I’m so sorry for going MIA recently. As I’m sure you can imagine, making all those gingerbread houses took it out of me a little.
The original plan was to spend my Christmas break stacking up posts for this blog-a-log, as it’s been a bit tricky keeping up with a full time job with no reserve stash of posts to fall back on. In reality all I was capable of at Christmas was eating lots and sleeping more.
So, friends, I’ve made a decision. I need a little break, a hiatus, a small pause.
Sometimes a person gets a bit stuck, and I feel a bit stuck. Trying to think of posts, getting the everything together, figuring out the time amongst work and social life, and fighting the short winter hours for good photos…it’s not easy. I want this to keep being fun, for me, and for you. I’m not willing to sacrifice the quality, or what I’m trying to do by having fewer photos or less frequent posts.
In the meantime, feel free to drop me an email and let me know what you’d like to see more of this year, or perhaps a tweet, a comment, or an owl if you’re at Hogwarts.
So this is later than the usual Monday night. But I hope you’ll forgive me when you see the contents, and when you remember it’s December and that I now have a full-time job.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, I have been fortunate enough to join a team full of kind and kooky misfits, who have made the last three months super fun.
This year, when considering my yearly gingerbread offering I deliberated over how I might transport one into work to share the joy. But when you make gingerbread houses like this and this and get the central line tube to work, even the thought of attempting that makes you sweat.
The obvious answer? Make little ones for everyone. Sure. That’s not mental at all.
ALL THE SWEETS (including boiled sweets for the windows)
LED tea lights if you want it to look like there’s a fire on inside
The quantities above make 4 little houses. Yes, I made 3 batches of mixture. It will make about one medium to large house, both the links in the blurb above required a batch and a quarter or so.
For the roofs I use either chocolate buttons, fingers or matchmakers. The roof on house one is the right size for chocolate finger biscuits, matchmakers are great because they are long, but they are narrow so you need quite a few. Roughly it works out like this per roof for these templates: one box of matchmakers, two boxes of fingers, and two bags of buttons (based on Sainsbury’s own 3 for £1 bags)
You need a lot of royal icing, get a few boxes, I used 3 for 12 houses.
For the bases I use a thick cardboard box covered in tinfoil. You could buy a cake board, but then you have to work out if your house will fit, or make it to fit the board. I prefer to make the base to fit the house, less restrictive that way.
For a bit of advice on template making for bigger houses click here
You are unlikely to complete all this in one day, as you need to let the dough cool before rolling it out, just a little FYI.
In a saucepan melt together the butter, treacle, sugar and golden syrup. Try not to let it get too hot.
Mix together the spices, salt and flour together and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and use a hand whisk to break them up. Start making small circles to incorporate the flour.
Pour the treacle mix into the well and continue mixing with the whisk for as long as you can until it becomes too hard to stir. Swap the whisk for a wooden spoon until fully combined.
Allow to cool. Put it outside if it’s cold or in the fridge to speed up the process. It will be sticky but don’t add more flour.
Bash up hard boiled sweets with a rolling pin in a sandwich bag, or use this life changing gadget, the mini food processor, to mush them instead.
Once the dough has cooled it’s time to roll out the houses. Big, flat baking trays are best for this.
Flour a surface and roll out the dough in batches. You will probably need to use a knife and a metal spoon to extract the mix from the bowl. Don’t fight it, it’s a winning formula structure-wise.
Roll a piece of dough to the same size as your tray for maximum efficiency re:oven space.
Use the rolling pin to lift the gingerbread onto a piece of gingerbread the size of your tray. It is essential to do this before cutting; it stops you stretching individual pieces out of shape when you move them.
Use the templates and a knife to cut the panels out. Contrary to the image above it’s best to do batches of the same shape – that way the bake is the right amount of time for that sized piece. The most obvious way to explain that little ramble is that the chimney pieces will cook a lot quicker than the side panel for example.
Transfer the gingerbread onto the tray and cut out window shapes. This year I invested in a little cutter set of different shapes and sizes. It was amazing. Total gingerbread game changer.
Fill the gaps with the sweet crumbs. This is why you need baking paper. Otherwise the sweets melt and glue your house to the tray.
