Happy Birthday Nanny Jo

Yesterday it was my mum’s and Rose’s Nanny Jo’s birthday! We didn’t manage to see her on the day, but had a get together today. Rose likes birthdays a lot and we’ve had a lot recently, although she still has a little way to go before her own. But she enjoys the celebrations and knows what’s important for a birthday – especially a cake.

So we decided it would be nice to make Nanny Jo a cake to celebrate, especially as she would never let any of our birthdays pass without it.

I whisked up a simple jam sponge sandwich secretly in the kitchen while Rose was eating her lunch. She love loves to bake, but we did a bit of baking over the weekend (bit of a baking flop – although I might share the photos of the mess one day….) and I was feeling like I was a bit baked out to bear a re-run so soon. Instead I decided to approach this activity as a creative cake decorating event, and Rose really embraced the challenge.

all set up for cake decoratingbirthday cake in progressa delicate operation cake decorating like a pro

I set everything up in advance, putting different decorative sweets into bowls and pre icing the cake ready. Since starting my blog I have tried really hard to do more creative activities with her, but this has really highlighted to me that she is not that interested in them – which is hard for me because that’s really what I like – she is more of a whirlwind climber / thrower type (although she likes the look of knitting so I haven’t given up hope) I have mostly given up on anything which involves too much structure for success, but she does have fun when left to her own creative devices – which is really hard for me, because I just want to ‘help’ her to make ‘something’. I wasn’t sure how this cake was going to go, but I was pleasantly surprised at her focus (and how much of the decorations made it onto the cake and how little she actually tried to eat). I was proud of myself too for keeping my guidance purely to the hygiene issues (don’t put that on the cake after it’s been in your mouth/in your ear etc) EVEN when she started on the sprinkles.

finished toddler decorated cake

And it tasted nice too. Nanny Jo and Grandpop seemed to enjoy their slices and Grandpop even had seconds! That is good measure of cake success.

Happy Birthday Nanny Jo! xx

Picnic Cake

At the weekend we had a lovely meet up with friends. I loved this day. Our original plan was to have a picnic on the beach, but unfortunately the weather was not really right for a picnic, so we brought the party indoors and had a nice time all the same.

For the event I decided to make a savoury cake, as these are meant to be ideal picnic fare. I went through a little phase of making these before and really liked them.

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The recipe I used was a Rachel Khoo recipe. Her cooking is a bit french inspired which I like. I had previously tried this one for a prune, pistachio and cheese cake. This time I went for her more Mediterranean recipe crammed with sundried tomatoes, olives, feta cheese and hazelnuts (that bit not so Mediterranean!)

i n g r e d i e n t s :

3 medium eggs
25g caster sugar
250g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt (I regretted adding this)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika (I used normal paprika and it was still nice) 100ml buttermilk
150ml olive oil
100g sundried tomatoes
80g black olives
60g hazelnuts
1 medium courgette
100g soft goat’s cheese

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m e t h o d :

Start by preheating your oven to 180C and grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper. Beat the eggs and caster sugar together. Measure out your flour, salt (if using), baking powder and paprika in a separate bowl and then fold into the egg mixture. Measure out your buttermilk and olive oil and mix in. Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes, olives and hazelnuts and add to the batter. Coursely grate in the courgette and crumble in the goat’s cheese. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean. You want it to have a lovely golden crust. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before turning out. Et voila!

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Everyone seemed to really enjoy this cake, although for me it was too salty. I don’t normally add the salt in recipes, but for some reason decided I would this time, and I really wished I hadn’t. A lesson learnt! And the afternoon was full of all sorts of tasty treats and super company. I am hoping next time also we’ll have sunshine and then what a perfect time it will be!

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Making doughnuts to cheer us up

It has been a bit of a stressful time for us around here this last week, and over the weekend I had the biggest urge to make some doughnuts! A real treat.

I thought they were going to be difficult and was really worried about the deep frying part because I’ve never done that before – but actually they were quite straightforward and the frying didn’t feel as dangerous as I had feared!

mmm the doughnuts

i n g r e d i e n t s :

  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 150ml warm milk
  • 225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ¼ tsp salt (optional)
  • 50g melted butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 300ml vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • Jam

m e t h o d :

Start by measuring out 2tbsp of your warm milk and add your yeast and half a tsp of sugar. Leave for the yeast to foam up and go frothy- about 15 minutes is right.

