Friday, 26 October 2012

The Icing On The Cake

So it was The Hub's birthday and, with a little help from Baby, I made him a cake. 
A Panda Cake!
This is not news, exactly, but following an enquiry from someone on Facebook, concerning the icing I used, I've put this post together.

Really, I should make my own icing. I know how, but lack of cooperation from a certain little person that day, eventually put paid to that one!

I don't have a recipe that I use as such. Usually, I just put some icing sugar in a bowl and mash in dairy free margarine, first with a fork and then with a spatula, until there is a fairly stiff mixture. Then I add a dash of warm water from the kettle to make it spreadable. 
The food colouring I meant to use!
Cocoa goes in at the icing sugar stage (if needed) and food colouring just before the water stage. I don't want too much liquid added, as the mixture can soon become too soft. Dr Oetker Food Colouring is usually my food colouring of choice.

On this occasion, being short of time, I opted to use a tub of Vanilla Flavoured Butter Cream Style Icing by Betty Crocker (I try to keep one in the cupboard at all times, just in case) for the white bits of the Panda and a tube of Silver Spoon Designer Icing for the black bits.
Note the word 'Style'.
Now the Betty Crocker icing I have mentioned before, but I think it is worth mentioning again, that Betty Crocker have two Buttercream products, which are sold in almost identical tubs. If you want one that's dairy free, you need to select the 'Style' version.

Usually, I just spread it on and use a fork to create a furry effect - when I'm making a bear cake, but this time I elect to try using an icing squeezy bottle. Unfortunately, the nozzle kept coming loose when I was near the end and it was difficult to clean out the bottle, so I'm not sure I would use it again, in a hurry!

This is the white version, bought (but never used) for a previous project!
The Silver Spoon Designer Icing was a product that I'd not tried before. Unfortunately the label said that it may contain wheat and gluten, so it's not exactly suitable for me, but I was pushed for time and decided I could avoid those bits of the cake!

I was hoping that the icing tube would be easier to use. The three nozzles were a good idea and stayed in place, but the icing seemed very firm and so I failed to get a good result. In the end, I just blobbed it out and then spread it over the areas that I wanted to be black, with a palette knife. I was lucky, in that I had just enough icing, in the tube!

Following that, I emptied some Moo Free Chocolate buttons and some Humdinger chocolate buttons into a bowl and got baby to help me place them in the appropriate places.  The bigger, Humdinger, buttons were used for the pads on the Panda's paws and the nose. The smaller, Moo Free, buttons were ideal for the smaller pads and the eyes. Of course not all the buttons ended up on the cake. I'll leave you to decide what happened to those! ;)

The next stage was to draw the mouth on the Panda, using Silver Spoon Writing Icing. Again this may contain wheat and gluten (can't believe I missed this before).

Ideal for an emergency!

The Writing Icing can be a little stiff to use, but is slightly easier than the Designer Icing. Before long, our Panda had a cute smile. And then all he needed was a pack of birthday candles (again Dr Oetker) to finish him off!

Et VoilĂ ! C'est finis!
From that moment on, all Baby wanted to do was eat the cake!!

One further product to mention is Renshaw's Cool Coloured Sugardough. This useful for any modelling work you want to do.
In Tesco
It comes in a pack of four colours: the primary colours and green. It's not a bad product, but takes a little bit of practice. I'm used to working with clay, but I found it quite tricky. The main thing is that you have to be careful not to let it get too warm, in your hands.

This icing came in very handy when I made a cake for Baby's birthday, last year. No piccie, unfortunately, but probably just as well!!

If you're on Twitter, and you want to see work by someone who's both dairy free and much more accomplished at this decorating game than I am, look out for Nicola@N1C79. She's really good!!

Now, anyone know where I can get a mould for my next project - a guinea-pig cake?

Related Posts:

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

How to cheat at baking dairy free

How does this look? Not bad huh?

If it wasn't for the box, who'd have known?
'I want a chocolate cake - with icing on it,' wailed Baby, the other week.

To begin with, I did what I know all mothers should do and try to distract her or ignore her, but she was more determined than I. She kept up her assault on my nerves and before long I would have bought her the moon if she asked for it - just to get some peace and quiet. Now I know I shouldn't have, but despite my best instincts I gave in - sort of!

Now I didn't have any cake in the cupboard, nor did I have time to bake any. I did what I thought was the next best thing, though - I took her to Tesco. Please note. I didn't take her to Tesco just because she hollered, I was going there anyway, but her shenanigans  certainly hastened my departure!

The only problem was that Tesco didn't have any dairy free chocolate cake, with icing on. Yes, there was a gluten free one but that had dairy in. Instead, I showed her an iced carrot cake and that seemed acceptable to her so off we went, happy as Larry.

