What cupcakes are you having this week?

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What's your cupcake of choice? Personally I'd like mine on top of an Airstream caravan

 

National Cupcake Week is upon us again, which I’m never entirely sure about. I am not the biggest fan of cupcakes, though at a push I’d be partial to the Coconut and Raspberry one at Peyton & Byrne. But I do share a kitchen with someone who is very keen on them, and always makes a beeline for the sparkliest, brightest coloured, sweetest looking ones wherever we are.

MGG is very keen on a bit of browsing at Cake, Cookies and Crafts, which probably accounts for a slight rainbow of cake cases forming in the cupboard here. There’d also be a bit of trying to sneak in some lustre dusts, glitters,and general cake oriented bling.

I’ve only just discovered Planet Bake, which might be a new fave for her. They have some great Halloween toppers in already, not to mention Christmas. I like that their website has cupcake themes, so speedy if you have something in mind, and inspiring if you’re not sure.

There are plenty of courses around for every level of skill. Can’t comment on any as not a course I would book, but I did love the look, not to mention the variety on offer, at Pretty Witty Cakes. I mean, have a look at the Enchanted Fairy Garden Cupcakes, too cute.

Meanwhile, I think I’d rather stop in Peyton & Byrne for tea and one of theirs. If I’m baking, it’s a bigger cake for me!

Lovely Airstream meets cupcake shot by B*2 on Flickr.

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Please don’t disappoint me this Christmas

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Not what you were hoping for? Finding Christmas gifts for food lovers that don't disappoint

 

The weather is getting colder, and I see the countdown to Christmas most definitely beginning. Which makes me think about what will be appearing as Christmas gifts for food lovers. And just how many disappointing things there might be out there. So here’s a few thoughts on things I really, really hope not to see:

* Please, enough with the giant peppermills filled with different coloured peppercorns. If we wanted one we’d have one by now. And those of us left don’t want one, thanks.

* Blueberry vodka filled glass stilettos. Ever.

* Yet another lazy gift on the theme of keeping calm and carrying on. Mostly we’re quite tired of carrying on. We’re certainly quite tired of all the variations.

* Cupcakes. Enough already.

* Badging by chefs, and the same chefs at that. I’m all for great chefs doing great things, that really match up with what they do (I was a big fan of the stuff the Hairy Bikers did last year). But it seems there’s just more of the same from the old crew, with not much room being made for any of the interesting new talent coming through. Who probably wouldn’t want to do badging type exercises anyway. Which is what would make them interesting to us…oh well, we can live in hope.

*Mrs Bridge’s preserves. Sure they are very nice, but there is so much great preserving going on in the UK now that there are so many more interesting choices to make.

* Spice racks. Because in 4 years time you’ll find some still not opened, which when you do will all taste like dust. Exactly the same dust, regardless of what they originally started out as.

* Anything involving Pot Noodles. No, not all “heritage” brands are iconic or ironic, and some are not worth keeping alive.

Just my views, and fairly scared I am going to see some of these. What do you think, what should they stop trying to peddle as gifts for food lovers?

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The Friday Five – One of the best bits about Christmas

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I love the part of Christmas where I get together all the recipe books and magazines, and set about creating the menus for the various meals and gatherings. Of course you don’t need too many Christmas cookbooks but then there are so many new temptations this year…here’s five to consider:

 

Holiday Cupcakes by Annie Rigg - great cookbook gift for a food lover getting ready for Christmas

 

* The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas: Fabulous Festive Recipes to Feed Your Family and Friends – I’m rather fond of The Hairy Bikers, can watch them for ages, and now they’re tackling Christmas. I think you can guarantee that any Christmas they do is going to involve a really good feed. Nothing fancy but very tasty. I can imagine this becoming a classic reference book for Christmas to come for many years.

* Christmas on a Budget by Alana O’Claire – I think budget and frugality will be watchwords for this Christmas in many households, but you don’t want to miss out on taste and treats. This book gives you some great ideas covering not just food but gifts and decorations as well. As Tesco say, every little helps!

