A Harrods Christmas hamper, and a champagne chiffon cake

Christmas hampers are one of those things that are synonymous with the holiday season. Each departmental store has it’s own twist on the Christmas hamper – but there is one thing they all have in common: they are all beautifully packaged. Because good things come in beautifully wrapped packages, no?

Harrods is, of course, one of the stores that has some gorgeous hampers on offer – they range from affordable (under £50) to ‘blow the budget’ (over £2000!). Don’t get me wrong through, the more affordable hampers certainly shouldn’t be scoffed at, and make an equally impressive gift.

I recently received a Harrods ‘Pamper Hamper’, which contained pink champagne truffles, Marc de champagne milk chocolate truffles, Laduree candles, a Laduree room spray, and a bottle of rose champagne. A perfect girly present really. Just look at all the lovely pastel colours… (sorry, boys.)

A special mention is needed for the gorgeous rattan basket/box housing the gifts within. It was so pretty that I could not bear to put it away – and this is how it has earned its place as my Christmas tree ‘stand’. Looks much better than my makeshift stand from last year, might I add.

harrods hamper 1

We’re not huge drinkers (we drink the occasional glass of wine/bubbly), so I thought I would use the leftover champagne in a chiffon cake. I know it hasn’t made it on to the blog, but I’ve been on a chiffon cake kick recently – I’m enjoying experimenting with various flavours and combinations of recipes, and am still in search of my perfect, ‘even bubbled’ chiffon. As you can see from my photos, I am not quite there yet. But practice makes perfect, and I’m certainly not complaining about the sampling I get to do along the way!

There’s just something about the lightness of chiffon cakes that make them so addictive. I can honestly eat half a cake in one sitting, and be under the impression that I have not consumed any calories whatsoever. Ha. Delusional much?

A few notes on chiffon cakes – 1) Never ever grease the tube pan. You need the batter to ‘grip’ onto the sides, so it can rise up high. This is why tube pans all have a smooth flat edge (as opposed to bundt tins which have intricate designs), as you have to run an offset spatula/knife around the tin to release the cake at the end of the baking/cooking process. 2) Patience is key! The cake needs to be left to cool (upside down) before you cut into it. Yes, this is unfortunately one of those cakes that you can’t dive into straight out of the oven – if you do so, the cake will end up dense and we can’t have that now can we? 3) Try not to overmix the batter. Treat the batter gently when folding in the whipped eggwhites. I find that mixing in 1/3 of the eggwhites in the first instance loosens up the batter, and makes the subsequent folds much easier. You can also be a little less gentle with the first ‘fold’.

Champagne chiffon cake
Makes one 20cm chiffon cake

  • 190g cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 130g champagne
  • 50g corn oil
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 egg whites
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 165’C (fan forced).
2. Sieve the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk the egg yolks and 50g sugar in a large mixing bowl, until the yolks turn thick and pale. Add the champagne, corn oil and vanilla extract, and whisk until just combined.
4. Slowly add in the sieved dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture, whisking whilst you add. Ensure there are no lumpy bits in your mix.
5. In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they become foamy. Add in the 50g caster sugar and cream of tartar (if using) gradually, and continue whisking until you reach stiff peaks.
6. Add 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to your cake mixture – this helps to loosen the cake mix.
7. In 2 additions, fold in the remaining egg whites into the cake mixture, until just combined. You should ideally not see any lumps of whites. Take care to not overmix though!
8. Pour the cake batter into an ungreased, 20cm chiffon cake tin (tube pan).
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean.
10. Remove tin from oven, invert, and leave to cool upside down (either by sticking the tin on a bottle top, or placing it on a wire rack if your tin has ‘feet’). Leave the cake to cool completely.
11. Once cooled, run a knife along the edges of the tin, and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cut, serve, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I received a Harrods Pamper Hamper as a gift, but all opinions expressed are my own.

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!

Hotel Chocolat Valentine’s giveaway!

There are two schools of thought when it comes to Valentine’s Day. One group of people firmly believe that Valentine’s is the day to shower love/flowers/cards/etc on your loved ones; whilst the other group firmly believe that Valentine’s Day is a overcommercialised holiday that simply doesn’t mean very much. I have to admit that I actually fall somewhere between the two: I don’t go all all and celebrate it (we usually eat a nice home-cooked meal at home), but I do admit to buying Valentine’s Day cards. Mind you, I am someone who enjoys walking into Paperchase to randomly buy cards to give to people, so I suspect a lot of it is simply a ‘oooh this card is pretty’ thing rather than a ‘must get a Valentine’s card’ thing.

