Iced Biscuits (Cookies)

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Iced Biscuits (Cookies)

I have long been impressed by those immaculately iced biscuits (cookies to our American friends) that you see on Pinterest and in fancy stores, so I thought I’d have a go and see if I could make some.

I then stumbled across a book by the biscuit geniuses at Biscuiteers in Nymans National Trust second hand bookshop. And it seemed like fate.

So one Saturday, my daughter and I donned our aprons and made the vanilla biscuit recipe from the biscuiteers book (it’s also online here). Except we replaced most of the syrup with honey because we didn’t have much syrup. Not sure it made any difference – you couldn’t taste the honey, and the texture was great.

We split it in two, and rolled it out between two pieces of parchment paper. To about 5mm thick.

We used a random assortment of cutters (obviously mini-me insisted we had to include a unicorn!)

This batch came out just right. The second batch were a little darker. Just as tasty, but a slightly different flavour.

They didn’t take long to cool, and we popped them in a Tupperware container overnight, ready to ice the following day.

We used the biscuiteers royal icing recipe (see here), made with fresh egg whites. My trusty KitchenAid made short work of whipping up a batch, which we then watered down slightly and added a variety of Wilton food colouring gels. We also added some gold lustre dust to some golden yellow icing, which gave it a lovely subtle sheen.

To make the black icing we added cocoa powder to the icing to darken it, before adding black food colouring. It worked really well.

A top tip is to stick some clingfilm directly on top of your icing to keep it from drying whilst you aren’t using it.

There are two main types of icing when you are making biscuits. Line icing and flooding icing. Basically you make a border with the line icing, and flood it (fill the border) with the flooding icing. Line icing is also used for making patterns/detail on top after you have flooded the biscuit. The line icing is stiffer than the flooding one, but some people use the same icing to both outline and flood.

I tried making a mix of line icing, flooding icing, and something in between that could be used for both.

We popped the colours in icing bags, and some white flooding icing in a squeezy bottle, which I had bought online. It works really well, and I’d definitely recommend getting a couple.

You can see in the picture below the outline (which you leave for a few minutes to dry before flooding), and the flooding which hasn’t quite made it to the edge on the head.

Toothpicks are great for helping it spread a little. As is banging it gently on the table, or jiggling it quickly from side to side (yes really!). Though we did lose a few unicorn horns that way!

Leave the flooded biscuit for about 20 minutes to dry before adding decoration on top. Unless you’re doing some marbling, in which case do it straight away. I piped lines on it and then zigzagged through them to create the marble. Be careful not to add too many colours or overmix, otherwise you end up with a sludge colour (see the dress!).

And here are our results. Far from perfect, but I learnt a lot, and I’ve already got some ideas about what I would do differently next time.

I think this is my favourite…

The texture of the icing is absolutely key, and I’m a bit lazy, so am drawn to the idea of having the same texture icing for both outlining and flooding. A bit more experimenting required to get it just right. The teal and gold ones were the closest to this. The orange was too stiff to flood properly. I think if you wanted to do really fine decorating then you would need the line icing texture.

The size of hole I cut in the piping bag was also crucial. Some of them were a bit big.

And you really have to plan ahead in terms of which bits to outline in what colour, what to flood, what to add on top. We traced round the cutters and drew out designs to help us plan things out.

And my final top tip – we spread oilcloth on the table, and it was a great idea. Food colouring is a nightmare to remove!

I loved it, and I think I have developed a new obsession. I can’t wait to try again!

Harvest Festival Cupcakes

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Harvest Festival Cupcakes

When my daughter has a bake sale at school, we like to make our bakes match the theme (if it’s for the school fete) or the time of year.

In October she had a harvest festival assembly the day before the bake sale, so was insistent that our bake had to be harvest festival themed.

I’m obviously a keen gardener, so a vegetable theme ticked a lot of boxes.

For the decorations I cheated and bought some ready made white fondant, which we coloured with my favourite Wilton gel colouring. Just add a bit at a time to get the colour you want, and the the great thing is that they don’t make icing runny or fondant soft and sticky. Once coloured we had a happy evening in front of the fire making as many vegetables we could think of. I think my favourites are the cauliflower (which I made from rolling small balls of white fondant, squishing them together and then wrapping in green fondant), and the peas.

We then made some chocolate cupcakes and iced them with dark chocolate ganache. To make them extra tasty we dug a little home in each cupcake and put some ganache in the hole, before covering the top in ganache.

Finally we put the fondant veggies on the top. And I have to say, I am thrilled with how they turned out. I took the spare ones to work, and my colleague genuinely asked why I had put peas on a cake. He thought they were real!

The ganache meant they weren’t too sweet – I think a buttercream topping and fondant would have been too much. However, the next day the vegetables had slipped a little on the ganache – they had become a little wet – so definitely one for eating the same day (no hardship).

