Friday, 16 April 2021

How to make your own bunting

Last year we decided to redecorate our daughter’s bedroom and I immediately knew I wanted to add some homemade touches. Bunting looks really pretty when strung across a wall, between shelves or across the top of a reading nook - and best of all it’s really easy to make.

You need:

Fabric - you can use anything, a thin cotton material is easiest to sew and you can buy packs of ‘fat quarters’ which are squares of fabric in complementary colours or patterns fairly cheaply.

Binding tape - this is the special type of ribbon that you will sew the triangles on to.

Pinking shears - scissors that cut with a zig zag design. For some reason cutting out your triangles with these scissors means the edges won’t fray.

Needle and cotton - I also found a needle threader really useful

Paper or card to make a template

And that’s it!

To begin, decide how big your want the flags in your bunting to be - bearing in mind that you will lose a centimetre or so when you sew along the top. Draw a triangle shape on paper or card and cut out to use as a template.

Next cut out your triangles - you may find it easier to pin or tape your template onto the fabric.

Lay your binding tape across the top of the triangle and fold the fabric over. Sew along the strip to sew the binding tape into the triangle. Lay the next triangle on the binding tape - I found a gap of a few centimetres between each one was good - and repeat until you have done them all.

We used drawing pins to fix the bunting to the wall - our daughter really liked it!

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Strawberry and white chocolate crispy cakes with pink Coco Pops

Kellogg’s new strawberry and white chocolate flavour coco pops are pink and a fun option for breakfast - but there is a lot more you can do with them than just add a splash of milk!

So what can you make with pink coco pops?

Since I got them a couple of days before my daughter’s third birthday I had the perfect idea - unicorn poo! Or rather, the equivalent of chocolate Rice Krispie cakes, but using the pink coco pops and white chocolate (and a little golden syrup). They are so easy to make and something that children can make with you or even by themselves.

Melt 100g white chocolate and mix with 200g strawberry and white chocolate coco pops - you can always add a little more cereal if the mixture looks too ‘wet’. I added two tablespoons of golden syrup as well.

Spoon into paper cupcake cases and then decorate however you like - I used mini white chocolate stars as I figure unicorns must poop stars, right? Or maybe edible glitter would have been good!

Leave in the fridge to set for a couple of hours then enjoy!

Have a look at my other blog Mini Moo Life for more ideas of things to do with children!

Friday, 19 February 2021

Spaghetti Tree Sutton - Restaurant/ Takeaway review

In some ways, this Valentine's Day was much like any other - my husband and I have tended to avoid going out to restaurants on Valentine's Day (in fact, I'm not sure we ever have) - partly in expectation that venues will be turning tables as quickly as possible, partly because prices seem to go up that day, and partly- actually, mainly - because most restaurants offer set menus on February 14 and there's hardly ever anything my husband likes.

Dining out with a fussy eater is tricky and dining in during lockdown isn't much easier! I wasn't planning to bother looking for a nice takeaway option for Valentine's Day, but saw an advert for a local Italian restaurant that sounded nice and decided to have a look.

The Spaghetti Tree in Sutton is not to be confused with the Spaghetti House chain - it's a family-run Italian restaurant that has been going for more than 30 years. According to their website they were offering live entertainment before the pandemic, and have now turned to takeaway and delivery - including a Sunday roast which I'm going to have to try.

The Valentine's Day offer was indeed a set menu, but with quite a few options compared to the three or four you usually find - this one had six starters and six main courses to choose from, one of which was any pizza from their menu. That suited us perfectly!

It wasn't cheap at £40 each but that price included three courses, delivery, a cocktail and chocolate covered strawberries. As my husband is teetotal I got to have his cocktail and I can say that even though I'm not really sure of the ingredients (strawberry, peach and vodka came through) they really were delicious.

