Friday, 29 July 2011

wedding cake

On the first day of my PGCE last September, I had got up early, packed my bag with a fresh pad of paper & pens and my sat nav, and set off for Bath Spa with plenty of time to spare. Or so I thought. It was my first day and I was late. I hurried into the lecture theatre thinking, 'I am an adult now - I should know how to be on time for things! what a great way to start the course...'  

I was fifteen minutes late and knew that this meanut walking into a lecture theatre full of people I had never met before. I took a deep breath, walked in & hoped that I'd find a seat somewhere that wasn't right at the front. I found a seat in the middle of the 300 other fresh faced students, ready to begin our teacher training, and soon discovered that the girl sat next to me with the leopard print pumps & pretty tattoo on her foot was called Amy, and she would become a good friend over the next year. 

I remember a lot of our first conversations in getting to know each other being about weddings. I had just got married & Amy was hoping to get engaged during the year, so was excited to hear about our wedding & how long (or perhaps short is a better adjective) John & I were engaged for. Fast forward to March this year, and Amy came into uni with a great big diamond on her ring finger, announcing her engagement. 

In four weeks time, Amy & Matt will be getting married, and I have the pleasure of making their wedding cake. So, this week I made a trial cake for them. Here are a few glimpses...

Bottom layer: Rich, incredibly moist chocolate cake (secret ingredient: lots of water)
Top layer: Vanilla sponge
Sandwiched together with dark chocolate ganache (recipe used in last post)
Cake cloaked in white chocolate ganache
Decorated with white chocolate cigarollos
Topped with British strawberries dipped in milk chocolate

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

peanut butter truffle cookies

Towards the end of my course, as the Summer holidays could be seen on the horizon, I started dreaming about how I would spend my hours & hours of time over the holidays. If you are a regular visitor here, you will have picked up by now that I love to bake. In my dreaming, I thought of all the things I could bake, & came up with little (ad)venture that would enable me to bake lots & keep some resemblance of a waistline:

The simple concept of this was that people I know on facebook (who live nearby) can order sweet treats - a simple way to satisfy my need to bake & people's desire to eat cake, and earn a little money in the process.

This week I had an order for some cookies which combined sweet & savoury, 'like peanut butter & chocolate' read the request. I knew the perfect recipe that combines these two ingredients & makes something beautiful. I had only baked this recipe once before for our Barn holiday a couple of years ago. I can't even remember why I thought I might like these cookies as I've tried Reece's Peanut Butter Cups before & not liked them. But, for whatever reason, I baked these glorious cookies for our holiday & loved them. To my delight, they kind of got forgotten about by the friends were on holiday with, as there was an abundance of delicious cake, so I may or may not have eaten the entire batch myself...Anyway, I am so glad I decided to bake them on that occasion, otherwise I might have been daunted by combining two ingredients that I love separately but not so much together, for someone else.

Peanut Butter Truffle Cookies

ingredients {yields approx 12}
125g / 40z dark chocolate 
150ml double cream
125g / 4oz unsalted butter
125 / 4oz caster sugar
125g / 4oz crunchy peanut butter
4tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp milk (semi skimmed is fine)
225g / 8oz plain flour
1/2 tsp bi-carbonate of soda

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C / Gas mark 4 / 350F
2. Grease 2 baking trays & set aside
3. Make the ganache: Chop up the dark chocolate into small pieces & place in a heatproof bowl.
4. Put the cream in a saucepan & gently heat until it's very near boiling point. As soon as bubbles start to form, remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Give the bowl a little jiggle to help combine the choc & cream, then use a hand whisk to help the chocolate pieces melt completely. Set to one side.
5. Make the dough: Cream together the butter & sugar until fluffy. 
6. Add the peanut butter, then golden syrup & milk
7. Sift the flour and bi-carb into the peanut-buttery mixture and stir until combined.

Side note: If you have time, I'd recommend chilling the dough at this stage for 15mins or so to reduce the stickiness, but this is not essential.

8. Take a big chunk (roughly 2 tbsp's worth) of dough and flatten on greased tray. 
9. Place half a teaspoon of ganache on one side of the cookie and gently spread across that half.
10. Fold the cookie in half so the ganache is sealed inside.
11. Repeat until you've used your mixture & then bake for 10 - 15mins until lightly golden.
Leave to cool for a few mins on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack.