* Holiday Cupcakes by Annie Rigg – the cupcake juggernaut rolls on, and I am sure they really lend themselves to Christmas. Lets face it, if you can’t get away with kitsch and sparkle at Christmas when can you? They’d make tasty treats for the festive season, or good gifts to give away.

* Christmas Cooking with Kids by Annie Rigg – got to be one of my favourite times of year for cooking with MGG, as it’s all the kinds of treats and things she loves to make. I like this book because it covers everything from party food to edible gifts, so you could find yourself cooking up everything from avocado dips to bagel chips and Lebkuchen. Great entertainment for kids of all ages, with great tasty treats to turn out from the kitchen.

* Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D. Conway – okay, I know this one is not new this year, but it probably never got the praise it deserves. I only know about this book from English Mum, and I get the feeling she’d be rescuing it from the house in event of fire. It may not cover all your cooking needs, but would certainly give a refreshing break from the happy Christmas domesticity. After all, you can’t imagine Nigella having a chapter called “Here’s Your Frigging Pudding”. You have been warned!

So something for everyone, and every kind of Christmas.Time to order now to give yourself time to enjoy the planning and preparing!

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The Friday Five – Cupcakes, band wagons, new twists

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Planet Cake Cupcakes - gift of a cookbook for a food lover who loves cupcakes

 

It seems only right at the end of National Cupcake Week to feature cookbooks on the subject. I’ve tried to go beyond the obvious ones, as Hummingbird and Magnolia have been out for ages. So, some of these are not yet out but open for pre-order. You can tell the trend has been about for a bit, as they’re going a bit more niche, but perhaps that makes them more interesting! Here’s five to consider:

* Planet Cake Cupcakes by Paris Cutler – due out 4 October, this follows on from Planet Cake which had some amazingly beautiful and funky ideas. I don’t know a lot about Paris, but she’s cooked cakes for some fairly A List people. Not that I think Nicole Kidman eats a lot of cake. This takes cupcakes to the next level with stencilling, 3 D characters and modelling, this is for those looking for a bit of advanced decorating I would say.

* Kinky Cupcakes by Joanna Farrow – possibly not one for the school cake sale, but these would cause a pause in conversation at the end of a dinner party or coffee morning! Reclining nudes, bottoms with frilly knickers, can can girls…these are not your average cupcake, but definitely ones to make your baking memorable, and talked about!

* A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli – perfect for planning for Halloween, or for a boy’s birthday party, these are an anti-dote to all the pastel, floral versions. They describe the recipes as weird, but here’s hoping they taste good and just look weird. If you want an alternative, then try Zombie Cupcakes.

* Who You Callin’ Cupcake? by Michelle and Valentin Garcia – blimey, these are cupcakes with attitude! Some great sounding recipes including a whole host based on cocktails. Sign me up for a mojito cupcake please! Or the world tour that includes Tandoori, Earl Grey and Wasabi variants. Although not all in one cake. Certainly would mix things up a little!

* Christmas Cupcakes – because there are only 99 days left, and it’s never too early to start planning. Or throwing a Christmas party!

A bit of variety is good for everyone’s baking routine, and these certainly have opportunities for livening up kitchens around the country. I’m just off to ward off the zombies in my kitchen!

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Cupcakes for every week, not just National Cupcake Week

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Have a cupcake, all week!

 

Cupcakes must be coming to the end of their shelf life, as they now have their own national week. There was a competition to find the best cupcakes in the UK, with David Bennett of the Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton winning the title with his Banana & Mango cupcake. Sounds delicious, although I’m very partial to Peyton & Byrne’s coconut and raspberry myself.

Of course there are great places to buy them, but they are also something very satisfying to knock up at home, either on  your own as a creative outlet, or something brilliant to do with kids as long as you’re not obsessed with neat finishes or perfect decorations! Need some extra supplies? Here’s a few places and things to help you brighten up your cupcake baking this week, and every week.

* Starting point for most of my baking needs would have to be Lakeland. Searching cupcake reveals 34 different things, from cupcake wrappers to cupcake stands, to even an electric cupcake maker. Although that strikes me as as gadget too far for most kitchens!

