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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Salted Caramel Chelsea Buns

salted caramel chelsea buns

We all have ingredients we can’t do without. The ingredient that appears in nearly all the dishes we make and our cupboards are full of its variants. For me,and probably a great deal of the population, it is salt. Fish & chips are not the same without the salty tang and bread made without salt is not worth tasting. I usually have three types of salt to hand. Table salt – for all sort of cooking (and defrosting the drive at this time of year!), rock salt – for the table grinder and flaky sea salt – for flavour and garnishing. Maldon is one of my favourite flaky sea salt. I always love the shape of the crystals, it satisfies the maths geek in me.

Along with the ingredient we can’t do without we also all have a desert island dish and Maldon have asked various people for their desert island dishes. For me it has to be an enriched dough stuffed with some fruit with an added bonus it has been soaked in rum. Quite appropriate for being stuck on a desert island don’t you think?

salted caramel chelsea buns

Due to our love of all things food and drink we are often given alcohol as gifts off friends and family. Globetrotting brother always brings us back rum from his travels in the Caribbean. He has very good taste in rum, some would argue he’s a bit of a rum snob so how a spiced rum, he’s denying he spend his cash on, ended up in our possession I don’t know.  It’s a monster sized bottle and I find it too sweet and fragrant for drinking but it’s turning out to be the perfect alcohol to bake with. The strong spicy vanilla scent in the rum works well in most sweet recipes and could even work in the odd savoury recipe.

Over the last few years I’ve tried different Chelsea bun recipes but always come back to Quirky Cookies recipe as a base as it works so well. This reincarnation worked so well Hubs came home from work, chain-ate two then offered to do the washing up. I’ll have to make them more often. I use four different sugars in this recipe for the different flavours and  textures they give. The demerara sugar on the topping gives a satisfying crunch.

Maldon desert island dishes cookbook

To mark Maldon Sea Salt’s 130th birthday they have released a cookbook with chefs’ desert island dishes. I have my eye on the burnt cream recipe as quite frankly that would probably be my second desert island dish.

Salted Caramel Chelsea Buns
makes 9

For the dough

225g strong white bread flour

25g caster sugar

1/4 tsp salt

25g softened butter

1 1/2 tsp fast action yeast

1 medium egg, beaten

90ml  warm milk


For the filling

75 ml spiced rum

50g sultanas

30g glace cherries, chopped

20g mixed peel

25g butter, softened

30g soft dark sugar

30g demerara sugar


For the topping

10g soft dark sugar

20g demerara sugar

25g softened butter

100g icing sugar

Pinch of flaky sea salt


1) Put all the dried fruit in a saucepan with the rum. Bring to the boil then take off the heat. Allow the fruit to soak up the rum. When you are ready to use the fruit drain off any remaining rum.

2) Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the softened butter, egg and milk. Mix to make a soft dough then knead until smooth.

3) Cover and prove until doubled in size. Due to the amount of yeast in the dough this does happen quite fast.

4) Flour your work surface, and roll out the dough, (no need to knock it back) to a rectangle measuring about 12 x 9 inches. If you get the edges as square as you can it will help to make your buns look even.

5) Spread the softened butter for the filling as evenly as you can over the dough. Sprinkle the two sugars and the rum soaked fruit on top.

6) Roll up the dough along the long edge, as though you were making a Swiss Roll. Turn the roll over so that the seal is underneath and divide the roll into 9 equal buns.

7) Place the buns, swirl side up, into a lined 8in x 8in tin, and leave to prove until the dough has doubled in size, and the buns have all joined together. Sprinkle the demerara and soft dark sugar over the top of the buns the dot with the softened butter.

8) Bake at 180°C, for 15-10 minutes until buns are risen and golden. Once cooked, cool on a wire rack. Mix the icing sugar with a small amount of boiled water to make a glace icing then drizzle this over the buns then sprinkle with the flaky sea salt. I should confess I think Chelsea Buns taste best warm from the oven.

