Category: Best for Baking

Mini measures

Have you ever tried to measure really small amounts of liquid, sugar, almond essence or alcohol before? It can be tricky can’t it? Measuring jugs nearly always start at 50ml or 100ml. What if you need 30ml of brandy?  Or you have tripled a recipe and need 6 teaspoons of vanilla essence? I know you can just measure it out individually, but wouldn’t it be easier to just pour and measure in one go? Well now you can.


Last night I was on a cake propping mission at Sainsburys for a photo shoot I am doing this week and I seemed to wander away from the flour and eggs and found myself in the kitchenware department. I had popped into the Savercentre in Sydenham which is their flagship store so this section is pretty large and there is a lot to whet your appetite. It took all my will power not to buy another sieve/spatula/cookie cutter!

No sooner did I see this shot glass than it was in my basket. It’s by Eddingtons. It has four measurements on the sides (as you can see in the photos)  teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces and millilitres. It’s a steal at just £3! I bought one for my mum at the same time as we have often discussed this mini measuring dilemma. I used to use the girls baby bottles when they were little and no longer needed them as they had small measures on the side, but they’re long gone now.

This little glass made me very happy. What’s the saying” Simple things amuse simple people!” I rest my case!


Mary Berry and the best butter tip ever!

Did you catch the Great British bake Off Masterclass program? It was on the week after The Great British Bake Off final. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood showed us how the technical challenges from the show should have been made. They made it look so easy!

I picked up a ton of tips in that one program (you can watch it here) but the tip I have used the most and think is sooooo useful is Mary Berry’s butter tip.

Room temperature!!!!

How many times have you gone to bake a cake and found that you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge to let it get to room temperature? Or you’ve decided that you need just a smidge more buttercream, but your butter is all still chilled and hard. Well, not anymore. Mary’s tip for quickly softening butter is  ingenious.

Simply cut it up into cubes straight from the fridge and place it in a bowl of tepid water (not hot- trust me, hot water makes a BIG mess!). Leave for just 10 minutes -usually the time it takes to measure out the rest of a cake ingredients, drain the water away and it’s perfectly soft and ready to use.

I’ve done this so many times since the program. Tonight I felt like making a warm and wintery apple cake, so I softened up the butter in less time than it took to slice and core the apples! You can see from the picture above that the butter became nice and soft and left a finger sized dent when pressed after it’s warm soak!

One thing I would recommend is that you measure out the butter you need for your cake before softening it up. Otherwise you have to re-chill it and that’s not a good idea!


Ottolenghi Spice cookie recipe from ‘Jerusalem’

After reviewing the book ‘ Jerusalem‘ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi yesterday, I have very kindly been given permission by the publishers Ebury Press to run this delicious extract. I hope you enjoy it!


Spice cookies


During the late 19th century, as part of their Protestant beliefs, the Templers
arrived in Jerusalem from Europe and established the German colony, a
picturesque little neighbourhood south west of the old city that to this day
feels unusually Central European. This is the ‘civilized’ part of town, where
you go for a coffee and a slice of Sachertorte if you wish to escape the harsh
Levantine reality.

Germanic influences on the city’s food are evident in Christian contexts
— the famous Austrian hospice at the heart of the old city serves superb
strudels and proper schnitzels — but Czech, Austrian, Hungarian and
German Jews arriving in the city from the 1930s have also managed
to stamp their mark, opening cafes and bakeries serving many Austro-
Hungarian classics. Duvshanyot, round iced cookies,
made with honey and spices, typically for Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year),
are possibly a result of this heritage; they are very similar to Pfeffernüsse.

These are very loosely inspired by duvshanyot, or pfeffernüsse. They are
actually more closely related to an Italian spice cookie and are hugely
popular on the sweet counter at Ottolenghi over Easter and Christmas. The
recipe was adapted from the excellent The International Cookie Cookbook by
Nancy Baggett.

125g currants
2 tbsp brandy
240g plain flour
½ tbsp best-quality cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
150g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ tsp grated lemon zest
½ tsp grated orange zest
½ medium free-range egg
1 tbsp diced candied citrus peel

3 tbsp lemon juice
160g icing sugar

Soak the currants in the brandy for 10 minutes. Mix together the flour,
cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices, salt and dark
chocolate. Mix well with a whisk.

