Looking back, looking forward

Let's get this clear, I'm no good at New Years Resolutions. Tell me I can't do something and it'll be the first thing I do. I'm kinda stubborn like that.

So this year I've decided to set a few goals for myself instead. 2013 has been full of change and I'd like to get back to finding a bit of 'normality' in my life so here are my top 3 aims for a fabulous 2014...


Christmas tree brownie pops

 It goes without saying that I love Christmas, I'm practically Pollyanna-esque in the run up to the big day and I love nothing more than getting in the kitchen and baking treats for the family. It's the one time of the year when we all get to sample the delights that are generally reserved for customers and thanks to Pinterest - my baking to do list is massive this year...

I started off my baking a few weeks ago and my first bake was the simple Christmas tree brownies. I popped them on suitable festive lollipop sticks and the kids loved eating them as a special treat with hot chocolate after we'd finished putting up our own tree.


Make your own Christmas decorations

Regular readers of my blog will know I'm a frugal being, living on a budget doesn't have to mean scrimping on the good things in life and luckily for me this time of the year is all about 'making Christmas' so I can be frugal and it's deemed more acceptable - even *whispers* cool. Bonus!

Myself and the boys have created an advent calendar activity list and each day the boys open an envelope which has a promise or Christmas related activity on it for us to do that day. I'm trying to instill a sense of Christmas spirit in the kids as I don't want the whole season to be ALLLL about the toys! Obviously, that will be their priority (I was exactly the same at their ages) but doing something a little festive each day helps me feel Christmassy and makes sure I set aside a little time with them each day.


White chocolate and gingerbread fudge pops

It's the most wonderful time of the year! I am such a massive fan of Christmas, my Mum was the same and I am determined that I will instill that festive spirit in my boys - whether they like it or not...ho ho ho!

It makes me a bit sad that so much of Christmas is now fuelled by materialistic things like over the top toys and having to send £100's of pounds just to get your kids the 'right' gift for the big day. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure if I had a more affluent lifestyle then I'd probably spoil my little ones but I want them to associate this time of the year with fun and love and the spirit of giving - so we're doing little and lots this month to make that happen.


Doctor Who inspired family fun day

Happy 50th anniversary Doctor Who! If, like me, you're a fellow Whovian then it will have no doubt escaped your notice that this past weekend has been ALL about celebrating a massive TV milestone for Doctor Who. 50 years, I mean I don't know many programmes that get past 50 episodes let alone 50 years!

Me and my boys love the Doctor so I decided to make the most of the day and create a little family fun day themed especially for the night time showing of the 'Day of the Doctor'.


Matcha tea cupcakes with strawberry frosting

I'm relatively new to tea, being a coffee lover, but recently I've been embracing new herbal teas and to my surprise have discovered that Redbush Tea is my new favourite hot drink of choice! I'm thoroughly addicted and the fact that it's caffeine free means I can drink it right up until bedtime.

But Matcha Tea is new to me. I've heard of green tea but I've never tried it so when a client asked me to make her wedding cupcakes matcha flavoured, I knew I'd have some experimenting to do! Luckily in Nottingham we have international supermarkets on tap and the Oriental Mart in Nottingham sold the Matcha powder which is imported from Japan. The guy in the shop was super helpful and even explained to me how to use it in baking which was an added bonus!


Mars Bar filled brownies

Halloween has come and gone and left our house filled with sweet treats of every description. The kids were very lucky this year and returned home with bags of sweets and 2wks on, we still have some leftover!

I posted my Sweet loaded cookie bars a few weeks back and whilst they are a great way to use up little sweeties you have left lying around, I had managed to pick up a giant bag of funsize mars bar for under £1 so I needed to find a recipe that would use them up - fast!

I decided on brownies as they last really well if stored in an airtight container and they're super easy to pop into a lunchbox. I was also travelling to see some friends at the weekend and made up a batch which travelled unscathed on trains, trams and after countless miles walking!


Minecraft dessert table fun at Gamecity

There are many things that lead me to believe that I truly do live in the best city in the UK. One of those things is Gamecity.