Add the salt and a tablespoon of sugar to your flour. Make a well in the flour and add the frothy yeast, the rest of the milk, the melted butter and the egg. Mix together and knead to form a soft dough. Place in your bowl, cover and leave to rise for about 45 minutes.

Knead your dough once again and then divide up into 12 little dough balls. Leave to rise again for about half an hour (or until they have doubled in size)

doughball doughnuts

Heat your oil in a pan with deep sides until it reaches 190C, or if (like me) you don’t have a suitable thermometer, until a little piece of bread sizzles and toasts in about 30 seconds. (CAUTION: be really careful with the hot oil – don’t leave it unattended)

frying doughnutsdoughnuts fried and looking fine

Place your dough balls one at a time into the hot oil, in batches of two or three, and fry for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown, then turn them over. Take them out and place on kitchen towel to help soak up the oil.

While they are still warm, roll your doughnuts in the rest of the sugar. I used a piping bag full of jam to fill my doughnuts too, but you could always use a knife to make a slit and fill with a spoon.

DSC0rolling the doughnuts in sugarpiping the jam into the doughnuts

They were so delicious – and really tasted like doughnuts – the dough was so rich and tasty. Straight after frying I thought they looked a bit over baked on the outside, but they softened up and soaked up the sugar – they were so nice – we ate them all!

doughnuts

Little Spelt and Apple Biscuits

This morning was a bit of a sugar fuelled one around here. We went to meet some friends at a cafe on the beach and this meant an icecream for Rose, then a biscuit on the way back and that seemed to lead to chaos and unhappiness. All was well after some lunch and a rest (no nap!) but i decided it might be a good plan to stock up on some refined sugar free treats to help see us through the afternoon and beyond.

I found a lovely recipe which I wanted to try instantly, not only because of it’s sugar free quality, but also it’s simplicity. I still have some spelt flour in the cupboard from our little spelt, fig and walnut bake, so just a little trip to the shop for some apple juice and we were ready:

i n g r e d i e n t s

100g plain white flour
100g spelt flour
half a tsp of baking powder
75g chilled butter, diced
75ml apple juice

m e t h o d

this was not such a toddler friendly bake to begin with as there were not many steps and they all really needed to be done by me! But the cutting out part is good for little hands so perhaps get to that stage before introducing little helpers.

Mix together the flours and baking powder in a bowl. Add the butter and rub in until evenly combined. Add the apple juice and mix together to form a soft dough.

That’s it!

Next, flour your surface and roll out to about 3mm thickness and introduce child and cookie cutters!

little one hard at workcuttting out shapesbiscuits in the making

Cut out your shapes and place on greaseproof paper or a greased baking tin. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for 15 minutes, or until starting to brown a little. remove from the oven, leave for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. And then enjoy.

apple and spelt sugar free biscuits I read that these biscuits are perfect for freezing, and a good first food snack for little ones and toddlers alike. They are quite a plain biscuit, but lovely and buttery with a tiny hint of sweetness which does make them quite satisfying. And the spelt flour adds a nice quality too. We had ours with some apple, although they might be good with a little cheese spread too. Next time.

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Jammie Dodgers

Today I had a lovely day with a visit from my sister. She is always making sweet treats for us all so I decided to return the favour with some biscuits to accompany our tea.

homemade jammy dodgers

I went for jammy dodgers – I like this type! And they were delicious.

i n g r e d i e n t s  f o r  t h e  b i s c u i t s :

200g chillled unsalted butter diced (plus extra for greasing)
275g plain flour, plus extra for dusting 100g icing sugar sifted
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (i used vanilla essence with grand results!)
4 teaspoons strawberry or raspberry jam

a n d  t o  m a k e  b u t t e r c r e a m :

125g icing sugar
75g unsalted butter softened
1 tsp hot water

w h at  t o  d o :

Rub together, or put into a food processor, the butter and flour, until it is well combined and the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks, sift in your icing sugar and add vanilla paste (or essence) and mix together until it forms a soft dough.

