Reaching the final of Masterchef 2007 was a rollercoaster of emotion, with huge highs and lows, but I loved every minute and learnt a huge amount. I owe a great deal to John and Gregg who had faith in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Since competing on the programme my life has changed considerably. I now write cookery columns for two magazines, give cookery demonstrations and am just working on my 13th cook book - unlucky number for some but not for me!!! I love all forms of country cooking, using seasonal and locally sourced produce. This blog is to enable me to share with you a few of my recipes and baking ideas. Enjoy Hannah xxxx

Friday, 30 October 2009

A few weeks ago I decided I was going to try and make a Halloween gingerbread house this year and here it is! It was actually easy to do and made me wonder why I hadn't made gingerbread houses before. The windows were made of peppermint glass and I lit the inside of the house with a short string of Christmas tree lights, inserted into the house before the roof went on with the wire iced in under one of the side panels. Once baked and cooled the gingerbread is very sturdy and was just joined together using royal icing which set enough to hold the house together within a few minutes. Once the house was firmly set, I had lots of fun decorating it with sweets! With the lights on, I think it looks pretty cute and I just know our halloween visitors will like it! I thought you might like to see the before shot too - its amazing what a little bit of icing and some sweets will do!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

These are some cute rainbow cupcakes that I made at the weekend for our nephews and nieces. The white clouds were just piped with vanilla buttercream using a large round nozzle on top of a thin layer of blue buttercream for the sky. If you can't find sugar rainbows you could use a yellow boiled sweet or a yellow smartie as a sunshire and pipe thin yellow icing lines for the suns rays instead.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Since my friend Lucy has been diagnosed as gluten-allergic, I have been on a mission to make a perfect cake using gluten free flour that doesn't taste powdery. I find that some times when I use gluten free flour there is a slight texture of the almost squeekyness of custard powder which I think comes from the use of cornflour. Anyway, my latest attempt was I think the most successful I have been and I served this cake up without telling anyone I had used gluten free flour and when I asked - noone had spotted that it was anything other than a normal carrot cake. The coconut I use for this cake is American Baker's Angel Flake sweetened coconut. This is really the best sort of coconut for baking in my view and is available (sadly not cheaply) in the UK from American Sweets (click for a link - I am not on commission - its just that it is the best coconut) or they sell it at the American Food shop Lets Eat in Milton Keynes if you are ever passing. If you can't get this coconut then dessicated coconut will be fine but will give a slighly crunchy topping rather than the softened coconut strands of Angel Flakes.

Gluten Free Carrot and Coconut Cake
Preparation time 15 minutes baking time 40 - 55 minutes

180g/6oz butter
180g/6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
180g/6oz gluten free self raising flour
100g Angel shredded coconut
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 apple, cored and grated
85g/3oz plump sultanas
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
200ml buttermilk

For the topping
100g Angel shredded coconut
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp ginger syrup (from a jar or stem ginger)

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180/350 and grease and line an 8in round spring form cake tin. Cream together the butter and sugar until light until an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added. Fold in the flour, coconut, grated carrots and apple, spices, sultanas and buttermilk ensuring that everything is incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 40 - 55 minutes until cakes is golden brown and springs back to your touch and a knife comes out clean with no cake batter on. If the cake starts to get too brown, cover with a sheet of silver foil.

For the topping, melt the butter, ginger and golden syrups in a saucepan until the butter has completely melted. Stir in the coconut and simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until the coconut has absorbed some of the syrup. Spoon the coconut evenly over the warm cake and allow to cool. If you are using dessicated coconut for the topping, try soaking it in hot water for 30 minutes or so and then squeeze out the water and add to the syrup.

