Monday, 30 July 2012

Bowling cake

It was my husband's birthday yesterday and we all went bowling then had a barbeque at home. I decided to theme his cake, and although he plays golf a lot more than he goes bowling, I didn't fancy making a green cake.

I made 2 square sponges and put them together on a big breadboard. I used my fail-safe sponge cake mix, but needed it to be 8 eggs and the rest of the quantities increased accordingly. I've never made so much cake mix in one go before! Oh, I nearly forgot, I added 1tbsp vanilla to the mix too.

Once the cakes were in place, I made up enough buttercream to cover them with a thin layer, then rolled out some ready made white icing and put it on top. I trimmed the icing to fit and kept the trimmings covered, I would need them later. I used my icing paste colours to make up a brown and watered it down so it wasn't too dark, then brushed it lengthways down the cake to make the wooden floorboard effect of a bowling alley.

With the spare icing, I fashioned 10 white bowling pins, then painted red rings on the necks and left them to dry. Each pin had a toothpick pushed up inside it with about 3cm sticking out at the bottom. When the cake was dry I added these at one end and made a ball out of black ready-coloured icing and made 3 holes in it with the end of my paintbrush. I placed the ball against the pins on the cake. I then used dark brown icing colour to paint the dark arrows on the cake.

Finally, I made 40 stars out of white icing and used a little water to stick them all around the edges of the cake, mainly to pretty it up as the icing was a bit wobbly where it met the board. I coloured a couple of them red too.

When we put the candles on, they each sat at the broad end of one of the arrows.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Experimenting with digestive biscuits

I saw a recipe the other day (via Ree Drummond) for graham cracker chocolate chip muffins, and was intrigued. They looked absolutely delicious,  but why can't you get graham crackers in the UK? My research determined that the closest thing is a digestive biscuit, although it is thicker, but to use as crumbs would do just fine. I haven't bought sweet biscuits for a while, so was pleased to see that Sainsbury's own brand digestives were dairy-free. Hooray!

Today, I decided to make a quick pudding using some of the biscuits. It was a real store-cupboard wonder - tinned peach and digestive crumble:


Drain a tin of peach slices and place in a suitably sized dish, so they easily cover the bottom.
In a bowl, crush 8 digestive biscuits and rub 1tbsp soya margarine into the crumbs.
Pour the crumbs on top and bake at 180c for about 15 - 20 minutes.

We decided that there was far too much crumble (I actually used 10 biscuits) but it was delicious with dairy-free vanilla ice-cream. It kind of reminded me of cheesecake because of the digestive biscuit crumbs.

Trophy making

Yesterday, as we were unable to go out in the sun (one small person has terrible heat rash) we stayed in for the morning and made trophies. We are having a birthday party at the weekend which involves 10-pin bowling, so the girls and I made winners' trophies.

We have some leftover silver plastic goblets from Emma's party and we also used plastic balls, cardboard, an empty playdoh pot and lid, a plastic bowl, kitchen roll, stickers, pva glue and glass paints.

The girls made handles from cardboard and stuck them to their goblets with magic tape, then they painted them with gold and silver glass paints. Emma also used a variety of stickers to decorate hers.
The gold trophy was assembled then covered with a couple of layers of kitchen roll and pva. I then painted it with gold glass paint and used a sharpie pen to add the details.
The multicoloured trophy was Charlotte's. She also assembled and (with a little help) covered the trophy with kitchen roll and pva. She then painted it and after the picture was taken she added the details to hers with a sharpie too.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Fruit tea bread

Yesterday I discovered that I had a lot of dried fruits that desperately needed eating. My mum often made tea bread when we were younger, and this is her recipe. I have used the fruit that I had to hand, but any dried fruit in any combination tends to taste pretty good.


1lb dried fruit (I used raisins, currants, cherries and apricots)
8oz brown sugar
1/2 pint warm tea (I used decaf, as I can't have caffeine)
1 egg
2 tbsp marmalade
1lb plain flour (I only had 1/2lb so used that with 1/2lb self raising flour and also halved the amount of extra baking powder used)
4tsp baking powder


Soak the fruit in the tea with the sugar overnight.
Add the egg and marmalade to the fruit and stir to mix.
Finally add the flour and baking powder and stir well.
Divide mix between two lined (or greased and floured) 1lb loaf tins.
Bake at 170c for about 50 minutes until the top is browned and the cake is cooked through.

