Monday, December 10, 2012

Ninja-bread men: let's start this season right

The Tae Kwon-do Christmas party was this week and having been confined to the couch for so long I was excited to go. I also had a family event to attend on the same evening so I would be jumping straight back into socializing and Christmas prep.

On the day, I got out of work, got to the gym as fast as possible, worked out like a devil, got home, cleaned up, picked the outfit, made the dough for these ninjas, chilled the dough while doing the hair and make-up, cut the cookies,chill the cookies, baked the cookies, cooled and decorated them, strapped on the high heels, wrapped up warm and hit the road. At the family event we walked around for 2 and half hours and then I head to............headed to................gonna go to...............bed. As it turns out, you can't quite go from 0-100mph when you're just better. Damn! So these cookies didn't quite make it to the party, but they were enjoyed none-the-less ;)

These are definitely a twist on gingerbread, there is very little ginger if I'm honest. However with all the flavour packed into them you will barely miss it. They have an amazing combination of dark chocolate, orange, ginger and almonds that make a wonderful alternative to the ole gingerbread men and to say that these little guys pack a punch is an understatement. I chopped the chocolate and almonds into tiny slivers so that they would disperse throughout the entire cookie;I've included a little video below showing how I cut the chocolate for these. I've zero knife skills but hopefully it will give you an idea of what to do.

Ninja-Bread Men (Dark Chocolate, Orange, Almond and Ginger)

150g         Unsalted Butter
200g         Sugar
400g         All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp      Baking Powder
1/4tsp       Salt
1/2 tsp      Ground Ginger
1               large Egg
1 tbsp       Milk
1 tsp         Orange essence
100g         Dark Chocolate very thinly sliced
100g         whole Almonds

Preheat your oven and toast the almonds for 10 minutes. Beat together the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl sieve together the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger. In a jug, beat together the egg and milk. Slowly add the flour and egg mixture alternating between the two until the mixture is combined. Don't worry if the mixture appears dry at this stage, the oil from the nuts is an important element of this recipe. Chop your chocolate as thinly as possible, almost shaving the chocolate with the knife and then chop the almonds as thin as possible also. Add the nuts and chocolate and beat until everything is fully incorporated.

Chill the dough for 2 hours or so and then roll out. Cut with the gingerbread men cutters of your choice. Preheat the oven to 190'C/375'F/Gas Mark 5. Chill for another 20mins before baking for 10minutes. Cool on a wire rack and decorate with icing sugar and little stars =)

Monday, December 3, 2012

A bit of down-time before the storm

I am frequently jealous of Americans for having Thanksgiving. It's like a warm up to the big event with just enough time in between for a breather. Here the Christmas seems to set in on November 1st and I even found myself shopping with my sister on the 15th November and feeling bad for not being in the Christmas mood yet. What?? This madness is catching!

Image Property of Universal Press Syndicate

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love the mood, the weather, the time with family and, obviously, the food. The one thing I do not like is the commercialism and the sense of panic that spreads when people are running around looking for the perfect gift. As I have mentioned before I make edible gifts for all my friends at Christmas and I hope to continue this tradition, probably adapting the edible goodies as time goes on, but keeping the essence of the handmade gift forever. Even if I had all the money in the world and could pay someone to make treats for everyone I know that I would still do it myself, because the point is to give them something from the heart, something that took time and effort and a little love to boot.

One of my usual presents

This panic for a bought gift, however, is somewhat inevitable, even when you start early like I did last year there are always a few people that you are unsure of, or for whom the perfectly planned present could not be acquired. Still it's only the 2nd December, and for reasons we will ignore for the moment I was confined to the couch this weekend, so I decided to put the feet up and relax. I watched 'Miracle on 34th Street,' 'The Muppets: A Christmas Carol,' and thoroughly soaked up the Christmas feeling at it's best. But I am aware that this is the second weekend I haven't baked so to make up for that I thought I would share some other items that I have worked on until I start some of the Christmas cooking next week. I hope you enjoy these little pics.

This cowl scarf was designed specifically for my rough and manly bf, it is thick and sits very close to the neck making it a perfect fit under a jacket.

To match his scarf I also knitted him this little hat, which he is very proud of, despite some first timer idiosyncrasies

Monday, November 19, 2012

Keeping it simple - healthy-ish muffins

Last week I missed out on posting, for basically no reason other than my frustration at my own inadequacy. I had baked these delicious healthy cupcakes with the same base as the 80Kcal cupcakes but then I faltered rather badly on the topping. Meringue - been there, done that. I tried a chocolate dip topping but it didn't look good. So then I tried a basic icing topping but again it was too boring and I ended up leaving some of the cupcakes totally bare. Well as irony would have it, the recipient of said cupcakes preferred the frosting free ones, which left me feeling a little bit.....why did I bother, I suck, inadequacy cloud..... you get the picture!

This week however I return and this time I am keeping things simple with delicious, healthy-ish autumnal muffins. They are deliciously spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg and bejeweled with plump sultanas. The muffin itself is made with whole-wheat and oats to make it healthy and wholesome. The over-all effect is not too sweet but hits all the right notes of a little treat when you wanna be good too. It would make a perfect breakfast muffin.

