Gingerbread Cookies

As cheesy as it sounds, I love homemade Christmas gifts. Over the years, I’ve come to love making gingerbread cookies – I would be kidding myself if I said they aren’t one of my favourite Christmas cookies.

Another obsession that has become fairly evident in recent years is my love for cookie decorating. I still remember the mess I made the very first time I attempted piping royal icing onto my cookies… *shudder*. Thankfully I am now much more organised, which makes the whole process go much more smoothly.

gingerbread christmas snowflakes 5

gingerbread christmas snowflake 4

I decided to make something different from last year, and made 1) snowflakes, 2) stars and 3) Christmas ornaments. Because, you know, I get bored easily. It was also a good excuse to add to my growing cookie cutter collection. Ha.

Take care to not roll out your dough too thinly if you decide to make ornaments for your tree though – they tend to be rather fragile (as I have found out).

gingerbread christmas ornaments 1

gingerbread christmas ornaments 2

And it’s not just the ornament-shaped cookies that can be hung on the tree – I also hung up some snowflakes. The snowflakes are actually a little more sturdy than their ornament counterparts, something I didn’t expect before I started this baking-icing-gingerbread-madness.

gingerbread christmas snowflake 2

A large snowflake…

gingerbread christmas snowflake 1

…And a mini snowflake. For balance.

I also pondered over whether I should dust glitter onto the snowflakes (because anything glitter during Christmas has to be a good thing), but decided against it as I felt it made the piping stand out less. When you’ve put in so much effort into piping, you will most definitely not want it to fade into the background! Trust me.

gingerbread christmas snowflake 3

I swear by this Peggy Porschen recipe for my gingerbread cookies, as I find that they keep their shape very well (which is what you want if you’ve spent all that time cutting out lovely shapes from your dough!). Another handy tip is to refrigerate your cut (pre-baked) cookies for 5-10 minutes, and bake them from chilled.

You can pipe with or without a piping tip – I prefer using a piping tip (with a coupler) and a large-ish piping bag, as I find this gives me more control over how my icing flows. I use either 00, 0 or 1 tips, depending on how small/large the cookie is. Some people prefer to use a smaller sized piping bag without a piping tip (i.e. just snip off the tip of your piping bag), but I tend to not do this as I have to keep on refilling/make more piping bags… and I am too lazy for that.

I also highly recommend having toothpicks to hand, as they come very handy when you make mistakes! ;)

gingerbread christmas star

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season – may it be a wonderful one filled with love, laughter & food!

In photos: The Cake & Bake Show 2012

The Cake & Bake Show. I was intrigued from the moment I heard about it – UK’s first baking exhibition, with the promise of stars such as Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and *gasp* Peggy Porschen… how could I not be interested?

I almost didn’t get a chance to attend, as I was originally supposed to work this weekend. Am very glad I managed to swap out of it, as I genuinely enjoyed the show, and picked up a LOT of cake and cookie decorating tips. Very handy as I do enjoy the occasional spot of cookie decorating!

Peggy Porschen’s Parlour – featuring a selection of her jams, sweet treats, books & cake stands. There were also free sessions held throughout the day (on a first come, first served basis) – couture cookies (which I attended), butterfly cookies, rose cupcakes etc.

One of Peggy’s wedding cakes, carefully housed in a glass box.

Naomi explaining the best way to fold a piping bag.

Flooding cookies with ‘flooding icing’.

Close ups of the process on the screen – oh, all that precision! It puts my efforts at cookie decorating to shame. Ha!

The finished product – so pretty! Might do something similar soon, as this is actually a fairly simple design (comparatively). Just a note to mention that Peggy’s recipes for sugar cookies are by far, the BEST I’ve used to date. They spread very little, and taste delicious.

The rose cupcakes which were featured in one of the other sessions.

And most importantly – I met Peggy! Highlight of the show, to me anyway. I love her work (I use her recipes for all my cookie and cake decorating), so it was great to chat to her. She’s like my ‘Bill Granger’ for decorating. Ahem. She is lovely, and signed a copy of her book for me (yay). I also got a photo with her, though admittedly it comes second to *that* photo of Bill & I (and Mowie)…

The very popular Squires Kitchen stand.