Pot Luck – Round 4

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Pot Luck – Round 4

This is the fourth year of trying out different plant combinations in my many pots.

I’ve shifted over to having more perennials, but can’t resist beautiful annual bedding plants. I buy quite a few as tiny plug plants in early spring, and bring them on in the greenhouse. I also bought lots of packets of lobelia seeds (and some laurentia, but that is much harder to find) and sowed them in trays with small modules – multiple seeds to a module in February. It worked a treat, and is a very cheap way of getting the exact colours you want.

It’s getting towards the end of May, and I’ve taken photos of most of the pots as I’ve planted them up, and have added second photos when they are in full flower.

Osteospermum Sky & Ice, 2 x Alyssum Snow Cloth, 2 x Calibrachoa Starlight Pink, Ipomoea Black Tone, Lobelia Cambridge Blue

2 X Antirrhinum Night & Day, 2 x Bacopa Snowflake, 4 x Lobelia Crimson Fountain

Orange Wallflower, 2 x Bidens Bee Alive, Petunia Lime, Petunia Cascadia Indian Summer.

3 x Echinacea Pallida, 3 x Lobelia Sapphire, Osteospermum Sky & Ice, Verbena Aztec Purple (I think – it’s from a cutting and the labels got mixed up!).

3 x Fantasia Dark Red Bush Geranium, 3 x Decors Red Trailing Geranium

Stellar Pelargonium Westwood, Scented Leaves Pelargonium Pink Capricorn, Bacopa Snowflake.

Angel Pelargonium Charmay Marjorie, Calibrachoa Can-Can Black Cherry, Calibrachoa Starlight Pink, Lobelia Snowball.

Scented Leaves Pelargonium Ardwick Cinnamon, Calibrachoa Can-can Black Cherry, Diascia Diamond Dark Orange, Petunia Cascadia Indian Summer.

Rosebud Pelargonium Graingers Antique Rose. Gruffalo watering can courtesy of my daughter.

Salvia Nematoda Cardonna, 2 x verbena Aztec Silver Magic, 2 x Lobelia Sapphire, 1 x Laurentia Stargazer. First photo when planted in May, second photo 3rd week of June.

3 x Cupid Pink Dwarf Sweet Pea, 2 x Diascia Little Dancer (overwintered in the greenhouse, miraculously survived), 2 x Alyssum Snow Cloth, 3 x Lobelia Crimson Fountain.

Dahlia Honka Fragile

Osteospermum Sky & Ice, 3 x Geranium New Century White (bush), 3 x Geranium Blanche Roche (trailing)

Rudbeckia Irish Eyes x 4, Rudbeckia Rustic Dwarf, Rudbeckia Sahara.

Potentilla Nepalensis Ron Macbeath

Delphinium, Petunia Lime

Erisimum Rysi Copper, Bidens Bee Alice, Diascia Diamond Dark Orange x 2

3 x Antirrhinum Tom Thumb, Gypsophilia

Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve (one large, 1 small, which is a cutting from the large that I took last year), Aztec Silver Magic Verbena, Ipomoea Black Tone.

Pink Geranium, Scented Leaves Pelargonium Chocolate Peppermint, 2 x Lobelia Snowball

Lollipop Verbena, Aztec Silver Magic Verbena x 2, Trailing Lobelia x 2.

Dahlia Bishops Children, Ipomoea Black Tone x 2.

Dahlia Bishops Children, Petunia Cascadia Indian Summer

Zinnia Hot Mix x 2, Zinnia Giant Lime, Zinnia Mazurkia x 2

2 X Antirrhinum night & day, Petunia Pink Vein, Petunia Lime.

Geranium (don’t know what it is, it’s part of one in the border that I divided in Autumn).

Purple geranium, 2 x Pelargonium Attar of Roses, Petunia Royal Posy, Petunia Creme Brûlée.

Pelargonium Candyflower

Purple Geranium, Petunia Royal Posy, Petunia Creme Brûlée.

3 x Petunia Posy, Zaluzianskya (Night Phlox) Midnight Candy.

Two Hampton Court Flower Show purchases. Decorative Pelargonium Australian Mystery (from Fibrex Nurseries). Gorgeous kettle from Garden Brocante.

More from Hampton Court. Bucket from Garden Brocante. Scented leaf pelargonium Attar of Roses, Species hybrid pelargonium Ardens, Unique pelargonium Mystery. All from Fibrex

Update: A couple of pictures at the beginning of June, with the pots in place. The geraniums are all putting on a good show already:

And here is an old wheelbarrow planted up on 2nd July. Few of the plants looking a bit sickly because I left them out in pots the sun and it’s been scorchio!