Spiced Whole-wheat Sultana and Oat Muffins

300g               Wholewheat flour
30g                  Oatflakes
20g                  Wheat germ
2 tsp                 Baking powder
1 tsp                 Baking Soda
1/2 tsp              Salt
1 tsp                 Cinnamon
3/4 tsp              Nutmeg
150g                 Caster Sugar
2                       Egg yolks
240ml               Natural low fat yoghurt
120ml               melted Butter
250ml               strong Tea
200g                 Sultanas

to decorate
20g Rolled Oats
25g Brown sugar

If you're planning this recipe in advance it's best to soak the sultanas overnight but if you don't have time just start soaking the sultanas before you take out any of your ingredients to get started.

Preheat your oven to 200'C/400'F/Gas Mark 6. Mix together your flour, oat flakes, wheat germ, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Normally I would say your should sieve them together but that's difficult with the wholewheat and wheat germ and all that so I say whisk them thoroughly.
In a separate bowl add your sugar, melted butter, yoghurt, egg yolks together and again whisk thoroughly. Now pour the dry ingredients onto the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon only enough to combine. Then drain the tea away from the sultanas and cover the sultanas in a little more flour. Add the sultanas and again mix only until combined. Spoon into muffin tin and heat a frying pan on the hob. Toast the rolled oats. Once the oats are toasted pour them into a container with the brown sugar and pour this combination over the scooped muffins before baking.

Bake for 20-30mins and cool on a wire rack. Then enjoy being healthy and happy =)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ghoulish Tricks and treats - Raspberry and White Chocolate Alco-cake pops

A little late for all hallow's eve, I will admit but these delicious monsters are just as edible in spherical form any time of the year.

These little ghouls are shaped into skulls and then dipped/covered in white chocolate. 

Raspberry and White Chocolate Alco-cakepops (makes 24)

Raspberry Cake

300g Unsalted Butter
300g Caster Sugar
3 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
400g Plain White Flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp Beet juice/ 1 tbsp red food colouring
2 cans of preserved/ 300g fresh Raspberries
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Cake-pop mix

60-100ml Raspberry Liquer
300mlWhipped Cream
2-3tbsp Icing Sugar


Cake pop sticks
500g White Chocolate
Black/Red/Glitter Colour powders
1 tbsp Alcohol of choice

To make your cake, preheat your oven to 180/350/Gas mark 5. Put your raspberries and 2 tbsps of sugar into a saucepan and heat and beat until you have a liquid. Put this liquid through a sieve and back into the saucepan, reduce for 3-5 minutes until you have a raspberry sauce.Put aside to cool. 
Beat together the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy. Beat the eggs and egg yolks and then sieve your flour and salt. Alternating between the egg mixture and the flour add each into the butter/sugar and stir to combine. Finally add in your raspberry sauce and red food colouring until you have achieved a dark pink/red mixture. Pour into a cake tin and cook for 30-40 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean. Put your cake on a rack to cool.

Once your cake is cool break it up into crumbs. Whip the cream and icing sugar together. Fold in the raspberry liquer. Fold (do not mash) this mixture into the cake crumbs and then roll the mixture gently into balls. To make the ghouls heads i took the head of a skeleton doll and cut it in half. I then sterilized it, greased it with butter and pressed the ball into it. Then set your cake balls in the fridge while you melt the white chocolate. 

Melt 3/4 of the white chocolate over a saucepan of boiling water and then remove from the pan and add the rest of the white chocolate to temper. Once the chocolate is nice and melted dip the top of the cake pop sticks and stick them into the balls/heads. Cool these in the freezer briefly and then dip your cake pops/ghouls head into the white chocolate and let them stand in foam/cakepop stand until the chocolate has hardened.
Mix a small amount of black and red colour powders with edible glitter and your tablespoon of high perentage alcohol. Use this to pain on the eyes or to colour the outside of the pops and then enjoy.

As you can see the outside is ghoulish white and the inside is red and still very soft and fluffy (due to the folding, not mashing the cake-pop mixture)

Eating his head- grr argh yum ;)

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Easy Cheat to a Tasty Treat - 20 minute cinnamon buns

Last week I was speaking about the importance of taking me time; to bake and relax even when you are very busy. I stand by this position and I believe that it is possible to make time for the important and mentally healthy things in life. That said, sometimes you can only make a little time ;)

Therefore I shall explore something fast but delicious that will simultaneously fill the need to bake and eat delicious home cooked food within a short period of time. I humbly present to you my 20 minute cinnamon buns!

The first thing you will need is dough in a can. I have explored some options based on region. In Ireland and the UK the 'Jus-Rol' company have recently released a selection of products (thin crust pizza, crusty rolls, rustic white roll) that all include a cylinder of dough preserved in a can. In the US/Canada the 'Pillsbury' company do a similar set of products (pizza crusts, breads and also whole wheat options) that involve dough in can.

Side-note: I am not claiming that these are the healthiest thing ever as all these doughs involve some preservative that I will only eat once in a while, but hey we are making cinnamon buns here, health left the building 10 minutes ago and no-one cares because....

