Friday, 23 December 2011

Waitrose Christmas Dessert Reviews

I've been lucky enough to be able to review several Christmas desserts from Waitrose this year, two of which were created by UK celebrity chef Heston Blementhal.  For those of you living outside the UK, or are who are just not unfamiliar with Heston, he's basically a real life Willy Wonka.  His creations are like little science experiments - many of which I find a little too out there, but his creations for Waitrose are suited more to the general public. 

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If you live in the UK, you may remember the infamous Christmas pudding he created last year exclusively for Waitrose.  It had an entire candied orange hidden inside, which infused the pudding with a delicious citrus flavour.  When you cut into the pudding you also got a cross section of candied orange as well.  Heston's Candied Orange Christmas Pudding sold out within days, and immediately began springing up on eBay for hundreds of pounds.  The same has happened this year, although the average price seems to be between £15 - £30.

Image source

This year Heston has created several new Christmas desserts including a Chocolate Popping Candy Tart, a Chocolate and Cherry Blackforest Buche, and Puff Pastry Mince Pies With Pine Sugar Dusting.  

I was fortunate enough to try out Heston's Popping Candy Tart and his Pine Scented Mince Pies, as well as a Christmas Pudding Cheesecake by Waitrose's own label.  


First up I tried the Waitrose Christmas Pudding Cheesecake.  I had wanted to try it ever since hearing about it at the Waitrose Christmas product launch way back in the summer.  Although it wasn't available to sample on the day, I thought the concept was great.  The cheesecake comes in a neat dome shape, just like a real Christmas pudding.  It had a delicious graham cracker / digestive base, and the actual cheesecake bit was so light and fluffy in texture.  It was loosely studded with candied orange peel, raisins and pieces of Christmas pudding, but the flavour was not too strong or overwhelming, although the chocolate topping did taste a bit boozey.  My husband and I both really liked the cheesecake, partially because the Christmas pudding flavour was quite mild, making it a perfect alternative if you or your guests aren't that fond of the traditional Christmas pudding.  The Waitrose Christmas Pudding Cheesecake sells for £6.99 and serves approximately 6 people.


Next I tried the popping candy tart which is described as "a tart that will literally dance on your tongue. First you will be seduced by the luxurious velvety dark chocolate that has been infused with an exotic passion fruit puree, a direct contrast to the crunchy hazelnut base.  As your mouth begins to water the real surprise element begins as the popping candy begins to crackle and tingle on your tongue."


The description above is fairly accurate.  The chocolate is so rich and velvety smooth, with just a hint of passion fruit, making you want to savour every last bit in your mouth.  And that's when the popping candy hits you! There's just enough snap, crackle and pop to know it's there, but not so much that it's like you dumped an entire packet of the stuff into your mouth (like we all did when we were kids!).  I would definitely recommend Heston's popping candy tart as a special Christmas treat.  I also think it would make an even better dessert option for New Years Eve, although I'm not sure if it will still be available in stores then, but it's worth checking.  Personally, I think the only drawback to the popping candy tart would be the price.  Maybe it's just me, but £16.99 for a 10 serving tart seems a little steep for a prepared supermarket dessert.  I guess it just depends on how much you like your friends and family :-) 


Lastly I tried Heston's pine scented mince pies, which he describes as "delicious eaten warm from the oven, and then sprinkled with pine sugar for a Christmas tree aroma."  Unlike a conventional mince pie, Heston's version is incased in puff pastry rather than a normal tart shell.  The mince pies come with a generous sized packet of pine scented icing sugar that really does smell exactly like pine, so much so, that I initially found it a little off putting because it smelled like a household cleaner.  After dipping my finger into it and giving it a taste, I decided that I actually quite liked the pine sugar.  It had a nice subtle pine flavour, with a minty aftertaste.  I was really excited to give these mince pies a try, but in all honesty I found them a bit disappointing.  Perhaps it's because I've never been a huge puff pasty fan, but I found the pastry a bit bland - I think the pies would have been better in a traditional tart shell. There was too much puff pastry, and not enough filling inside, but I really did like the pine sugar. I think next year Heston could have a real winner if he kept the novelty of the pine sugar, but used a regular tart shell.  At £3.29 for 6, they're definitely more expensive than the average mince pies, but they won't break the bank either if you're looking to try a little something different.