But no matter what your thoughts are about Valentine’s Day, it’s always hard to resist chocolates. Especially when they’re packed beautifully and look pretty. I mean, one doesn’t always need red roses in the house… but who doesn’t need chocolate? I certainly know that chocolate is always welcome in my house. 😉

Hotel Chocolat have, as always, come up with a fantastic range of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I especially like their chocolate ‘hearts’, because hey, I’m a girl and I like most things that come in this shape. That’s a good enough reason… right? I also really like their chocolate slabs (in fact I recently bought some to bring home to give to friends), and I think this ‘Passion Pop’ slab is almost too pretty to eat.

I had a chance to sample Hotel Chocolat’s Sleekster Love Collection, which I also tried last year. What I was pleased about was that there are some new flavours in this years selection, i.e. they don’t just recycle the same flavours and ideas year after year. My favourites from the selection are the: Strawberry & black pepper (light strawberry truffle and a pinch of black pepper), Soft chilli caramel (soft caramel giving way to a mouth-warming chilli kick), and Praline oyster (smooth milk hazelnut praline).

The other chocolates in the selection that I also enjoyed were: Champagne truffle (milk chocolate and a splash of champagne), Buck’s fizz (white chocolate truffle with a splash of champagne and dash of orange juice), Bison grass vodka (Polish vodka in mellow milk chocolate) and Chilli sweetheart (dark chocolate with chilli and cocoa crispies).

Thanks to Hotel Chocolat, one lucky reader will get the chance to WIN themselves a Sleekster Love Collection box! To enter, just answer the following question:

  • Do you believe in/celebrate Valentine’s Day? Why?

For extra chances to win: (Each will get you ONE entry) – remember you need to answer the above question in order to qualify for extra entries!

  • Like Hotel Chocolat on Facebook, and leave me a comment below telling me you’ve done this.
  • Tweet about the giveaway: You can use the “tweet button” below or copy this: I just entered the @breadetbutter and @HotelChocolat giveaway to win some chocolates for Valentine’s Day! #giveaway http://wp.me/pAcXx-EW
  • Stumble this post, and leave me a comment telling me you’ve done this.

This giveaway is open to all residents of UK, Europe and USA. Giveaway ends Thursday 9th February 2012 at 23:59 BST. A winner will be chosen at random, and once he/she confirms their address, the Sleekster Love Collection will be sent out to them. If the winner fails to confirm their address within 24 hours, another winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

*Review chocolates and giveaway prize sponsored by Hotel Chocolat, but all views expressed are my own.
*Non-watermarked photos courtesy of Hotel Chocolat.

Spreading Christmas cheer with a chocolate giveaway!

**Giveaway has now ENDED***

I can’t believe it’s December! Time seems to have flown by, as it does every year. (And I’ve also just turned a year older, which I am always in denial about).

I never really celebrated Christmas back home in Malaysia (Chinese New Year in January/February is usually where our focus is!), but since living in London.. you can’t really *not* celebrate it. There’s just something about a roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce…

Christmas is also a time for exchanging gifts. Being a total foodie, I naturally am a huge believer of food-themed gifts, and chocolate is definitely way up there on the list. And as always, Hotel Chocolat have come up with a fantastic selection of (beautifully packaged) chocolates. They’re not only offering Christmas gift boxes, but also stocking fillers! I’ve previously spoken about the quality of their chocolates, so I won’t go into it again – but I’m pretty certain you won’t be disappointed.

When looking through their Christmas catalogue, there were a few things that caught my eye. The first of these was the Mulled wine cherries. Succulent cherries soaked in fortified wine spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, then enrobed in thick dark chocolate. Now, who wouldn’t be drawn it by that? Plus, since it contains fruit it can pass as health food. Sort of, anyway. 😉

I really enjoyed these little cherries, as they’re just the right size for snacking. A word of warning though, these babies are extremely boozy! I suspect that I would become fairly tipsy if I had too much in one sitting… But it IS the season of festive cheer, so some booziness is totally justifiable.

Next up are these Alternative mince pies, which are essentially milk chocolate cups filled with praline and salted caramel. I loved the idea of these, as I unfortunately am not a huge mince pie fan. I can eat two or three, tops. So it was a total no brainer that I’d want to try these – and I was not dissapointed. The salty sweet caramel complements the milk chocolate well, and the crunch of the praline rounds it all off. Like.