Cupcake cases in all the colours of the rainbow! If I didn’t already have a ridiculous collection (including some of the light blue polka dotted ones that you can see in the photo), I would have totally stocked up. Sadly I do not have the space (nor funds) to do so…

Paddi Clark (whom I admittedly hadn’t heard of before the show) was at the Squires Kitchen stand, and was showing the crowd how she made her sugar flowers. I picked up a few useful tips, which I hope to put to use very soon!

The finished product. I’m such a sucker for pretty things..

A very graceful ballerina cake, by Carlos Lischetti. There’s just something about his work that was different and very refreshing. I believe he has a book called ‘Animation in Sugar’ coming out shortly, and this is one of the cakes featured.

Another example of Carlos Lischetti’s work. I’m not a fan of fondant covered cakes, but yet, I am always impressed by what people can achieve with it.

Mich Turner’s Little Venice Cake Company stand. The chocolate/lime cake on the far right was absolutely stunning!

Falcon Products/Bake-O-Glide stall. I picked up a non-slip roll out mat from here, I’ve been looking for something like this but didn’t want to buy it online as I wouldn’t get a chance to see it before hand. It’s really quite useful as it can be placed on any worktop, and its super smooth surface allows you to roll out pastry, sugarpaste, knead bread etc on it. They also sold silicone mats (similar to Silpats) – if you haven’t used one before, you’re missing out on it’s amazingness!

More silicone moulds from Silkomat. I almost bought the purple mini “bundt” one, but felt that the person I spoke to was slightly unhelpful/unfriendly. Maybe it was because she were tired (it was late in the day by then), but still… So I didn’t buy it.

Dr Oetker stall. They had various demonstrations throughout the day, but I didn’t catch any. This was a good place to head to if you wanted to rest your feet, as they provided a fair number of benches here.

British Sugarcraft Guild stand. The detail and effort that had gone into each piece was quite simply, amazing.

But nothing floored me more than this ‘tea table’ display from the Maidstone branch of the British Sugarcraft Guild. EVERYTHING you see in the photo was modelled from sugarpaste. From the plates, to the sandwiches, to the teapot, to the cake knife. Not surprised that they won a Gold Award for their efforts at the National BSG exhibition earlier this year.

Even the bunting was made from sugar! Just check out how intricate the work is…

There was also an ‘Edible Beach Bake Competition‘ exhibit – for both professionals and non-professionals. There were at least 50 cakes on display (I think), but I only took photos of my favourites.. the pastel cake above (professional category) won a certificate of merit.

This was the winner of the professional category. A photo of the whole cake doesn’t do it justice (as you can’t see the detail), so I chose a close up photo instead. It doesn’t look as good in the photo, but believe me, those mussels looked pretty darn realistic to my eyes!

The winner of the non-professional category. I suspect this won due to its originality – everyone had a sandcastle or a beach scene, this was one of the only ‘beach food’ cakes on display.

I thought this was really cute!

A rather impressive sandcastle.

A Brighton-themed cake – I think this was from the non-professional category, but I might be mistaken.

Cute cupcake from Gingercups. It was hard to miss their stall, which was bright pink, and manned by two lovely ladies (whose names escape me!). They’re currently based in Hertfordshire and are looking for a site in London, and I hope they manage it. They’d fit in perfectly to the whole Soho vibe. Plus, the cupcake I tried (Ruby – strawberry & cream with a jam centre) was delicious. The icing was admittedly a little too sweet for me, but to be fair, I find ALL cupcake icings way too sweet. So I always just eat the ‘cake’ bit. ;)

The lovely girls at the Gingercups counter. The one on the right is the founder/owner of the company. They had incredibly bubbly personalities to go along with their cupcakes – a win win combination!

Cathryn and Sarah Jane (from the current season of Great British Bake Off) in the Cake Kitchen. I’m rooting for Cathryn, I like her and I think she doesn’t believe in how good she is (like Jo from last season) – so it would be great if she could go all the way. I also like Danny though… can’t stop myself from supporting a medic! An intensivist no less. We will have to wait and see who wins!