Alterations: I made the ganache the night before baking to allow time for it to cool & set slightly. This made the process of filling the cookies with ganache less messy. I'd recommend going easy on the ganache as things turn very messy if you overfill the cookies.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Hello friends!

John & I have just returned from a wonderful week's holiday in Southern Spain with four friends. Oh the fun we had. We stayed in an apartment at a golf resort, and the focus of our time was to enjoy the sunshine (30 - 37C most of the time), rest, read, eat & enjoy each other's company, which we did extremely well at.
 {from left to right: Tim&Becky, Jenny&Jack, John&Hannah}

{oh, blue, blue skies, I do adore you!}
{colourful entryway to a hotel}


 {making friends with the locals in Cartagena}

a few highlights...
water droplets sitting on eyelashes as we played in the pool

no thought about time, guided only by our tummies telling us it was time for food
boggle + bananagrams

uno + scrabble

reading, reading, reading 

sun + swimming + sea

eating al fresco every mealtime

coffee + ice cream

laughing until tears rolled

singing songs from the 90's 
(B*witched, UB40, Spice Girls, Britney Spears, D:Ream, M People - I could write a whole post on all of the memories I have linked with these songs, that came flooding back to me as we cruised the roads of Southern Spain, singing along to these old tunes.)
Oh, how I love holidays. Only two weeks until the next one!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Since finishing my PGCE I have filled my days with plenty of sewing, baking and visiting friends, but for the last couple of days, I have got a little restless. Now, I know that I really shouldn't complain about having time off work, because most of us would jump at the chance of having the lengthy holidays that teachers are blessed with. But that's just how I woke up feeling this morning. The house has been especially quiet over the last week and a half, because John is in China, so this only serves to heighten my need to see people.

So it was a great delight when my good friend Ros phoned yesterday morning & asked 'what are you doing right now?'  

As it happened, right at that moment, I was hopping back down the stairs to pick up my laundry basket & its contents which had overturned in my hurry to get back up the stairs to my ringing phone. At that moment in time, Ros & her eldest son were in their car, loaded up with bikes and ready to come and collect me to join them on their bike ride adventure, should I so wish. 

Ros knows me well enough to know that with lots of time on my hands & without John, I would be bored, and in all likelihood, available for a 3 hour bike ride, which I was most certainly was. It was the perfect solution to my restlessness.

Friends + Fresh air + Fields + Bikes = A Beautiful Combination

A very blue, shimmery gorilla - part of the Wow! Gorillas public art event happening in Bristol this Summer to celebrate 175 years of Bristol zoo. All over the city there are 60 gorillas, each decorated by different artists in their own unique way.

Ros didn't want to leave any details out from this picture to give you a full view of our resting place - the Bristol channel in the background sans water - the tide was out - and my bike & baggage in the foreground, proff that we did indeed cycle the 7 miles to get to Pill.

I went home feeling invigorated & ready for an afternoon of housework & childminding. I thank God for wonderful friends & exercise.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

chocolate chip shortbread

Do you ever find a baking idea comes into your head & stays there until you bake it out? I do. All the time. In fact, cake & what I will bake next is high up on the most frequent thoughts in my head.

This week, chocolate chip shortbread has been at the top of my baking agenda. Costco make seriosuly delicious, seriously huge chocolate chip shortbread squares, and ever since tasting them, I have wanted to bake them.

Shortbread is one of those things that is so simple, but if you skimp on using real butter, it's nowhere near as tasty. In fact, butter is one of those pure, brilliant ingredients that transforms baking. Sure, it's more expensive than margerine, or a baking alternative, but it's better. Miss joythebaker converted me to butter years ago, and I have not turned back since.

Anyhoo, back to this shortbread. It's so simple with so few ingredients that I was sure I had everything in my cupboard. Sadly, I was all out of plain flour, but I was determined to make this shortbread happen today, so off I went to buy some.

I have fond memories of baking shortbread with my Mother, the crumbly mixture creeping up my nails, and being amazed at how deftly my mum would rub the butter into the flour & sugar. As a child, rubbing in was a funny old concept to me. I remember numerous occasions where I was convinced that if you just squished the cubes of butter between your fingers & the flour, it'd all work out ok.

