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.
If you’re after a super-quick delicious muffin recipe, read on!
I just love rhubarb – it’s often forgotten in discussions about great fruit (although strictly speaking, it’s actually a vegetable, but let’s not worry about that), but it’s usually around this time every year, when my mum informs me that her rhubarb patch has gone wild and asks if I’d like some, that I remember just how much I like it. Rhubarb does require quite a lot of sugar to make it palatable, which is a downside, given my efforts to reduce the sugar intake here at OH HQ, but then the tang of rhubarb is an unbeatable flavour, and these muffins offer a delicious and easy way to bake with rhubarb.
This recipe was inspired by a recent visit to new artisan bakeshop Kitchen in Langport in Somerset, on our half-term travels, where we tasted rhubarb & raspberry muffins for the first time and they were declared ‘delicious’.
I hadn’t thought of using rhubarb in muffins before, but it’s great, particularly with raspberries. What’s brilliant is that you don’t need to cook the rhubarb beforehand – you just stir it into your mixture – which means these muffins literally take about 10 minutes to make – perfect for the time-pressed parent.
I am into coconut oil at the moment (I use Lucy Bee coconut oil, which I bought in my local health food shop) so I tried it in this recipe and it worked a treat, although you could also use melted butter.
These were a complete hit here – both children loved them. They are great for a weekend brunch, an afternoon snack or even in lunchboxes or for a picnic, now the weather’s cheered up a bit!
Rhubarb & Raspberry Muffins
Makes approx. 10 muffins
200g self-raising flour
½ tsp cinnamon
90g golden caster sugar
80g melted coconut oil (I used the microwave)
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 or 3 stalks of rhubarb, sliced into ½ cm pieces
Handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Flaked almonds, for sprinkling
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
What to do:
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/350°F, and line your muffin tin with muffin cases.
- Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl, and stir in the sugar
- Stir the wet ingredients (melted oil, milk, eggs and vanilla essence) into the dry ingredients and mix, but don’t overmix – lumps are fine.
- Lastly, stir in the chopped rhubarb and the raspberries (if they’re frozen, straight from the freezer is fine)
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, and sprinkle a little demerara sugar on top of each one for crunch.
- Finish each muffin with a good sprinkling of flaked almonds.
- Bake for about 30 mins – test with a skewer – and allow to cool on a wire rack.
What a week! Talk about shock to the system. After two weeks off work, during which time the most difficult decision I had to make was whether to have more cheese or move onto pudding, it was back to earth with a bang as we went back to work and back to school here at OH HQ. When the alarm went off at 06:20 on Monday morning I swear it felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night.
So, just one week back and already my head is full of stuff, my house is full of clutter, my washing machine is just constantly full, and my purse is, er, empty. Hmm.
So in the spirit of thriftiness, I went through the kitchen cupboards and identified a few items that needed using up (dates, self-raising flour) and thought about what I could make, and what I could share with you, lovely blog reader. And came up with this, which is dead easy and very tasty. A slice with butter is perfect with a cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon, or it makes a good packed lunch addition (nut alert, mind you).
I made it with my 3-year-old, who was surprisingly helpful, helping me measure the ingredients, crack open the eggs and mix. A great team effort!
Date & Walnut Loaf
90g unsalted butter (at room temperature) + extra for greasing
90g soft brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
90g walnuts, roughly chopped
250g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
You will need a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Cuts into 12 slices.
What to do
- Lightly grease the loaf tin with butter.
- Combine the butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl and beat until well blended using a hand mixer. Add the walnuts, dates and milk and stir to mix.
- Spoon into the prepared loaf tin and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180˚C/160˚C Fan/350˚F for 1 hour until well risen and firm to the touch. A fine skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve sliced – and buttered, if you’re feeling indulgent.