Loads of plants in this one:

Pennisetum advena Rubrum, Liatris spicata, Lavandula elegans ice, dahlia (no name!), Verbena rigida (looking very poorly), Campanula, Salvia farinacea, 2 x Osteospermum, 2 x ivy, Ipomoea Black Tone x 2, loads of purple verbena and loads of mixed Petunia. And here it is at the beginning of August..

And another picture after I planted it up for Winter. I composted all of the almost dead petunias and verbena, and the dahlia and geraniums have gone in the greenhouse. I’m taking a risk and leaving everything else in over winter. Will see what happens. I’ve added lots of violas and pansies, a couple of hellebores, 4 cyclamen and a little lime green conifer. It’s a welcome splash of colour as you come in the front gate, and I can see it from the living room which is nice.

Unicorn Rainbow Pancakes

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Unicorn Rainbow Pancakes

My daughter had a great love of unicorns, and for some reason, rainbow things are associated with unicorns (I’m sure there is a lovely, sparkly reason, but I don’t know what it is).

She has been pestering me to make rainbow pancakes, and today was the day!

We have our ‘ go to’ pancake recipe, which is from my brother. He is married to a lovely Canadian, and I think he has tweaked her family recipe.

It makes about 24-30 small American (Canadian!) style pancakes, and usually we make a full batch and freeze half of it – it works perfectly well after the batter has been frozen and defrosted. This uses the full recipe.

As I’m a keen baker, we always have food colouring in the house for icing of various hues, so I dig out our trusty box of Colourflair gel colouring. Gels give a much stronger colour than liquid colouring, and don’t dilute the mixture.

Happily we had all the right colours for the rainbow, except orange, and of course that’s easy to make with red and yellow. For indigo we mixed blue with a bit of purple. If lots of food colouring scares you, then this isn’t the recipe for you. Or maybe try some natural alternatives.

Here is the basic pancake recipe:

Mix together:

375g plain flour

16g sugar

16g baking powder

Pinch salt

Then mix in:

3 eggs

350g milk

32g oil

I use an electronic scale that allows me to just keep adding the ingredients.

Whisk them all together until it’s a thick, double cream like consistency.

If you don’t want rainbow pancakes then you can cook it now, if you do.. carry on..

Divide the mix into 7 bowls – I ladle per bowl is almost exactly right to divide it into 7.

Mix in the food colouring.

Heat a frying pan until very hot. If it’s non stick you probably won’t need to add any oil (as there is some in the mix), but test it with a small bit of batter.

Each colour should make 3-4 small pancakes – around 6-7 cm diameter.

Once some bubbles start to show, flip them over. You should see them start to rise a little to make them fluffy.

My pan has a waffle pattern, so the pancakes are never smooth!

I put a piece of kitchen roll on the plate I am using so they don’t go soggy whilst the others cook.

Eat with whatever takes your fancy. We always have loads of fruit. I love a bit of butter and maple syrup, my daughter loves Nutella and raspberry jam.

Enjoy the washing up!

No Dig Allotment – Raspberries

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We love raspberries in our house, and we have a couple of plants in the garden that we snack on every evening during the summer.

There are never enough, so it was a no brainier to grow plant at the allotment. My fellow plot holders have great raspberry plants, so they obviously grow well there.

I bought a load of bare root plants in November when I got the plot, and decided to keep them in pots at home until I knew where I wanted to plant them. I was really inspired by the gorgeous raspberry bushes at River Cottage when I was there for their festival in August.

This was my delicious breakfast – yoghurt, muesli, grated River Cottage apple, and River Cottage raspberries.

And this is me getting into the glittery festival spirit!

I bought a mix of autumn fruiting ones from Thompson & Morgan – Polka, Autumn Bliss, Autumn Gold (yellow), plus some summer fruiting ones from Sutton’s – Valentina, (orange) and some long cane Glen Ample – I wanted to actually have some fruit this year, so I cheated and bought the long cane Glen Amples from Sutton’s that come with one cane.

I also love tayberries & loganberries – they make the best jam. So I also bought 3 loganberry and 3 tayberry plants from J.Parker’s.

They all overwintered in pots in my garden, and I took them up to the allotment at the end of March

to plant them out. They were the very first things I planted!

I wanted to keep the summer and autumn fruiting ones separate, so I’ve planted them on opposite sides of the plot.

I dug a four trenches and hammered in stakes at either end of them all. I got my stakes from Green Tech, they were the cheapest I could find, and were recommended by a fellow gardener on Twitter (but I can’t remember who!).

My trenches are 2-3m long. I made longer ones for the summer/tay & loganberries and shorter ones for the autumn fruiting as I have less of those.

I then popped a bit of compost at the bottom of each and placed the raspberries in the trench. Approx 30-40cm apart. Because the soil is heavy clay, I backfilled with fresh compost, topped with some manure (which had been composting for about 5 months, so not fully composted) and then watered and covered with a heavy mulch of bark chippings.