At first I sprinkled the pine sugar on quite sparingly, but don't be afraid of it.  Next time I'd cover the tops in the sugar!

So what are YOU having for Christmas dessert?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies YOU Don't Have To Bake

It's Christmas party season at the moment, and if you're looking for the perfect hostess gift baked goods always seem to go down well.  They're thoughtful and homemade, but sometimes - especially around Christmas time, we literally just don't have the time (or energy) to sit around baking.  If this sounds like a dilemma you have, then these cookies my friends are for you!  They look amazing, taste delicious, and only take about 5 mins to make - not bake!  That's because you don't do the baking, they do!  Just include a little card with the baking instructions so the recipient knows what to do.  


I had actually made these cookies in a jar way back in the summer as a hostess thank you gift, which is why they don't exactly look very Christmassy.  I'd used a spring mix colour blend of M&M's and some fun white and dark chocolate swirl chocolate chips I picked up in the States - why don't we get these cool things in the UK?!?!?


I love these cookies because not only are they easy to make, but they just look so pretty in the jar, especially with seasonal coloured M&M's, and a nice bow tied around them.  For some strange reason here in the UK M&M's do a Christmas blend of red and green M&M's, but they're only available in peanut flavour, and in a little 125 gram tube.  BUT - the good news is, if you're looking for fun and seasonal colours of M&M's, they are available at the M&M store in Leicester Square (I bought a variety of blue M&M's for my baby shower there).


To make these Cookies in a Jar, you'll need a jar (duh!), chocolate chips, M&M's (or other candy coated chocolate candy - you could also use raisins or nuts, but those aren't nearly as fun) and then the usual ingredients flour, sugar, oats, etc, and then layer them neatly in the jar.  Include a little instruction card letting your friends know they'll need to add in a bit of butter, an egg, and some vanilla to the mixture before baking.

Cookies in a Jar
Adapted from All Recipes

Ingredients:

1 1/3 Cups (166g) Flour 
1 1/3 Cups (120g) Rolled Oats  
3/4 Cup M&M's, Chopped Nuts, or Raisins 
3/4 Cup Chocolate Chips 
1/2 Cup (100g) Brown Sugar, packed
1/2 Cup (112g) White Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder 
1 tsp Baking Soda 
1/4 tsp Salt

Instructions:

1.  Layer the ingredients in a 1 quart jar (I think I got my jars from Ikea) in the order given above. Make sure to press each layer firmly in place before adding the next layer, otherwise it may not all fit. 

2.  Include a card with the following instructions: Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix in a Jar: 
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Grease cookie sheets.  2. In a medium bowl, mix together 1/2 cup (115g) melted butter, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Stir in the entire contents of the jar. You may need to use your hands to finish mixing. Shape into walnut sized balls. Place two inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. 3. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes in the preheated oven. Transfer from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.


And there you have it!  A delicious home prepared Christmas (or anytime) gift that tastes amazing, and takes virtually none of your time!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Made With Pink's Christmas Gift Guide

With Christmas just around the corner, I couldn't help but pull together a list of my top must have gifts that I either own - or would like to see under my tree this year.  Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely LOVE shopping. I'm drawn to anything cute, pink or whimsical, so narrowing down my top gift picks was difficult!  I was originally going to choose my top 5, but that was far too difficult, so I settled on my top 10.  

Made With Pink's Christmas Gift Guide - Top 10 Picks











1.  Russian Doll Measuring Cups - this set of 6 cute measuring cups look like traditional Russian matryoshkas dolls, and stack neatly inside each other.  They measure 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 and 1 full cup.  Available from John Lewis for £11 and other retailers.