I chose the tiger prawns with chorizo bruschetta for my starter, which came with rocket and red onions as well as a balsamic glaze. The bread was a little soggy by the time our food arrived but that did no harm and it was very tasty. My husband had deep fried mozzarella parcels - the portion contained four, which is something we probably would have shared between us had we been eating in the restaurant, and he said that while they were very nice, two was plenty as they were actually quite heavy.

I was very tempted by several of the main courses in the set menu, including the prawn and crab linguine, the tagliatelle with meatballs and the seabass with tiger prawns but I plumped instead for 'pollo Casanova' - chicken breast wrapped in pancetta in a spinach and gorgonzola sauce served with saute potatoes and seasonable vegetables. It was excellent - the chicken (two sizeable pieces) perfectly cooked, the sauce not overpowering and complementing the dish well, and the potatoes and vegetables were exactly how I like them. Again, the portion was so large I couldn't eat it all!

My husband enjoyed his margerita pizza and said the brownie he had for dessert was very good. For my dessert I chose the nutella pizza, which the menu described as topped with strawberries and white chocolate swirls - instead, it came topped with sliced banana! (And I don't like banana, but then again I don't like strawberries either). It was far too large for one person and again if we were in the restaurant would have been a sharing dessert - as it was, I ate one small slice and the rest ended up being wasted!

I was very pleased overall with the menu, from the wide choice to the quality of the food (and the drinks!), and would definitely order from here again.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Some simple Valentine's crafts for children and toddlers

My two year old and I have had fun making some Valentine's day decorations! Some of the ideas are based on things I saw online and some are my own design. All we used were some cardboard heart shapes, two heart-shape hole punches, some wool, a toilet roll tube, paint and some heart stickers, and some ribbon to hang what we made.

You can find out how to make all of these and more on my parenting blog Mini Moo Life!

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

How to create pancake art - fun ideas for Pancake Day

 Have you come across pancake art before? It's a great way to have fun on Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) or indeed any time! Pancake art is simply creating a picture in pancake form, by using a squeezy bottle to draw with the batter in your pan. As the batter cooks, add more details, then finally fill in the gaps, to get different shades on your 'picture'. 

Hop on over to my other blog, Mini Moo Life, to see the unicorn pancake I made for my daughter and also my attempt at her favourite cartoon character Bluey!

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Possibly the best ever Christmas chocolate brownies

I was very excited when The Holiday, starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law first came out in 2006 as Winslet’s character was a journalist on a real-life British daily newspaper - where I actually worked. There were even rumours that Jude Law had been seen on a tour of our real-life office though I unfortunately didn’t see him myself!

While the film was lovely what I found most far-fetched was the depiction of some of the details. Winslet works on the paper’s obituaries desk and manages to own a beautiful roomy cottage in Surrey (surely out of her price range) which is apparently a 40 minute commute - my memory is more like 40 minutes after leaving the office you would probably still be standing at the station waiting for a delayed Southern train). 

The village where many of the U.K. scenes are filmed isn’t that far away from me - Shere, near Guildford - and though I haven’t actually been there, but we did do a Weber barbecue cookery course in a village called Abinger Hammer a few years ago which is only a five minute drive from Shere, and I can vouch for the fact that there really are some English villages as picturesque as the ones in the Holiday! 

Debra at Eliot's Eats selected The Holiday as the theme for this month's Food 'n' Flix, The idea is that we all cook or bake something inspired by the film, and it's a great movie to rewatch at Christmas!

In terms of foodie inspiration from the film itself, one of the scenes that stands out is when Amanda (Cameron Diaz) arrives in her house swap and goes to the local shop where she stocks up on wine, chocolate, Christmas cake, mince pies and more. The shop keeper assumes she’s having a party but it’s all for her! The other food moment that sticks in my mind is when Iris (Kate Winslet) makes Christmas fettuccine, which I didn’t realise was a thing (and according to a few rather indignant posts I’ve read online, isn’t). 

I decided to go with something a bit more traditionally festive - chocolate brownies. They strike me as both the sort of thing that Amanda may have bought to indulge in at her holiday cottage but also the sort of thing that she might make herself - she doesn’t strike me as much of a cook but I can’t help feeling that she would have made brownies before even if from a packet mix!

