Sunday 27 December 2009

Daring Bakers December 09 Challenge: Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I was so excited by this challenge as for the last three years at Christmas I have been telling myself that I would make a gingerbread house and yet one never materialised. So when Decembers challenge was announced as a gingerbread house I knew this year would be THE year.

Rather than attempt a big gingerbread house I decided to halve the recipe and make a smaller version to adorn the top of my Christmas cake. We had the choice of two recipes but I went for Anna’s recipe choice from Good Housekeeping as I know and trust their recipes. The recipe can be found here.

The side walls for my gingerbread house I cut 8 x 8cm square and the front and back I cut 8 x 12 but then cut two diagonal middle points from the 8-12 cm height to create the middle points on which the roof would sit. The two roof pieces I cut 12 x 8 so that they would overhang the walls a little on each side rather than fit snugly on top. It sounds complicated but in practise it’s quite straightforward.

A few people on the forums were saying that the dough was rather dry and crumbly, and following other peoples advice I left my dough overnight in the fridge before using it and had no problems with it. I also cut out a little door from the scrapes to attach later in order to make it stand out more.

When you want to decorate the house you need to do it while all the pieces are still flat and separate. If you try and pipe icing onto an assembled house it will be very tricky and the icing will probably run where you don’t want it to. I piped on a few windows and attached the door and stuck on a wreath I had made out of fondant. I wanted the roof to look like it was tiled and I discovered that using large chocolate buttons was ideal as they were light enough not to add too much weight and blended in well with the rest of the house. I simply piped on lines of royal icing and then stuck the buttons on top, slightly overlapping them. I think it gives a good effect.

Assembling the walls and roof of the house was rather fiddly. I glued all the walls together first using royal icing and simply held them in place until the icing was dry enough to support itself. The roof was more tricky as it was set against the sloping sides and gravity naturally made it slide down. In the end I solved this problem by propping up the roof on either side with the weights from my weighing scales. I left it well alone for several hours until the icing glue had dried hard before nervously removing the weights…hurrah it worked! The roof felt quite sturdy and well attached. I had some mini snowflake sprinkles and decided to add these along the top edge of the roof to resemble crenulations which I think was a nice finishing touch.

After covering my Christmas cake in marzipan and fondant I simply placed the gingerbread house on top and decorated the surrounding cake with a few trees and an adorably cute snowman I made out of leftover fondant. I wanted the house to look like it belonged on in the scene, rather than just plonked randomly on top of the cake. I also added a little snowflake path and gave everything a light dusting with icing sugar. I love the look of it on the trees and rooftop, it makes it look as though there has been a light snowfall and very festive. I could almost imagine a little family sitting inside, enjoying Christmas day.

Thanks Anna and Y for choosing such a fun and festive challenge. Click to see a list of fellow Daring Bakers and their gingerbread houses.

For anyone who remembers me soaking the fruit and baking the Christmas cake a few weeks back, here is what it looks like after we cut into it on Christmas day. Packed full of sweet and moist fruits, some chewy, some soft or tangy and the occasional little crunch from the dried figs. The cake was light and nicely spiced with the odd nugget of an almond.

Friday 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas everyone!
I just wanted to share with you my finished Christmas cake, the one I made on the blog a few weeks back. I decided to decorate it with a gingerbread house this year, which was ideal as a gingerbread house was this months Daring Bakers challenge. I made a mini version so I could put it on the cake. I think it looks so cute with the little snowman for company. I will be posting a proper report for Daring Bakers in a few days time when most of the festivities are over (we get a week to post about this one).
Until then I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Spiced Christmas Biscotti with Raisins, Dried Blueberries, Almonds & Pistachios

Biscotti are the perfect homemade Christmas gift as they keep well for a couple of weeks thanks to their being twice baked. This means you can make them a little ahead of time or send them off in the post without fear of them going stale. This is especially good at Christmas when people are more likely to be inundated with food, most of which has to be eaten straight away and so can run the risk of it being overlooked. Once the turkey has gone and the mince pies gobbled up, the little packet of biscotti will still be there to savour and munch on with a well earned cup of tea/coffee. That being said don’t let this fool you into thinking biscotti are dry and dull, they are anything but. Biscotti are crisp with a light open texture and are ideal for dunking into a hot drink or a glass of sweet dessert wine. They are often packed full of chunks of almonds, chocolate chips, candied peel or dried fruits meaning they are anything but boring.

