Posts Tagged ‘Family’

A giant Tunnock’s teacake for a momentous birthday

March 11, 2014

We’ve had another big birthday in our house. That’s two in less than a month. Woo! I’m not sure how we’ve coped with all the excitement to be honest. We’re not used to it.

birthday girl grinning

Elsa’s transition into her teens felt momentous and exciting and scary and right. And although she’s 13 and I thought she might be beyond our usual home-styley party, she insisted on having one. So I had an unexpected bonus year of youthful party planning.

Of course one of the most important elements of any birthday celebration is the cake – it’s the bit of children’s parties we carry on right into adulthood. But ironically, given my prediliction for producing absurd cakes over the years; Elsa, it emerges doesn’t really like cake. On second thoughts, perhaps it’s not ironic at all.

So after her declaration as a teenage non-cake lover, we had to think of something else special to stick candles in, sing around and share with friends.

I began to think about biscuits, which she does like and was heading in the direction of a stack of giant cookies. And then I remembered Elsa’s favourite teatime biscuity treat, which really IS a treat. Drum roll please…

The Tunnock's teacake

The Tunnock’s Teacake

Oh what a wonderful confection, starting with the box – perfect in all its yellow and red retro glory and right through to the six foil-wrapped beauties inside.

Plated up, Tunnock’s teacakes look fabulous. I’d like to think that the Queen offers them on silver platters as an eminently superior alternative to Ferrero Rocher. Perhaps I’ll petition the government to make sure there are supplies in every British Embassy. I’m sure tricky negotiations would be eased considerably with Tunnocks teacakes to hand.

Tunnock's teacakes on plates

On the tea table a plate each of blue (dark chocolate) and red (milk chocolate) Tunnockses (that’s the official term) look wonderfully festive and quaint in a his and her’s, ‘boys and girls come out to play’ kind of way.

The red ones are far more widely available but the blue ones do actually have a certain something. Having bought a packet of them for this very blog post, we all tested them and I’m pretty sure they’ll be in my shopping basket again. I got them in Waitrose. The red ones are available widely, including in Poundland, thank you very much.

Opening a Tunnock’s teacake is sheer delight. Even the foil wrapper merits a few minutes of attention, but only AFTER the main event which of course is the teacake itself.

Teacake collage

Maybe she loves them a bit TOO much!

I’m not sure I should say too much about the beauty of that perfect chocolate dome, the joy of cracking through it with your teeth and the taste of the perfectly white fluffy mallow within. I won’t do it justice with mere words. All I can say is, if you haven’t tried a teacake yet, now’s the time. Email me your address and I’ll put one in the post. I can’t guarantee its safe arrival, but I’ll try.

Incidentally there are pretenders – supermarket own brands and the like, but I did a taste test once of three other varieties against Tunnock’s. Guess who won. By a long chalk.

So anyway, back to Elsa’s birthday non-cake. After much deliberation and a middle of the night Eureka moment the answer became clear: a GIANT Tunnock’s teacake. Oh the excitement.

It occured to me that the giant Tunnock’s teacake might have already been attempted, so I headed straight for ‘Pimp that Snack‘. I was right; 3 people have tried, with mixed results in my view, but well done them for trying and a round of applause to Michelle Kershaw and Nick Dodds for their creation.

While Pimp that Snack was a good starting place for some top tips, I went elsewhere for recipes and techniques. The whole process is perhaps not as hard as you think, but you do need to take some care and time, and it’s not one to cut corners on. Remember it’s perfection you’re trying to recreate.

close up tunnocks teacake

Somehow I think most of you won’t be falling over yourselves or each other to make a giant Tunnock’s teacake but you should if you’re feeling adventurous and you want to make an impression. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that I think it’s really important to make birthdays memorable. What better way than a giant version of your loved one’s favourite biscuit.

So I’d like to think that sometime, somewhere the 5th brave giant teacake adventurer will benefit from my experience. Whoever you turn out to be, I salute you. Please do say hello, whenever that great day comes.

boxes of tunnocks teacakes

And now here’s my more or less blow by blow account, because I did a lot of research and I wouldn’t want you to have to do the same.

