Thursday 26 October 2023

Halloween Chocolate Bark

If your children have been trick or treating, or you stocked up on goodies to hand out yourself, you might find you have an excess of chocolate and sweets left over come November. While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be eating it come January, with Christmas not that far off you might be looking for ways to use up this leftover chocolate and candy. 

Chocolate bark is a good option as it’s easy to make, and fun to do with kids, plus it makes fairly banal sweets or chocolates into something a bit more interesting.

Simply melt some chocolate, spread it over a piece of baking paper in a square cake tin or rectangular baking tray, sprinkle with sweets, chocolates (M&Ms and Smarties work well), popcorn, even broken biscuit pieces, and leave to set in the fridge. When set, break into slabs (you may need to carefully stab with a knife) and enjoy.

For mine I used a baking tray and 200g white chocolate and 100g milk chocolate. I melted both types of chocolate separately in the microwaved and coloured half the white chocolate purple and the other half orange. I swirled the three colours together in the tray and sprinkled over some M&S Hallow-Scream Munch Mix, £3.50 for 300g (I used about 100g). The mix contains mini pretzel pieces, chocolate covered pretzels, green and orange crispies (like little biscuit pieces in a candy coating), popcorn pieces covered in white chocolate and milk chocolate pretzel clusters - though I didn’t use the latter in my chocolate bark as the pieces were a lot larger than the others.

This could be enjoyed as part of a Halloween party or nibbled on while watching your favourite scary movie!

The recipe can be adapted easily for other times of the year such as Christmas, or Valentine’s Day as I did here (this is my other blog if you are interested in parenting posts)! 

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Halloween Spooky Sugar Cookies

I recently did a class with Biscuiteers which I shall write about separately - and since then I've been enjoying baking and decorating biscuits at home, now I know the 'proper' techniques for decorating! The trick is to use royal icing to pipe an outline, then when it has set, use thinner royal icing to 'flood' the inner part of the biscuit.

I have a large collection of cookie cutters and among them, a pumpkin, ghost and bat. I used a Biscuiteers recipe which you can find online here - the addition of golden syrup makes the dough less likely to spread during baking.

I tried a few different designs, including writing 'Boo' on a ghost, and a pumpkin with a face - but I prefer the look of the plain pumpkin cookies. I think the bats came out fairly well too. I made a few of each type and plan to serve these when my daughter has a couple of friends around for a mini Halloween party - if they aren't eaten already before then!

Friday 1 September 2023

Memsahib Gin and Tea Bar Cheltenham

I was trying to work out why I liked the Memsahib Gin andTea Bar in Cheltenham aside from the absolutely delicious cocktails and then I realised - it was the comfy chairs.

These days the last thing I want when I go out for a drink is a busy pub where I’m standing, trying to make myself heard, with nowhere to put my bag. I’d much rather have a seat in a quiet corner and be able to relax and hear my friends speak!

Last year I went to Bath with a few of my friends and took part in a murder mystery event that saw us walking - and at times running - around the town centre trying to solve a virtual crime with Clued Up. It was great fun but pretty tiring as we were on our feet all day. At the end of the day, we drove back to my friend's house in Cheltenham, and walked to the town centre for dinner and drinks. By that point my feet were starting to hurt which is another reason I was glad to sit down!

Memsahib is inspired by the British Raj period in India with tapas food blending British and Indian flavours; it also serves an afternoon Chai tea and crafts its own gin. If I lived closer, I would definitely do one of their masterclasses!

We had some masala chips served with parmesan and lemon salt (£5.50) to nibble alongside our cocktails which were not too spicy and really unusual. But mostly I liked the cocktails - carefully blended flavours, that were out of the ordinary, definitely worth their £10 price tag.

I love Singapore Slings so I had a Cheltenham Sling - vodka, Indian masala rum, orange liqueur, green apple, lime, ginger, angostura bitters, orange bitters and ginger ale. It came on a little tray with a couple of little bottles for me to mix myself. I followed that with a Memsahib Star, made from tropical mango gin, pineapple, lime, vanilla and prosecco - a little similar to a pornstar martini. Both were delicious and I'd definitely recommend making a stop here if you are in the area.