Now don't get me wrong; hardcore gamer I am not, but as the sister of a brother who played games for the duration of his youth I can safely say I've learnt a trick or two. I remember every console we had since the age of 9 and am very proficient with any brand Nintendo controller. I pulled out our old Super Nintendo a little whole ago just to check I still remembered all the cheats and warps throughout the Super Mario Bros 2 game (I can proudly report - I did).


Sweet loaded cookie bars

Are you as excited about Halloween as me? I love Halloween and I'm sooo glad that it's becoming increasingly popular in the UK, it's not just the trick or treating that I love either (though we're lucky to have very generous neighbours).

It's nice to be about to celebrate a seasonal holiday before Christmas takes it's toll. Regular readers of my blog will know by now that I am also a Christmas FIEND so I can start to channel some of that seasonal excitement before I start to annoy my family with talk of "How early is too early to put the tree up?".


'Screme' egg Halloween brownies

It had to be done. I'm sure a few of you remember my Creme Egg brownies from earlier this year and as soon as I saw the green 'Screme' egg versions in my local shop I knew I'd have to make them again...

I used a slightly different brownie recipe for this batch as I wanted a more cakey brownie this time and it worked really well. If you want a rich and decadent sweet treat then stick with my original recipe but if you only have cocoa in the house and want an easy bake with the kids - then the recipe below is much more forgiving.


'Blood' splattered meringue bones

A few weeks ago the Nottingham Evening Post asked me to submit a recipe or bake that would feature in their Halloween themed weekend pull out. I have soooo many Halloween ideas pinned and I decided that this would be the ideal opportunity to give something new a try.

I wanted to submit a fairly easy bake that people could create with their kids so I chose the easiest recipe I know - meringue!

These Halloween bones are simple to make and would look great on any Halloween dessert table, you could even dust them with cocoa powder for an aged look or add food colouring to your mix and make some multi coloured witches bones.


Chocolate chip and banana muffins

I go through banana phases. Some days I find myself really craving them and then others, I am positively off the idea of them. My one bananary (is that a word?) achilles heel is a nice banana loaf with a cup of tea.

My Mum used to make a killer banana loaf and I've discovered a fab recipe for a banana cake with cream cheese frosting but it's a time intensive recipe so I don't make it often and only for special occasions.


Happy Birthday Momma

Whether you're having fun or not, time flies. But where does the time go? We can easily pass time by looking at life events and studying house moves, kids, marriages, work etc but sometimes looking back and wondering how you've got through a long period of time without someone fills you with sadness as you realise that old adage - that life really does go on.


Browned butter funfetti cookie cups

Cookie cups are my new favourite thing. It's all the yumminess of a cookie, except with buttercream. Sugary = WIN!

I've already spoken about my newly found appreciation for browned butter and I'm trying to source more recipes that I can use it in, but then I figured that the best way to use it would be with some plain old sugar cookies! I wanted to see if the nutty butteriness flavour really did shine through so I decided to whip up some cookie cups.


Crazy for crazy cake (eggless, butterless cake)

I'm all for a quick bake. I mean, the amount of time you can reduce between baking to actual consumption the better in my opinion. And today's recipe does not disappoint in the speed stakes!

I came across a recipe via the blog Sweet Little Bluebird which is the cutest little blog full of fab recipes and other handy tips and I couldn't believe the ingredient list for this cake. How on earth could you make a cake from so few things? Then I read on and it seems the recipe hails from the depression era when food was limited which explains the short ingredients list.


Biscoff buttercream topped brownie cups

Have you tried Biscoff  spread yet? My twitter feed literally imploded last year when the famous speculoos cookie spread went on sale in supermarkets throughout the UK and I've been keen to try out a recipe using the jar I bought on a sweet filled shopping trip a few months ago.

I finally decided to try and keep it simple and make a biscoff buttercream so I could try it in a fairly easy recipe to start with - and I wasn't disappointed! Adding it to buttercream means you get the full biscoff flavour and whilst I expected it to be too sweet, it was just right.


Make your own chocolate jazzies

This sprinkle laden little bites of chocolate are called different things depending on where you hail from but I know them as chocolate jazzies and I kinda like that name. Do I do a little jazz dance whilst eating them? Well, no but jazz hands? Maybe...

You normally find these in bags from your local sweetie shop but will Halloween looming I'm trying to find ways of making little treats to use up some of my baking supplies as my sprinkle addiction is getting out of hand...


