Planetary Cupcakes

planetary cupcakes

There’s no denying we’re a bunch of science geeks here. Hubs does the physics & engineering and me the biology. We’ll gloss over who does the chemistry because unless it is about baking I’m rubbish at it. I have no shame in saying Alice Roberts in my idol. You can never take the geek out of the girl.

I’m always fascinated by the natural patterns and colours in nature be it the good old Fibonacci, cloud formations or Aurora Borealis. While playing around with some sugarpaste earlier this week I realised that if you mixed and pulled it in a certain way you could get patterns not unlike planets from a distance, or at least that is how I see it, but I’m no Brian Cox.

The original plan was to make the solar system. However even missing out demoted Pluto I only had 6 cupcakes left from a demo I did on Wednesday to decorate; plus a solar system where all the planets were the same size was bound to bug someone.

How to make marbled planetary supgarpaste

To get this kind of effect in your sugarpaste get your base colour, flatten it out then dot the secondary colours on top. Think about how you want the colours to show if you want them in a certain order. For example my base colour was light blue followed by dark blue (sea), green (land) then white (clouds). Roll up your sugarpaste so the base colour is on the inside then pull the sugarpaste in one direction. When it breaks put the pieces on top of each other and pull again. Make sure you pull and place in the same direction so you get the lines. When it is mixed sufficiently roll out on to an icing sugar coated surface. Remember the more you pull and roll the sugarpaste the more the colours will blend together and you will lose the lines.

covering cupcake in buttercream before sugarpaste

Once the sugarpaste is rolled and ready, using your palm lightly polish the sugarpaste. This will give it a nice shine and get rid of any icing sugar marks. Get a cutter slightly bigger than your cake and cut out rounds.

solar system cupcakes

To get the smoothest surface on your cake level off with buttercream before covering with the sugarpaste. Place the round on top of the buttercream then using your hands smooth the sugarpase down and round almost sealing it to the cake case. With these cakes the world truly is your oyster.

close up of planet cupcake


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Confessions of a cookbook addict

collection of cookbooks

Today I was back on BBC Radio Derby talking about cookbooks and how certain celeb cookbooks can sit there untouched because the recipes can seem daunting. I know the amount of cookbooks here run in to triple figures. Some are husband’s, some I’ve brought, some have been given to me and some have been sent to me by publishers. I’m not the kind of person that the survey mentions who finds cookbooks daunting, if anything I find them a challenge. Come on I’m married to a man who has built a pizza oven and tandoor in the back garden out of junk. The hurdle of having to make a vacuum chamber so he can make Heston’s Black Forest Gateaux from In Search of Perfection is not going to faze him.

However I do understand how people can find recipe books daunting. There is a particular cookbook *cough* Jamie’s 30-min Dinners *cough* of which I find the recipes superb, but very difficult to follow. There is almost too much information in the recipe meaning that the most important information can easily be missed. Too often recipes for those who don’t have the confidence to cook are long-winded when they could be significantly shorter, or is it because certain cookery skills we take for granted are not common to everyone and need to be spelled out.

In interview I was also asked if technical terms can be confusing to the uninitiated and if you really needed to know these fancy words to cook well. At this point thank goodness it was radio. My face was a picture when asked if I knew what a ballotine was. I do but had a total mental block and all I could see in my head was a certain Dragon from the Den and yes I also forgot that chiffonade was relating to thinly cut flat herbs and vegetables and not related to fluffy chiffon cakes. I think I redeemed myself with the umami and cartouche explanation.

I would guess about 1/3 of the cookbooks I own have ‘celeb chefs’ as their authors. Some of these cookbooks are big favourites of mine. Nigella gets mixed press, but I do love her recipes as they always work for me and are down to earth. Mr Ramsay however… I was given about 4 of his books a few years ago and I don’t think I’ve cooked from any of them. Next time you’re near a charity shop look at the cookbooks. I would bet your bottom dollar there is an untouched cookbook there by Gordon Ramsay and most likely one by Ainsley Harriot.

So which celeb chef cookbooks do you love and which cookbooks are sitting on the shelf gathering dust?

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Raspberry & Lime Cheesecake

raspberry and lime no-bake cheesecake

Why you may ask am I writing such a summery recipe when there is a good few inches of snow causing chaos on the roads outside. Welcome to the life of someone who writes & talks about food for a living. I often appear on local radio doing cookery demos and talk about national food issues. I’ve cooked in the BBC Radio Derby kitchen before so know it has to be quick & easy to put together with minimal equipment and not having to touch the ancient hob they have there. Think Blue Peter without the TV cameras, I even have one I’ve prepared earlier.

