Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Green Monster Alien Cake with Cake Pop Eye Balls

Here it is my son's Green Cake Pop Monster Cake.... more cute than scary I feel!
Green Monster Cake with Cake Pop Eye Balls

Green Alien Cake with Cake Pop Eye Balls

I recently came across this brilliant monster cake while browsing on-line, and decided this was going to be my next cake challenge for my son's birthday. Saying that with the Halloween round the corner it would be the perfect Halloween cake too. If not the cake, the cake pop eyeballs would be a hit this Halloween!
  1. The first thing I did was to make the round chocolate cake for the body using my "Can't go wrong chocolate cake" recipe. I made three layers here to make the monster cake slightly taller than normal.
  2. While the cake was baking I embarked on making butter cream....
Butter Cream Mixture

I'm not great at determining quantities to cover the cake, but I always try and make more than needed, especially as I'd be colouring the cream and it would be difficult to make another batch the same colour (learning from previous experience). You can always use any left over to top some cupcakes as and additional extra.

You need:
  • 250 g (8 oz) unsalted soften butter
  • 375 g (12 oz) Icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons hot water
  • Colouring - of your choice (I used a mixture of leaf green and yellow)
  1. Beat butter and a little bit of the icing sugar until smooth
  2. Slowly beat in the remaining icing sugar a little bit at a time and then the hot water until the mixture is pale and creamy.
  3. Add in your colouring slowly until you get the desired colour. I wanted bright green so chose leaf green mixed with yellow to brighten it up.
Decorate the cake
  1. Firstly I cut the cake in half and pasted a layer of the coloured butter cream on the bottom half and placed the top back on top. 
  2. I used a metal 'grass effect' icing nozzle. It looks like a thimble with small holes in the end. 
  3. Place it in your piping bag and start with vertical lines at the base of the cake (about and inch up from the bottom. Work your way around the base of the cake. 
  4. Next pipe the next band of "fur" around another inch above the last. You can make your hair overlap the bottom layer slightly.
  5. Keep going until you get to the top and then centre of the cake.
  6. Finally I finished off by rolling out a small quantity of some pre-coloured red and black icing (about 3mm thick) - make sure you put lots of icing sugar on the surface you are rolling onto stop the icing from sticking. Once rolled out I cut out the mouth shape (black) and then the tongue (red). Stuck them together by placing a teeny drop or two of water on the back of the red tongue. Then pressed the whole mouth into the green fur.
  • I found that the icing became runny as I went as butter cream heated up while my hand was holding the piping bag, so had from time to time have a 5 minute break and put the bag in the fridge.
  • I put some left over cake mixture and made some mini cup cakes, and iced them with the green icing to match the cake. Perfect to hold candles and give to anyone who just wants a taster.
  • I've finally found a piping bag I love, yippee!! Honestly, when I see a project which involves the dreaded piping I always embark on it with trepidation... how on earth do they make it look SO easy on the British Bake Off? There I am with my various bags of the cheaper variety, spewing butter cream out the wrong end, needing refilling after every cupcake and worse still splitting half way through the job. But no longer! I found this piping bag in Hobby Craft - and it's SO good. It holds a decent large quantity, is large enough so when you twist the top it doesn't all spill out and made of a tough silicon so doesn't split and better still is washable and therefore reusable. Needless to say my baking drawer has now had a de-clutter and all the old bags paid a visit to the bin.
Once all the fur is on the next stage is to make the eye balls... You could make the same number of eye balls as age of the child... that was the original idea but you know cooks need to sample, so seven became six!

Close Up of Cake Pop Eyeballs for my Green Monster Cake

To make the Cake Pop Eye Balls you need:
  • 100g Madeira Loaf Cake (I had to buy a 200g loaf and cut it in half)
  • 75g dark chocolate broken up into chunks
  • 150g white chocolate broke up into chunks
  • Green food colouring
  • Black coloured icing
  • Cake pop lolly sticks
  • A few glasses filled with deep with sugar
I kind of went into a panic here at first as I didn't have one of those cake pop makers, but after being handed a cake pop leaflet which my sister in law picked up from Waitrose (you know the ones with the free recipes on which you pick up when you walk out the shop)... my mind was put at rest ... OK I can do this.

So here is what I did...

