Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Chocolate Christmas Cake

We always seem to be visiting someone or having guests over Christmas so I wanted to share with you one of my favourite things, Chocolate Christmas Cake with gingerbread Christmas trees. None of us are very keen on a traditional Christmas cake but there is something magical about serving a slice of cake and a glass of wine to our holiday visitors.

What is special about this cake is that it has a hidden Christmas tree inside that is only revealed when it is cut, a special extra christmassy surprise. The gingerbread trees make the perfect topping and add that spice that we associate with this time of year. To accompany this delicious cake I would pair it with a Tempranillo wine with its smooth flavour bringing out that rich chocolatey flavour, a match made in heaven. 

Chocolate Cake:
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
4 large eggs, beaten
250g self raising flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon milk

Method Chocolate Cake: 
Preheat oven to 180C and grease 2 X 20.5 cake tins lining the bottom of the tin.
1. Put butter into mixing bowl and beat until creamy, then gradually beat in the sugar until its lighter in colour.
2. Gradually add the eggs a tablespoon at a time beating well throughout. With the last two tablespoons of the egg mixture add 1 tablespoon of the weighed flour. 
3. Sift the remaining flour, salt and cocoa powder into the bowl and gently fold in. Add the milk. The mixture is quite firm but if you want it to be less firm add more milk. 
4. Divide the mixture between your two cake tins and bake for 60 mins at 180C.
5. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
6. Chill in the fridge wrapped (to make icing easier)
7. Cut out the top of the cake, I used a bowl to help guide my cutting. This allows for a deeper filling and is where your Christmas tree will go. I made the christmas tree using green royal icing but it would work with marzipan too. I rolled it out into a roll and then pinched the top to create the tree shape. 

This is the bowl I used to cut the hollow for the buttercream and you can see the green christmas tree behind ready to go in.
8. Fill the hollow bits in both cakes with buttercream (see recipe below) and press the green christmas tree in, then put the two pieces together. I found it easiest to pipe the buttercream in to stop the cake crumbs from spreading.

9. Ice using the ganache icing recipe below and then decorate with gingerbread christmas trees.

Buttercream Filling:
125g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method Buttercream:
1. Put the butter into a mixing bowl and beat until pale in colour and creamy. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl. Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until smooth and thick.

Ganache Topping:
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
100ml whipping cream

Method Ganache:
1. Finely chop the chocolate into a heatproof bowl.
2. Heat the cream up so its hot but not boiling and pour it over the chocolate slowly.
3. Leave for 2 minutes before gently stirring. 
4. When its firm enough to hold its shape you can use it to ice your cake.

Gingerbread Christmas trees:
350g plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175g unsalted butter
150g dark muscovado sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup

Method Gingerbread:
Preheat oven to 180C
1. Sift the flour, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.
2. Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan (it needs to be big enough to hold all of the ingredients). Place on a low heat and stir until everything is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and tip in the flour mixture, mixing well to form a dough.
3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop and knead into a ball. I always then chill mine wrapped in cling film for 30 mins before using.
4. Roll and cut out your christmas trees and place on a lined baking tray.
5. Bake for about 8 minutes and leave to cool on tray before removing.

My boys and I had great fun putting this cake together. They really enjoyed making the gingerbread trees (a few dinosaurs got in there too) and even though they are too little to ice they enjoyed helping to stir and put the cake together. It made us feel very Christmassy indeed and who can resist a Chocolate Christmas cake and gingerbread trees! 

This post is my entry into the Yapp Festive Foodies' Christmas Blogging Competition which you can find more about here: Yapp Brothers Competition.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dreaming of a creative bed

Time 4 Sleep are asking for ideas from children about what their dream bed would look like. I was interested to hear just what my two boys 2 and 4 thought about it and what their ideas would be, as well as being a little apprehensive to what they might say as well.

So this is what they think:


Both boys love high beds (neither have a high one currently) and they have a huge love of climbing, so I am not at all surprised that they want something high that has a ladder for access up and a fireman's pole and slide to get down. They talked about a covered tent for sleeping under and I took that to mean above them but also on the side as well, and for my own sanity the idea of a tent is fantastic as I know they would be secure all night long and not have to worry. I can picture the side of the bed at the top being a fixed part of the tent at night securing them in and then dropping to form a slide in the day for extra fun. My two year old also added that he would like an extra springy mattress like Mummy and Daddy's for bouncing on. We have a memory foam mattress which is quite squidgy so you understand the texture he is after.