2.  Kenwood kMix Food Mixer - I've never been a fan of the classic Kenwood mixer - purely because I didn't like the way it looked, but I'm loving the new kMix line which come in a range of funky colours.  The mixer shown is the Firecracker model, but my favourite is the Oyster Cove 1 which is made up of various shades of purples and greys.  The Firecracker model is available from John Lewis for £369.  All other models are available via the Kenwood Online Store for £399

3.  Pip Studio Tableware - Ever since spotting these gorgeous cups and saucers by Pip Studio last year, I've been a huge fan of the entire tableware range.  They're great because they come in 3 main colours - blue, pink and beige and can all be mixed and matched with each other.  My husband bought me several pieces for my birthday in August, and I just love them and will continue to add to my collection.  The range includes  tea cups and saucers, tea pots, plates, mugs, bowls, charger plates, etc and look gorgeous when the various colours are mixed with each other.  Available from John Lewis for £4 - £50 and other retailers.

4.  Charbonnel et Walker Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles - Swarovski Crystal Edition - I just love these delicious pink champagne truffles.  How could I not?  They're pink!  And they're actually what inspired my award winning Pink Champagne Cupcakes I made around the time when I first started Made With Pink.  To be honest, the only thing different about these truffles that makes them any different from the original Charbonnel Pink Marc de Champagne truffles is that the box is studded with gorgeous pink Swarovski Crystals. I'm going to be honest and say that I could never justify the cost of these just because they have Swarovski Crystals on the box, but there are obviously people who can!  I think for now I'm going to have to admire them from afar, but if you're looking for a gift for the person that has everything, then you may want to pick up a box.  Available from Harrods for £50

5.  KitchenAid Ice Blue Artisan Mixer - I know I'm featuring two mixers, but I just love the look of both of the ones I've chosen.  I don't know if I could ever stray from my pink KitchenAid Artisan Mixer, but this Ice Blue Model (slightly resembling a giant package from Tiffany's) just might tempt me.  If I could have both I would!  Available from John Lewis for £419 - currently comes with a free glass mixing bowl worth £61

6.  Pink Heart Cast Iron Casserole Dish - I spotted this adorable baby pink heart shaped cast iron casserole dish during a recent shop at Sainsburys.  I was immediately impressed with the finish an quality of the dish, as well as it's reasonable price tag. I know for a fact that this will be waiting for me under our tree on Christmas morning :-)  If you're not a fan of the heart shape, it's also available in the traditional round shape in two different sizes.  Available from Sainsburys for £30

7.  Hovis Bread Tin - I don't know why, but I just love this vintage inspired Hovis bread loaf tin.  I'd seen them previously in Selfridges, but never purchased one.  I love the old fashioned look of them, and think they would make a fantastic gift - especially with a loaf of my banana bread already baked inside! I'm not sure if Selfridges still carry these, but they're available online in two different sizes from Not On The High Street for £16 - £28

8.  Peggy Porschen Apron - Ever since discovering Peggy's cake decorating books I've been a huge fan of hers, and fell in love with her pretty pink and brown aprons after seeing them on display in her cake parlour.  At the time of posting this the adult apron is currently sold out, but the children's size is still available.  The aprons are normally sold in store and online, but as the adult size is out of stock it's best to call the parlour to check availability.  Available from the Peggy Porschen Parlour for £15 - £25

9.  Kuhn Rikon Colori Knives - I can safely say that these coloured knives are the most used thing in my kitchen.  I've lost track as to how many I actually have, but the baby pink ones (I have several) are my favourite.  I love these knives because the blades are made of high-quality carbon with a non-stick coating and plastic blade protecting case, which makes them great because I can toss them in my drawer or purse (yes, I've been known to carry one in my purse!) without them getting dull.  They come in a huge variety of colours and patterns including leopard and zebra prints, and even polka dot and cupcake patterns!  Available from various retailers for around £6

10.   ToDryFor Tea Towels - I stumbled across the ToDryFor website a few months ago, and can't get enough of their quirky tea towels!  They have a huge range of designs, many inspired by London and other famous world cities, but the 2 pictured above are probably my favourites.  Available online from the ToDryFor website for £8.50 - £12.50

Hopefully my picks will help you choose the perfect gift for your loved one, or feel free to hint to them about something that caught your eye!  