Phew. That was a lot of photos. And there are more – but I chose the better ones for the post, naturally. I rarely blog about something so promptly, but I truly enjoyed myself at the show, and as such wanted to document it before my ailing memory forgot any details. That said, I can see how some people might not enjoy it as much as me, as there was a heavy emphasis (I thought) on sugarcraft/decorating work – and if this is not something that interests you, you might get bored…

For those of you who are wondering, the majority of the stalls were selling baking/decorating equipment. There were a few stalls that were selling cupcakes, and there was a cafe area – but I suspect more food/drink stalls might have been welcome. Because let’s face it, we can never have too much cake. ;) For instance, I wish that Peggy Porschen’s Parlour had brought some cupcakes along to sell in their stand.

There were also classes available at the event (but these incurred an extra charge), which included tutorials on bread baking and macarons.

So yes. It was a good day out for me, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s show!

Edit: I’ve just read some of the comments/feedback about the show on their Facebook site, and a number of people mentioned the lack of food/drink options (and the long queues + the fact that they ran out of food), the lack of stalls selling baking equipment (e.g. tins), and the fact that the classrooms were not fully enclosed – so other non-paying people could just hover around and watch the class as well. All fair comments – though none really applied to me as I went in between mealtimes, love decorating, and already own lots of cake tins. I do hope they improve though, as I would love for this show to become a regular fixture.

The Cake & Bake Show
23-23 September 2012
Earls Court, London
http://thecakeandbakeshow.co.uk/

*Disclaimer: I was invited to attend the Cake & Bake Show, but all views expressed above are my own. Also – I chose to write this post although there was no stipulation that I had to do so, I did it because I wanted to. 

Gingerbread cookies for the holidays

There’s something about gingerbread that is synonymous with Christmas. Maybe it’s the deep spicy notes of the ginger and various spices, or maybe it’s just what we’re conditioned to think. Regardless of why, it is definitely a holiday cookie.. to me anyway!

This year, I decided to try making my very own gingerbread cookies for Christmas. This is a HUGE thing for me, as I am not a fan of ginger. Sure I will use it in cooking – but I either blend it into a pulp (where I can’t pick it out), or use large chunks (which I then fish out pre-eating). I’ve actually improved loads from my childhood days, where I would categorically refuse to eat anything with ginger in it.

I used a recipe from Peggy Porshen’s Cake Chic. I find her cookie recipes very reliable, as they always turn out well, with minimal spreading – which is perfect for cookie decorating. I remember using this other cookie recipe previously, and the cookies turned out slightly domed… but when I turned to Peggy’s recipe, the cookies turned out beautifully flat.

This gingerbread cookie recipe was no different, and turned out very well – despite me tweaking the recipe. As always, I cut down on the amount of sugar used in the dough, and added more cinnamon (because I’m slightly obsessed with cinnamon in baked goods).

The other main modification I made was to use a mix of treacle + maple syrup + liquid glucose (instead of treacle + golden syrup) – this was primarily because I didn’t want to buy a whole can of golden syrup just to make these, especially when I’d only need a few tablespoonfuls! I wasn’t too fussed about the treacle as I can use it to make Sarawak Seri Kaya cake (a Malaysian steamed cake which is absolutely delicious). The extra treacle definitely makes the cookies a tad darker than the original recipe though.

And because it was Christmas, I fished out all my festive cookie cutters, and went a little cookie crazy! :) I realized I don’t have a snowflake cookie cutter though, which means I will probably own one by next December.

Cookie decorating definitely gets easier the more you do it though – it’s only my third time doing this, but I am definitely working more efficiently (and neatly!). Unfortunately my royal icing was a little too thick, but I was too lazy/impatient to thin it out more… oops. I think they still turned out ok though, but the piping just wasn’t as precise as I would have liked. Live and learn.