Put the butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon and orange zest in a mixer bowl
and beat to combine but not aerate much, about a minute. Add the egg
slowly, while the machine is running, and mix for another minute. Add the
dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything
comes together.

Remove the bowl from the machine and use your hands to gently knead
until you get a uniform dough. Divide the cookie mix into 50g chunks and
shape them into perfectly round balls. Place on two baking sheets lined with
baking paper, about 2cm apart, and rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/170ºC Fan/Gas Mark 5. Bake the cookies for
15–20 minutes, or until the top firms up but the centre is still slightly soft.
Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool
for 5 minutes only, and then transfer to a wire rack. While still warm, whisk
together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing is formed. Pour
1 tablespoon of the glaze over each biscuit, leaving it to drip and coat the
biscuit with a very thin, almost transparent film. Finish each with three
pieces of candied peel placed at the centre. Leave to set and serve, or store
in an airtight container for a day or two.

Jerusalem is available now from Amazon (Just click on the book image below) and good book shops


15 Lessons I learnt at Leiths Cookery School.

I’m never happier than when I’m baking!

Earlier in the summer I was lucky enough to go on one of Leiths Cookery school’s ‘Cakes and Baking workshops.

Now, I bake a lot. I mean A LOT! So I thought I knew quite a lot of stuff about baking, but boy was I wrong.  I learnt that there are so many little things you can do to make every baking experience even more successful. So without further ado, or waffling – if I can help it- here are some of the tips I learnt.

 1.Use the right tin.

If it says grease and line an 8” tin- do exactly that! I always used to make that up as I went along and make do, but Sue the demonstrator showed how using the right cake tin makes all the difference. Your cake will rise evenly and more importantly bake more flatly. Use a tin too small and your cake won’t bake. Use a tin too big and you’ll end up with a biscuit! It’s also important to prepare the tin before you start to mix up the ingredients as the longer you wait once the cake mix is ready, the more air you will lose and the cake won’t rise as well.

Leiths demonstration kitchen (obviously this is not Sue!)

2. Avoid loose bottom tins. 

The best tins to use are heavy bottomed ones. I use Mermaid tins and Lakeland’s ‘My Kitchen’ range of heavy based tins and they seem to work really well for me. I’m also in the process of testing some others out, but more on that in another post!

3. Always line the bottom of the cake tin. 

Get the paper (which should be silicon as it’s less sticky) to fit as closely as possible. Don’t let the paper from the bottom of the tin go up the  sides as this will change the shape of the top of the cake. Also, if the paper’s not covering the whole base of the tin the cake is likely to stick and be difficult to get it out after baking.

Individual squares of silicon paper were used for the Blueberry and lemon Friands we made

4. Use oil to grease your cake tin

I’ve always used butter or cake release to ‘grease’ my cake tins. It never occurred to me to use oil. Sue explained that using butter will nearly always form a crust on the outside edge of the cake.  I have been using a non flavoured oil (vegetable oil or sunflower oil – not olive oil) since the workshop and it has made such a difference. My cakes are now soft and spongy all over.

5. Bake at 180ºC

Practically all cakes need to be baked at 180ºC in the centre of the oven. I always worried about larger cakes burning or not baking in the centre but they too work best at 180°. I also always used the fan option with my oven. If you do this you need to lower the temperature by 10-20°C. Since the workshop I have opted not to use the fan  at all and the results are amazing. Goodbye fan hello better cakes. My cakes now bake much, much flatter and more level. There’s hardly any doming.

6. Check your oven temperature

I have a relatively new oven and even that doesn’t keep to a constant temperature or it doesn’t reach the temperature that I set it to. This is where an oven thermometer is essential. Pop one in the oven as soon as you turn it on to make sure you are ready to bake as soon as the mix is in the tins. I use this one from Amazon TALA OVEN THERMOMETER TALA 0/6

7. Don’t use a food processor

To make a cake rise most rely on air being beaten into the cake mix. The air then expands when it’s heated in the oven. For this reason a food processor isn’t the best mixing tool as it will bash all the air out when you mix with a blade resulting in a less fluffy cake. I always use my Kitchenaid stand mixer to blend ingredients and it works brilliantly.