Some days, I don't about you, but I just don't have time to be the Mary Berry of the dairy free world. So then... (shock, horror) I cheat!!!

I have a few weapons up my sleeve.

In the Free From section of many supermarkets you can find mixes that are gluten free and dairy free. Betty Crimble's Muffin and Sponge Mix is pretty good (especially with chocolate chip buttons). Hale and Hearty's Classic Chocolate Cake Mix is  very scrummy but it doesn't make much cake - we made just six large muffins from one pack (maybe that's just as well though).

Would six of these do for you?
There are times however, when I don't even have time for that, which is when Honeyrose's Carrot Cake (which I can get from the big Sainos near me) comes into its own.

Now it's not quite as good as my home made carrot cake, obviously, but... actually, it's not bad at all!

It's organic, gluten free and dairy free, but, sadly, un-iced. Step forward Betty Crocker!

Betty Crocker is my all time favourite baking cheat! It comes in chocolate and vanilla 'buttercream' style and now in new 'cream cheese' style! You have to watch out if you're sensitive to milk though - it may contain milk ingredients. Intolerant, rather than allergic, Baby's been fine with it so far...

This'll go well with my carrot cake.
If you're happy with that, then Bob's your Uncle! You can transform any dairy free cake instantly. Once the tub is open it can be kept in the fridge for about a month, so you don't have to use it all at once.

If I don't have time for that, and can do without cake myself, then the aforementioned carrot cake I bought for Baby is completely ready made, complete with icing. You can get it from the 'normal' cake aisle (it's usually sat next to a banana cake, which is also dairy free). It's dairy free, soya free and organic, but sadly does contain gluten! Heigh ho! Better for my waistline :)

Lookee here!
If you're interested in baking, you might like to read the following posts:

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Center Parcs Revisited

We're back! 

S'funny how I feel like a character from C.S.Lewis' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' by saying that. Going to Center Parcs feels a little bit like stepping into another world - quite possibly Narnia, due to the forest location. 

This feeling (of being in another world) was heightened by the fact that our accommodation didn't have WiFi (this time). We had some mobile reception, but not enough to do much on the Internet, so it left us feeling a little bit 'cut off' from the outside world. There was the telly, but somehow it seemed wrong to be watching it - when we could be out and about, or relaxing with our friends.

Of course we hadn't gone for long. Previous trips to Center Parcs left us gagging for more, so we opted to return for a slightly shorter weekend slot (term time again, which makes it cheaper). The other advantages (it being Autumn) was a distinct lack of  both mosquitoes and hayfever. When we last visited (in June) I was bitten by wee critters and the wildflower meadow was in full bloom. There was one afternoon, down by the lake, when both The Hub and I suffered terrible hayfever. 

Guests for breakfast.
This time there was definitely an Autumnal nip in the air, as we wandered the site. The fireplace (something we'd not considered using before) definitely came into its own. Thankfully, the chalets were warm, there was sunshine during the day and a subtropical swimming pool 'Paradise' to keep us warm.

There were still the ducks and other wild life clamouring to be fed, including, on the first night, this badger!
Poor quality pic, I'm afraid!
The badger was after the remains of some bread left out for the ducks and came right up to our patio door! Having not seen a badger up close and personal before, I was very excited and couldn't believe how unfazed it was by our presence. Unfortunately, in my excitement, I rushed to take a photo on my new phone, not realising that there was a flash. Of course, the flash went off and scared the poor badger away. It was never to return. Doh!

On previous occasions, we visited local supermarkets, before arriving, to make sure we had all our gluten free and dairy free provisions lined up. However, last time we visited about four* before we got all the things that we thought we needed, so this time, as we were only going for a weekend we decided to try and do without the added supermarket hop. 

We decided to buy as much as we could from the onsite supermarket (otherwise known as the 'Parcmarket'). We still made sure that we took certain essentials: Genius bread (the Parcmaket does stock gluten free bread, but not the one loaf that I can comfortably eat), our long life milks (the Parcmarket sells soya milk and lactofree, neither of which are any use to me), Bolognese sauce, Orgran dried pasta (made with rice), some Dove's gluten free flour, Marigold Bouillion (we use it instead of gravy), our favourite snacks and a few extra cooking utensils. Oh, and some dairy free chocolate of course - they don't sell any at Center Parcs and I couldn't go without! 

As for everything else, I knew we could get Vitalite dairy free margarine in the supermarket on site, and for just a few days, I thought I could forgo my recently found dairy free cheese and yoghurt, after all, I've managed without for quite a while now.