Quick and fun Cinnamon Buns

1 Can         pre-made dough
50g            muscovado brown sugar
25g            granulated white sugar
2-3 tbsp     ground cinnamon
30ml          cream/melted butter

1 - Preheat your oven to 190'C/375'F/Gas Mark 5. Take your can of dough and open on a clean working surface/board

Open can of dough

2 - As you can see, from the above photo, the dough inside these cans is rolled. The second step is therefore to CAREFULLY unroll the dough, it will be delicate and it is important to stretch it as little as humanly possible during this stage so easy does it.

Mine was mildly stretched but as little as I could manage
3 - Sprinkle and spread around the sugars and then sprinkle on the cinnamon. Pour on the cream or melted butter and spread around. There is no need to spread too much as the rolling will spread this and the resulting sugar fat mixture can clump and leave some areas bare if over worked

4 - Carefully and slowly roll your dough back into the cylindrically shape from whence it came but now with added yum

5 - Cut into 1 inch discs and arrange inside a cake tin or baking tray with raised sides. Place your raw buns close to form a larger bread of connected buns and keep the sides of the buns soft and delicious but leave some room to expand during cooking.

Almost there now, you can almost taste them can't you?
6 - Bake the cinnamon buns for 10-15 minutes at the center of your oven. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack (remember hot sugar = not worth it). Then enjoy with or without frosting!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spiced apple mini eclairs - a little bite of seasonal joy

I love this time of year. The changing colour of the leaves, the chill in the air, everyone wearing hats and scarves and getting to wear wool tights. It's an exciting season! There are also so many wonderful culinary delights to explore; freshly picked apples, pumpkins, squash and big beautiful sweet potatoes. That said however, it can also be quite a hectic time. The start of school and college, sports clubs and societies getting into full swing, protecting your house/car/health/kids for the winter and of course the many wonderful holidays to prepare for. It can feel like you are running from one thing to the next and it's wholly possible to miss many of the beauties that are on offer as you go. 

I think it is important to take a day or at least a few hours to yourself and immerse yourself in all that the season has to offer. It was in this very spirit that I embarked on my latest baking project. Following a brisk and energetic walk in the park where I admired the many colours of the leaves and inhaled the wonderful scent of cold air, I was inspired to capture some of the tastes of the season in a tiny sweet bite and eclairs are something I haven't made for a while. They also require some time and concentration which is perfect when one is determined to experience me time. The outcome was even better than I had expected. The sharp apple contrasts perfectly with the creme patissiere and the salted caramel rounds out the experience. Needless to say it is ill-advised to eat too many but if I'm honest that didn't stop me. Ah well, guess I'll just have to take another walk.

Just one won't hurt!

Spiced Apple mini- Eclairs

Choux pastry
 300ml water
115g unsalted butter
130g  plain flour
pinch of salt
4 eggs

Apple filling
4 cooking apples
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Creme Patissiere
3 egg yolks
50g white caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp plain flour
300 ml whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
75ml double cream

175g White Sugar
175g water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 200'/400'/Gas mark 6. To make the eclairs put the water and butter into a saucepan and heat until the butter has melted. Bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and mix in the flour and salt. When the mixture has formed a dough, return to the heat and continue to mix for a minute of so to dry out the dough. Remove from the heat and gradually add one egg at a time, mixing thoroughly and quickly to ensure that the egg doesn't have a chance to cook before it is mixed in. Your arms will hurt doing this but persevere - it is worth it. Once all the eggs are in, scoop your mixture into a piping bag and pipe little 2" lines of dough onto a lined baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes and do not open the oven until they are done as this will affect the rise.

To make the apple filling, peel and chop your apples and mix the pieces in the lemon juice as you go to preserve the colour. Put your apple slices into a dry saucepan and put the spice on top. Do Not Mix yet. Let the apples start to stew and release juices for a minute, then mix. Continue to mix and heat until the apples have achieved the appearance of apple sauce. Remove the cloves and blitz with a hand-held blender to ensure all the lumps are gone.
  • You will notice there is no sugar in the apple filling. There will be enough sugar in the rest of the recipe and the tart taste works well so trust me.

To make the creme patissiere, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Bring the milk and nutmeg to a boil in a pan. Mix the corn and plain flours into the eggs and beat thoroughly. Once the milk has boiled, carefully pour about 1/4 of it onto the eggs and beat thoroughly. You can then pour this egg and milk mixture onto the rest of the milk. Continue to whisk and heat for another few minutes until the consistency is thick but smooth. Place in a clean bowl covered in cling-film which you push onto the surface of the creme. Once cooled, whip the cream and fold into the creme patissiere.

Start the caramel as your piping your eclairs, it will help you to avoid the tempting mix. Using two piping bags fill one with apple and one with creme patissiere. For the apple bag top it with a small injection piping nozzle and use a wide nozzle for the creme. Inject the nozzle of the apple bag into the end of the eclair and pipe along the bottom on the eclair, repeat this with the creme and you will feel the eclair fill up and become heavier. Keep an eye on the caramel and swirl if necessary. Repeat this process with all the eclairs and leave to stand.

