Easter bunny Simnel biscuits

We’ve been busy little bunnies in the baking and crafting departments this week. There have been fewer groups due to the holidays, so I’ve been thinking of ways to keep Andrew amused. I can’t really go wrong with baking, especially biscuits as he loves cutting them out and of course tasting them 🙂 Granny was with us yesterday when we baked these bunny biscuits, and we made them with wheat-free flours so that Grandma can enjoy them too.IMG_0582

There seem to be quite a few Easter cakes in the shops now that are basically slightly different versions of brands that are available all year, usually involving lemon or yellow colouring in some way, for example Mr Kipling lemon tarts or Cadbury’s lemon mini rolls or Jaffa Cakes lemon cake bars. But I rarely see Simnel cakes around these days – a light fruit cake with spices such as cinnamon and ginger and a layer of marzipan in the middle and on top. I love marzipan and I like fruit cakes, so I enjoy Simnel cake. Traditionally it has 11 balls of marzipan on the top, which are said to represent the 11 disciples of Jesus minus Judas who betrayed him.IMG_0585

We didn’t have the time or attention span (in Andrew’s case) to make fruit cake, so we made biscuits based on the idea of Simnel cake. The spices are in the biscuit dough and the fruit is sandwiched between the biscuit and a layer of marzipan on top. We used a bunny shape cutter, although I was convinced I had seen an egg-shaped cutter in Andrew’s bumper pot of cutters when we were doing play-dough the other day, but I couldn’t find it when we came to bake the biscuits, so we had to switch from the egg-shaped biscuits that I had intended to make  originally. bunnies

If you fancy having a go, here’s the recipe, which makes about 20….


  • 60g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 180g flour (I used 60g cornflour and 120g gluten-free flour)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp groung nutmeg
  • about 30g raisins
  • 1/2 pack ready to roll marzipan


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC (fan) and prepare two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour and spices and mix with a spoon until a dough starts to form; then use your hands to bring it together as it gets too stiff for the spoon.
  4. Roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick on the greaseproof paper that you put on the baking trays, and cut out the biscuit shapes. That way, when you’ve cut out the shapes, they are already on the place where they will be baked, and you avoid breaking them in transferring to the paper once cut out.
  5. Once you’ve cut out all the dough, press a few raisins onto the top of each bunny.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until lightly golden.
  7. Remove and allow to cool.
  8. Roll out the marzipan on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick.
  9. Cut out the same number of shapes as the biscuits, and place on top of the biscuits, sandwiching the raisins between the biscuit and marzipan layer.
  10. Eat as fresh as possible!

Slow cooked parsnip, leek and lentil broth with cheesy dumplings (wheat-free)

Recently I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of slow cooking. It’s very handy when you have two small children because you can do the prep whenever you get 10 mins or so earlier in the day – usually around 9am or lunchtime for me – and then you just leave it to cook during the day or afternoon and it’s ready for dinner, so there’s no need to be slaving over a hot stove at that often fractious time of day when everyone’s tired.

Last week I chucked some veg that we had in our veg box into the slow cooker pot, along with some dried lentils and stock, and made some cheesy dumplings, to create a yummy and satisfying meal for us all (including my mum-in-law who is wheat-intolerant – I used wheat-free flour, though not wheat-free stock as she is fine with small amounts of wheat, it’s not a full blown allergy, rather an intolerance).

The veggie ingredients

I was going to blog it, but then realised that in our haste to eat the steaming pot of yumminess, I’d forgotten to take any photos, so I thought I’d have to scrap the post. But then I thought that this would be a real shame because it really was yummy (even Andrew agreed, and toddlers give genuine compliments 😉 ). So when we got similar veg in our box this week, I thought I’d take a photo of the ingredients instead, as well as one of the tupperware of leftovers, which, although it doesn’t do justice visually to the meal we enjoyed, will do justice to one of our tummies one day when we need a quick meal from the freezer.

Leftover portion for the freezer

This week I’ve tried the recipe for macaroni cheese from Aly over at 2.4, mainly because we seemed to have quite a lot of milk with not a very long date on it. I adapted the recipe by using fusilli instead of macaroni, and broccoli instead of spinach, because those were what we had in. I’m hoping to blog more slow cooked recipes over the coming months. I’m linking this one up to Mediocre Mum’s Slow Cooker Sunday linky.

Anyway, enough of an intro……on with the recipe!