1) Popped half of the Madeira cake into a food processor and whizzed it up to make fine crumbs. Then I placed the dark chocolate into a microwavable bowl and zapped it for 10 second blasts until it had melted, stirring in-between each blast & once runny I mixed in the Madeira crumbs.

2) I then rolled the chocolate mixture into 24 small balls, just slightly smaller than a ping pong ball. I placed them on a plate lined with baking paper and put them into the fridge to cool and set.

3) The next step was to melt the white chocolate in a microwavable bowl in the microwave, using the short 10 sec blast method. Once melted I dipped the end of a cake pop stick in the white chocolate and then into one of the chilled chocolate balls. Then I coated the chocolate ball with a thin layer of white chocolate and carefully stood the chocolate lolly upright by sticking the stick down in cup of sugar. Once a cup was filled it was put in the fridge to set. You have to work quickly here and occasionally put the white chocolate back in the microwave to remelt it.

4) Next the eye lids. I coloured the left over white chocolate with some green colouring to match the fur, again got it to melting point, took the white coated pop stick balls out the fridge and dipped the top half and back of a ball and repositioned it back in the sugar and then back in the fridge again to set.

5) Nearly there... I then rolled out a small layer of black icing and cut small circles using some small circle cutters, then stuck the icing onto the "white" of the eye.

6) Finally stick the cake pops into the top of the cake and there you have it... my monster cake!

Monster cake with cake eyeballs with extra cup cakes

Waitrose for their Daisy Cake Pop recipe card... sister in law Sarah had a go at... (when I have a mo I'll share her amazing cake daisy cake pops - clever little thing she is), and not forgetting the Balancing Motherhood blog for the original inspiration.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Scrumptiously Moreish Chocolate Brownies

slice of chocolate brownie - chewy center with a crispy top

I guess given the title of my blog I should start with my favourite brownie recipe.

You know those days when everything just isn't going right... a warning light on your car decides it's the day to flick itself on, deadline day for that all important application form and the printer decides to go on the blink, your little innocent perfect angel demonstrates his artistic talent on the wallpaper and sofa... with biro... you know those days! Well I always find a sit down with a freshly brewed cup of tea and a brownie always puts things right.... well it may not make the biro disappear but it makes you feel a damn whole lot better.

I've always tried various brownie recipes and they've always been too dry, too solid, too stodgy, however I came across these at a kids birthday party and they just blew me away. I nabbed the recipe (thanks Nikki for sharing) and here it is...

Chocolate Brownies (Blue Peter original)

  • 100g butter
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 40g cocoa
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 50g chocolate chips (I just wack a bar of 70% or higher chocolate in the food processor to break it up into small chocolate chip sized pieces)

Chocolate Brownie cooked and fresh out of the oven in oven proof dish
Brownie mixture in oven proof dish before it goes into the oven 

  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over a gentle heat and add the cocoa to the butter, stir (be careful not to burn by keeping the heat low).
  2. In a different bowl beat the eggs with the sugar until smooth.
  3. Add the chocolate butter mix to the egg mix
  4. Add Vanilla Essence
  5. Add Self Raising flour gradually and mix
  6. Add the chocolate pieces
  7. Pour into a well greased tin or (my preferred method) line a small square/ rectangular casserole dish with grease proof paper.
  8. Bake in the oven at 180oC (170o C for a fan oven) for approx 30 mins.
  9. Cut when cool into small square

Warning you might want to make two lots as these are truly moreish and don't last long in our house!

detail of the crispy top of the chocolate brownie

Sunday, 29 September 2013

When to Prune Lavender

trimming a lavender bush using a Bosch hand held cutter
Cutting back lavender
How to prune lavender and when to cut back lavender are one of the most frequent questions I get asked.

Lavender has to be one of the plants on the top of my favourite plant list. Lavender has the most wonderful distinctive smell which attracts insects from far and wide, looks fabulous and is such a hardy low maintenance plant, (my kind of plant) poor well drained soil, minimal watering and it thrives... my kind of plant.

It is important to cut back lavender yearly to keep it nice and tidy, prevent the lavender from getting leggy and woody and to generate new growth. The yearly lavender prune is really the only job you need to do, and there is always the question, when is the best time to prune a lavender bush and how on earth do you do it.

When to prune a lavender bush?