When I decided to make biscotti this year I wanted one that would incorporate a little festive flavouring and this recipe hit just the right note. It’s studded with chunks of almonds, raisins, chewy dried blueberries and creamy pistachios. The dough includes hints of orange and mixed spice which give it a very warming flavour and aroma. The colour of the fruit and nuts and the mix of chewy fruits and nuggets of almond all encased in a crisp and crunchy biscotti make for one tasty biscuit.

I used lightly salted pistachios in my biscotti, mainly because I couldn’t find unsalted ones, and this resulted in a faint salty note every time I bite into one, which may sound odd and unpleasant in a sweet biscuit, but it actually worked really well against the sweet chewy fruits.

Traditional Italian biscotti (like this one) do not contain any butter, making them extra crisp, but if you prefer your biscotti with a slightly softer bite there are plenty of American style biscotti recipes around that do contain butter.

Once baked, sliced and baked again, my biscotti were packed into little cellophane bags and given little labels. I think this makes them look just as good as anything you can buy from shops or delis and ideal gifts for those hard-to-buy-for friends. Plus you can also change the add-ins to whatever suits the recipient, meaning they are bound to please.

Spiced Christmas Biscotti with Raisins, Dried Blueberries, Almonds & Pistachios
(Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine, 2008)
350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
Zest of 1 orange
85g raisins
50g dried blueberries
50g blanched almonds
50g shelled lightly salted pistachios (80g shell on)

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper or a silicone sheet.
Put the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and sugar in a large bowl and stir together to mix.
Chop the almonds in half and lightly beat the eggs until broken. Add to the dry mix along with the zest of the orange, fruits and shelled pistachios.
Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon until it starts to form into clumps, then use your hands to bring it together to form a dough. It may appear quite dry and first but do not be tempted to add any extra liquid as it does come together.
Turn the onto a lightly floured surface and kneed gently until no flour streaks remain. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a round log shape, about 30cm long. Place the dough logs onto the prepared baking tray, leaving as much room between each one as possible to allow for spreading during baking.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the dough has turned lightly golden brown and feels relatively firm when lightly pressed in the centre.
Remove from the oven and transfer the biscotti logs to a rack to cool for several minutes before slicing. Dampen two sheets of kitchen paper and lay these over the top of the biscotti logs to keep the top crusts soft – this prevents them from crumbling when you come to slice them.
Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 150C.
After 5 minutes, place a biscotti log onto a chopping board and use a bread knife to cut it into 1cm slices, at a slight diagonal to give long thin biscotti.
Lay the biscotti slices on their side back on the baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes before flipping the slices over and baking for a further 5 minutes. (You will probably only fit one lot of biscotti on the baking tray at once).
Once baked, immediately transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool and repeat with the remaining log.
Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or package into small boxes or bags to give as gifts.
Makes 40-50 biscotti

Sunday 20 December 2009

The Cake Slice December 09: White Chocolate Layer Cake

This month’s cake choice was particularly fitting for this time of year, especially as we had snow this week, a completely white cake. It comprises of three layers of white chocolate enriched cake, filled and topped with a sticky creamy white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

I was not particularly fond of this cake. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with it, I’m just not a lover of white chocolate so this cake was never going to be my ‘to-die-for’ cake from the start. Despite this I can appreciate that it was a very nice cake. The layers were dense yet still moist and fluffy and the frosting was incredibly smooth and creamy. It was very sweet, too sweet for my liking, but I suspect this is largely due to the white chocolate. My first thought on taking my first bite was Milkybar and I had images of the blonde haired Milkybar Kid float round my head which made me smile. It had that same sticky-sweet yet creamy taste and flavour to Milkybar. If you are a fan of white chocolate then this cake is for you as white chocolate makes an appearance in both the cake and the frosting.