Ingredients – makes 6 portions

  • 3 parsnips
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 leek
  • 150g dried red lentils
  • 4 mushrooms
  • 1.5 litres hot vegetable stock (I use low salt for the boys)
  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 150g wheat-free self-raising flour
  • 75 g vegetable suet
  • 100g mature cheddar cheese
  • Dried mixed herbs


  1. Chop all the veg into round chunks about 1cm thick and quarter the mushrooms; put them all in the slow cooker pot.
  2. Wash the lentils thoroughly and add to the slow cooker pot.
  3. Add the stock, mustard and cornflour (mixed to a paste with a little cold water); stir everything together.
  4. Cook on low for 6 hours.
  5. To make the dumplings, chop the cheese into small chunks, then mix the flour, suet, cheese and a good sprinkling of the herbs in a bowl; then add some cold water a little at a time and stir until the mixture forms a stiff dough, using your hands for the last bit; shape the dough into 18 small balls.
  6. After the 6 hours of cooking on low, remove the lid and place the dough balls on top of the broth where they will just float.
  7. Cook for a further hour on high.
  8. To serve, ladle some broth and a few dumplings into each bowl and eat straight away.


Wheat-free gingerbread men

This week we’ve had Grandma and Pop with us for a few days. It’s been great fun for Andrew, and even Joel has got some giggles for them too now. For me it’s been very helpful to have extra pairs of hands that get on with the household tasks when not otherwise occupied by a toddler or a baby. When they were all out at Andrew’s weekly music group yesterday, I stayed at home with Joel as he’s getting increasingly difficult to feed when we’re out because he gets so distracted by everything going on. When Joel was napping I prepared some biscuit doughs so that Andrew could do some rolling and cutting out later on in the afternoon after his nap – this is his favourite part of baking biscuits. One was a wheat-free gingerbread dough (Grandma is wheat-intolerant) and one was a choc chip shortbread dough (I’ll blog about this later in the week).

I know that Andrew loves making gingerbread men, mainly because he excitedly repeats ‘gingerbread mans’ with pretty good accuracy in terms of his vowels and consonants, but we’ve only ever made a wheaty recipe. So I googled and came across Coeliac UK’s website which has a gluten-free gingerbread man recipe. As far as I understand, if something is gluten-free it’s also wheat-free, but something that’s wheat-free might not be gluten-free because gluten is also part of other cereals (such as oat/barley gluten). I adapted it slightly – self-raising wheat-free flour instead of separate flour and raising agent, a bit more ginger as I like very gingery gingerbread (!), margarine instead of butter, honey instead of golden syrup. So here’s the recipe as we made it…


  • 225g wheat-free self-raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 2 level teaspoons ground ginger
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted honey


  1. Mix the flour and ginger together, then rub in the margarine to form a breadcrumb texture.
  2. Add the sugar and mix to a stiff dough with the melted honey.
  3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out men (or other shapes) with a little man cutter.
  4. Bake at 180°C (fan) for 8 – 10 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool before decorating with writing icing to make the features like eyes, mouth and buttons.
Link up your recipe of the week

Brownie and blondie hearts

I wanted to bake something special for Tom this week. Partly because it’s Valentine’s day coming up, though we don’t usually go in much for this over-commercialised excuse for card shops and chocolate manufacturers to make a killing, and mainly because I wanted to show him that I appreciate all his help this week whilst I’ve been poorly and he’s done even more around the flat and looking after the boys than usual. When I asked him a while ago what kind of cake he likes the most when I bake, he said ‘anything chocolatey…. well, anything at all, but anything chocolatey in particular’! So chocolate was on my mind when deciding what to bake this week.

I hadn’t made brownies for a while, and I’d also bought some white chocolate recently (some of which I used on the Thomas the Tank Engine cake), so I came up with the idea of making some classic brownies with dark chocolate and some blondies with white chocolate. As I looked in the cupboard for flour, I realised that I still have some wheat-free self-raising flour that I bought a while ago when I baked some cupcakes for my mum-in-law who came to stay (she is wheat intolerant) and it really could do with being used, so that got added to the mix rather than the usual wheaty variety. I find the wheat-free stuff has quite a distinctive flavour but when you mix it with plenty of strong (particularly dark) chocolate, this is less noticeable. Another thing about wheat-free cakes is that they tend to be stodgier and less light and airy than their wheaty counterparts, but brownies are supposed to be stodgy, so they work well with wheat-free flour.

