Birthday Tea Party

I can’t believe I’m 17!

I can legally drive!

This is all too crazy…

Okay, so I am now one year older than the last time we spoke.. weird huh? I have also settled into amazingly quickly into my new school, and am really loving it. The first day I came home with the biggest smile on my face, and knew things could only get even better! I found a lovely group of girls who have really looked after me and welcomed me in, and after only 3 days with them, we already feel like best friends! I am definitely excited for this year ahead now, although the hard work and studies have already studied, so it won’t all be fun and games.

Tuesday was my birthday. And with one extra day off school, I spent the day wisely. I baked! I had invited my three bestest friends over for tea, and I wanted to throw them the prettiest little birthday tea party, (and also just unleash the little girl inside me and have fun with pink and colourful pretties!) I’m not exaggerating when I say that I spent all morning and most of the afternoon in the kitchen. I literally never sat down.. you guys might know how this feels. I just went in circles around the kitchen, busying myself with different components of the evening’s spread.

I only had major disaster.. a rose meringue shaped one. But we’ll just not mention that one!

I successfully made:

  • Mini pink profiteroles
  • Rose Cupcakes
  • Cake Pops
  • Pink Popcorn
  • One enormous birthday cake!

I had the best night, sharing thoughts of our differing first days back at school with my girls, and just having a good catch up. I was overwhelmed with their gorgeous presents, and then left speechless when my Mum presented me with a huge baking themed hamper complete with cake tins and tea towels, when I thought I had received all my presents earlier that morning! I knew I would really miss my three best friends, but I know now that I have made the best decision to spread my wings, and make my own way in a different school. It was however, very poignant this morning, as I waited for the bus on one side of the street, and 15 of my closest friends from my high school were waiting on the other side of the road, in a completely different uniform, waiting to board a bus to take them in the opposite direction…

I hope to share with you over the next little while, separate posts showing each of the sweet treats I created for my tea party, and hopefully show how easily you can create something similar for yourself!

A x

Afternoon Tea at The Merchant Hotel

 

Apparently jeans are discouraged.. oops! Well they still served us.

I’m sure my face was quite a sight when the lady in her little blue uniform carried towards us this beautiful tower of treats. Everything so was perfect and miniature, I was scared to touch anything when it arrived in front of me. Oh and the smell! The little scones were freshly baked and their warm, butter, vanilla scent  soon made me very hungry…

We finally made it here, my Mum and I, after she promised some time ago to take me out to Afternoon Tea to celebrate my birthday, her birthday and also my exam results. For many years we have meant to share it together whilst in London or elsewhere, but sadly it never happened. So now, in this magnificent setting of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, it felt very special indeed. Not least because this building holds special significance as in fact my Dad used to work here when it was still a bank, and before it became this famous hotel. My mum remembers taking me here many times as a small baby to visit Dad, and so coming here when I am now very nearly 17 must be a strange feeling for her!

The outside of the building has a large grand staircase, before you enter into the moving doors and arrive in the enormous Great Room. The grandeur and decoration everywhere is breathtaking and makes for quite an entrance. It also felt very exciting to be here, as just under a year ago, I spent over 4 hours queuing and patiently waiting outside, opposite the main entrance to catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber arriving at the hotel, back when the MTV EMA’s were being held in Belfast.

I was also on a little high after such a successful and exciting first day at my new school. Thank you all so much for your kind words of support! I was surprisingly more confident than I anticipated and quickly said many ‘Hello’s’ and got acquainted with as many people as I could. By lunchtime I already felt part of things, and soon realised that everyone else was as nervous and apprehensive as me on their first day of term. I now look forward to starting my first proper week and really getting into the swing of things.

This delightful looking dessert above, I believe, was an Apple and Cinnamon Charlotte, although all I was worried about was the gorgeous rich chocolate centre. Oh and the other beautiful mousse in a small little glass was an Orange Blossom Jelly and Peach Coconut Mousse shot glass. It was delicious! We were also served a pretty little raspberry macaron (which I really was not too impressed with as the inside was far too sticky and fell apart!) and a tiny little Mixed berry Tartlet which really was delicious! And as for the scones.. Well you should know that I am a huge fan of scones, and so of course these went down a treat. Enough said.