Bake on 180C/gas mark 4/350F for 10-15 minutes. Over-cooked is preferable as they need to be able to stand up, and they will get softer as they sit out.
Time to assemble. Mix together the royal icing making sure it’s really thick, it will stick better and dry quicker if it’s opaque white and not that sticky to touch.
If you’re making a big house, have a spare pair of hands at the ready and/or a lot of glasses and bottles to prop things against.
These little ones are actually really easy to put together in comparison.
Start with one side flat on the table. Pipe two even strips along each edge. Stick the two matching sides to this piece, propping them up with a glass so you have your hands free.
Pipe along the top edges and stick the final side piece on the top.
Flip the house upright. If you’re making a big house put it straight on the base at this stage and pipe on the inside corners to re-inforce the house. Less important with these little guys. They are actually great ‘starter houses’. Yes I do a bit hate myself that I say that, and many of my other tips with ZERO irony.
Pipe along the back sloped edges and the back. Stick down a roof panel. The straighter edge should be at the top, as you are more likely to cover irregularities at the bottom with a bit of overhang.
Pipe the top of the roof, the sides and edge. Stick the other roof panel down.
Make the chimney in the same way, and attach it to the roof.
Pipe some snow in the windows while the piping bag still has quite a thick opening.
Start tiling! Make sure the first layer overhangs the bottom of the roof, and build up subsequent layers by overlapping them as shown.
Neaten up the edges with chocolate fingers or matchmakers and a chocolate button or two. A row of dolly mixtures along the top, or mini marshmallows looks cute too.
Continue to decorate the sides and the back. I find a much narrower nozzle on the piping bag is good for this. I like putting these little dots around things.
This year I used a lot of white chocolate buttons, I don’t have much choice in the local small supermarkets nearby. Silver balls, mini stars, chocolate drops and other round sweets are amongst my favourites for the decorations.
Don’t forget the little door! I wouldn’t attach it at this stage if you are doing a big house, because you need to squeeze the tea lights through it. The little ones can just be placed over the top of them as they don’t need to be attached to a base at this stage.
Keep making them.
Here’s a snap of me (with the reddest face, thanks blushing reflex) that was insisted upon, and all but one of us (come back Saskia!) in the obligatory family photo.
How did I get them into work? A special train, a suitcase and some blankets.
Afternoon folks! Making the most of my lunch break to post this week because we are officially in Christmas party season. You know what else we’re in? CHRISTMAS TREE SEASON.
Yes. That’s right, get yours out of the attic or head down to your local festive pop up, it’s time.
There’s a lovely nostalgia people have with their generations old decorations; almost everyone I’ve talked to about their tree has some kind of heirloom ornament that takes centre stage each year.
I still think it’s nice to freshen it up from time to time though, and with December costing a fortune, here are some quick and easy christmas tree decorations you can make with things lying around the house/garden.
Pine cone ornaments
Picture frame hangers (screw in ones)
Tip-Ex (white out)
Ribbon or string
Screw the picture hangers into the bottom of the pine cones, attach a loop of string/ribbon an paint the ends of the pine thingys with the Tip-Ex. It dries so quickly you don’t even need to put paper down.
Paper circles garland
Sewing machine (or you could use glue/double-sided tape if you don’t have one)
Punch a load of circles out of the card. Put them through a sewing machine. Yup. THAT easy.
Christmas tree star
Five reasonably straight twigs
Cut the twigs to the same length using secateurs or scissors. Tie the ends together at 45 degree angles or less. Make sure that when a twig is on top of another at one end that it goes under the next one at the other end. The only exception is the twig you started with, which when you tie it to complete the star, will probably be under both those it’s attached to. Add more twine to secure the cross overs in the middle too.
Hi all, massive sorrys this week as I’m afraid I went away for the weekend. Working full time again and running out of my little stash of ready posts has meant that I’m empty handed so far as new ideas go this week.
BUT, fear not, for I have now been blogging for two whooooole years. I also quite like Christmas. Here are a few ideas from the last couple of years to keep you ticking over until next week.
Two years of fabrefaction.co.uk friends. Yup. THAT HAPPENED. Thank you for the support and the loving, please keep sharing, commenting and messaging me; I love hearing from you and seeing what you’ve made.
