Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Rum and raisin chocolate brownies - Gluten free.

A scrumptiously boozy treat that also happens to be gluten and dairy free! It's rum soaked content means that you could almost get away with calling it a 'festive treat', almost.. Inspired by the classic ice cream flavour and chocolate treat, this free from bake has all the flavour without a trace of pesky wheat in sight!

Since starting my long diagnosis journey with coeliac disease I've been experimenting with more free from bakes, baking tasty treats that don't leave me with that uncomfortable feeling afterwards. This is another one of those tried and tested, and very quickly devoured treats, that you wouldn't suspect was dairy free, it's just as deliciously moist and squishy as a normal brownie! Making for a rather scrumptious free from treat.

  150g raisins
  3 shots of rum
  250g stork, melted
  150g caster sugar
  100g dark soft brown sugar
  3 eggs
  100g gluten free plain flour
  75g cocoa powder
  2 tsp baking powder

Prior to baking pre-soak those raisins in the rum for a truly scrumptious boozy bake. Ideally you'll want to do this overnight, or for at least 3-4 hours before baking. I used Appleton Estate's Signature blend for my brownies, this is a gluten free rum so it's perfect for this bake!

Before you start on your brownie mix, melt down the stork on a low heat to add to your bake. This helps to add moisture to the bake, in place of your usual melted chocolate in a brownie recipe. Set aside.

Pre heat your oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4, grease and line a square baking tin (mine is 20 x 20cm).

In a large bowl add the brown sugar and caster sugar, using a mix of these two sugars helps with the rich, squishy consistency of the bake, whilst also adding a bit of crunch to the top.

Add the gluten free flour, baking powder and cocoa powder to the mixture and stir to combine.

In a jug beat the eggs together, then add to the dry mixture and stir well to combine. Followed by the melted butter, this should loosen the mixture to a dark, rich and runny consistency.

Lastly, you'll want to add the boozy raisins with the remaining rum in the bowl. Stir to combine with the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, then bake for 40 minutes till firm. The brownies should look crunchy on the top and a skewer should come out clean when placed in the bake. Leave to finish off in the tin for an hour before removing.

You may want to drizzle a little more rum over the top of the cake once you've removed it from the oven. Use a cake skewer to poke holes in top of the brownie, then sprinkle 1 shot of rum on top. This will soak in straight away, adding more tasty boozy content to your bake!

You may find it easiest to slice the brownies into squares before removing them from the tin. Lining the tin also makes it easier to remove the brownies to place on a wire rack to cool down.

Of course, these do taste best when still slightly warm, so you may want to tuck in after the brownies have cooled down for an hour or so, pretty much as soon as you remove them from the tin. They do also taste just as scrumptious when cooled down, the rum really adds a lovely boozy touch to the bake and pairs well with the chocolately flavour! Yum!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Learning to live with your gut : Being diagnosed for Coeliac disease.

During those long months awaiting your first appointment with the consultant it can be a right nightmare, hours spent hugging a hot water bottle after you've gluten'd yourself, and accepting Pepto Bismol as your new best friend. For some this is the normal journey as they await their coeliac diagnosis, but for me I still have several months to go..

It's only been a couple of months since my blood test, but already I still have an awfully long way to go, as I type this it's in-fact 32 weeks to go until I even get to see the consultant.. the past eight weeks since I received my referral letter have been a right roller-coaster.

Knowing that it could be months until I'm seen to start the diagnosis procedure, I'm expecting a long seven months of gut pain, chronic flatulence, sudden panicked dashes to the loo and plenty of foggy, tired days. Looking back at the past year since I discovered my lactose intolerance the symptoms were obvious, I just convinced myself that it couldn't possibly be gluten intolerance as my symptoms were far less severe than those of my diagnosed relatives, little did I know.

After receiving the bad news regarding my referral I decided to try everything and anything to get to the bottom of my symptoms, so I could greet the consultant with a full list of my problems and the solutions that I've tried to get to the bottom of what's causing the constant upset in my gut, that is whenever that glorious day finally arrives.

Armed with a trolley, and a wealth of knowledge already gained from going through the experience with my relatives as they began their journey without gluten, I decided to try a couple of weeks without gluten in my diet to see how my body reacted, and if there was actually any improvement in my symptoms.

Thankfully, I've already grown used to life reading food labels from my issues with lactose, but it never dawned on me just how many gluten free products contain milk, knowing that the two issues often go hand in hand this surprised me somewhat. It looked like my new temporary diet was looking a little more difficult, especially for someone who can't have a cuppa without a biscuit, or two.. or a generous slice of cake..

