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Spider-Man Birthday Cake

For some reason (I’m trying to think of something other than laziness) it always takes me ages to blog about birthdays. Many of you lovely readers have asked me about the Spider-Man birthday cake I made Nicholas for his third birthday (over 4 months ago!) and how I made it. Well finally it’s here.

Nicholas didn’t actually eat any on the day, or the days that followed. What he did do was pick at the bits of icing that was left on the cake board I lazily just put in the garage after all the cake was eaten. Every time he picked he’d tell me how great the cake was that I made him. He also tells random people about his yummy Spider-Man birthday cake so I guess even if he didn’t eat it, it was a success!
Spider-Man birthday cakeI made the same chocolate cake I used for Nicholas’ blue birthday cake, which is a very much reduced-sugar version of Angela Nilson’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake. As well as being my ‘go-to’ chocolate cake, its denseness makes a wonderful solid foundation for decorating, it stays moist for several days so can be made ahead of time, and its decadent rich fudginess means one cake can feed a lot of people.

This time I didn’t cut the cooked cake in two horizontally and sandwich together again with ganache; I wanted to make the cake decorating easier and, to be honest, this rich cake really doesn’t need any filling inside.

I originally planned to simply carve a round cake into an oval shape to create Spider-Man’s head, but then I stumbled across Amanda’s Cookin’ while researching Spider-Man parties on Pinterest. Amanda very cleverly cuts a round cake in such a way as to piece together a perfectly-shaped oval that leaves you with only two very small leftover pieces (if I’d gone with my original plan I would have wasted a lot of cake). And don’t worry about cutting your cake into pieces; once you put it back together and decorate it, nobody will ever know was been cut up.

For Nicholas’ first two birthdays I made my own icing (for his first birthday I made my first ever marshmallow fondant icing). This time around I kept it simple and bought ready made icing and it made the whole cake-decorating process SO much easier! And with this wonderful chocolate cake, nobody even notices the icing.

I used the ganache as a crumb coat which traps all the loose crumbs on the outside of the cake (and evens out any little dimples or cracks the cake may have) and helps the icing stick to the cake. I used white chocolate and tinted it red to blend in with the icing, but you could use dark chocolate without any colouring for it to blend in with the cake.

SPIDER-MAN BIRTHDAY CAKE

Prep time: 30-40 mins
Cook time: 1hr 20 – 1 hr 30 mins
Decorating time: 30-40 mins

For the ganache:
100g good quality white chocolate, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
150ml double cream (pouring type)
A few drops of red food colouring (I used gel colouring to get a strong colour)

For the cake:
200g good quality dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa solids, chopped or broken into fairly small pieces
200g butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
85g self-raising flour
85g plain flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g light muscovado sugar
125g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
75ml (5 tbsp) buttermilk

To decorate:
500g ready-to-roll red fondant icing
cornflour for rolling out the icing
small amounts of white and black ready-to-roll fondant icing
black writing icing

To make the ganache, pour the double cream into a small saucepan and heat gently over a low heat until it’s just about to boil. Meanwhile put the pieces of white chocolate into a bowl.

Once the cream is almost boiling, take it off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add a few drops of red food colouring and stir through.

Put the ganache in the fridge to cool and thicken while you make the cake.

To make the cake, butter a spring-form 22cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Preheat the oven to fan 140C/conventional 160C/ gas 3.

Put the pieces of dark chocolate and butter into a medium, heavy-based saucepan. Mix the instant coffee into 125ml cold water and add it to the saucepan. Gently melt over a low heat, stirring regularly so the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. (Or melt in the microwave on medium for about 5 minutes, stirring half way through.)

While the chocolate is melting, sift the self-raising and plain flours, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder into a big bowl. Add the light muscovado sugar and golden caster sugar and stir getting rid of any lumps.

Once the chocolate mixture has melted, pour it into the dry ingredients and add the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 1hr 20-1hr 30 or until a skewer comes out clean and the top feels firm (don’t worry if it cracks a bit).

Leave to cool in the tin (don’t worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, put it into the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up before cutting.

