Won ton fun

Here is a picture of the won ton soup I made myself for lunch. I nearly wrote wanton soup there, which I believe is quite different.

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The won tons cook very well from frozen, so I think I’ll make some more next time raw prawns are on special. The only thing is, you really need to make your own stock for the soup to taste right. I’ll have to start cooking more things with bones!

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How to: Popcorn and white chocolate cupcakes

More cupcakes today! I’m dreading going back to work and not being able to spend hours decorating foodstuffs. Popcorn and white chocolate is my favourite Shakeaway and a winning combination if you have a sweet tooth. And I just can’t resist cakes that look like other things. I bought the stripy baking cups on eBay. This recipe makes 12 normal-sized cupcakes.

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Ingredients…

…for the cupcakes

  • 125g butter, chopped
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 self-raising flour
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

…for the decoration

  • 1 large bag toffee popcorn
  • 200g white chocolate
  • 1/2 cup double cream

Method

  1. If you want a little more popcorn flavour to the cupcakes, infuse your milk with a handful of popcorn overnight. Then either blend or strain it before adding to the cake mix.
  2. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. If you are using the striped baking cups, you can bake straight into them. But they’ll look a bit better if you put them into the cups afterwards.
  3. Add the chocolate, butter, milk and sugar to a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes smooth.Image
  4. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and leave to cool for a couple of minutes.
  5. Stir or whisk in the egg and vanilla until combined.
  6. Sift the flour into the mixture, then stir until just combined.Image
  7. Divide among the liners and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.Image
  8. Once the cakes are cool, make the ganache. Heat the cream and chocolate over a bain marie (or a saucepan will do in a pinch) and stir until smooth. I added a couple of tablespoons of dulce de leche as well.Image
  9. Spread over the cakes.
  10. Image
  11. Either carefully place or pile on the popcorn topping. If you want a taller pile, glue the pieces down with some ganache to stop them going everywhere.Image

How to: Mini Meringue Tarts

I believe that I promised a delicious and even more unhealthy use for curd. Well, I am a woman of my word, so I proudly present the following recipe. The ingredients make enough for a large 20-25cm meringue pie, but I halved the ingredients and had enough to make four 10cm tartlets, and I probably could have managed five if I’d had enough curd.

Use loose-bottomed fluted tins if possible, as otherwise you’ll smash the tarts to pieces trying to remove them.

Note: My oven is fan-assisted. Turn the oven up an additional 20degrees if yours isn’t.

Ingredients…

…for the sweetcrust pastry

  • 175g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk

…for the filling

  • About 450ml of curd, preferably home made. I used my mango-lime concoction.

…for the meringue

  • 4 egg whites at room temperature. I can confirm that frozen whites whip up very nicely!
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 level tsp cornflour

Additional equpment

  • Foil or baking parchment
  • Baking beans. Either the proper ones, or any dried beans will do but don’t eat them after you’ve used them for baking. I store mine in a jar and re-use them.

Method

  1. Start off with the pastry. Preheat the oven to 180degrees C and butter your tins.
  2. If you have a food processor, just put in all of your ingredients and whiz until it begins to come together, with a tsp of cold water if needed.
  3. If, like me, you don’t have a food processor, put the butter, sugar and flour into a bowl and rub together with your fingertips. You don’t want to overwork this stage, so just rub until the butter is mostly incorporated. Your mixture might still be quite lumpy.
  4. Add the egg yolk and rub in until the pastry comes together into a ball. Add a teaspoon of cold water if necessary.
  5. Roll out on a floured work surface until about 3-4mm thick. This pastry is very rich and tends to crack. Don’t worry when this happens, just press it back together when you line the tin with it.
  6. Line the tin or tins, pressing the pastry into the flutes.Image
  7. Prick the bottoms of the tarts with a fork. This allows heat to escape and helps to keep the pastry flat.Image
  8. Line the tarts with foil, shiny side down. If using parchment, omit this step. Pop the tarts in the freezer for fifteen minutes or so until firm. Alternatively, you can chill them in the fridge for about an hour.
  9. Fill the cases with baking beans and bake blind for about 15 mins. I also put something heavy like a glass on top of the beans to compress the pastry further.Image
  10. Bake until the edges begin to turn golden. Then remove the foil/parchment and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes until the pastry is pale gold. Don’t worry if there are cracks in the pastry. Turn the oven down to 160C.Image
  11. Now for the meringue. Put your egg whites into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk until you get soft peaks- if you allow some of the meringue to trail off the whisk, it will leave a pattern on top of the rest of the egg white.
  12. A spoonful at a time, add half the sugar. Whisk between each addition until the sugar is incorporated but don’t overbeat. Whisk in the cornflour, then add the rest of the sugar as before until smooth and thick.
  13. Gently heat the curd through over a bain marie.
  14. Pour into the tart cases.
  15. Immediately put spoonfuls of meringue around the edge of the curd. If you start in the middle the meringue might sink. For tartlets, use a teaspoon.
  16. Spread the meringue so it just touches the pastry, which will anchor it and stop it from sliding. Pile the rest into the centre, spreading so it touches the surface of the hot (or warm) filling. This will start to cook it. Give the tart a swirl.
  17. Return to the oven for 15-20 mins until the meringue is crisp and slightly coloured. Let sit in the tin for 30 mins, then remove (place on a glass to slide off the side bit) and leave to cool for at least another 1⁄2-1 hour before attempting to slice.