Thursday 1 June 2023

The Tea Terrace - Afternoon Tea in a Princess Carriage

A perfect treat for any little girl - or grown up - who loves princesses and all things pink. We enjoyed afternoon tea at the Tea Terrace in Cobham for our daughter's fourth birthday last year and she was thrilled. Unfortunately that restaurant has now closed but they have another venue in Guildford where you can have the same princess carriage experience - to find out more hop on over to my other blog, Mini Moo Life.

They have an extensive menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as afternoon tea. The white chocolate and cranberry scones were especially good, and the mini cakes were delicious. The restaurant was very quiet when we were there so we were able to hop over to another table in the corner and sit on throne-type chairs - though my daughter and I definitely preferred sitting in the princess carriage! 

You do have to pay extra to hire the carriage which you get for an hour and a half, and it can add up at £12.95 per person - I think it would be better to have a flat fee per carriage as you aren't exactly going to share it with anyone. There is also a minimum spend of £21 per person if you sit in the carriage so you can't just book it to feel a bit fancy while drinking a coffee! We had planned to go for afternoon tea (which my daughter and I ordered while my husband had a panini from the lunch menu followed by a cake and with a drink as well which came to more than the minimum spend.

While we haven't been to the Tea Terrace's remaining venue in Guildford it looks from the website to be quite similar to the now closed Cobham branch, and most importantly has the princess carriages, but doesn't have Theresa the robot!

Saturday 6 May 2023

Coronation Cookies

I couldn't miss the opportunity/excuse to do some baking for the coronation of King Charles III - it's certainly a momentous occasion no matter what you think of the royal family, and we are merrily joining in with the celebrations, with a street party and parties at school and Rainbows for my daughter.

My husband 3D printed me a crown-shaped cookie cutter, and I bought a cookie stamp from Etsy - not having realised this is something he could have 3D printed me as well so I will remember that for next time! I also had some red, white and blue sprinkles left over from last year's Jubilee which came in handy.

My icing technique is far from perfect but I'm quite pleased with these compared to my usual fairly messy icing. It is a bit fiddly to keep switching colour and icing bags but I think worth it!

I used a standard sugar cookie recipe, from BBC Good Food. My cookie cutter was quite large so I didn't get that many cookies out of it - about 9 crowns and 5 circles. My daughter had most of them to decorate as you can see below!

For the ones I did, I copied the shape and colours of the actual coronation crown and added what is supposed to be some gems along the bottom. I definitely need more practice with icing though but it's all just for fun - and my daughter had a great time making hers!

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Dutch King's Day Tompuce

In the Netherlands, April 27 is a national holiday celebrating the king's birthday - King's Day. To mark the occasion many people hold or visit flea markets (it's the one day of the year street sales are allowed without applying for a permit); there are parties and events, people wear orange - the national colour - and eat tompouce.

These are a pastry similar to a mille-feuille, but with one layer instead of two, consisting of a piece of crispy puff pastry, a layer of creme patissiere (pastry cream, often referred to as creme pat) and another piece of pastry, with royal icing spread on top. Normally the icing is pink but on King's Day, when these are popular, the icing is orange.

This King's Day I was invited to a party by a Dutch colleague and wanted to take something with me, and learned about tompouce via the internet (apparently they are named after a 19th century actor). I found out from my friend that he had been unable to find any tompouce in the UK, but that they are a lot like mille-feuille, which you can find in most bakeries - though probably without the orange layer on top. As he had only just moved to the UK a few months before I thought I would try to recreate a little taste of home!

I found a recipe for tompouce online - there are several but I used this one from My Red Kitchen and pretty much followed it step by step, but made the icing orange. It felt like I was doing a technical challenge from the Great British Bake Off - making something I'd never heard of before, that involved several steps (though I used ready-made puff pastry which would have been an automatic fail on GBBO!), and instructions like "cut each sheet [of pastry] into 16 equal squares". 

I may have made mine too big but having never seen a tompouce I'm not sure what size they are supposed to be, and they seemed on a par with mille-feuilles. I didn't know exactly how much gelatine to used just said 'one envelope gelatine' and referred to jell-o at the store which makes me think this is perhaps a standard size in the US. I had a packet with four leaves of gelatine remaining which it said was the right amount for one pint of liquid but the creme pat had already thickened quite a bit so I probably didn't need that much. Rather than using a piping bag I was able to actually slice it (as I'd let it set in a large shallow rectangular dish), which I thought was quite handy at the time but in retrospect it doesn't look great and I should have piped it. Still, they tasted pretty good!