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When Perry came to visit

If you follow The Gingerbread Mum on Instagram or Twitter, you might have noticed that for the past three days we’ve been having adventures with a gingerbread biscuit. Yes, a gingerbread biscuit. A biscuit that goes by the name of Perry the Penguin.

Perry the Penguin, Costa Coffee’s newest gingerbread offering, comes all the way from the Antarctic so he’s perfectly suited for our chilly weather. (Actually he’s made and hand-iced in a small independent Cheshire bakery, but that’s just between you and me.)

Costa Coffee challenged us and nine other bloggers to take Perry on tour for three days and share our adventures with him. You can see his other adventures by searching for #perryontour on your favourite social networks.

I don’t know why, but when we were first invited to take part in the challenge I thought we’d get a toy Perry to bring with us. Later it dawned on me, no, we’d be entertaining a biscuit for three days.
Perry the Penguin #perryontour

So yes, I did indeed spend three days carrying Perry wherever we went (along with Perry’s stand-in and Perry’s stunt double). I did indeed make boardshorts for a biscuit. And I did indeed make bungee and rock-climbing harnesses for a piece of gingerbread. Ah, the varied life of a mummy to an adopted gingerbread! But we, all three of us, actually had a lot of fun with Perry, thinking up new things for him to do, incorporating him into our family life, and sneaking nibbles of him when we thought no one was looking.

I was happily surprised by all the love and comments our photos got during our challenge, which showed me that it wasn’t just us enjoying Perry’s adventures. It was great that a gingerbread penguin doing silly things could brighten up other people’s day too 🙂

So, without any further ado, drum roll please (or maybe a heart-stirring piece of instrumental music would be more appropriate to set the tone?!), here is what we got up to with Perry.

Friday – a safari, an evening cruise and a touch of homesickness

We awoke to find Perry had arrived by train, ready and eager to have lots of fun.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourAfter a quick breakfast (Perry prefers a ristretto to start the day which immediately put him in hubby’s good books although also meant hubby was late to work as he enjoyed having another coffee connoisseur in the house), we kitted Perry out with binoculars and went to our local safari park to see what we could spot.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourWe were very lucky to see various wild animals in a grassy glade, all happily together. Although looking at the photos now, the lions do seem to be crouching ready to pounce in the background (thankfully we left before any animals were eaten).

Trekking back through the woods made us all hungry and before I could stop it, Nicholas had chomped off Perry’s head! Thank goodness Perry has more than one life or our adventures would have been over on the first day.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourPerry had been telling us what he normally gets up to in the Antartic and sounded a bit homesick describing his wife Paula and their two baby penguins, Paige and Perry Jr., so I made him a special lunch to help him cheer up.
Perry and his special lunchPerry finished his day with a relaxing bath cruise followed by Nicholas reading him Pinocchio (I hid ‘The Gingerbread Man’ book).
Perry the Penguin #perryontour
Then Perry was tucked up in bed with his teddy bear.
Perry the Penguin #perryontour

Saturday – false hopes, a toe dip, a surfing dude and bungee-jumping

We woke up on Saturday to find Perry had already made himself breakfast and had discovered Ruby the Reindeer. I tried not to eavesdrop, but I did hear Ruby enthusiastically reassuring Perry that gingerbread was indeed safe in our house as she was still uneaten after Christmas (ah…).
Perry the Penguin #perryontourPerry came with us to Nicholas’ swimming lesson and was very excited to join him while we were in the changing room, but then chickened out when he tested the warm water with his toe which quickly proceeded to dissolve.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourWe took him out for lunch to try to take his mind off his missing toe and then a walk along the Thames. He was a little sacred when we held him over the edge to see the very large geese and swans, so Nicholas gave him his favourite toy (a rabbit called Barch) to hug.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourTo make up for Perry missing out on the swimming fun earlier, when we got home we made him some boardshorts and tried to teach him how to surf, which he was quite good at.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourWith his adrenaline pumping, Perry wanted more fun so he bungee-jumped off our stairs!