I also had a chance to sample The Classic Christmas H box selection, which features a selection of pralines, soft caramels and creamy truffles. All the chocolates are very Christmassy, with the flavours of warming mulled wine, chilli and rum, cherry florentines, gingerbread, and cinnamon. My personal favourites were the Sea salt and caramel bauble (milk chocolate with crushed caramel pieces and a hint of sea salt) and the Ginger cheesecake (sour cream notes of cheesecake on top of a layer of spicy ginger).

And because I love you, I’m delighted to announce that thanks to Hotel Chocolat, 3 lucky readers will get a chance to try one of the three items above! I personally picked out these items after much consideration, so I do hope that you will enjoy them too.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Chocolat

There are a few ways you can enter:
1. Leave a comment below, answering the following question – What will be you be doing on Christmas Day?
2. Follow Hotel Chocolat on Facebook, then leave a comment below telling me you have done this.
3. Tweet about this giveaway: Like chocolate? Win some to brighten your Christmas from @HotelChocolat and @breadetbutter! http://wp.me/pAcXx-DO #giveaway
4. Subscribe to this blog, then leave a comment below telling me you have done this.

Three winners will be chosen at random (the first will win the mulled wine cherries, the second: alternative mince pies, the third: Christmas H box selection). If winners do not respond within 48 hours, a new winner will be chosen.

Giveaway is open to all residents of UK, Europe and USA, and closes on Monday 12th December 2011, 23:59 BST.

***Giveaway has now ENDED. Congratulations to Nicole, Meryl and Azra – I hope you enjoy your chocolates! 😦

Good luck! 

Disclaimer: Hotel Chocolat kindly provided the review chocolates (and the prizes), but all views expressed here are my own.

Of spring, Easter eggs and yellow daisies

I’ve always been intrigued by decorated cookies, especially ones which are intricately decorated in the most beautiful designs imaginable. However, I never attempted them as I felt they would be 1) too sweet, and 2) too much work.

But sometimes, curiosity makes you do things you thought you wouldn’t do…

In celebration of the oh-so-lovely weather, I decided to try making some decorated cookies last weekend. As Easter was fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to make Easter egg shaped ones. And so I did.

My initial plan was to make a whole range of Easter egg designs… in a number of colours. But, I changed my plans very swiftly when I realised that I had about 80-90 cookies to decorate. I kid you not when I tell you that piping decorations on anything more than 40 cookies will take a toll on your shoulder muscles. My shoulders were aching the day after I made these, and it made me have total respect for professionals who do this on a daily basis – they must have arms (and shoulders) of steel!

Having said this, I still had a complete blast making these, and will definitely be making more in the near future.  Whilst I was pleased with how these turned out, I wasn’t altogether satisfied with the royal icing recipe and my rather amateur-ish designs. All the more reason to make some more very soon! One thing I will do next time around is to make less cookies so I can focus more attention on the actual decorating!

Oh, and I also made some yellow daisies, because flowers and the colour yellow are totally what spring is all about anyway. 😉

Happy Easter, everyone!

Sugar cookies
Adapted from this recipe on All Recipes

  • 340g butter, softened
  • 1 cup caster sugar*
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for rolling

1. Sift the baking powder, flour and salt. Set aside.
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl, until it becomes pale and creamy. I used my stand mixer and the paddle attachment. You can just as easily use a handheld mixer, or even a wooden spoon if you have strong arms!
3. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing after the addition of each egg.
4. Add the vanilla extract and almond extract, and beat until just combined.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture, and mix until well combined. Cover with clingfilm, and chill the dough in the fridge for at least an hour. (I chilled my dough overnight.)
6. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to a thickness of your liking (usually between 0.25-0.5 inches). I suggest working with a small proportion of dough each time – I divided mine up into four batches to ensure the dough was always nice and chilled.
7. Cut the dough with the cookie cutters of your choice, and place them 1 inch apart on parchment lined baking trays.
8. Bake the cookies in a oven preheated to 190’C for 6-8 minutes, until slightly golden around the edges. Leave to cool completely before decorating.

* To ensure the resulting cookie wouldn’t end up too sweet, I reduced the amount of sugar used to 1 cup (from 2). I’m glad I did, as I felt that the cookies would have been waaaay too sweet otherwise, especially when paired with the icing. Do feel free to use more sugar though.