I think the reason mum used flour and baking powder instead of self raising flour is because she used to make this with wholewheat flour, which she couldn't get as self raising. It seems to work equally well with self raising flour and no extra baking powder.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Apple and strawberry crumble

I was pottering in the kitchen this afternoon, I had an array of items that needed using up today (and some dried fruit that needed using last month!) so I kept working at it until they were all used up.
The list included a gammon joint, 5 apples, a nectarine, dried fruit and asparagus.
I made gammon slow cooked in stock with apple halves, a nectarine and mango sauce to accompany it, I am soaking the dried fruits to make a couple of tea loaves tomorrow, steamed green veg and an apple and strawberry crumble. Phew, all done.

The crumble was a last minute thing, as the apples were eating ones, not cooking ones and I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I needn't have worried, my crumble-monster had 3rds even after a massive main course.


4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into chunks
6 large strawberries cut into quarters
A little brown sugar and a little maple syrup (would have been all syrup, but I ran out)
Plain flour
Demerara sugar
Porridge oats
Soya margarine


Cook the apples up with the syrup and a little water until they soften.
In a mixing bowl add equal quantities of flour, sugar and margarine and a couple of tbsp of oats and mix to make a crumble topping. It should be quite coarse.
Place the strawberries in a dish and add the cooked apples but not any juice/syrup.
Sprinkle the crumble on top and cook for about 1/2 hour at 180c.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ginger beer

We like ginger in our house. It is possible that we like ginger more than anything else when it comes to both sweet and savoury foods, so it seemed like a natural progression to try to make some ginger beer at home. My mum gave me a kit that she acquired some time over Christmas, and last week we gave it a go.

You mix boiling water with the ginger seasoning, lemon juice and sugar then leave to cool. You then sprinkle the yeast sachet onto the liquid, cover it and leave somewhere warm for 3 days. I used the airing cupboard, and had to be careful not to let any errant socks fall in!

After 3 days you bottle it in a 2 litre fizzy drink bottle and put it back in a warm place for 3 more days. Every day we dutifully released the pressure and returned the bottle to the airing cupboard to brew.

Today was the day of reckoning. We opened the bottle and the ginger beer spurted out everywhere, but mainly into a jug. We added ice to cool it and took our first sip... It was foul. Emma sniffed it and refused to taste it, and I don't blame her! It was like liquid bread dough and I am pretty sure we must have done something wrong (I can't see what, as we followed the instructions to the letter), so I don't imagine we will be using the rest of the kit. This does not bode well for my idea of brewing from our grapes this year.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

More chocolate brownie cake!

I made the cake for my friend's son yesterday. I finished off the icing today before taking it to the party. I had a flash of inspiration, and decided to make a number 5 in the sprinkles. I printed out a big number 5, then traced it onto a big piece of greaseproof paper. I carefully cut the 5 out to leave a stencil, then also cut a 5 shape out as a second stencil.

I placed the 5 shape in the middle of the cake, then sprinkled chocolate vermicelli all over. When the 5 was removed, I was left with plain icing only in that area. I then placed the 5 stencil over the cake, leaving just the 5 of icing showing. I carefully pressed star shaped sprinkles into the icing to make the 5, it turned out pretty well.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Knight outfit

Today Charlotte was going to a Knights and Damsels in distress party, she excitedly went through the princess dresses and chose to go as Ariel. Emma was allowed to tag along, and decided 1 hour before the party started that she didn't want to be a damsel, she wanted to be a knight. I decided that I would take up the challenge, and rifled through the airing cupboard for an old pillow case.

None of the outfit is hemmed, so it is unlikely to last that long, but in the time I had I was very pleased with my effort. I cut out a neck hole and folded the corners in to make the shoulders. I sewed a silver button on to the point of each folded corner to secure it. I then cut from the hem of the pillowcase up to just under the folded corner, about 4cm in from the side seam on the front of the pillowcase - this gave a cloak at the back and the front of a tabard at the front. I cut the front a little shorter and the back too, as Emma is quite little and I didn't want her to trip on it, then sewed a couple of lengths of chain from under one button to under the other one. I then used felt tip pen to draw the cross on the front (the fabric pen had conveniently run out). Ta-dah, one knight costume.

She wore a grey t-shirt and grey leggings underneath, then a belt of mine looped twice around her waist to hold the tabard part to her body. She made the sword and shield herself at her birthday party earlier in the year.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The big baking session begins

Cut up and ready for the cake sale.
I am on a baking mission this week. I made two banana cakes yesterday and sent one in to nursery for their snack time treat. I made a big slab of rich chocolate cake today for the cake sale at school tomorrow, as a practice for the cake I shall be making on saturday for my friend's little boy's birthday party. The chocolate cake is one I make for really special occasions, so those who get a bit at the cake sale tomorrow are very lucky! I don't make it very often as it is super-sweet and rich and uses up a lot of my chocolate supply. It is based on a chocolate brownie recipe which is heavenly in itself, I totally recommend making them too!