When the sugar has turned a golden brown add the butter and salt and stir until incorporated. Spoon over the eclairs just before serving. Enjoy

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Low Fat, Low Calorie Cupcake to end all cupcakes

The title of this post is bold. I am very aware of that but I stand behind this cupcake. It is my baby and it took some making but it is for everyone I have every met, known and loved who like my baking but have to say no because they are trying to eat healthy. These said same people usually give out to me for making too many delicious goodies that they cannot resist but subsequently regret when face with a pair of skinny jeans.

 To be fair they are complimenting me and I do appreciate it but I feel bad too. As a fellow workout and health food fanatic (50% of the time) I understand how they feel and I want to ease any guilt associated with enjoying my creations and hence..... the 80kcal cupcake.

80kcals!! Frosting and all
There is no mad mystery to this cake though. It's a simple alteration to a recipe that Alton Brown actually uses in his cupcake episode of 'Good Eats,'- Chiffon. This is not the cake recipe that most people use,or that I would normally use but it is perfect for health conscious individuals as it contains less flour and butter than most cakes.

The frosting is a meringue frosting and again this is a favourite among healthy types for it's use of egg whites. I injected some of my homemade strawberry jam into the centre for a little extra flavour and moisture in the centre. The overall theme was strawberries and meringue as these were made for an 'End of Summer,' party.

Strawberry and Meringue guilt-free Cupcakes

  • 150g flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 75g Caster Sugar
  • 10g Stevia
  • 60ml cup water
  • 60ml  melted butter
  • 1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Preheat your oven to 170F/325C/Gas Mark 4. Then sieve together your flour, baking powder and salt. Seperate your eggs carefully and then beat the yolks with the stevia and 50g of the sugar until it is light and ribbons. Add the butter, vanilla, flour mixture and water and beat until incorporated.

In a seperate clean bowl, whisk together the egg whites and cream of tartar until you have soft peaks. Slowly pour in the 25g of sugar until it has been fully dissolved. Then add this meringue mixture to the rest of the ingredients and fold in. Spoon into cupcake cases and bake for 20-30mins.

Meringue Frosting  
  •  5 large egg whites
  • 5/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 8g Stevia
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp strawberry flavouring
  • 30ml water
Put all the ingredients in a heat-proof bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Heat a saucepan half full of water until it has reached a simmer. Submerge the bottom of your mixing bowl and continue to beat. Remove from the saucepan when all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Continue to beat for another 15 minutes until the mixture is light and smooth, like a normal meringue. Be careful not to over-beat (as you can see, I took it slightly slightly too far in this picture.)

Assembling your cupcakes and finishing touches

Once your cupcakes have cooled. Inject a small amount of home-made low sugar jam into each cupcake.
Almost there, resist the urge to dig in!

Then pipe a peak of meringue onto each cupcake and toast this using a blow-torch or even a carefully watched grill! Dust your cupcakes in a finally sprinkle of icing sugar and then stand-back and admire're eating them already?! Fair enough ;)

Nutritional Info - 1cupcake = approx. 80Kcals, 10g carbs, 2.5g protein & 100% awesome

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cupcake week - Roasted peaches and cream boutiques

Recently I have been working together with decidedlydelicious to experiment with different recipes and learn from one another. It has really been very enjoyable and educational too. This week was Cupcake Week UK and food network are celebrating it with lots of episodes of cupcake wars and .... a competition for..... a food processor? =/ Well it's ok they are promoting this amazing celebration/competition with the amazing and inspiration YOLO.......erm........? Sorry, sorry rant over, regardless I want to join in this celebration and therefore we offer these tiny celebratory cakes that would be very appropriate as little boutique wedding tokens or just tiny treats for any time.

Roasted Peaches and Creme Boutiques

(inspired by peaches and cream cupcakes from the Hummingbird Cafe)

6 Peaches chopped into cubes
2 table spoons vanilla caster sugar (or just ordinary caster sugar)
30g Butter
1 Cup/125g Sugar
1 cup/125g Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
20ml Cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
100ml Milk

Preheat your oven to 200' F/400' C/ Gas Mark 6.  Sprinkle your vanilla caster sugar over your peaches and toss them before roasting for 30 minutes or until soft inside and caramelized outside. Reduce the oven to 180'F/350' C/Gas Mark 4

Line your cupcake tins and insert peaches into each case.

Beat together the flour, baking and soda powders, sugar and butter  until you have bread-crumb consistency. Slowly pour in the cream and then start beating. As you beat this add another 40ml of the milk until the mixture is creamy and smooth. 

Whisk together the rest of the milk with the egg and vanilla and then slowly (watch for splashes at this point) beat this into the dough. Once everything is incorporated scoop the mixture over the peaches and bake for 15-20 minutes on a middle shelf.

Once the cupcakes have cooled ice them with a fluffy vanilla buttercream in tiny rosettes patterns

This recipe as mentioned was inspired and adapted from the Hummingbird Peaches and Cream Cupcake. Their style of cupcake baking is very different and having attempted it I was surprised to see how light and fluffy my cake came out, even with our alterations.