The next two weeks were a revelation, those first few days may have been no different to usual, but a few days into my temporary gluten free diet I had a feeling I'd not had in a very long while, a quiet gut.. waking up without the sounds of an orchestra tuning up, accompanied by chronic bloating and gas was a new, certainly most welcome sensation.

As the days progressed my gut felt happier with me than it had in an awfully long while. Gone was the hilarious flatulence, the loud groaning sounds emerging from my stomach. Suddenly, I really wasn't looking forward to re-introducing gluten into my diet..

For me, realising that I really did feel better on a gluten free diet was like a weight had been lifted, I always knew that there was something wrong with my health, but it was a matter of my gp taking me seriously to get to bottom of it, and I can't tell you how many times my constant problems were dismissed and shrugged off.

Then came the day when I knew I had to re-introduce gluten back into my diet, I wasn't dreading it as such, I just wasn't sure what would happen at first. Sure enough, a couple of hours after tucking into my wheat filled breakfast an uncomfortable twinge started emerging from my gut, one that could only be described as feeling like I had a chestburster waiting to emerge from my stomach. Whilst it most likely was the gluten that caused this gut clenching sensation, I wanted to be sure that it really was gluten that was irritating me, just one case of digestive discomfort wasn't enough for me to feel comfortable saying that it was most likely the cause of my problems, so I went on another gluten free week to confirm my suspicions.

Sure enough, the next time I re-introduced gluten after a week without it in my diet that same uncomfortable, gut wrenching feeling came back, leaving me clutching a bottle of Pepto Bismol to soothe my symptoms like I've done many times before when I've had lactose. For me, this was enough to confirm my issues with gluten. Sure, it may or may not be coeliac disease, but it's certainly something that's not helped by eating gluten.

The side effects of re-introducing gluten into my diet was enough to at least confirm my suspicions, ok so it's still Schroedinger's coeliac disease at this stage, but knowing that gluten was playing a part in my health problems was enough for me. Whilst I still have what feels like an awfully long journey to go until I start to be diagnosed, beginning to get to the root of my problems personally is a great starting point. I'm just not looking forward to several months keeping gluten in my diet and the affects that it will have on my health and my work.

As I still face another 32 weeks of uncertainty, at least I'm starting to get somewhere, I just hope it that it doesn't leave me with a chronic addiction to the pink goo known as Pepto Bismol after everything..

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Gluten and dairy free chocolate orange cupcakes.

A deliciously free from treat that has all the scrumptious flavours of a chocolate orange, Terry himself would be fighting you to the death for the last one of these! Made even more scrumptious with a surprising addition to the bake, that perfectly re-creates the flavour of the tasty treat without any dairy in sight!

Why no dairy or gluten I hear you ask, as someone who is currently awaiting a biopsy for coeliac disease I'm already finding that wheat disagrees with me, not to mention the irksome addition of my lactose intolerance, making over indulging on treats a bit of a pain at times, so this tasty new recipe is perfect for any fellow sufferers!

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes)
  150g dairy free margarine
  150g caster sugar
  3 eggs
  120g gluten free self raising flour
  30g cocoa powder
  4 tsp of Choc shot liquid chocolate orange spice
  2 tbsp coconut milk

To decorate
  80g dairy free margarine
  140g icing sugar
  3 tsp of Choc shot liquid chocolate orange spice
  Orange jelly sweets to finish

Pre heat the oven to 180/160c fan/gas mark 4 and line a cupcake tray with cases.

Cream together the margarine with the sugar till pale and fluffy, much like you would with butter however this should mix together much quicker! Add in the eggs one at a time and mix.

Sift in the gluten free self raising flour, I used Asda's own blend for this bake, one that I've always used even before I started my diagnosis to make tasty treats for my coeliac relatives! Sift in the cocoa powder and mix.

Add the Choc shot to finish and blend, I picked up a tube of this lovely stuff at the recent Allergy & free from show in Liverpool in my goodie bag and just had to use it for a bake (F.Y.I - it also tastes amazing in a hot chocolate with coconut milk, oh my!!). The Choc shot will help to add the classic flavour of the Chocolate orange to your bake, without using any dairy!

Stir to mix in, then finish off by adding the coconut milk and blending, this will help to add some moisture to your bake.

Spoon the mixture into your cases, filling each around 2/3 full, then bake for 15-20 minutes till risen.

Remove the tray from the oven and leave your cupcakes in the tray for 10 minutes to finish off, then place on a wire rack to cool.

Whilst your cakes cool mix your frosting to top the cupcakes. Mix together the margarine with half of the icing sugar till fully combined, then sift in the remaining icing sugar and whisk for 2-3 minutes. Add the Choc shot to the frosting and whisk to combine, this will make the frosting taste utterly delicious!