Chill your dough in the fridge for about an hour, before turning our on a floured surface and rolling out to about 4-5mm thickness. Using a round cutter (about 6cm across) cut out 32 rounds (rerolling your dough from the offcuts as you go)

To create hearts I used a plain piping nozzle to cut out the curved top and then a knife to finish the shape and smooth the edges to give nice heart shapes. You just want to create hearts on 16 of your rounds.

homemade jammy dodgershomemade jammy dodgers

Place on a greased or lined baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes or until your biscuits are golden. Leave to cool on a rack while you make your butter icing.

To make the butter icing simply combine the butter, sugar and water together to make a smooth paste. When your biscuits are cool, scoop a small amount and spread onto your biscuit base. Then top with a little scoop of jam and place your heart biscuit piece on top.

homemade jammy dodgers

Voila! They looked so cute, and were so tasty with tea. And just the joy (and sugar energy) I needed to help me look after poorly Rose (she is fine now – miraculous recovery at bedtime!)

Happy biscuit happy day. x

Happy pancake day

Happy pancake day! I love this day a lot, although it marks the end of hot chocolate season for me… (I love hot chocolate so much and guzzle a lot of it during the winter months, but always give up chocolate for lent, and then when easter comes hot chocolate season is mostly over so it is a good arrangement for me.)

This year I decided to try something different and go for those big fat american style pancakes. I looked through lots of recipes online, but really wanted to have a go with this one by Jamie Oliver. It seemed like a very simple ingredient list compared to others, and the only one which used folded in egg whites which intrigued me a bit. A lot of the comments said that there was too much egg in the recipe and it was more like omelette – but I don’t really agree – they were just lovely! I did use three medium eggs rather than large eggs as Jamie says to, so maybe this just tipped the balance between eggcellent and eggymess. I like that there is a good amount of egg in them too as feel they have a bit more nutritional value for Rose.

i n g r e d i e n t s

3 medium free-range eggs
115 g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
140 ml milk
1 tsp salt
(I didn’t actually use this)

 

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m e t h o d

First you need to separate your eggs and beat up the egg whites (and salt if using) until they are white and fluffy and peaking.

Add the egg yolk to the milk and combine, then stir this into your flour. The best way is to make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the liquid a bit at a time, gradually encompassing more and more flour from around the edge. This helps keep the batter nice and smooth.

When all of your liquid and flour is mixed, fold in your egg whites, and your batter is ready for cooking. Lightly oil your frying pan (I have a non stick pan but like to give it a swipe with some oily kitchen roll) and heat over a medium heat (not too hot or your pancake with be overdone on the outside and raw in the middle) and dollop the mixture on, smoothing it into rounds. Wait until you can see some bubbles on the top, and the edges of the bottom are starting to lift away from the pan, then use a spatula or similar to lift and flip.

woolapple cooking pancakes

I cooked some of mine with blueberries and added these to the uncooked side before flipping so that my berries cooked in the pancake – ooh nice. I love the flip part, as when the second side touches the pan, the pancake does a little puff up. Leave to cook a couple of minutes more until both sides are golden.

I piled mine up as I went along and then we had a feast. Rose enjoyed picking he blueberries out of hers the best, and I did have a sneaky couple of lemon and sugar, it wouldn’t be pancake day without that flavour!

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Happy pancake day. And who is with me giving up chocolate (or giving up anything) for lent. One year i started a chocolate abstainers support group so let me know if you want to join?

 

 

Macarons let’s do this

So, before christmas I had a horrible couple of days making batch upon batch of failed macarons. And made it (one of) my new year’s resolution to master this most difficult of all bakes I have ever encountered.

Since my first four attempts, I have had some useful information come my way and decided it might be time to have another attempt with these new things in mind.