Cold, clean hands & speed are of the essence, so as to keep the shortbread light & without any extra oil from lots of hand contact.

Now that I am all grown up & own a food processor, shortbread is even quicker to make, with the bonus that you don't get any mixture in your nails, and there is no chance of ending up with buttery lumps. This took 8 minutes to put together - seriously quick, right?

Chocolate Chip Shortbread adapted from original recipe here
110g / 4oz plain (all purpose) flour
55g / 2oz cornflour
55g / 2oz caster sugar
110g cold unsalted butter, diced
dash of vanilla extract
165g / 5oz chocolate chips or chunks (I used a mixture of milk & dark chocolate)

1. preheat oven to gas mark 4 / 160C
2. grease an 8" square brownie tin or 9" round tart tin
3. sift the flour & cornflour into a food processor or large bowl
4. add sugar & combine
5. add butter, cut into chunks and rub in, or blitz, depending on chosen method
6. add a dash of vanilla extract (roughly 1/4 tsp)
7. add chocolate chunks and blitz or stir to evenly distribute
8. pour mixture into prepared tin & press down
9. bake for 20 - 35mins, until ever so slightly golden around the edges. cooking time will vary depending on your oven, but the joy of shortbread is that it won't sink like a cake if you open the door, so trust your instinct & remove when you think it's ready.
10.score lines to divide shortbread into the size pieces you'd like & leave to cool.

beach bag

Last year for our wedding I purchased a whole lot of fabric. Mostly for bunting, and some for our table plan. I ended up with a lot of this candy stripe material left over, and I finally decided what to do with it: make a beach bag!

Perfect for our holiday we're taking in just two days time! I found the tutorial here & here. It was very quick and straightforward to follow, which is just the kind of tutorial I like.

 {perfectly sized for beach towels, books & suncream - just in need of an iron!}

{strong, sturdy handles}

{inner pocket, perfectly sized for a phone, keys & lip balm}

I cannot wait to hit the beaches of Southern Spain with my new bag in tow.

Monday, 11 July 2011

oranges & lemons

A little lesson I learned last week was that you can make orange, lemon & cola syrups by simply reducing fizzy drinks in these flavours until all you are left with is a sweet smelling sugary syrup. This is a useful trick if you have fizzy drinks to use up, and recipes that require sugar syrup. I had both of the above, so I set about making Lemonade Cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery's new book. They sounded like the perfect treat for a Summer's Day, so I made some with high hopes that some Summer sun might come our way.

Now, I have to say, 99% of the time, I love Hummingbird's recipes. But on this occasion, things felt wrong from the start of making these cupcakes. The quantities were unusual for a cupcake batter and the method was more like the muffin-making method, where the focus is on gently combining wet & dry ingredients, rather than on making light & airy cakes. Yet in my mind, these cakes should have been as light as air & perfectly lemony. Unfortunately, they were not. They were pretty heavy & definitely lacking in an airy quality. Their one redeeming feature was the use of popping candy / space dust on the icing to give them a pop-fizz quality. The only problem was that I could only find colour changing space dust, and I put it on the cakes well before they were eaten. By the time they were served, they had blue splodges all over them and had lost their pop.

All in all, this recipe was a bit of a disaster! But hey, I've learned a few things in the process, like trusting my baking instinct & adapting recipes sometimes. (That is not to say that the Hummingbird Bakery don't know what they were doing, because they clearly do!) And that my baking has no effect whatsoever on the weather - it poured with rain the whole time these babies were baking!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

race for life

Our bodies are amazing, aren't they? The way they keep us alive & well is amazing. From a young age, we learn to listen to what our bodies are telling us about what we need; when we are thirsty, hungry, tired, weary, happy, sad, hurt, unwell, and every single other physical & emotional need. 

Today, my body was telling me it was tired, after having a very early start to the day. So I had an afternoon nap. I awoke after half an hour to my alarm, telling me it was time to go and run the Bristol Race for Life. My body did not feel like doing it. My post-nap drowsiness & headache made the sofa seem like a much more favourable option than running 5k. After all, I had only signed up to the Race for Life at the last minute, and hadn't done any fundraising, other than my own contribution, so it wouldn't really matter if I decided to stay home. 
I am so glad I didn't listen to my body on this occasion, and mentally overcame my physical weariness. Running with 3000 women to raise money to fight cancer is a far more powerful experience than running on the tredmill in the gym for a bit, then going home. I didn't know whereabouts on the Downs the race was starting from, but I knew I didn't need to worry. I just needed to look for the sea of 3000 ladies dressed in pink, who would most definitely stand out. 