Gingerbread cookies
Adapted from Peggy Porshen’s Cake Chic

  • 250g cold salted butter, diced
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 560g plain flour

For the hot mix:

  • 5 tbsp cold water
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp treacle
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tbsp ground ginger
  • 4 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves

1. Place the hot mix ingreadients in a medium sized saucepan. Cook over medium high heat (stirring semi-constantly with a spatula) until it starts to boil.
2. Remove saucepan from the heat. Add in the cold cubed butter, and stir it into the hot mix until all the butter is melted.
3. Add the baking soda, and stir/whisk until it is well combined.
4. Pour the mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer, and leave to cool slightly.
5. In the meantime, measure out your flour and sieve it.
6. With the paddle attachment on at a low speed, slowly add in the flour to the liquid mix (I added 1/4 cup flour each time), until all the flour is used up. You are aiming for a sticky wet dough. It might seem like the mixture is too dry, but fear not as it will form a nice ball of dough.
7. Divide the dough into two portions, and form a round with each portion. Wrap in clingfilm, and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
8. Once the dough is well chilled, roll it out (with a rolling pin) into a 5mm thick rectangle. I prefer to roll out my cookie dough between two sheets of clingfilm, as I find that it is much neater/cleaner to do it this way. Just remember to lift the top layer of clingfilm from time to time, to avoid creases in clingfilm indenting on your cookie dough.
9. Using cookie cutters, cut out your desired cookie shapes, and lay them on a tray lined with baking paper/silpat mats.
10. Chill the cut out cookies in the fridge for 30 minutes. This step is important as it helps to ensure minimal cookie spreading in the oven.
11. When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 190′C.
12. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 8-12 minutes (cooking times vary depending on cookie size), until the cookies are just firm to touch.
13. Lift the cookies off the baking tray, and cool on a wire rack.
14. Once the cookies are cooled, you can either start decorating them. These cookies also keep well in a cool dry place for up to a month, wrapped in foil or clingflim (and ideally placed in an airtight container).

*This recipe makes approximately 60-70 cookies (again this depends on the size of your cookies). If you wish, you can freeze the cookie dough (wrapped well in clingfilm) in the freezer for up to 3 months. Alternatively, you may wish to cut out the cookies into shapes first, and then freeze this instead. You can then pop a few frozen uncooked cookies into the oven, and voila – freshly baked cookies!

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and here’s to a great year ahead!
(I still can’t believe it’s almost 2012, eep.)

Blog surfing: Halloween favourites

One of the things I love most about the blogging community is the sheer amount of talent out there. As cheesy as it sounds, it is really inspiring to see what other bloggers come up with because believe me – these people are REALLY creative!

I’ve been trying to catch up on my ever growing pile of unread blog posts in my RSS reader, and have come across quite a number of brilliant Halloween inspired posts in the last week or so. Whilst I would love to make them all, I simply don’t have the time to do it at present, so I thought I would compile a list of my favourite Halloween posts so far…

*ALL photos in this post are courtesy of the respective bloggers 

“Batty” Battenburg cake from Sprinkle Bakes

I absolutely adore Heather’s blog, and she has inspired a great many of my baking experiments. This Battenburg cake is just another one of her marvellous creations – I mean, how COOL does this cake look? Totally blew me away. My favourite bit is the orange bat eyes. ;)

Black widow chocolate rum cupcakes from 6 Bittersweets

Xiaolu’s blog is one of my newfound favourites, and I urge you to check out her blog if you don’t already read it regularly. The ‘black widow’ spiders are made from modelling chocolate, which is something I’ve yet to work with – but I plan to experiment with it… soon! Xiaolu has helpfully detailed the instructions of how to make the spiders, if you wish to try recreating them.

Rat plaque brownie bites from Not Quite Nigella

One of the first blogs I discovered back in the day (which actually wasn’t too long ago!) was Lorraine’s, and her blog remains one of my favourite ones. She is a total wonder woman, and manages to blog EVERY SINGLE DAY. I kid you not. I have no idea how she manages to do it, especially when you consider the effort she puts into writing them (she’s really funny too!). Lorraine loves Halloween, and always puts on truly elaborate Halloween parties each year… which she blogs about, naturally. You can read her Halloween party posts here, here, and here.