To decorate, follow Amanda’s easy instructions here to turn your round cake into an oval. This is what my cake looked like after cutting and shaping:
Round cake cut to make an ovalMove your cake to a serving plate or board (I stuck some Spider-Man comic strips onto a thick piece of cardboard and then covered it in clear sticky plastic). Using a knife, spread the ganache over the top and sides of your cake, using it to even out the top.

Dust your work surface with cornflour and roll out your red icing until it’s big enough to cover the cake (about 1/2cm thick). Gently roll it around your rolling pin, place it on top of the cake and gently unroll it. Lightly press the icing around the cake and trim off the excess. If you have any excess cornflour on the icing, brush it off with a clean dry brush.

Using the black writing icing, pipe the web starting from the centre and piping straight lines outwards and down the sides. Then add the curved lines. (This makes a great Spider-Man cake as it is.)
Piped websRoll out the small pieces of white and black icing, and cut out two eye shapes from each, making the white shapes a little smaller (I used a template cut out of paper as suggested by Amanda). Dab a little water onto the back of each black eye shape and place in position. Repeat with the white eye shapes.

Now you’re ready for a Spidey-good birthday!

Tips:

  • After you’ve poured the cake batter into the tin to cook, make a hollow in the middle almost down to the bottom; when the cake cooks it won’t rise so much in the middle.
  • Any leftover red icing can be made into Spider-Man cupcake toppers: use an egg-shaped cookie cutter and leave the pieces to dry for a day then decorate with black writing icing.

 

Banana and nutella muffins

Hannah at Mums’ Days has made a fabulous list of recipes to use up browning bananas. Her 10 ways to use up old bananas includes banana milkshakes and smoothies, banana gelato, banana pancakes, banana bread and also my sugar-free flapjacks (which is without a doubt the most popular recipe on my blog).

Yesterday I needed a ‘pick-me-up’ and seeing the bananas in my fruit bowl that looked like they were very close to walking to the bin on their own, I thought of Hannah’s list, especially The Londoner’s Nutella swirl banana muffins. Perfect!

Banana and nutella muffins

Even though I wanted to eat something indulgent I couldn’t help myself from trying to make Rosie’s original recipe slightly healthier. So I reduced the sugar by a third and substituted some of the white self-raising flour with wholemeal. For muffins, the slightly heavier and denser cousins of cupcakes, you can definitely get away with adding some healthier wholemeal flour.

My taste-testers made no comment about the lack of sugar (and hubby ALWAYS comments if something I make isn’t sweet enough in his opinion). The fact that very ripe bananas are super sweet, plus the addition of Nutella makes it very easy to reduce the sugar content significantly without losing the necessary sweetness needed for it still to be a sweet treat.

I do love Nutella, in particular for how little you can add of it to make something seem much more indulgent than it is. I like adding it to porridge as only half a teaspoon makes the porridge taste wonderfully chocolatey and incredibly indulgent.

When I showed the muffins going into the oven yesterday on Instagram, one of my lovely IG friends asked if I’d tried Lindt ball muffins. I’d forgotten seeing them and was very glad I had! But if you need a more indulgent muffin, why not try popping a Lindt ball into the centre rather than the Nutella; I’m sure they would be divine.

BANANA AND NUTELLA MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Makes 12 muffins

115g unsalted butter
80g wholemeal self-raising flour
150g white self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp Nutella, at room temperature

Gently melt the butter (I prefer to use the microwave) and leave to cool.

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease your muffin tins (or line with paper cases).

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the wholemeal and white flours, the sugar and salt.

In a jug (or smaller mixing bowl), whisk together the melted butter, beaten eggs, mashed bananas and vanilla extract.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (mixing too much can make your muffins dense and chewy).

Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin tin holes (they’ll be about half to three-quarters full depending on the size of your tin). Add a small dollop of Nutella on top of each muffin and use a skewer (or knife) to swirl it through the muffin (not too much or you won’t see any swirls).
banana and Nutella muffins

Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Variations:

  • instead of Nutella, place a piece of chocolate (or Lindt ball!) in the centre of each muffin before baking to make oozing chocolate banana muffins
  • add 1 tsp of ground cinnamon to the mashed banana
  • make banana and Nutella bread/cake by cooking the mixture in a loaf or cake tin

Tip: if your Nutella is still rather hard at room temperature, either place the jar into a sink of hot water or pop the jar (without its lid) in the microwave and zap at a low temperature for intervals of 10 seconds each until it’s slightly runny.

