You know that I’m a complete Halloween addict. I love all the little bits and bobs that come out around this time of year, and yesterday I was nosing around John Lewis, intending to buy a few baking bits to make my spiced chocolate skeleton gingerbread men (more of these in a second). They have some absolutely gorgeous gifts, decorations and treats for Halloween this year and I ended up buying rather a lot of that stuff too (I mean, mini pumpkin fairy lights, come on!).
Happy Saturday! Phew, we made it. Time to kick back, chill out, enjoy your home and family and carve a pumpkin or two. I’m up early this morning and it’s lovely outside: misty and cool, with dew covered cobwebs and scattered leaves and birds eating berries. I love this time of year, and how better to celebrate everything autumnal than with warmly spiced leafy biscuits? These maple leaf pumpkin spice biscuits came about after I found this fab maple leaf cutter in HomeSense when I was shopping for Halloween things. It’s even got a little extra bit so you can press the leaf pattern into the cookie!
So as you read this, we’re on our family cruise around the Med on Celebrity Eclipse and are currently steaming towards Portugal (squee!). During the run up, as you know, I was eating really, really healthily (with the odd treat) and exercising daily. Mr E and I have been out cycling on our bikes and I’ve been walking a few miles with the dog every day, plus – an absolute revelation: I’ve been doing free weights, kettlebells and even sit ups at home, which I really enjoy. I really feel that my arms are more toned already and my jeans feel looser too. Bonus. I know they’re not for everyone but I’ve found a couple of the fitness tracking apps really useful motivation, and I’m watching my portion sizes (always an issue when you live with three strapping fellas). I’ve been fiddling about with this recipe for a while as, while I’m definitely not eating biscuits, sometimes I really crave something crunchy and sweet, and I thought it I could create a little treat that’s going to kill the cravings, but not derail the healthy eating, I’d be pretty happy. So I had a little experiment and created these relatively healthy little oatbran flapjack cookies. And then I ruined it by smothering them in chocolate.
When Butterkist challenged me to come up with my own Butterkist creation, my first thought was popcorn vodka, but then the boys were begging for cookies so I had to change my mind (darn). The new Butterkist Discoveries range includes a Hickory BBQ Pulled Pork version that I didn’t even get to try because the boys scoffed it all, a very delicious Sweet Chilli and Zesty Lime one that goes very well with white wine, as it turns out (I scoffed all of that one) and a Salted Caramel version that I hid so I could cook with it (I still think it would be amazing in vodka though).
Now Christmas is in full swing, I seem to be baking mince pies nearly every day. I always feel a bit sorry for Charlie, though, who doesn’t like mince pies and so tends to head for the biscuit tin instead. I decided to have a fiddle with my normal cookie recipe to come with something a little more festive.
As a nation, we’ve never really embraced candy corn have we? I love the look (and taste) of them, and when I was in America I tracked down these mixed fruit ones (probably terribly untraditional) and knew exactly what to do with them. What’s the best thing about Halloween? All the trick or treat sweets mixed up in a big bowl of course!
Living with two teenage bottomless pits, I tend to do a lot of baking. I’m not for a minute trying to make out it’s some kind of chore – there’s nothing I like better than pottering about in a sunny kitchen – radio on, dog bimbling around at my feet. I bake these cookies a lot, sometimes with the addition of oats (you can find my oaty chocolate chip version here), or sometimes like this: plain, squidgy, and with lots of chocolate. I happened to have a bit of dark and a bit of white chocolate left over, but add in whatever you have. The peanut version are my favourite as I love the crunch it gives them. I got sent some cute little packs of Chikas peanuts which are hand toasted so I popped a whole pack in (40g):
150g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
100g chocolate, chopped
Couple of handfuls of peanuts
So cream the butter, then add the sugar and beat together until it’s really light. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until pale and fluffy. Stir in the flour until it’s just combined, then add the chopped chocolate and nuts.
Dollop the mixture in spoonfuls onto a baking tray. I used a tablespoon but I have also been known to use an ice cream scoop to make really massive cookies.
Bake at 180/gas 4 for about 10-12 minutes. Don’t overcook them as you want them really lovely and soft in the middle. Serve while still warm with a nice cup of tea.
My lovely friend, Sarah, who has a blog called My Mummy Sings, not only has the voice of an angel, but impressive emergency baking skillz too. I loved her post about making her hubby some last-minute heart shaped custard creams for Valentine’s Day.
I’d forgotten how long it had been since I’d baked and spent a happy hour in the kitchen, radio on, with a big mug of tea. Anyhoo, this recipe is loosely based on Sarah’s and she’d kindly allowed me to recreate it here for you.
Lemon Cream Loveheart Biscuits
175g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
This amount makes enough for two batches. I kept the other half and made more the next day.
To make the biscuits, cream the butter and sugar together, add the egg and vanilla, then stir in the flour and baking powder. It will come together into a dough quite easily.