For future attempts I would possibly put the peaches in half way through the cupcake as we found that the fruit sometimes detached from the cake and with these particular cupcakes, where we used the IKEA muffin tin to achieve the slender height of a boutique there was possibly too much cake between the fruit and the icing. That said however, these are delicious and were very well received in this house so please enjoy =)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Baking for Gout

This year I was introduced to an amazing and wonderful baker, decidedlydelicious who adapts recipes for her lactose intolerance. Through various discussions with her, I discovered how we are all slightly lactose intolerant and the benefits of going lactose free. At the time when we first started talking about this I was trying lactose free while recovering from a cold but since then both myself and the bf have switched to lactose free and find that it has had a very positive effect on our health. We are not 100% lactose free but we try. Dietary restrictions are a pain sometimes and therefore I think that it's important to attempt to provide some solutions for different dietary needs.

This week I will be addressing Gout. There are a number of different dietary suggestions for gout but from what I have read sufferers need to increase protein, whole grains and fibre and reduce sugars and fats. There's no way you can eat cake then right? Wrong! This cake is both delicious, low in fat, high in protein and contains lemon which breaks down uric acid. There will be more than one post on this subject and for reference sake this cake is higher on the fat/sugar than others that will follow so gout suffers can enjoy in moderation!

Lemon and Raisin Cake

100g Plain Flour
200g Kamut Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
125g Butter
15g Stevia
10g Granulated Sugar
1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks
50g apple sauce
2-3 tbsp lemon juice (taste preference)
75g raisins
25g Ground almonds

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Sieve together your flours, baking powder and salt. In a stand-mixer or with an electric whisk beat together your butter, granulated sugar and stevia until the mixture is very light and fluffy. In separate bowls mix your apple sauce and lemon juice and beat together your eggs.

Slowly, alternating between the flour mixture, eggs and applesauce mixture combine the ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Once a smooth batter has been achieved then add the raisins. Pour into a baking paper lined cake tin and scattered the ground almond onto the top before baking. Bake for 45minutes on a middle shelf or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out and let cool fully before eating (this is harder than it seems.

The cake can appear doughy when first cut but you will find that it is soft and delicate and it melts in the mouth. Hopefully you enjoy this whether or not you have gout =)

I did!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Breaking Bad Review (No Spoilers)

WARNING: Breaking Bad is a highly addictive show and has caused many incidents of productivity loss, obsessive thoughts and prioritizing of watching episodes over healthy activities such as exercise, eating and sleep. With the volume of previous episodes available it is extremely important for the new viewer to pace themselves and remember it's important to continue daily activities e.g. work.

For those who may not be aware Breaking Bad is a highly successful show on the AMC network starring Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a Chemistry teacher, who upon discovering he has terminal cancer is forced to find a way to provide for his family after his demise. After a chance encounter with an old student, Jessie Pinkman (Aaron Paul) Walter realizes that one way to make money fast and use his skills is to cook Meth. The pair team up to combine Walter's genius chemistry knowledge and Jessie's knowledge of drug dealing and this underground network. The thing is nothing in life is simple, particularly in illegal activities, and from there as you can imagine hilarious antics ensue.

In my last tv review I referenced Shakespearean drama and this show could also be considered Shakespearean in many ways but in very different ways to Revenge. This appears to be a classic tragedy and this is evident in almost every episode. The construction of the episodes is very interesting in that the cold-opening shows a scene from the end of the episode or the end of the season which establishes a sense of foreboding and mystery while the viewer watches how this conclusion is reached. The very premise of the show establishes a foregone conclusion of oncoming death and loss and like many great tragedies it highlights themes of family, sacrifice, money and deception and all the drama that occurs when these elements combine.

A colleague, with whom I have often discussed this show, pointed out that one of the standout elements of this show lies in the truly brilliant writing. He pointed out that unlike many shows there is not one filler scene in any episode. Almost every line is relevant and one can often find that missing a single scene can result in loss of vital information relevant for future episodes. So learn to utilize the pause function on your dvr or watch episodes repeatedly, which is really not a chore.

The current season starts like many others with Walt and Jessie trying to regroup after the chaos that was the end of the last season.This time with their experience to date they have some different ideas about what they want to do and some absolute genius ideas I might add. The consequences and ramifications of their previous decision are not to be ignored and we see some interesting character developments in the first few episodes. Walt himself has developed and changed; the whole journey in seasons 3 &4 seems to have impacted him significantly. Jessie too appears to be growing into himself and trusting his ideas and his ability to make decisions. The only question that remains is what impact this will have on the business and whether the values that initiated this story will remain as the two become further entrenched in this outer world. I for one look forward to see what will happen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

15 Minute Fudge

Ok this may take from 15-25 minutes depending on your hob/ saucepan but all in all this is real fudge fast! I have been to a number of fudge making facilities, including one in Amish country Pennsylvania and I have the greatest respect for their intricate and painstaking methods that produce delicious and timeless fudge. Thing is - I don't have a steel kettle over a fire or a giant slab of marble to work with and sometimes even a busy girl with a tiny kitchen needs fudge! So a few years ago I started working on a recipe for fast fudge. Like any novice fudge maker I started with a traditional recipe that my mum gave me. This recipe called for large quantities of butter, sugar and evaporated milk. I stood and stirred and stood and stirred and stirred and stirred and waited and waited and eventually ended up with more fudge than I could ever eat or share. Don't get me wrong the fudge was delicious but hardly worth all that stirring. So I worked on changing the recipe and after much trial and error (emphasis on the error) I finally discovered a method that produces a fast fudge with the perfect combination of smoothness and texture.