Reeses triple loaded peanut butter cookies

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am a peanut butter addict. I don't go looking for peanut butter related recipes but they have a way of finding me...or finding my Pinterest board at least...

I came across this super simple recipe for peanut butter cookies and I had *just* enough peanut butter left to give it a go. I think it originates from a Martha Stewart recipe but I've since found the same recipe accredited to a few different sources so I can't credit the original baker.


Browned butter and white chocolate cookie cups

As you might have read last week, I tried my hand at making browned butter for the first time. It was super easy to do and the mere aroma of the butter got my recipe cogs whirring as I tried to think up all the ways I could use my first batch.

We had a family day out planned to Creswell Crags in Derbyshire (more about that later!) so I wanted a treat which we could pop into our lunch bag. I settled on cookie cups as a sturdy treat and the cookie recipe I use is so easy to throw together that it literally took under an hour to make these from start to finish!


Let's make browned butter!

Ok, so I'm pretty late to the browned butter party but over the past few years I've seen the term creep up now and again and it's usually accompanied by the sentence 'life changing' so I figure it's a must try.

It's very simple to make and I *urge* you to try it once. Browning your butter brings out a caramelly-nutty flavour that you can't get any other way. It adds a new dimension to your standard butter flavour and changes the flavour of your baking with one simple substitute.


Frugal family summer: Make your own play 'dirt'!

Like most kids, my boys love getting dirty. There's quite a big age gap between my 8yr old and 3yr old but I find messy play brings them together by appealing to their dirt lovin' boyish nature.

In my search for frugal summer activities I have been trying to use household items to create messy play activities the boys can indulge in at a moments notice and without too much effort on my part (I'm still working throughout the holidays) and that generally means raiding the pantry!


Peanut Butter and Marshmallow bars

Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with my peanut butter obsession. I love peanuts and peanut butter in EVERYTHING. Sweet foods, savoury foods and smoothies - all taste better with peanuts!

A few months ago Duerrs got in touch and sent me some of the newly branded jams which I used to make some jammie biscuits. I'm not a huge jam fan so I'm not loyal to one brand of jam generally but I did like the samples they sent and they worked a treat in those biscuits.

But then Duerrs tweeted me (best tweet EVER!!) and offered me some of their new peanut butter and I *knew* I had to try it! I mean who'd say no to free peanut butter?


Make your own iced coffee

Summer holidays. That magical time where alarm clocks no longer exist and are instead replaced with the sounds of 2 boys fighting over the TV remote. Ahhh bliss.

As the school holidays progress, my need for caffeine increases but I'm not really a drinker of hot beverages and whilst I can appreciate a good cuppa I really can't get on with drinking hot drinks in this weather. A hot cup of tea cools you down? Give over. A slush puppie cools me down thanks very much.


Frugal family summer: shaving foam fun!

We were lucky enough to be able to book a midweek break to Butlins earlier this year (and the boys loved it!) but now as the real Summer holidays approach I realise how long these 6 weeks will be without the possibility of a getaway...

So, I have taken on a small challenge. I've raided Pinterest, G+ and every parenting site I know in order to look for some frugal and fun activities I can create at home for the boys. I have a *really* small budget to work with so I'm looking for things that will entertain the boys for more than 5mins and avoid potential arguments.


Oreo filled s'mores brownies

This summer has provided the perfect conditions for outdoor family vacations. When Finley was little we dabbled in camping and really enjoyed being outdoors but now with Milo having such vocal night terrors I can't imagine being outdoors through the night and not waking every family near us... My in-laws have a caravan which we stayed in the other night and it reminded of how much I loved the camping/caravan lifestyle so hopefully we'll be able to coerce them into lending us their lovely caravan sometime soon ;)


5 ingredient peanut butter cookies

I came across a recipe on Pinterest for peanut butter cookies which looked too good to be true. 5 ingredients - that's it. I thought there was no way it could work, but after extensive googling it seems I'm quite behind in my thinking and this simple recipe really is as easy (and yummy) as it looks!

I love recipes like this as they are made using things I always have in my cupboards and my boys love peanut butter so with the summer holidays just around the corner, I know I can make these as a treat to store in the cookie jar as they keep well for up to a week (if they last!).