A brownie and blondie circle - the lighter coloured blondies are ones that I shaped into hearts from the very gooey trimmings using the biscuit cutter as a mould

Cutting the brownies and blondies into hearts was slightly tricky and I didn’t get that many which came out in a clear heart shape because they were so soft and gooey – as they should be in my opinion – even after some chilling in the freezer. The blondies turned out even gooier than the brownies – maybe something to do with the consistency of white chocolate compared to dark chocolate, or maybe the different tins that I used to cook them in. I used some of the very gooey trimmings from the blondies to shape into hearts using the biscuit cutter as a mould. But we ate all the trimmings so none of it went to waste.

If you fancy having a go for Valentine’s day, or any other day, here’s the recipe…..



  • 2 eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 70g self-raising flour (wheat-free optional)
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 70g margarine
  • 50g chopped nuts


  • 2 eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 70g self-raising flour (wheat-free optional)
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 70g margarine
  • 50g dried strawberries

Method – the same for both types

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan), and prepare a cake tin – for the brownies I used I rectangular swiss roll tin lined with greaseproof paper and for the blondies I used a round silicone cake mould as I wanted to compare how both turned out.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.
  3. Mix in the sugar and flour until well combined.
  4. Stir in the chopped nuts / dried strawberries until evenly distributed.
  5. Melt the margarine and chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, then add it to the rest of the mixture and stir until smooth.
  6. Pour into a cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Ideally you want them still gooey, if you like them that way at least, so don’t overdo it in the oven – there’s a very fine line between being raw and overdone for brownies.
  7. Allow to cool to room temperature in the tin, then use a heart-shaped biscuit cutter to cut some hearts; before removing them from the tin, place in the freezer for about half an hour to firm up the brownie/blondie a little so that the hearts are easier to get out in one piece.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible, or leave in the freezer until you want to eat them at a later date (as if…!)
Link up your recipe of the week


Jubilee butterfly cakes (complete with cherry on top!)

When I saw some Union Jack cupcake cases in Asda a few weeks ago, I thought I just had to buy them, even though baking was not one of my favourite activities back then. It’s still not as enjoyable as it was, but if I do it first thing in the morning, it seems the nausea is not so bad that I can’t face it. The thought of not baking something red, white and blue for the Jubilee made me feel even more sad than feeling sick, so I decided to go for it and bake something classic with a bit of a twist.

Wheat-full version

One of my favourite quick and easy recipes to whip up when we’ve got no treats in is the good old butterfly or fairy cake (whichever term you prefer – I generally use butterfly cake, but I’ve seen more fairy cakes recently). A simple vanilla sponge, hollowed out and filled with buttercream icing, and the hollowed-out sponge used to create the signature ‘wings’ that make it the butterfly cake. For the Jubilee I decided to add some colour by making blue buttercream icing, and, for the cherry on top of the cake, put a cherry on top of the cakes! This adds a deep red and I guess looks a bit like the butterfly actually has a body not just wings.

Wheat-free version (less risen but still pretty!)

The further twist in this royal culinary adventure is that I decided to make one batch of wheat-free sponge, and one batch of wheat-full sponge. My mum-in-law is wheat intolerant, and being as my parents-in-law are with us this weekend, I didn’t want her to miss out on the festive treats. I know wheat free flour is not perfect for making this kind of cake, even the self-raising stuff you can buy – it tends to come out quite stodgy and nowhere near as light as the wheaty stuff that makes such lovely light sponge. But I thought I’d give it a try, and use some Dove’s Organic wheat-free self-raising flour. Handily there was a recipe for fairy cakes on the back of the bag, and it was more or less the same as my usual quick sponge recipe with wheat flour, except it said to add some milk which I don’t usually include. Here’s my recipe…


  • 100g margarine
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour (wheat-free or wheat-full)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • few drops vanilla essence
  • (for wheat-free only: 3 tbsp milk)

To decorate:

  • 120g margarine
  • 180g icing sugar
  • blue food colouring
  • some fresh cherries, half and stoned


