Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Baking - Cookie Christmas Tree!

I have always wanted to create a cookie Christmas Tree and this year I finally found the time!


I purchased one of the star cookie cutter  packs online (you can get these everywhere now), found a rolled cookie recipe and got baking! You may prefer to do these with gingerbread, but I am not a fan so went with a vanilla cookie base.

This was the first time I had used this recipe and made this tree so I made a double batch and made heaps of star biscuits in different sizes. This way I was able to pick through the best of them once I got my technique right.


Rolled cookies can be time consuming and I always find they stretch when you try to move them to the tray. My number one rolled sugar cookie tip would be: 

TIP: Always roll directly onto baking paper. Then cut your cookie shape, remove the excess and place the baking paper directly onto the tray and in the oven.

The only disadvantage of doing it this way is that you don't fit as many cookies on each tray. This works so well if you have enough trays and oven space. They don't take to long to cook and it was so much easier than constantly tearing cookies and stretching them out of shape.



Once they were all cooked I picked out the best of them and arranged them in sizes. I then trialled them as a 'tree to see how I wanted to stack them. I decided that 2 of each size worked really well.

TIP: Next I coated them in glaze icing instead of royal icing. I found it heaps easier to work with and it tasted much better. I used this recipe and instead of piping I dipped them in the icing (with the assistance of a spoon to pour over the top). It was a little messy but I loved the effect of having the icing cover the entire biscuit for this tree. 



Once they were dry I used white glaze icing to pipe my 'icicles'. They were a simple 3 lines made with a small round piping tip. 


Then for the fun bit arranging the tree! Getting it centered is essential and I used a daub of icing between layers to stick. I then used smaller iced star for the top.

For a final touch I sprinkled icing sugar (confectioners sugar) for 'snow'.

I was so happy with how the tree looked. It will make a stunning centerpiece for the table on Christmas Day.



I practiced my piping skills with some of the extra cookies left over.



The kids even made their own little Christmas trees to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Make your Own Creepy Eyes!

Halloween is supposed to be creepy, even scary right?

Well if you have little kids like I do, you might want to keep the level of 'horror' down a bit. Still a little 'ewww' goes a long way.


These were so easy to make, there is no right or wrong way. It doesn't matter if they are a bit misshapen it just adds to the 'ick' factor.

Here is how I did it:

1. First we made what we call a 'truffle ball'. It is really just a 'rum ball' (without the rum) or similar. There is a recipe for something similar here. Any non-bake recipe that sets in the fridge that you can roll into small balls (and is relatively firm) will work.


I rolled them into balls (minus the coconut on top) and flattened them a bit. I used a small disk that was the same size as the colored 'irises' that I had made but I probably didn't need to be that particular.

2. Then I made the colored 'irises'. I used colored royal icing for the 'blue' and piped it into little circles onto baking paper the size I wanted. The royal icing recipe I use is here (but you can use any at the right consistency).

TIP: one invaluable tip that I have learnt when working with royal icing is the 'water spray bottle' method of adding water to change consistency. It gives you so much more control when adding water.


While the icing was still wet, I added the 'pupils' which are just chocolate drops (or milk buds) with plain undersides. You could just as easily use black royal icing but I had these on hand and they looked really effective.

3. Once my 'balls' had set I then coated them with melted white chocolate. This was easier than I thought. I used a tooth pick, dipped them in, twisted them around a bit to lose some excess then placed them baking paper to set.

TIP: use cooking chocolate or similar as it is easier to work with and gives a smoother result than the normal 'eating' chocolate.

4. Then I added my 'blood shot veins' (which is a step you could miss if you wanted them a little less creepy). This was done using colored white chocolate (or candy melts) and simply drizzling over the top of the balls in a zig zag (ish) motion.

TIP: only color candy melts or white chocolate with an oil based color (or other suitable color made for this purpose) otherwise the chocolate seizes. You can add tiny bits of cooking oil to the chocolate to make it runnier and easier to work with. This means it won't set as well but if you just use it for the 'blood' then it won't matter.

5. While the 'bloody veins' are still wet add your 'irises'.


6. Leave to set (you can store them in the fridge). You then have super creep, super yummy eyeballs, perfect for Halloween!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Melon Monster for a Monster Party OR Healthy Halloween

Who says Halloween has to be all about the candy?



We had a 'Monster Party' recently for my son's birthday and this was one of the huge hits with the kids. With Halloween fast approaching this could be a great addition for a party for those who also think that maybe there is sometimes a little too much candy at Halloween and wanted a healthy (but spooky) option.