I might try making this cake again, but replacing the white chocolate with dark as I think this would produce a lovely cake and would help balance out the sweetness.

As this cake was essentially our groups Christmas cake I set the group the extra optional challenge of decorating it with the theme – Snow. This seemed very fitting considering the cake itself was completely white.

I chose to decorate mine with some snowflakes I cut out of fondant using some very cool make-your-own-snowflake-design cutters that were an early Christmas present (thanks Mum!). I also dusted the top with some edible blue glitter which is something I only recently discovered and I think it adds a frosty nighttime feel as well as adding a little Christmas sparkle.

White Chocolate Layer Cake
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
For the White Chocolate Cake
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
115g white chocolate, finely chopped
110ml boiling water
200g butter, softened
450g caster sugar (I used 300g)
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
225ml buttermilk (see note below)

For the White Chocolate Frosting
175g white chocolate, finely chopped
350g cream cheese, softened
35g butter, softened
¾ tsp vanilla extract
375g icing sugar

Method – White Chocolate Cake
Heat the oven to 180C and grease three 8 inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of waxed paper or kitchen parchment and flour the pan.
Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix them well.
Bring 3 inches of water to an active simmer in the bottom of a double boiler or a saucepan that will accommodate a medium heat proof bowl so that it sits snugly over the water. Melt the white chocolate in the top of the double boiler or in the bowl over the simmering water. Stir often, and then pour in the boiling water and stir to mix well. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, combine the butter and the sugar and beat with a mixed at medium speed to mix them together well. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating each time to keep the mixture smooth. Add the white chocolate and the vanilla, and stir well to mix.
Add about a third of the flour mixture, and then about half of the buttermilk, beating with a mixer at low speed just long enough after each addition to make the flour or buttermilk disappear. Mix in another third of the flour, remaining buttermilk and then the last of the flour.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they are foamy and opaque. Continue beating at high speed until they swell into thick, pillowy mounds and hold peaks that are stiff, but not fry. Add one third of the egg white mixture to the bowl of batter, and fold it in gently using a spatula. Add the remaining egg whites and continue to fold with a light touch, until the egg whites are blended in well, with only a few streaks showing.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake at 180C for 25-30 minutes until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched gently in the centre and are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans.
Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for about 30 minutes. Turn them out onto the racks and peel off the paper and turn them back the right way up to cool completely.

Method – White Chocolate Frosting
In the top of a double boiler or a heatproof bowl, melt the white chocolate over hot, not simmering, water, stirring often. Remove from the heat once melted and let cool to lukewarm. Transfer the melted white chocolate to a large bowl, and add the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Beat together at medium speed until you have a smooth sauce. Add the icing sugar and beat until smooth.

To Assemble
Place one layer, top side down on a cake stand or serving plate and spread it with about a fourth of the icing. Continue stacking and frosting each cake layer in the same way. Cover the sides of the cake with any remaining frosting.
Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Set the cake out about 30 minutes before you want to serve it.
Makes one 8 inch triple layer cake

NOTE: If you can’t find buttermilk, stir 1 tbsp lemon juice into 225ml of milk and leave to stand for 10 minutes before using.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Gingerbread Christmas Cookies

I love baking a batch of gingerbread cookies every Christmas. There is something so exciting about hunting out the Christmas cutters which make an appearance but once a year and cutting out all the fun shapes. The house fills with festive aromas as they bake, treacle and spices, and then spending a happy few hours decorating them to your hearts content. Getting creative with icing, sprinkles and glitter while Christmas songs play on the radio. It also snowed for the first time this week, so I really was in a highly Christmas mood. It was almost cliqued!

Although the cookies look lovely baked au-natural, it’s amazing what a little icing can do to really bring them to life and make them look special. I found a very easy way to decorate the Christmas tree cookies, simply pipe on a zig-zag of icing and then press the cookie lightly into a plate full of coloured sprinkles. Give it a little shake and you end up with a tinsel stream of sprinkles and no mess! Simple yet so effective.