In keeping with my first post ever, and the one year anniversary post of this little blog, here’s another lovely advent calendar for you to make.
“Oh but advent starts next week, I don’t have time!” Yes, yes you do. I made this in a day. Less than really when you consider I went out for breakfast and dinner. You could even take the easy way out and glue instead of sew.
This particular calendar is a labour of love for my very hardworking and wonderful sister. Poor duck got jealous of mine once, and this year I thought it was about time she had something a little more permanent so she never forgets again. Thanks for your love and support sib.
You will need
A dowel rod (40cm) (or a wire coat hanger)
Festive looking string or ribbon
Felt (I bought two packs of 5 felt squares from John Lewis, you’d probably need 6 or so A4 sheets)
24-48 chocolates (I used mini Lindor truffles (there are 22 in a bag) and some woodland friends from Waitrose)
Depending on the length of your dowel you might need to cut it down. Mark the cut point at 40cm.
Cut the end of the dowel off. Those of you into wood work (of which I am sure there are plenty) don’t judge me for my saw, I’m relatively confident after using it that it wasn’t the right choice.
measure a length of twine/string/ribbon about twice the length of the wood and double knot tie it onto either end. You might want to add a little glue to secure it. Make sure to turn it so the knot is at the back.
Hold the centre point of the twine and allow the rod to hang off the side of the table. Make sure it’s level and tie a knot in the middle so that you have a loop to use for hanging.
Using the template cut out 23 mini stockings (2 pieces of felt for each). I cut through two layers at a time, and squeezed 8 cut outs from each square of felt. If you bought A4 sheets I imagine you’ll get 10-12.
Sew the stockings together using an overlocking or zig zag stitch. I edged the white bits separately before attaching them and left the heel hanging over the edge.
If you are making this for next Christmas, feel free to hand sew. I cover how to blanket stitch here. If you want this ready in time for this advent I recommend borrowing a sewing machine or using glue.
Cut the excess off the heel of the stocking and any loose threads.
Step eight and a half
(Totally missed this step on the original post)
Secure the heel with a little dab of glue, but make sure it doesn’t soak through and stick the stocking together.
I decided not to sew heels on all of them as I wanted a bit of variation. So I used some of the embellishments from last year’s advent calendar to decorate. Glue is acceptable here I reckon, otherwise you really need to sew them on before sewing them together.
Repeat until you have 23 little stockings and one big one.
Fill your little stockings as you go, they look very cute as they stack up.
After a few learning lessons from last week, I made the number markers with air dry clay. I found it easier to work with than FIMO. It also worked really well to ink the stamps before pressing them into the shapes.
This is entirely optional, you could write the numbers on the pegs, stamp them, make circles of card instead etc etc.
Once the shapes have dried out (no cooking required with this clay), stick them to the pegs with enough space at the top to open and shut the peg without squashing them.
Cut 6 lengths of ribbon. I decided to taper mine at different lengths, as you can see in the final photos. To shape the ends nicely, fold the ribbon in half and cut diagonally on the fold to create a v-shaped cut.
Tie the ribbons onto the rod and peg the stockings on.
A classic case of things not turning out quite how they were meant to this week. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but my housemates managed to cajole me into embracing the rustic charm of these makes nonetheless. By the end I managed to accept them as ‘not too bad after all’ and the lack of precision means that they would be a great little craft for kiddies as the winter creeps in.
With Christmas decorating just around the corner these guys are a great finishing touch as tree decorations, tags on presents and for card making. They are cheap to make and are cute little token gifts for the people you love, or at least those you like enough to want to give them something, but not enough to actually apply yourself to Christmas shopping.
You will need
A block of FIMO modelling clay
Festive string or ribbon
Acrylic paint and a small paint brush
Alphabet cookie stamp, I go this from Tiger recently (or regular stamps might work)
Roll the FIMO out into a thin sheet, about 2-3mm thick.
I learned a few things here. Greaseproof paper is not the easiest thing to roll this out onto, a clean surface would be better. Roll the FIMO into a ball with your hands first to warm it up a bit as it will be easier than just rolling straight onto the block. Dust will get into the FIMO so easily, it picks up EVERYTHING, so make sure you wipe your rolling pin and surface carefully.