Beetroot and yogurt risotto

Beetroot is a vegetable I’ve only grown to love cooking with recently, most probably as I’ve previously written, my experience of it growing up was ready-cooked, sliced and in tins.

When it’s in season, beetroot features a lot in our weekly delivered fruit and vegetable box, and that’s encouraged me to try using it in different ways. I’ve blogged my most successful recipes to date: beetroot, feta and thyme muffins, pink (beetroot) pancakes and beetroot and yogurt dip. The dip is what got me thinking about making a beetroot risotto.

beetroot and yogurt risotto

Cook your beetroot in your preferred way (or buy it precooked to cook down on preparation time). I like wrapping them in one piece of foil and roasting them in the oven; there’s no need to trim or chop them. Once they’ve cooled, it’s easy to remove the skin. You can also cook them in the microwave.

Surprisingly, this risotto doesn’t taste overly of earthy beetroot and the yogurt gives it a lovely (healthier) richness and creaminess without adding the usual extra butter and parmesan at the end. Kids (and adults) will love the colour and Nicholas happily ate it. I used red wine to add to the colour and liked the extra depth of flavour it gave, but white wine would work just as well.

BEETROOT AND YOGURT RISOTTO

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Serves 4 adults

400g cooked and peeled beetroot
1 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 onion, finely diced
350g risotto rice (I used Carnaroli)
250ml red wine
1 litre hot vegetable (or chicken) stock
150g Greek yogurt

Roughly chop the beetroot, put the pieces in a small food processor and blend until smooth.

Heat the oil and butter in a medium-sized pot over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and gently fry until softened.

Add the rice and quickly stir it so all the grains are coated. Add the wine and stir until it’s absorbed.

Start adding the stock a ladle at a time, letting it absorb then adding more. Keep doing this until the rice is ready (cooked but still with a little bite, about 15-20 minutes, and still moist). Remove from the heat.

Gently stir through the beetroot then the yogurt. Check for seasoning.

Tip: keep a small piece of beetroot aside and finely dice it to sprinkle over the top before serving.

What are you favourite ways of cooking with beetroot?

Review: Ozeri Stone Earth Pan

I was lucky enough to be sent the Stone Earth Pan by Ozeri to try and have been using it as my only frying pan for the last month.

Stonehenge non-stick

The pan utilises a natural stone-derived coating from Germany called Stonehenge making it one of the world’s first frying pans to combine non-stick perfection with being absolutely free of toxic substances such as PFOA (PerFluorooctanoic Acid), a harmful chemical often found in traditional cookware.

The eco-friendly pan is made from  heavy-gauge die-cast aluminum and has a magnetized base so it can also be used on induction stoves. The comfortable handle is coated in heat-resistant silicon and solidly attached to the pan.

I’ve been very impressed by the Stone Earth Pan. It’s a lovely solid pan without being too heavy that heats quickly and perfectly evenly as its advertising claims. My pan is the middle size in the range (26cm/10″), and is small compared to most of my other frying pans, but its unusually high sides means you can cook a surprisingly good amount in it.

The instructions recommend always having an initial thin film of oil in the pan before cooking. This has worked perfectly for me, but I’ve also cooked bacon, sausages and pancakes without using any oil or butter and the non-stick surface has stilled worked like a dream.

Ozeri Stone Earth Pan with Stonehenge non-stick coating

Cleaning has also been a dream. Unfortunately it’s not recommended to put the pan in the dishwasher. However, even after a month of fairly constant use it only needs a quick wipe with a soapy sponge. Even after cooking my Asian-style salmon whose sticky honey marinade always leaves my other pans needing a soak and then serious scrubbing, the Stone Earth Pan just needed a quick soapy wipe down!

Ozeri Stone Earth Pan with Stonehenge non-stick

The Stone Earth Pan also comes with a fabulous free pan protector, made from thick felt, enabling you to store other pots and pans on top of it without its non-stick surface getting damaged. This is a brilliant extra and it made me wonder why other pan manufacturers don’t do this.

Stonehenge non-stick

I’m now a huge fan of Ozeri and their Stone Earth Pans and the best thing is, unlike other top quality pans, they don’t cost the earth!

