Christmas baking: mini gingerbread houses and Black Bun

Firstly, let me build up some anticipation by mentioning that I was OBSESSED by this cutter for two full years. I don’t even know where I saw it (Pintrest probably, the devil’s moodboard) but once I’d set my beady little eyes on it I could not let it go. The harder I found procuring one the more desperate I became. Only one company  makes this exact cutter, which stamps out all the pieces for the house in one fell swoop, and they only sell in the states. They would not ship to the UK, so I tried using a New York hotel as the delivery address and was thwarted once again as they couldn’t process the UK billing address for my UK credit card. Buggered. Until started stocking them! And those little minions of consumerism will accept any payment in any currency and ship anywhere you like in their quest to monopolise the retail world!… Thank goodness.


So now I have this cutter my life is complete. The resultant houses are not quite as mini as I thought they’d be. Not that I want them any smaller, they’re fiddly enough as it is. They may look simple, but at times I felt like I might as well be making a gingerbread scale model of the Brighton Pavilion.


Be warned, there is great potential for Pintrest fails here. See the idyllic dream-scene on the left below, adjacent to one of my collapsing sheds:

house  IMG_8585a-01


It’d be nice to find a biscuit recipe which doesn’t puff up, for the perfect replication of a cutter. This gingerbread from the Hummingbird bakery book is my favourite recipe: although it does rise and spread a tiny bit, especially if you don’t roll it terribly thin. To make construction easier, I should have cut the edges of the side wall biscuits and the roof edges of the end wall biscuits, just to straighten them up. Trying to glue it all together was tricky anyway and it turns out rounded things do not fit against straight things. Shouldn’t have been a revelation really, but it kind of was.


I bought writing icing to be the mortar of my tiny house, but to be honest the little tubes were very hard to squeeze and I think I’ve given myself RSI. Next time I’ll make my own icing and just snip the end of a disposable bag to a very tiny hole. Plus, if I were making my own icing it would’ve all been the desired colours and I wouldn’t have had to ration the white, leaving me with urine yellow or barbie pink glowing out at the joins.

The first few attempts at construction were calamitous but once I had a system going, propping them up against spice jars while each stage hardened, there was a definite improvement. Nonetheless, the batch of dough made enough biscuits for around 20 houses and I still only managed to end up with 6 good ones. Not that this was a problem – we only have six chairs and four of those had to come in from the garden, so more houses would’ve be surplus to my dinner party requirements!




On to the black bun!

I mentioned to my mum some time ago that I wanted to make a Christmas cake in a pie. To be honest, I thought this was ingenious and was quite pleased with myself. Sadly she told me this was basically already a thing, taking the form of the Scottish Black Bun.

I did some research, she’s not wrong. Although the traditional version is baked in a loaf tin, resulting is square slices of rich fruit filling, surrounded on all four sides with shortcrust pastry. It wasn’t quite what I had in mind, plus I felt that proportionally it looked like a lot of mince to not a lot of pie. So I followed Paul Hollywood’s recipe, which you can find for free here, but used a regular pie dish.


( The lattice top was a spontaneous addition when I realised I did not have enough pastry.)

I took the resulting festive bounty to my girlfriends’ aunts’ house for Christmas lunch and it was very well received! If anyone felt that it looked more like actual minced meat than mincemeat then they were polite enough to say so while I was out of earshot.


I ate it – it was quite good! Especially with some cream to help lubricate that very heavy filling. In fact, a great deal of it got eaten despite serious competition from the other puddings on offer, and the fact that we were all replete with Christmas lunch.




Also, look at this great Buche de Noel which myself and Lucy (…mostly Lucy) made!


This is a another Paul Hollywood number, from his How to Bake book. I’ve made several things from it not and they are invariably winners! I’d thoroughly recommend it as a good all-rounder.


So my Christmas cookery efforts are over for another year. Time to take a break from using the kitchen and actually clean it.


Post script: In reading this back I’ve noticed a little of the Nigella Lawson in my tone. I would like to re-iterate – I am not fancy. In the slightest. I just received the majority of her back catalogue (not a euphemism) for Christmas and am tits deep in posh speak. Apologies.

Inescapable Christmas crafting

I’m fully in the swing of it now! It’s definitely Christmas time and I am off work for what will be my longest festive vacation in 6 years. So of course I mostly want to do crafts – while everyone else is still slogging their guts out in the office I want to be making chocolates and sticking wash tape to anything that stays still long enough.

We adopted a cat by accident the other night. He followed Lucy to our door when she came home but she sensibly encouraged him to stay outside and told him to trot off to his own home. When  I came home from my office party at 1am, not exactly stone-cold sober, he followed me too. And I was couldn’t resist ushering the fuzzy little guy in :) So we kept Fluffy Knickers for the night, like having a pretend cat family of our own, and it was great! But now the flat feels still and boring with just us and the hedgehog, who is a terrible, angry, smelly pet. I hope Fluffy has hung out with lots of our neighbours, just popping in for a cuddle and a bit of festive cheer.