Spoon the frosting into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe swirls on top of each cupcake to fully cover, then finish off by piping a smaller swirl in the centre of each cake. Top with an orange jelly sweet to finish!

The end result will be a scrumptious, chocolately bake with a lovely orangey twist! These will last well kept in an airtight container for a few days.

Recipe adapted from: Doves Farm.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Coffee shop exploration: Fig + Sparrow.

20 Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JN. Open Mon - Fri 8am - 7pm, Sat 10am - 6pm, Sun 11am - 6pm |

Nestled away amongst a selection of lovely homewares you'll find a surprising hideaway for a cuppa and a spot of cake. Fig + Sparrow is one of those hidden gems on Oldham Street, offering a peaceful getaway where you can indulge in some scrumptious treats whilst you shop for some home decor!

On first sight you'll be forgiven for mistaking it for a home shop, their store front is filled with a wonderful selection of homewares, but a wander further back through the shop will unveil their hidden gem, a cosy coffee shop and cafe.

If I hadn't have been franticly searching for free from friendly cafes I probably wouldn't have stumbled upon this lovely place. Just at the start of Manchester's cultural Northern Quarter, Fig + Sparrow is perfectly located, it's a cosy stop off for that much needed cuppa after a busy days shopping. Offering a wide range of brews, amongst tasty treats to unwind in their cafe. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the street in a cosy nest at the back of their shop.

What better way to eye up those new elusive purchases than with a cup of tea and a slice of cake! Their coffee shop offers a unique alternative to the chain shops of Manchester, and with a selection of dairy and gluten free options on their menu, it's certainly worth a visit.

As you walk through the store you'll be greeted by their coffee shop, with a staggering selection of brews on offer, amongst the cake counter filled with the days freshly baked treats. Ranging from comforting cakes, to squidgy brownies and traybakes, with a selection of gluten free and vegan bakes available too.

On my visit their was a tasty selection of vegan and gluten free bakes to choose from, amongst their range of cakes, so you could be sure of a treat with your cuppa. Ranging from lemon and poppyseed cake, to vegan chocolate cake and tasty brownies. I choose one of their gluten free bakes, a chocolate chunk brownie. A lovely squidgy bake with plenty of chocolate and a hint of orange amongst the tasty chunks of chocolate, certainly very moreish!

To accompany my bake I choose an Earl grey tea, my usual beverage of choice on my cake explorations! You'll find a full menu of coffees and teas to choose from, with dairy free options available too. I was quite impressed with the choice of oat and almond milk amongst the usual soya milk.

A great find, not just for the free from options, but their tranquil hidden location made for the perfect stop off after a busy day to sit and unwind. Take in a spot of tea, or shop from their range of homewares whilst you visit, certainly worth popping in when you find yourself wandering down Oldham Street.

 Cake rating:
 4/5 | Free from options available.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A feast for the eyes at the Cake and Bake show.

If it's works of sugar paste art and scrumptious cakes that you adore, then you'll certainly get your fill of them at the Cake and Bake show. This is a show that's all about the art of the bake, bringing together the best of both worlds, from celebrity bakers to the very bakers and companies that help to fuel our love of the freshly baked stuff, oh my!!

Sure we've got plenty of foodie shows and events to satisfy any keen cake fanciers love of the bake, but when us Northern folk are rather hard pushed to find a cake show that brings us our favourite treats right on our doorstep, the return of the Cake and Bake show to Manchester's Eventcity was certainly most welcome this November.

Having visited their show before when I'd just started peddling my lurid scrumptious baking tips with you all a couple of years ago, I was rather pleased to pay a visit to their latest show, this was their first for me at their new home having visited them at Manchester Central previously, so the change of venue was a bit of a new one for me. They'd certainly made the most of the space at their new home, with an open planned layout hosting all the trimmings of the show that you love, from baking workshops to cake competitions and demonstrations at the Super Cake and Bake theatre.

Whatever area of baking you adore, you'll certainly find it covered here at the Cake and Bake show, whether it's getting up close and personal with your favourite bakers at the new Slice of Advice area, or shopping for those baking essentials from your favourite peddlers of scrumptious ingredients at the market place, there's something for everyone.

The main showcase for many at the show was the features of iced and sculpted bakes, cakes that are crafted to perfection in some of the most wonderful shapes. Their Beatrix Potter garden was one of those must visit areas at this year's show, celebrating 150 years of Beatrix Potter with astounding works of sugarpaste art that were utterly delightful.