There is no right or wrong with this one, monsters come in all shapes and sizes so just use your imagination. All you need is a melon and a sharp knife (and maybe not as difficult as your traditional pumpkin). We even used the watermelon insides to make juice and I am sure we missed an opportunity for a 'bloody' type drink.


Just make sure there is candy too!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Make Your Own Monster Eyes

Make your Halloween treats more spooky with edible monster eyes - so easy to make!



Edible monster eyes are the must-have item for making any sweet favor 'monsterlicious'. Making your own is sooo easy and works out sooo much cheaper than buying them. Once you make them you won't be able to believe you ever considered paying for them and (if you are like me) you will have heaps to spare!



What you need:

  • Royal icing (I used this recipe here: http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/27676/royal+icing)
  • Piping bag
  • Black food coloring
  • Baking paper (or non-stick paper)
  • Tray

Method:

  • Make your royal icing and mix the black food coloring into about a third of the mixture.
  • Put the white and black icing into separate piping bags (or if you don't have piping bags you can just cut the corner off a ziploc bag).
  • Place the baking paper over a large flat tray (or similar) and pipe away (maybe I am a bit strange but I found this bit really fun!).

Tips:

  • Use a smaller tip (or cut your corner smaller) on the black mixture.
  • Make heaps of different sizes.
  • They last for ages and have heaps of different potential uses, so make as many as possible.
You don't even need great piping skills as it doesn't matter if they are a bit wobbly or not quite right - googly is monstery, right?



 We recently had a 'monster party' and I was originally going to purchase monster eyes, but even online they cost a lot (for the amount I needed) until a helpful baker friend suggested I make my own... duh! I can't believe I didn't think of this myself. I was able to make heaps in lots of different sizes and I had loads to spare.



It got a bit addictive though and I just kept adding eyes to everything.


You can never have too many googly eyed monsters I say!

Happy Halloween baking.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hand Print Bouquet - DIY Tutorial

My mother had surgery recently and my kids wanted to send their Nana some flowers while she was in hospital. Now while flowers are a lovely thing to receive, they can be quite expensive and let's face it, they die! My mother is also highly allergic so it was an all round bad idea.

So I took some inspiration from a Mother's Day gift one of my boys had made for me at kinder this year and together the kids and I made her this gorgeous hand-print bouquet:



It was so easy to do and the kids could get involved as well, which they just loved. Here are some tips that I learned through the process:
  • Hand prints work best when you paint the hand and they then stamp the paper with it. Dipping in a tray of paint might sound like a good idea... it wasn't.
  • While you can use whatever color scheme you like, I found it easier to keep it to one color per child (they chose their colors). That way I (and Nana later on) could identify which hand print belonged to which child.
  • I now know that it is near impossible to get a hand print from an 8 month old. Foot prints, while still difficult to get without help (shout out to my very helpful 5 year old) were much easier and looked great mixed in with the hand prints for a bit of added interest.
  • I added the 'leaves' for a bit of color and authenticity. The boys and I just cut these from colored paper.
  • When the kids go to wash the paint off their hands, make sure that they don't make a stop at the toilet on the way because they 'forgot' (we won't mention any names). You will find paint in places you didn't know it was possible for paint to go. 
  • The hand / foot prints don't need to be cut out perfectly. The rough border makes them quicker and easier to cut, it keeps them sturdy and it means that the kids can get involved and help with the cutting too. I also like the effect.




Once you have all your flowers  hand/foot prints you can then arrange them.

Work out your bouquet / paper sizes first so you know what you are working with. This can be done on a large scale (ours was pretty big on an A2+ piece of card) or much smaller (the one I received from kinder was on an A3 size).
Then get to arranging to get the look you are going for:



  • I just used Clag (paste for paper and card) to stick them on but any craft type glue would work, it doesn't need a super-hold.
  • It might be hard to visualise what the flat arrangement will look like when pulled into a cone shape. I kept picking mine up and curling it to get a better idea.
  • I also liked letting the hand prints stick up over the card base to give more of that 'flower' effect.


 As you can see the hand prints don't need to be perfect or uniform either.

  • Once you are done and your glue is dry you just pull your base card paper around at the bottom into a cone/bouquet shape and stick (or staple for a stronger hold).
  • I then also used a contrasting colored paper wrapped around the bottom of the bouquet, florist style' to hide my joins, which I thought was a nice effect.
My mother absolutely loved this gift and I did too when I received my smaller version. It is thoughtful, hand-made, representative of the kids / grandkids and is something to treasure for longer than the usual week that actual flowers last. 