* I really like Cake Cookies & Crafts Shop,who have a fantastic selection of cupcake cases, to really match up with any theme you might want. Spots, zebra, footballs, princessy, gingham, blossom even camo ones, so truly something for everyone, not to mention every possible colourway too. There are some great ones for Halloween and Christmas, if you’re the organised type. If you’re going to go down the make your own gifts route this Christmas time then they also have a great selection of boxes to hold your creations.

* If you want a real specialist site, then try Cupcake Style. One of the things you’ve got to love about the web is that it allows these really focused sites to exist, that would find it difficult to exist on the high street. This site has everything from sprinkles to decorations, cases to sugar flowers. There are very pretty flowers of every type, or more blinging decorations with things like stars and hearts.

* If you want some advice, then there are some great courses around. Sadly, all courses with the Cupcake Artisan (formerly The Kent Cupcakery) are all full, but join the mailing list if you’re in that area, as a day with Sally would be a real treat (UPDATE, no longer trading). I like the look of the Fair Cake classes, which do something for everyone from beginners to those looking to establish a cupcake business, not to mention one dedicated to wedding cupcakes. (UPDATE, also no longer trading). And then there’s also Bea’s of Bloomsbury, which sound fantastic. Given that you get to take 24 cakes home, the £100 seems very good value!

* Want cupcakes but no calories? Sorry, not possible in cake form! Or if you want a gift for a serious cupcake lover or baker, then I like the cupcake necklace from EVY Designs at Not On the High Street. Just take a judgement call on how many cupcake things they have, as this can be a very lazy way to buy a gift. The first 6 things are cute, by the time you hit 30 the joke is probably wearing a bit thin.

So, go on, have a go! There isn’t a day I know that isn’t better with a bit of sponge and buttercream being involved.

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Last minute gifts for foodies this Christmas

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Beetroot Relish from Jamie Oliver

You’ve been making a list, checking it twice, you’ve worked out what’s naughty and what’s nice. And now you’re having a sudden panic as you’ve counted up the presents and you’ve forgotten someone! If it’s a foodie gift you’ve forgotten, then never fear! Here’s some last minute suggestions you can still order in, so no need to brave the High Street just yet.

1. Jamie Oliver has some great stuff, without his face on it, that I think makes a great standby foodie present. There are good preserves and oils and, lets face it, you’re going to trust these more than some awful flavoured collection from the corner shop. A duo of beetroot relish and red onion pickle, wrapped in a funky teatowel, or a mixing bowl, would make a brilliant gift. Or I suppose I should have said a pukka present. Order by Thursday this week to guarantee pre Christmas delivery, and benefit from free delivery. Perfect!

2. Treat them to a different foodie day. All of the major experience companies offer very interesting days, and most still seem to be guaranteeing pre Christmas delivery. From Virgin, you could buy the Cupcake & Cocktails Experience, or learn some new dishes at the Novelli academy or spend a day cooking fish with Keith Burke. Not quite doing it for your foodie? Try Red Letter Days or Buy A Gift or check out the fantastic courses for real artisanal food at The School of Artisan Food, from patisserie through to wild yeast baking.

 

Love it or loathe it, it's a great gift

 

3. Heal’s have some great foodie gifts, and you’ve got through till midnight this Sunday to order from them. Truly a present of love if you hate the stuff, but if your foodie loves the stuff, then they have a great Marmite gift. I’ve featured the pate gifts before, and you’ve got a choice of game, meat or fish, so something for everyone. There’s some cool stuff in their barware section, like the Beer Cooler Zinc Tub, ideal for the beer and party loving foodie. Looking forward to warmer days ahead, then I like the Metrokane Wine to Go Neoprene Carrier, perfect for picnics.

4. For the serious foodie with expensive tastes, then London Fine Foods is perfect hunting ground for great gifts. They have everything from Beluga Caviar to White Truffles, milk fed Pyrenne’s lamb and fabulous Jamon Iberico de Bellota. There are gift boxes on offer or, if the choice is too much, gift vouchers! The provenance and quality will make any foodie’s Christmas morning!