I had tried 2 different recipes already, but came across Zoella and Tanya Burr’s video during a youtube binge and their recipe was quite different again. The ingredients are the same but one big diffrence is that they added extra, unwhipped, egg whites to their mixture which was a new idea for me so I thought this would be worth a go.

woolapple macaron makingwoolapple macaron making 2

There were lots of great tips in this video as Zoe had a special kit and a book which seems to have really good intructions. Here are some things that I paid specific attention to that I didn’t do last time:

– I left my egg whites in the fridge for 24 hours. I had read about using ‘aged’ egg whites during my previous attempts, and for one batch did leave the egg whites out for a couple of hours, but this time I put them in the fridge to avoid poisoning, and left them for 24 hours. I think the idea is that some of the moisture evaporates and the proteins in the egg white … do something… beneficial…

– Tia from Little Button Diaries recently made some beautiful meringues and mentioned that Delia Smith recommends a final cleaning step for your bowl and whisk using some lemon juice on a paper kitchen towel to remove the last traces of grease. Tia swore by this as an antidote to flopping meringues.

– I left out the food colouring – just in case this was having a negative impact on my mixture.

– baked my macarons on just a greaseproof paper sheet on the grill shelf rather than on a tin tray

woolapple and a kenwood mixer ready to make macarons yeah bring it on yeah

So here is what happened step by step for you:

i n g r e d i e n t s

4 egg whites
230g icing sugar
130g ground almonds
60g granulated sugar

0. The day before: I seperated four egg whites into two incredibly clean bowls (2 egg whites in each bowl)

1. On the day of the bake: I measured out and mixed together the icing sugar and almonds using an electric mixer until they were well blended together. Then I sifted this mix into a bowl, and added one set of egg whites (but didn’t stir them in) and put this to one side (I threw away all the bits that didn’t go through the sieve)

2. Then I made my bowl and mixer beaters as completely clean as I possibly could, and did Tia’s lemon juice trick to do a final clean. I whipped up the remaining two egg whites with the granulated sugar (I actually used caster sugar) and I really noticed how the aging of the eggs had made a difference, they felt much gloopier than fresh egg whites. The egg whites take a lot of whisking to get to the right consistency, I think these took longer than my last attempts, maybe because of the aging? To begin with I had lost hope, but it soon started to take shape. Zoella mentioned that you are aiming for the consistency of shaving foam with your whisking, which is a good guide – it needs to be thick and forming good peaks when you lift your beaters out (not too floppy peaks)

3. Next I carefully folded in the almond/sugar/egg white mixture into my whisked egg whites. This was the make or break moment – it needs to be handled carefully, but also blended thoroughly (ARGH!) I don’t have a spatula which is the recommended utensil for this task, but used a metal spoon and all was well. I could already tell it was different to last time – this mixture was good and stiff and putty like.

french macarons piped

4. I prepared some baking paper by measuring a length to cover my grill shelf and doubled it over to make it nice and sturdy. Carefully carefully, I spooned the mixture into a piping bag with a plain nozzle and piped little rounds onto my paper. I think my piping skills need some work, but I was getting very excited at this point as could tell they were holding their shape and might..just..work..eek.

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5. Lastly I left my macarons for about half an hour to form a bit of a film on the outside. I am not actually sure if mine did this, but that is the idea of this step and I was taking no chances. Then I popped them in the oven a batch at a time. The instructions say to bake at 140 degrees, but as I have a fan oven I set it to 125 degrees (I was feeling nervous and had read previously that too hot an oven can lead to macaron failure. I think I read somewhere that you’re meant to leave the oven door open a little bit even?!) The first batch I baked for 15 minutes which I don’t think was quite long enough, and the second batch I baked for 20 minutes. I think next time i will try 23 minutes… or just turn my oven up slightly…

macarons from the oven

I was so excited! This was success!!!

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As per Zoella, I filled my macarons with nutella and raspberries. They were so delicious and I started to feel very weird from the sugar in my blood. Or maybe giddy from my achievement? Probably that. They are not christmas present standard yet, so I will be practising a bit more I think mostly my piping and also getting the oven temperature right (most of my macarons were a bit soft in the middle still and crumbled when i tried to fill them).

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I like this challenge a lot.