But it wasn't just a chance for the professionals to show off their latest creations, the Cake and Bake show holds it's own cake competitions at every show allowing visitors to enter their latest bakes hoping to be crowned the star of the show. This year's theme took on the spellbinding theme of Myths, Legends and Fairytales, resulting in some otherworldly creations that certainly caught your eye, alongside a decorative Birthday cake competition which allowed visitors to show off their decorating skills.

With plenty to take in at the show, you could sign up for one of the workshops in the Baking and Decorating classroom and pick up some baking tips and tricks from your favourite bakers, or simply sit back and take in some bake-spiration from your favourite celebrity bakers at the Super theatre.

And if that wasn't enough you could stock up on your favourite treats from a selection marketplace traders, ranging from freshly baked treats, to baking and decorating supplies. This year also saw a new addition to the marketplace with dedicated Free from stalls, offering gluten, dairy and nut free treats. For me this was a particularly great new addition, with my lactose and gluten issues being catered for from a selection of traders at the show. Whilst there wasn't as much gluten free cakes and bakes as I'd have liked, leaving me feeling a little left out with my small selection of baked treats from the show, it's certainly a good start, I'd love to see what they bring to the show next year!

Certainly worth the journey to visit, whatever area of baking takes your fancy. Be sure to visit early in the day to avoid the crowds, it certainly got busy around mid-day! Book those essential classes in before your trip to make sure that you get a spot, and take plenty of spare bags with you for all that shopping. The location near the Trafford Centre is just perfect to stop off and dine, beating the busy crowds at the shows cafe areas, so be sure to get a stamp to pop back in after a cuppa, or two!

To find out more about the Cake and Bake show, and for future shows visit

NB: I attended the event with a free press pass but this does not reflect my view of the show.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Coming to terms with the long journey of gluten intolerance.

There comes a day when you get sick of waking up feeling like a boa constrictor is squeezing your stomach every morning, not to mention the unpleasant sounds that seem like your body is tuning up for an experimental industrial noise album... For some this is far too often an occurrence, one that finally became enough for me in the past few months, that led me to start what's going to be an awfully long journey of discovering if I'm coeliac.

You don't tend to read much about the journey along the way of discovering if you're coeliac, sure the symptoms are discussed enough, but what is it actually like trying to get to the bottom of your never-ending gastric symptoms and persistent health issues, that often leave you feeling like you should be living in a protective bubble. Over the next year I'll be sharing my long, bloaty journey with you.

For me, I've always had problems with my health, from persistent colds every winter to horrendous bouts of ibs, issues that you often wouldn't think were connected. But how many people would think to put two and two together, you often see constant anemia and abdominal pain for instance listed amongst the many symptoms of gluten intolerance, but how may gp's would think to check for coeliac disease when they're prescribing you with another round of buscopan for those pesky bowel issues?

After years of being plagued with symptoms it finally took a horrific case of food poisoning last summer that left me lovingly recreating that scene from Team America to realise that it might just be something else that's wrong, as I was left with more than just a sore stomach afterwards, symptoms that I didn't put together until recently as possible coeliac disease.

Now, you may think that it's just me being a bit over cautious, sure I've been suffering with constant bloating, cramping, and chronic gas since my bout of food poisoning over 16 months ago, but surely my body should have long recovered from those two weeks of feeling like I was undergoing an exorcism... After getting nowhere with my gp, I finally ended up self diagnosing myself as having lactose intolerance in the months following my food poisoning, after dairy left me feeling constantly gassy and ill afterwards. Sure for a few months the symptoms seemed to calm down, but they always came back to haunt me, it was as if my stomach was constantly tuning up an orchestra! Leading me to wonder if perhaps it was something else that might be causing my health problems. 

I'll spare you the long story of months of hilarious chronic flatulence, but after a very long summer of symptoms that refused to stop I finally had enough and paid my gp a visit, hoping to get to the bottom of it.

I was almost relived when my gp agreed to have me come back in the following week for blood tests to check for coeliac disease, those pesky symptoms that refused to stop were finally being taken seriously, somewhat helped along by the diagnosis of a family member as coeliac in recent years.

A weekend of binge eating cake and bread followed suit, sure I felt horrendous, but it was all in the name of progress, and heck any excuse is good for more cake, right?! Days later I was having my arm punctured to take several vials of blood, with an appointment booked in a week later to follow up on those results that I was almost dreading and looking forward to at the same time.

You'd think that the week long wait is bad enough to find out your results, but the long journey hadn't even begun for me yet. Returning to see my gp and go through those results was somewhat of an unusual experience, my gp glossed over most of the results, informing me that the initial blood test came back negative, but my IgA deficiency results came back positive as high risk of developing coeliac disease, which was enough to have me referred to see a consultant at my nearest hospital for a biopsy. At this point I was somewhat relieved, at least I'd finally be able to see a consultant who'd help me to get to the bottom of my problems, but that was before I'd received the unfortunate letter about my referral.