I used a recipe I found on a website called Jane's Patisserie and I can say that these are some of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever made. They are particularly good on day two if you keep them in the fridge!

I didn't add anything to them (Jane's recipes suggest adding chopped up chocolate bars like Mars or Crunchie, but I just wanted the standard brownie texture) but I decorated the top with some drizzled icing and some mini KitKat Santas, but you can put anything you want on top, or indeed nothing at all. These are truly more-ish and might have to become my go-to brownie recipe!


Sunday, 13 December 2020

Christmas bauble cakes

There was a time when I always wanted the latest novelty cake pan or innovative piece of baking equipment from Lakeland - to be fair I still do want those things but am realistic to know I don’t have space for much more and don’t have time for the sort of elaborate bakes I used to do! But it’s fun to dig out equipment I haven’t used in a long time - or in this case had never actually used.

This is a silicon mini cake pan in the shape of Christmas baubles - I think I bought it in the January sale one year and had never actually used it!

The only instructions on the back said to use a two egg cake mix so I used this recipe from the BBC Good Food website  but had far too much cake mixture so made these reindeercupcakes as well.

I had to guess how long to cook them for as though the cakes are small they are fairly deep so I did them at 180C for 20 minutes.

You can see the design on the cakes when they came out of the pan - some baubles have stars, others stripes and two had a snowflake pattern that looks really pretty if you go over it with white icing with a fine piping nozzle.

I went over the other designs with icing with varying degrees of success. My piping has never been neat! These look quite effective when all piled together on a plate though I don’t think I’d have the patience to ice more than six, it would be a fun activity to do with children.

Reindeer cupcakes with pretzel antlers

I really wanted to make some time to do some Christmas baking when I had a day off last week as in the past I would have made several festive treats by now and I hadn’t done anything yet! 

These reindeer cupcakes are really easy, the key ingredient is the pretzels - and you can make the cakes themselves any flavour you like!

I made chocolate cakes using this recipe on the BBC Good Food site and made a simple chocolate buttercream.

When the cakes were baked and cooled I topped with a spoonful of buttercream and used salted caramel flavour chocolate coated pretzels (made by Flipz, available in most supermarkets) for the reindeer’s antlers. You can use regular pretzels as well but I thought these went better with the cake!

For the face you can use a Smartie or M&M for the nose but I didn’t have any and these were a spur of the moment bake so I used some icing I had coloured red and used a little piping bag to pipe on the rest of the face. Some of the reindeer have slightly odd expressions but my daughter liked them and so did my husband!

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Cocktail Man - Cocktail kits at home subscription box review

Many of us are missing going out to bars during lockdown – the atmosphere, the company, but also the cocktails carefully crafted by bartenders. Though I have to admit that I have barely been out to a bar since becoming a parent and even before that it wasn’t a regular occurrence – but I do love a proper cocktail that’s more than just a spirit and a mixer. A few months back I decided to treat myself to something I came across online, which aims to fill this particular gap. The Cocktail Man is professional mixologist James Vyse who quit his job at a top bar in London to create this new subscription service bringing you cocktail making kits at home.

You can choose your favourite cocktail as a one-off treat or a gift for someone else, or you can choose a subscription package where a different cocktail kit each month makes its way through your door. I have had two now, as part of a six-month subscription, and can confirm that the cocktails are delicious. However, the package changed after the first month and I do think these are a little on the expensive side – even though they are still cheaper than paying for cocktails of this quality in a bar!

What do you get in the Cocktail Man box?

Each month, the pack brings you everything you need to make five cocktails. That includes three miniature bottles of spirits, and a bottle of the Cocktail Man’s own recipe ‘sliqueur’ (which I think might be a ‘secret liqueur’ but I couldn't see an explanation for the name) – this is a flavoured liqueur that is basically what makes the cocktail something unique, plus a garnish and a recipe card. The three cocktails I have had so far are:

Raspberry Rose Gin Fizz: miniature bottles of gin, plus raspberry and rose sliqueur, and dried rose buds to garnish

Blueberry and lavender sour: vodka, blueberry and lavender sliqueur, and lavender sprigs to garnish.