Rich chocolate cake ingredients

275g plain chocolate (I use these)
275g soya margarine
180g chocolate chips (white and "milk" or just "milk" - you can buy both from Plamil too.)
175g plain flour
slightly heaped tbsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
125g light brown soft sugar


How the top looks when it is cooked and ready to cool.
Melt the margarine and chocolate over a pan of simmering water to melt.
Measure out flour and baking powder and set aside.
Mix together the eggs, sugars and vanilla in a large bowl, then add the melted chocolate and mix well.
Add the flour and baking powder and mix well. The mix will be very gloopy.
Finally add the chocolate chips and mix, then pour the mix into a 7" square tin that has been greased and lined with baking paper.
Bake for around an hour at 170c, don't be tempted to turn the heat up to speed up the process, as the cake will burn before the middle is cooked.

Once the cake was cooked and cooled (it takes ages to cool as it is so dense) I made up a dairy-free cream cheese icing with the following ingredients:

1 tbsp dairy-free cream cheese (available on the high street in Holland and Barrett)
1 tbsp soya margarine
2tsp cocoa powder
icing sugar to make a thick but spreadable icing.

I spread this on the cake and sprinkled stars on top before cutting it into squares with a bread knife. I started off with pieces that are much too big, I think it should be cut into 25 squares. If I had one, I'd make it in a bigger tin and have less chunky pieces.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Bunny cakes

I was ordering some stuff for the girls from Yellow Moon and I saw this cake pan in the sale. It arrived yesterday and I couldn't wait to try it out. I also bought a tub of coconut oil a while ago, which I have been meaning to try baking with but not had the opportunity to do some experimenting. I made the following mix up, which made 4 bunnies:


2oz caster sugar
2oz coconut oil
1 egg
2.5oz self raising flour
1tbsp cocoa
Soya milk


Mix the coconut oil and caster sugar, then add the egg and mix well.
Add the flour and cocoa and mix. The batter was very stiff, so I added soya milk until the consistency was soft like fairy cake mix.
Spray cake release spray into each of the bunny shapes, then fill each bunny 2/3 full with mix.
Bake for 15 minutes at 180c.
Tip the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool.

The cakes had a lovely light texture, but the coconut taste was quite strong. I think that I should have added a little salt to the mix too, as the coconut oil is unsalted. The sponge was less rich then when I have used soya margarine, but Charlotte and I polished one off before they were even cool so they must have been good!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Makes, bakes and science experiments...?

Today Charlotte dived into the science kit I bought in TKMaxx a few weeks back for a pittance. She has now used vinegar and bicarb to blow up a balloon, seen iron filings line up to a magnet and made a zeotrope.

Her favourite bit was looking at liquid density. This was, basically, carefully adding different liquids to her new test tube (she feels like a real scientist now) to make layers. You then drop things in to see which level they sink to. I reckon this is just as easy to do without a science kit, as the main ingredients all came from my kitchen. It seems like a great way to allow kids to mix up all kinds of liquids and make a bit of mess without getting in trouble.

Here is a picture of Charlotte with her test tube. It contains (from the bottom):
maple syrup
washing up liquid
soya milk
sunflower oil

It also contains a lump of clay, a marble and a paperclip at this stage. It all got a bit messy after that...

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Playing with clay

For Emma's 4th birthday, a friend gave her a pack of coloured air-drying clay. I was expecting heavy, thick clay like we used as kids, but I was very surprised once we opened the packet. Each individual wrapper in the packet contained a chunk of soft, lightweight coloured clay. It reminded us a bit of silly putty as it stretches out like melted cheese when you pull it slowly, but when you pull it quickly it snaps. Not like clay at all, but so much more fun!

The girls had been watching Mr Maker and asked if we could make some "yolk folk" like he had made, so this was the first project.
Charlotte's, Emma's, Mummy's, Charlotte's (with a bit of help from Mummy), Charlotte's and Daddy's

After that, we had a lot of bits of clay left so the girls both made horses with the leftovers. It was bright, clean, easy to use and I have just ordered a load more from Yellow Moon.

Charlottes and Emma's horses.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Mug decorating

I have been feeling a bit unmotivated with all this grey weather. I have been busy making and baking, but not anything that seemed exciting enough to post about.

I was sitting staring into my cup of tea just now and I realised that I was staring straight at a make that I had forgotten all about. For Fathers day, the girls wanted to make decorated mugs for daddy. We went to Hobbycraft and bought some ceramic paint pens and painted on some cheap white mugs I had bought a while back.

Charlotte did one for daddy and one for herself (she's into dalmatians at the moment), Emma did one for daddy and I did the one at the end which contains my current cup of tea.