Reading up on biopsy's whilst I waited for that referral letter to drop through the letterbox I was anticipating a couple of months wait at least for my consultant appointment, then that fateful letter arrived.. 40 weeks... I thought I'd misread it at first, 40 weeks is an awfully long time to wait to even see a consultant, let alone have my biopsy.

As I type this up in early November there's still 36 weeks to go, by that time I could have self diagnosed but as much of a pain in the (metaphorical) balls the wait will be, I'll be doing it properly and waiting for the biopsy results to confirm or deny coeliac disease. For now, I'm getting used to having Schroedinger's gluten intolerance, but just how do you cope whilst waiting such a long time to even talk to a consultant about your problems?

Some would call it misguided advice, others would say that there's no harm in trying it, so under the advice of my gp (and gluten intolerant relatives) I'm having a couple of gluten free weeks to see how my symptoms are without any pesky gluten in my diet. Given that I have such a long wait, with no cancellations looking possible at this point to be seen earlier, there's no harm in trying it out - especially since I'll have 6-8 weeks notice prior to my consultant appointment, plenty of time to get gluten back in my diet if it is coeliac disease that's been causing all of my problems.

The wait for me is the worst part of it all, knowing that I won't be any closer to improving my health for several months at least. Whilst I eagerly await the day when I won't have to blame my chronic gas on friends dogs, covering up the loud swishing, squeaking sounds coming from my stomach, a winter without tissues constantly tucked into my pockets and the embarrassment of chronic chilblains that refuse to leave my hands every winter. I've already put up with so many health issues over the years that what's another year to wait for progress? At least I have a gluten filled cake binge to look forward to before my biopsy, whenever that may be.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Apple crumble cupcakes.

Turn the tasty pudding into a sweet cupcake-y treat with this scrumptious recipe for apple crumble cupcakes, made extra tasty with a handful of homemade apple sauce folded into the mix, yum! Perfect for a yummy autumn treat.

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes)
  175g butter
  175g caster sugar
  3 eggs
  1 tsp vanilla essence
  175g self raising flour
  1 bramley apple, diced
  1 tsp sugar
  1 tsp lemon juice

For the buttercream
  85g butter
  170g icing sugar
  30g custard powder (tinned)
  1 ginger nut biscuit to decorate

Pre heat the oven to 180/160c fan/gas mark 4 and line a cupcake tray with cases.

Cream together the butter with the sugar till pale and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time and whisk as you go, ensuring that they're fully blended, then add the vanilla essence and mix.

Sift in the flour and mix well to ensure it's fully blended. Set aside whilst you make your apple sauce for the filling.

Add your diced bramley apple to a heat proof dish and sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar on top, followed by 1 tsp of lemon juice and mix. You'll be using this to make some homemade apple sauce to fold into your cupcake mixture for a lovely taste and texture to your bake.

I'll be doing this the easy way to save you some time in the kitchen, place your dish in a microwave and heat for 30 second bursts, mashing the apples in-between to blend. If like me you love a chunky apple sauce you'll need just 2-3 minutes to do this, mash the apples till they're soft then spoon the mixture into your cake mix and fold in to mix. Cook the apples for longer if you prefer a more blended apple sauce, then fold into your mixture.

Spoon your cupcake mix into the cases, filling each around 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes till risen and golden. Set your cupcakes aside to cool.

Whilst the cakes cool mix your buttercream to top the cupcakes. Mix the butter with half of the icing sugar till fully combined, then sift in the remaining icing sugar and whisk. Finally add the custard powder, this will add a lovely flavour to your bake, perfectly re-creating the flavours of the classic pudding! Whisk till fully combined and blended.

Spoon your buttercream into a piping bag and pipe lovely swirls on top of each cupcake – I used a large star nozzle for mine. To finish off, sprinkle some crumbled up ginger nut biscuit on top of each cupcake, this is a quick and easy way to add a 'crumble' effect to your cupcakes without having to whip up a batch of homemade crumble topping!

The finished result is a lovely sweet autumnal treat, that has all the flavours of an apple crumble but wrapped up a tasty cake! Adding the apple sauce to the cake mixture makes for a lovely treat with a tasty bite, these won't last too long at all!

Recipe inspired by: Good to Know.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Coffee shop exploration: Blooming Skull Coffee.

138 Bebington road, Higher Bebington, Wirral, CH62 5BJ. Open Tues - Sat 9am - 6pm, Sun 9:30am - 4pm |

Coffee and cake doesn't come much better than this, a laid back, light and airy coffee shop that certainly knows it's brews, as well as being veggie and vegan friendly. Who'd have thought that you'd be able to find a dairy free haven tucked away in this idyllic part of the Wirral!