To get us started; when making a giant Tunnock’s teacake there are four key elements to consider:

  • The chocolate dome
  • The mallow filling
  • The biscuit base
  • The distinctive red and silver wrapper

The super smooth chocolate dome is really the key to it all. Its super smooth, perfectly rounded finish is crucial to an authentic end result. Once you’ve got the dome right the rest will follow, sort of. Hopefully.

unwrapped teacake

The naked teacake

Dome first. I inherited my grandma’s round-bottomed copper bowl which she used to whip up egg whites into a frenzy for meringues. It’s about 8″/20cm across. Perfect. If you don’t happen to have a copper bowl in your cupboard (you don’t?) then a large hemisphere cake tin like this one would be just right.

I used this teacake recipe by Paul Hollywood and doubled the quantities for each giant teacake. (I actually made 2 domes and biscuit bases but more on that later). The recipe recommends dark chocolate but I went for a mix of milk and dark. About 2/3rds and 1/3rd respectively. And supermarket own brand rather than the usual high quality stuff I use. More authentic for this project methinks.

In the name of authenticity I decided to temper the chocolate as I wanted that glorious teacake shine. Without getting too technical (I’ll leave that to the experts) tempering chocolate is a process of developing all important beta crystals. These splendid fellows prevent the characteristic white bloom of untempered chocolate that you may have seen if you’ve stored chocolate in the fridge. Tempering involves heating, cooling and reheating melted chocolate to specific temperatures, reasonably quickly. There are several methods out there, but I recommend David Lebovitz’ guide to tempering chocolate.

Word of warning: you need an accurate thermometer for this. I hoped my jam thermometer would work but it doesn’t go to a low enough temperature. Fortunately our digital cooking thermometer did the job. Just make sure you have one before you start.

peeling chocolate off teacake

Obviously the critical part of this whole chocolate dome thing are the acts of moulding and unmoulding the dome. Scary concepts unless you’re a chocolatier with your own lab in Switzerland. So I did considerable research into making sure the chocolate would form the perfect shape AND come out of the bowl. I wiped around the bowl with a smear of flavourless oil and froze it as well. Allegedly one or other of these measures should’ve been sufficient but I wasn’t taking any chances.

To make the chocolate dome spoon a decent amount of melted ( and tempered?) chocolate into your bowl/mould and swirl it around and up the sides of the bowl. Use the back of your spoon to help the distribution process. Keep tilting and tipping and adding more chocolate until the whole bowl is covered with a reasonably thin and reasonably even layer of chocolate. Return the bowl to the freezer for about 20 minutes. Remove and repeat. I opted for a fairly thick and therefore stable (I figured) chocolate dome, coward that I am. Finally, after another short spell in the freezer check that the chocolate is firm and face the scary prospect of removing the dome from its home.

I’ve mentioned that I made two domes – this gives me the opportunity to tell you that the process of removing the chocolate shell can be either really easy or really not easy. The first shell I made slipped out with barely a word of encouragement. I just slid a knife around the top edge to loosen it, inverted it and the little beaut slid out with no trouble.

Eating a Tunncok's teacake

The second was a nightmare. It refused to budge despite the knife trick, hot tea towels laid on the bowl and a few sharp encouraging taps on its bottom. Leaving the bowl to come to room temperature didn’t help either. In the end we took a palette knife to it, pushed right down between the bowl and the chocolate. This on the basis that there must be a sticking point somewhere. I had visions of the dome’s smooth shiny surface being completely ruined but decided it would be hidden under foil so WHO CARES! Me actually, but we were desperate by then.

Anyway the dome did loosen and slid out. And miracle of miracles it was as smooth as. Not a blemish from the palette knife anywhere. The moral? Get tough if you have to. Tell it who’s boss. And if it tells you who’s boss by breaking. Well then you’ll just have to start again. Remember I made two in one evening and I didn’t find that too arduous. In fact we made the whole kit and caboodle in an afternoon and evening.

The biscuit base is straightforward – just find a circle template the right size to fit just inside your hemisphere. I used an 8″ removable cake tin base. Roll the mixture quite thick – about 1cm and bake longer than the recipe says for a beastie of this size. I confess I can’t remember how long ours took, I just kept checking and putting it back for another 5 mins. Once cooled cover all over with melted chocolate – I had enough left from the dome for this. No need for perfection here. As you can see.

smearing chocolate on biscuit base

THIS is the part Alice volunteered to help with…

Next the all important mallow. It’s basically a meringue mixture with some added syrup. The recipe uses golden syrup but I might be tempted to try glucose syrup next time for extra whiteness.

