BAKING & SWEET TREATS
Well....it's been 2 weeks since I started this post!!! Apologies for the delay, sometimes life just takes over and somethings have to be postponed.
I'm back and in a baking mood - I've just mixed up the dough for my gingerbread cookies and plan on doing some sugar cookies later today too.
As things have again changed in the UK with regards to Covid lockdown, I think a lot of us have fallen into a bit of a pre-christmas slump and will be having to stay home over the holiday.
I was pretty organised as I knew I wasn't going to be able to visit family this year anyway so I had stocked up on my baking ingredients some weeks ago. Which is good as I now need some projects to distract me from the anxiety and news of another strain of Covid that is apparently making the rounds.
This time of year is usually when we start thinking of warming winter spices, hot chocolate and snuggling by the fire. I know, it sounds like something out of a cliched '40s movie! Do I hear Bing Crosby crooning in the background????
But there is something so inviting about these things when outside is so damp and chilly. For those of us not having to shield, we are still allowed to go out and about in the fresh air so I forsee a lot of brisk walks in my future - if just to burn off the calories from all these goodies!!!
So here are some ideas of yummy sweet treats, some that I make on a semi regular basis as well as some that I NEED to try out.
Cookies - What I love about them is that they are so easy to make and you can often freeze individual unbaked cookies. This means instead of feeling guilty because I'm 'forced' (I use this term VERY loosely!!) to eat the whole batch so I don't waste them, I can put the majority in the freezer and eat them over time...admittedly it's often a short amount of time!!!
Sugar or shortbread cookies are totally customisable! Cover them with icing and crushed candy canes and you have a festive sweet treat. Add some spices to the dough and you have yourself a pumpkin spice cookie. I like to add vanilla extract and drilavender flowers to my shortbread mix - not everybody's favourite but I really love them.
Lebkuchen gingerbread cookies are one of my favourite treats for this time of year and always go down well with friends and family.
A friend and I were sharing the recipe via text message and Lebkuchen weirdly autocorrected to 'debauched' so these cookies will forever be referred to as 'the debauched cookies'! I'm sure eating too many of them could be considered as naughty but debauched is taking things a bit too far!
There are so many different recipe variations of these German cookies but the one I use is from The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden. The spices obviously make these cookies and I like this recipe as it also has chilli powder which gives it an extra kick!
I often cover mine with melted chocolate and sprinkles but they are delicious plain too. Or you could get out your piping bag and give them a little decoration.
Cakes - who doesn't love a slice of cake from time to time??? OK if I'm being honest, all the time!!
Once I've finished baking I really struggle to ice things and make them look fancy. Who else likes watching all those cookie and cupcake decorating videos on social media?! It's very theraputic to watch but having tried on several occasions to have a go, I don't think this is my forte!!
Also I may have mentioned before that I don't have a massively sweet tooth so although I love the look of those beautifully decorated cupcakes, I would end up scraping quite a bit of the frosting off before eating it.
Which means I tend to shy away from recipes that are too fancy and need a lot of decoration.
One of the recipes I go back to again and again is for chocolate brownies - I've used the same BBC recipe for years but I have now lost it! This recipe looks very similar in regards to ingredients, amounts and method, apart from the fact that they melt the chocolate. In the recipe I use, you leave the chocolate in chunks so you get these little puddles of chocolatey yuminess all the way through and I also add some vanilla extract. The other special ingredient I add to this recipe is a teaspoon of chilli powder. I'm a huge chilli fan and I add it to as many recipes as I can. It works so well in a chocolate brownie and is a big hit with my friends and work colleagues....I always get requests for them.
Treats - there are so many snacks and treats available to buy but I really prefer making my own. This way you know exactly what's in them which is a bonus especially if you are catering to someone who has food intolerances, is on a special diet or is vegetarian/vegan.
These kinds of treats also make great presents. I love making cute boxes of things like -
* Chocolate truffles - I use this recipe from Thomasina Miers it has chillies in it so obviously I'm going to like it!!! But there are loads of different recipe ideas to try out. I like to keep a stash in the freezer for snacking on when I'm in the mood - no need to defrost! It's yummy as a frozen treat.
*Spiced/sweetened nut mixes - these are so delicious! You could go the savoury or sweet route and add in things like herbs and spices. I've used maple syrup and warming spices in the past, once mixed place in the oven for 15-20 minutes till toasty. I can't remember what recipe I used but here is one that looks similar.
*Flavoured popcorn - popcorn is such a great blank canvas for all kinds of wonderful flavourings. Many years ago, when my mum was trying to keep our sugar content down she came across a recipe for making flavoursome popcorn using apple cider vinegar and honey to create a sweet, sticky sauce. I don't have the recipe but it just goes to show that you can use your imagination to make something more interesting than the usual salt/sweet/toffee options that we usually have.
*Chocolate bark - is a wonderful sweet treat that looks impressive with a minimal amount of skill. Melted chocolate poured onto greaseproof paper and then all kinds of colourful, delicious goodies are added whilst the chocolate is still gooey.
I love the look of these with the beautiful dried fruits in it. You could also use chopped nuts or pretzels, marshmallows or crushed sweets. Once chilled and set, just break into shards.
There are just so many options you could go for and the finished result is always impressive.
Drinks - of course we couldn't finish this post without discussing hot chocolate and other delicious winter drinks.
There are just so many hot chocolate recipes out there but a lot of them look quite watery and weak to me. I've tried to up the cocoa powder and added some chocolate chips but that doesn't really seem to make much difference.
However, I've come across some recipes for a thicker, richer hot chocolate which look amazing and I really must try them out. They seem to use mainly chocolate and cream which make it quite a rich drink so perhaps best in smaller amounts.
But whilst looking at them, it reminded me of a different hot chocolate recipe I made years ago. I'm not sure if you've heard of Willie's Cacao - there was a TV show a few years back about his cacao farm in Venezuala which was fascinating.
He made a gorgeous hot chocolate using 100% cacao which I tried out. I used honey to sweeten mine but you can use whatever sweetener you like. It makes a rich yet comforting drink which is best served in small amounts, almost like you would an espresso. I think it would also work well with some whipped cream on top!!!! I have bought the 100% cacao in the supermarket before (I've recently seen it in Waitrose) so check out your local store. But if you can't find it I'm sure a high percentage dark chocolate would work well too.
Spiced apple cider - here in the UK cider is something a little different from that in the US. In the UK cider is an sparkling alcoholic beverage whereas in the US it is a pressed apple juice mixed with spices which is the kind that I'm talking about.
It's a non-alcoholic drink suitable for everyone but there's nothing to say you can't add a shot of something - I'm thinking whisky or rum (my 'go to' spirits!) but you could add whatever takes your fancy. When I visited an apple cider mill in Michigan years ago, I had it with a shot of Jack Daniels which was amazing!
However, there's enough going on flavour wise without alcohol so maybe if you're going to add alcohol, serve it on the side so people can customize it as they want.
So I hope these ideas have been interesting and inspiring for you? I've saved a folder of yummy recipes for you on Pinterest which I'm sure will give you something fun to have a go at.
And of course, I would love to hear about your favourite bakes and treats which you can post here on the blog or on the Instagram page.
Wishing you a safe and healthy journey through the last days of 2020 and here's hoping 2021 brings us a new year of hope and positivity.