I got an early Christmas present of some snowflake cutters last week. My mum found them and couldn’t resist giving them to me early so I could get use of them before Christmas day. Thanks mum! You can cut out a snowflake shape, but then cut out a middle design using special inside cutters to produce your own unique shaped snowflakes. So much fun!

I decorated the big ones like giant lacy snowflakes and the mini ones got a little sprinkle of some blue edible glitter for a magic frosty touch.

There were also angelic angels, smiling stars and bells.

I put little holes in the top of some of the cookies before baking which enabled me to thread a some ribbon through the tops and hang them on the Christmas tree. I was sitting next to the tree last night while watching television and the warming gingerbread smell drifting off the cookies was making me hungry.

They would also make great gifts, packed into little cellophane bags or just to have on hand for when friends call round. This is also my entry to Food Blogga’s Eat Christmas Cookies event. Click here to see the other entries.

Gingerbread Christmas Cookies
185g butter
200g soft brown sugar
350g plain flour
1 egg
2 tsp ground ginger
1½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp black treacle

To Decorate
Royal icing
Spinkles, glitters etc

Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg followed by the black treacle.
Add the spices and sift over the flour. Using a spatula, work the flour into the batter until a dough is formed. Use your hands towards the end to bring the mix into a dough. It will seem too dry as first but don’t be tempted to add any liquid as it does suddenly come together.
Kneed it gently until smooth. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and flatten slightly into a disc. Place in the fridge for 30minutes to firm up.
After 30 minutes, preheat your oven to 175C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Cut the dough in half and working with one piece at a time, roll it out on a floured surface until 3-4mm thick. Cut out a variety of shapes using festive cutters and place on the baking trays. They don’t spread so you can place them quite close together.
Bake in the oven for 8 minutes until golden and crisp.
Allow to cool for 2 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Once cooled, decorate with royal icing and sprinkles as desired.
Makes 45-55 cookies depending on size.

Note: If you want to hang some of the cookies on the Christmas tree, cut out a small hole at the top of each cookie using the tip of a small piping nozzle before baking. Tread through a piece of ribbon when cool.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Go with the Grain: Festive Rice and Spelt Salad

I was invited to a friend Christmas get together where we swapped cards and presents over lunch. I am fortunate that a number of my friends also enjoy cooking so we usually operate on a bring and share lunch. I was asked to bring a salad and my first reaction was “that’s not very exciting” but then I thought why not add some Christmas colours and flavours and made it a fun festive salad, thus this salad was born.

I had no recipe in mind and instead set off browsing the shop shelves trying to decide what I considered to be festive flavours which would work in a salad. Strangely enough my first thoughts were cinnamon and cardamom and so the idea of doing a spiced rice salad was born. I then thought of adding some fruit and settled on dried cranberries and pomegranate seeds – both gorgeous red colours and very festive. Nest into the basket was some pistachios, for their wonderful mottled green colour and some spring onions for freshness and crunch. I decided to add orange zest to complement the cranberries but on my way to the shelf I passed a stand of clementines which seemed much more festive and so I used that instead. I decided to see if I could get some wild rice too to add a different texture and discovered a packet of spelt grain whose nutty flavour appealed instantly, so in it went. I then thought about some sort of dressing to combine everything together and decided on a simple mix of olive oil and a little honey to add a little sweetness and moisture while still allowing the other flavours to be the main star. I also picked up a packet of fresh mint, which I have discovered goes wonderfully with pomegranate. So armed with my colourful, albeit a little odd mix of ingredients I went home and started creating my salad.

As cardamom can be quite a strong spice I decided to add the pods to the water the grains cooked in and then fish them out afterwards to allow the flavour to subtly permeate into the grains without being overpowering. This worked well and produced a faint fragrant overtone to the grains. I have never added pomegranate seeds to a salad before, but I have seen Nigella do it a number of times and I felt quite the domestic goddess as I sprinkled them in – all shiny and jewel-like.