Please give these a go and let me know how you get on, or if you have any pro tips for me I would love to hear from you!

macaron and tea

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Spelt, fig and walnut bread

We have discovered recently that Rose loves to bake, and this has really spurred me on to make more tasty treats for us. Since the summer I have been doing a weekly pizza, making up big batches of dough (it seems to come out so much better when you double the recipe…) and chopping it up and freezing the extra for the next time. I am getting quite good at bread now and really really enjoy making it and eating it fresh from the oven.

Last weekend on a rainy afternoon we went to get some supplies and I noticed spelt flour on offer and was feeling brave to branch out from my safe pizza bread. I have heard of this one before and thought it might be a tasty alternative, and maybe a nutritious one, to have a go with.

On the back of the bag there was this little recipe for a loaf pepped up with figs and walnuts. It sounded too good not to have a try.

This was a great little bake to do with Rose as we had to add the walnuts and figs to the orange juice and stir those together etc. so this added an extra step for her on top of the bread part. And a major bonus that it was really really nice. Rose called it ‘cake bread’ and really enjoyed it too. I was a little bit worried about using walnuts for something I wanted to be able to share with her, but I chopped mine into nice small pieces and  found that after soaking and baking they were so soft they weren’t really much difference in consistency to the bread and no problem for Rose to chomp through. Do be careful when serving though if you have a young child though and check how yours have come out, but don’t be put off this recipe for children – it was a real hit!

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So here is the recipe (in case your spelt flour doesn’t have this one on the bag, and also to help you plan your shopping) The method is my own bread making method so not quite what the packet planned, but I hope it works well if you have a go. And maybe you don’t have to use spelt flour, but a nice brown flour might be just as nice.

I n g r e d i e n t s

1tsp dry yeast (I used a sachet of dry yeast)
500g wholewheat spelt flour
1tsp salt
1tsp sugar
300ml warm water
1tbsp oil
100g dried figs
50g walnuts
4tbsp orange juice

M e t h o d

Weigh out your spelt flour in a bowl, add the salt and stir.

In a jug, measure out 300ml of warm water and add your yeast and sugar. Give a good mix (it doesn’t need to blend, just so the yeast is all wet). Add the oil, then pour this onto the flour in the bowl.

Stir together until well blended, then turn out to knead. Sometimes I turn out the mixture while there is still quite a lot of loose flour as I find this all combines during the kneading process and saves the need for adding more flour to the mix to flour the worktop.

Knead until the dough is soft and smooth, just about ten minutes, then place back in the bowl, cover and leave to double in size (spelt flour rises quicker than normal wheat flour so it’s difficult to give a time. Mine took about 45 minutes, normally an hour for normal bread)

While the dough is rising, chop your figs and walnuts and add them to a bowl with the orange juice. Leave them to soak (if you can resist them, Rose couldn’t – she doesn’t get juice very often you might be able to tell!)

When your dough has risen, turn it out onto your floured worktop and add the figs and walnuts. Knead firmly for several minutes until well combined.

Shape the dough, or place it in a 2lb loaf tin, and leave to rise again for about 40 minutes. Bake in the oven at 220 degrees celcius for 40/45 minutes..

I like to wrap my bread in a clean tea towel to cool. I’m not really sure why, but think it helps keep in some of the moisture. Definitely be sure to cut off a good wedge while it’s hot and serve with butter. And the next day great for toast. mmm.

Pumpkin steamed pudding

Last week we were off for Christmas and none of Rose’s groups or activities were running, but we had some nice home days and discovered a new interest of Rose’s  – she loves to bake (well, she loves to stand on a chair in the kitchen and move things around) she calls it cooking.

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I have had a little bake in mind since halloween. After making my pumpkin and raisin tea loaf there was still a lot of pumpkin leftover and so I sneakily roasted it with some apple and pureed it and put it in the freezer ready for a rainy day (which there were not shortage of last week!)

I was a little delayed in giving this a go also because I didn’t have a suitable bowl that would fit inside our largest saucepan to be able to steam a pudding, but that has been put right now.

I was drawn to this recipe as I had never steamed a pudding before (well, maybe a Christmas pudding once) and also liked that it didn’t have much sugar in it so a great pudding for Rose who is likely to have trouble falling to sleep if she’s had anything too sweet after dinner.

