Thursday, 30 July 2015

Friendship Fudge

A recipe inspired by International Day of Friendship
Today is International Day of Friendship so what better recipe could I offer you than my Friendship Fudge? 

The Bree McCready novels are essentially adventure stories with a 'good versus evil' theme but there is also is a tender undercurrent that runs throughout the books about friendship, love and never giving up on the people you care about. Bree and Sandy have a solid friendship...and every girl needs a boy best friend, right? Theirs is a beautiful connection - they are 'kindred spirits, two leaves caught up in the same breeze'. 

The pair have known one another all their lives and share a bond strengthened by grief and not fitting in. When they meet Honey Pizazz outside the school library it's like destiny has worked its magic. The trio are inseparable from this moment on, totally made for one another. Yes, they argue, and yes, there are tensions between them but isn't this true for any solid friendship? What matters is that they are there for one another every step of the way. The secret they share keeps them close. Their lives quite literally depend on them sticking together.

My Friendship Fudge is a very simple recipe - basically two ingredients - and it's almost illegal in its content so you only need the tiniest piece to satisfy your sweet craving. Dentists and dietitians across the world will hate me for this one!

I've made this fudge before but this time I wanted to make it more specific to Bree, Sandy and Honey - after all, this blog was inspired by the Bree McCready books! 

So I thought there could be a deep, dark layer to symbolise Sandy Greenfield with his messy mop of "the blackest hair imaginable"...

 ...a lighter brown layer to symbolise Bree's eyes - "like polished mahogany"...

... and sandwiched between the two would be a lighter, sweet layer of white chocolate, tinted a pale pink, an ode to Honey Pizazz's pastel pink beret and strawberry bubblegum that we can see on the cover of Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket.

In order to achieve the three layered effect I needed three different types of chocolate - plain for Sandy, milk for Bree and white for Honey (with a few drops of pink food colouring added). Other than the different chocolate flavours the three batches of fudge are made in exactly the same way. 

I noticed that the plain, dark chocolate sets slightly differently to the other two. Why this is I'm not sure, perhaps it has something to do with the high percentage of cocoa solids? So it might be a good idea to add a couple of tablespoons of milk to this batch to allow it to run freely from the pan. I'm not too fazed about how it turned out as it gave my fudge an extra something, a firmer foundation to compliment the two squidgier layers. A bit like Sandy - solid and  dependable with a slightly hard exterior and softer centre!

So, here's what you'll need:


500g each of milk, plain and white chocolate.
This is rather a lot of chocolate which can add up in price but I used Tesco Everyday Value bars which cost about 30p each and I was more than happy with the end result.

3 x 400g of Condensed milk

A few drops of vanilla essence

Pink food colouring

For the dark chocolate 'Sandy' layer -

Measure out 400g of condensed milk. 

Break up 500g of plain chocolate.

Add the condensed milk, chocolate pieces and 5 drops of vanilla essence to a large saucepan. If you would like a softer consistency to the finished fudge this is where you add 2 tablespoons of milk.

Melt everything on a low heat, stirring often, until it's smooth.
Transfer to a square tin, lined with parchment. This makes it easier to remove the fudge when it's set.

Put this in the fridge to set while you prepare the white chocolate layer.

For the white chocolate 'Honey' layer -

This time add a teaspoon of pink food colouring to the  400g of condensed milk before you put it on the heat (see illustration above).

Break up 500g of white chocolate and add this and the pink condensed milk to a saucepan. Follow the same steps as before, melting everything and then pouring it over the bottom, dark chocolate layer.

Allow this to set for about half an hour in the fridge.

For the milk chocolate 'Bree' layer -

Follow exactly the same steps, this time using 400g of condensed milk and 500g of milk chocolate.

Pour the  melted milk chocolate mixture over the white layer of fudge and place back in the fridge for a good couple of hours. The firmer the fudge, the easier it will be to handle.

When the fudge has set well pull it from the tin using the edges of the parchment paper.

With a sharp knife mark where you would like to cut. Top tip - this is super rich and very sickly so small squares are adequate!

Cut the fudge into pieces.

The Bree, Sandy and Honey layers can be seen nicely here

I made enough to feed a small army. Luckily I have plenty of willing taste testers on hand to help me.

A fudge heart
Half Heart Locket fudge

So, I offered a piece of Friendship Fudge to my Chief Taste Tester and here is what he said...

Happy International Day of Friendship. 