I have put wires across the Glen Ample area as they needed tying in straight away. I will do the rest when needed. I used Gripple wire and tensioners from Gardening Naturally. Easy to do, should last well, and they don’t rust.

Around the edges I have put cardboard and woodchip.

In mid May I also planted some flowers at the ends of some of the rows. A cosmos, 2 dahlias and some sweet peas so far.

I have given them a heard start by planting them in fresh compost rather than the ground. I cut off the bottom of the pot so the roots can go deeper when they are ready.

And this is how everything is looking in mid-May:

The Polkas (looking good)

Autumn Gold and Autumn Bliss (bit patchy, they haven’t all leafed up) – I’ve let Thompson Morgan know, and they are replacing the autumn bliss, but don’t have any autumn gold left – they have given a refund for those, which is good, but means I only have 1 plant.

Tayberry/Loganberry and Valentina (bit patchy)

Glen Ample (looking good, with some flowers beginning to show)

There have been a few weeds peeping through, but nothing like the weeds around the site, so very pleased with the approach so far. I try and pull them when they are small, and I’m working on the idea of exhausting the roots by constantly taking off the greenery.

New No Dig Allotment – A Year In Pictures

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New No Dig Allotment – A Year In Pictures

I thought it would be fun to take a photo of my plot from roughly the same place each month, right from the start. So here goes..

October 2017 (first viewing)

November 2017 (its mine! – taken from the back of the plot) The council had kindly cut the grass.

December 2017 (all covered up)

January 2018 (first mound flattened)

February 2018 (shed built)

March 2018 (first planting)

April 2018 (some raised beds built)

May 2018 – some raised beds planted – from right to left: 1) strawberries, 2) asparagus, calendula and sweetpeas, 3) carrot and beetroot

June 2018 Four raised beds built. Beans, peas and courgettes in the 4th bed. Netting protecting the strawberries and carrots/beetroot

July 2018 – five raised beds built. The fifth one has sweet corn and squash. Sweetpeas doing really well!

The first eight months…

No Dig Allotment – Strawberries

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No Dig Allotment – Strawberries

The very first no dig bed to be planted up is the strawberry bed.

We grow strawberries very successfully at home in four grow bags on top of a rickety old table that was here when we moved in. However, we never have enough, so I knew I needed to plant some more at the allotment.

I bought the bare root plants from J Parker’s back in November, and planted them into a couple of plastic troughs. It is an ‘all season’ collection, with Honeoye (Early Season), Cambridge Favourite (Mid Season) and Florence (Late Season). They have been sitting in the greenhouse all winter, and I took them out a few weeks ago to harden them off. The recent hot weather has meant they have put on some good growth, and getting them last year and planting them into troughs means they are way ahead of where they would be if I had bought them in spring. There are already some flowers on them.

Firstly I prepared the bed with cardboard, manure and compost.

I decided to use weed suppressant fabric on top of the compost. This is to prevent any perennial weeds coming up from under the bed, and to stop annual weed seeds landing on the bed and taking hold. It also prevents the strawberries lying on wet ground and going mouldy. I think it will work well, as it’s similar to growing them in grow bags.

I cut a piece of fabric slightly longer and wider than the bed (which is 3m x 1m) and tucked it in all round the edges. I have loads because the whole plot was covered all winter, so it’s nice to be able to re-use it.

I then dug the strawberries out of the troughs and laid them on the bed to get an idea of spacing. They are 4 across and 9 along the length, so 36 in total. Honeoye is on the right, Cambridge Favourite in the middle and Florence on the left.

I then cut a cross in the fabric for each plant, and put them in the holes.

We couldn’t find the watering can, so mini-me helped me water each plant individually. We filled the bottles from the tap, we didn’t use bottled water on them!!

We gave them a good soaking as it is forecast to be hot over the weekend.

This is the finished bed. I put stones in each corner to help hold the fabric down, and one in the middle (after I took the photo). Once the plants grow, I don’t think the fabric will be in danger of blowing away.

These were planted on the 3rd May. It’s the 13th today, and already we have some berries forming. I’ve also added two cornflower plants (one at either end of the bed for some added height and colour).

As the fruit began to form and change colour, I found the local pigeons took too much of a liking to them, so I covered it in handy pop up netting from Wilko , which works really well – I didn’t even bother pegging it down – I just used the bricks I was already using to hold down the weed suppressant fabric.

And here they are – the first strawberries from our plot!🍓 They arrived early June, and they are absolutely delicious. I particularly recommend the honeoye variety. I also recommend the no dig approach – particularly with the weed suppressant fabric – barely any weeds – just a little bindweed making its presence felt at the beginning of July.

Update – Now that it’s July and it’s their first year, the harvest is over, and the plants are now bulking up and putting out runners. I’ve been cutting new holes and pegging the runners down with U shaped pegs. I expect to have double the amount of plants next year. Yum yum!