Spooky shortbread fingers from Baking Quinn

Quinn has a number of great recipes on her blog (she inspired me to make Chinese New Year peanut cookies earlier this year!), and this is another one of them. These shortbread fingers are made with muscovado sugar, which I suspect adds a nice molasses-esque taste to them. I’ve seen a recipe for brown sugar shortbread in Bill Granger’s cookbook (of course, being me I find a way to bring Bill into everything), and I’ve now reminded myself that I need to try the recipe!

Oreo and M&M witch hats from Gourmand Recipes

These cute hats are from Ellie’s new-ish blog Gourmand Recipes – as I’m sure most of you know, she’s no newbie to the blogging world though, as she used to blog on Almost Bourdain (which if you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet). All you need to make these little babies are oreos, M&Ms, mini cones, and chocolate. How much simpler could it get? I can only imagine how good these would be with peanut butter M&M’s….. :D

Halloween chocolate orange layer cake from Bakingdom

If you think this cake looks amazing now, just wait till you have a look at what it looks like on the inside! One word – amazing!

Devil-ish red velvet cupcakes from 6 Bittersweets

Another one from Xiaolu, and she’s made the red velvet cupcake even red-der! ;) The tails and horns are made from modelling chocolate. I normally am not a fan of too much food colouring, but I figure Halloween is a good time to whip out the supplies!

Ghost cake from I Am Baker

Amanda churns out so many fantastic cakes that it simply astounds me… can you imagine being her neighbour? ;) I only recently learnt of her blog, and I’m still trawling through her very impressive archive of posts. This ghost cake is just one of the many examples of her creativity…

Eyeball cake pops from Bakerella

The pop cake queen strikes again! These eyeballs somehow manage to strike the right balance of cute and scary… and I love them. Her creativity (and love of sprinkles) knows no bounds! :) She also made some Halloween ‘character’ cake pops last year, which you can find here.

Decorated Halloween cookies from Sweetopia

Marian’s blog is a cookie decorating newbie’s heaven – she has everything from great ideas, to detailed tutorials on the how-to of royal icing and sugar cookies. I’ve learnt a great deal from her site, and I still continue to learn! These Halloween pumpkin cookies are by far the cutest ones I’ve seen so far. Look at them just smiling away at you! :)

Ghost marshmallows from One Million Gold Stars

Gail’s photo of her ‘drowning’ ghost marshmallow totally put a smile on my face! Imagine how good these would be dunked in some hot chocolate… mmmm. I’ve made my own marshmallows before, and I can safely say that they taste a LOT better than storebought ones. Trust me, once you make them you will find it hard to return to storebought.

So yes, these are my favourite Halloween treats so far! I’m sure there will be more in the coming days, and I’ll update the post as needed. :) Please feel free to let me know if you have any favourite Halloween goodies that I haven’t included in the post – it’s always lovely to discover new blogs!

Baking for a cause: my first ever bake sale/tea party!

During my school days, I remember how we would have “canteen days” to raise money for our school. Each class (of approximately 30 students) would work together to set up a stall selling a variety of food and drinks. Our school was smart, and always had some sort of informal competition amongst the classes where a prize was given to the class with the largest profit margin… Which when you think about it, was an inspired idea because what child doesn’t want to feel like they have achieved something?

I remember my class selling a variety of things, from popcorn (which we popped on site, mind you!), iced lemon tea (which was very popular seeing as Malaysia is always hot and humid), satay, coconut water, sandwiches… And that’s where my memory starts to fail me. Appalling really, considering this was only about 10-15 years ago. What I do remember though was how much fun we would have working together throughout the day, whilst shamelessly promoting the items on sale. I can’t even remember if our class ever won, but I do remember the disastrous first few rounds of popcorn making attempts! Ah, memories.

So when I heard about Marie Curie’s Blooming Tea Party fundraising initiative, I was immediately transported back in time – and knew that I had to figure out how to throw a tea party of my own to raise money for them.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this organisation: Marie Curie Cancer Care consists of nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals. They help to provide care for terminally ill patients in the community and in Marie Curie hospices, thus making it possible for these patients to spend their last days at home instead of in a hospital. They also provide support for the patients families through a time which can be very distressing and difficult. They do a fantastic job, and I certainly have only heard good things about them from patients and their families.

