October 28th, 2013

Gingerdead Men

Do you know what I love? Gingerbread men. They are delicious. I could eat a mountain of the chirpy little fellows. Are they strictly adult food? Maybe not but do I have to feel slightly embarrassed that I spent a wonderful afternoon baking and decorating these without a child in sight? No, I don’t.

I did, however, in a very grown up and scientific way conduct very thorough research on this humble biscuit and made two different recipes. For science. One was the biscuit I grew up on, flavoured with golden syrup and ground ginger. The second was a more adult version from Dan Lepard which had a lot more spice, treacly muscavado sugar and cocoa powder creating a darker, smoother, snappier biscuit with deep flavour. They were very good but I am a fool for the old school slightly soft texture, subtle ginger taste and shabbier looking biscuit from my youth. Don’t worry, both of these recipes were put through very rigorous taste tests to make ultra sure of my decision.

There is something ever so slightly sinister anyway about gingerbread men. At least with these gingerdead men you don’t have to feel so guilty, I mean they are already dead. You could even hash out a quick game pretending you’re Buffy, slaying the monsters and stuff. Not that I did that. At all. But some biscuits did get slayed. For science.

By the way, before you think I’m incredibly witty I may have unashamedly cribbed the name ‘gingerdead’, from far clever bloggers than me.

gingerdead biscuits


Gingerdead Biscuits
Adapted from The Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cook Book

350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
100g unsalted butter, cubed
175g soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger.
  3. Rub the butter into the flour mix with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  4. Add the sugar and mix well
  5. Warm the golden syrup slightly in a saucepan to make it runny and easier to use. Finally pour the golden syrup and the egg into the rest of the ingredients. Bring the dough together with your hands until everything is incorporated and is a nice smooth ball.
  6. Roll out the dough and cut out your ghouls.
  7. Place on a baking tray and bake for between 8-10 mins. They spread out ever so slightly in the oven so make sure you give each biscuit a bit of room on the tray.

Dan Lepard’s ginger biscuits recipe can be found on the Guardian website. I do recommend if you make the above recipe you should also make his. For science.

October 24th, 2013

Willow’s Wicked Elixir

Did you have squillions of blackberries rolling around your kitchen this year after many an enthusiastic and prickly squandering of all the blackberry bushes within a 5-mile radius? You did? Samies!

Not so Wicked Willow


This year our Halloween temptress herself requested a cocktail in her name which was very good of her seeing as she only drinks catmilk, and I pooh-poohed that suggestion straight off the bat. From there, I didn’t have far to look for inspiration as sitting resplendent at the forefront of our drinks cabinet was evidence of this year’s obsessive blackberry picking. Most of the blackberry elixir has been sequestered away as presents for very special family members, but I kept a bottle back for medicinal use as the long autumn evenings require a little extra vitamin c. You know, to ward off colds.

This particular elixir was crafted to make full use of the pulp and pips which were left over after I made blackberry jelly and I couldn’t bear them going to waste. However, this is so good that the blackberries could have been picked solely for this purpose. So if you have any cleverly stashed blackberries in your freezer from last month which haven’t quite made it into a pie yet then you must work quickly and quietly whilst everyone is out. If you store your elixir at the back of the cupboard where no one can see it or drink it but you then its magical properties will work all the better. Willow insists and it is her elixir.



Willow’s Wicked Elixir

200g blackberries
Juice and Zest of 1 lime
600ml vodka
250ml Armagnac
250ml sugar syrup

Add all the ingredients together, store in a large bottle or jar for 2 weeks, giving it a shake every other day, then strain and bottle. Easy peasy pudding and pie.

October 23rd, 2013

Red Phantom Cake

It is the moment he has been waiting for all year. His dank hollow eyes peered at me from beneath the cheery red wrapping last Christmas morn, a relic of Halloween, his moment dead and buried with October. For the past ten months he has bided his time, trapped within his cellophane prison, a malevolent sneer upon his metal mouth as he silently watches the eight inch sandwich tins jump gleefully from the shelf, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and Fridays.  Now his time has finally arrived. His cheeks bloom with the crimson terror of red velvet as he stares menacingly with his glowing raspberry gaze, terrifying all who dare to look upon the diamond white frosting. Finally delivering a devastating blow of delicious horror at first bite leaving you shuddering with ghoulish delight.