Cut out a variety of shapes. Re-roll and keep cutting until you have used all the FIMO. It’s surprising how many you get in the end out of such a small block.
Stamp the names of your nearest and dearest into the shapes. I found that words longer than four letters were problematic. I employed some creative shortenings, although my housie Marianne was not impressed with Matz as her new nickname. It will depend on the sizes of your cutters, but you might want to do initials or words like ‘love’, ‘joy’ and ‘noel’ if there’re some long names knocking about.
Using a cocktail stick or bent out paperclip make a hole at the top for the hanging. Wiggle the stick about in a circular motion to make sure the opening is big enough for your string or ribbon.
I then made dots all around as an edging with a paperclip.
Place on greaseproof paper and onto a tray. Bake in the oven on 100C/200F/gas mark 1 for about 30 minutes. I guessed because the packet provides zero instructions, other than to not heat it above 130C. You can tell by picking them up as they start to feel less soft and a bit lighter as they cook.
Using very watery acrylic paint, brush over the letters and the edging. Quickly dab away the excess with some clingfilm to create a rustic look.
Use one: Tie up with a couple of trimmings from the garden, maybe a button/pom pom/little bell like mine. Tie with the string around a gift wrapped in brown paper.
Use two: String up and hang from a jug of twigs or your Chrimbo tree.
Use three: Make mini ones with initials and create a simple Christmas card with a piece of wash tape and brown card.
Apologies for the day late post friends. I had a miniature pie melt down at the weekend (#myblogginglife) and as a result didn’t fancy posting yesterday. Instead I took an evening of sitting on the kitchen counters with the housemates eating pumpkin pie.
Speaking of the housemates. A while ago one of mine professed herself to be a food innovator. Bold claim? Yes. I thought so. When I asked for proof of this theory, she was ready with it. “Well,” she said calmly, and with an air of smugness, “I’ve had an excellent idea for mince pie truffles”. Lover of mince pies I am. Did I think this idea was a good one, worthy of the self proclaimed food innovator title? No, reader, I did not.
About a week of scorning later (I cannot put words together to explain how disgusting I thought the idea was and how aggressively I communicated that to her) she returned home with a box of mince pies to prove her idea, totally unfazed, a quality all struggling food innovators must no doubt possess. I’m sure Heston could empathise.
Anyway. Turns out, I like mince pie truffles. You’ll have to trust me on this one. Best eaten from the fridge, sound and look entirely unappetising, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the recipe for the humble (but great) mince pie truffle.
This post is dedicated to one Ms Afua Addai-Diawuo, food innovator.
You will need
6 mince pies
300g/10.5 oz dark chocolate
Some sprinkles if you have them
Using a food processor blitz the mince pies until they are a dough like consistency. It will be very sticky so you will probably need to put the mixture into the freezer for about 30mins to an hour.
Roll the dough into evenly sized balls.
Put them back into the freezer for a while longer, until solidified.
Melt the dark chocolate and dip the truffle centres to coat them and leave them on some cellophane or greaseproof paper to dry.
If you want to see how to dip them, I cover it a little more thoroughly in this post from two weeks ago.
And there we go, early festive treats in three easy steps.
Don’t you just love the British weather?! Its unpredictability is a constant irritation to me but I do adore the seasons. I’m very glad I don’t live somewhere that’s variations on one temperature all year round.
It’s starting to feel a little festive this week at Fabrefaction HQ. It’s bonfire night on Thursday, and we are having a housewarming party this weekend to welcome the new housies. It would be rude not to provide our guests with some treats, and even ruder not to acknowledge the approach of Mr Frost.
So here we are, the perfect recipe to bridge autumn and winter, mini gingerbread and honey cupcakes. If you don’t fancy the hassle you could always make this as a traybake, perhaps doubling the recipe (I halved it).
You will need
For the cake:
250g/9 oz plain flour
100g/3.5 oz golden syrup
75g/2.5 oz light soft brown sugar
75g/2.5 oz lard (yes, lard)
40g/1.5 oz treacle
140ml/4.5 fl oz milk
1 tsp ground ginger (feel free to add more)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the icing:
300g/10.5 oz icing sugar
150g/5.25 oz unsalted butter
6 tbsp runny honey
For the sugar shards:
100g/3.5 oz caster sugar
(makes 35 mini cakes)
Melt the lard, golden syrup and treacle over a low heat.