Rhubarb and ginger negroni: gin, campari, rhubarb and ginger sliqueur, and dehydrated orange slices to garnish.

The recipe cards also explain what fresh ingredients you need; the first two both needed an egg white which isn’t something I would normally put in a drink, but as long as you shake it up enough, works just fine. The blueberry and lavender sour is served neat, whereas the raspberry rose gin fizz is topped up with tonic water; which wasn’t on the initial list of ingredients on the recipe card so luckily I read the whole thing before I started making it, or I would have gotten to the end and realised I had no tonic water! 

A negroni is usually too bitter for me and the rhubarb sliqueur did sweeten it somewhat, and I liked the hint of orange, but again I would prefer a sweeter cocktail. The garnishes give a nice final touch but what I liked most was that these tasted like proper premium cocktails. I preferred the raspberry rose gin fizz as I like a sweeter cocktail – I’m hoping that next time I get either the champagne cosmopolitan or the mango and passion fruit mojito!

What are the cocktails like?

Delicious – like something you would get in a high end bar. I’m not talking jug of sex on the beach – but the sort of drink I’ve enjoyed at the Dorchester or the Skylon bar in the South Bank Centre. With the garnish as well they look the part (providing you have suitable glassware – by the way, you also need a cocktail shaker). The mixers are minimal so these are strong cocktails too – a little goes a long way.

How is it packaged?

In an attractive blue strong cardboard box, with the bottles neatly arranged so you can see what you’ve got at a glance. There was also a postcard with a message from the Cocktail Man about the inspiration for this particular cocktail and the recipe card. Initially, there were two options however, of a standard and premium subscription; my subscription was upgraded from the former to the latter after some delivery issues. The standard box was similar but packaged in a plain white box, with a removal blue sleeve, and without the postcard. These feel like a luxury treat when they arrive and would make a lovely gift.

What does it cost?

Currently at the time of writing on the Cocktail Man website, an individual kit is between £34.99 and £36.99, a three month subscription is £79.99 (reduced from £98.97), six months £149.99 (reduced from £197.94) and 12 months is £279.99, down from the usual price of £395.88. That sounds expensive, and in fact since I started drafting this blog post the prices have actually gone up - but given each kit makes five cocktails, a one-off at £32.99 (including postage) sets you back £7 per cocktail – you’d pay nearly twice that in some high end bars. On a six month subscription, it’s less than £5 per drink, and for 12 months, that falls to under £4.70. Of course, you also have to take into account the fact that you are making these cocktails yourself at home – and a fair amount of the bar price would go towards covering overheads. I got a special offer via Facebook so look out for voucher codes so I feel like I got a bargain based on the current prices - and am looking forward to my next few boxes of cocktails!


Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Winter Warmer recipe - Cheesy Sausage, Broccoli and Quinoa Bake

I wanted to share this dish I made recently from a recipe by the Chunky Chef as it’s a perfect winter warmer and easy to make.

The quantities can be easily scaled up or down - prepare some quinoa according to the pack instructions (rinsing then simmering on the hob). When cool, fluff with a fork.

Fry some sausages in a pan and at the same time, briefly steam some broccoli (I did this in the microwave). 

You also need a cheese sauce which you can either make from scratch or use a packet mix.

Mix the sausages, broccoli and quinoa into a large greased ovenproof dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and bake in the oven until brown on top.

The quinoa is a nice change as I don’t eat it very often but it works really well in this recipe. The cheese sauce is what brings it all together and while I made it with regular pork sausages, I am tempted to try this again with chicken sausage!

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Lotus Biscoff Doughnuts for Food 'n' Flix - Knives Out

I used to take part in a blog challenge called Food ‘n’ Flix where the person hosting each month chooses a movie and everyone taking part bakes something inspired by that film. It got me to watch quite a few films I otherwise would never have seen and to try a few recipes I almost certainly wouldn’t have made otherwise!