This cake can be served warm or cold (my preference was warm straight from the oven but that's because I couldn't wait!!!)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Work has taken over this week - I have so much to do and there are just not enough hours in the day. I have to leave for a meeting at 6.30am tomorrow and then return to do a cookery demo at 6.30 in the evening. I am needing to be very organised but am failing miserably. However a nice thing to look forward to is that my sundae book is arriving for final proof reading in a couple of days - it will be the first time I see all the pictures and I can't wait (I have only seen about 6 so far!) Luckily even though life is a little stressful, Peapod is always on hand for a good snuggle. She has taken to sleeping on my bed every night - I think because it is too cold for her hunting expeditions! I just love these pictures of her "reading" Little Grey Rabbit - one of my favourite books from when I was little. She gave up with the reading in the end and decided to have a little nap instead!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Some windfall apple and pears in our garden gave me a lovely photo opportunity at the weekend - two visiting deer stopped for a snack on Saturday afternoon. Although they visit often it is normally just a passing dash through the garden but this time they stopped and munched outside my office window for a whole 15 minutes. Just so cute!

Friday, 16 October 2009

My lovely "sister-in-law-to-be" (very imminently as my Brother's wedding is on 28th December in New York) Amy sent me a link to the latest in transport fashion - the cupcake car - on sale in New York for the bargain price of $25,000 and capable of reaching 7mph. Can't quite see myself in one of these but it made me smile all the same!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

For Joshua's birthday I made Panda cookies - Josh loves Pandas. The clever design for these I found on the internet made by ruthiesaurus - click here for a link. Isn't it a clever design she came up with? I did what she said and re-moulded an old cookie cutter by heating it on the Aga and then bashing with my rolling pin - feeling very much like a blacksmith as I did it. I used 500g of fondant icing sugar to cover the 12 biscuits that my shortbread dough made. Place all the cookies on a cooling rack with a sheet of greaseproof paper or foil below to catch the drips and carefully spoon over the icing. Add a few tbsp of water to the icing - you need it to be fairly runny but not too runny - so that it leaves a good coating on the cookie and doesn't all run off. Allow to dry completely, then colour the leftover icing with black food colouring and carefully spoon a little over each of the ears. Place the rest of the icing in a piping bag with a small round nozzle and pipe eyes and noses. Leave to set overnight. I think next time I make them I will use royal icing as Ruthie suggests as hers had a nice fur effect with the royal icing. Anyway Joshie and Rosie loved them so mission accomplished. We gave Josh this adorable Panda kite as a present (can you tell I want one for myself?).

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

You may recall a while ago I made a 60th Birthday cake for my friend Lucy's mum. It was a dainty two tiered birdcage cake that Lucy somehow managed to transport all the way to the Scottish boarders on the train! As a thank you present for the cake (and it really really wasn't necessary) Lucy's Dad treated us to afternoon tea at the Dorcester. Oh my! Now I have sampled a lot of afternoon teas in my time at all sorts of places - some posh, others not - but I can safely say I have never experienced anything like tea at the Dorcester's Promenade. It was heavenly. Delicate sandwiches (caraway seed bread cucumber sandwiches were my favourite - the aniseed and cucumber worked so well together), a pannecotte infused with orange pekoe tea, scones with clotted cream and preserves and a selection of dainty cakes (my favourite the tonka bean coconut macaroon - yum yum). The best part of the whole afternoon was the effort they made for Lucy who is allergic to gluten. Not only did she receive plates of gluten free sandwiches but also gluten free scones and a whole plate of cakes - delicious macaroons and semolina cake but also two pots of fruit - one a tropical mango and kiwi salad - the other strawberry puree layered with whipped cream. These last two were just inspirational and looked so pretty and I will definitely serve these to anyone who comes here for tea in the future who is allergic to gluten. It was such a special treat and I really loved it. Thank you Lucy's Mum and Dad! We also popped to Waterstones at Piccadilly and they had my book! It was an exciting moment!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I am still poorly (alas the earlier report of being on the mend was a little premature) and feeling very sorry for myself - it has been almost two weeks now. I know I must be ill as I haven't cooked anything for over a week - very sad. Hopefully my antibiotics will kick in soon...please!!! Whilst lying in bed I have been planning ahead for the next baking project - Halloween is only a few weeks away and I thought this year I would make a Halloween gingerbread house. Any hints and tips on gingerbread house construction gratefully received - particularly from you lovely American readers as I know gingerbread houses are your National specialty! I am thinking that sugar glass windows and lights inside would be stunning...although perhaps this is a little too ambitious for a first attempt. In the meantime I thought I would share a few photos of the allotment show in my Mum's village - such a nice rural affair. I just love the scarecrows - Mum's was the large one in the green suit!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