What a week. Work mad, kids deranged, parents crazy, #royalbaby watch gone into overdrive, relentless heat, Leah (she of pink lipstick fame – just wait for the Rimmel contract) won The Apprentice, my lovely son has read the whole of the BFG – and it’s only Thursday. It was our wedding anniversary this week, too, and I am ashamed to say we didn’t celebrate at all, other than to open a bottle of champagne we happened to have. Must try harder next year.
So, anyway, I know it’s hot, but what better than a slice of fruitcake and a cup of tea in the shade come 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, along with a good novel and no kids around? (yeah, dream on…)
Whenever I used to think about making a fruitcake I would push it to the back of my mind, thinking it would take too long. HOWEVER I have recently developed a recipe for a really quick tasty cake that is so easy and so delicious you will be thanking me forever. I recently made one and took it to work with me – we are an office full of cake aficionados – and it got the thumbs up, so I am sharing it here. The kids also love it – a slice in the old packed lunch goes down a treat.
For the best result, you need to make it the day before you eat it; so whip it up on Saturday morning when the kids are watching cartoons, ready for tea on Sunday afternoon. Mmmm.
If you can’t eat the whole thing in one go, cut it in half and freeze the other half! It freezes really well.
Note: If you have the time (and the inclination), the fruit is good pre-soaked, so it has a chance to plump up. Simply put the dried fruit into a Pyrex bowl, make two strong mugs of Earl Grey tea and pour over. Allow to steep for a couple of hours.
225g soft brown sugar
8fl oz milk
450g mixed dried fruit (raisins, currants, sultanas, chopped dried dates, peel)
3 eggs, beaten
450g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
- Preheat the oven to 340°F/170°C/150°C fan
- Melt the butter and sugar in a large saucepan and add the milk and dried fruit, stir and warm through until molten, then pour into a large Pyrex bowl
- Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well
- Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 8” Springform cake tin (yes, it really is this easy)
- Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and cover with tin foil
- Bake for a further 45 minutes and then check with a skewer; stick into the middle of the cake and remove. If the skewer is clean, it is done, but if there’s any uncooked mixture on the skewer bake for 5 more minutes
- Cool in the tin on a wire rack and once cool, store in an airtight container
Sit under tree, pour tea, devour cake. Repeat.
If you like the sound of dishes such as Apricot Frangipane, Chilli Chocolate Cookies, Thyme, Cheese & Tomato Quiche, and Chicken, Pancetta & Maple Parsnip Traybake then look no further than Jo Wheatley’s new cookbook, Home Baking which is published tomorrow, 7 May. Having bought – and loved – Jo’s first cookbook, A Passion for Baking, I was delighted to get my hands on her second.
Once again, Jo keeps things simple – nearly all the recipes fit on one page, and there are no obscure ingredients. Like her first book, this is packed with gorgeous photography and has a nice clear layout. The book is organized by theme, and the chapters break down as follows:
– Biscuits, bars and cookies
– Bread and scones
– Baking with children
– Crumbles, tarts and pithiviers
– Quiches, pasties, pies and savoury puddings
– Quick and simple
– Special occasions
– Supper bakes
– Teatime treats
I was really pleased to see her include some delicious-sounding savoury dishes that can be baked in one pan in this book. Like me, Jo is a big fan of ‘recipes that involve as little fuss as possible, and hardly any washing up’ – she is talking my language – and indeed the language of any busy parent – minimum fuss, maximum flavour!
The recipes that appeal to me personally include Spelt Bread, Parmesan & Pesto Fantail Loaf, Lime & Coconut Tray Bake, Thyme, Cheese & Tomato Quiche, and Chicken & Leek Pie. From the Quick Bake chapter, Easy Italian Soda Bread and Coffee and Walnut Traybake sound great, and suitably speedy. The Special Occasion chapter features dishes such as Beef Wellington, a wonderful looking Easter Meadow Cake and Salted Caramel Chocolate Pots – fabulous. There is also a show-stoppping Toffee Apple Croquembouche, for the brave! She also does new takes on classic dishes such as Toad in the Hole, which I will definitely be trying.
