Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sweet New Zealand - December 2012

Merry Christmas and a happy new year everyone! Welcome to Sweet New Zealand, this is my first time hosting, how exciting! This month’s recipes are perfect for entertaining in the festive season, with everything from Christmas mince pies to delicious coconut ice we’ll have to bookmark this for next December. Isn’t it nice to know we’re all still alive after the predicted apocalypse, what better way to celebrate than baking up a storm?!

First up to get us in the festive mood, Alessandra Zecchini proves that her Christmas tree can look good and taste good too! Alessandra’s Fondant Christmas Tree Decorations look spectacular, especially in contrast to the traditional green tree. Oh Christmas tree indeed!

Sweet NZ December

Next up Alessandra graces us with another mouth-watering entry from her Only Recipes blog, Cupcakes with Dried Blueberry Slices and Blackcurrant Powder. These cupcakes look delicious and simple to create, what’s better is there is no icing needed! Bonus!

Sweet NZ December

The lovely Frances from Bake Club mixes things up a little with this totally raw, gluten free, dairy free and sugar free recipe for her Raw Chocolate Mousse Tart. This recipe requires no cooking which automatically puts it in my good books! Plus, you’ll be able to keep everyone happy with a recipe like this, even your diabetic/gluten free/dairy intolerant friends!

Sweet NZ December

All I want for Christmas is some Ooooey Gooey Cinnamon Swirly Buns! These bad boys look like something I could demolish in a few seconds (just like Michelle’s boys I think?) Michelle from Greedybread sent in this entry that makes me want to whip up a batch so fast you won’t believe. Not only am I a sucker for cinnamon buns but this recipe look nice and easy to follow with no confusion over ingredients and no fussing over cutting things to precise sizes. Can’t wait to try these!

Sweet NZ December

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas look no further than this delicious Coconut Ice recipe from Michelle at Greedybread. Michelle brings up a great point, why is it that we don’t eat this heaven-sent coconutty goodness all year round? I say we start eating it once a month, I’m in! Anyone else?

Sweet NZ December

This next entry by Allison from Pease Pudding is going to make you wish we had Christmas more than once a year. Alli made these adorable Christmas Mince Pie Pops, yes you read that right, POPS! I always say everything tastes better on a stick! Oh so cute and fun to eat too I’m sure!

Sweet NZ December

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas! Well, at least that’s what I imagine when I think of spiced cakes at Christmas time. Especially with my husband’s Dutch family, spiced food is pretty much all they eat! This delicious Spiced Apple and Walnut cake by Shirleen at Sugar & Spice sounds like a superb idea for a Christmas dessert or snack. I love Shirleen’s “random thoughts” which accompany her recipe quite nicely!

Sweet NZ December

If there’s one thing I love about Christmas time, it’s the cherries! I am one of those people. The cherry people. The ones who adore anything with the word cherry in it and you can’t get much better than the real thing, that is, unless you throw it into some delicious moist chocolate brownies. That is just what Lesley at Eat Etc did when she submitted this delicious looking recipe for Chocolate Cherry Brownies. I like how Lesley has explained that these brownies are the fudgey kind, not the yucky cakey type, it’s good to get that kind of information before you start baking. Nothing like biting into a brownie that tastes like bland cake (yes this happened to me yesterday). Can’t wait to try this recipe!

Sweet NZ December

I’m a big fan of giving homemade (edible) gifts at Christmas time and I know I would LOVE to receive a box of these Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles from Nicola at Homegrown Kitchen. Not only has Nicola used fresh locally grown hazelnuts but she’s thrown cocoa nibs in there too, which has got me very intrigued (never tried them!) but also craving a taste of these beautiful looking truffles.

Sweet NZ December

I know Santa Clause is a big fan of this next entry, decorated Sugar Cookies by Anita from On To The Plate. Anita suggests getting the family around to decorate cookies at Christmas time, I think that’s a great idea, it could even become a family tradition!

Sweet NZ

Anita has been so kind as to send in another recipe for us to drool over, this time it is Chocolate Pecan Brownies which look delicious! She made these for Thanksgiving, I bet everyone was thankful for them!

Sweet NZ

Lastly, I decided I should contribute something to the Sweet NZ round up (seeing as I forgot last month) so I’ve added my tutorial on these cute Mini Gingerbread Houses that sit on the side of your mug. I’m not going to lie, these are pretty time consuming, but they are so much fun to decorate and much more fun to eat with your coffee or tea than a plain boring gingerbread man!

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

So that’s it for December’s Christmasy Sweet New Zealand recipes. Thank you for stopping by, hopefully you will be inspired to bake your way through 2013. I hope you all have a wonderful new years celebration whatever you have planned. I will be sleeping through this new years eve, which I’m actually excited about (never done that before!) Take care and be safe!