Simultaneously smooth and textured

There are a few points that need to be gotten out of the way straight off the bat. Firstly the key to great fudge is temperature so you NEED a sugar thermometer!! I spent years making fudge without a thermometer and it works but it's pure hit and miss. Secondly it's not essential but it's better if you have a heavy based saucepan as this will reduce the amount of brown bits in the fudge and reduce the likelihood of burning.  Finally my recipe uses condensed milk instead of evaporated, but I then add water, this makes no sense right?! Well in my experience fudge needs to boil, so it needs something to boil off. Condensed milk has less water, and some sugar has already been dissolved into it, therefore this way I control the amount of water to ensure the all important boiling but reduce the overall cooking time.

15 Minute Fudge

1 x 375g Can of Condensed Milk
300g Brown Caster Sugar
100g Butter (diced)
100ml warm water
1.5 tsp vanilla

Add all the ingredients accept the vanilla into a heavy based saucepan and turn the heat on low. Stir continuously until all the butter has melted. Then insert the sugar thermometer  and start to increase the heat under the saucepan very gradually, stirring continuously (I cannot emphasis this enough - turn on the radio, put your phone beside you and get someone to watch the baby because you will be standing beside this saucepan for the next 10-15 minutes or else your fudge will be burnt).

Once the temperature hits 115C (the soft ball stage) remove from the heat. Give the fudge a minute or two to cool before adding the vanilla extract. Then stir the fudge vigorously as it starts to cool and thicken. Just as the mixture starts to appear duller pour it into a pre-lined tin and then leave it cool. Once cool cut it into bite-sized squares and enjoy =)

A tower of vanilla-y decadent deliciousness

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Brown Bear Cupcakes

It has been a while since I have actually eaten chocolate, 12 days precisely. Therefore I must eat vicariously through my blog. A few weeks ago I wanted to make a cupcake for the Dr Oetker Cupcake competition. I slightly mis-interpreted the aims of the competition but I am still happy with what I achieved, so this is what I achieved using Dr Oetker products only, btw this is not sponsored or anything like that (I wish, right?) but it needed to be mentioned since the parameters were relevant to the process.

Brown Bear Cupcakes
These might better be described as snack-cakes. They are half-way between a cupcake and a brownie and they were inspired by my sweet and wonderful bf who was completely obsessed with the Bears in Berlin (Dr Oetker german connection, get it?!) and you likes chocolate but also likes to be able to have more than one without feeling greedy. Therefore these are smaller than normal cupcakes and lighter than normal brownies. However they do have a little fudge center, kinda - remember the parameters but they turned out more like little fudge chips, that were amazing delicious!!

Brown Bear Cupcakes

125g Butter
150g Caster Sugar
50ml yoghurt
1 whole Egg
2 Egg Yolks
200g Plain white cake flour
75g Cocao Powder
1 teaspoon Baking powder
20ml espresso
150g dark chocolate chips
100g mini fudge pieces

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Beat together your butter and Sugar until light and fluffy. In seperate bowls sieve your dry ingredients together, adding the chocolate chips after sieving, and beat together your eggs, yoghurt and coffee. Then add the wet and dry ingredients and mix only enough to combine, the muffin method if you will.

Line your muffin tin with cupcake liners and spoon in your mixture. These cakes are designed to be snack cakes so only spoon in 1 tablespoon of mixture to each. Then place 4-5 fudge pieces into the center of each mixture and cover these with the mixture as shown below.

Bake for15-20 minutes or until a toothpick (NB - placed in the side) comes out clean. Turn them out to cool on a wire wrack. What you now have are delicious little brownie 2 bite cupcakes with a fudgie center and my bf says they are really good just as they are but I'm a perfectionist I need to decorate them.

To decorate these I used a range of Dr Oetker products including their easy swirl icing canister, silver simmer spray and golden balls. However to make them my own I also had to include this little wooden looking bear stamp.I made circles from fondant and stamped them with a bear stamp we bought in germany last Christmas. I let them dry and then, using a course brush, painted them with brown food colouring gel and water mixed. They came out quite well I think and added an interesting little touch. I would recommend you try this recipe and decorate whatever way you like. Enjoy.

One has been stolen already, trust me they go fast!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mocha-rons - Mocha macarons with an obnoxious name

You know it's summer when my house is full of macarons. I enjoy this delicious treat at any time of the year but the combination of sweetness and light texture feels just perfect during the sometimes hot but always humid days of summer. So you can expect many more posts of a similar nature, including hopefully one with the wonderful and hilarious decidedlydelicious.

As an affirmation of my ability to control things in my life, even in the smallest way possible, I have given up chocolate for a month, it's a good thing that I don't tweet because all it would say is 'chocolate, chocolate, want chocolate,' at the moment. Before starting this ridiculous and masochistic journey I did however enjoy quite the final hoorah and these were a part of that.

I wanted to experiment with a coffee macarons concept, and I always like playing with the macaron shell that so many people revere and respect because, well why not. The playing with the shell took a couple of forms but the best was the sprinkle of cocoa powder as it made the macarons look like the frothy top of a coffee drink. So the chocolate filling was the obvious glue for the conceptual mess, plus who doesn't like coffee and chocolate together?!