Having never really tried proper pastries before, or anything of this kind anyway, I was blown away by how you could incorporate so many different flavours, textures and processes into one small bite. The aroma of the Orange Blossom Jelly really was incredible, and me and mum spent ages trying to figure out what it was.. (we thought Jasmine, obviously a little off on our tasting skills!) I had always been fascinated by the pastries and desserts of France, and yet this shows that they are also right on my doorstep. I have vowed to find out how to make these little desserts one day, they are just incredible! However, as mentioned above, the macaron left a little to be desired. It was pretty much hollow, and one whole shell side came off, leaving a gaping, overly sticky hole, with all of the filling attached to the other side. I passed this one to mum, who didn’t mind the praline filling. This made me very much proud of my own macaron attempts.. It wasn’t even smooth on top! (Oh and apologies for the sticky plate!)

However, all in all, I loved this little outing and it was an experience I will treasure for many years to come I’m sure. Once back at school and work we would rarely have time to do things like this together, with a younger sister and another brother to look after too, my mum is a busy lady! After a quick visit to the equally gorgeous Ladies’ Restroom, of course, we were off for a spot of shopping! A day well spent.

A x

Sky Blue Chocolate Cake

“Whoever said blue was just for boys, was wrong.”

A cake I wish I could swim in.. well it wouldn’t be a first I guess, but it’s mostly due to the dreamy azure shade of blue that  reminds me of a warm tropical ocean.

Okay enough of the romantic metaphors..

I whipped up this dark chocolate cake at 10.30pm the night before my mum’s birthday and frosted it whilst she was at work on the day. A little last minute due to a busy week, but how could I not bake her a birthday cake! She asked for a chocolate cake and said she fancied a teal or turquoise shade of buttercream.. a brief I ran with! I really hope she enjoyed the finished product. I loved the expression on her face as she walked in from work to find a table full of presents she never expected, and even two bunches of flowers from Dad, whilst my little sister and I sprung up from our hiding place behind the table and shouted ‘Happy Birthday!!!’

I adore the contrast between the rich chocolate-brown and the fresh bright shades of blue. The type of colour scheme you would find in the brochure of a luxury interior designer. I had attempted to create an ombre effect with the different shades of blue, like that of the gorgeous Sweetapolita, but was a little disappointed as I soon realised that my cake was not tall enough at the side to create the full effect, and even more that my colours were not distinctly different enough, and they really did just blend into one. Although hopefully you can notice a light change in tone in the first photo, and appreciate my feeble effort. However, this is a technique I shall most definitely try and master next time, perhaps with pink or purple! Hmm.. imagining a cake already!

For this yummy cake I used my new favourite birthday cake recipe, the super easy One Bowl Dark Chocolate Cake from Sweetapolita, and frosted it with my classic Vanilla Buttercream.

These two weeks spell birthday season, with first my mum’s and then mine within a week of each other. This calls for much cake, presents and our usual girly shopping trip. It’s a time that is also of course, the time to head back to school, and this year for me, it means a whole new school and a whole new beginning…

I am excited, and of course a little nervous. I start a school which over a year ago I would never have though of attending, one which I had stroked off in my head for a number of different reasons. Yet after actually visiting the school,      the warmth and welcome I felt drew me in, and I suddenly had a complete U-turn. I knew that this was where I wanted to go for Sixth-Form. Now  a year later, after thankfully being offered a place, I start my first day tomorrow!

I purposefully and bravely I guess, decided to go the opposite direction to all my friends. And I mean ALL. There is one other guy from my previous school joining me, and that is it. I knew for a while that I wanted to find my own way, break off from the crowd of old familiar faces, meet new people and find a change of scenery. Yes, of course I will miss my old friends, and I am most definitely not waving goodbye to my closest girlfriends, but I am excited at the prospect of new starts and new things ahead.