Sunday – Australia Day disappointment, a hangover? (surely not), rock-climbing and karaoke

Very late last night on hearing a strange sound, I went to check on Nicholas and Perry. Nicholas was fast asleep, but I found Perry in a hoodie, trying to sneak out! I put him back to bed. But when I came downstairs the next morning I found Perry looking rather queasy and about to take some painkillers. (What on earth did he get up to last night?)
Perry the Penguin #perryontourTo make his tummy feel better I made him some fun pancakes, which he scoffed very quickly.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourPerry found our Australian toys celebrating and they told him all about their culture. Perry was more than a little disappointed that we didn’t have a barbecue all day, and pointing out the pouring rain didn’t seem to make any difference.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourHe did, however, do a spot of rock-climbing (where does he get all his energy from?)…
Perry the Penguin #perryontourfollowed by some karaoke before bed (and I’m not making any comment on Perry’s singing ability).
Perry the Penguin #perryontourMonday

We were woken at the crack of dawn by the sounds of bugle-playing. Perry was afraid we’d miss his departure.
Perry the Penguin #perryontourAfter lots of hugs, a few tears and promises to keep in touch, Perry left to go back to his family in the Antartic. I did spy his boardshorts and his rock-climbing harness in his bag which made me wonder if he was going to make a detour on his way home 😉

Disclaimer: some Perry the Penguins were harmed and/or eaten during our adventures. Thankfully Costa Coffee sent us 10 Perrys.

A couple of outtakes from our three days:

Perry the Penguin #perryontour

Perry’s stand-in (or was it his stunt double?) gets nibbled during our safari shoot

Perry the Penguin #perryontour

Nicholas wasn’t impressed with Perry’s singing

If you’d like to have your own adventure with Perry, Costa Coffee are giving away gift cards to their favourites. Check them out on Facebook or Twitter for more details.

Costa Coffee are choosing their two favourite blogger adventures tomorrow and then you can vote on Wednesday and Thursday for your favourite via their Facebook page.

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Gingerbread House

When I was small I used to love making things for my family at Christmas (homemade gifts and yummy sweets). One of the festive creations I remember making was a Christmas candle made from half a polly waffle (a cylindrical  Australian chocolate bar filled with marshmallow) stuck into a pastry tart filled with more marshmallow and a licorice handle, and a red and orange painted blanched almond stuck in the top for a flame. I was very proud of them!

I often imagined being a mum and having so much fun being creative with my kids at Christmas, so I’m absolutely loving that this Christmas Nicholas is old enough to really get involved and for us to start some family Christmas traditions. And his enthusiasm for all things ‘Christmassy’ is very catching!

ChristmasMaking a gingerbread house is a lovely traditional activity for the whole family. You can make a big one all together or a village of smaller ones with everyone decorating their own.

We decided to make one small one, that we could decorate easily and also eat before we go to Italy for our Christmas holidays. I used the template from this gingerbread house recipe from the BCC’s Good Food site which was the perfect size (the finished house is about 16cm high, 11cm wide and 12cm long). The extended roof is very cute although it did make it extremely difficult to decorate the sides of the house. Using my gingerbread recipe, we had enough dough to make the house as well as about a dozen Christmas tree biscuits.

ChristmasI like to roll the dough on a piece of baking paper to avoid sticking to my kitchen work top and a piece of plastic wrap on the top (less cleaning and washing up!). We rolled the dough to a thickness of about 5mm. Keeping the plastic wrap on top, we laid the template pieces on top and used the back of a knife to lightly score around them. Taking away the plastic wrap, we then used a sharp knife and a small cutting board to cut out the pieces. We baked our pieces immediately which meant they did puff a little and the edges weren’t completely straight anymore. If you want your pieces to be as precise as possible, put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes and then trim away any bits that have expanded before baking.

Sticking the pieces together can be a bit tricky. You can stick them together with a stiff icing, but you often have to patiently hold the pieces together for quite some time while the icing sets. Some people also use melted sugar as it sets quickly, but it’s very very hot so not the safest option for children. We used melted white chocolate. I melted about 40g of it in the microwave in a small bowl then left it for a few minutes to cool and get tacky rather than runny. You can then spread it on with a knife similar to spreading cement on bricks!

We let the house ‘settle’ overnight so it was completely stable before we decorated it. Then we let Nicholas go to town! And I had fun making a snowman and Christmas tree.

ChristmasIf you’re munchkins are small, put the sweets in individual bowls beforehand so they can easily see and choose the sweets they want. We used small tubes of ready-made icing to stick the sweets on with; they’re easy for little hands to use on their own. Nicholas loved choosing each sweet, adding the “glue” and attaching, then got papà to hold them while the icing dried.

We admired our creation for a day, then demolished it! When I asked Nicholas what the best bit of making the gingerbread house was, he replied, ‘Eating it, mummy!’

What are your family Christmas traditions?

Gingerbread

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread. Whether it’s gingerbread men, a gingerbread house or other gingerbread shapes, the mix of spices and the smell of it baking makes me feel all warm and Christmas-y!

Making gingerbread with your little ones is a wonderful activity to do (and not just at Christmas time). It’s easy to make, immense fun to make shapes out of and cooks quickly so you can start decorating sooner.