I turned to the Baking with Children chapter and was interested to read that Jo believes in teaching children to cook and bake as she thinks it encourages a passion for food and eating homemade. Although I did think there was rather a lot of sugar in the Sweetie Spectacular Traybake!! For a special occasion, I imagine this would have the ‘wow’ factor, however.
I was completely won over by the photograph of the Owl Cupcakes, however and decided to try these with my daughter, who is 2¾. So mummy got on with making the cupcakes – I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee, using a blend of 80g wholemeal self-raising flour and 120g white self-raising flour (the recipe simply calls for ‘200g self-raising flour’) and they turned out beautifully. The buttercream icing recipe worked a treat, but I did find it was too much – half the quantity would have been fine, especially since these were for children and already quite sugary with the milk chocolate and white chocolate buttons going on top.
My daughter absolutely loved doing the decorating, to make them look little owls – I have never seen her so absorbed in doing something baking- or cooking-related before, so it was lovely to watch. Once they were finished, they looked completely beguiling. Needless to say, the owl cupcakes went down a storm among her, her brother and their cousins who all arrived to play next day. I will definitely be doing these again!
Home Baking by Jo Wheatley (Constable & Robinson) is published tomorrow, 7 May 2013, and available from Sainsburys for the introductory price of £8 (RRP £16.99).
Disclaimer: I was sent Jo Wheatley’s new cookbook to review. All opinions are my own.
Ah, bread. Sourdough. Bloomers. Multiseed. Soda bread. It seems the whole country has gone a bit bread crazy, what with Paul Hollywood’s book racing up the charts and his TV show getting umpteen million viewers every week. It seems we want to know how to get back to basics, how to make focaccia, knead our own dough and fill the air with the wonderful smell of fresh homemade bread baking in the oven.
Not me. Oh, no. I have never been into bread. Sure, I remember making it as a child once or twice, but as a grown-up (sorry, habit) adult, while I have embraced making many different things – cakes of all shapes and sizes, homemade pasta, casseroles, curries, quiches; you name it – bread has never been my thing. Until now.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from the lovely folks at Mermaid bakeware asking me if I’d like to try their anodized aluminium bakeware in honour of National Bread Week which runs from 16-22 April. I paused, I deliberated … perhaps my reluctance to bake was because I didn’t have a tin? Perhaps with a 2lb loaf tin in my hands I would be inspired? This was my chance! The 2lb/900g loaf tin duly arrived. It is quite a beast. Solid. So solid, it feels as though nothing could ever dent it or scratch it. I liked it from the minute I saw it. A trustworthy tin.
And so, I thought I’d better seek out a recipe. I turned to Jo Wheatley’s trusty cookbook, A Passion for Baking, and in it found a recipe for a Basic White Loaf. Well, you can’t go wrong with a basic white loaf as a starting point, I thought. Miraculously, I even had some Dove’s strong white flour in the cupboard. Perhaps it was meant to be. I should point out that we were going to the in-laws for a long weekend, so I took my loaf tin, my cookbook and my bag of flour with me. My mother-in-law has an Aga – the perfect environment for bread-making – a lovely warm place to let the dough rise and prove. Plus she’s got a Kenwood mixer. She was slightly non-plussed when, on arrival, I announced, ‘I need to make bread’, but she’s coped with a lot more weird stuff over the years, let me tell you.
So, I set to work. I followed Jo’s recipe to a tee (page 163 of her book, if you’re interested), using dried yeast and the Kenwood dough hook to do the 7 minutes’ kneading required (one-handed I hasten to add). An Aga really is an asset when making bread, I have to say. The dough rose beautifully in the bowl, and I was able to leave the tin to warm up before popping in the dough in and, after proving, into the roasting oven (top right). It only took 20 mins to bake, and it was beautiful.