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Chilli & Blue Cheese Bread

chilli blue cheese bread

Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with bread falling back on my favourite recipes. In local markets Claybrooke Mill often have a stall. They are a Leicestershire based mill that has milled award-winning flour since 1987 and are well-regarded locally. Many local producers use their products. As well as regular flour they sell strong flour mixes that are great for bread making. A few weeks ago I bought some of their chilli mix flour to experiment with. I want to try their Woodhouse flour mix (poppy & fennel seeds) next.

chilli blue cheese dough

The chilli flour I’ve used here is a white flour with chilli powder, bell peppers and mixed herbs. Of course you could make your own chilli mixture but sometimes it;s nice to cheat. The first loaf with this flour was just a bit too spicy for my liking so after a bit of tweaking I found that 50:50 strong white to chilli flour mix works the best for us.

dough knot

We have a fridge full of cheese at the moment thanks to a hamper I’ve been sent so I decided to try this bread with some Oxford Blue in i,t as inspired by an amazing Stichelton bread I’ve tasted from Welbeck Bakehouse. The Oxford Blue works well and isn’t over-powering. It gives a nice earthiness to the bread and works well with the chilli.

To give the rolls a bit of festive cheer I decided to make wreaths use the pain d’epi method. Simply roll in to a sausage, turn in to a ring, make slits at 45° angle, then spread the cuts outward to give the look of a spiky wreath. I also had a go at making a knotted roll. Simply bend a short bread plait to make a circle. As the bread rises it closes in the centre and knots in the centre.

This bread is perfect warm from the oven and dunked in a steaming bowl of soup.

Chilli & Blue Cheese Bread
Makes 6 rolls

250g strong white bread flour

250g Chilli flour mix

5g fast action yeast

8g table salt

300ml warm water

1 tbsp olive oil

80g blue cheese, cubed


1) Mix all the dry ingredients together then add the water and olive oil.

2) Mix the ingredients until you have a dough then knead for 5 minutes.

3) Add the cubed blue cheese to the dough and knead for a further 5 minutes. If the dough gets too sticky add a small amount of flour.

4) Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in size.

5) Split the dough in to 6 equal pieces and shape the dough how you wish. Place on a floured baking tray and allow to rise for 30 min.

6) Bake at 220°c for 10 minutes then turn down the oven to 180°c and bake for a further 10 minutes. The rolls are cooked once they are golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Once cooked transfer to a wire rack to cool.


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Vanilla Pork Tenderloin

Here we love a good roast dinner. At least two Sundays a month are finished with roast meat and the trimmings. I find it a great way to wind down the week and the leftover meat is then used for meals the following days. All in all it can make quite frugal cooking.

Nielsen-Massey sent me a hamper of their vanilla and flavourings and asked me to make something that would be a bit different with their flavourings. I’m a huge fan of their products, especially their vanilla paste. I use their products in by business recommend their vanilla to my pupils in classes. While I use vanilla is most of my sweet baking I have never thought about using it in savoury dishes.

While searching through their website for recipes I came across this recipe for Savoury Pork Tenderlion. It used some of the vanilla I had been sent and would be perfect for Sunday dinner. Just note all of the recipes on the site are in american measurements and feature the odd ingredient hard to find in the UK or at least hard to find in Derbyshire.

Usually if we have pork for roast dinner I slow roast it using a Jamie O recipe. This recipe uses tenderloin and if you’re wondering why you can’t find it on the shelves the cut is sometimes called pork fillet. It is lean, tender and doesn’t have as much flavour as a shoulder of pork so marinating it really helps give depth to flavour. I roasted rather than grilled the meat, as the recipe suggested, so added some stock to the baking pan half the way through to stop the tenderloin drying out. This has the added benefit of making a sauce for the meat. We had it with Big Spud’s Pinot Grigio potatoes.

I was pleasantly surprised with how well this recipe worked. I admit I was a bit dubious adding the vanilla to the marinade, but it gave lovely flavour to the meat and I will certainly cook meat again this way. The leftovers made rather delicious sandwiches the next day. Now what shall I use the rose, orange, peppermint & chocolate extract in the hamper for?

Vanilla Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4
Based on Nielson-Massey Savoury Pork Tenderloin

80ml soy sauce
60ml cider vinegar (I’d ran out of rice vinegar used in original recipe so used cider vinegar)
2 teaspoons Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 pork tenderloin/fillet, trimmed (usually around 500g)
400ml chicken or pork stock

1) Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, vanilla extract, garlic, pepper and brown sugar in a sealable plastic bag and mix well.

2) Add the tenderloin and seal.

3) Marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 hours or overnight, turning the bag occasionally. Drain, discarding the marinade.

4) Place the tenderloin in a baking pan and bake for 180°c for 40 min. Pour the hot stock in to the pan then return to oven for 20 minutes. Once cooked remove from the pan, wrap in foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

Big thanks to Nielsen-Massey for the hamper of goodies. 