This is a super-easy DIY that the kids can get involved with, which makes it all the more special for the receiver. It would be a perfect gift for Mother's Day, a get well gift, or any gift for a mother or grandmother who cherishes their children.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Showstopper Superhero Party

What is it with superheroes?

My 3 year old son had never seen a superhero TV show or movie, had never read a comic or book, had never seen a superhero in action at all and yet he desperately wanted a superhero birthday party for his 4th birthday (well he actually wanted a 'Spiderman' party but we gently suggested that it might be nicer for guests, not to mention easier for us if we included all heroes of the super nature).

This was the first party that he was really old enough to choose for himself so what master 3 turning 4 wants, he gets (well he got the party anyway). It was really hard to find inspiration for superhero parties on the Internet so I thought I would share our very easy, low cost DIY superhero party! It was a great success with some showstopper moments.

 

This was my first real 'theme' birthday party and I had so much fun with the planning and organising. Everything was kept pretty low-budget and DIY - most of these kids were only 3 or just turned 4 so we kept the focus on making it as fun as possible without too much fuss.
  • I made a superhero cityscape using old cardboard boxes and paper. I posted a tutorial here: DIY 3D City
  • The cupcake stand was a plain cardboard cheapo that I hand-painted. More on that here: Superhero Cupcake Stand - DIY
  • The Spiderman cake I made myself using some great tips from tutorials from around the web (pun intended). More on that here: Spiderman Cake!
  • The name was also DIY. I just used cardboard letters and pasted on some cut out comic strip gift wrapping paper that I found. Super cheap and easy!
So with the table taken care of, we could focus on making this party fun. We had it at our home and luckily have some space in the backyard where the kids could run and play, which to be honest, would have probably been enough at this age BUT, this is a party, there is no such thing as enough!


I resorted to the classic party game staples with a superhero twists:
  • Pin the spider on the Spiderman - again another DIY where I just got a Spiderman poster and... well you get the drift.
  • Pass the parcel - wrapped in that comic strip gift wrapping paper that I used for the letters and with a superhero themed goody in each layer.
  • Make your own mask - we also had a table set up where kids could make their own masks.
Remember that these kids are 3 so it was important to make any craft activity something simple with instant reward (eg stickers better than waiting for glue to dry etc) otherwise the parents end up having to do it for them.

The kids DID have fun with these games, BUT the most memorable thing about this party was a personal visit from Spiderman himself.


...yes, that is my husband in a Spiderman suit (purchased online for a very reasonable price). You may not have been fooled but the kids sure were and they were SO excited that the 'real' Spiderman had come to Harvey's party.

The celebrity visit was planned perfectly and came off without a hitch.

First we called out to the playing kids that Spiderman had called us on the 'spider phone' and needed all the 'creepy crawlies' cleared from the yard. This then segued into a scavenger hunt for little plastic bugs and critters that had been strewn around the yard in advance. They had to fill a central container with the bugs (teamwork) and when they did there would be a surprise at the end. The kids loved the scavenger hunt, but we keep finding those little plastic bugs, frogs and snakes throughout the garden which has caused a sharp intake of breath on more than one occasion.

Once the container was full, the Spiderman theme song started playing and in ran Spiderman (husband took the opportunity to get changed in secret while the scavenger hunt was on). He had cans of 'silly string' and sprayed 'spider web' all over the kids. They were overcome with squeals of delight.

Spiderman was on a timeframe, that suit was hot (not to mention a little tight) so we had an activity planned. The little superheros were going to have to cross an obstacle course, lead by Spiderman, so that they could return to head quarters and enjoy the birthday meal. We used slides and swings and crawl tunnels etc, just toys and play equipment that we already had.

Once the obstacle course was successfully crossed by all little superheros they sat down to eat a birthday lunch. Spiderman had a (very small) gift for them all before doing a magic trick (using his superhero powers of course) before he left.

The magic colored water trick was the easiest, most effective thing to do and it blew the kids minds. Spiderman announced he was going to fill their water jug with 'magic spider water', then took a jug of clear water and poured it into another jug at which point it turned blue - cue the gasps of amazement and pure awe from the kids. The trick is to put the smallest amount of food coloring in the bottom of the second jug. The kids don't see it as they are paying too much attention to Spiderman and from their perspective the water just turns blue by magic (you will need 2 clear jugs for full effect).