Blooming Skull Coffee have only been open for a few months, but they've already made a name for themselves amongst the locals for their great selection of brews and their vegan friendly menu of treats. Normally finding something that's dairy free can be a struggle, so I didn't expect to stumble upon a quaint coffee shop offering free from treats whilst driving through this side of the Wirral, but it's certainly been a most welcome find.

Their light and spacious coffee shop makes for a lovely stop off for a cuppa, whether you prefer a spot of tea or a jolt of much needed caffeine to start the day off. You can't miss their bold skull decal'd window on the high street, beaconing you in with their latest seasonal brews and tasty cakes.

With a full menu of tasty treats to indulge in, alongside a selection of brews and coffees to keep you going. Their menu of daily offerings has a different selection of treats to keep you coming back for more, whether you fancy some gluten free cake, vegan bakes or some indulgent cheesecakes, what better to scoff on with your freshly brewed latte!

On my visit their was a tasty selection of treats to choose from, ranging from chocolatey bakes, to classic lemon drizzle and yummy ginger cake. I decided to try their gluten free bake of the day, a lovely cherry and almond loaf cake. A sweet mini loaf cake that was delightfully light and incredibly moreish, for a free from bake this was utterly delightful!

To accompany my cake I tried their seasonal pumpkin spiced latte, a novelty for me as I haven't indulged in a spot of caffeine for quite some time since becoming lactose intolerant! You can go dairy free with this brew, so I opted to have it made with oat milk, you can also have soya milk if you prefer.

A great range of choices for free from and vegan diets, making for a perfect stop off if your visiting Bebington, or nearby Port Sunlight (you wouldn't realise at first just how close it is to the village!). I'll definitely be back next time I'm in the area!

Cake rating:

 5/5 | Free from options available.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Sweetly spooky : Gothic black heart cupcakes.

Just because it's Halloween that doesn't mean that you have to bake a ghoulish treat, why not try something that's delightfully sweet, as well as being in touch with it's darker, gothic side! These red swirled cupcakes are topped with perfectly black hearts, making for a sweetly spooky treat for Halloween, or any time of the year!

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes)
  175g butter
  175g caster sugar
  3 eggs
  145g self raising flour
  30g cocoa powder

For the buttercream
  100g butter
  200g icing sugar
  flavouring of your choice
  drop of red and blue, or purple food colouring
  black ready to roll fondant icing

Prior to baking you'll want to cut out your gothic black heart toppers the day before, this will allow them to harden ready to place on top of your cupcakes. Using some ready to roll black icing and some small heart cutters, roll out a small piece of the icing and cut out heart shapes. Place them on some baking paper to allow them to set overnight, then they'll be ready for your cakes the following day.

Pre heat the oven to 180/160c fan/gas mark 4 and line a cupcake tray with cases, you might want to pick some Halloween cases out especially for this bake!

Cream together the butter with the sugar till pale and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time and whisk as you go, ensuring that they're fully blended.

Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix till fully combined, if your mixture is a little thick you can add 1-2 tbsp's of milk to loosen it.

Spoon your cupcake mix into the cases, filling each around 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes till risen. Set your cupcakes aside to cool.

Once cooled, start mixing your buttercream, this is where the full effect of your gothic bakes starts to come in! Mix together the butter with half of the icing sugar till fully combined, then sift in the remaining icing sugar and mix, whisking it for an extra minute or two to a lovely blended consistency. Add in a drop of your flavouring of choice, I used Beau's concentrated Morello Cherry flavouring for mine to give these a lovely chocolate cherry taste, whisk to combine.

Separate your buttercream into two bowls to start creating the swirl of colour for your cakes. Place some purple, or red and blue food colouring into one bowl and mix, then place some red food colouring into the second bowl and mix.

To create the swirl of colour on my cupcakes I used Lakeland's duo colour icing kit to pipe my swirls with ease. Place the purple buttercream mixture into one side of the bag, and spoon the red buttercream mixture into the other side, the two colours will blend together into a swirl whilst you start piping the buttercream onto your cakes.

Pipe swirls on top of each cupcake, I used the large star nozzle in the duo colour kit to create the effect on my cakes.

Once piped, take your black icing hearts and place them on top of each cupcake. To finish mine off I also added some bat shaped sprinkles to create the finished sweetly spooky effect!

A delightfully gothic treat for Halloween that's wonderfully sweet, these cupcakes may not be dripping with ghoulishness, but they do make for a lovely treat!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Cake exploration: Birds.