Butterflies will fill my stomach, I am certain, as I walk through the door to a crowd of strangers, who all know each other, but not me. Yet I have confidence that everything will be fine.. I’ve done something much more scary!

Last summer I stepped on a bus at 4.30 in the morning, with a bunch of new people I had never met, bound for an international conference in Canada, where I would have to meet another 200 new people from all corners of the world. Scary biscuits! Yet this was one of the most exciting, memorable, amazing experiences of my life! You know why? I learnt that underneath it all, we’re all the same. We all have the same fears, the same worries and more things in common than we can imagine. I met a girl from New York who seemed to be like my long lost sister, and we became inseparable. Crazy right?

So although it will be tough for the first few days, and even weeks, I know that things will be alright, and I’m excited for my future at this new school!

Oh, but lastly, I have some sad news..  As I am now going back to school, and the world of studying, exams and homework, the cupcakes might not just be so frequent, nor the cakes or bakes. But I promise, in the sweet name of macarons, that I will try my best to keep you all updated with all that I learn and get up to, in and out of the baking bowl in these coming months.

Once again, thank you for taking this journey with me.

Amy xox

Lemon Meringue Pie Macarons

Macarons may just be one of my most favourite things. Know why?

Just look at those little cuties!! Quintessentially French, they turn any moment into a very special one, and make any kitchen look sophisticated. What’s not to love?

Okay, so I may have skipped out a few down points. Those little feet? You’re never guaranteed that they’ll form.

Lo behold if you turn them over to find a hollow..

And taking out a tray of cracked, bubbly tops is enough to make any baker’s heart drop.

Despite my fears, and reading many a post that told me macarons were never meant to be perfected by anyone except  Pierre Hermé, I bought a 1 kg bag of ground almonds and got ready to bake!

I can clearly remember the first time I set eyes on a French macaron. In Paris, of course, and last year on a school trip. Told to go in search of one for my Mum back home, I wasn’t completely sure what I was looking for, or what was so incredible about this little Parisian treat. Pardon me if I say Paris will tell you about its macaron. Found just about on every perfect little street, in every patisserie and knitted into its wonder just as much as the Eiffel Tower and the baguette, the macaron is just another reason I long to soak up more of France, and one day find myself in Paris.

Opening that oven door a fraction and finding that these little rounds had magically developed beautiful, frilly feet.. Wow, that was a relief! Patiently waiting another few exact minutes was tough. Though I finally took them out, tested their bottoms, found they were hard to move yet not wobbly, and so decided they were done! Hooray!

They had not retained their bright yellow as much as I had hoped (my camera setting gives them a little boost) and so I will need to look into this one for my next macaron session. However, all in all, a successful batch I believe. Not perfect, but I never expected them to be. Better than the last time is all I was hoping for, and gives me more confidence to try again! Oh and converting my non French loving brother to the beautiful land of macarons was well worth it in the end. Although it does mean there’s now less for me and mum!

This post really should have been written and published a good few days ago. Wednesday really.. But I got a little sidetracked and caught up in other things.

I got my GCSE results! The exams I was busy studying for, months and months on end. I am very, very pleased to tell you, my lovely followers that I got.. 8 A*s and 2 As! I am over the moon, and so incredibly relieved! No sleep was had the night before, and my stomach really did have a mind of its own for the whole day before. Add to that the fact that our principal decided to invite the local media and TV crew along in the morning when we were to receive our results, and that made for one extremely scared, nervous, bewildered Amy who was now stressing about what to wear!!

By 9.30am the envelope was opened, and after a few anxious moments trying to decipher what the blooming sheet and all its complicated numbers and letters were trying to tell me, I let out a sigh of relief and ran straight to my waiting mother in the car, (whilst trying to avoid the man with the camera!) However our eager school secretary soon had me cornered and thrust towards the lady with a microphone and so I waffled out a few excited and surprised sounding sentences, something about just being really happy, and adding in that I had had no sleep?! Oh dear..