It seems fitting for this cake that red velvet just will not die. It is the cake flavour I am requested for the most and was the only choice for today’s Halloween cake. The moist light sponge is taken to cake heaven by the fruity addition of the last of this year’s raspberries. The cream cheese frosting is also redeemed from being too sweet by the mascarpone which evens out the sugar and reminds me once again why red velvet is now a bit of an oldie but by my word, it’s still a definite goodie. Just don’t tell the Phantom as he likes to be thought of as a bit of a baddie.



Red Phantom Cake
adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook
For the cake
60g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
1 egg
1.5 tbsp red food colouring
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder
150g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
120ml buttermilk
1½ tsp vinegar
raspberries to decorate

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter the skeleton cake tin.
  2. Beat the butter and caster sugar together for a few minutes
  3. Add the egg and beat until the mixture is thick
  4. Add the food colouring and vanilla extract and mix well.
  5. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl and set aside for a moment.
  6. Mix together the buttermilk and vinegar in a jug.
  7. In alternate turns add the flour and the buttermilk mixtures to the rest of the batter. You should add the flour in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just incorporated.
  8. Pour into the skeleton cake tin and bake for 30-35 mins.
  9. Rest for 10 mins in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the frosting
adapted from ‘Baked in America’ from the Outsider Tart boys

300g cream cheese
250g mascarpone
140g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat all the ingredients until thick and fully incorporated and the right consistency for piping.

Skeleton cake 2
October 22nd, 2013

Halloween Chilli with Cornbread Muffins

I might have to rein myself in. It is coming up to my favourite time of year, Christmas lights, parties and food- and the run up to Halloween is what kicks it all off. You can never be too old for Halloween, at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m squabbling with the ten year old child in Sainsburys over the last witch’s broom in their seasonal section. This is the time of year for sharing, I explain to her. Actually it’s more like the time of year for us all to explode out of our boxes, be daring and fun in the way that only dressing up like a bozo will let you. You can finally break out that twerk that’s been building up in your behind, you can show how down with the pre-schoolers you are by rocking the Despicable Me Minion look or reveal your drug lord tendencies by Walter Whiting your night. Anything goes, it’s Halloween.

And that’s why I’m going to go absolutely crazy and… make a chilli. Yeah, that’s right, I’m doing it, I’m living wild and free. You had better watch out, who knows what freaky business I will get up to next. If it helps I’m making the chilli with my tongue sticking out of my mouth and stirring it with a foam finger. Cornbread muffins in the shape of diddy pumpkins and skeletons though, now that’s rock and roll, just in case you were wondering.

cornbread muffins


A vat of hot comforting chilli is just what you need as a standby for pre or post Halloween parties and the cornbread muffins are as quick as a flash to knock up. You are more than welcome to make them in simple 12 hole muffin trays, but let me warn you, they don’t taste the same.

Halloween Chilli with Cornbread Muffins

1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
700g beef mince
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sweet hot paprika
1 tsp coriander seeds, dry fried and bashed
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
3 whole dried chillies
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
70g coriander including stalks, finely chopped
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 bottle passata
300g tin of kidney beans
Salt and Pepper – season gently after every step
Sour Cream to serve

Cornbread Muffins
Makes 12

250g cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
500ml buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp agave nectar or honey

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, when hot add the onions. Cook on a gentle heat for 5 minutes before adding the celery. Continue cooking until the onion starts to caramelise. This should take about 20 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots, red pepper and garlic and stir for about 5 mins until they slightly soften.
  3. Mix the mince into the pan and after about 4 minutes of stirring add all the spices.
  4. Take the tops off the chillies and shake out the seeds and discard. Place the chillies in warm water for about 5 minutes to soften, then remove and chop finely. Add to the pan.
  5. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan. Fill the empty passata jar halfway with water, put the lid on and give it a good shake so you get all the tomato juice. Add to the pan. Put the lid on the pan and cook on a gentle simmer for about half an hour.
  6. Add the kidney beans and carry on cooking for about 15 minutes.
  7. Once the kidney beans are added you can make the muffins. Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter a muffin tin.
  8. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and combine thoroughly.
  9. Pour the batter into the muffin tin. Bake for 12-15mins.
  10. Remove the muffins from the oven and while they are cooling for a few mins in their tin you can make the glaze. Melt the butter then stir in the agave nectar or honey until they form a syrup.
  11. Remove the muffins from the tin and then over the top of each one pour over the glaze so that it sinks into the warm muffins.
  12. Serve the chilli in deep bowls with a scattering of chopped coriander leaves, a swirl of sour cream and the warm muffins.


Halloween Chilli and cornbread muffins