Next months Sweet New Zealand will be hosted by Arfi from HomeMadeS, I can't wait to read all the sweet recipes for the new year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Red Velvet Christmas Trees Brownies

Well, Christmas is over, done and dusted. Now it's just a few days until the new year is upon us!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed at least a few days off from your busy lives.

I have got one more week off (lucky me!) then I'm back to temping , in February I will be back to student life. Better enjoy wearing corporate clothes again while I can!

Red Velvet Christmas Tree Brownies

I came up with the idea of making red velvet brownie Christmas trees a few months ago and I'm not sure if the concept was better than the real thing.

I had never tried red velvet brownies before so was just going with my knowledge of red velvet cake but I think I should have stuck to the recipe on this one!

Red Velvet Christmas Tree Brownies

Most recipes call on a white chocolate buttercream to top the brownie but noooo, I chose to pair it with cream cheese icing, like the cakes traditionally have. Little did I know the brownie would turn out to be rather boring.

My suggestion would be to add a good serving of white chocolate chips or white chocolate chunks into the batter, either that or white chocolate buttercream (like the original recipe suggests). Next time I'll definitely try this!

Despite the blandness of the brownies (okay, they weren't that bad, I'm just hard on myself!) I actually quite liked how these looked.

Red Velvet Christmas Tree Brownies

I tried to find a cream cheese icing that would keep its shape when I piped, unfortunately this meant that the icing tasted more buttery than cream cheesey and I didn't like it much.

But as for the decorating, I tried out different tips and surprised myself with what could be done with the tips I had on hand!

Red Velvet Christmas Tree BrowniesRed Velvet Christmas Tree Brownies

I personally quite like the fat zig-zag one whereas Mr S said it reminded him of something rude and proceeded to laugh at it. Nice.

The sprinkles were my favourite bit. You may have noticed that they are in a colour sequence and that may just point to me being a weirdo obsessive compulsive freak. Who knows?!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! TI will be spending the day with my husband (just us!) which is the first time we have had the day to ourselves. We were going to go out for a picnic but the whether is quite miserable so instead we're having a yummy cooked breakfast and opening gifts, later we'll move the coffee table out and make an indoors picnic. Later in the evening we will be going to my friends place for dinner which will be nice too.

I'm so glad I've finished my Christmas baking finally, I feel like I made a thousand things this year!

What are your plans for Christmas?

As a little Christmas present from my family to yours, here is a video of Pecan playing with a Christmas present we got - a USB powered flower fan, enjoy!

So have yourself a merry little Christmas, if you're out on the roads please please drive safe, if you're drinking please drink responsibly, if you're eating...well, eat as much as you can and don't feel guilty! Remember the reason for the season and enjoy this time with friends and family, much love to you all from my little family to yours! xx

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mini Gingerbread Houses for Your Mug

Is Christmas time always this exhausting or am I just getting old?

I worked (teaching preschool) for a full day, then spent an hour and a half finishing off some Christmas shopping and I felt like I should be awarded a medal of honour!

I neeearly poured a glass of wine to congratulate myself but chose juice instead to save the calories for Christmas day wine consumption.

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

As much as I love the silly season I'm beginning to see why others don't.

It is pretty tiring. In fact, I'll admit that I had a mini melt down in the middle of the mall today while shopping with Mr S for his Christmas present, I actually said "I hate Christmas!" ...okay it was more like this "I HATE CHRISTMAS!!!" then followed up with "I finally admit it, I hate Christmas just like everyone else."

Now that I'm cool, calm and collected (and have my feet up) I can tell you that I do not in fact, hate Christmas, Christmas just hates me this year.

I know I have put myself under too much pressure and tried to do everything. Next year I think I'll try and take it easy.

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your MugMini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug
Mini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

Even though this years Christmas has raised my blood pressure and probably aged me more than any other, I have enjoyed all the baking I managed to get in.

The latest baking gift I made are these adorable little gingerbread houses that sit on your coffee cup, ready to be dunked in and enjoyed with a nice cup of hot chocolate.

I found out about these cute creations last Christmas when Pinterest was still new to me and have been wanting to make them ever since.

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your MugMini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug
Mini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

I am so grateful for Megan at Not Martha for her extensive research she put in before blogging about her creations. From all of her notes I was able to make the mini gingerbread houses knowing exactly how to go about it.

I kept reading in the comments on her blog post people saying "gosh that's a lot of work to put in but well worth it" and I'm thinking, psssht, it doesn't look like that much work...famous last words. These bad boys take up a lot of time but yes, I do think they are worth it.