Can I have a medium Americano and one large cup of macarons ;)

Mocha Macarons

125g Ground Almonds
175g Icing Sugar
2 tsp Instant Espresso powder (This has to be one of those over-priced powdered real coffee things)
3 egg whites (aged)
75g White Caster Sugar
3/8 tsp cream of tartar

Cocao Powder to decorate

Chocolate filling of choice ( I used nutella, but that was mostly out of laziness/desire to get these in
                                               my mouth faster)

In a clean bowl beat your aged, cold egg whites and cream of tartar until light and frothy, add the caster sugar slowly and beat until you have made a beautiful meringue.
Sieve together the ground almonds, icing sugar and coffee powder. Once thoroughly sieved and combined then add this to your meringue and mix until the mixture not longer forms peaks.
Pipe the mixture onto your parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Attempt to keep the macarons the same size.

Once you have piped all the macarons onto the cookie sheets (this mixture fills about 2 cookie sheets) then decorate with cocoa powder. This can be done which ever way you feel like, for one sheet I sprinkled cocoa powder delicately over the macarons but on the other I literally just threw cocoa powder all over the cookie sheet (feeling like a modern artist I might add) and they both turned out pretty well. Finally allow the cookies to sit for one hour before baking for 10-12 minutes at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Let the macarons cool on the parchment paper but off the cookie sheet, remove carefully and pipe a small amount of filling in between two cookies before sandwiching them. Then enjoy which you can see I was when I initially started this post, ah three days ago, how I miss your chocolatey flavours =)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Revenge: what happens to cake that is morish

I had planned a wonderful father's day post about porter cake for today. I even thought about tying it into the disappointing performance of the Irish football team in the UEFA euro 2012s. I prepared a whole celebration of Irish things that are actually good (you know as opposed to the football team) like Irish music, scones, stew, our language, our rugby team, and of course Guinness. I had this whole story about all the nights where the adults in my family would suddenly become fruit cake fiends after nights of trad music and traditional beverages. Good ole Irish times! So maybe you're asking why not just write this post?? Well I made the cake, I gave the cake as father's day present and before I could take any pictures, it was gone. He reported that the cake was delicious, my bf's father also got a cake and said that it was really tasty and yet I do not have a single photo to share this recipe and it just feels like recipe without photos is fairly useless. So it seems I will need to post about something else and I have recently been watching 'Revenge.'

 Revenge is the story of a young lady who grew up with her father in the south hampton society until a tragedy befell her family. She is torn apart from said father who then died without proving himself innocent. Now having received millions of dollars from an investment her father made she is back in the hamptons to get revenge against all those who betrayed her father. The pilot episode opens with murder and intrigue and uses this to hook the viewer's interest, and to be honest, it works....kinda.

The opening scenes are so random that the natural reaction is to wonder how this happened and even what's really going on in the first 3 minutes. According to the wikipedia page, the show has received 'generally favourable reviews,' and has very high viewer ratings among the all important (for advertisers) 18-49 year old groupings. So why is this who so popular? In looking at this I would like to take an initial positive positions and then discuss the numerous elements that I disliked.

To start with the show's resonates not just with our emotional need for 'justice,' but also with an age-old tale of avenging our loved ones. This is not an original concept; Greek mythology, Shakespearean dramas and numerous modern classics, as well as everything in between, have featured this theme and taped into our human need for restorative justice. Much like a great Shakespearean drama it appears that perhaps this story will also explore how negative actions from negative emotions can frequently result in negative consequences for everyone, including the protagonist. If this is the direction the show is headed I can definitely respect that.

Secondly this show is exploring the lives of the rich and socially respected only to highlight their faults and use said faults to knock these people down. I can imagine that there are any number of people who would like nothing more than to knock socialites down a peg or two. We live in a world of reality television and meaningless celebrity, where those who already swan around high society feel that their every thought and action must be caught in tweet, print and/or video form so that everyone can hear how brilliant they are while they collect money for every numb-skull who entertains this behaviour. Yet behind it all there is corruption, distortion and lies. We all know, we all wait in excited anticipation for the next break-down, or up, the next drama, the next costume mishap or misguided decision. We revel in undermining the power that we ourselves have given to these celebrities and socialites. Therefore a show like this one fits perfectly with many people's concious or unconcious dislike for rich people.

Thirdly it also encompasses a number of different fantasies; from basic dreams of receiving unexpected millions and living the easy life, to more unlikely fantasies of marrying into royalty, in the wake of Kate's big day. This show therefore represents an hour of escapism, of reveling in unadulterated hatred and passionate destruction. All in all this show taps in nicely to the undercurrent of anger and longing that is so prevalent in our post 2008 world and for this I tip my hat to the writers and producers.

Now the negative. The story seems to reflect many of the great themes of drama. Unfortunately the actual storyline also feels a bit random. I felt like I was watching some mishmash of 'Gossip Girl,' and 'The girl who kicked the hornet's nest.'