That desperate interview made it onto the news, the Northern Ireland news, and so my phone started buzzing as relatives and friends realised yes, that was me on the TV, waffling in an excited way, with a lawn mower cutting grass behind me! If you really, really want to witness this for yourself, and hear what I sound like.. though trust me you don’t, then you can drop me an email, or comment! Anyway, moving swiftly on..

If you would try to try these macarons for yourself, and please do, then you can follow this recipe below, which I found after coming across the beautiful blog, Sweetest Kitchen, and I hope she won’t mind me sharing this wonderful recipe! It is adapted from the book ‘Macaroons’ which I really hope to buy, and get baking some more delicious macarons!

Lemon Macarons

*adapted from the book ‘Macaroons

75g ground almonds

115g icing sugar

2 large egg whites (left at room temp for 3-4 hours)

50g caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

yellow food colouring paste or liquid

Method

1. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

2. Place the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and whizz for 15-20 seconds.  Sift the mixture into a large bowl.

3. Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk with electric mixer until holding soft peaks.  Gradually whisk in the caster sugar to make a firm, glossy meringue.  Whisk in the lemon rind and enough food coloring to give a bright yellow colour.

4. Using a spatula, fold the almond mixture into the meringue mixture one third at a time.  When all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, continue to fold the mixture gently until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbon-like consistency.

5. Pour the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1-cm round tip.  Pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.  Tap the sheets gently on a work surface to remove air bubbles, and then pop any with a cocktail stick.  Leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or until the batter does not stick to your finger when touched lightly.  Preheat the oven to 160C.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes, then carefully peel the macarons off the baking paper.  Leave to cool completely.

Lemon Meringue Filling

*adapted from ‘Making Cupcakes with Lola’

(I scaled the recipe below, roughly by a third, as you require much less to fill macarons)

160g sugar

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

3 egg whites

60ml water

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Good quality or homemade Lemon Curd

1. Whip egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar in a large heatproof bowl with an electric mixer until foamy.

2. Bring a saucepan of water to a gentle simmer and set bowl over pan.

3. Beat on high until peaks form, about 5 mins. Mixture should feel quite warm.

4. Take off heat and add vanilla, beat again till thick.

5. Spread a small amount of Lemon Curd on one macaron, and a small amount of the meringue on the other, and then gently sandwich together.

6. After filling all macarons, place in an airtight container, and resisting the urge to gobble them up immediately, refridgerate for 24 hours. Trust me, they taste much better this way after the long wait!

Bon Appetit!

x

North Coast Lovin’

First off, I must apologise for the sheer lack of posts over the past week here at Snazzy Biscuits. I could feel bad, I do a little, but I won’t apologise for having the most amazing week away. The North Coast of Ireland, Northern Ireland’s famous Causeway Coast, is one of my favourite places in the world.

If you don’t mind, whilst I get unpacked, and ready to hit the kitchen again, I’ll let you enjoy some of the beautiful shots I got. I hope I don’t make you too jealous, though perhaps I can inspire you to come visit this little corner of world. There are some foodie shots thrown in there too, of course.  My mum and I treated ourselves to a very lovely breakfast out one morning whilst the rest of the family were still in bed! I loved just sitting looking across the harbour and daydreaming the morning away…

Enjoy!

Berry-Nice Blackcurrant Cupcakes

Like a juicy little blackcurrant pie, all wrapped up in a mini cupcake.

Today the sun shone, and so to the garden we headed. Mum’s blackcurrant patch was bursting with berries which needed picked, and something yummy to make use of them. The whole garden seemed like it had just been turned to ‘super-bright’ like that camera setting you sometimes have. Every flower, tree, plant was beaming with bold colour and brightness, brought to life by the glow of the sun. It was really rather pretty.

A half hour later we had armfuls of blackcurrant stems which needed stripped. I was coping alright, I managed to put up with being covered in leaves, berries and general dirt. That was until a few spiders decided to join the garden party. You should know I really do not do spiders. Eughhh. Passed that branch to mum, and kept calm and carried on. Very soon I had a large tub full of bright purple berries. An hour well spent I thought. It’s little things like this that my mum has passed on and taught to me, that I hope I will be able to replicate later in life myself. There really is nothing like using fruit and produce you have grown and picked yourself, and eating it within hours of it leaving the plant. Fresh is most definitely best!