Disclosure: I was sent the Ozeri Stone Earth Pan to review. My opinions are honest and my own.

 

The most important meals of their lives

For children in Africa, breakfast isn’t just the most important meal of their day, but it could also be the most important meal of their lives. Starting the day with a full tummy gives them the energy to go to school and the energy to concentrate on learning. Education has the power to break the cycle of poverty; it can turn despair into hope.

The UK charity, Send A Cow, have published an e-book celebrating the importance of the first meal of the day as part of their Break…Fast appeal to help children in the poorest parts of Africa start each day with hope, potentially changing their lives. The Most Important Meal of their Lives features women and men who have made remarkable achievements. These women and men, who changed the lives of others dramatically, all had the choice to eat breakfast. If they hadn’t started every day with a full tummy, would they have changed the world? Maybe not.

Send a Cow researched what these great people liked to eat for breakfast, writing down the recipes for the food that helped them reach their potential. Now you can also start the day just like some of history’s greatest women and men, including Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Mother Theresa and the Apollo 11 astronauts.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen my versions of some of the Most Important Meals over the last few weeks. Here are some of them. I also breakfasted like Amelia Earhart and Jane Austin.

Mahatma Gandhi secured independence for India and inspired freedom movements all over the world. When he was in London, he liked to eat porridge and cocoa.

Send A Cow Most Important Meals of their Lives

My peaceful breakfast:

Send A Cow Most Important Meals of their Lives

Albert Einstein believed in the benefits of a vegetarian diet. When he lived in Germany he liked eating fried eggs for breakfast with something drizzled over them (download the book to find out what!).

Send A Cow Most Important Meals of their Lives

My brainy breakfast (I was initially sceptical of what Einstein poured over the top, but it actually works very well):

Send A Cow Most Important Meals of their Lives

Rosa Parks became an icon in the battle against racial segregation when she bravely yet quietly refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. Her featherlite pancakes have an extra (very American) ingredient which make them very yummy (download the book to find out what it is!).

Send A Cow Most Important Meals of their Lives

My quietly strong breakfast:

Send A Cow Most Important Meal of their Lives

While the book is free to download, any donation you make, big or small, before the end of June 2014 will be doubled by the UK Government. Your donation will help Send A Cow provide seeds, tools and livestock so African families can grow enough food to feed themselves.

Tomorrow morning when you eat your breakfast, don’t take it for granted. Take a moment to think about the importance of food and take a moment to think about the power of food. Food has the power to change lives. Food has the power to change the world.

Read more about Send A Cow’s work.
Download The Most Important Meals of their Lives.
Make a donation to change the world.

Mini savoury bread puddings

When we were doing our Kingsmill Great White Challenge, I didn’t just want to eat bread in sandwiches or as toast. After a quick search online for ideas, I decided to try making savoury bread puddings.

Not only are these puddings a brilliant way to use up older bread, but they’re also great to use up any crusts or end pieces that your family doesn’t like eating. I have a few bags in my freezer of crusts leftover from school lunches which I would normally make into sugar-free French toast, but now I think they’ll be made into savoury bread puddings!

Please excuse my approximate amounts in the recipe. This is a very forgiving recipe, so even just 2 sausages would work. The only important thing is making sure there is enough liquid to moisten all of your bread chunks.

I made my savoury puddings in a large muffin pan, but you could easily pour all the mixture into a loaf tin and eat it in slices instead.

To get your munchkins involved in the cooking, forget about cutting up the bread and get them tearing it up instead. And I’m sure they’ll love mixing all the ingredients together too.

cute food

MINI SAVOURY BREAD PUDDINGS

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 30-40 mins
Makes 6 mini puddings

1/2 onion, finely diced
3 or 4 uncooked sausages
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme or chives, chopped
salt and pepper
approx. 4 slices of bread, roughly chopped into cubes about 3cm square
oil of your choice (I used rapeseed oil)
extra cheddar cheese for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 180C.

Remove the casings from the sausages by cutting down the length of the sausages and peeling off the casings.

Heat a small amount of oil in a medium-sized frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and sausage, and cook for about 5 minutes until both are cooked, stirring to break up the sausage meat. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the milk, egg, 1/4 cup of grated cheese, chopped herbs, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the sausage mixture and then stir through the bread (if the mixture is quite wet and runny, add a little more bread; if there isn’t enough liquid to soak through the bread, add a little more milk).