This morning I should have returned to the BBC Radio Derby studios to make unbaked cheesecake live on air and talk about the nation’s love of cookbooks but the rather inclement weather put a temporary hold on this. The day started at 6am shifting snow on the drive with my husband and neighbour, then having to push husband up the private road we live down followed by the only accessible road across the Trent to Derby closing due to the fact it had turned in to one giant ice rink.

Tomorrow I’m teaching a class of Primary pupils how to make bread & butter pudding. If Tuesday is declared a snow day I’ll be selling my buttery wares to passing drivers because frankly there is only so much bread & butter pudding two people can eat.

One advantage of this wintry weather is that is produces fantastic light for photography in the house. It’s only taken me 6 years to realise this. It casts the perfect bright white light without harsh shadows. Yesterday I had a big photography session taking pictures of any food I could get my hands on in an effort to build up an ingredient image bank.

The demo cheesecake was made in a 400ml foil container. The type fried rice usually comes in from the Chinese. Hence why you have photos of the ingredients (ignore the lemon) rather than the finished product because I like to think I have a bit of class. I usually have a stock of these foil containers to hand, you can pick them up in poundshops and the like. They are good for portioning up food and have the advantage of being able to be put in the oven for heating through if needs be.

As this is a very basic cheesecake it is quite soft so may not turn out of a tin too well. This is even more of the case if you use lower fat cream cheese. Either way it is sure to help any cheesecake craving. I have to admit imported raspberries taste particularly tart at this time of year, nothing like the beautiful British sweet beauties we get late summer. This recipe is great for these out of season raspberries as it mellows the tartness but still letting the raspberry taste shine though. You could also use frozen raspberries.

So the lovely Sally Pepper at BBC Derby will have to wait another week for the cheesecake I’d promised her.

Raspberry & Lime Cheesecake
Serves 4

4 digestive biscuits

40g butter,melted

300g cream cheese

80g icing sugar, sifted

Juice of 1 lime

60g raspberries, mashed

1) Crush the biscuits until you have no big lumps. I usually do this in the blender.

2) In a bowl pour the melted butter over the crushed digestive biscuits and stir until the biscuits are completely coated with the butter.

3) Pour the buttery biscuit base (sorry couldn’t help myself) into the bottom of a 400ml container. Using the back of a spoon press the biscuits down until you have a even base. Put in the fridge and allow to set for 1 hour.

4) In a large bowl beat the cream cheese until it has softened then stir in the sifted icing sugar and lime juice until well combined.

5) Mash the raspberries then fold in to the cream cheese mix. Don’t mix completely, you want the mixture to have swirls in it.

6) Pour the mixture on top of the set biscuit base and return to the fridge to chill for a further 3 hours and allow it to set.

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Store cupboard staples


Life has been crazy here since Christmas in both a work and personal sense, hence lack of blog updates. There are big, exciting changes afoot and it means our cupboards are beginning to run low. All intentional you’ll understand. It’s made me realise what I class as staples in the cupboard and wonder where on earth that tin on chickpeas came from. I can’t stand the things.

sweet storecupboard

As the snow settles thick outside what you have in your cupboards seems even more important, especially if you can’t make it to the shops. We will however try to avoid the end-of-term concoction of pasta with baked beans we may have eaten once or twice at university.

Heinz baked beans

Ok, I have a weakness for these haricot beauties. There always has to be a tin in the cupboard, oh and they have to be Heinz. Don’t try to pass off any other brand, I can tell and I think they don’t taste the same. Hot buttered toast or a Full English isn’t the same without a spoonful of beans. Did you realise that they also class as one of your 5-a-day? Yes they do contain sugar and salt, but I think the fibre content makes up for it.

Custard powder

Bird’s custard powder was invented by Mr Bird so his wife, who was allergic to eggs, could eat custard. Come on, can you imagine apple crumble without custard? It’s not worth thinking about. Custard powder is essentially yellow vanilla flavoured cornflour (with a couple of other minor ingredients). You don’t have to just make custard with this powder. Replace 1-2 tbsp of flour in cakes with custard powder to give a lovely taste and extra fluffiness to the sponge.


We always have spaghetti and basics pasta in, but at the moment we also have orzo, macaroni and a giant couscous. Yes couscous is classed as a pasta. All types essential in my book for making a quick dinner, salad or bulking out soup.

Vanilla paste & extract

Unsurprisingly given my job I’m never short of vanilla in the house. I rarely buy the pods any more, though you may spot one in the photo, as they work out quite expensive and prefer to buy the vanilla paste. If you haven’t tried the paste I wholeheartedly recommend you do. It gives wonderful flavour to proper custard and biscuits. But don’t stop at sweet dishes, it also works well in marinades for meat.