As I’ve been baking and blogging less it fell off my radar a bit for the past couple of years but I came across it again last month. Wendy from A Day In the Life on theFarm chose the film Knives Out, which had been on my 'to watch' list for a little while, so it was a good reason to bump it to the top!

I wasn't sure what to expect from the film, which stars Daniel Craig as a detective trying to solve the mystery of a family patriarch's death. His family members all seem to have secrets and possible motives for their involvement in what may or may not be a murder, though the police have ruled it a suicide. There is an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer, and the film reminds me of an Agatha Christie-style 'whodunnit' - but at the same time it's also very funny. I really enjoyed watching the film as it made a nice change from the sort of things we usually watch.

In terms of food references and inspiration, there's a lot of indirect inspiration that could be taken from the family setting, but I prefer with this challenge to use a direct reference. There's one scene set in a restaurant where one of the main characters eats sausage and beans - a dish my husband would enjoy but I hate beans so this wasn't one for me. What actually stuck in my mind more was doughnuts!

There's a scene where Daniel Craig's detective Benoit Blanc summarises how confusing the case appears to be, saying: "A doughnut hole in the doughnut's hole. But we must look a little closer. And when we do, we see that the doughnut hole has a hole in its center - it is not a doughnut hole at all but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not whole at all!"

After that, all I wanted was a doughnut, so that's what I decided to make! I've never tried to make proper doughnuts as they need to be fried - I don't have a deep-fat fryer and don't really fancy filling a pan with that much oil. Instead, I've made baked doughnuts a few times and have the Wilton doughnut pan which makes these really easy.

I used this recipe for the doughnuts from the Wilton website.

When it came to decorating them, I was missing Doughnut Time (yes I know they deliver but I don't think it's a good idea for my husband and I to have a box of six of their doughnuts between us!) but I still wanted to do some sort of indulgent filling and topping. Lotus Biscoff immediately sprang to mind, since as well as the biscuits, they make a spread which I could eat just from the jar! I used some of the spread to fill the doughnuts (which I sliced through the middle - I wasn't quite up to injecting the filling like shop-bought ones!) and then covered the top in a chocolate glaze which I made from a mixture of chocolate and butter. 

I poured the chocolate glaze over the top and topped with a Lotus Biscoff chocolate biscuit. These weren't as gooey or indeed a patch on the ones I've had from Doughnut Time but they were very good and didn't last long!

I'm sharing this with A Day in the Life on the Farm for November's Food 'n' Flix challenge.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Black Forest Gateau - GBBO 80s Week

It was the time of Kylie and Jason and Bros, drop-waist dresses with puff ball sleeves, Butlins holidays, Queen and Vanilla Ice, My Little Pony and Care Bears, candy necklaces and fizzy cola bottles, and what felt like endless summers running around outside with friends from your estate, running home just in time to watch 80 Days Around the World with Willy Fog or to beg mum for a coin p as you heard the ice cream van music playing.

In other words, I was a child of the 80s and so was really looking forward to Great British Bake Off’s 80s themed week. I wondered beforehand what they could be asked to make - these are the foods I most remember!

  • Viennetta
  • Vol au vents
  • Chicken kiev
  • Battenburg
  • Frozen pizza (deep pan, served with chips)
  • Black Forest Gateau
  • Melon slices with cherries on cocktail sticks
  • Speaking of which, cheese and pineapple cubes on cocktail sticks
  • Angel delight
  • Space invaders crisps
  • Panda pops
The list goes on.... if you remember the 80s, what were your favourites?

The actual challenges in GBBO were quiche, custard doughnuts and ice cream cake. I didn’t realise quiche was an 80s trend, though I do remember seeing one for the first time in the local bakery when I was a child and reading the label, getting the pronunciation wrong as I’d never seen the word before and asking my mum what a ‘quickie’ was, to her mortification! Though as someone with a modern languages degree I’m quite impressed that eight or nine-year old me read ‘quiche’ as ‘quickie’!