In the wake of the awe of 12 tiny superheroes, Spiderman then made his exit. The party was a huge success.




My kids still think the real Spiderman came to Harvey's 4th birthday and although I am sure they will work it out eventually they currently think it was the coolest thing in the world. Thanks Spiderman.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Superhero Cupcake Stand - DIY

Preparations for the 'Superhero' party for Mister 4 are in full swing and, let's face it, the creative juices are well and truly flowing.  

Enter the superhero cupcake stand:


I purchased a super-cheap plain cardboard cupcake stand (the type you put together yourself), and just painted my superheros of choice. I used some paints that I had around the house to create the perfect stand to match the party theme (and colors).



I know that you can get some 'superhero' themed ones of these ready-made, but the only ones I could find were either super cheesy or super violent. I chose the three superheroes (my sons' two favorites and one to match the color theme) and went to work.

I even included an 'H' instead of the 'S' for 'Super Harvey!'



It was a bit more work than I expected (it took a few coats to get the colors bright enough) but I think it looks pretty cool. I was a bit reluctant to cover it up with my version of 'cupcakes' (chocolate crackles).


More of the Superhero Party posts, tips and tutorials HERE


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

More colorful characters...

Is your dog a colorful character? We love dogs and we love colors. Wallfry's colorful dog competition is nearly over - we'll draw the winner on June 15. In the meantime, here are some of the awesome entries so far...
If you would like to enter, tag a photo of your flashy furry friend on Instagram with #wallfrycomp and you will go in the draw to win a Wallfry dog print of your choice.
Here are some entries below...
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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Spiderman Cake!

A Superhero cake for my 4 year old Superhero.




I always promise to take photos and post a step by step of my next cake, but I always run out of time.

Here is a snapshot summary of this one:

  • Base rectangular cake - white chocolate mud cake cooked in a rectangular tray.
  • Spider man head cake - vanilla butter cake cooked in a soccer ball tray cut and pasted back together to make an oval shape 
  • *I added blue and red color to the head of this cake before baking to go with the theme. Unfortunately it came out a browny purple red and blue swirly mess. We called it 'Spiderman brains' and the kids LOVED it - save!
  • Fondant icing - marshmallow fondant (first time I made my own and found it a bit grainy and difficult to work with, but delicious, might try a different recipe next time)
  • Colors - Americolor gels (make sure you use proper gel colors, the watery ones you get at the supermarket will not get bright deep colors like these)
  • Webbing - Royal icing (dyed black). I practiced a heap on baking paper before piping on the actual cake, no going back on that one
  • Buildings, eyes etc - Colored, rolled fondant. I find this much easier than gum paste when working with flat shapes (moulded shapes are a different matter)


Most of my inspiration came from a lovely blog called Amanda's Cookin' and she has some great pics (including details of how to cut the head).

Some more superhero party goodness HERE. Will be adding more of the super hero party fun and creativity over the coming weeks.






Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cooking With Kids - Damper

I think by now we all know that kids love cooking. They love learning how things are made and being part of the process of creating something that they can eat. It gives them a great sense of satisfaction and achievement and can even sway a fussy eater into trying something new if they have 'cooked' it themselves.

I am always looking for ways to get the kids involved in the kitchen like Sunday night 'build your own pizzas'. When it comes to the kitchen though, what my kids like most is getting their hands dirty. That usually means cakes and cookies and while that is OK on occasions I am always looking for alternatives that are both fun and (at least moderately) healthy.


Enter damper. If you are Australian you know damper as bush tucker, a quintessential part of your childhood. Pulled over a stick and roasted over an open fire or backed in the coals of a camp fire there was no better way to spend a cold, wet winters day... ahh good memories...

For those who have no idea what I am talking about damper is basically bread without yeast.


The base ingedients for damper are flour, salt, butter and milk / water (maybe a bit of baking soda) and then you can add pretty much any ingredients you and the kids fancy. We added sultanas and blueberries but the options are almost endless (cheese, herbs etc). There are plenty of recipe variations online, we used this one for our base.

The kids loved getting stuck into it and choosing the ingredients that we added.



While roasting in the coals of a campfire is nice and all it can just as easily be baked in an oven.

We just ate ours with some butter, but next time we might have to try some golden syrup.


Fun, educational and a lovely rustic snack on a cold winter's day (or any day to be honest).
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