8.Get the temperature right

Have your ingredients at room temperature for at least a few hours (preferably overnight)  before you make the cake. The most important elements are butter and eggs. Avoid putting butter in the microwave to soften it up as it won’t do so evenly and it affects the way the cake will bake. Instead leave it near a warm radiator for a while.

Everything was weighed out for us before we started.

9.The right way to mix

I didn’t know there was a wrong and a right way to mix a cake but apparently there is! We should start by mixing the sugar and butter together till they are light and fluffy (this is the creaming method). Then to add the eggs, first crack them into a jug and break them up a bit with a fork, then add them to the butter and eggs a tiny bit at a time. Then whisk, and whisk some more and then whisk some more until it is all really well blended. Then add a tablespoon more egg and continue with the mammoth whisking. I never did this before. I just added a spoonful of flour if it started to curdle, but this is the best way to avoid curdling. Then you can add the rest of the dry ingredients and fold it in.

There were plenty of pieces of equipment to go around

10.Always sieve

Until the workshop I always skipped sieving but it definitely helps to ensure everything will blend to a really smooth texture. I now sieve all dry ingredients, so if there are any larger sugar crystals (which there always are) I can get rid of them. Also when it comes to cocoa powder – which naturally seems to clump together, it means that you don’t end up with any lumps of powdery cocoa in your cake

11.The best way to fold….

is to use a large metal spoon and move it in a figure of eight, turning your bowl after each ‘8’. Don’t over fold, just keep going until all the flour is well blended. Now don’t do what I do and bang the spoon on the side of the bowl as every time you do that you are knocking more air out of the mixture.

12.Use a spoon to fill cake tins

I gloop cake mix directly from the mixing bowl into the cake tins, but for a really even cake Sue suggests weighing the ingredients into each tin so you have a really even cake. (Sorry Sue, but life is just too short for that!) What I did learn from watching her fill a cake tin is that if you use the back of a regular metal dessert spoon to smooth the mix right up to the sides of the tin the mix doesn’t stick to the spoon and it gives you more control than I have had in the past using a silicon spatula.

Leiths kitchen

13.Don’t open the oven door….yet!

Once your cake has been placed in the centre of the oven don’t open the door for the first 10 minutes. The cold air that rushes in will cause it to sink. If your cake rises to a peak the oven was too hot.

14. Test when your cake is done…

by using a metal skewer. If it comes out dry it’s ready. If it’s a little wet give it a few more minutes. Other ways to check are by lightly pressing your finger near the centre of the cake. If it springs back instantly it’s ready. Lastly the cake will start to come away from the edge of the cake tin when it’s baked to perfection.

15. How to remove the cake from the tin.

After 10 minutes of cooling on a wire rack Sue showed us how to take a regular kitchen knife and place it down the side of the cake tin  and move it up and down moving around the cake tin to release any cake that is stuck to the tin. If you just drag the knife between the cake and the tin all the way around you are likely to break the cake edges.  Place your hand over the cake then flip it over and out of the tin. Remove the silicon paper from the bottom of the cake and place it bottom down on a cooling rack until it’s completely cool.  Make sure that the cake is cold before you start adding icing or cream.


So that’s it. The top tips I learnt at the Leiths cookery school. Check out their website if you fancy doing one of their workshops. Most of the people on the course with me had been given it as a gift. What a great idea.

Do you have any great baking tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.


The Ultimate Bakers Christmas Gift List… It’s never too early to get ahead!

Ikea know how to wrap a Christmas present.

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? I know its only October but it’s in the shops already and there seems to have been a bit of a shopping buzz in Bromley town centre for the last couple of weekends.

I am currently in the midst of Christmas BIG TIME – being the good little Jewish girl that I am! I am just about to start doing my fourth Christmas shoot (the (fake)snow is quite literally piled up in my hallway as I type!) and I’ve already completed two Christmas features,  a Christmas gift guide, a Christmas product launch and a Christmas look book. And all that started in March!