4 The Poultry, Nottingham, NG1 2HW. Open 6 days a week 8am-5pm Mon - Sat |

Birds bakery is one of the best kept secrets of the Midlands, you'd have to pin down and wrestle even your nearest and dearest for them to let this little secret slip you by, their baked treats are simply that good..

A quaint bakery that cunningly disguises it's delicious treats inside, tucked away in the counters is a real feast for the taste buds and the eyes as hundreds of glazed little beauties glare out at you from the glass counters luring you inside.

A traditional family run bakers, Birds bakery has been serving the Midlands with over 50 bakeries across the region serving a heck of a lot of baked, doughy and pastry goods. Still family run today they continue to bring delicious baked goods to their stores.

Their range includes a full selection of baked treats from traditional cream cakes and scones, to jammy tarts, eclairs and savory treats. Baked fresh daily it's no wonder their confectionery selection sells out rather quickly every day, if your looking to get a tasty cream eclair for lunch you'd better queue up and buy it at the crack of dawn or you'll miss out.

Their Nottingham bakery is a delightful store, where you can order to take out and coo over your pastries in the comfort of your home, that is if they survive the journey home before they end up being eaten.. With counters full of sweet and savory bakes drawing you in.

On my visit there was a good selection of pastries, cakes and tarts to choose from, granted I'd strategically planned to go in early morning knowing how quickly their treats sell out, I chose to sample one of my favourites their caramel doughnut and a fruit danish. Their caramel doughnut can only be described whilst eating one in similar fashion to the 'full moon, half moon' Jaffa cake advert (full doughnut, half doughnut..), deliciously moreish, soft, squidgey and with a gorgeous fresh caramel cream filling. The fruit danish is equally delicious with a crunchy icing topping and a tasty fruity jam topping that makes it that little bit more than your average danish.

If you don't fill up completely on cakes you can wash it down with a selection of beverages from teas to coffees so there's certainly plenty to choose from.

Certainly a pleasant visit and surprisingly one which didn't damage the purse at all, you could easily come away with a dozen cakes for the same price of a coffee and cake at a certain chain store coffee shop..

Cake rating:

Friday, 4 November 2016

Dracula's bite red velvet cupcakes.

Tuck into a spooky feast with these bite sized red velvet cupcakes, they make for a ghoulishly good treat finished off with vampire bite marks for a tasty treat this Halloween.

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes)
  100g butter
  100g caster sugar
  2 eggs
  100g self raising flour
  2 tbsp cocoa powder
  1 tsp vanilla essence
  3 tbsp milk to mix
  Red food colouring

For the frosting
  100g butter
  200g icing sugar
  1 tsp vanilla essence
  Liquid red food colouring to decorate

Pre heat your oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4, and place your cupcake cases into a tray, as these are bite sized cupcakes you'll need standard cupcake cases rather than larger muffin style cases.

Cream together the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy, then add in the eggs one at a time and mix.

Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix well to combine, add the vanilla essence and stir, then add milk to loosen the mixture.

Finally, you'll want to add in your food colouring, I used Sugarflair's Red Velvet gel food colouring for this, a tried and tested fail-proof colouring that's always achieved red velvet perfection! Add small amounts of the colouring at a time and stir well to combine, the end result should be a nice vibrant shade of red, keep adding the food colouring until the desired shade of red is achieved.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling each a little over half way, then bake for 10-15 minutes, as these are smaller than average they will cook quickly, so keep a close eye on the cakes as they bake.

Place the cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool, then mix your frosting. Unlike a traditional cream cheese frosting, these cupcakes have a vanilla buttercream frosting, making for a sweeter taste to the cakes.

Mix together the butter with half of the icing sugar till combined, then sift in the remaining icing sugar till mixed. Add in the vanilla essence to finish, and whisk till well combined.

Spoon the frosting on top of each cupcake, using the back of a tea spoon to swirl the frosting evenly on top of each cake. To finish the full effect, make two dints in the frosting using the handle end of the tea spoon, just small indentations will create the desired effect, then using a small brush (I used a lipstick brush for this) apply a small amount of liquid red food colouring on top of the indentations to create the effect of a freshly bitten neck!

A deliciously spooky treat that's perfect for Halloween!

Recipe inspired by Lily Vanilli's "A zombie ate my cupcake".

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Sultana and walnut tea loaf.

Tea in a cake, what could be better!! A tasty, fruity bake, packed with plenty of plump sultanas and walnuts, made even tastier with a helping of Earl grey tea and a dash of honey. Perfect to tuck into as the night's get darker and colder.