Roll out on a floured work surface using a floured rolling pin and cut out with a heart-shaped cutter, placing the little hearts onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment paper. They don’t spread that much so they can go quite close together:
Bake at about 190/gas 5 for a scant 7 minutes (this depends on the thickness of your biscuits but they only need to be just-golden).
Remove and leave to cool on a rack.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream:
50g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
1 tsp lemon extract (I used Steenbergs)
Just mush the butter and icing sugar together until creamy then stir in the lemon extract. Make sure the biscuits are completely cooled before sandwiching together with the buttercream.
Go on, get busy in the kitchen and surprise your mum tomorrow!
A while ago Waitrose sent me a cute little gingerbread cookie Christmas tree kit. I’ve done a similar thing before for the Britmums blog last year so I know it can be a bit fiddly, and I kept putting it off. Then last night the oldest decided to have a few mates round so I thought I’d crack out the gingerbread as a surprise.
Well as usual it all went a bit Pete Tong as I went upstairs quickly to do something and didn’t hear the oven timer. The festive chiming of the smoke alarm reminded me that they were still in the oven and I came down to find my little gingerbread stars a bit charred, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you how they tasted!
No matter. I started again with my own easy shortbread recipe, the old faithful 2/4/6:
2oz/50g caster sugar (I use vanilla sugar)
6oz/150g plain flour
Just melt the butter then mix in the sugar and flour to make a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and rest for a little while somewhere cool, then roll out.
The kit gives you a cardboard template for different sized stars (you need two of each size) but I’ve got cutters, which are slightly easier. The stars take literally 10 minutes to bake once you’ve cut them out. Keep checking on them because – ahem – they burn quite easily.
Next, make up some glacé icing (or the kit contains white fondant icing). I made mine lime green with some food colouring paste in ‘lemon/lime’. Ice each star and leave to set. Then just decorate with more icing and little silver balls and copious amounts of glitter (it IS Christmas), then just stack ’em up, rotating each biscuit slightly to get your tree shape.
Ours was a bit wonky (‘the leaning tower of tree-sa’, if you will) but hey, it only lasted about two minutes, so no matter.
Do give it a go, it’s terrific fun and would make a wonderful Christmas tradition to recreate year after year (oh and if you do give it a try, do send me a photo!).
Waaay before we were good buddies, on our first trip to Disneyworld Florida, my fellow bloggers, the Disney 7 (well, the other 6), were most perplexed by the fact that any time anyone from Disney mentioned the ‘hidden Mickeys’ placed all around the resorts and parks, I dissolved into snorty cackling. It didn’t matter how much I tried. One mention of a mickey and that was it – my shoulders would shake… tears would spring into my eyes… It’s so much worse when nobody gets what you’re even laughing about.
The thing is, in Ireland a mickey is a… well, it’s a willy.
Hence, ‘searching for hidden mickeys’ brought a whole new mental picture to mind than gaily flouncing about trying to spot little mouse shapes.
Anyhoo, I digress.
Recently, I was the recipient of a very solemn phone call from school. Apparently the Death Wish Dude had been caught defacing another pupil’s book. Three of them were involved. The others being George (of George’s brownies fame) and another of the Dude’s buddies, a girl.
Reader, I was shocked.
He’s a silly bugger, but he’s a good kid. And I can’t imagine him doing anything malicious. I told this to the teacher. She agreed.
Apparently it wasn’t malicious at all:
The crime – this terrible crime that warranted a telephone call to his parents? He’d drawn a willy.
It was all I could do not to laugh. However, I solemnly accepted that this behaviour was not to be encouraged, and promised to give him a stern talking to.
I said to him: ‘you tit’.
Anyhoo, this incident has set in motion a willy-themed madness in the Dude and his mates, culminating in his whipping up a little present for them in the kitchen last night. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…
The willy cookie. Or ‘cockie’ as it became known on Twitter last night. Or for you Irish people, the ‘mickey bickie’ (thanks to Aoife for that one).
His father took one look at it and said ‘blimey. If that’s what he thinks they look like he’s not been paying enough attention in biology’.
So it’s National Baking Week (17th to 23rd October) and to celebrate, lovely Asda sent me a big, mahoosive parcel packed with all sorts of lovely baking kits. There were chocolate tray bakes, white chocolate chip cookies, toffee cookies, vanilla tray bakes and blueberry muffins and iced cookies (I hid the cheesecake brownie kit – that’s obviously just for grown ups).
When the slaves -sorry, cough, of course I mean children – came home from school, I set them to work in the kitchen to make me some cookies while I lolled around on the sofa drinking gin.
Here are the results. Impressive.
Look at his little face.
Slovenly motherhood result! Now they’ve proved they can cook, I am herewith giving up all my motherly duties to spend more time concentrating on gin consumption and sofa lolling.
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