Compiling a gift guide really get’s you thinking. Although my grown up job is all about interiors and I have been surrounded by press releases full of beautiful cushions, candles, tea light holders and anything antler related since June, I am finding myself getting more and more into my baking gifts, so I thought I would share my round up of the best baking gifts around, or in other words, what to by a foodie.

What makes a good baker’s gift

Every year my mother-in-law always asks us what we want for Christmas. Thirteen years ago I said I would really like some Mermaid baking tins. Now, this was way before my blog, before kids and only just after Tim and I were married.

I don’t think that was the answer she was expecting. I think perfume/jewelry/clothing was the normal response. But that year I had just had a visit from the PR for Mermaid bakeware and I was hooked! Being told that the tins had outlasted many marriages (as they apparently used to be big on wedding lists back in the day) I had to have some. They were one of the best presents I have ever been given and they are still going strong to this day. It just goes to show. Practicality and quality wins the race.

So, what would be on my list now? Well, let’s just say that I can think of a load of things and nearly all of them baking related, but I thought I’d keep it to just 10 for now! I always think that a great gift is practical, pretty or something that you don’t really want to buy for yourself, but you know you’ll use it loads. So here is my bakers gift guide  -with a few stocking fillers for good measure.

The Bakers gift list

1. A gorgeous cake stand – Dotcomgiftshop

I could never do a gift list without some sort of cake stand could I? When I first saw this at the Dotcomgiftshop Spring Summer launch  I knew it had to be mine. Perfect for a Victoria sponge to take centre stage at any afternoon tea. It’s soooo pretty!

2. Everlasting Baking tins –  Amazon

I know what you’re thinking. If you already have them, why do you need more? Well it’s not for me! It’s for you!! And there are so many available that I will never have every single design. Mermaid’s baking sheets are second to none. I’ve got my eye on the pudding sleeve now!

3. Beautiful Jelly moulds

Tala have this way of making beautiful, 50’s inspired baking accessories and kits that are almost too good to use. These fluted Jelly moulds would sit perfectly on my kitchen window sill until it was time to make a fruit layered jelly for the girls or a divine chocolate mouse for me and Tim. If I put my grown up Interior Stylist’s head on I’d be using them as a vase too! I have a thing for pressed glass!

4. The must have Pie dishes

Everyone should have these two pie dishes. The Le Creuset pie dish is really beautiful and makes any tart, pie or flan perfect for an oven to table dinner party – christmas or not. It’s also available in lots of beautiful colours. I have the Cassis and can think of so many people I would buy this for.

Le Creuset pie dish

Jamie Oliver’s Big boy bowl is one of those safe for fridge/freezer/oven/microwave dishes. Tim and I were given one for Christmas by his brother about 7-8 years ago. It’s an ideal couples gift. I used it so many times, for so many dishes. I nearly always made my apple pie in it as it was the perfect depth. It really was one of my faves. That was until I dropped it recently! Have I mentioned that I am a really clumsy person?  Usually, I’m an ‘easy come, easy go’ sort of a girl. You know- I use our best stuff for everyday as I don’t want it sitting in the cupboard only to be brought out for special occasions. If things get broken at least I had enjoyed using them. But with this dish I was gutted! Don’t let the photo below fool you either. It’s big – 28cm in diameter.

Jamie Oliver big dog bowl

5. Bountiful Baking books- Amazon

Any baking or cookery book is going to be a winner with a foodie – Especially if it’s a new one but I’d really love a book on the Science of baking. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of what gluten does to a cake, what difference it makes if the eggs aren’t at room temperature and all that jazz. If I knew more of the in-depth stuff I think I’d be an even better baker.

The Great British Bake off books (any of them. They’re all winners!)

My latest addiction!

This book has so many fantastic recipes in it. It’s become one of my favs
Just wait till this one is out on 25th October. I’ve been checking out a review copy and it’s really good!

Recently when I’m looking for inspiration or for something new to bake I go straight to ‘The Great British Bake Off’ books. They have tons and tons of recipes- some classic, some new and they always seem to turn out great, like anything you cook from a Jamie Oliver cook book. Simple to make, impressive to look at, delicious to eat!  The ‘How to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers’ is my latest fav. I find myself scouring the pages every Friday night, choosing what I want to make for the first time that weekend.