Mine are a little on the dark side, but I do have an overzealous oven (don’t tell me that only a poor workman blames her tools). Here is a cross-section, detailing the fluffiness of the meringue.

I served mine with some double cream as they are just too healthy otherwise. This took them to the next level of deliciousness. My two lovely dessert-testers also agreed, though I had just bribed them with home-made curry.

How to: Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts)

I am seriously in danger of becoming addicted to these little things. Cream, buttery puff pastry… what’s not to love? Despite making three batches of these, I neglected to take a photo of the finished article. This may have been because I was ‘testing’ them rather than being a good blogger. So here’s one that I found on Google (so don’t sue me, copyright-holder).Image

Mine looked remarkably similar, I’ll upload a pic when I make these again (so probably tomorrow). These are best on the day they are baked, as the puff pastry loses crispiness. You can complete steps 2-5 up to two days in advance and store the custard in the fridge until needed, covered in clingfilm. Rolling the pastry then only takes about 15mins in the morning, plus baking time.

Ingredients:

  •  All-butter puff pastry (obviously you can use not all-butter, but why would you?). You only need half of a 500g pack. Bung the other half in the freezer.
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 2tbsp cornflour
  • 230ml cream (I used double but according to the internet, you can use any kind, or even substitute milk)
  • 170ml milk (I used whole, but apparently you can use skimmed)
  • 2tsp vanilla extract or other flavouring
  • A dusting of icing sugar (optional)
  • A sprinkling of cinnamon (optional)

Method

  1. Butter a 12-hole muffin tin.
  2. Put egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a medium saucepan and whisk together.
  3. Gradually whisk in cream and sugar until smooth.
  4. Cook over a medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens. I used the back of the spoon test again. This may take some time. Bring to just below boiling point, the remove from the heat and add the vanilla.Image
  5. Put the custard in the bowl and put clingfilm over the surface to stop a skin from forming.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200degrees C.
  7. Flour your work surface and rolling pin. The following steps prevent the pastry from puffing up too much during baking and providing the tart’s characteristic crisp crust.
  8. Roll the puff pastry to about 1cm in thickness, then cut in half. Dust one half with icing sugar and cinnamon, which helps make the pastry a tiny bit less savoury.Image
  9. Put the non-dusted half on top of the dusted one and roll out again, to about 5mm thickness.
  10. Now, start at the bottom and roll the pastry up like a Swiss roll. Make it as tight as you can.
  11. Cut the roll crossways into sections about 1cm wide (I am only making 8 tarts with this pastry).Image
  12. Flatten and roll each round until about 10cm in diameter.Image
  13. Put the rounds of pastry into the buttered tin and manipulate a little until they line each hole nicely. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect, the custard covers a multitude of sins and they’re meant to look rustic.Image
  14. Fill ’em up with your custard.Image
  15. Bake for 15-25mins (check after 15. My oven seems to be monstrously hot). Don’t be afraid of baking these, they are meant to have dark spots on the surface. The pastry should be golden brown and the custard set.They’ll puff up during cooking, but sink back down once they cool.Image
  16. Leave to cool in the tin, then cool completely before packing up. Pack them in paper or cardboard rather than plastic if you can, to keep them nice and dry.