What a week! Not only did my first book, The Big Book of Cakes and Cookies come out but I can finally share with you the cover for my second book as it is now on Amazon - Sundaes and Splits. The cover shot is the Neopolitan sundae with vanilla strawberry and chocolate ice creams - toffee, summerberry and chocolate sauces - topped with white chocolate dipped wafer decorated with hundreds and thousands. Ridiculously decadent but definitely yummy! I hope you love the cover as much as I do! It is out on 8th April next year which feels like a life time away but I know will be here before you know it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Before Masterchef I had not heard of Laduree. One day Ben, one of the other finalists was going to see his girlfriend and showed me a box of beautiful coloured macaroons he had bought her. I fell in love instantly (with Laduree just to be clear)! I think it would be my dream to work for Laduree - the cakes in their shop in Paris are just works of art - www.laduree.fr/public_fr/produits/patisseries_accueil.htm. My friend Maren is staying at the moment and she arrived clutching a pale green Laduree bag - I literally swooned as we opened the box - even the packaging is just so pretty to look at! The macaroons taste like little heavenily clouds flavoured violet and blackcurrent, pistachio, licorish, chocolate, lemon...! As well as macaroons, Maren had bought delicate crystalised violets - I will need to make a very special cake to put these on. What a nice friend I have!

Monday, 5 October 2009

I am feeling sorry for myself. I have been in bed poorly most of the weekend with a chest infection but am on the mend again. So much for wildly celebrating my book release!!! I also had three cakes to make this weekend - two birthday cakes and a 50 year celebration of Margaret living in our village. This was a gluten free chocolate cake for Lucy who loves Reindeer. Not the best icing in the world but I had a valid excuse! Anyway Lucy loved her cake. The Gluten free cake (recipe is in my book!!!!) was sandwiched in two layers with Damson cream and buttermilk buttercream which went well with the dark chocolate. Lucy's partner David had taken her away for a surprise weekend to Wells where we went last weekend and she had a lovely time flying the kite we bought her (a 2.5m long cat kite!) on the beach. Happy Birthday Lucy xxx

Friday, 2 October 2009

This morning I wanted to say a huge thank you for all the lovely messages from those of you who have my book! I can't quite believe that after all those months of work it is out - a week early which took me by surprise!!! I can't tell you how nice it is to think that some of you have it on your cook book shelfs and I really hope that you will enjoy the recipes. I am always here if you have any questions and will see if the publishers will let me publish one of the recipes on my blog for you. Thank you too for all the messages of support whilst writing it - they really did keep me going at times when the sheer number of recipes to test each day became overwhelming!

You would think that after writing so many recipes I would have run out of ideas for new cakes but..oh no... I am still coming up with new ideas. These were yesterday's harvest offering - it is our village harvest festival this weekend and harvest supper on Monday - a LARGE casserole is looming this weekend! These Harvest buns have been eaten already (not by me I hasten to add) so they must be good! I love damsons as they are so tangy and if you have not had time to make jam you could add some chopped damson flesh instead (stones removed of course)

Damson and Blackberry Harvest Buns
Preparation time 15 minutes baking time 20 - 25 minutes
Makes 15

225g/8oz butter
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 eggs
225g/8oz self raising flour
2 heaped tbsp creme fraiche
2 heaped tbsp damson jam (or plum jam would be fine too)
2 handfuls of blackberries (about 150gz would be about right - I used mine straight from the freezer and they worked fine)
zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180/350 and place muffin cases in two 12 hole muffin tins. Cream together the butter and sugar until light until an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added. Fold in the flour, creme fraiche, jam, blackberries and lemon zest gently until everything is incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the cake cakes and bake for about15 - 20 minutes until the cakes are golden brown and spring back to your touch. Remove the cakes from the oven and heat the lemon juice with the icing sugar, bring to the boil and then spoon over the cakes. Serve warm or cold.