But when I’ve not been stealing other people’s cats this weekend I have been busy in the kitchen, making gingerbread chocolate truffles. I’ve tried this recipe before and it is super lovely, with black treacle and crystallised ginger for that sweet, baked flavour in the filling. This time I tried the lego mould, which is more of two-bite chocolate but they looked super cute and only a couple of the little nodule bits didn’t make it. I don’t think my tempering went very well though, these don’t look as shiny as I’d like. I did have a thermometer this time, but it was nowhere near sensitive enough! It must be for making caramels and things because the temperatures are way too high. I will have more chocolate making days later in the week though, planning to try Tia Maria truffles for my nan (and myself) and chocolate covered peppermint creams. Also want to make some boozy jellies in the little robot moulds too.

lego shaped gingerbread truffleschocolate gift bags

I was in China the week before last, visiting factories for work and generally making nice with my colleagues in the Shanghai production office, and I’d chosen to use the long flight time home to make my secret santa present. The pattern cutting department decided that we would make our presents this year and I’d gone for a little pincushion pig. I’d seen some guys like this on instagram, but with no instructions of pattern so I kinda made that bit up myself. I’d pre-cut my pieces and put together a little kit for stitching on the plane, which I dutifully set to doing under the heavy scrutiny of the two elderly Chinese women next to me. They were literally craning over each other to see what I was doing, and then whispering to one-another (perhaps they were concerned I speak Chinese – I do not), it was just so awkward! And this continued for TWELVE HOURS. They literally watched me like hawks as I sewed this pig, then knitted some mitten, then sewed up the sleeves of Lucy’s jumper. And they nattered continuously. And the plane was plunged into darkness for 8 hours, despite it being daytime at both our departure and destination countries. But I persevered! I finished the little pig guy, and my secret santa recipient was delighted :) I’ve even cut out pieces for another one, if I get round to putting it together I can inflict it on someone else at Christmas.

IMG_5335Tweed pincushion pig pig pattern pieces

I got some more beeswax and finished off my candle, plus I poured these two for my friends’ housewarming gift. But to be honest I’m not too impressed with the stuff. It burns terribly badly, only creating a small pool of molten wax which doesn’t make it halfway down the jar before putting the wick out. I suspect this stuff is more for use in cosmetics and furniture polish and all the other stuff it listed, and I should probably just get paraffin wax in future! Or maybe I’ll give soy wax a go. But these were pretty at least, in the meantime.

recycled jar beeswax candles

I finished the advent calendar for my mum in plenty of time. Was not too fancy, just little sweet shop bags with various candies inside, pegged to a string. She seems to like it though.

advent calendar sweet shop bag advent calendar

And now we’ve decorated our own place for Christmas! No tree this year, can’t really afford to give up that much space in our shoe-box, but the garland is lovely and plenty festive for me. And most of my presents are wrapped, sticking to the pink/red/white ye olde sweet shoppe feeling that I’m obsessed with this year. So Christmas is properly on! And I’ve got all week to do my embroidery homework, make my sweeties and crack that Christmas jumper which I started for Lu in March and still isn’t finished…

christmas tree garland  christmas wash tape bunting tags christmas wash tape sweet shop house christmas present wrapping pink red whitepink christmas wrapping with wash tape

Stuff to do and a desk to do it at.

My table is clear and usable for the first time in MONTHS! I am sitting at my computer like a civilised human, not scrunched over it on my lap like the last picture in a comedy ‘evolution of man’ illustration. Lucy moved in with me nearly a month ago :D and although the co-habiting is lovely, my tiny flat has had an onslaught of possessions that has been tricky to work through. But last night the in-laws came for a celebratory housewarming paella so we really had to get a grip and make the place nice. The evening was lovely and they brought us many delightful gifts (including a drill set which we are crazy excited about) but the best part for me is probably the re-discovery of my dining table and today’s prospect of a whole day to work at it! I am starting with a breakfast of some toast made from the roasted garlic loaf I made yesterday and writing this little update. breakfast I’m keen to get the sewing machine out and make more cushions. I have a heap of unloved knitwear brought home from work. I have sold some cushions from the Etsy shop! Admittedly, only to my adorable friend Pete, but a sale is a sale. Plus I’ve had some interest from my Lucy’s parents who would consider selling some in their fancy interiors store, so I should really up my game for them and make a few with proper labels and fastenings. I’m thinking it would be good to embroider labels with ‘Milkbottle’ and some fabric/care info, I just need to find the best way to do that quickly and simply. Embroidery-wise I’m pushing to get this guy finished: art macabre cross stitch The cross-stitch of Raven Rouge at the Art Macabre death drawing session from ages ago. The lovely lady who is the subject of this picture has shown an interest in having it when it’s done, so that’s giving me the incentive I needed to actually crack on! I’d also like to get the girls-in-knickers embroideries framed up today. I’ve acquired two vintage hoops (thanks to a recent bout of ebay addiction) which I think will be perfect. I’ll put these up for sale too, although I’ve no idea how much for yet. girls in knickers embroideries And I signed up for the certificate course at the Royal School of Needlework! I’m so excited. I’ll be starting Jacobean Crewelwork at the end of June. Going to have a nice day out to Hatfield House to get some Jacobean inspiration. The assessment criteria are pretty strict on this module, holding me very close to a traditional tree of life design. No room for naughtiness. Not that Jacobean is the most inspiring medium for subversive subject matter. It’s the silk shading module that is most tempting – I desperately want to stitch pubic hair while everyone else is doing kittens and pansies. Lucy’s Christmas jumper is coming on nicely: I’m up to the fair-isle section on the front now. Those two massive balls of yarn which I got at Ally Pally last year are stretching really far. Once I’ve finished both the body panels I’ll weigh the green again and split what’s left into two balls, and that will pretty much dictate the design of the sleeve. Lots of green will mean the possibility of more detailed fair isle and a shorter white section at the top, only a little will mean a short green cuff with a simple design to transfer to the white. It’s fun to make this up as I go along! Just need to make sure that the angle at the top of the sleeve runs smoothly into the shoulder and we’ll be golden :) fair isle knitted jumper And just for a little dose of cuteness I’ve been making these baby socks too: cable baby socks Sometime I feel super frustrated with myself for mot getting much done, but actually when I look at things laid out like this I am pretty happy with what I manage to do. If only I didn’t have to go to work!