Tomorrow we head to the North Coast, or you may know it as the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland, home to the Giant’s Causeway, and my favourite little town of Portstewart. This will be my 4th holiday this year and you have no idea how blessed and happy that makes me feel. The long, endless Portstewart Strand is my little slice of heaven. Days are spent body-boarding, swimming in the slightly chilly sea or if the sun decides to make an appearance, you can dare to lay out on the sand. Today’s sun is getting me excited that this week may be different, and a contrast to the usual weather we expect in Ireland, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit like summer. Touch wood.

If all else fails, these cupcakes may insert some sunshine. The sheer amount of juicy purple fruit in these beauties, makes you feel you’re eating something quite healthy, and I’m sure the vitamin C content cancels out the sugar and butter. Anyway, just indulge in a little goodness. Recipe which is from my mother’s favourite cook book of Sarah Raven’s, is included below.

*recipe adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook

Blackcurrant Cupcakes

115g butter

115g sugar

115g self raising flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking powder

100g blackcurrants, topped and tailed

1-2tbsp milk

Icing

250g icing sugar

2-3 tbsp blackcurrant juice/Ribena (I used half and half)

dash of lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 180oc. Line muffin tray with cupcake cases.

2. Cream butter and sugar then beat in eggs. Add sifted flour and baking powder gradually and beat in.

3. Add milk to make a smoother mixture, then gently fold in whole blackcurrants.

4. Divide between cupcake cases, only about half way and bake in oven for 15-20 mins.

Blackcurrant Icing

1. Sieve the icing sugar, then add lemon juice and blackcurrant juice and mix well until smooth. If too thick, add extra blackcurrant juice or water (if you don’t want the icing to be any sharper) till of desired consistency.

2. Spread over cupcakes using a spatula and decorate with extra blackcurrants.

Bite and chew, enjoy!

Spiced Carrot Soup

Hold on a second…  a post about soup, yes soup, on a baking blog? What’s going on?

You aren’t seeing things, no, I just decided that today this gorgeous soup deserved its own spot, a little moment of glory, and a chance to make it onto my blog. Right now I am sniffling, coughing and trying desperately to fight off whatever the heck I’ve got which is making me feel this yuck! Today nothing else would do, what I needed was a huge piping hot bowl full of soup and full of soul.

This soup provides a kick which really does warm you up, right down to your toes. Its creamy yet light, spicy yet fresh and makes such a delicious little lunch. I first made something similar for my GCSE Home Economics practical, though it used red lentils, and I just decided to leave them out today and play about with something a little new. With help from a recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food, a website I can always rely on for perfect recipes, I whipped up this yummy soup. Have a look..

I tucked into this bowl of bright orange goodness whilst tucked up on the sofa watching what else but the Olympics. It really is mind blowing, and I’m loving every minute. Great Britain are bringing home the medals and each day it gets more and more exciting! Last night’s 100m final had our whole family on the edge of our seats, as did the men’s tennis final, when Andy Murray finally defeated Federer to claim Gold, in some style! Could not be happier. Long may it continue!

This soup is best served with some thick cut bread, such as this Irish wheaten, or whatever takes your fancy. Grab a spoon, cuddle up and eat!

Spiced Carrot Soup

1tbsp vegetable oil

1tsp cumin seeds

pinch chili flakes

1/2 garlic or squeeze of garlic paste

1 onion chopped

450g carrots chopped

1 potato chopped

1l vegetable stock

115ml milk

1. Heat the oil and chop vegetables. Add cumin, chili and garlic and cook for 1 min. Add onion and soften for 5 mins.

2.Add potato and cook for a further minute. Then add carrots and stock and bring to boil. Stir in milk.

3. Reduce heat and cover, cook for 20 mins til carrots are tender.

4. Allow to cool slightly, then blend with a hand blender or in food processor till smooth.

5.Serve hot, with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle of cumin seeds.