Strawberry Puree recipe

The current heatwave in the UK means that a lot of our fruit plants are seeing an abundance of yummy fruit - but you need to pick it quick as the heat also means it is decomposing a lot quicker too.

My friend Maidie kindly let me pick some strawberries from her community garden and after I scoffed a 'decent' amount, I still had some leftover so I thought I'd try my hand at making some strawberry puree as I've been trying to perfect my strawberry buttercream recipe.


Spiced oatmeal cookies with maple syrup drizzle

A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at making oatmeal creme pies. I've never known my husband rave about a cookie as much as he did when I made that one but it inspired me to look into the humble oatmeal cookie a little more...

I think oatmeal cookies have an air of 'adulthood' since they tend to be chocolate-less and they really do improve with age. I like a crunchy edge on my cookies in general but oatmeal cookies need to be chewy and packed full of flavour so I found a few recipes online that add in copious amounts of cinnamon/nutmeg/ginger to give that hearty taste.


Homemade chalk paint

In my bid to expand my list of summertime activities with the kids, I have been scouring Pinterest looking for some cheap and cheerful things I can make with the boys that will hopefully keep them amused for more than 5 mins during the summer holidays...

Like any typical boys they love to make a mess and Milo has a real creative streak that has him asking to 'do painting' whenever he wants a fun activity to fill his time. As a baker with a tiny house, it's not always practical to get the tablecloths and painting equipment out so when I came across the idea of making my own chalk paint for the garden then I knew this would be perfect!


Patriotic marshmallow pops

I'm positively spoiling you all with 2 blog posts in one day but I just wanted to share a very quick and easy way to celebrate any special occasion with a yummy treat.

I've made these marshmallow pops before and I tend to use the idea for last minute occasions where I don't have the time (or ingredients) to bake.

Patriotic oatmeal creme pie cookies

Happy 4th July everyone! I wanted to make a few sweet treats for the family to make up for the inevitable bbq's and fireworks we're missing out on so I've been searching for a recipe that utilises my cupboard ingredients AND brings home the taste of America for me.


Making room for Swirls Bakery

Happy 200th blog post! (sorry, just needed to celebrate that achievement).

Next month sees the 2nd anniversary of my announcement about my 2nd bakery, Swirls Bakery, becoming a reality. For those if you who missed it, I teamed up with the amazing Maidie from Heavenly Cupcakes to form a new cake bakery business specialising in premium cakes and cupcakes for corporate occasions and other large scale events. We have over 9yrs experience running bakeries so our clients will start to benefit from the work of 2 fab bakers instead of 1!

Swirls has gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years and the time has now come to start to complete our bakery merger and filter all work under the new brand - Swirls Bakery.


A fresh bag of coffee - my review!

I'm a fan of coffee, not as much as my husband mind,  but I think my American genes give me an inbuilt appreciation for all things coffee related.

And I think I speak for most people when I say there is nothing more disappointing than a bad cup of coffee! Especially if the smell of a cup promises caffeine laden glory but the taste delivers a watery disappointment...


Oreo marshmallow krispy bars

Oreos make everything better. It's an undeniable fact. The UK seems to be catching up with their oreo-loving American cousins and I see more and more things creeping onto our supermarket shelves that are Oreo or cookies and cream flavoured. AND THIS MAKES ME HAPPY.

My boys are no exception to the rule that kids love Oreos and I like how easy they are to add to any recipe as they hold their shape well and are instantly recognisable. My only pet peeve is when someone put an oreo on top of a cupcake - I learnt the hard way people, your oreo WILL go soft as it absorbs the buttercream so don't do it! There's nothing worse than eating a unintentionally soft cookie...


Banana cake with cream cheese frosting

This banana cake changed my life. I'm a born and bred banana bread lover and thanks to my Mums incredible recipe I never knew this love could be challenged. Until this recipe came along...

Banana bread is stodgy, comforting and best served warm from the oven slathered with butter. But this cake is light, moist and keeps well for 3 days or so, the perfect tea time treat!


Mars Bar crispy cake bars

Housekeeping first - Did you know you can now Follow my blog with Bloglovin? It;s my new favourite thing to replace Google Reader!

Now onto baking - I have an utter obsession with tray bakes and bars right now, I think it's the ease of throwing them together and the fact I can wrap them for the kids lunchboxes that's appealing to my motherly nature. My pinboard is FULL of tray bake bar recipes that I'm itching to try out!