Once finished I wasn’t at all sure how it would taste, but in my head all the flavours went together and the gorgeous mix of glossy reds and shades of green looked so beautiful together that I was more excited than concerned.

I tried my first spoonful and couldn’t help grinning. My mouth filled with so many layers of flavour, but each came in their own wave and didn’t seem to contradict the other ingredients. The first taste was of a lightly spiced earthy grain but then the sweetness of dressing and clementine flavours appearance, which were then balanced out by my biting down on the tartness of the cranberries and a burst of earthy pomegranate juice all finished with a hint of mint and a zingy sensation. Success! It didn’t just taste good, it tasted fabulous, so fresh and vibrant and definitely festive. It got a lot of positive comments at the lunch party, not everyone liked the pomegranate seeds, but you can’t please everyone. Either way as far as salad is concerned this ones a keeper!

Festive Rice and Spelt Salad

100g long grain rice
100g spelt grain
100g pomegranate seeds (a fresh pre-prepared pack is ideal)
65g pistachios with shell (50g minus shell)
50g dried cranberries
2 spring onions
1 clementine, zest and juice
6 large mint leaves
4 cardamom pods
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp runny honey

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Crack the cardamom pods so that the inside seeds are exposed and add to the pan of water. Do not crush completely as you will want to fish them out later. Find out how long your spelt takes to cook (usually around 50minutes) and how long the rice takes to cook (often 12-15 minutes).
Add the spelt to the pan of boiling water and cook on a simmer. Add the rice to the same pan once the spelt has 12-15 minutes left to cook, so that both grains will be cooked and ready at the same time.
Once cooked, drain the water from the pan and cover the grains with lots of cold water to stop the cooking process and help it cool down quickly.
Meanwhile, prepare the remaining salad ingredients. Remove the pistachios from their shell and roughly chop so that some nuts are in pieces while others remain whole.
Place the dried cranberries into a small bowl and add the zest and juice from the clementine. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds which will enable the cranberries to rehydrate, plump up and become glossy. Slice the spring onions into small pieces.
Place the cooled rice and spelt into a large serving bowl, removing the cardamom pods. Add the pistachios, orange infused cranberries, pomegranate seeds and spring onions.
Finely shred the mint and add to the bowl along with the cinnamon.
Mix the honey and olive oil together until well combined. Drizzle over the salad and mix everything together well ensuring all the ingredients are evenly distributed and covered in a little of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4 as a main or 8 as a starter. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Aldi Christmas Goodies

Yesterday I received a lovely box full of Christmas goodies courtesy of Aldi. They asked if I would like to sample some of their new Christmas food and I was happy to accept their offer. I informed them I was a Vegetarian, as I know some mince pies and mincemeat contains animal suet, which I avoid. They promised to select a range that would be Vegetarian friendly and they didn’t disappoint! They sent a selection of their new Specially Selected range including mince pies, Christmas pudding, butter fudge, a bar of mint chocolate and an adorably cute milk chocolate reindeer. I was also delighted to find snuggled in the bottom of the box a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc wine which, due to the cold weather, arrived perfectly chilled! How generous.

My grandparents called round for the afternoon, perfect timing for sampling the mince pies. I was pleased to find that the pies resembled the picture on the box, prettily decorated with little stars and a sprinkling of sugar. I heated them briefly in the oven as I like my mince pies served warm. The pastry was nicely crisp, not too thick and buttery. The mincemeat was sweet, plump and contained a fantastic boozy brandy hit. This wasn’t your bog standard mincemeat either as alongside the usual raisins and currants the mix contained apple, dried cranberries and walnuts. The brandy was a little strong for my liking but my granddad said it was the best mince pie he’s tasted this year.

After dinner I tried the Christmas pudding. The first thing that pleased me was how rich and fruity it smelled and its dark glossy colour. It turned out well, although the base of mine was a little higgledy-piggledy so it didn’t sit flat, but this didn’t really detract from it. The hot pudding was soft, moist and absolutely jam packed with fruit. They hadn’t skimped on the almonds either as I had a chunk of one in almost every bite. It was a very large pudding so I’m going to use the rest to make little chocolate Christmas pudding truffles.