I didn’t think those kind of doughnuts were particularly associated with the 80s either, and other than Viennetta I don’t think I ever saw an ice cream cake in the 80s - and Viennetta isn’t really cake, it’s ice cream and thin layers of chocolate.

So when it came to my own bakealong I decided to make something different. I have strong memories of going to a couple of aunts’ weddings in the 80s and Black Forest gateau featuring prominently on the buffet table. I absolutely loved Black Forest gateau apart from one thing - I didn’t like cherries. But the cake was so moist, so chocolatey, I couldn’t resist - so I would always have a slice if it was on offer and carefully prise apart the layers and scrape the cherry filling out, then scrape the cherry off the top, then deposit both on my mum’s plate and wipe my fork with her napkin!

I still don’t like cherries and haven’t eaten Black Forest gateau for years - and have never made one, so it seemed a good idea to make for my GBBO bake along!

I used this Eric Lanlard recipe but didn’t use kirsch as I wanted my daughter to be able to eat the cake; instead I brushed the cake layers with cherry juice. I also didn’t want to use black cherries so bought a tin of black cherry pie filling, which did contain whole cherries but also a thick syrup that I used to sandwich between the layers of the cake. I saved the actual cherries to decorate the top of the cake - and of course picked them off when I came to eat it!

I think I might have forgotten to add the sugar to the cream and I didn’t think I could actually taste any cherry in the cake either from the juice or the filling! Which essentially made it quite a lot of faff for a chocolate cake with a fresh cream filling. But the grated chocolate around the outside and the cherries on top made it feel very 1980s! So I was fairly happy with this cake but if I made it again I might just use the cake recipe and skip the cherries entirely and fill it with chocolate instead!



Sunday, 8 November 2020

GBBO Japanese Week - Wagamama's Tori Kara Age and Chicken Katsu Curry

I was a bit surprised when I saw Great British Bake Off was doing Japanese week, as I didn’t think Japan was a particularly easy theme for cakes and bakes. Of course, I’ve never been to Japan so could be completely wrong – and a few years ago I did go to the opening of a Japanese cafe in central London which was really nice. But when I googled Japanese desserts, the main things that came up used flavours that are quite hard to get hold of unless you can go to a specialist shop, like yuzu, matcha and red bean paste. One recipe I kept coming across was a really light wobbly cheesecake that looked quite difficult to make – which is what Lottie actually made on GBBO that made her star baker.

I have made mochi before which was interesting – quite nice but not something I’d eat regularly – but since I couldn’t get hold of any matcha or yuzu in time I couldn’t think of anything I could bake that wouldn’t be really complicated. So I decided to do dinner from my Wagamama cookery book instead! I picked out Tori Kara Age which is essentially a marinated fried chicken recipe. I didn’t realise it was actually a side dish as I have never ordered this in Wagamama’s, but I think it also goes well with rice as a main course.

It is a little time consuming to make since you have to make the marinade (which is a separate recipe) first, and then a dipping sauce (another separate recipe). Luckily I already had most of the ingredients, including sake, from a previous recipe; this uses quite a lot of soy sauce as well so make sure you have plenty! Once I had marinated the chicken pieces they were coated and fried; the dipping sauce added an umami sort of taste that was really quite more-ish!

My favourite Wagamama recipe though is the dish I order almost every time I eat there (which is only once every couple of years, if that, as my husband doesn’t like that cuisine) – chicken katsu curry. So I was quite pleased when the restaurant chain decided to publish their recipe during the first lockdown, for people to make at home. It is surprisingly easy – you need quite a few ingredients but all ones I already had in the cupboard. I tend to take a shortcut and buy breaded chicken goujons rather than make my own, but the sauce tastes exactly like the real thing and has quickly become a firm favourite in my household!