  200g sultanas
  200ml brewed Earl grey tea
  75g butter
  125g caster sugar
  2 tbsp honey
  2 eggs
  200g self raising flour
  1 tsp mixed spice
  75g chopped walnuts

Prior to baking, you'll want to soak those sultanas in the tea to allow them to plump up nicely. Brew your Earl grey in a jug, then pour the tea over the sultanas in a bowl and leave to soak for 4-5 hours, stirring every now and then to ensure that they all get a good soaking.

Pre heat your oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4, grease and line a loaf tin, I find it easiest to measure out my greaseproof paper over the base of the tin turned upside down, then simply cut a lengthy strip out to easily pop in the base of the tin, and up the sides for easy removal once the cakes cooled!

Cream together the butter, sugar and honey till pale and fluffy, then add in the eggs one at a time till combined.

Gradually fold in the flour and mixed spice, followed by the walnuts, then the sultanas and any remaining liquid from the tea. Mix it together to form a lovely mixture, that's choc full of tasty fruit & walnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, then bake for an hour, till a skewer comes out clean, this will need the full hour, maybe a few minutes more, as the tea will make for a very moist mixture.

Leave the cake in the tin to cool down for an hour, allowing it to set, then remove the cake from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

This cake tastes great when left to set for a few hours, and will last well for several days stored in a cake tin.

Recipe adapted from Fortnum & Mason's "Tea at Fortnum & Mason" book.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Cream cheese frosting or Buttercream frosting, which one is better?! There's only one way to find out...

Fret not I've decided to skip the frosting fight, as entertaining as it would be to cake porn connoisseurs but I didn't want to waste all that tasty cake topping... The modern cupcake is spoilt rotten with it's choice of toppings, decorations and 'fancy schmancy' cupcake cases to tart itself up with but when it comes to the final topping to whip on top what do you go for? A classic butter cream frosting or a sultry cream cheese frosting?

The difference between the two can be deceiving at first, butter cream toppings tend to have a lighter fluffier texture to cream cheese frostings heavier, thicker consistency but they both have their pro's and cons. The traditional butter cream frosting has a sweeter taste and can be easier to use for decorating whereas cream cheese frostings tend to be much softer when it comes to decorating and has that slightly tangier taste to butter cream.

Cream cheese frostings are quite simply put deliciously addictive on sweeter bakes like carrot cake and red velvet cake, have you ever tried adding white chocolate to a cream cheese frosting, oh my, your in for a treat..

When it comes to a sweet bake cream cheese is the choice of topping to go for to counteract the sweetness overload of a butter cream frosting.

Whereas butter cream frostings work a treat on more traditional bakes like a layered sponge cake or fairy cakes, any cake where you want to add a touch of sweetness and of course some pretty fondant decor on top.

Of course the choice of frosting is down to personal preference at the end of the day, if you prefer to smother your cakes in cream frosting or drizzle a touch of icing over the top it all adds your own personal touch to your bake, and when it comes down to the crunch it's all delicious, moist, squidgy cake at the end of the day..

Images: Theresa Iovcheva via Free & kaicho|Free

Monday, 31 October 2016

Apple and cinnamon bundt cake.

This cold weather calls for a delicious slice of cake, or two; and this tasty apple and cinnamon bundt cake will certainly hit the spot. A delicious bake filled with slices of apple and a yummy cinnamon taste, a very delicious combo and a great way to use up any apples in the kitchen.

Ingredients (for a 6 cup bundt tin)
  150g plain flour
  1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1 tsp baking powder
  pinch of salt
  1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  110g melted butter
  150g light soft brown sugar
  2 eggs
  2 apples (sliced)

Pre heat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4 and grease your bundt tin, really work it into the sides of the tin to ensure it's evenly covered.

First, melt the butter on a low heat, stirring occasionally; this works perfectly in place of the usual milk or yogurt in a bundt cake to add plenty of moisture. Once melted set aside.

Sift together the flour, cinnamon, salt, and bicarbonate of soda, and mix well, set it aside.

In a separate bowl combine the sugar and eggs with the melted butter, stirring until well combined and smooth. Add this to the dry mixture and stir to ensure it's all evenly mixed, scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that any flour at the base of the bowl is mixed in.

Cut the apples into thin slices then fold into the mixture, ensuring that they're all covered in cake mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth down the top. Place the bundt tin in the middle of the oven, and bake for 30-45 minutes. In my fan oven this cooked rather quickly at 30 minutes, but it may take longer in a conventional oven.

Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then gently wiggle a rubber spatula around the edges of the cake to loosen it, leave it for another 5 minutes then place upside down on a wire rack. The cake should come out with ease, but a gentle tapping around the top of the tin should help to ease it out.

You can leave the cake as is, or sprinkle some icing on top to finish, either way it's still delicious!

Recipe adapted and downsized from Angie Muldowney.