But yes – on to the actual event. After a fair bit of planning, I managed to get a venue and a date. Then came the hardest bit – deciding what food to make! I had so so so many ideas, and I kid you not when I say I stocked up my kitchen extremely well just in case I changed my mind at the last minute (or in case something went horribly wrong!).

Now that it’s all over, I can happily say that everything went really well, which I am very pleased about and am thankful for.

These were the things I served: (apologies for the substandard photos!)

Vanilla cake with raspberry frosting – this was the most popular item on sale, I’m not sure if it was because it was cake, or because the frosting was pink! This was the first time I’d used this recipe, but seeing as it was a recipe by Bill (whose praises I have sung many many times), I’m not surprised that it didn’t disappoint. The cake had a perfect crumb, and rose beautifully in the oven. I honestly think he must test his recipes tens of times, because how else have none of his recipes failed me? The frosting was something I made from the leftover royal icing from my sugar cookies (see below), milk, butter and some homemade raspberry jam.

Chocolate cake balls – I’ve made cake balls/pops several times, and love making them as they’re relatively simple yet very impressive. You can make them with any biscuit or cake – think oreos, tim tams, lemon biscuits, digestives… The list is endless really. This time round I decided to make them from chocolate cake, because 1) they looked cuter than a whole cake, and 2) it would give some variety. I used this chocolate cake recipe.

Sugar cookies – I started venturing into sugar cookie decorating a few months ago, as I was sucked in by the prettiness of it all. I also suspect the precision and patience needed to decorate them appealled to my inner OCD. I chose to use yellow as my theme colour (to match Marie Curie’s logo), and then worked from there. Because I had a ridiculous number of cookies to get through (I think it was approximately 120?) I kept it all relatively simple, with marbled designs. I also attempted to recreate the Marie Curie logo in icing, but can safely say that that bit didn’t go too well. Cookies still tasted good though! ;)

Chocolate cornflake clusters – I was so surprised at how well this went down, considering that it was so wonderfully simple to make. All you do is mix some melted chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk) with regular cornflakes, then spoon them into muffin cases. Ta-dah, you have chocolate cornflake clusters!

Sausage rolls – because I felt there had to be something savoury on the menu. I originally planned to make curry puffs, but worried that they would not taste good when cold. I then remembered that I once saw Nigella making some sausage rolls on one of her tv shows, and went for that instead. The filling was made from sausage meat (I bought sausages and removed the casings), chopped onions, a dash of curry powder, salt and pepper. This was then wrapped in puff pastry, cut into little pieces, then baked in the oven.

Egg and cheese sandwiches – the other savoury item. I just felt that it wasn’t a true ‘tea’ event if there were no sandwiches… To keep it simple and accessible to more people, I decided on an egg/cheese/watercress filling. This was probably the least popular item on offer, and in retrospect I should have just baked another cake instead. Next time. :) Thankfully managed to sell most of it though, so there was no food wastage.

Fruit squash – I had to resort to this for drinks as I was advised to not serve hot drinks due to health & safety regulations. A bit of a shame, as it made this a ‘tea party’ without any tea.

Writing about it now, it seems like there wasn’t very much food at all (primarily because there was only so much I could carry and transport!). I must say that it still took pretty much an entire weekend of baking, and I was completely exhausted post-event. Every single table surface in my flat was covered with cookies or cakes of some sort, which is something that I’ve not experienced before. Having said that, I would definitely do something like this again – especially since it was for such a good cause. Next time around I think I’ll forgo the savoury dishes, and stick to the sweets.

I set a fundraising target of £500, and am happy to say that I have reached this. A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone that has donated so generously (both online and offline), as I could not have done this without you all. A special word of thanks also goes to my friend Neal, who helped me on the day of the bake sale/tea party – it definitely brought me back to the days when we used to work together! :)

I am however still trying to get more donations, because at the end of the day, the more I can raise for Marie Curie the better. If any of you have benefited from the Marie Curie nurses, or if you simply want to help – please donate by clicking on the button below. Every donation counts, and you will help to make a difference to someone out there. :)

THANK YOU!