The main character Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke (played by Emily VanCamp) just seems to good at, well, everything. The girl has supposedly spent the best part of her life in some lock-up psychiatric unit and yet everything she does, she does perfectly. Yes, i get it, she has meticulously planned this massive revenge stunt but somehow I don't see her being able to fake an entire life, which she apparently lived for many years before the start of this show (hence her party planning friend from years ago?!) while also learning computer hacking, horse-riding, painting, cooking skills, etiquette, fashion, hair styling (her curls are far to defined for that humidity), disguising oneself, stock market facts, how to shoot, martial arts, and the list goes on. In every episode it appears that she is just a complete jammy dodger ;)! In one episode people even break into her new house and conveniently never discover her box of father/revenge plan keepsakes or anything that might reveal her true identity! It all a little too convenient if you ask me.

I won't lie, I am looking forward to each new episode but couldn't tell you if that's because this show is so amazing or just because there is literally nothing else on until True Blood Season 5. Either-way the show is entertaining, the acting is dramatic enough to be funnier if you're tipsy and the overall storyline is intriguing, if somewhat unlikely. I will keep watching this show and if you have been considering it, I would recommend it; not brilliant but good for summer television.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

London Family Trip: Part 2 - Cupcake Master-class with Eric Lanlard

Cupcake Anyone?
The weekend with my family in London, had so many wonderful points. The visit to Leavesden Studios was amazing and the time spent with my family but something that stood out for me in particular was the amazing cupcake master-class I attended in Cake Boy Cookery School. In February of this year I was unwell and stuck at home when I got into watching old episodes of Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard. I googled him and discovered the cookery school, then I booked myself onto the only course he was running during the family visit. I went with no expectations and what I experienced was worth reporting.

The cupcake master-class is a two hour class. It focuses on cupcake d├ęcor and presentation. The class is taught by Eric Lanlard himself and starts with a talk on cupcake history. In my traditional way I managed to turn up 20 minutes late and missed the first section. I walked into this industrial estate and practically ran into the Cake Boy shop. I was flustered, out of breath and any chance of making a good first impression on the master patissier had left my head. The store is absolutely beautiful. On the way in the door I was struck immediately by the beautiful, beautiful pastries and cakes. There was a couple drinking coffee at a table near the door that held a tiered cake stand covered in the most exquisite little cakes and macarons. If you can imagine, I did one of those cartoon double takes with a jaw-drop and nearly ran straight into a wall!

The class itself was really enjoyable. Eric Lanlard teaches everything himself and I was very impressed with how approachable and involved he was. He was walking around helping people, giving pointers and answering questions. He even asked me where I was from and told me about a trip he took to Ireland previously. The class seems to be designed to be accessible to all levels of baking expertise and I would be very interested in attending another of his classes to see if other classes are more complicated. I imagine they range in difficulty. This class was low on the difficulty level, but informative and enjoyable to everyone, experienced baker or not, I would say. We all decorated 12 cupcakes complete with adorable little toppers that he showed us how to make and then there was the champagne lunch and, oh my goodness, that was the cherry on top of the whole afternoon.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone. I rang my boyfriend afterwards in a state of total ecstatic hyperness or maybe it was drunk on champagne/high on sugar-ness but I was happy as hell, so if that's not a recommendation then I don't know what is. If I had one criticism I would say that the box they give you to bring home the cupcakes needs to be more sturdy cos mine kept collapsing and all my cupcakes got messed up =(

Therefore we must flash forward to yesterday. During the week decidedlydelicious and I met up to do a macaron baking session, with the intention of posting our experience/discoveries on our blogs. This was such a fun afternoon and I really enjoyed baking with someone as talented and intelligent as her. Unfortunately my ADD and hr natural hyper-ness resulted in us getting distracted by videos online and we burnt our macarons. We will be having a macaron baking 2.0 with less burning soon but as a result of this I was left with a bowl full of delicious blueberry buttercream. Now we are at Saturday and my bf was having the guys over for a poker night. Seemed like the perfect opportunity for some poker-themed cupcakes and excuse to try out my new skills. Et Voila...

Vanilla, Apple and Blue-berry Cupcakes that boys can enjoy

 Since the idea was to make cupcakes like those from cake boy I decided to use Monsieur Lanlard's cupcake recipe that you can find here and the blue-berry butter-cream which was based on his butter-cream recipe but we messed around with it by using frozen blue-berries and glucose powder to create a kind of blue-berry glucose which we added to sugar syrup, whisked into 7 egg yolks before adding 500g butter. The frozen blue-berries give a beautiful natural purple to the icing and there are little flecks of darker purple which add texture and depth. 

To make these cupcakes my own I decided to give them an apple glaze, both to keep the cupcake moist and to add an extra flavour. I made this glaze simply by chopping 2 apples very finely, sprinkling stevia onto the chopped apples and microwaving for 2 sets of 2 minutes on high, stirring between sets.I injected a small amount of this apple sauce into the top of the cupcakes and then glazed the exposed surface before piping the frosting.

As you can see the texture is soft and moist and the apple glaze definitely added in terms of moistness and flavour combination. The bf was amazed when I showed him these little treats and they suited his poker night perfectly but would be just as good with any kind of topper you choose. Just take your sugar paste and go crazy =)

So.........that went well......but I'm back with a bang!

At the start of the year I said that I would try to post more regularly and......yeah....that didn't happen =/ Finishing this doctorat...