According to the internet, you can make these with non-dairy substitutes. Next time, I think I’ll try with the coconut alternative to milk that I like using. Watch this space!

How to: Mango and Lime Curd

In my opinion, curd is one of the most horrible food terms around. So much so that I didn’t try it until I was in my early twenties. How could something that rhymes with turd be nice to eat? And yet it is. Utterly delicious. A while ago, I went to a spread-making workshop with a fellow crafty crusader and my eyes were opened. You can make curd with things that aren’t citrus fruit! From then my mission was clear: make mango curd. Who doesn’t love mango? Anyway, here’s how.

Ingredients (makes 1 large (340g) and 1 small (185g) jar):

  • 2 large mangoes or about 350g frozen mango (this is what I used)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used golden caster)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 50g salted butter
  • 1-2 limes
  • Jars (I know these are actually equipment, but hey ho)

Method

  1. Sterilise your jars. Wash them thoroughly, then put them in an oven about 180 degrees C. Pour boiling water in the lids.
  2. If using fresh mangoes, peel and dice. If using frozen chunks, measure about 2 rounded cups worth, plus a little extra for luckImage
  3. Zest the lime(s) and reserve, then squeeze the juice directly over the mango, taking care to remove any seeds
  4. Add about half the sugar and puree. This is important: TASTE THE PUREE, then adjust the lime and sugar according to taste. Mango is a very delicate flavour that is easily overpowered by the lime and sugar. I used a little under half a cup of sugar, and about one and a quarter limes. My curd came out quite tart, but still with that subtle mango taste. Puree again after each addition.
  5. Separate the eggs and add all the yolks to the puree. You can use the whole eggs, in which case you would probably only need about 5, but using just the yolks gives a lovely golden colour. I froze the whites and have it on good-enough authority (from t’internet) that you can still use them for meringues. Puree again.
  6. Sieve the puree into a large glass, metal or ceramic bowl. Use a ladle to force it through.Image
  7. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Try not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or boil dry. Don’t use direct heat- this will result in the egg scrambling. Don’t worry if you don’t have fancy kitchen equipment. Improvise!Image
  8. Stir pretty much constantly until the mixture heats and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. This means that if you draw your finger through the mixture on the spoon, it will leave a clear path like soImage
  9. Turn off the oven.
  10. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the butter, one 2cm cube at a time until incorporated. I think the butter is optional. Mmmmm…. rich creamery butter.
  11. Stir in the lime zest. This is optional too, but adds another nice colour, interesting texture and gives a more home-made feel.Image
  12. Using oven gloves (obviously), remove your first jar from the oven. Carefully pour your curd in. Pour the curd while as hot as possible. Dry the lid of the jar with a clean tea-towel and screw on immediately.
  13. Repeat with any additional jars.Image

Just as a warning, don’t give curd to pregnant women as the egg is classified as partially cooked. If you’re very sad, you can even make little labels for the jars.Image

I’m not ashamed.

How to: Snow cone cupcakes

I’ve been itching to bake these for a while as well, ever since I got the idea for the decoration from the wonderful Bakerella. Here is how they turned out.

I think they look adorable! As a scientist, I also require objective data about the taste. But this time, subjective data had to do and they taste pretty great as well. Somehow, the incredibly sweet icing cuts down on the sweetness of the cupcakes. No, I don’t understand how it works either.

My cakes underneath were even striped to match the icing.

While I think this looked awesome and I will show you how, I think the decoration alone looks great and I might just have a plain cake underneath next time.

As a note, even though I am English, I mostly bake using American cup measures.

If you have the time on your hands to make this, you will need:

Cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (or use salted and half the amount of additional salt) at room temperature
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs (medium will do in a pinch) at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup full-fat milk (though I used Kallo coconut milk substitute. I don’t like milk)
  • 1teaspoon vanilla extract (or half a vanilla pod if you are rich or, like me, know someone from Madagascar)
  • food colouring. Gel is better, but I use liquid for some colours if that’s all I have.
  • Baking cups. I bought mine on eBay
  • Disposable piping bags

Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • food coloring
  • sugar crystals. Again, eBay
  • small plastic spoons. I liberated mine from an ice cream kiosk

There’s method in my madness

I’ll start off with the sugar crystals as they’re a bit more unusual. Apparently, they’re more of a big decorating thing in the states but I imagine you could get them in a proper baking shop here. Since I didn’t want to buy three colours, I just bought clear ones and then coloured them like so. 