Now, Mars Bars - I'm actually relatively new to the idea of using mars bars in crispy cake recipes and what a genius idea it is! All the caramel, chocolate and nougat melts beautifully into a gooey sticky mess which pairs so well with the rice krispies and it makes for such a quick sweet treat.


Jammy Biscuits with Duerrs Jam

A few weeks ago the lovely people at Duerrs got in touch and asked if I'd like to sample their jam. I'd actually seen their jam in the supermarket a few weeks previous but as I really only use jam for cakes (I'm a peanut butter lover when it comes to toast) I tend to stick to the same brands for ease.

I was very excited to receive my Duerrs care package which was packed with jam and marmalade and as my husband loves marmalade he was over the moon. They sent me marmalade, blackcurrant jam and strawberry jam.


Butlins Skegness - our family adventure!

A few weeks ago me and my little family took a family holiday to Butlins Skegness. A LOT of people have asked my opinion on various elements of the holiday so I thought I'd share our family review of our fun time away - it's a detailed review so in Miranda style 'bare with! bare with"


Peanut butter layer brownies

I'm hoping this recipe concludes my blogging obsession with peanut butter EVERYTHING. I absolutely loved making these brownies and they really hit the spot when I needed my peanut butter fix but thankfully Reese's peanut butter cups/bars/bites are readily available in the UK now so I think I need to divert my baking attention!

These brownies were made using my standard brownie recipe and topping it with a layer of creamy peanut butter filling. I used crunchy peanut butter this time around but I'd try and use smooth next time and maybe add some bite in the form of pretzels or nuts on top?? Hmmm, maybe my peanut butter fetish hasn't subsided...


A few recent cakes and bakes

Regular readers of my blog will notice I've been a bit quiet of late - one skill I have yet to master is time management and as a result my plate has been a little too full recently!

Rather than rush a few blog posts I have on the backburner, I thought I'd show you a few of my most recent cakes which might explain where some of my time has gone.

As you can see, business is booming! More and more clients are coming back for my 4th year is business and their cakey requests are a pleasure to work with. If I had a to pick a favourite I'd struggle...

Don't forget, you can see more of my work on my website here - Star Bakery. I'm off to Butlin's for a week long break with my boys, I am beyond excited and can't wait to report back on my return.

Skegvegas here we come!


My new favourite cookbook - Baked in America

Hurrah! It seems that I was FINALLY unsubtle enough that my husband got around to buying me a cookbook that has been on my wishlist for waaaay too long. Ok, so my only *teeny tiny* gripe is that I would have lovvvvvvved a signed version (which you can buy via their website) but that gives me an excuse to hound the guys at Outsider Tart for an autograph next time I'm in London...

For those of you who are fans of American baking (and yummy cakes in general) then this is a cookbook worthy of a place on your ever expanding bookshelf. Background; the two David's run a bakery in London called Outsider Tart and whilst I haven't had the pleasure of visiting it yet, all of my cakey friends who have visited RAVE about it. They make and create a whole host of American food and this cookbook pulls together a few of their recipes for you to recreate at home.


Easter Colours Rainbow Cake

Easter in our house means kitchen cupboards filled with chocolate eggs and treats of every description. We always plan a family easter egg hunt at home for the boys and whilst we don't like to go overboard and buys toooooo many chocolate eggs, we do like to have little prizes they can win throughout the day which helps to stagger their sugar intake.

I wanted to make something a little different this year  and I had some leftover cake batter so I decided to use my pastel colours and create an alternative easter rainbow cake.


Caramel apple crisp

I love apple crisp (or apple crumble to my UK readers). Throw in a healthy dose of cinnamon and I am crumbly sugar coma heaven. The thing is my husband makes a darn good crumble so it's a dessert I don't get the chance to try out very often.

I've been pondering a version using caramel for a little while now and I managed to try it out last weekend. It was a little wetter than I'd anticipated but I think it's because I used tinned caramel instead of making my own. When I make it again I'll make my own caramel as I'm sure it'd be even more decadent and rich.


Peanut butter cups chocolate cake

Have you ever woken up with a recipe in your mind that is literally bursting to get out? It's like the baking fairies have left you a little inspiration to get you going in the morning.