Our confidence in the Parcmarket was dented somewhat by the lack of gluten free sausages and burgers (last time we brought our own, in a cool box) but restored by tasty apples and minced beef and... finding these: 

The more it snows, tiddly pom!
a new limited edition of gluten and dairy free Pom Bear snowmen (for a full list of ingredients, see below**)! 

The flavour was apparently 'Pigs in Blankets'. To be honest, I didn't think they tasted like Pigs in Blankets. Baby didn't like them (too spicy) but I did! Of course not all flavours (of Pom Bears) are dairy free, so I had to double check, and triple check, just to make sure!

Our 'Lodge' being closer to the main Plaza, this time, we didn't eat out as much as we have previously - we were able to return to the lodge for lunch. BUT it was good to know that the option was there, should the need arise... we still enjoyed our post-swim dairy and gluten free chocolate and hazelnut loaf from Starbucks though (said coffee shop is handily located in the reception area). 

Last time we discovered (to my joy) that I could eat one dish at Strada (there's one on site) which was dairy and gluten free! We've also eaten at 'The Sports Cafe,' and  'The Canopy' poolside cafe and bar, where we took a bit of a risk - by selecting dishes that had neither gluten or dairy listed as ingredients. I asked the staff to confirm that they didn't contain gluten/dairy, however, as to how well-trained they were about the need to avoid cross-contamination I've no idea. 

I don't like to take these kind of risks, but sometimes we lost track of time, or found ourselves further away from our accommodation than we thought - minus food and with a hungry little one in tow...

Of course this approach is, not to be recommended if you're at risk of an extreme reaction, such as an anaphylactic shock (Baby is not, and in fact has been okay more recently with tiny traces of cooked milk in her food) or if you're Coeliac (I'm intolerant to wheat/gluten, but not a diagnosed Coeliac). 

Neither of us came to any harm, although at the poolside cafe there wasn't much available for me to eat - just some salted 'Proper Popcorn' (a snack to keep me going, until we left the pool). However, the next time we were there, none of the salted variety of the Popcorn were left, so The Hub ordered me some corn on the cob - specifying no butter. When it arrived it was practically swimming in butter, but as 'no butter' was clearly written on the tab, the staff apologised and replaced it. 

We were far more sensible about exploring what options might be available at 'The Pancake House' - we went when we weren't desperate for food (just in search of a treat). We discovered that the Pancake House had gluten free and vegan options, but couldn't make me a pancake that was both gluten and dairy free - the gluten free mix contained skimmed milk. I was offered an omelette made purely with egg, but I would really have loved a pancake. 'Oh well!' I thought, 'I'll just have to stick to my own for now, then!'

I have to say, all in all, we had a great time (we spent most of our time in the pool, which Baby loved) and the weekend was over far too quickly. Now we're back, I'm already thinking ahead to next time - I'm writing a slightly modified list of essentials!

Homeward bound.

*On our previous visit, we visited the nearest Co-op (which turned out to be too small to stock Free From), Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco. Tesco at Trowbridge turned out to be the winner for us, as it had most of the items we wanted. 

**Pom Bear Snowmen Ingredients: potato powder, sunflower oil, potato starch, modified starch, salt, sugar, yeast extract emulsifier: soya lecithins, spice, pigs in blankets seasoning: maltodextrin, yeast powder, yeast extract, onion powder, salt, sugar, garlic powder, spices, smoked salt, flavourings, herbs, colour (paprika extract), spice extracts

Update August 2015:

The 'Treats' sweet shop in the Plaza at Longleat Center Parcs now sells dairy free chocolate - you can buy Moo Free, or Kinnerton chocolate lollies. The Parc Market (onsite supermarket) now sell Black Farmer suasages which are dairy and gluten free, but bizarrely these were not placed alongside the other sausages! However, they no longer sell Vitalite or the higher end crisps/popcorn that are dairy/gluten free. AND nowhere sells those lovely Pom Bear snowmen anymore as Pom Bear have discontinued them! :(

Some of the menus in the restaurants/cafes at the site have changed. You can view them online before you go. You can buy dairy OR gluten free pancakes at the Pancake House, but none that are both. The Sport's Cafe at the Jardin du Sports has proved one again to be our best bet when eating out - with many more choices and a free soft play area for little ones! The Sport's cafe menu can be viewed online here

The only thing to watch out for are the disclaimers that cross-contamination cannot be guaranteed - hence the 'Gluten Free' menu at the Sport's Cafe has been named the 'Gluten Sensitive' menu. That said, the Canopy Cafe at the swimming pool were able to offer me gluten free fries that had been prepared in a separate fryer and then did warn kitchen staff about my needs. The lady who served me there has been there during our previous visits and was excellent. 

