Baking- Mini Egg Cookie Bars

I have fond childhood memories of eating mini-eggs around Easter time, they were definitely a favourite and whilst these days I’m not such a fan [the recipe changed last year and I don’t care what anyone says, I can tell the difference!] my best friend still loves them, and I love my best friend so when I saw a recipe for Mini Egg cookie bars I decided to treat her.

I’m not going to post the actual recipe for it is not mine to post, instead I’ll direct you to it’s creator- the frankly genius Jane of Jane’s Patisserie [recipe link]. This woman’s blog has some of the best recipes I’ve seen and it’s an endless source of baking inspiration for me. I’ve made a few of her recipes now including the chocolate orange cookies and each and every thing turns out perfectly each time.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some pictures of the Mini Egg cookie bars as when I posted them on social media people went crazy for them- my best friend went on to declare them the “best cookies ever” which is high praise indeed and they really are so simple to make, perfect for any Easter themed gatherings you might be going to [even if that gathering just happens to be you and a pot of tea].
The basic recipe would lend itself beautifully to pretty much any chocolate addition and I’m tempted to give it a go with Rolos sometime for a soft and gooey caramel experience. I’ll definitely be making the Mini Egg version at least once more in the run up to Easter though and will be keeping a close eye on Jane’s blog for any other Easter themed bakes she comes up with- these Creme Egg cupcakes look amazing!
Have you got any Easter baking planned? Which are your favourite baking blogs to visit?

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Healthier Baking Ideas*

January is not a good month to be someone who loves to bake for other people- everyone is either on some kind of new year diet or so over-saturated with the rich foods of Christmas that they just can’t face any sweet treats. With that in mind I thought I’d explore a few ideas for healthier baking, mostly simple ingredient swaps to serve (mostly) as inspiration for myself and also to inspire my fellow baking addicts- and nab your ideas for healthier cakes and biscuits too!

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One simple swap you can make is to reduce saturated fats by replacing butter with an ingredient like rapeseed oil. There are a whole host of healthy baking recipes if you click the link- I especially like the look of the date and walnut cake which of course carries the added benefits of the dried fruit and nuts.
Obviously baked goods are notoriously laden with sugar and it’s hard to avoid it completely. What you can do though is look for sweeteners that have more nutritional benefits than refined white sugar- honey, apple puree, banana or sugar alternatives such as the SugaVida I recently featured are all good substitutes.
You can improve the nutritional content of cakes and bakes by adding in ingredients such as flaxseeds (also a great alternative to egg in vegan baking) to boost fibre content as well as providing a good source of vitamins and minerals. You won’t necessarily taste the difference but the benefits will be there.
Using alternatives to standard white flour will also boost the nutritional content of your bakes- buckwheat or spelt flours will increase fibre whilst almond flour will add a protein and vitamin E boost.
Finally when it comes to topping your bakes try switching regular cream or icing for greek or natural yoghurts. There are plenty of recipes out there for healthier toppings and you’ll gain the calcium, vitamin B12 and probiotics that yoghurts provide.
I’d love to know what smart-swaps you make for healthier baked goods, I’m getting bored of not baking and would love to get experimenting on healthier treats that both myself and those around me can enjoy. I’m notorious for not eating my own creations and it’s about time I started!

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Christmas Cheers with Cracker Drinks

Somehow it’s almost December, the month where even I ditch my anti-social tendencies and join in with the many festive get togethers. I do love a good party as much as the next person- any excuse to dress up and go wild, but at the same time I think nothing beats a more intimate get together at a friend’s place where you can really sit down and catch up on the year just gone (because somehow we only manage to meet up in December every year and I bet I’m not alone in this!)

I might not be hosting in my flat this year but I’m all for improving my hostess skills ready for next Christmas when I’m determined I will be so when The Cracker Drinks Co. sent over some of their no added sugar fruit drinks and some cocktail/mocktail recipes I was quick off of the mark to get practising.

The Cracker Drinks Co. are experts are creating delicious fruity drinks with no added sugar meaning that the range is naturally lower in calories, averaging around 30% less calories per 100ml than 100% orange juice or added sugar juice drinks. It remains high in fruit content offering the added benefit of 1 of your 5 a day. The range is completely natural and free from any artificial sweeteners, with just Stevia to add a little extra sweetness.

The drinks come in five flavours, of which I was sent the three you can see above. Perfect for drinking alone or using to spice up your Christmas cocktails (with a mocktail recipe thrown in for the non-drinkers out there).

Flowers n Spice

Ingredients
35ml St Germain Liqueur
15ml Vanilla vodka
100ml Still and Cloudy Lemonade
25ml Soda Water

Method
Add all ingredients to an ice filled glass and briefly stir
Garnish
Lemon wedge and twist

Light and Spicy

Ingredients
35ml Vanilla Vodka
100ml Mango & Passion Fruit
25ml Ginger Beer

Method
Fill a glass with cubed ice then add all the ingredients, stir briefly then cap with crushed ice
Garnish
Lime Wedge

Nojito

Take 200ml Cracker Apple, Mint and Lime
Top up with a little sugar free soda water
Add some mint leaves and a squeeze of lime
Serve over ice
Garnish with mint and lime

All three of these drinks were so quick and easy to make, even if I did fail to remember to make up some ice cubes prior to making the drinks- fail! They were all delicious though, the Nojito was my favourite I think- the combination of flavours was just lovely and I’m a big fan of the alcoholic Mojito anyway…serve this up to any drivers/non-drinkers at a part and they’ll love you forever! It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite out of the two cocktails though- both were so different to each other and so unlike any drinks I’ve had before thanks to the unique combination of flavours in the mixers…both big hits with me and new staples on my party drinks menu (you know, if I held parties and had a drinks menu!)