* Please note that My Top 10 Picks were independently chosen by me, and without any compensation or influence from the manufacturers. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

It's Good To Be Back! Let's Celebrate With A Chocolate Blackberry Layer Cake

Well, after a much longer than anticipated hiatus after having little Jayden, I'm proud to say I'm back!!!  I'm not going to lie - caring for a new born baby was a lot more time consuming than I ever expected.  I went from reading baking blogs to reading skimming baby books, and I can probably count the number of times on one hand that I actually turned my computer on in the past 3 months - thank goodness for iPhones!  I haven't really had much spare time to bake, but I've started to ease back into it over the past few weeks and have a few Christmas treats I'm dying to make, and blog about.  But this post isn't about Christmas at all - in fact, it's  a wonderfully thoughtful guest post from the amazing Arthi who bakes the most amazing creations over on her blog Soul Curry.  As Arthi mentions below, we first met at a blogger potluck last year, and I was so taken with her and her husband and how genuinely nice they both were.  They drove down to London all the way from Manchester just for the potluck, and we soon discovered that the regional office where I sometimes worked was very near to her house.  She even offered to let me stay with them incase the impending snow storm that was forecasted to happen while I was scheduled to be there prevented my plane from returning back to London.  How nice is that?!?!  Anyways, a huge apology to Arthi for taking an inexcusably long time to get her wonderful guest post up that she so thoughtfully prepared for us all.  Like I said before, I've barely had a chance to turn on my computer on over the past few months that I haven't even been able to reply to the majority of the emails I've been sent, so sorry if you were one of those people I haven't replied to!  Now that we're in more of a predictable routine, I will do my best to go back and reply to you all!  Before turning it over to Arthi, here's a little picture of my time consuming munchkin!  



A few days back I got a DM on twitter from Andrea of Made With Pink and I was thrilled to hear that she had delivered a healthy baby boy. I quickly rushed to her site to see the pics of her new born. Pure Bliss! 

 


I met Andrea at the FBC Potluck last year and me & I absolutely loved her Nanaimo bars ( a rich confection from a town called Nanaimo, that's made up of Graham cracker , cocoa, coconut and nut crust, a chocolate topping & has a rich custard buttercream filling).

Thanks to twitter we managed to keep in touch, although I missed her at the Plate2Page & FBC this year. Andrea asked me to guest post for her and when asked about what I should be making, she said anything sweet…Now, that anything sweet cannot be made-with-pink (sorry Andrea), as she has a handsome boy and I decided I have to make-it-with-a-little-bit-of-blue (errr Lilac). With a bit of brain storming and checking what my friend’s little boys like, I decided it has to be chocolate..so I made this special Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Butter-cream for the very special Jayden.



Its a shame we cannot share this huge 5 layer cake with them in person! Congratulations to both of you… May the joy of parenting bring you loads of happiness, sleepless nights and caffine overdose…….and hopefully culminating in a new set of strong hands in the kitchen for some serious muscle power whisking!



Chocolate Blackberry Cake

For the cake I doubled this chocolate cake recipe and baked in 3 6inch tins.

For the Swiss butter-cream I doubled the recipe from Tartlette.

Ingredients:


200gms (7oz) sugar
4 large egg whites
330gms (1.5 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
150gms (1/3 lb) Fresh blackberries
1tsp Vanilla extract

Method:


Put the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over a bain marie and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch & 150ºC (300ºF) on a candy thermometer. The sugar should be dissolved at this point. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 10 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth. Make sure you add the butter once the meringue is cool. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 10 minutes. Add the fresh blackberries and whisk. You could add pureed fresh berries for a smoother buttercream.



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