequential influx of baked goods that just need eating…

*The “addiction” has not been proven, but damn, he got through a lot of Milky Ways.

Christmas gifts: salted caramel sauce

Next up on my Christmas gift to-do list is this salted caramel sauce. Salted caramel has been a big food trend this year and I’m really hoping that continues, if only so that my tummy needs never be without Hotel Chocolat’s salted caramel chocolates (which are probably pretty easy to make, using a chocolate mould and this sauce).0

JarupdatedWhen I was looking for a recipe for it, there seemed to be a lot of fancy temperature measuring and potential burnt sugar. That’s not what you want on a Sunday morning, not at all. It was a case of Nigella to the rescue. The recipe calls for a bit of measuring, a bit of stirring, and a lot of deliciousness. Easy peasy. You barely need a recipe, to be honest.

Click here for more Christmas gift ideas. Continue reading

Christmas gifts: gingerbread man kit


With only 17 days to go until Christmas, I’m starting to get a little panicky – especially as a lot of what I’m going to give to my loved ones this year is homemade, and so needs a bit of planning. Planning is not necessarily my strong suit. This gingerbread man kit is a last minute kind of gift that can be easily assembled from things you have at home, but also shows a bit of thought and is pretty cute. Especially if you throw in this little guy…

The original idea came from this month’s issue of Waitrose Kitchen. It’s one of my favourite food magazines  – it focuses on seasonal food, has amazing photography in it, and at £1.20 is a lot cheaper than other food magazines. It’s a winner.

The recipe comes from the 40th edition of the Be-Ro Home Recipes book, which I’ll harp on about at a later date. Buying details (it’s £2.50) and a brief history of the book (the first edition came out in 1923!) can be found here.

Click here for more Christmas gift ideas.

For the mix: 200g self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 2tbsp ground ginger.

To enclose: 65g caster sugar in a food bag (not mixed in with flour etc!)

Other bits and bobs: Washed and dried jam jar or Kilner jar, gingerbread man cutter.
You can either make your own instruction sheet or use this print out (the disk is 8.5cm across, to fit the top of a Kilner jar).

Warm 2tbsp golden syrup with the sugar (enclosed) and 30g margarine & mix well. Add the mixture to this gingerbread mix, along with 2tbsp of milk. Knead lightly, roll out and cut out your gingerbread men! Bake for 10-15 minutes at 160C.