One thing I would like to have seen at the poolside cafe was some pre-packaged safe snacks as even the crisps were Walkers - which 'may contain' just about everything you could wish to avoid!

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Oo! Ah! Chocolat!

Apparently this week is Chocolate Week!! To know me, is to know that I absolutely LOVE chocolate!

Now those of who who read my post about broccoli might be forgiven for thinking that I was going eschew the dark stuff forever, but well, I really don't think I could do that - everything in moderation, you know!!

So where do I go to get my dairy free chocolate fix?

The answer is... all kinds of places!

There is so much out there!* 

When I'm not munching my way through Baby's stash (outlined in blog post 'Sweets for my Sweet') these are my favourites:

Booja Booja
Until quite recently, I was a Booja booja virgin. I thought that all their products were made with cashews (which I can't tolerate), so I gave them a wide berth. Then I discovered these!!

Having now found that their Banoffee Toffee Chocolate Truffles, are perfectly okay for me (since The Hub bought some as a treat) I am converted. Incredibly moreish, the truffles are/were amazing. They didn't last very long, at all! 

You only get nine in a box that costs £6.99, so work out the sums for yourself!

Unfortunately, if you are a nut allergy sufferer, you'll need to give these a wide berth, as apparently they contain nuts :( not that I noticed any!

Hotel Chocolat 
70% chocolatey darkness, Hotel Chocolat's dark chocolate range and really deserves a post all of its own! You have to like dark to like these. There's no milk in their recipe. They say they're suitable for Vegans and I think I would agree, as they've never given Baby any problems - unlike dark chocolates, by some other manufacturers that I've tried.

Yes, there's no denying that they're expensive. I only got into them because The Hub decided to treat me for birthday, Christmas etc. so please understand, I don't get these all that frequently, they are quite definitely only a treat.

Rich and yummy!
After the Hazelnut Buche (I really do recommend these, if you can tolerate nuts - there's a large and a small one of these) I think I like the Vintage Buttons the best (£7.00 a box). I love the fact that they're moulded from real old buttons. I also like the Chocolate Batons (£7.00 a box). The Dark Chocolate Drops are great for fondue/posh cooking (£7.50 a packet) and there's also Mint Puddles - which are perfect for an after dinner nibble.

Last Valentine's Day, they produced an exquisitely moulded chocolate heart - I know, only because The Hub bought one for me. I can't tell you what it was like, as I still can't bring myself to eat it!

Willie's Cacao
Another dark chocolate, it first came to my attention when a television programme was made about this man who was trying to start up a chocolate factory. The programme may have been made before Baby was born, because although I was interested in how he got on, I never thought I would ever eat any of his chocolate, so I thought no more of it - until the Hub bought me some as a treat.
Small quantity, but intense flavour.
I think, to be fair, that although I find it delicious, you might need to be someone who has developed the taste for dark chocolate ( a bit of a connoisseur) to really appreciate it fully - it's very dark and very intense and very expensive (in terms of quantity). It comes in four flavours, which  have been given fancy names, such as 'Venzuelan Gold 72' - rather reminiscent of wine labelling, but then, they are referred to as 'premium'! 

Containing no dairy, or soya, these may, unfortunately, contain nuts :(

A small pack can be bought in Waitrose, for £2.99.

Now, just in case you're thinking that this all looks a bit expensive, you're right, it is! Free From chocolate is not cheap! But there are some more affordable options out there.

I quite like these:

Kinnerton Chocolate Bar 
For 'everyday.'
What I like to call my, 'everyday' chocolate. Nut, gluten, egg and dairy free. This chocolate is dark and sweet. An acquired taste to begin with (for me anyway - I always used to love milk chocolate) I have bought these bars time and again, usually from Sainsbury's.

Priced at about £1.19, they are probably one of the most affordable ways to eat dairy free chocolate. That said, if you can handle 'may contain milk,' there are quite a few more reasonably priced bars out there, in the 'normal' supermarket confectionery aisle.

I did hear rumours some time ago that Sainsbury's were going to stop stocking Kinnerton, but they still seem to be there and in the interests of supporting a brand, I keep stockpiling it just in case. At least that is the intention, but my pile keeps diminishing!!

Fabulous Free From Factory Chocolate Covered Raisins
They really are scrummy!
I have mentioned these already, in a previous post, but they're so good, that I had to give them another mention. I have to go a bit easy on these, as raisins can be a bit strong for my gut. I think that is the only reason I don't eat a packet in one go but it is soooo hard to stop once I've started!