I always seem to have a problem with egg whites – there always seems to be some egg white that remains liquid in the bottom of the bowl. There’s plenty of advice online about meringue weeping once it’s on the pie, but what about when it’s still in the bowl?!

close up bowl of mallow

Anyhoo, the mallow worked out fine – it tasted and looked perfectly great – but there was some weepiness when we cut into the teacake.

Thanks to this very useful ‘Decoding Delicious’ blog post about foaming egg whites there are two things I’ll do differently next time. First I’ll start beating the egg whites at a sloooow speed and secondly I’ll refrigerate the completed mallow/meringue; warmth causes them to deconstruct.

Once we dolloped the mallow into the chocolate shell we carried out the slightly scary operation of adding the chocolate biscuit base and turning the whole thing over, before sealing the edge with more melted chocolate – rapidly piped and smeared on with a teaspoon. This join is not perfection on the real thing, so smearing is fine! You can’t really do this part without a second pair of willing and able hands.

drawing teacake wrapper

Aside from moral support and extra helpful hands, Danny’s most important and much admired contribution was the fantastic wrapper artwork. He copied the signature design (with personalised messages for Elsa) onto tin foil. Don’t use non-stick foil and do use a permanent marker like a Sharpie.

Lesser mortals like myself would need to draw circles and straight lines to ensure a reasonable result, but being a proper artist Danny drew this freehand. Brilliant! So brilliant we’re going to frame it. I love it.

giant Tunnock's teacake wrapper

And that’s it. We’re there. The giant teacake is ready to serve to our newly teenage daughter and her birthday friends. Ta da!

Giant Tunnock's Teacake

Actually I mentioned that I made two giant teacakes. We presented the second one unwrapped and with a small hammer. It was filled with sweets not mallow. A chocolate piñata if you will. Whoop! Alongside we stuck the requisite 13 candles into some proper teacakes for Elsa to blow out and then she hammered and cut her way into her two giant Tunnock’s teacakes.

pinata teacake

The birthday girl couldn’t quite believe her eyes and a special place for Tunnock’s teacakes has been utterly guaranteed for many, many more birthdays in our household. Now who do I write to at the British Embassy? Wait, I know just the man…

teacake and candles

Happy birthday sweetheart x


Oh and by the way, this is not a sponsored post!


It all adds up, hopefully…

April 5, 2013

First things first, WHAT is going on with the weather?  Like everyone else I’ve had ENOUGH. I’m taking it personally now and I’m not happy. Nor is Alice…

retro bad weather

These retro weather fridge magnets came with a few suns but I don’t even know where they are. Gathering dust under the fridge I expect, useless as they are.

Michael Fish is not the only one sporting a black cloud around here. Currently there is a LOT of maths happening in this house. Too much methinks.

Elsa revealed yesterday (a week into the holiday – ho hum) that she’s been given a 10 page maths booklet to complete. 2 week holiday, 5 working days in each week, 10 pages to complete. You do the maths, oh no wait; we’re doing the maths. So it’s a double page of tricky maths every weekday over the holidays. Weekends off. Thank you Mr. Teacher.

However as we’ve only just started this homework, thank you Ms. Elsa, we have a considerable amount to achieve in not much time. We even had our lunch amid the paperwork today.

homework table


I say ‘we’, but of course it’s Elsa’s homework. However I am fearful of leaving her to this scary booklet; maths is already a subject that she sometimes feels unconfident about. It’s a common dilemma I/we/most parents have – whether and when to step in and help. Unlike maths, parenting questions rarely have a simple answer. And often, whatever course of action we take feels wrong. Or is that just me? I think not. Perpetual guilt it’s called. And it’s one of the joys of parenting.

As a counterpoint to the muddle that is parenting, I actually quite like maths usually. I like the certainty of it. The maths problems I can get my head round have either a right or wrong answer and I find comfort in that. For my new freelance-self I find myself doing bookkeeping for some friends businesses and although I’ve now got to get my head around software packages, I’m quite enjoying dusting off the principles of debit and credit, T accounts and trial balances. Scary but true. Hence I found myself looking up accountancy tutorials at 7.30 this morning. Oh joy!