Yes the lard will separate and create a glossy sheen on the surface, and yes you will think how unappetising it looks, but trust me on this one…it’s one of those recipes passed from generation to generation in my family, I’m just giving it a little facelift and daren’t replace the lard, just in case somehow Grandma is watching.
Combine the sugar, ginger, flour and bicarbonate of soda.
Make a well in the middle and start to whisk in the egg. Stop when you get to the consistency in the third picture down because otherwise you risk making lumps you won’t be able to get out.
Pop the milk in the microwave to heat for 30 seconds to a minute until warm. Add to the centre of the mixture and continue to whisk gently until the milk and the egg are combined, but again don’t try and mix in all the flour.
Pour in the melted treacle, golden syrup and lard mix and stir until it’s all mixed together.
Spoon the mixture into your cases. I got a bulk order of these paper condiment cups last year for the hot chocolate stirrers I made for Christmas. I will NEVER find a way to use them all up.
If you have normal mini cupcake/muffin cases the same rules apply, about a teaspoon and a half of mixture in each. You will probably need to put them in a muffin tin though. These little cases had enough of their own structure so I put them on a baking tray.
Bake for 15 minutes on 180C/gas mark 4/350F.
Whisk together the icing/frosting ingredients, make sure to cover your bowl with a tea towel; icing sugar will make your kitchen sticky for weeks otherwise.
Confession time. I didn’t photograph this stage. Partly because I was a bit grumpy, partly because my camera was running out of battery and partly because my level of clumsiness, hot sugar and baking selfies are not a strong combination. Forgive me.
All you need to do to make the decorative caramel shards is gently heat the caster sugar in a saucepan until the vast majority has melted and turned caramel in colour. Don’t stir, don’t swish, just wait.
Remove from heat and lay out a sheet of greaseproof paper. With a fork trail the caramel back and forth across the paper. It will need to cool a little until it is stringy enough to do this, but it will get there. You don’t have to make individual cake toppers, just criss cross to make one massive one and break it up to get the shards.
It’s waaaaaay easier than you’d think and super effective looking.
(If you aren’t eating your cakes that day I recommend saving this step until the day of. I’m freeing most of mine bare and decorating them on party day)
Ice your cakes however you please, I’m a diehard fan of the piping bag. I sprinkled a little bit of cinnamon on mine before adding the caramel shards.
Guten Tag friends! This week’s blog post is inspired by a lovely German tradition that warmed my little heart when I was told about it.
A few weeks ago I was sent these photos of a very beloved little boy; you might remember way back when we helped him make birthday party invites? Well, about 18 months later and it was the first day of school for our young sir.
What is that thing he’s holding I hear you cry? My exact response, and I didn’t have the benefit of seeing the contents like you guys at first. Well, I’m reliably informed that in Germany children get a Schultüten on their first day of school, a cone full of lovely treats. The best part is that sometimes adults get a mini version for their first day at a new job. Cute or what?!
I considered making myself one for my new job a few weeks ago, but that is mildly tragic. Thankfully, to rescue me from celebrating myself in that slightly embarrassing way, my friend Matt (who also happens to be Vicky’s husband) managed to land himself one starting this week, yay Matt. Enter Katie and her Schultüten.
By the way, I did take some of these truffles into work myself, and to brag not to brag, but one of my new colleagues described them as “chocolates worthy of a transcontinental move”. I may have asked her to workshop her review a little until we got to that point, and in return I will probably end up making some for her to give her boyfriend to encourage such a move.
Moving on. From THE LONGEST introduction to any blog post ever, I really shouldn’t write these tired.
You will need
For the truffles:
400g/14 oz milk chocolate
400g/14 oz white chocolate
180ml/6 fl oz double cream
Caramel flavouring (I swear by Natural Professional Flavours – buttery caramel)
(makes up to 40 truffles)
For the cone:
Nice quality wrapping paper (I got mine from Foyles if you’re in the UK)
Tissue paper (preferably a colour that doesn’t clash with your choice of paper)
Double sided tape
Melt 200g of each chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Add 1 tsp or so of the caramel flavouring (you can use other brands of flavouring by the way, a lot of supermarkets offer a caramel flavour now).