Let me know what your favourite cocktails and mocktails are in the comments- I’d love to try them out, all in the name of research of course

I won’t lie, drinking these at 2pm was definitely a highlight of my especially dull and dreary day!

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Juices provided by The Cracker Drinks Co. to create this post, all other ingredients came from me (hence the lack of ice!)

Baking with Macabella

It probably hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that baking is one of my hobbies and one of the only upsides of having been off of work for so long now is that I’ve been able to indulge my love of whipping up cakes and cookies for my friends and family. Over the last few months I’ve tried many a new recipe or ingredient and when Macabella got in touch asking if I’d like to try out their amazing sounding chocolate and macadamia spread and come up with some recipes using it I was ready for the challenge. I’ve actually been itching to try this spread since seeing my good friend Amy’s review of the crunchy variety so there was definitely excitement in the air when my goodies arrived.
Nestled in a swanky gold box were four jars of Macabella spread- two velvet ones and two of the crunch variety. After having a good old think about things I decided on baking two recipes using the products- one cookie and one cake.
For the cookies I used my tried and tested Rolo cookie cup recipe and followed the instructions up until the point where the biscuits came out of the oven. At that point instead of pressing rolos in to the still hot cookies I poked holes (using the end of a clean makeup brush for want of a better tool) and allowed the biscuits to cool slightly. I briefly considered using my thumb to make the indents but quickly dismissed that idea once I realised how stupid it would be to poke my own skin in to a red hot cookie! Whilst still warm I took teaspoons full of Macabella crunch and placed it inside the holes I had created…I found softening the spread for 15 seconds in the microwave made it easier to work with. As you can see, the end result is a lovely soft baked cookie that oozes chocolate-y macadamia goodness when you bite or cut in to it. These proved a massive hit with my Dad and his colleagues and took under an hour from start to finish to make.
For the cake I tried a new to me recipe that I modified by swapping the 100g of nutella for 100g of velvety smooth Macabella. This cake uses the all in one method so is really quick and simple to do and results in a wonderfully light but decadent sponge.

I filled the cake using the rest of a jar of Macabella crunch (make sure you do it whilst the cake is still warm) then topped it with Macabella velvet and a pot of chocolate curls. So simple and yet so effective and the true testament to what a wonderful cake you get when you use Macabella is how fast it disappeared when I dropped it in to work!

Neither of these recipes are complicated, nor do they take a long time to whip up and both were ultimately enhanced by the use of Macabella spreads and there is already demand for more!

Have you tried Macabella spread before? Either as a spread or in baking? What baked goods would you use it for? I strongly suggest you hot foot it to your nearest Sainsburys (the only UK stockist) and get some of this goodness for yourselves and get experimenting. Visit the Macabella website for more about the spread and for more recipe ideas.

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The Bake-Off Effect: Gin and Tonic Cake

Like what appears to be most of the UK (and beyond) population I’m currently swept up in Great British Bake-Off mania. Wednesday evening between 8pm and 9pm is sacred time and I resent anything that gets in my way, even a stag do of sorts. Ever since we viewed the first episode and saw one of contestants make a gin and tonic drizzle cake I’ve been informed by Mum that one just had to be made, being the dutiful daughter that I am I googled away and found this Good Housekeeping recipe and got baking.
I’m no food photographer so the photos really don’t do this justice but I was really pleased with how it turned out. It wasn’t the trickiest of cakes to make but it was time consuming thanks to several elements to the decorating process but it was worth it. This vanished in record time and has already been requested again as a birthday cake. I’ve popped the link to the recipe above but for those who can’t be faffed with clicking (guilty of this) here it is:

Cake Ingredients

200 g (7oz) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease
200 g (7oz) caster sugar
4 medium eggs, beaten
200 g (7oz) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
finely grated zest 1 lime
75 ml (3 fl oz) gin

For the Syrup and Topping

25 g (4oz) caster sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
125 ml (4 fl oz) tonic water
31/2 tbsp gin
2 limes, cut in half through their length and sliced into 3mm (1/8in) half moons
100 g (3 ½oz) icing sugar, sifted

Method

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan) mark 4. Grease and line base and sides of a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl beat butter and sugar with a handheld electric whisk until light and fluffy – about 5min. Gradually add eggs, beating well after each addition.

Fold in flour, baking powder and lime zest, followed by the gin. Spoon into prepared tin and bake for 55min-1hr or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make sugar syrup: gently heat the caster sugar and tonic water in a small pan, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Turn up heat and boil for 1min. Spoon 2tbsp of the syrup into a small bowl and mix in 2tbsp of the gin (this mixture will be used to soak the loaf later). Set pan of remaining syrup aside.

As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, poke holes into the top with a skewer and drizzle over the reserved syrup/gin mixture. Cool loaf in tin on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the candied lime slices. Reheat the remaining sugar syrup in its pan until boiling, then add the lime slices. Simmer for 10-12min until the slices are translucent. Lift out slices with a slotted spoon on to baking parchment, then sprinkle both sides of the lime slices liberally with caster sugar. Leave to dry.
Make icing by mixing together icing sugar with remaining 1½tbsp gin. Remove cooled loaf from tin, transfer to a board and peel off parchment. Pour over icing and decorate with the dried candied lime slices. Leave the cake to set before serving.

Let me know what you think if you make this…and fellow GBBO obsessives, what have you been inspired to make?

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