One of the items you get in a Race for Life Pack is a sign that says, 'I race for life for' then leaves a big blank space for you to write who you're running for. You cannot help but be moved by the number of names & messages you see that speak of family & friends whose bodies have been riddled with cancer; people who have fought & won their battles, and those whose bodies could fight no longer. 

At the starting line I was stood behind two teenage girls. One had written on her back 'I race for life for all of the teenagers who are fighting cancer. I fought & won 5 years ago.' Next to her, the girl's sign read, 'I'm running for my sister. She's here with me today.' A lump rose in my throat, and tears welled in my eyes as I watched these two sisters interact with each other, thinking of their thankfulness that they still had time with each other, because this time, cancer had not won. 

The messages & names that people had lovingly written on their backs gave a glimpse into the pain & suffering they have shared in, in a way that you wouldn't otherwise have. When we pass people on the street, I wonder how often we think about the painful events in their lives that they are carrying. To run alongside women who are wearing their hearts on their sleeves, along with their joy, sorrow and determination, is a marvelous thing indeed. 

Thankyou, Vicki, for insipiring me to run the Race for Life.

Friday, 8 July 2011


I've been thinking for a little while about making some baby bibs, & wondering what to back them with. While shopping the other day I found a little pile of bargain items in the baby section of TKMaxx, one of which was a soft jersey-knit pillowcase. It was perfect, and brilliantly cheap, so home it came. 

Today, the pillowcase became the backing for some dribble bibs, made from remnants of the fabric I used to make this dress.

They were wonderfully simple to make & I've probably got enough fabric left from the pillowcase to make another twelve or so, which is an exciting prospect! Hmm, what does that say about me - that I am excited about making tiny bibs for babies to dribble on?!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

summer sewing

Remember these fabrics?

{fabric from Moda range by designer Sandy Gervais}

I was so excited when I bought them that I cut them up straight away to make bunting. The neat pile of triangles then sat next to my sewing machine for far too long before being stitched together. Yesterday, I finally got round to it.

On my last trip to Poppy Patchwork, I picked up a few more fat quarters, one of which I turned into this dress (although I had to go & get a little bit more fabric as one quarter wasn't quite enough).

{Fabric by designer Riley Blake: 'Lovebird'}

This dress isn't for any baby in particular, I made it purely for the fun of it. I quite like having a little stock of homemade items at the ready - it means I have longer to enjoy the prettiness before giving them away!

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Wedding of Andrew & Bryony

This weekend we were London-bound again for another celebration. This time, a wedding. Have I mentioned before how I love weddings? Well, let me say it again. I love weddings. From the entrance of the Bride, to the rejoicing before God in the hymns & prayers, and the wonderful attention to detail in decorating the reception venue. 

Here's a glimpse into the wedding of our friends Andrew ('Barkers') and Bryony...

The music played for the entrance of the Bride was simply beautiful.


How brilliant is this unconvential wedding transport? The 'driver' was also one of the best men, who had done a speedy costume change after the ceremony, along with a puncture repair, before cycling off with the Bride & Groom to the reception.

There was a very summery feel to this wedding, with varying shades of yellow flowers everywhere you looked, and a few bumble bees popping up here and there. The ones on the cake suffered slightly with the heat, but the glass bumble bee nestled in the bride's bouquet did just fine. Can you spot it?

The lovely Tim & Becky - our fellow guests & hosts for the weekend - who graciously put up with my glass breaking antics (which resulted in a sliced wrist. Thankfully, my arteries are still in tact!)

My hair was a sea of twists & twirls.

There was the slightly terrifying moment, where the photographer jokingly told the groomsmen to throw the bride in the air. And they did. I am so glad she ended up back in their arms & not on the floor!

 Handpainted teapots, personalised coasters & fabric bound bread adorned each table.

And the groom well & truly got his groove on. Such fun times, I was only sad that I had to miss another friend's wedding that was happening on the very same day.