I love how practical both of my boys are already in their request for somewhere for drinks storage - a huge current problem that we have is that there is no obvious place. When both boys go upstairs to bed they often have treasures that they have been carrying lovingly in the their hands and pockets all day long. These special items often cause issues because there is no safe place to put them, hence why they would love a secret box for treasures. Password protected of course! I also like their idea of voice activated and iPad controlled and I am sure these are not that far in the future.

The one thing they said that I was most surprised about, and that I loved the most was that they wanted it to have a built in garden for flowers so that when they woke up it would be like being outside. I also like the responsibility this comes with and the instinct to nurture and grow things. Finally colourwise it has to be like the rainbow.

What ideas do your children have for a dream bed?

Finally Time 4 Sleep have already been asking adults what their ideal bed would look like and come up with three designs to suit everyones needs. My favourite is the dream bed for famillies which you can see in the video below. Have a look and see what you think.

I love its auto-pet feeder and built in coffee machine as they are exactly what I need. What about you?

This post is my entry into the #dreambed competition.

Christmas Card Decoration

I love Christmas cards and hearing everyones news, seeing their pictures and I appreciate the effort they have made to send it. Then I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by the Christmas cards, the mantlepiece was bursting and everyday the kids seem to have brought home more and more cards from school. Just where was I going to put them all? Everytime anyone opened the door all of the cards seemed to crash the floor in the gust.

So I decided to think out of the box a little bit so I decided to make a Christmas card tree. I wanted them to be in the living room so we can all enjoy them, but I have arranged them in a Christmas tree shape and made them into a feature rather than a nuisance. I have used pins to attach the cotton to the wall, I picked gold end ones as I thought they would stand out and define the tree shape. If you have choice, go for the finest tip you can so that it leaves barely a trace of a hole on your wall. I then used cotton between the pins, doubled up which I fixed by twisting it around the pin. It needs to be fairly tight otherwise it will droop too much, thats also why I used a pin in the middle of each tree branch line. I freehanded the tree because I like that its not perfect because a tree wouldn't be perfect, but you could easily measure out with a pencil first. At the top of the tree I have added a snowflake star and you could always hang cards and decorations too to add your own little touch.

I am so relieved to have finally given the cards their own space, and the card tree has really added a lovely extra christmassy touch to our living room. It also nice to know I still have space for more cards too on my tree. What DIY decorations have you been making this year?

This is my entry into the Christmas Decorations competition with Victorias Vintage and Able Skills.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Super Sleigh

Its starting to look a lot like Christmas with nativity plays, christmas parties and cards arriving so to get us further in the mood we embarked on turning my youngest bed into a magical super sleigh for the afternoon. Red happens to be very much a colour favourite so we hunted around to find two red blankets to help us. I have also caught my two year old pulling the tinsel off the tree pretty much everyday this week so I said he could use it for his sleigh bed too. He gladly lugged it upstairs with glee written all over his face.

He got making straight away, talking about it and traipsing the tinsel everywear and I as always loved hearing his ideas about where he and the toys were going to go. You can see him in this picture talking away.

Things you need to know about this super sleigh are: 

- It has a special area to carry toys in at the back which is very soft and just how they like it.
- The tinsel when in flight makes it shine light a star for everyone to see and makes it look very pretty.
- The pirate T-shirt my son put on especially keeps other pirates away as you never know who you might meet on an adventure.
- It has a built in sleeping area to keep your legs cosy when you are travelling and also in case the driver happens to need a nap on route (which sometimes happens when your driver is two).
-The giraffe likes to eat chocolate off your fingers and so they have to keep all chocolate in a hidden pocket under the toys seat for extra protection. He called it the rocket pocket as his duvet and pillow have a rocket on them and they are what create the pocket.

The toys really really wanted to go to the safari park to see the animals and requested to see the camel, elephant, lion and kangaroo as "must see" animals. Thats why its pulled by the giraffe as who better to take the toys a sleigh safari then a giraffe.

Here it is the super sleigh! 
This post is my entry into the Super Sleigh Christmas Competition. If you fancy having a go at making your own sleigh bed I would love to see what your little ones come up with and you can find out more about the competition here: Super Sleigh. All you need is a bed and some imagination!

