Christmas party cake pops

When I left work just before Joel was born, my very thoughtful colleagues (read: friends) bought me an amazing gift – a cookery book all about cake pops and a cake pop silicone mould. Now, I’d heard of cake pops, via a few blogs by other mums, but I’d not got round to figuring out how to make them myself. If you’re not sure what a cake pop is, as I wasn’t when I first saw the words mentioned on a blog, it’s basically a cross between a cake and a lollipop – a small piece of sponge cake on a stick. Traditionally (can an idea so new be called traditional?!) cake pops are balls, but you can be more creative and make various shapes – the key is that they are bite-size, so they look really cute. The book I was given is called Pop Party, and it tells you how to make some incredible looking cake pops that would be fantastic for kids’ (or adults’!) parties. For example there are various animal designs, balloons, mini hot-dogs, mini tiered cakes, to name but a few.

This present has inspired me to have a go at cake pops, though I thought I’d start with something simple rather than going for a fancy design from the book just yet. To make the fancy designs, or balls for that matter if you don’t have a mould to cheat with, you make cake pops by baking a big sponge cake, breaking it up and mixing it with cream cheese, and moulding the stiff mixture into whatever shape you want. Then you can decorate with various icings and colours to create the final design on a stick.

My main reason for having a go at pops this week was that Andrew is going with Daddy to a Christmas party tomorrow that requires him to take some food to share. I thought Christmassy decorated cake pops would be perfect for little mouths to munch on, and the kids would love holding the stick. The mould I was given came with reusable sticks, but since I knew I wouldn’t be likely to get them back in the chaos of a children’s party, I used disposable drinking straws instead for sticks. There were 2 designs: a plain sponge dipped in white chocolate and purple glitter sugar; a red-coloured sponge dipped in milk chocolate and snowflake sprinkles.

Here’s the recipe, for which you’ll need a silicone pop mould (rather than the method of remoulding sponge cake using cream cheese).

Ingredients – makes 28 cake pops (using pop mould)

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 3 eggs
  • red gel food colouring
  • 75g milk chocolate, broken into pieces to melt
  • 50g white chocolate, broken into pieces to melt
  • decorations – snowflake sprinkles, glitter sugar
  • drinking straws

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan).
  2. Start by making the sponge. Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg until smooth.
  4. Add the flour and mix until well combined.
  5. Fill half the balls on one side of the cake pop mould with mixture. Then add red gel food colouring to the rest of the mixture and stir until the colour is evenly distributed and the desired colour. Fill the other half of the balls on the one side of the mould. I found that this amount of mixture made 28, and my mould only does 20, so I saved some mixture for a small second batch once the first was cooked.
  6. Put the other half of the mould (its lid) on, and bake for 20 mins.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely, then remove the balls from the mould.
  8. Melt 25g of milk chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  9. Dip about 1.5cm of the end of a drinking straw in the chocolate, and push it carefully into the centre of a sponge ball, being careful not to push it all the way through. Repeat with all the other balls and straws, then leave to cool in the fridge until the chocolate sets. This will keep the straw in the ball when you do the decorating.
  10. When the sticks are set, melt the remaining milk chocolate and white chocolate in separate bowls as before. Be especially careful with the white chocolate as it burns easily when melting if done with too high a heat.
  11. Dip the top of each ball into the chocolate – plain sponge in white and red sponge in milk chocolate.
  12. Then sprinkle glitter sugar over the white chocolate and snowflake sprinkles over the milk chocolate.
  13. Stick the straws into an upside down colander to leave the chocolate to set whilst the cake pops are upright.
  14. Finally your cake pops are ready to enjoy!

Gingerbread men ….and other creatures (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 8)

Anyone who’s following the Great British Bake Off as avidly as me will know that I’m a week behind on this one. Biscuits, specifically crackers, chocolate tea-cakes and gingerbread, were the theme of last week’s episode, whereas this week was all about French baking – petit fours, gateaux, choux pastry. I didn’t have time to do any baking last weekend, as we had a busy weekend visiting my brand new niece and taking Andrew to see the ‘choo-choos’ (model railway exhibition) at our local museum. Being as biscuits are more my thing than fancy French baking, I thought I’d stick to them rather than stretch myself too far. And besides, gingerbread men are something that I’d really like Andrew to get involved in with helping me bake.

Everything out ready to start on our baking adventure
Ready and waiting with my apron and wooden spoon!

Avid followers of the GBBO will of course also know that the contestants didn’t have to make just any old gingerbread, but rather build with it structures that went beyond the quaint little Hansel and Gretal houses that you see around Christmas-time these days. There were some impressive architectural feats, like a 2-foot tall Big Ben and a 2-foot diameter Colosseum! I wanted to stick with the classic ‘man’ shape for my gingerbread – though who has ever seen a man look like a gingerbread ‘man’?! This involved buying a cutter, because I realised that I’d only ever made gingerbread as a child at home, and I don’t personally own cutters in such a shape. I thought this would be easily remedied by a quick trip to the supermarket, but it seems gingerbread men cutters are harder to come by than I thought. In the end I found a bumper pack of kids biscuit cutters in Hobbycraft, and this included one classic gingerbread man shape as well as other assorted animals, birds and geometric shapes. I saw this as a good investment, because recently Andrew has got into play dough, and I have it on my to-do list to make some, so the cutters will come in handy for using with play dough as well as with edible biscuit dough!

Cutting out a man shape. But I think it's a BEAR Mummy!!

