Things That Make My Life Easier: Baking Edition

This is a new series all about the tools and gadgets I have in my kitchen to make my life easier! I am a lover of course of the classics and for some things, no modern invention will compare but for others it is just foolish in my opinion, to not accept help when it has been so brilliantly designed! This baking edition features my top 3 things I can't go a recipe without so I do hope they make your baking lives easier too. 

Microplane Grater

I'm not going to tell you over and over to go and get one of these but my lord you have to. You know those slightly old lemons that are soft to the touch and so barely grate on a normal box grater? They'll be shaved to perfection with this dude and it makes light work of mincing garlic and ginger too- perfect for savoury cooking as well as sweet. 

Silicone Spatula

There's many spatulas out there but even the supposed professional red handled ones from Nisbets cannot compare to the usefulness of one like this. The end is wonderful and thin with proper corners so you can actually get the last of the mix out with no effort whatsoever! They're super easy to clean and I just hang them straight up to dry after use.  

Disposable Piping Bags

These little guys are so useful! Not only are they are dream for all the classic uses such as icings and macarons, they are also my key to making things look more professional. Piping cheesecake mix into jars for example or even putting my base layer of frosting on a cake - all made super easy and even with a piping bag, even if it doesn't have a nozzle in! A snip off the end does just the same!

Hallow's Eve Baking

It's here it's here! The night's are drawing in, I've not quite got out my big coat but I still feel as if time is running away with me - it must be Hallowe'en! The spookiest night of the year and one that I have always baked for every year without fail. When I was younger, the best parts were the Hallowe'en parties where a huge variety of freakish food and games kept us entertained, rather then walking round in the cold and dark to knock on stranger's doors in the village! 

I recently found out however that the trick or treating tradition did not come from our American counterparts, as I had wrongly always assumed, but indeed from further in the Pagan and then Christian roots that Hallowe'en prides itself in. It was once a form of begging for 'soul cakes' where the poor would visit the rich's houses and beg for these cakes in return for prayers on all the souls that lived at that address. This was done on Hallow's Eve from the Medieval period all the way up to the 1930's. Originally practiced on both Hallowe'en and Christmas, it soon turned into a request for food or coins and paired with the fun of dressing ghoulish became a firm favourite for Hallowe'en both here and in the States. 

I was also interested to learn that our beloved carved pumpkins were in fact originally carved turnips! Emigrates to the US soon learned that pumpkins and squashes of all kinds were far easier to carve and so took their knives to those instead. Some of the original imagery of carved turnips are even more terrifying than the big friendly orange faces we're used to today; definitely something to do with turnip's wonderfully craggy skin and deep colour range from purple to milky white. 

But enough of history! Back to baking... I've always had a pumpkin cookie cutter (lord knows why) and so have always found myself baking treats for trick or treater's as opposed to heading out and buying a mixed fun-size bag of mars bars [side note: whoever named them 'fun size' was obviously having a complete laugh...]. This year, I decided to branch out from the usual glace icing covering and work with royal icing as we've been doing so much detail piping at the bakery recently it seemed a good way of continuing with classic 'baker's piping hand cramp'! I love making a complete spread of a variety of bakes and so changed the design for a few and added some fondant pumpkins for a bit of texture. 

Flying Tiger, as usual, came up trumps for my little spiders and ghosts and I couldn't not make reference to Harry Potter's most famed evening could I? Hence the little RIP, Lily & James Potter mini-pumpkins too... Another famous Hallowe'en Party is of course the one in 'Mean Girls' so I couldn't forget that either! Karen's 'K' diamante applique being one of my favourite moments of that film as well as the now legendary line, 'I'm a mouse, duh!'... 

I used my classic shortbread recipe as I do for most decorated biscuits. It's so easy to do and has such a delicious flavour it can really work well on its own without much icing or it pairs well having a little more sweetness added to it with fondant or royal icing as I made here. My royal icing recipe is the most simple part of this whole thing - no weighing needed! I simply take as much icing sugar as I think I'll need and then add egg whites until I get the correct consistency. You're looking for a relatively thick icing to pipe outlines and words with and then you can always add another egg white or just a drop of water to let it down for filling in or 'flooding' as its properly called. I'll do a little icing tutorial post soon so you can see some videos of the correct consistency for different ones as well as how to get the lightest, fluffiest buttercream icing ever!