Allow the bread to soak up the liquid while you lightly grease a large muffin pan.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, sprinkle over a little extra cheddar cheese and cook for 30-40 minutes until golden brown on top and cooked through.

If you want to make your mini puddings into turtles, use half a cherry tomato for the head and pieces of soft cheese triangles for its legs and little tail. His mouth is a small piece of soft cheese and his eyes are cress leaves. I also garnished the plate with cress (grown by Nicholas!).

Variations:

  • Bake the mixture into a loaf tin and eat in slices
  • Add some grated apple while you’re cooking the onion and sausage
  • Use bacon or uncooked ham instead of the sausage
  • Add some chopped fresh spinach to the finished mixture

What do you do with your leftover bread?

The Kingsmill Great White Challenge

I do love a challenge, especially one that involves food, so when Kingsmill invited us to take part in their Great White Challenge I jumped at the chance.

For three days we had to replace our normal loaf of bread with Kingsmill Great White and use it as creatively and healthily as we could.  Our creations also had to have the ‘wow’ factor, kind of like The X Factor but with sandwiches instead of singers!

I don’t usually buy white bread, especially not for Nicholas, although I do secretly love a slice of white toasted and slathered in butter. Thankfully Kingsmill Great White contains as much fibre as wholemeal bread with 7.0g fibre per 100g (interestingly Kingsmill Tasty Wholemeal contains 6.2g fibre per 100g).

breadNicholas, unlike his Italian papà, loves toast and sandwiches, and happily eats them every day. However, he’s recently gone from happily eating his crusts to refusing to eat them.

But back to the challenge. As soon as I heard the bread’s name there was only one possibility for me – we were going on an undersea adventure in search of great white sharks!

Mask and snorkel? Check!

Mask and snorkel? Check!

Shark pjs? Check!

Shark pjs? Check!

We actually had a false start to the challenge as it was postponed a week at the last moment, but I didn’t want our efforts to go to waste. We had turtle toast with peanut butter and a teeny bit of nutella for breakfast to celebrate World Turtle Day. Then Nicholas very excitedly told me when I picked him up from pre-school that he’d eaten TWO sharks at lunch (and there were only crumbs left as evidence). Two great whites already spotted!

Kingsmill Great WhiteOn to the official challenge. On Friday we had ‘under the sea’ sugar-free French toast for breakfast, jellyfish and fish sandwiches for lunch and some shark fin carrot soup for dinner. I made the jellyfish tentacles from the leftover crusts and (shock, horror) they were the very first things Nicholas ate! Number of great whites spotted – 1

Kingsmill Great WhiteOn Saturday morning a fishy in a hole gave us lots of energy, then later our Playmobil friend went a little crazy when she spotted not one but two great whites lurking in our salad sandwiches. Number of great whites spotted – 2

Kingsmill Great WhiteWe started our final day of the challenge with crab toast (again with peanut butter and a little bit of nutella) inspired by one of Nicholas’ books (and the crab legs, made from crusts, were the first to be eaten!). I then used some of the bread chopped up to make healthy mini savoury bread puddings for lunch and I made Nicholas’ into another turtle (this is also a great way to use up any crusts or end pieces nobody eats). And finally, in the evening, we had summer pudding (another fab way to use up older bread). Unfortunately my octopus turned out more like a spider, but he still was very much appreciated! Number of great whites spotted – 0

Kingsmill Great White

Total number of great whites spotted – 5!

We had lots of fun making and eating our creations, and I loved see Nicholas enthusiastically eating his crusts ;)

You can see lots of other wonderfully original and healthy creations by other bloggers by searching #KingsmillGreatWhite on Twitter or Instagram. Kingsmill also have a fantastic free Lunch Book with recipes all created by kids (Hayley’s Funky Turtle is definitely my favourite).

Some of the other bloggers who did the challenge and their fabulous creations:
Boo Roo and Tigger Too
Mummy Mishaps
Mummy Mum Mum
Mummy’s Space

Disclosure: we were compensated by Kingsmill for participating in their challenge. My opinions are honest and my own.

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