Sugar – lots of

Granulated, caster, icing, muscovado, soft light, Demerara, you name it I can probably find a bag of it somewhere. Some sugars are interchangeable but some can make a significant difference to the taste and texture of a recipe. If you’ve run out of caster sugar for a recipe briefly blitz some granulated sugar in a blender.

Worcestershire sauce

This pungent sauce has the ability to turn a run-of-the-mill dish in to something far better. Hubs insists on sprinkling it on cheese on toast and I add it to most meat sauces. Forget umami paste, just use this sauce.


I used to be a huge fan of chopped tomatoes, until I realised passata gives better taste and texture to dishes. It makes a wonderful pizza sauce, but also makes a fabulous quick tomato soup. Only in the last year have supermarkets begun to sell their own brand passata and it is now as cheap (if not cheaper) than decent tinned tomatoes.

In reality I could go of for ever with all the ingredients I think a kitchen cupboard shouldn’t be without.

What do you see as store cupboard staples?

Disclaimer: The lighting in my kitchen makes it nigh on impossible to take good photos of the contents of my kitchen cupboards. Normal blogging and photography will resume soon.

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Merry Christmas one and all

Christmas 2012 collage

The presents have finally been wrapped, we’ve battled the queues in the shops and the cupboards are full to bursting with the finest festive grub so it leaves us just to say one little thing:

Have the most wonderful Christmas and a fabulous 2013

(because we certainly will)

We will be back in the new year with a bigger kitchen and, if Hubs gets his way, a pizza oven for the garden.

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Writing for SheKnows

sheknows collage

If you’ve wondered why I’ve tweeted about being in the kitchen in the early hours of the morning, trying to grab the small amount of daylight we have at the moment while eating freshly cooked roast potatoes this is it. I now write articles for the UK arm of SheKnows.

Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the blog, far from it, it just means I now have a new space to write about topics that don’t always fit in with this blog. I’ve written there since October so there are now a bank of articles about food, travel and lifestyle ready for you to read, many of them with a Christmas slant.  Some of the most popular articles so far:

Please pop on by, have a read and leave comments. Also keep an eye on my author page to see more articles appearing on a weekly basis.

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Mini Striped Meringue Kisses

mini festive meringue kisses

I have something to confess, only recently did I finally master meringues. Yes I’d made them before, but never had I made them exactly how I wanted. Sometimes the egg whites wouldn’t whip to soft peaks even though I followed every rule in the book. This frustrated me even more when Hubs made a cracking batch of macarons on his second attempt.

I can be a bit frugal with food and most of my attempts to make meringues have used just one egg white. Now I know this is a bad idea. When using an electric mixer, like my KitchenAid, due to the small amount of egg white it’ll go from unbeaten to soft peaks to over beaten in a matter of seconds. So learn from my mistakes always start with a minimum of two egg whites.

There are two school of thoughts when it comes to meringues. Dry meringues or chewy meringues. I think they both have their place but when the meringues are to be eaten on their own a chewy meringue will always win. The key to chewy meringues is the addition of cornflour. Only a small amount is needed, but this is enough to give the kisses a chewy centre.

stripy meringues

To make stripy meringues is easy. By using a cocktail stick draw lines on the inside of a piping bag with food dye gel. This is easier if you put the piping bag in a pint glass to keep the bag open. You can see two different batches on this post. One red and white and the second batch with a rather festive red, white and green.

I’ve recently discovered the foil backed parchment which is fabulous stuff… until you try and bake meringues with it. The paper acts like a bimetallic strip and curls in the heat. Even trying to stick the paper down with meringue mixture didn’t help due to the strength of the foil so a few meringues had to be sacrificed for my art.

meringue fail

To double-check, no triple-check these meringues were to my liking I ate some sandwiched with whipped cream. Delicious.

Mini Stripy Meringue Kisses
Makes around 50

2 egg whites

100g caster sugar

heaped tsp cornflour

food gel colouring

1) Whip your egg whites with an electric whisk until it reaches soft peak stage.

2) Gradually add half of your sugar and continue to whip. The mixture turns in to a thick glossy texture, almost like shaving foam.

3) Sprinkle the remaining sugar and cornflour over the whipped eggs. Fold in using a metal spoon.

4) Put a 1M piping tip in a disposable piping bag then fill with the meringue mixture.

5) Pipe the meringues on baking parchment. They will not change shape while being cooked so they can be piped quite close together.

6) Bake at 100°c for 90-120 minutes until the meringues are beginning to become unstuck from the parchment. Open the door slightly and leave to cool in the oven switched off. Once they have cooled get them in a tin. This little sugary bites love moisture and suck it up like a sponge.


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