I was so proud of myself. I’d made a loaf of bread! And I’d really enjoyed it! I don’t know what I had feared all those years. The loaf itself looked nice – Jo suggests brushing the loaf with beaten egg yolk before baking, which gives it a nice sheen. I do think it could rise a bit more, and will experiment next time. But in terms of flavour – wow! I actually wasn’t expecting much, but it tasted really good. As my father-in-law observed, ‘It’s got a proper flavour. It tastes like bread used to taste,’ plus both children really liked it, just plain with a bit of butter. Clearly I’d risen to the occasion (sorry – couldn’t resist a pun). It really did taste great, I have to say. Plus, I knew what was in it. No E numbers, no weird preservatives, no crap. Yes, it takes time to make, but once I know what I’m doing, I reckon I’ll be able to fit bread-making in at the weekend around other activities – and it’s actually relaxing and enjoyable.
Bread-making is clearly addictive, as no sooner had I mastered the Basic White Loaf than I was flicking through Aga cookbooks looking for more recipes. Stay tuned to hear about my Six Seed Granary Loaf, made the very next day. I only wish I could have brought the Aga back to London!
If you’re interested in making the switch to eating real bread check out the Campaign for Real Bread website here.
Christmas is always a big deal in our house because it’s my son’s birthday on Boxing Day, and so we enter a New Year with him a year older, which always makes me feel older. My daughter is growing fast, too, and starting to exhibit a new level of enterprise and cunning; her latest trick of an evening is getting out of her Grobag and catapulting herself out of the cot with a wicked cackle of glee. I am in denial – she’s my baby – she can’t grow up. I won’t allow it.
So, anyway, 2013 has been quite busy for me already, what with one thing and another, and I haven’t had as much time to cook as I would like. Thankfully, the good old weekly Riverford box has come into its own, and I have been throwing together such things as aubergine curry, minestrone soup and cauliflower cheese. It’s amazing what you can rustle up without having to leave the house, if your store cupboard is fairly well stocked and you have some cheese knocking about (one of my store-cupboard faves is this Gia Sundried Tomato Purée, incidentally – it’s brilliant in so many dishes).
One thing I seem to have had a glut of is bananas. And so I made my quick and very tasty banana bread this week, and thought I’d share the recipe here. Not strictly one-handed, although some bits could be done with a baby perched on your hip, it can be whipped up in no time at all. It is really delicious, and what with snow allegedly coming, I can’t think of anything nicer than sitting inside, all cosy, eating a slice of this warm from the oven with a dab of butter, while the snow falls outside. Yum.
Nutty Banana Bread
Mashing bananas to make this always reminds of mashing bananas for the babies when I was weaning them: plate, fork, ripe bananas, tiny spoons, puckered lips, flat refusal, banana on the floor, banana in their hair, banana in my hair, banana absolutely everywhere – ah, happy days.
This is dead simple, so it’s perfect if you have a few overripe bananas lying around that you can’t bear to see going to waste and someone is coming for tea. If you don’t have walnuts, macadamia nuts are good too. Chopped medjool dates are nice stirred in, although they are very sweet so you could reduce the sugar a little if adding those. You could also try sprinkling poppyseeds on top.
3 ripe bananas, mashed up
75g soft butter (get it out the fridge in advance or soften in microwave)
160g soft brown sugar (100g soft brown + 60g dark brown sugar also works well)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
170g wholemeal flour (50:50 wholemeal & plain flour works well, too)
small pinch ground cloves
50g walnut halves, chopped, and save a few halves to go on top
What to do
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/160˚C Fan/Gas mark 4 and grease a small loaf tin (7½” x 3½”), or use some Lakeland quick release spray.
- To a mixing bowl add: the mashed bananas, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract and mix.
- Mix in the baking powder, the salt, the ground cloves and finally the flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and decorate with a couple of walnut halves.
- Bake for 45 mins and check. Insert a skewer; if it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
- Allow to cool in the tin a little, and then… dig in!