May you be as blessed as I am with the people who love you.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Pumpkin Pie

A recipe inspired by Bree McCready and the Realm of the Lost
 "Chills in the night air are tingling skin
The veil between worlds is now growing thin
Bright spirits gather, the dead return
Drawn to the flickers where candles burn"

Louise Heyden

The Bree McCready novels are all set during different seasons. The third book in the trilogy, Bree McCready and the Realm of the Lost,  is set during Autumn - Halloween to be more exact. This is reflected in the colours of the logo for this book (by Lawrence Mann).

It's fancy dress at the Ramthorpe Halloween Funfair. Bree is dressed as a pirate, Sandy as a vampire and Honey as a cat. You can see them on the cover, carrying their juicy giant pumpkins as they make their way to Castle Zarcalat. This is not somewhere I would recommend going Trick or Treating!

But it's only July and my pumpkin plants looks like this...

No sign of any juicy giant pumpkins quite yet but if I can keep the hungry slugs and snails at bay and if the weather stays nice then I can live in hope that come October I'll be making pumpkin pie again using my own homegrown crop.

Until then this will have to suffice...

I've never used tinned pumpkin before and I might have turned my nose up at it. I picked this tin up in Real Foods and it's kind of my find of the year. 100% pure pureed pumpkin (tonguetwister alert!) with a lovely silky smooth consistency. I have been googling recipes that use tinned pumpkin and I promise there'll be more coming your way. I have learned never to make a swift judgement until I have actually tried something for myself.

I've never made Pumpkin Pie before. It's a dish halfway between savoury and sweet so I wasn't sure it would be up Junior's street. I couldn't have been more wrong! He loved it! And I suppose it's kind of healthy - if you forget about the pastry and the sugar. It's associated with the American Thanksgiving celebration and I will most definitely be making it again nearer that time.

Here are the ingredients for one 9" pie. 

You can make your own shortcrust pastry if you prefer but I honestly think it's just as nice with the shop bought stuff. I mean, why go to all that extra bother when someone else can do it for you? Equally you can buy a ready made flan case to avoid the process of blind baking.


375g pack of shortcrust pastry
425g can of Solid Pack Pumpkin. 
170g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of ground ginger
Quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves 
280ml of evaporated milk
2 eggs
Pecan nuts and whipped cream for decorating

Preheat the oven to 220C

Grease a 9" circular baking tin with butter.

Unroll the pastry and place it over the top of the tin, carefully pushing it down so it sits inside the tin. Gently press the pastry down and into the sides of the tin, cutting away any excess.

I found the shortcrust pastry a joy to work with, almost the consistency of wet clay! That meant that any wee holes or rips could easily be mended.

Cut some parchment paper so it is slightly larger than the diameter of the tin. Lay it over the pastry and press it down gently.

Baking Beans

Fill the entire area with the ceramic baking beans. The weight of the beans stops the pastry from rising during the baking process. This is called 'Blind Baking'.

Blind bake for about 15mins - the pastry should just be turning golden brown.

Carefully lift the beads out with the parchment paper and set the part-cooked flan case aside while you prepare the filling.

First, reduce the oven to 170C

Into a large mixing bowl add the tinned pumpkin.

Add the sugar and salt

Add the spices

Add the beaten eggs

Lastly, add the evaporated milk

Whisk everything together until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the case and bake for an hour. 
The way I did this was to bake the pie for 30 minutes, turn it 180 degrees, bake for a further 25 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave it in there for the final 5 minutes. I felt this gave it a nice, even finish.

During the baking process you will notice the filling 'puffs up'. When the oven is turned off the filling will drop again and will be left with a flat surface.

Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool before decorating.

I decided I would decorate the pie with whipped cream and pecans. Pecans and pumpkin go well in my opinion. I left the pie to thoroughly cool and the cream came out the piping bag in pretty, professional swirls... but then quickly melted into lifeless blobs! I think it's because I made this pie in July and the kitchen was very warm. Melted cream probably isn't something that happens when you make Pumpkin Pie at the end of October!

Anyway, you live and learn. It still tasted AMAZING!


Sunday, 12 July 2015

Annie's Bananny Muffins

A recipe inspired by the zany Annie Hooten

Annie Hooten is Sandy Greenfield's Gran. They live in the flat below Bree on the Rockwell Estate and "everyone who visited flat 7B was instantly captivated by the sounds of jazz and the smell of baking."


Annie is a remarkably spry figure with a mop of frizzy carrot-coloured hair and make-up that's always a bit wonky. People call her 'Super Granny Annie' because of her love of barefoot jogging, skateboarding and extreme sports. The only indication of her age is that she is very hard of hearing. Annie makes the "best banana muffins within a hundred miles."