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I had forgotten how nice a steamed pudding is – there’s a lovely quality to it, especially when freshly steamed. We ate our pudding more like a cake, but I still have three batches of puree in the freezer so the next one we will definitely be having as a pudding with custard.

Here is the recipe in case you want to try. It is another one from my River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook which I really recommend, even if you don’t have a baby or toddler I think it’s a good one.

For the puree:

you need 500g of pumpkin or squash (a large wedge of pumpkin or half a butternut squash) and 4 dessert apples.

Cut your pumpkin into wedges and place on a baking tray skin down. Cover with foil and roast in the oven at 190 degrees for half an hour. Peel, core and roughly chop the apples and add these to the tray and bake for a further 30 minutes until everything is soft. Scoop away the pumpkin skin and put the apple and pumpkin flesh in a blender until all smooth. This should make about 500g of puree. Measure out 200g for the pudding, and freeze the rest for a future pud, or use as you wish.

For the pudding:

100g unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)
100g of self raising flour
100g of wholemeal self raising flour (or you can use all white or whatever ratio you like as long as you have 200g total)
1tsp ground cinnamon (we had run out so used ginger powder instead)
A good grating of nutmeg (again, we used the powder!)
75g caster sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract

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Start by buttering a 1 litre pudding basin. Mix together the flours, cinnamon (or ginger) and nutmeg in a bowl (Rose did this bit for me, our ginger is in a shaker so she liked adding that and it flowed quite slowly so we were safe) While toddler is helping with that part, beat together the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy (I didn’t want to get the electric blender out with Rose so close so i just creamed my butter and sugar with a metal spoon until smooth) Add the egg, vanilla and a spoon of flour (I broke the egg into a little cup so Rose could add that, and the spoon of flour. This made her very pleased, although she did grab a spare egg and tried quite hard to pull that apart) Beat together well, then add the pumpkin puree and sift the remaining flour (another good task for toddler) and fold in gently until everything is combined.

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Scoop your mixture into the pudding basin and cover with a piece of pleated foil. Secure with string and stand your basin in a large saucepan, fill the pan half full with boiling water and put the lid on. Bring the water back to the boil and then turn the heat down to simmer. Steam your pudding for 1 and a half hours (keep an eye on the water level, topping up when needed)

When done, use the string to help lift the basin out and turn out onto a plate. The recipe suggests serving immediately with custard and I second that.

A really lovely activity for little one, and a really nice pud. Grand! x

Macarons, a journey

I just really wanted to mention a bit of a baking challenge that I faced last week – my attempts at french macarons. But please don’t get excited for some nice pictures and a recipe (I admit, this was my plan for this) – I gave them so much of my time and attention last week. But they have defeated me!

It all started when I decided to make some little baked treats for my work colleagues for christmas. And came across a recipe for French Macarons – it looked so easy. I thought – those are delicious and they look so pretty – and one of my colleagues can’t eat wheat and these have no wheat – so this was a good idea! I thought. But… i didn’t count on them being IMPOSSIBLE to make!

I found a recipe in my little book of bakes, and it made it sound so straight forward. Hurruh!

But here is attempt 1:

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Oh no.

Luckily for the internet, when  i googled ‘why are my macarons flat and brown and wealded to the baking paper’ I came across this amazing link, crammed full of every macaron problem scenario. There was also a video which was really useful and  i realised my first batch was really too runny.

So – i followed her instructions to a tee… annnnnnd….

Still flat (i was too sad to take anymore pictures) but not brown so this is an improvement. I think the first attempt was definitely a case of not whisking my eggs enough, and the later attempts (there were four in all – the final batch i didn’t even bother to put in the oven, i was experienced at what a failed macaron batter looked like by then) I did get a bit closer. But still no.

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SO I gave up and made gingerbread instead (sorry Gill for this gift of gluten induced indigestion)

So, looking on the bright side, this post is about if at first you don’t succeed try try try again. Or in my case try try try again again. There seem to be very many recipes and tutorials about for these little delicacies, so I am taking on the challenge – something must work?

You haven’t heard the last of this. And if you have ever successfully made macarons – we need to talk!