6. Off the scale TriScales by Joseph Joseph- Amazon

Once I started using digital scales I never went back. They make life so easy. You simply have to add ingredients to your bowl. Re-set the scales to zero. Add more ingredients then re-set it again. It really does take the hassle out of measuring and using a ton of bowls.  This new design by JosephJoseph is really clever as it folds up really neat and small and won’t fall out of your baking cupboard taking the flour and hundreds of those silver ball cake toppers with it every time you try and squeeze it back in the cupboard in between the plain flour and the bags of icing sugar. Or is it just me that that happens to?

7.In a bind with Sticky Tape – Dotcomgiftshop

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Sticky tape! A gift? And what’s that got to do with baking anyway? Well, bare with me. How many times have you gone to finish off a cake board with ribbon only to find that you have run out of glue or have forgotten to buy the ribbon in the first place? Well a box of these pretty sticky tapes is the answer to all those problems. Self sticking, easy to position, a choice of colours and designs as well as a great store cupboard item. Stocking filler anyone?

8. Mixing it up -Kenwood Hand Held mixer- Amazon

I may have nearly every baking gadget under the sun but since my hand held mixer went kaput a few years ago I have missed that super speedy tool. I know that they are notorious for not being up to the job – especially when you bake as often as we do, but I have my eye on this Kenwood kMix HM791 Metal Hand Mixer in a beautiful Raspberry Red colour

9.Perfectly protected with Oven Gloves and Aprons

It’s funny the things you get attached to. I always bake in my ‘Woman and Home’ apron as it reminds me of my time as Home Editor on the magazine and how much I learnt from sitting next to the food team. It’s also a really hard wearing, yet soft cotton that just washes and washes. But, if I were to add to my collection it would definitely be with this poodles design by Hope and Greenwood. Completely adorable.

10.The ultimate in Cake toppers  & Wraps- Talking Tables

Every time I walk into my local cake decorating shop the first thing I see are packs of Talking Table’s cup cake cases, cake wraps, cake toppers and cake stands hanging off the edge of the shelves. I love them all. Their Christmas ranges are so cute. The designs are great and would make a great addition to any bakers Christmas stocking. Then again, I styled some of their shoots so I am slightly, completely biased!


So, what have I left off?

What do you bakers want for Christmas?

Or do you just need to leave this post open for someone to ‘accidentally’ see?

I’d love to know. 


Cookie cutter fun

With the half term school holidays coming up I thought now was a good a time as any to share with you my latest budget baking find! Wilkinson’s have a really great baking section with all sorts of spatulas, mixing bowls, icing bags with a choice of nozzles and this fab box of cookie cutters all at really low, low prices.

I’m a big believer in letting kids make a mess in the kitchen and especially when baking. My two certainly do that. Actually they make a mess everywhere in the house, every day but that’s another story! We decided that it was time to make their favorite Vanilla Cookies.

This box of 24 cutters doesn’t contain the usual shapes and designs you’d expect to find. It’s got a dog, bird, santa, butterfly, horse, fish, music note, rabbit and cat- to mention just a few! I thought I should explain what shapes they are as it’s hard to tell from the photo above once Darcey got her hands on the royal icing and sprinkles!

Once baked you can see how there are imprints on some of the cookies so that you can follow the lines for icing details on them. I have to admit that some of these cookie cutters have quite narrow parts, like dogs tails and legs, which are pretty tricky for little hands to cut out cookies without loosing a limb, especially once the dough had been rolled out a few times and was no longer cold. The up side to this is that that’s where mum’s get to step in and have a play too!

To say Beau and Darcey went a little OTT with the decoration is an understatement, but they loved making the cookies and liked eating them even more!


Now it’s your turn. I have an extra set of these cookie cutters to giveaway. All you have to do it leave a comment over on the Cakes, Bakes and Cookies Facebook page as to why you should be the winner of these cutters and icing set. The winner will be chosen on Friday 12th October 2012. Good luck bakers.


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