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your MugMini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug
Mini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

If you would like to make these sweet little gingerbread houses I suggest checking out Martha Stewart's gingerbread recipe (or use your own favourite recipe) and be sure to give Not Martha's blog post a good read to find out how to bake them properly (it's trickier than it sounds!) here is my run down:

How to make mini gingerbread houses

You will need:
Gingerbread dough
Paper templates of the mini houses (can be found at Not Martha's)
Baking trays, lined with baking paper
Sharp knife
Royal icing
Piping bag and tips #1 and #2
Decorations (optional)
  • Prepare cookie dough as recipe suggests and make sure it is very chilled.
  • Preheat oven.
  • Roll out a third of the dough mixture onto a foil or baking paper sheet nice and thin (1/8th of an inch if you want to be exact).
  • Cut out the pieces of your gingerbread house and cut away the excess (instead of moving the pieces) this makes sure that the house pieces will stay in shape.
  • Pop the foil or baking paper sheet in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • Bake the gingerbread, keep an eye on it and take them out when they are just starting to brown.
  • While one batch is baking cut up another and put in the freezer. I managed to get 2-3 houses on each tray.
  • Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the tray then peel them off and let cool on a rack.

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your MugMini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

How to assemble mini gingerbread houses:
  • Prepare royal icing (I always use this recipe)
  • Once cookies are completely cool get each house ready in front of you with two of each piece.
  • Fill piping bag with royal icing fitted with a #2 tip or small round tip.
  • Pipe two lines on the outer edges of the door pieces.
  • Attach walls to one door piece and let it stand.
  • Attach the other door piece to the walls and let it sit for about 2 minutes or until it is reasonably stable.
  • Pipe two lines along the roof top and attach the two roof pieces.
  • Make sure to work fast when working with royal icing or it will set and try to hold pieces in place for a few seconds before letting go.
  • Once the house is put together you can go crazy with the decorating.

Mini Gingerbread Houses for your MugMini Gingerbread Houses for your MugMini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

To coat with crushed candy canes:
  • Refrigerate or freeze candy canes until they are chilled.
  • Pulverize them in a blender or food processor until they resemble rough crumbs.
  • Pipe an outline of royal icing on the roof of the gingerbread house.
  • Spread royal icing with a knife over the entire roof, making sure to spread it to the edges.
  • Dip houses in a bowl full of candy cane crumbs, pressing down firmly.
  • If there are missed spots sprinkle some candy cane crumbs on and press down.
  • The candy cane crumbs will stick together when they are not chilled so in between dunking houses put the crumbs in the fridge to keep them cool.

Mini Gingerbread HouseMini Gingerbread Houses for your Mug

I am submitting this recipe/tutorial for December's Sweet New Zealand (which I'm hosting whoopee!) Sweet New Zealand is a monthly blogging event where Kiwi food bloggers share their sweet recipes. It's lots of fun so do check it out if you're keen to get involved!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dutch Spice Bread

Last weekend my husband's family celebrated Christmas early, as is the tradition in Holland. As Mr S is Dutch they actually celebrate Sinterklaas, or as we would call it, Saint Nicolas. There are lots of traditions (like one which involves a black slave child who throws mini Dutch cookies at you) but the one tradition we do each year is definitely Dutch food! There is always plenty of Dutch baking to go around and you can bet that they are all full of delicious spices.

Dutch Spice Bread
Dutch Baking!

The other tradition which we've taken part in recently is that we each give one present to every person in the family, the gift can either be recycled, crafted or if you have to spend money then no more than $5 per person is to be spent. Last year I struggled a bit, I had plans to make lots of things but in the end buying presents was cheaper! This year I got smart and starting planning for recycled gifts (gifts you've been given but don't want) throughout the year. I also made a couple of gifts which was fun, I will have to share that with you later!

"Welcome Saint Nicolas"

My contribution to the Sinerklaas feast was my favourite Dutch bread called Ontbijtkoek (I pronounce it ON BAKE COOK -though that's not technically right) When we were in Holland last year we would buy this cheap as chips (actually cheaper) breakfast bread and have it for morning teas. We sometimes packaged them up, sliced and buttered, then took it with us when we went out to do some site seeing. It was definitely my favourite Dutch baking, I couldn't get enough of it! It seems like a cross between a cake and a bread and tastes very similar to gingerbread, only with more spices and is a bit more soft and chewy. Imagine my surprise when I found out there was a whole game dedicated to eating the stuff while blind folded! So when Mr S's family asked each of us to bake something for Sinterklaas I knew that was what I wanted to make.

This is the grass and carrots they leave out for Saint Nicolas' horses

This was my first time baking Dutch food and for the second time in two weeks (like the Pumpkin Pie) I didn't completely read the recipe before making it. It turns out you are supposed to bake it then leave it for at least 24 hours. After talking to the Dutch family turns out most Dutch baking is like that and the longer you leave it the more tasty it becomes! So I tried the bread on the second day and then on the third and I can safely tell you that third-day-old Dutch spice bread tastes better than fresh!