If you’re cooking with toddlers, you could make the dough yourself beforehand (the dough keeps in the fridge easily for a day) and get your munchkin involved from the ‘cutting out shapes’ stage. Older kids can help make the dough from scratch and while it’s chilling in the fridge, they can start choosing cookie cutters and think about how they’ll decorate them.

Gingerbread keeps wonderfully (in an airtight container) for a couple of weeks. It’s also a lovely present your kids can make and then give to friends and family. We’ve just finished decorating some Christmas trees to give to the staff at Nicholas’ preschool.

Gingerbread Christmas treesThis recipe has been the only one I’ve used to make gingerbread for the last few years. It’s slightly adapted from a Waitrose recipe. If I remember correctly, I just reduced the amount of bicarbonate of soda, as I really don’t like it when I can taste it in the finished product. There’s still enough of it though to puff up the gingerbread a little.

To make cleaning up easier, I like to roll the gingerbread on a piece of baking paper rather than on a floured surface, with a piece of plastic wrap on the top so the rolling pin stays clean too. This also means that your gingerbread won’t accidently stick to your work surface.

Christmas

GINGERBREAD

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 9 mins
Makes about 30 medium-sized biscuits

125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
325g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 190C. Line at least two baking trays with baking paper.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the melted ingredients to make a stiff dough. Shape into a ball and refrigerate for 10 mins (if you’re not going to cook your gingerbread immediately, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge).

Roll out onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3-5mm. Cut out shapes and place on your lined baking trays. Bake for 9 minutes until golden brown.

Leave on a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Tip: before measuring out your golden syrup, rub a drop of oil over the spoon; the syrup will easily slide off.

What sweets are your favourite for decorating gingerbread?

Happy Halloween

In case you needed some more inspiration to create some fun food for Halloween, here are some more ideas.

My dear friend Kath sent me another picture of some more of her scary finger biscuits. These are less hideous and playing a tune!

These howling (or are they screaming?) strawberry ghosts from Taste of Home would be a quick and semi-healthy treat.

Meaghan over at the Decorated Cookie has loads of the cutest Halloween goodies. Kids would have lots of fun making their own zombie marshmallows.

And her monster cookie sticks are super easy and another great baking activity for kids (you could use the same biscuit dough as Kath’s scary fingers and make both!).

Gingerbread skeletons are all over Pinterest. These are from Family Fun. You could use any animal or person shape and add an icing skeleton.

Who said gingerbread houses were just for Christmas? You certainly wouldn’t if you saw the amazing constructions created on this year’s Great British Bake Off, and why not a Halloween house? Emma at Mummy Mummy Mum made this spooky house with her munchkins (and look to see what she used for scaffolding during construction).

Finally, what can you do with the leftover pumpkin after you’ve carved your jack-o-lanterns? Pumpkin muffins of course! And the Breakfast Lady has a lovely yummy recipe.

Happy Halloween!

Gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese icing

National Cupcake Week is drawing to an end, but I didn’t think I could let it pass by without trying to make some gingerbread cupcakes. While they’re probably more appropriate for Christmas (at least I’m getting ahead!), their warm spiciness and dark sugariness are perfect as the weather gets colder.

You could easily ice these with normal icing or vanilla buttercream icing; I just love the flavour combination of gingerbread and cream cheese. I also didn’t want to make a very firm icing because then the sugary flavour would overpower the cream cheese flavour, but if you want an icing you can pipe high on top of the cupcakes, then just add some more icing sugar to the mixture.

GINGERBREAD CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE ICING

Prep time: 20-25 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 12 cupcakes
Uniced cupcakes can be frozen for up to a month

Gingerbread cupcakes

125g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
125g butter, softened
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan).

Sift the flour, baking powder and ground ginger together.

Sprinkle the muscovado sugar over the butter, breaking any lumps up as much as you can. Beat the butter and sugar with a handheld mixer, or in a food processor, until creamy.

At a slower speed, add the eggs (one at a time) and golden syrup.

Carefully fold in the flour mixture, being careful not to overmix it.

Divide the mixture between 12 cupcake cases and bake for 12-15 mins until cooked through when tested with a skewer. Cool on a wire rack.

Cream cheese icing

90g butter, softened
150g cream cheese, softened
400g icing sugar, sifted
A sprinkling of cinnamon to serve

Beat the butter until creamy and pale in colour.

Add the cream cheese and lightly beat together.

Mix in the icing sugar, lightly beating until creamy.

Once the cupcakes are cool, spread or pipe the icing on top. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

Tip: the cream cheese icing is quite soft; if you want a firmer icing that holds its shape better for piping higher, add more icing sugar to the mixture.