I recently had the pleasure of spending a day with professional food stylist Rosie Reynolds, who gave me some expert food styling advice for food blog photos. Rosie and I met through work, and she was so enthusiastic about my blog, she came to see me at One-Handed HQ for a Halloween-themed baking, decorating and photo session.
We baked delicious chocolate cupcakes, which we decorated using jelly snakes to make Snake Cupcakes, and with chocolate icing and cola laces to make Spider Cupcakes, which we then had great fun setting up in a spooky Halloween tableau (above), complete with skeletons dangling down, all lit by candlelight. In the words of Miranda: such fun!
Rosie has a great eye, and one of the best tips I learnt from her was to take the photo and then look at it really carefully on-screen before deciding what to add in or what to remove to get the best possible shot. Make the change, then take another photo, and compare the two. Usually the secret is taking something away to simplify things and let the food take centre stage.
Another great tip is to try to keep the food and the styling as natural as possible – if you’re serving a casserole, for instance, don’t be afraid to dig into the food and swirl it around with the serving spoon, so it looks accessible and yummy. For cakes and puddings, a few crumbs scattered around make it look even more delicious and homemade.
For best results, shoot in natural daylight (these photos were all taken on my iPhone) and think about the background you are presenting the food on – again, natural surfaces are great for such purposes. Wood, tile and slate are good; have you got an old wooden trunk, or some tiles left over from a building project? Even an old door with peeling paint can be great for overhead shots. Sometimes the most unexpected things can work really well. Take a good look through your cookbooks or BBC Good Food and take inspiration from what they use. Pinterest is useful for ideas, too.
We had a great time styling these shots (and eating jelly snakes). I picked up some really useful tips for future posts and I hope you like them, and enjoy the cakes. Of course, they’re very sweet, so a bit of a treat for little ones. I presented them whole to the children and then cut each cake in half as I thought a whole one would be too much for one child. (I was right.) They absolutely loved them – a real Halloween hit!
Happy Halloween, folks.
Spooky Halloween Cupcakes
40g cocoa powder
3–4 tbsp boiling water
125g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 tbsp fat free natural yogurt
125g wholemeal flour or plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the icing
50g butter, softened
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3–4tbsp fat free natural yogurt
250g icing sugar, sifted
Splash of hot water if needed to make a nice smooth icing
Cola flavour laces
75g packet jelly worms
To make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Line a muffin tray with 10 paper cases, set aside.
2. Sift the cocoa into a bowl. Stir in the water to make a smooth paste. Tip in the rest of the ingredients and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Use two dessert spoons to evenly fill your cake cases – be careful not to overfill.
4. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until your cakes are risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the icing:
Cream the butter, cocoa and yogurt together until smooth. Gradually add the sifted icing sugar, beat after each addition until smooth. It might be a bit dry, but if you let the mix relax then keep beating it should come together, if not, add a splash of hot water to create a smooth icing.
Divide the icing between your cakes, spread over the surface with the back of a spoon.
Decorate yourself, or get bigger kids to do their own – depending on how good you are at coping with MESS!
Snake Cupcakes: We decided not to ice these, but of course you can if you want to. Simply cut your jelly snake in half, and make a little hole in the side of your cake, using your fingers. Make another little hole on the opposite side of the cupcake to enable your snake to ‘slither’ through the cake – stick the head in one hole and the tail in the other. It’s that easy.
Spider Cupcakes: Spread the top of the cake with icing and use a cocktail stick to prick the icing and make little bumps. Use little sugar balls for the eyes and cut-up bits of jelly snake for eyebrows. To make the dangly legs, cut cola laces in half and tie a little knot at the end for a foot. Use the cocktail stick to make a little hole for each leg.
Life has been far from perfect of late, purely in terms of how busy I am, husband is, and indeed we all are. What with a work trip, the new term and associated school admin, sorting out jobs that need doing to the house, piles of washing, getting up really early in an attempt to Get Things Done, oh, and having a cold for three weeks, sometimes it all feels a Bit Much.
But busy isn’t always bad, and I’ve managed to fit in some fun stuff, too, including a lovely session with an amazing food stylist I met through work who has given me some fantastic tips for the blog (more on that soon), plus it’s Mumsnet Blogfest next month, which I am sure will be pretty perfect. It’s a great chance to get inspired about various aspects of blogging (although I am not sure I will ever ‘change the world’ with a pasta recipe, but hey ho), swap blogging stories, have a laugh, drink some sparkling wine and get a nice goody bag. What’s not to like? I am looking forward to hearing one of my fave authors, Rachel Joyce, speak, learning how to make my blog better and, best of all, meeting fellow bloggers old and new. Whoop.
In the meantime, I have learnt how to make the *perfect* poached egg. (I know!) Eggs are wonderfully comforting, and a simple soft poached egg served with a slice of buttered toast and a mug of tea can do a lot for a busy, frazzled parent in need of some TLC. Preparing something so simple and nourishing, in (hopefully) a moment of calm while baby naps or the children are at school, or simply for breakfast, can be a very pleasant interlude. And as for that satisfying moment when the yolk spills out on to the toast, well, it can be quite therapeutic, particularly if it is soft, runny and cooked to perfection.
Free-range eggs are also a great nutritious dish for the whole family (babies should be over 1 if you are serving the yolk soft) – they’re packed with protein and B vitamins, they’re easy to prepare and cook and frankly, the perfect dish for a quick, healthy energy boost – perfect for anyone on the go. What’s more, if you can crack an egg one-handed, poached eggs and toast can easily be prepared with one hand while a) holding baby, b) filling in yet another form/cheque/reading book record for school, or c) typing an email on your phone to your boss with the other. If you have a Spork, you can even eat it one-handed too. Perfect.
Perfect Poached Egg for one
The trick with the vinegar I learnt from my food stylist friend Rosie. It works a treat!
You will need:
1 free-range egg
White wine vinegar
One slice of sourdough bread, toasted and buttered to serve (my favourite butter is this Brue Valley Butter which I get in my Riverford box every week; it is delicious)
What to do:
- Bring some water to the boil in a small saucepan (fill it about two thirds full).
- Take a teacup and pour in a centimetre or so of white wine vinegar, swill it round, then return the vinegar to the bottle. Crack the egg into the teacup.
- Once your water is boiling, create a whirlpool in the water by stirring it with a small wooden spoon. Add the egg to the centre of the whirlpool, reduce the heat slightly and cook for 2 ½ minutes for a soft yolk.
- Once cooked, remove the egg using a slotted spoon and put on a plate. Use a teaspoon to remove any of the ‘frothy’ white (it comes away easily) to ensure your poached egg has a nice regular shape.
- Place the egg on top of your toast and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.