Me with Sinterklaas wig on
Me in a Zwarte Piet (the black slave boy) wig

You can use Molasses if you like, I didn't use it because the last time I tried using it I hated the smell and taste, something about it just makes me feel ill so I went with treacle instead which I found out is pretty much just a darker version of Golden Syrup (mmmm Golden Syrup!) You can also use fresh grated nutmeg but for the sake of keeping things simple (and I didn't want to buy nutmeg) I just used the dry stuff!

Dutch Spice Bread
Consistency and colour of the batter

Dutch Spice Bread
Dutch Spice Bread

Dutch Spice Bread (Ontbijtkoek) 
Adapted from CDKitchen

2 C Flour
3t Baking Powder
1t Salt
1/2 C Dark Brown Sugar
1/3 C Treacle
1 C Milk
1 t Ground Cloves
1 t Ground Cinnamon
1 t Ground Ginger
1/2 t Ground Nutmeg

  • Preheat oven to 150 degrees C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
  • Sift flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and combine with a whisk to form a smooth paste.
  • Pour batter into loaf tin and bake for one hour.
  • Remove from oven and cover with foil.
  • Leave to sit for at least 24 hours before eating (I recommend three days).

Dutch Spice Bread
Dutch Spice Bread

I love family traditions especially when they revolve around food! Do you have any special family traditions or traditional foods?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

I'm sure you're already aware that I'm a bit of a Christmas fan.

I happen to love wrapping presents, Christmas light displays and decorating the house but what I love most of all is Christmas music.

I have a bit of a collection and each year I try to get some more to add to it. This year I've been very smart and categorised the Christmas music to make playlists for the mood I'm in.

I've got background Christmas, alternative Christmas, rock Christmas, up beat Christmas, my favourite Christmas songs and of course an all Christmas playlist. Is that normal? ...Don't answer that.

Mini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

This year I decided I wanted to make some cute Christmas tree cupcakes.

I had some left over cake batter from a cake I made earlier this week so I decided to make mini cupcakes, not knowing what I would make with them later.

Now was my chance to try out the Christmas cupcakes!

Mini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

There is something so comforting about decorating a cupcake for no real reason, that is to say, no one asked me to make these cupcakes for them, I just felt like it!

What made it even better was the cheerful sound of Christmas carols in the background.

I managed to get through every playlist!

Mini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

These mini Christmas tree cupcakes were super easy and fun to make. All it takes is some buttercream icing, piping bags, tips and sprinkles.

I found you can be as creative as you like, as I experimented with different tips I found there was more than one way to pipe a tree!

Mini Christmas Tree CupcakesChristmas Tree

For the white trees I used a Wilton 1M tip. I piped a swirl which overlapped three times and I pinched the top of the icing with my fingers to make the top look like the top of a tree (rather than a squashed tree).

I then carefully placed pink cachous around the icing swirl and cut out a star (well, I didn't have a star cutter so I had to use a flower) out of fondant and stuck that on top.

I quite liked making these cupcakes white and pink because it more closely resembled my tree (pictured above) than the green ones!

Mini Christmas Tree CupcakesMini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

For the green trees I used a Wilton 2D which didn't make much difference (not to me anyway),  I was just too lazy to wash my 1M.

I basically did the same as the pink trees only I used coloured sprinkles I found in my supermarket yesterday that took my fancy.

Then of course cut out a yellow "star" for the top.

Mini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

For my experimental trees I used three different tips. The first one (on the left) was the 2D tip again, this time I just squeezed it until it formed a cone shape. It is a bit messy but if you don't have a lot of time this is the way to go, it was so fast!

The second one (in the middle) was piped with a 101 ruffle tip. I put a fondant cone shape on top of the cupcake then piped the icing using a ruffle style (this tutorial is great).

The third cupcake (on the right) I piped using a 67 tip (leaf tip). Pipe with the open side of the tip horizontal in small squeezes, when you let go it will look a bit like a leaf. You can pinch the ends together to make it look more like a leaf. Though I really like this technique I don't think it works well with buttercream because it is too soft, I've used it before on these wreath cookies and it looked great in royal icing.

Mini Christmas Tree Cupcakes

While I was having fun experimenting with different tips I thought I would try make a teeny tiny wreath cupcake.

I cut a small circle of white fondant and stuck that to the cupcake before piping the leaves.

I used the 67 tip (the leaf tip again) to pipe around then added some red sprinkles to look like berries. I think it's quite cute!

I can't wait to continue with my Christmas baking this month! Are you planning on baking up a storm this month? What Christmas baking have you got planned?