5. For your pick of great foodie presents, it’s also still not too late to order from Natoora. For most of the UK, orders can go through up until 22nd December, some parts of London are the 23rd. There are beautiful boxes of macaroons (watch this space, I say 2010 will be the year of the macaroon) and panettone, and if the choice is too much there are some great hampers already put together. Check out the Pure Indulgence and Great British Christmas versions.

That should keep the foodies very happy with their presents come Christmas morning, and should keep you happy by shopping from the comfort of your own chair!

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November in review – all about the Christmas prep

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An alternative to the caterpillar cake

 

Another month gone, and we’re getting so close to Christmas now. After last month’s obsession with unusual foodstuffs like the Gummi Bear, this month has swung into full on gift searching, but at a more general level. And then the usual array of odd searches that cause me amazement, bewilderment and the odd giggle or two.

So, the top 5 things everyone had on their mind this month were as follows:

1. Foodie gifts and presents – bit obvious with the title of the blog, but a big switch, which suggests everyone is looking for ideas for the foodies in their lives. Over the month my ideas have included where to buy a whole pig, gifts for the tea and coffee lovers, gifts on a budget and what to serve if David Tennant pops round for dinner. Always best to be prepared. And if anyone wants to know, David coming to dinner could be the best gift you could send this foodie!

2. Cupcakes – you weren’t so much making your own as looking for two fabulous suppliers, Bedazzled Cupcakes for if you’re up here in the East Midlands, and The Kent Cupcakery for those in Kent. I would think. Great choices, and I would be getting a move on to get my Christmas order in quick with both, or your local provider. Would make a fabulous alternative to mince pies, or to a Christmas cake. For the adults, have a look at what Sally at The Kent Cupcakery is doing with Limoncello cupcakes! Definitely not one for the kiddies!

3. Hampers – these were definitely beginning to creep up the presents chart, all ready for the festive season. I wrote a piece on hampers back in October, and there are some specific posts on hampers from M&S, Not On the High Street and Funky Hampers. A number of you were looking at hampers you could put together yourself, and I’ll be posting some ideas around this shortly.

4. Caterpillar Cake Tins – wow, this really is the cake of the moment!  Don’t get me wrong, I love a caterpillar cake as much as the next mum, but this month I will be attempting a stable with three horses heads, thanks to MGG and her flicking through of Debbie Brown’s 50 Easy Party Cakes. Photos and tales from the kitchen to follow before much longer. The cake tin is a great route though to a very quick and easy cake, so to be recommended for working parents everywhere who want to turn out a great homemade cake.

5. Alcohol free drinks – some of you are getting ready for Christmas, and providing interesting options for those who don’t, or can’t, drink. I’ve written a few times about how much I like the cordials from Belvoir Fruit Farms, and I will certainly be stocking up on Spiced Winter Berries cordial this weekend. I’ll also be testing my resolve with the Bottlegreen limited edition sparkling presses, which are very pretty, not to mention very tasty.

And for entertainment value, these are my choice searches of the month:

1. Lambrini gifts – stop asking me, I still loathe all of them. Please don’t send me one.

2. Turkey twizzlers – please, I’ve told you before, not on my watch!

3. Campbells condensed soup vol au vent filler – ah, retro food lives on for another month!

4. Asda Vin du Soleil – really, once in this lifetime was enough!

5. Comedy photo aprons – just picture your face on Christmas morning if this one is coming your way!

Looking forward to seeing what comes out top of the pops on the foodie present front come Christmas time. Here’s hoping it’s both tasty, and tasteful for all our sakes!

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The Friday Five – Baking Time!

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Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day

I have to say that I have fallen well short of baking time during National Baking Week so far this week! Writing about it has been about as far as I have got! That, and reading about stuff I could be baking, so it only seems right that this week’s Friday Five should all be about baking. So here are 5 that I would want to have to take baking up to the next level.

1. Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionises Home Baking – I’ve already written about baking bread at home this week and I would add this book to your bookshelf if you’re thinking of expanding your breadmaking. This apparently is a very simple way to create fabulous tasting bread every day, for no more effort than it takes to bake a potato. Apparently!