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Gingerbread Advent Calendar


Here for the festive season we’re in a bit of limbo. Not sure where we’ll be this year means shockingly I’ve not made of my traditional Christmas cakes or puddings as I may have nowhere to store them. However I wasn’t going to let Christmas go by without one special bake.

Thanks to a certain episode of Great British Bake Off we did begin to hatch a plan to make a gingerbread house to end all gingerbread houses with Design Engineer Hubs using Solidworks to design the template but various things threw a spanner in that works. Then Hubs decided he HAD to have the Star Wars Lego advent calendar and I had to have my own. As much as I lusted over the idea of a Paul A Young advent calendar I just couldn’t justify the £65 . During a trip to the wondrous Swedish warehouse of Ikea I spotted the set of Drömmar biscuit cutters. Yes I could have had their Christmas set, but frankly there isn’t enough squirrel and snail shaped baked goods in this world. I decided I would bake my own advent calendar as it would also be a perfect excuse to eat a daily biscuit and chance to practice my royal icing skills.

I initially planned to pipe the numbers on to the biscuits but after seeing the cakes The Vanilla Pod made for our Bonfire Party I decided to break with my fancy cutter ban and use my Tappit alphabet cutters. I usually don’t like the over-use of cutters on cakes and biscuits preferring to model or pipe by hand but I like the cleanness of the font. Don’t worry, you’ll never catch me using the Curlz font tappit cutters on my baking.

I was going to use lots of different colours, but ended up sticking to just red and white. I’m glad I did because sometimes the simplest colours scheme looks the best, plus it gives it a bit of the Scandi look to it.

This isn’t the quickest project and I did it in stages. Baked one day, iced the next then added the numbers the day after. I wanted the royal icing to set hard before sticking the numbers on. I now have big respect for Quirky Cookies & Biscuiteers as piping biscuits takes a great deal longer that I anticipated.

You must use Royal Icing to decorate biscuits as it needs to dry hard. I cheat and use the Silver Spoon Royal Icing mix as I find it works perfectly for me and it saves using egg whites. For the numbers I use a mixture of sugarpaste and floral (gum) paste. This works best in the Tappit cutters and dries quickly.

I am now addicted to piping royal icing. If it sits still for long enough it’ll get something piped on to it. Watch out business clients, friends and family. Guess what you’ll all be getting for Christmas?

Gingerbread Advent Calendar
Depending on the size of cutters you use this could make up to 40 biscuits. The leftover dough can be frozen either as a ball or in shapes ready to be baked straight from the freezer.

350g Plain Flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1-2 tsp of ground ginger

115g unsalted butter, cubed

170g soft dark brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp (40g) of golden syrup

milk (may not be needed, see recipe)

250g royal icing sugar

food dye

1) Preheat the oven to 180°c and cover 2 baking trays with baking parchment.

2) Rub together the flour, butter, ginger and bicarbonate of soda until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs.

3) In a smaller bowl mix together the sugar, egg and golden syrup. Pour this in to the dry ingredients. To start with mix the dough with a spoon then once it is well combined use your hands to knead the dough. At first the mixture can seem quite dry but keep kneading. It will become soft and pliable. If required add a splash of milk to help the dough to come together. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 min.

4) Roll the dough out on to a lightly floured surface. Cut out the shapes and place on baking sheet. Put the baking trays back in the fridge for another 30 min. This chilling stage is essential to stop the biscuits spreading.

baked gingerbread

5) Bake this gingerbread straight from the fridge for 15 min until slightly risen, beginning to colour and harden. If you are unsure, it is better to slightly over-bake (Don’t read that as burn!) than under-bake as you want quite hard, dry biscuits. They need to last for a month. Leave for 5 min then continue to cool completely on a wire rack. As they cool down they will continue to harden.

6) Make up your royal icing following instructions on packet, colour the icing as required and fill icing bags with size 0 piping tips.

7) First pipe the outline of the shapes. Allow to dry for 10-30 min.

8) Take the icing you have used for piping the outlines, squeeze into a bowl and add a small amount of water to make the icing thinner. This will be used to flood the gingerbread. It almost acts like self-levelling concrete. You want it thin enough to flood the spaces, but not too thin that it dribbles off the biscuit.

9) Flood the biscuits with the icing. If need be use a cocktail stick to help guide the icing in to corners. Allow to dry until hard. I usually give them a minimum of 12 hours to dry.

10) Decorate with the numbers. Store in a tin or airtight box and they should last until Christmas eve.


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