What are you doing to get you in the Christmas mood?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Criminal Menswear Outfit

Fancy a new outfit for the man in your life? I have styled one using Criminal Men's wear from House of Fraser to give you some ideas for what to get them for Christmas.

Criminal Mens Outfit

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Warm and Cosy Living Room Ideas

Decorating our living room is one of the many rooms that we need to transform in 2015 in our new house and I have been pondering just what to do with it since we moved in. One of the key colour trends said to be hot for 2015 is Seaport (the lovely blue/teal colour below). I picked the seaport colour palette as inspiration for my living room because we already have a armchair with a teal pattern on it and teal in our colourful stripy rug. Both of these items I love and I wanted to be able to keep them in any update we do without them looking out of place. I also felt it was a fun and fresh colour that brings the outside world in and would be enjoyed by both adults and children.

As you can see from my mood board below seaport is a rich colour which can be picked out in key features like furniture, wallpaper and blinds. I have complimented it with silver as I felt it made the colour look more vibrant and really gives it the wow factor without being overpowering. One of the things that our living room currently lacks is good lighting and I love the large bow lamp shown below which would bring the extra light we much need. I think when you use a coloured blind it can really add to your room accenting everything else you have making it seem brighter, and when I look at the blinds in the moodboard I can't help but think about the sky or the vastness of a clear blue sea.

Seaport Living room

Get the stuff: Large Bow Lamp, Boule Pendant Light, Hive Pendant Light in soft green and Twist Sofa in pello teal all from, Energy Saving Blind from, Metallic Bark Cushion in silver and Croft Collection Diamond Throw from John Lewis. Laura Cole Titanium Sardinia Wine Vase from Wayfair. The pouf, side table and painting are sadly not available to buy in the UK and I am pretty sure that I could find something similar here.

One of the challenges that we are also faced with is keeping the house warm. Its a big house and I want to be as energy efficient as possible but I feel we just loose heat. We have a big patio window in the living room as well as a large bay window which have the potential to be really lovely but right now they just feel really cold. We put the curtains up that you can see in the picture because we had them and they were better than the ones that the previous owners left, but I feel that they darken the room and they don't really match what we have.

Patio Window
Bay Window
One of my ideas for combatting this is to put Duette energy saving blinds up which work like a bit like honeycomb trapping the heat and thus keeping the heat inside my living room instead of it escaping (as you can see the picture below). It will also hopefully save us money on our bills too which is always good.  The second really good benefit for us as a family is that swapping from curtains to blinds is much better for dustmite allergies sufferers so it would be a really good choice for us and our health. When I watch all these amazing grand designs programmes with contemporary features they never have curtains so it is definitely the way forward in design which fills me with confidence that its the right move. I also think it looks neater not to have the clutter of a curtain.

I am imagining how different the picture of our bay window could look without the curtain clutter and with a bright and vibrant blind accenting the room but also bringing the outside in with it. Instead of a dark focal point it would be radically transformed.

Energy Saving Blind from
Would you swap your curtains for blinds? What do you think of the seaport colour scheme?

This is my entry into the Duette Blogger Competition.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Diggers book review

This month as part of the Parragon book buddies scheme we have been sent The Diggers by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Antoine Corineau.

Both boys were hugely excited by the look of this book when it arrived as they always are when it comes to machinery. The cover looks so inviting with that great big smiling digger on it so we got reading straight away. "Dig, dig, dig" is how it starts as you join the animals and machines as they discover the underground. The boys love this book and I have read it everyday since it arrived so its definitely a firm favourite, particularly with my two year old. One night this week I read it twice to him and then he told it back to me telling me all about what was happening on each page. I do like it when a book really captivates him to read like this one.

I like the story, starting with the animals, however I found the page about the pirate digging a little out of place with the rest of the book, but my boys didn't notice. A big part of me likes it when the momentum of the rhyme drives you forward through the book, where as in this book when it changes from the animals, to the man and then the big digger the pattern changes too. I am not sure about the change as I liked the original rhyme, but this is just my personal preference and one I have got over after reading it a few times.

The book is beautifully illustrated and we particularly like how they captured the animals such as the worm digging down to his home as it gave good holes for little fingers to trace and follow. The digger is well drawn with his smiling and welcoming face.

Overall we really like The Diggers with its vibrant illustrations and fun story about digging and we would recommend it. If you would like to buy your own copy you can get it here from Amazon:

Disclaimer: We received a copy of The Diggers in order to review it but all the opinions expressed are my own.