2. Cake Chic by Peggy Porschen – this really is cake decorating at the next level. To be honest, I am not sure I have the patience for this level of decoration, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to look at glorious creations! This is a great book for dedicated cupcake queens or eager cake decorators, or just aspiration for those of us who have not yet got past buttercream and hundreds and thousands!

3. The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy – I would choose this to help me make one of MGG’s favourite foods: chicken pie. And, lets face it, is there any better comfort food than a piping hot pie served straight from the oven? I would think there is something quite comforting and relaxing about making a pie, so this would be therapy and food all at the same time!

4. How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking – still one of my favourite baking books of all time, and I think it should be on every bookshelf of every kitchen. I think I have baked the lemon and cherry loaf about 30 times, not to mention how many batches of the birthday biscuits I’ve knocked up.

5. Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistible Playful Creations Anyone Can Make – this has the cutest looking cover, and I would love to be able to turn out cupcakes like these. And it does say anyone can make them, so it might be worth giving them a go, and buying this for everyone from amateur to hugely experienced baker.

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Sara Lee feel the return of baking?

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Because even a 7 year old can bake!
Because even a 7 year old can bake!

 

According to Channel 4’s food blog, Sara Lee have reported a 22% drop in their international bakery sales. They blame people switching to own brand versions, but perhaps from their headquarters in Wisconsin they can’t see what’s going on here.

We’re all baking again.

Call it nostalgia or a need for comfort, but I see more people in the home baking section than ever before, and lets not forget the rise of the cupcake. I love a good baking session, it’s very relaxing to me. And it’s brilliant for getting kids involved in the kitchen. Who doesn’t remember standing on a stool, mixing stuff up and just waiting for the moment you got to lick the mixing bowl out?

If your foodie loves to bake, or if you’d just like them to do some more, here’s a few suggestions on things that might find them needing a Sara Lee chocolate fudge cake even less:

1. Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache– this is my favourite baking book at the moment. Every recipe I’ve cooked so far (and it’s looking quite well thumbed) has been greeted very favourably, and then with amazement when you tell people which veg are in the cakes. That’s right, veg in cake, and they’ve been brilliant. Chocolate and beetroot, courgette Victoria sponge, and clever ways with everything from sweet potato to turnip. You, and they, will be amazed.

2. Mason Cash bowls – these sum up nostalgic baking to me, and you can never really have enough mixing bowls. I love the look of these, although have to admit the weight of them can be an issue. But one I can usually get over. I’m a bit of a purist so want the traditional stone coloured ones, but there is a pretty pink one around at the moment.

3. Vintage cake stands – check out eBay for the real thing, or try Not On the High Street for some vintage looking and modern versions. A great cake deserves great presentation.

4. Silicone cake moulds – I love these for very easy cooking without worrying about lining the pans etc. Good to use with the kids as well.

5. A fancy tin – Lakeland have some amazing shaped tins, that would certainly cause a bit of a wow, particularly if you have children, big or small. Perhaps you could do away with buying the M&S caterpillar cake and make your own with the Caterpillar Cake Tin.

6. Sparkles and sprinkles – never buy a supermarket cupcake. Either get out and support your local cupcake maker (and there are some lovely people around) or make your own. For which you need fabulous cake cases and plenty of lovely decorations. Splat has one of the best selections around in my view and any combination will provide endless decorating combinations.

7. Superb jam – for me, you can’t beat a Victoria sponge with a great jam filling, although I am not a purist and love mine with buttercream rather than fresh cream. For me, it’s got to be raspberry jam, although also quite partial to blackcurrant. There again, could be a good marmalade for a marmalade cake. Check out England Preserves or Superjam for some good options.

8. A cooling rack – you can’t really bake without one of these, or not if you don’t want soggy bottoms. And, lets face it, who does? You’ll be amazed at the variety! Check out Lakeland, who have single, double, even triple deckers, and 4 stories that fit in a corner.

So, lets keep the baking renaissance going! If you need ideas for cakes with kids, then check out Hugh’s Family Cookbook, they’ll love the Victoria Sponge recipe as it involves weighing eggs!


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