This is really just a great excuse to taste test the melted chocolate until you’re happy with it. It’s ok if this takes a few spoonfuls, being a perfectionist is a good thing.
Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the cream until fully combined. You will probably need to leave this to set for a while.
Leave it on the side if you have time, the fridge if you’re slightly hurried, or even the freezer if you’re desperate to take photos for your blog in the fading natural light (thanks winter).
Once the mixture is pipe-able, lay out a sheet of cellophane or greaseproof paper and pipe out evenly sized blobs (yes, that’s the technical term). They need to be about, well, truffle sized, whatever that means to you pal.
Leave to set, you can put them in the fridge if you want to.
They look appetising, don’t they?
With clean and cold hands (clue: wash them under the cold tap). Squash the piped shapes a little with your fingers and roll into a ball between your palms.
You will probably need to wash your hands a few times as you go as they will start to melt as your hands warm up.
I then put mine back in the fridge while I melted the chocolate for coating.
Melt the remaining white and milk chocolate separately and pour simultaneously into a small, deepish container or bowl. This is to get a marbled effect on the outside, but you could always stir them together if you don’t fancy the look of that.
Using either a plastic fork with the middle prongs taken out, or the end of a metal kebab skewer, dip the truffle centres in the chocolate.
Repeat until you’re out of truffles. Leave to set. This time, don’t shortcut with the fridge, you want them to set at room temperature so that they don’t melt at room temperature.
Put the leftover dipping chocolate in a piping bag and drizzle over the truffles.
Put the remaining melted chocolate in your mouth with a spoon. Or just pipe it straight in there.
Cut open a piping bag so that it lies flat and use it as a template to cut round. Add a little extra on one side for overlap, and snip the pointy end off the bottom so it’s flat.
Cut three or four sheets of tissue paper to the same shape, but add another 10 cm to the top.
Tape the straight edges of the tissue to the wrong side of the wrapping paper.
Fold back the top of the tissue paper on the large curved edge. Place double-sided tape around the edge and fold the tissue back over so that it is stuck the whole way round the top.
Use another strip of double-sided tape down the straight edge to roll the paper into a conical shape. You should have something like the below.
Fill another piping bag with truffles and place in the cone, or Schultüten, and tie up the top with a piece of ribbon.
When it comes to autumn blogging, I just can’t get away from apple related ideas. It’s a well known fact that toffee flavours go well with apple so I thought I might wheel out the salted caramel recipe for this week’s post.
We had this after a large roast on Sunday and it was the perfect pud for a cosy autumn afternoon. One of my housemates (self proclaimed crumble connoisseur) called it “the zenith of desserts”, just saying, perhaps this crumble is not so humble after all.
The great thing about crumble is that it’s so quick to make and you can do it in advance, either cooked or uncooked and pop it in the fridge until you need it.
You will need
For the crumble:
140g/5 oz unsalted butter
125g/4.5 oz porridge oats
75g/2.75 oz ground almonds
50g/1.75 oz plain flour
50g/1.75 oz caster sugar
2 tbsp clear honey
4 cooking apples (bramley)
For the salted caramel:
100g/3.5 oz salted butter
80g/3 oz soft brown sugar
100ml/3.5 fl oz double cream
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp salt
Apologies to those of you who spotted the missing ingredients list for a while there!
Mix together the dry ingredients for the crumble topping (almonds, flour, oats and sugar).
Rub in the butter with your hands, it’s better if it’s cold as the mix will breadcrumb a bit more. Mine was a little on the soft side because I got distracted and left it on the counter for a while.
Add the honey and mix in with a wooden spoon.
Put it in the fridge until needed.
Place all the ingredients for the salted caramel into a saucepan (minus the cream).
Heat gently until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved and then bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir regularly so that it doesn’t catch and burn. Leave to cool for fifteen minutes to half an hour.
Once the caramel has cooled for a little while add the cream and stir until combined.
Peel and chop the apples.
Put the apples in the bottom of your dish, sprinkle with a little light brown sugar. Pour just a third to a half of the caramel sauce over the apples and cover with the crumble mixture.