Here's what you're going to need to make them:

For the muffins:

3 ripe bananas
60ml (4 tablespoons) of vegetable oil
60ml (60g) of coconut oil
1 egg
A few drops of vanilla extract
150g of caster sugar
250g of self-raising flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch of salt
2 teaspoons (a splash) of milk

For the cinnamon sugar

100g of brown sugar 
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

For the butter icing:

150g of icing sugar
80g of soft butter
Preparation is the key to a successful bake!

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Mash the bananas in a bowl with a fork until they are really mushy. That's why it's best to use very ripe bananas. The black ones that nobody wants are perfect for this recipe!

When the bananas are well and truly mashed up measure out 150g of caster sugar and add this to the bowl.

To this, add the 60ml of vegetable oil.

Now you will need to measure out 60g of coconut oil. 

The coconut oil will most likely be in a solid state (unless you live somewhere very hot - not Scotland!) but if you microwave it on full power for 30 seconds it will look like this...

Runny, liquid form. Delicious.

Add the coconut oil to the bowl. If you do not have coconut oil handy then you can simply add another 60ml of vegetable oil instead. The coconut oil does give the finished muffins something a little special and the smell that fills the kitchen when the cakes are baking is to die for. But I do understand that coconut oil is not always easy to find in the supermarket and it can be quite expensive so don't worry.

Next, beat the egg and add the vanilla essence to this. Add the egg mixture to the bowl with the splash of milk.

Now WHISK everything together until the mixture is smooth and the oil is well mixed in.

Set the bowl aside and weigh out 250g of self-raising flour.

To this, add the baking powder and the salt then seive it into the banana mixture.

Fold everything together carefully using a spatula. Make sure all the flour is mixed in and that you keep as much air in as possible so the muffins turn out light and fluffy.

Prepare the muffin cases by placing them inside a muffin tray. This recipe makes approximately 12 big muffins so this tray was perfect...

To make the Cinnamon Sugar you simply add 100g of brown sugar to a food bag and add 1 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, giving the bag a shake to mix things up. This 'recipe' makes more than enough and I always find there is some left over. It's handy to have in the baking drawer though and keeps for ages so no harm in making a little too much.

Add a teaspoon of the muffin mix to each baking case.

 Sprinkle a good pinch of the Cinnamon Sugar over the top of each.

Finish with another good sized teaspoon of muffin mix to cover the brown sugar.

Remember the muffins will rise in the oven so leave a little space at the top of the case or else they may spill over during the baking process.

Pop them in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, turning the tray 180 degrees after this time and baking for a further 15 minutes. This gives a nice even bake. To check the muffins are cooked thoroughly after this total time of 35 minutes push a knife into one of them. If it comes out 'clean' then the muffins are cooked.

The aroma at this point is exquisite. You can really smell the coconut and cinnamon
This is the part of the process when I am immediately transported to Annie's flat with its ecclectic collection of relics and the sound of jazz on the record player. Sometimes, while I'm waiting for the muffins to cool, I stick on some jazz while I have a tidy up to really soak up the atmosphere of flat 7B.

Jazz and washing up

When the cakes have cooled completely you can prepare the butter icing. It's important to be patient as icing warm cakes only results in the icing sliding off! 

Add 80g of very soft butter to 150g of icing sugar and mix carefully with a fork. It might seem like it'll never look right but somehow it always comes together. If you think the icing looks too thick you can add a couple of teaspoons of milk to loosen things up.

Tricky job! Hence my 'concentration face'
 I like to use disposable piping bags as it's much less hassle.

Pipe the icing onto the muffins any way you like. I am most definitely not gifted in the art of decorating and I prefer things to look...shall we say...'organic'. I think the taste is the most important part and I never have any complaints.

I used little foam bananas and fudge chunks for decoration this time but I have used walnuts in the past and they are fab too.

I tried the finished article out on my son, carefully cutting one of the iced muffins in half to reveal the marbled effect created by the cinnamon sugar layer. I turned away for a moment to put the milk back into the fridge and when I turned back he had scoffed both halves! 

Praise indeed. 

I like to leave a few of the muffins un-decorated. They make gorgeous breakfast muffins this way. Not everyone like thick muffin style icing. It's up to you. Annie's Bananny Muffins are so tasty either way.

A well deserved cuppa

 Please do email me feedback if you decide to give these a go. I am sure you will not be disappointed.