  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (fan) and place cupcake cases into some muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until nice and fluffy. (Tip: if you’re making one batch of wheat-free and one batch of wheat-full, do the wheat-free first in the clean bowl and then you can use the same bowl without washing for the wheat-full. The other way round wouldn’t work 😉 )
  3. Beat in the egg thoroughly, and add the vanilla essence. (Add the milk at this point for the wheat-free option.)
  4. Add the flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases, and fill to about two thirds full. The first difference between the wheat-free and wheat-full batches that I noticed was how runny the wheat-free mixture was when I put it into the cases. This is interesting because the only difference was a few tablespoons of milk, so I don’t know whether it’s just down to this, or whether the flour mixes in differently in some way.
    Wheat-free batter - much runnier than the wheaty mixture

    Wheat-full mixture - less runny and 'batter' like than the wheat-free stuff
  6. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cakes are slightly golden on top. Test they are cooked through by spearing the centre with a skewer – if it comes out clean they are done.
    Wheat-full - more risen than the wheat-free

    Wheat-free - less well risen than the wheat-full
  7. Leave to cool.
  8. Meanwhile, make the icing. Cream the margarine and icing sugar together in a bowl until smooth. Add food colouring and mix until it looks blue enough all through.
  9. Transfer to a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle.
  10. Using a small sharp knife, cut a circle out of the top of each cake, going about half-way down into the cake. Remove this circle and cut it in half.
  11. Pipe a generous amount of icing into the well of each cake, filling the well and spreading out on to the top of the cake.
  12. Place the two halves of the removed circle at an angle onto the icing to look like two wings.
  13. Finally, the cherry on the top of the cake is….. a (half) cherry on the top of each cake! (placed in between the two half circles)

    Cherry in the middle of two wings
  14. Store in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge if it’s warm (probably not a problem this bank holiday weekend!)

Overall I’m very pleased with how they turned out, especially the wheat-free sponge. It is of course stodgier than and tastes a bit different from the wheaty sponge, but still perfectly edible and not bad for a cake that is classically so light. The worst part is actually the icing, because it was very runny, I suspect because I had to add lots of food colouring for it to really look blue! (Ah this didn’t happen back in the day when colourings were all E-numbers, not like the natural stuff that’s the only thing available these days 😉 ) So when I piped it ended up spreading out further than I intended. The first batch I iced were the wheat-free ones, and between doing these and the wheaty ones, I put the icing in the freezer for half an hour to try and thicken it up. This worked pretty well, so at least half of the wheaty ones turned out better, though the more I held the piping bag, the more the icing got runny again, so the later ones weren’t as good again. Anyway, this is probably me being a perfectionist. The main thing is they taste good! Have you baked or cooked anything special for the Jubilee? Has anyone else used these Union Jack cupcakes? Have a great long weekend!

Runny icing on a wheat-free cake, but still looks yummy!

Chocolate and almond butter crumblies

A checkerboard of hearted (use your imagination!) yummy crumblies

I’m no good at lying, so here I am being honest about the fact that these delicious ‘crumblies’ I made started out in my head as shortbread biscuits. They look or feel nothing like shortbread, but they taste just as good if not better, because they have that lovely ‘melt in the mouth’ quality, they just crumble as (but not before) you bite them. Hence the name change to ‘crumblies’. It was always my intention to make half chocolate dough and half almond dough, and then make square biscuits with a contrasting-coloured heart in the centre. If you use your imagination, you can just about see this plan worked for the chocolate squares with almond hearts, but the almond squares with chocolate hearts were a bit of a flop (or a run if you like) – in appearance that is, but not taste. Oh how I wish I could post samples so that readers would believe me.

I suspect part of the reason why the dough ran so much (unlike the firmness of shortbread) was that I used all cornflour. I used to make shortbread with half cornflour, half plain flour; I expected that using all cornflour would make them more fragile and crumbly, but I didn’t expect the dough to go so runny whilst cooking and therefore lose the shape of my hearts. My inspiration for doing this cornflour thing was seeing gluten-free shortbread on sale at a tea-room I visited with my mum-in-law who is wheat/gluten-intolerant; so I thought I’d have a go at another wheat-free recipe with her in mind. The results are not bad. The perfectionist inside me is annoyed that they don’t look so pretty, but the time-pressed realistic mum inside me has come to accept that as long as they taste good (which they do, did I mention that?!), that’s all that matters. If you fancy having a go at these yourself, here’s how I did it.