The interweb is such an amazing resource – tutorials on EVERYTHING you could wish for. Mind you I’ve yet to find an entertaining accountancy tutorial. But the answers are all out there, it’s knowing how to ask the right questions that matters now.

However these tutorials, in combination with helping Elsa with her maths homework means I think I may have hit sums overload. I have numbers swimming in front of my eyes and they’re not making sense.

As it’s Friday I think it may be time to abandon ship, cut a pizza into fractions – equal quarters of course and relax.

cat on homework

Luckily it’s not the final homework she’s sitting on.

Have a great weekend World.

A salutary tale for Monday

March 11, 2013

What a difference 24 hours makes. Apart from anything else it’s bitterly cold today, I’m sure its colder than my phone alleges.

When Alice and I got the bus to school this morning a lady started talking to us. She thought Alice looked tired. Probably. She said that when she was a child, she was always tired at school and then went on to tell us why. It made me reflect on Mother’s Day and blog writing and the horror of some people’s lives and how lucky I am and, well…

For 10 years, from the age of 4, this lady was sent to a Irish convent boarding school that was primarily meant for mentally and physically disabled children. She didn’t learn, she said and the children there came out dumber than when they went in. But they were punished.

“If I did something wrong” she said, “I would be hit, on the front or the back of my hand and if I didn’t learn my lesson, I’d be whacked on my inner thigh. When we were really bad we were locked in a cupboard, with no light and nothing in it, for 24 hours at a time. No toilet, no nothing.”

She finally left when she was 14 – her stepfather realised it was doing her no good and pulled her out.

She was also sectioned twice, when she was 7 and 11. She never knew why or by whom. But when her Mum died she found the evidence. Her Mum’s signature was on the papers, both times. To this day she doesn’t know why. She says she can’t forgive her, but “she’s still my Mum”. Now in her late 40s she is self-educating herself, learning to read and write. “If it wasn’t for that place I’d probably be a lawyer by now”. I don’t doubt it, she came across as a strong and bright woman who was learning to stop her past overcoming her. Amazing.

Of course I have no idea of the context of her story, or even the truth of it. But she had no reason to lie and whatever the details, it’s a salutary counterpoint to Mother’s Day and my schmaltzy post of yesterday. A child’s love is extraordinary and it’s a responsibility we must take seriously.

I don’t want this blog to be a saccharine-loaded piece of fluff. It’s easily done – just blog about the shiny bits. Of course there’s plenty to celebrate but there’s also plenty that’s a lot harder to manage, understand and cope with. And some people’s lives are simply horrendous.

This blog is part of my journey into a new happier chapter of life that I’m really enjoying so far, but my life is not a stream of sugary joy and nor is anyone else’s I know. I haven’t suffered like the woman on the bus, not at all, but I want this blog to reflect some of the truths about life, not just the good bits.

Will I be able to do it? Is the temptation to choose the sparkly bits too great? Is it a kind of therapy? Am I too shallow to blog about the tricky bits? Is the truth too risky in the blogosphere? We’ll see. Keep me in check if you please. X

A very happy Mother’s Day!

March 10, 2013

stack of Mother's Day pancakes each and every one of us Mums all doing our best, sometimes winning against the odds. Hooray to all of us when we’re succeeding and strength to us all when we aren’t…

Went on a Mother’s Day run today. Before you get all impressed (or sickened) I didn’t go very far or fast – I’m definitely NOT a natural runner. But actually it was great to be out in the World and the fresh air – seeing what there is to see…

I was given a guard of honour by some seagulls in the park!



Which is nice. And then I came across someone’s tree project – an array of mismatched bird houses, just waiting for some families to move in. Lovely.

And finally, heading home, I got a wave!


Then back home to those Mother’s Day pancakes, cooked by Elsa. Thank you love…

Elsa flipping pancakes

These are our favourites; Nigella’s buttermilk pancakes from Feast which are puffy and delish because of the buttermilk.

I hope you too get treated royally by your little ones, big ones, partners – whoever is there to appreciate your daily efforts. Have a lovely, lovely day. And finally, to serenade us all, the perfect Mother’s Day song, played by Alice…

Alice Mother’s Day 

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