There are two schools of thought here you can either prune a lavender after it has flowered in autumn before winter sets in or in the spring before summer.

I personally choose the latter as I love seeing the wintertime frost on the ends of the flower heads, simply stunning. I also believe not pruning the lavender until spring, gives the plant a little bit of protection, an insulation blanket against the cold of the winter.

There are others out there who say that cutting back lavender just after the flowers have died before the winter is best as the energy the plant uses to make seeds is saved and goes back into the plant itself.... and whilst I'm relatively new to gardening I'm always open to try new things out.

Here in the UK, the leaves are turning, falling from the trees and the temperature is noticeably cooler, autumn is setting in, and it's time to put the garden to bed and tidy up. So I seized the opportunity to prune back a row of lavender that started originally started from cuttings a couple of years ago.

This was a little bit of an experiment for me as I've never chosen to prune lavender in the autumn, but which ever time you choose, there is one important method you must adhere to when cutting back your lavender bush.

The golden rule is to cut back the stem where you see green leaf growth on the stem. Cut back any further beyond this point and you will be cutting into dead wood, and they plant will not send out any new shoots and you'll end up with dead brown patches in your bush... trust me I've learnt the hard way!!

Pruning lavender at the same height using a brick and bosh trimmer
Prune lavender at the same height to give a neat formal look
Here I'm attempting to grow a row of lavender along a brick trough, and ideally I'd like to achieve a formal look, a nice neat row of lavender at the same height.

I've seen some people use a piece of string held taught to prune a straight line, however here I used a brick as a guide (making sure first I would not be cutting into any of the dead wood at this height). Using my electric hand held Bosh trimmer it was very quick job and I was very pleased with the end result.
Row of lavender which has been neatly trimmed in autumn
Nice neat row of pruned lavender

Oh yes, not to forget, stick some of the cuttings into some soil to give away to friends, after all this  whole row of lavender was originally from cuttings.

making new plants from lavender cuttings for friends
Make new plants from the lavender cuttings
Now it's all about playing the waiting game and see how my little lavender bushes do over the winter. What will they look like come summer time next year?.... To be continued....

(PS - I've also did a prune of another lavender bush earlier this Spring... I will shortly be adding a blog post on this so please be sure to come back and visit my pruning lavender in spring blog post to see the results of the spring time lavender prune).

Friday, 20 September 2013

Birth of My Blog

At the moment I'm attempting to make my way down to Hastings (UK sea side town for those reading from far away places), but for some adverse reason there are train problems (yawn).... cancellations, and I'm somewhat stuck surrounded with the hundreds of frustrated huffing and tutting passengers.

But I'm going to seize the moment and make an attempt at starting my blog.... I've been meaning to start a blog for absolutely ages now, and so here I sit scribbling away with my Ikea pencil I found in the depths of my bag, on the back of a scrap of paper destined for the bin during my next monthly bag clear out... so here we go...

So let me introduce myself and why on Earth I want to join the bloggers world out there... simple.... I'm for ever reading blogs. Every time I need info, be it a recipe, info on places to go, or general advice, I more often than not find all I need on the great world wide web - it's just fab and quite frankly I'd like to put my tuppence in and give a little back.

I'm sure over time my blog content will change and evolve (hey it's all a learning experience) but I hope to share some of my favourite recipes, cakes, odd attempts at DIY projects round the house and other good blog reads that I found particularly interesting.

Oh yes gardening, one of my mini obsessions. Until recently we were forever moving round rented properties, but now finally have a garden of my own. I am by no means an expert - far from it, but what I do know is I absolutely love pottering around in the garden, potting, digging, clipping, weeding. I'm still learning, but I'd love to keep a record of how the garden changes throughout the seasons... lets face it it's so easy to forget!

Gardening aside, the vast majority of my time is spent running round the three men in my life... (two little ones J & S and the not so little Mr D). Other than that I'm either reluctantly doing the mundane household tasks (I admit, housework doesn't really rock my boat... at all...but it has to be done I guess), making a mess in the kitchen, doing the ad-hoc DIY project or more than likely found tap tapping away on the computer, running my on-line shop.

More over I'd love to get feedback, good and bad (hopefully mostly good), so if you try out any recipes, taken some inspiration from any cakes I've posted or got any gardening tips please do get in touch, I'd love, love, love to hear from you.