It turned out that Andrew, when given the choice of which shapes he wanted to use for cutting out gingerbread dough, wasn’t actually that bothered about the classic ‘man’ shape, which he insisted was a teddy bear anyway. He much preferred to cut out butterflies and hearts – two words which he loves to say (‘heart’ is pretty accurate, and ‘butterfly’ is something like ‘pap-pap’, which I presume is him picking up the French word ‘papillon’), and kept saying them in very excited intonation as he cut one out, and another, and another, and another…! I did persuade him to let me cut out some ‘men’, sorry I mean bears, whilst he was in charge of heart and butterfly creation.

Waiting for all our different shaped biscuits to cool down before decorating them

The recipe we used was from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew was given as a birthday present from his uncle and aunt. It has some great recipes that are perfect for getting little hands involved in baking, and this gingerbread was so simple to make. Along with the book, he was also given a lovely little apron, which now fits him well, with some growing room still, so he wore that whilst we baked together. I’ve given the list of ingredients below, which I altered slightly by using margarine instead of butter and omitting the salt, and I’ve also added ingredients for decorating that aren’t in the book. But I shouldn’t write the method out exactly as in the book as it’s under copyright. You do what you would do for making a shortbread-type biscuit, by combining flour and fat into a breadcrumb consistency and then adding the sugar, spices and finally milk to bring it together into a firm dough that can be rolled out and cut into shapes. The finished biscuit texture is quite soft and short rather than crunchy like some gingerbread, but I think this is a nice texture for little (and big) mouths.

Ingredients

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g margarine
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp milk
For decorating
  • white writing icing tube
  • 5 tbsp icing sugar
  • cold water
  • sprinkles
  • chocolate beans

    Putting chocolate beans onto an iced heart

Once they were cooled, we then set about decorating the biscuits with icing, sprinkles and chocolate beans. This was the really fun part! I was amazed at how good Andrew’s fine motor skills were, as he was able to accurately put a small chocolate bean onto each of two small blobs of writing icing that I had squeezed onto the men-shaped biscuits to make buttons down the front, in classic gingerbread man style. Even I found this tricky, though I guess smaller fingers is an advantage in this case. I then drew a mouth and two eyes onto the faces using the writing icing, and Andrew was keen to repeatedly say ‘eyes’ and ‘mouth’ as I did each one! We also mixed some icing sugar with a small amount of water to make a simple water icing that I then spread onto the butterflies and hearts and Andrew helped sprinkle the sprinkles and place the chocolate beans on the butterfly wings. I thought he might be tempted to eat some biscuits whilst we were decorating (or maybe that was just me?!) but he didn’t seem bothered, and I let him have one right at the end when they were done.

Fine motor skills in action (hence the blurry photo!)

We had such a fun afternoon making this biscuits, and I’m glad that Andrew enjoyed it and found it interesting too – it means a lot to me that he’s showing an interest in one of my favourite things to do 🙂

These hearts and butterflies are so pretty, I just can't resist grabbing one whilst Mummy is trying to take a photo of their loveliness!
Time to choose a 'man' to eat - I think I'll have this one with 2 blue buttons please

Just-sweet-enough cheesecake

This week we are having friends round for Sunday lunch, and this reminded me of a pudding that my mum used to make quite often when we had friends or family round for Sunday lunch when I was a child. I don’t think the recipe was ever written down, or at least she taught it to me without looking at a recipe, so it’s a bit like an oral legend that was passed down a generation. If I remember rightly, it was in fact the son of one of her friends who once made it in a home economics lesson (ah remember when it was called home ec. and not food technology or something like that?!) He’d done it as part of a project on food suitable for diabetics, and my parents were interested in the recipe because my dad is diabetic.

In outline it’s a biscuit base (using plain biscuits like digestives which don’t have too much sugar in them, though I like to use Hobnobs too to give it a bit of oatiness), and a topping that’s made from a sachet of dried sugar-free jelly, made up not with a pint of boiling water, but instead with a small amount of water and the rest cottage cheese and double cream. It sets in the fridge like ordinary jelly does. If you’re not convinced that this sounds delicious, let me try and persuade you that it is! I’ve written the recipe below, but I guess the best way to believe me would be to try it for yourself. Go on, it’ll be yummy!

This is the first time I made this since Andrew’s been eating solids, though I’m not sure why I haven’t done it yet because it’s of course good that it doesn’t have much sugar in. The sweetness comes partly from the biscuits which have a little in, and from the sweeteners that make the jelly sweet. And of course the fruit used to decorate it. What other flavours do you think would be nice to try? Do you think a particular colour of jelly would go down well with you or your family?

Ingredients

  • 20 biscuits like Hobnobs or digestives.
  • 100g butter or margarine
  • 150ml boiling water
  • 300g cottage cheese
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 dried sachet (which makes a pint) of sugar-free jelly (I chose raspberry this time, but you can use any flavour of jelly that you’d like for a cheesecake)

Method

  1. Crush the biscuits into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin and a large bowl, big enough that it catches the inevitable flying crumbs when they’re created from the biscuits.
  2. Melt the butter/margarine and add to the biscuit crumbs.
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the bottom of a suitable dish – I used a circular Pyrex one.
  4. Empty the sachet of jelly into a measuring jug. Add the boiling water and stir until the powder has all dissolved.
  5. Sieve the cottage cheese – I know this sounds odd, but by pushing it through a sieve using the back of a spoon until it’s all passed through, you end up with a nice smooth consistency rather than the lumpiness from the pot. Add the sieved cheese to the jelly mixture and stir well to make sure there are no lumps.
  6. Add the double cream to this mixture and stir until it’s mixed in well.
  7. Pour the mixture onto the base in the dish and leave it to chill for a few hours in the fridge.
  8. Once set, decorate with fruit (I chose red grapes to go with the pink colour of the cheesecake).

 

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