Here are the plain crystals. Pretty and sparkly. Just as a note, I bought 50g, which was not enough to cover 10 cupcakes, and just about managed 8.

The colouring is very easy, just add a very small amount of either liquid or gel colouring and mix. Go slowly, you can always add more later, but you don’t want oversaturated crystals that clump together and taste of colouring.

And then…

I got a bit paranoid that mine were too damp and dried them out in a ceramic bowl in a low oven, but I think this step was unnecessary.

Once I stopped playing with sugar, it was time to start baking properly.

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
  2. Line up your cups on a baking sheet so that the lips touch. This will help when you are filling them later.
  3. Using a mixer or hand blender, cream the butter in a large bowl until smooth.
  4. Add the sugar in three parts and beat until pale and fluffy (5mins). Start on medium and move up to high speed. This was what I decided ‘pale and fluffy’ meant.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until fully incorporated.
  6. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Sift again.
  7. In another jug, combine mils and vanilla. (I know, a lot of washing up. I cheated and just added the vanilla to my cup measure once I had put some of the liquid into the batter.)
  8. Add the dries to the batter in four parts, alternating with the milk mixture. Beat well after each addition and begin and end with the dries.
  9. Divide your batter into three (or more, if feeling ambitious!) and colour as desired. The blue looks a bit off in this picture, but baked nicely. Now for the tricky bit!
  10. Stand three piping bags up in glasses. Then carefully pour in your batter.
  11. Twist the bags shut and then put the glasses in the order that you want your cakey stripes. I found it helpful to use a large clip to hold the bags both closed and together. Either way, make sure you clamp those tops so the batter doesn’t go everywhere! Also, tape the three bags together near the bottom like so.

Now for the tricky bit. Get yourself next to your tray with the cups on it. Then, snip the ends off all three piping bags. Be conservative and only cut a little bit off. Otherwise, as happened to me, the batter will flow so quickly that it is hard to fill the cups evenly. Fill each cup using a back-and-forth motion and then hop quickly to the next cup up. This should give you nice, even stripes like this

Unfortunately they didn’t all end up looking like this…

Clean up around the edges carefully as these will show once decorated.

Bake cupcakes for 14-16mins, until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

You can see that my edges are not perfect. Do as I say, not as I do!

Now, for the frosting.

  • Beat butter and vanilla.
  • Add sugar slowly and beat until combined.
  • Scrape down the sides and add milk a teaspoon at a time. Mix until smooth and creamy.
  • Divide the frosting into three bowls and as a little food colouring so that when you cover it in sugar crystals, there isn’t any white showing through.

This recipe makes enough to frost twelve cupcakes easily.

Now to decorate! I used a mini spatula that I got in some kind of decorating pack.

Start with your middle colour and get a nice, thick, even stripe. These look great with a high dome of frosting but I left mine a bit flat.

Next, roll in your crystals in the matching colour until completely covered.

Choose either of your other colours next. Make sure the frosting lies flush with the middle stripe.

Then dip in crystals again, tilting so the colour stay separate.

Repeat with your final colour and voila!

The little scoops just add the perfect finishing touch.

How to: Lattice me up ribbon notice board

I’ve been meaning to make a lattice notice board for ages, so now that I have time (thank you, summer holidays) and motivation, I thought I would go for it. Here is the finished item.

I must say, without a shred of modesty, that I am very pleased with how it turned out.

If you’d like to make one, you will need:

  • A large empty photo frame. A cork board or similar would also do nicely. You don’t need the glass. Mine was 50x70cm.
  • Wadding/batting. I used 2oz/1/4inch thick stuff that I bought on eBay. It needs to be about 15cm larger than your frame, so I used about 65x85cm.
  • Fabric. Go crazy here. Needs to be about 25cm larger than your frame, so I used 75x100cm.
  • Ribbons in complementary colours. I used about 10m of ribbon in total.
  • Upholstery nails. These are also knows as furniture nails or tacks. I got these from eBay as well and used about 30.
  • Straight pins
  • Strong glue or a staple gun

As a note, though using an old picture frame worked very well, getting the furniture nails through the back board without proper tools was extremely difficult. It was also a bit difficult to get the backboard back into the frame once it had all the wadding etc on it. I would recommend cutting out a piece of reinforced cardboard, craftboard, corkboard or similar to avoid this difficulty, though it is not insurmountable. Making the board 5mm smaller than the original backboard would also help.