I was also interested to learn about kawaii from Great British Bake Off - a style of Japanese cake decorating that translates as cute or adorable. If you see a kawaii cake you will know straight away what I mean! I have made a few things in the past that might fall roughly under this category - not strictly speaking kawaii, but I think they are quite cute! Check these out:

Reindeer cake pops

Puppy dog cupcakes


Russian doll birthday cake

Shopkins doughnut birthday cake

Strawberry and white chocolate unicorn cake

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Mary's Chocolate Orange Tart - GBBO Bakealong

Chocolate week on Great British Bake Off would once have seen me coming up with some elaborate creation, no doubt a lavishly decorated cake. But I don’t have the luxury of a lot of time any more and wasn’t really in the mood for cake - I fancied making a dessert that would keep for a couple of days. It seemed appropriate to use a GBBO recipe book and having a flick through, I settled on Mary Berry's chocolate orange tart from the Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking.

The chocolate filling is a mixture of chocolate, sugar, butter, flour and eggs - so it's no wonder that it seemed quite cake-y to me. But the trick is not to overbake it and leave it slightly wobbly in the centre - I always have my mum's voice in the back of my mind at times like that, warning me that it isn’t cooked (or half raw, as she would probably put it) which explains why my brownies are usually overbaked! 

There is also an orange filling that you make in a similar way but using egg yolks not whole eggs, white chocolate, and the grated zest of one orange. But for some reason oranges were completely out of stock on my online shop that week (perhaps as we go into lockdown in winter, people are worried they will get scurvy?!) so I made do with a few drops of orange essence instead.

The idea is to swirl the two fillings together inside your pastry case to create a marbled effect. I think this looks quite pretty, don't you?

It is delicious served warm and also very good served cold a day or two later - if it lasts that long!

Chocolate Eclairs - GBBO Bakealong

I’ve been trying to bake along with Great British Bake Off this year and wasn’t particularly looking forward to pastry week as I don’t make particularly good pastry - I’m rubbish at kneading I think! Until I saw that the bakers were making choux pastry and specifically eclairs. Given I have an eclair pan and a book called Secrets of Eclairs - both from the pre-parenting days when I had a lot more time to bake - I had no excuse not to join in!

Eclair pans are not exactly a necessary piece of baking equipment but they do help keep your piping straight and a uniform size and the tin I used is quite heavy with curved edges which keep it stable.

As for the recipe book, it’s a small volume but has some detailed explanations of the equipment and techniques you need to make eclairs, plus recipes for different flavoured pastries and fillings.

I was quite limited by what I had in the house - if I want to bake in the same week as the GBBO episode then I need to either decide before I’ve seen the show what I am going to make (so not really a bake along) or make do with what I have got in the house - I’m trying to avoid extra trips to the shops due to Covid!

That left me with plain eclairs with a chocolate filling and white icing on top - nice and traditional.

Making choux pastry is actually quite straightforward and quick but the tricky bit comes with deciding how much egg to add. The recipe I used said you needed up to two eggs, and to beat them together and add gradually until you get the right consistency. I felt I needed to use all the egg, so wasn’t sure if that was right and I should have used less, but it turned out well!

I did end up having to make two batches and in true GBBO style, bin the first lot and start again. Bizarrely for such a detailed recipe book with extensive explanations of each step, the basic recipe for choux pastry at the front of the book omits any cooking time! So I went by the time in one of the flavoured recipes later in the book and the eclairs came out very overbaked so I started again and reduced the cooking time significantly.

I made simple icing from icing sugar and water which looked ok at first but once it had set it was almost transparent and I think I should have made it much thicker or done a few layers. I would have preferred to make the traditional chocolate icing but didn’t have the ingredients as this was a last minute bake! The texture of the choux was quite good and they did taste nice, though they were a lot smaller than shop-bought eclairs. This was the size guided by my eclair pan so I can only assume that shop-bought eclairs use some sort of industrial equipment and bake in a size that can't really be replicated at home. If that's not the case and you are a whizz with eclairs, let me know in the comments below!