Priced at £1.59 a packet at Waitrose, they're not cheap, for the quantity you get in a packet, but as the packet says they are 'Scrummy, yummy...'

They are gluten free as well as dairy free. There's no mention of nuts or eggs in the ingredients, but they are made with soya flour (which, funnily enough, doesn't seem to affect me) and may contain traces of nuts!

Organica Hazelnut Nougat & Dark Chocolate bar
What I like to call 'pocket sized.'
Not exactly a snappy name, but I guess this is the nearest I have come to a 'Topic' chocolate bar. Organica also produce a Golden Coconut & Dark Chocolate bar (think 'Bounty') which I love too. Not quite a Bounty, but near enough!!

The bars tend to be priced around 89p - which makes me wince when I think that I can remember buying Mars Bars for 30p (in my younger days).

Organica's bars are fairly hard to come by, in my experience. They seem to be found in some health food shops and are available online from The Vegan Store, where, I have just discovered, you can buy them individually or in bulk (now there's an idea)!! 

Caramel Flavoured Choices
For your caramel 'hit.'
One of the flavours I've missed since becoming dairy free is caramel. I used to really love my Rolos!! ... And the big purple chocolate in the Quality Street tin, now I come to think of it!! But everyone loves those, don't they? They were always the first ones to go, from the tin.

Well, Choices can provide an option for those of us, who miss that caramel flavour. Not quite as yummy as the big purple sweet, they do however go some way, to providing that caramel 'hit.' 

Although I've not noticed them around recently, I know that I have been able to buy them from larger Sainsbury's in the past, for about £3.50. I believe Morrison's now stock them too.

Dairy, wheat, gluten and egg free, they do contain soya (lecithin). 

Humdinger's Dairy Free Buttons
Something for Baby and me!
I just can't help myself - I'm back to baby's stash! When all is said and done, sometimes the most simplest things hit the spot. With me it's these buttons. They're sold in Tesco (for about 50p) and come in 'white' as well as a 'milk' chocolate.

Baby loves them and so do I! The only problem is establishing ownership!!

Dairy free and gluten free, they are made with soya (lecithin).

They are not made with nuts, neither are nuts used in the factories where they are made. If nuts are a problem for you, then you may wish to follow this link, to see their nut information for yourself.

Well this is a run-down of my favourites, now over to you! I've told you mine, how about you tell me yours!! :)

Well, as long as you don't have any problems with nuts... or soya lecithin, or rice even (food allergies are such a minefield)! Sorry, if I clash with yours :(

Similar post:

Friday, 5 October 2012

Best Buttons for Baking

The cookies that I shared the other week have become such a firm family favourite (even with The Hub, who normally comments, 'It's okay,' when I ask what he thinks of my baking... before politely declining seconds) that I've now baked several batches of these little beauties. 

But, it seems The Hub's love of these cookies may just be down to the chocolate! When I tested the cookies on my sister, she immediately commented on the quality of the chocolate - without knowing where it came from. I must admit, I certainly felt rather decadent baking with Hotel Chocolat buttons... but they did need using up! 

When I ran out of both cookies and buttons The Hub (rather generously, I thought) offered to buy some more on the way home from work. His face must have been a picture at the till - £7.99 a bag!! Still, he brought them home, but a few bakes later I was out of buttons once again!! It was then that I spotted these at Tesco. 'Ah ha!' I thought, 'they might do the trick! Dark chocolate - no dairy! 70p for 100g has gotta be cheaper than Hotel Chocolat!'

Please note: these are the dark ones!

100g, it turns out, do not a full cup make! Well you need a full cup, you see, to make the recipe - it's an American recipe and relies on measuring things in cups. I discovered, in  fact, 100g makes only half a cup. Doh! So, on that occasion half a cup had to do. It was then that I wondered whether buying Silver Spoon buttons might not be a false economy. 

A full cup
It turns out they're not - wishful thinking on my part - nearly £2.00 per 100g! Yikes!! It'll most likely be Silver Spoon from now on then! Although, I did notice that they may contain milk, are made with soya (lecithin - I'm okay with that) and may also contain nuts and gluten. Didn't see that last one before - might explain my slightly dodgy gut the last few days (I did wonder). Hmm! Maybe not then!

So, if my little family are to continue enjoying our 'Alien' cookies, we have to find an alternative, which works out a bit cheaper than Hotel Chocolat. The solution may well consist of buying a bar or two of Kinnerton's, (£1.22 for 85g at Waitrose - so £1.44 for 100g) bashing it into shards (chunks even) and using those instead! Either that, or using half a cup of Hotel Chocolat - I found that using half a cup wasn't too bad after all!

Unless you know different, of course!