Step 1: The batting

Cut your batting to the correct size so there is a 4cm-ish border around your board. Then glue or staple the overlap to the back of the board like so.

ImageStep 2: Jeremy Irons

Pretty self-explanatory!

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Step 3: The fabric

Cut your fabric to the correct size- so there is a 7cm-ish border around your board and then glue or staple it down.

ImageStep 4: The ribbon

Flip the board. Begin placing your ribbon in a pattern you like. I took ages doing this, and measuring helped to make sure they were even.ImageOnce you have them placed as you wish, pin them down with straight pins. This will be important later! You can also do some basic weaving to make the lattice look even cooler and help keep the ribbons in place.ImageDon’t stress about the ribbons too much as it’s not too late to add more later if you wish.

Step 5: Things get tacky

Once you’re happy, you can begin pushing tacks through the intersections of the ribbons. Place carefully…Image…then push throughImageThe pictures make it look easy, but as I said at the beginning, beware of doing this with a wooden backboard. I took a picture of my hands afterwards and it ain’t pretty!

Anyway, this is how it starts to look. Don’t remove your straight pins yet!

ImageStep 6: Tie up the loose ends

Once you’ve finished with the tacks, flip the board again. If the pointy bits are sticking through the back, you might want to cover them up to make it more user-friendly. I cut up small pieces of cork, but you could use plasticene or something similar.

Now, secure the ends of the pieces of ribbon however you wish- I used a combination of glue, pins and tape. Those suckers won’t be moving any time soon!ImagePull the ribbon gently and make sure you follow it around the board so that it lies nice and flat.

Step 7: You’ve been framed!

Shove… I mean carefully place the board back in to the frame, step back and admire your handiwork , you crafty thing!

Nifty Gifty

Now that my best friend’s wedding is a happy memory, I can post about the making of her present. I suffer from some confusion about the niceties of social etiquette, so it took me some time to realise that I actually had to give a gift other than my amazing company. One of my mottos is ‘if you’re going to do it, do it well’, so about a month before the wedding, I decided to embark on an ambitious project. The bride’s sister had made some fabulous hand-drawn invitations.

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After some umming and aahing, my quest was clear: to reproduce this in cross-stitch form. Initially, I was naive enough to think I could do the whole thing. Happily, I was disabused of this idea after completing about five stitches. With the help of an online cross-stitch design programme, I managed to create this pattern

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Now the real work could begin.

Unfortunately, it only occurred to me to take pictures after a good 100 hours of labour. Lesson for next time, I suppose! By which time I had reached this stageImage

I think I started taking pictures here because I was terrified I would make a mistake and ruin the whole thing. For example, it took me a while to realise that the program had rendered all of the stitches next to black lines in weird shades of green that I didn’t want in my final work. Improvising rocks!

Anyway, here are some more pics

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Apologies for some of the dodgy quality. As you can see, rather than taking these on a sensible surface, I shot them on my bed. Awesome.

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Here you can see that I’ve done the outline around the groom’s cigarette. This was surprisingly tricky and hard to get right. I expect that cross-stitch perfectionists will cringe at my choice, but it looked weirder when done in any other way.

Nearly done now!

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Can you sense the smug satisfaction through the screen? This feeling was only slightly diminished when I realised I hadn’t done the groom’s belt buckle.

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Much better!

This photo was taken as an insurance policy in case I burnt the whole project when I ironed it. But, miraculously, I didn’t. The only thing left was to frame it…

Shake your moneymaker

I’ve been a busy bee today. I went home at the weekend and my mum saw my purse.

Oh dear.

She very kindly gave me this purse as a very belated birthday present.

Very cool. But a bit plain for my taste. A few hours later and the above had become…

Much more my style. And if you look very closely, you can see…

…that every cloud has a silver lining. Cute, eh? Now I just need some money to put in it!

One day I will learn to take step-by-step pictures, too.

Cringeworthy first post

Roll up, roll up and welcome to my snazzy new blog. It will feature various handmade things that I have made with my hands.

That is all.