Almond dough:

  • 125g corn flour
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 60g icing sugar
  • few drops almond essence

Chocolate dough:

  • 45g cocoa powder
  • 80g corn flour
  • 125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 60g icing sugar


  1. Start with the almond dough (so you can use the same bowl for the chocolate one – think about it, the other way round and you’d get brown bits in your yellow dough). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a metal spoon.
  2. Add the cornflour and almond essence and combine until you get a thick pasty dough. As it gets thicker, use your hands to bring it together into a ball.

    Ball of almond dough
  3. On a large flat surface, sprinkle some cornflour. Roll out the dough until about 1cm thick. (I suspect that making it thicker would have been better.) Cut out some squares with a biscuit cutter, until you’ve used all the dough.
  4. From each square, cut out a small heart using a biscuit cutter. I got mine from Hobbycraft back in 2008 (I know the date because I got them to cut out hearts from card for the orders of service at our wedding!)

    A close up of cutting
  5. Place the squares (minus hearts) on a greaseproof-paper-lined baking tray. Put the hearts to one side.

    Cutting in progress - almond dough cut into squares with hearts cut out, and the same happening with the chocolate dough
  6. Do the same with the chocolate dough. Cream butter and sugar, then add cornflour and cocoa powder.

    Ball of chocolate dough
  7. When you have a tray of almond and a tray of chocolate squares, place the opposite type of dough heart into the heart-shaped holes in the squares.

    All lined up ready to go into the oven (the last time I got to see my beauties looking so perfect....)
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160°C for 10-12 minutes. When you take them out they will still be quite soft.
  9. Allow to cool on the trays and they will become firm. Once cooled and firm, remove from the trays and store in an air-tight box.
The good....
...and the ugly (there was no 'bad' involved, not on taste)

The chocolate taste is nicely strong and not too sweet, which contrasts well with the sweeter almond taste. So if you’re more in the mood for something chocolately with a hint of sweetness, I’d recommend one from the ‘good’ option, and if you’re more up for a sweet bite with a bit of chocolate thrown in, I’d go for the ‘ugly’ but still yummy option. My willing tasters (aka my boys) approve, which is reassuring to know. I’d be more than happy to get suggestions of why it went so runny, other than the cornflour. I’m a bit of an experimental baker; sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, but I don’t know much of the science behind why something went wrong unless it’s obvious like I left out a key ingredient by mistake.

Trust the National Trust for a great family day out

Just a quick post to say what a lovely time we had at Ickworth House and Gardens near Bury St Edmunds this weekend. It’s a National Trust property, and as usual we couldn’t fault the location for a fun family day out.

Snow drops

We’re lucky that quite a few of the 512 NT locations are within a half-an-hour-ish drive from us. Before Andrew came along we were members for a year (whilst one of us was still at the under 25 years old price), and almost every weekend we went for a walk in the gardens/fields around one of the properties near us. We decided that we wouldn’t renew our membership when a year was up because (a) we would have to pay two adult prices, (b) with me being on maternity leave and a baby to budget for it was one of those things that no longer fitted within our budget, and (c) we thought we wouldn’t make it too far every weekend when baby was very little, so instead would go for very local walks from home.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that he walked all the way from the steps you see in the background to here on his own!
More walking/running

Since then we’ve been a few times with each of our sets of parents, either near their houses or near us. This weekend we decided to take Tom’s parents to a NT place they haven’t visited before. We all like walking, and Ickworth has miles and miles of walking paths of various difficulties and surfaces. They even have a designated family mountain bike track, which we’d love to take Andrew on when he’s older. We walked a nice round route through fields and a bit of woodland, nearly getting blown away by the gusty wind at times, but it was enjoyable all the same – made us feel like we’d blown away the cobwebs for sure.

Can't catch me Daddy!

Of course no trip to a NT place would be complete without a trip to their tea room! They always have scrummy lunches and cakes on offer, all freshly prepared there. This time was no exception, and we all enjoyed our food, including Andrew who chose beans on toast from the lovely kids menu (and put the 5-ish-year-old on the table next to us to shame by eating all his when she didn’t finish hers!), and my mum-in-law, who is wheat intolerant, had soup with a wheat free roll as well as a shortbread biscuit (there is usually at least 1 gluten-/wheat-free cake on offer).

Sitting on the big boys' chair (and being caught by Pop when lunging forward!)

Have you ever thought about joining the NT? Are you already a member? Which properties do you like in particular? We’re thinking about joining again at some point, when we think we’ll make good use out of it for the amount of money we’d spend on it.

Playing with stickle bricks in the visitor centre