Well I had one of these moments a few weeks ago. I also knew my mate Kate was getting pretty darn fed up of being VERY pregnant (at nearly 10 days overdue) so I decided that this cake might just cheer her up. As it happens, she blames it for curing her potential labour pains a few hours later but hey ho - Billy did eventually arrive later that week :)


The end of the tax year looms...

Hands up if you're super organised and prepared for the end of the accounting tax year? I won't lie, I'm not exactly the most organised business owner I know but I have learnt to become more prepared for my tax return by keeping up to date with all incomings and outgoings and more importantly keeping track of all those receipts.

It might sound obvious to many people but running a cake business isn't all about making beautiful cakes and having lots of baking fun in the kitchen. Ask any professional baker what their normal hours of work are and I can guarantee that like me, they regularly become acquainted with 2am finishes!

Managing your actual workloads is difficult enough but when it comes to getting organised for the end of the tax year then I can assure you that it pays to get your accounts in order sooner rather than later.


Hot fudge sauce

Sometimes you come across a recipe that just oozes off the screen at you, and if you're lucky enough you'll even have the ingredients in your cupboard to allow you to make it. RIGHT NOW.

Where I grew up on the East Coast of the States, we had very hot summers (well compared to this country anyway). We were lucky enough to live near the beach, and in turn many ice cream outlets. Ice cream is definitely a luxury purchase so we were often treated to cups of Richie's Italian Ice instead - watermelon of grape favour for me please!

But if we did get to buy ice cream then I would ALWAYS opt to have it with hot fudge. I mean, hot chocolatey sauce turns the standard sundae into something else. Something decadent that smacks of special occasions.


Creme egg brownies

These creme egg brownies caused quite a stir on my Twitter and Facebook streams when I posted a sneak peak picture last week, it seems that people like nothing more than filling brownies with all manner of sweets and treats and this were certainly no exception.

This recipe is very forgiving and you could use it as a great 'base' brownie recipe. There are a few tips I discovered whilst making these and they are:

  • Creme eggs are much easier to work with when they're cold - I froze mine for about an hour
  • Smaller size creme eggs are a lot easier to cut in half


My Sugar Coated life is born

Welcome to my new look blog! This months sees my 4th blogging anniversary so I decided it was time for a new look, and a new self hosted website address.

This blog started as a document of the beginnings of Star Bakery and has evolved into a haven for recipes, family happenings and anything else I feel the need to write about.

I have divided posts into 3 categories (displayed at the top of the page) and I have kept all posts archived on the site as I continue to get people asking about starting a cake business so there are some useful tips in my older posts. The main focus of this blog will be baking related recipes and family activities but I'm sure I'll still throw in useful cake business insights and some information that surrounds the cake business in general.

I have lots of exciting things planned for this month including at least 3 yummy Easter themed recipes and don't forget you can still keep up to date with my bakery life via Twitter and Facebook.

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Frugal half term activity for the kids

Like most parents, I'm on a budget for this half term. My boys have more than enough toys to occupy them but you know what it's like, they seem to lose interest in anything they already own and you're never more than a few minutes away from the dreaded "MUUUM, we're bored" routine.

A few days ago we were stocking up at Aldi when I spotted this cool box (OK, did I just say that out loud??) but I just knew it would occupy the boys so I nabbed it and used it for our shopping.

Fast forward to today when we broke out the felt tips, broke the box in half and let each boy create their own little 'stage'. I knew Milo would want a train track so I helped him just a teensy bit ;)


Easy American Biscuits

I've been making american biscuits for a few years now and finding the perfect recipe has so far alluded me. If you've never tried and american biscuit then I'd say it's similar to a savoury scone but softer and fluffier and best served warm - you typically make them to soak up any gravy after a feast of chicken and mashed potatoes. YUM.

I came across this recipe on my blog travels and couldn't believe it's minimal ingredients. Double cream and flour. THAT'S IT. Surely this is a typo? But nope, I was proved wrong when I made them and they came out delicious!

The key to this recipe is to not overmix. I used a wooden spoon and barely worked the dough until it was combined, my biscuits came out a little 'rustic' as I had to re roll my dough after forgetting to flour the surface (d'oh!) but I'm definitely making these again so I've learnt a lesson for next time.