I haven’t tasted the other goodies yet but if they are a good as the mince pies and pudding then I’m sure they won’t disappoint. I’m going to buy more of those reindeers to give to my young cousins, they are so cute!

If you need help planning your Christmas day meal then TV chef Phil Vickery has put together an online podcast including a step-by-step Christmas day meal plan and an online video recipe of what to do with your leftovers, just click the links to view. Thanks Nadia and Aldi for the festive goodies.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Jordans Country Crisp Appreciation Society Day

Yesterday I was one of a few lucky bloggers to be invited to the first Country Crisp Appreciation Society day run by Jordans Cereals at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. I was delighted about this as I adore cereal and have been eating Jordans products for many years. For those of you who don’t know, Jordans produce a delicious range of oat based mueslis, cereal bars, porridge oats and Country Crisp clusters. They are based in Biggleswade, in my own hometown of Bedfordshire and use only the finest natural ingredients in their cereals.

Some of the other cereal enthusiast bloggers were:
Kavita of Kavey Eats
Signe of Scandilicious
Mathilde of Mathilde’s Cuisine
The Muesli Lover
Greedy Diva
The Ginger Gourmand
Danny of Food Urchin
Maunika of Cook in a Curry

Jordans Country Crisp cereal has been around for several years, and comprises of clusters of oats and barley baked into various sized clusters. It comes in many varieties depending on what add-ins you have with it. I have always favoured the raisin one which has lovely giant chewy flame raisins mixed in with it. The crisp clusters are hugely popular and the whole Country Crisp range has now got such a fan base that Jordans have just launched a Country Crisp Appreciation Society. People can’t get enough of it and are eating it not only at breakfast but also baking with it and snacking on it straight out the box. As a result they have recently launched a honey variety which is designed with snackers in mind – bigger clusters with no add-ins to pick through, although, it does of course still taste great for breakfast.

After a meet and greet one of the two founders of Jordans, Bill Jordan himself then gave us a talk about the history and philosophy behind Jordans. He was ever so friendly and stayed to answer all our questions as we got down to some baking. Apparently it took 83 different recipes before they achieved the perfect cluster – now that’s dedication! Jordans were also the first to offer freeze fried berries in its cereal and all its oats are grown in the fields near the factory and to conservation standard.
Jordans head of taste, Kirsten, then talked us through a Country Crisp Pear and Chocolate Crumble Cake we would be baking using Jordans Chocolate Country Crisp. We were each given our own work space and ingredients and set about baking. It was a vanilla sponge cake, studded with chocolate chips, topped with a layer of Chocolate Country Crisp, sautéed sliced pears and a final sprinkle of more Country Crisp. The recipe can be found here. It produced a delicious cake and it was interesting to see how everyone’s cake turned out a little differently, even though we had all followed the same recipe. The way the pears had been sliced or the amount of Country Crisp topping made each one unique.

While our cakes were baking Kirsten talked us through the secrets to making new Country Crisp recipes. There are 3 different cluster bases, Vanilla, Nutty and Honey from which to add and create new products. Getting the clusters just right took a lot of research. Customers told Jordans they liked the big clusters but then complained that it was too much to chew if the pack only contained big clusters. Too many small clusters meant they weren’t clustery enough. Jordans have found that a mix of small, medium and large clusters is most successful. To do this they sort and grade the clusters after oven baking them to ensure every box is perfect. Even the add ins have proved problematic as high water content fruits like peaches proved too bland and the cut or shape of a nut dramatically changes the texture and mouthfeel of the cereal. It’s Kirsten’s job to taste and help develop the recipes – how fantastic a job does that sound!

We then got the opportunity to get creative and mix our own Country Crisp cereal using the oaty crisp clusters as a base and a fantastic array of add-in ingredients. I chose pecans, hazelnuts, giant flame raisins, pumpkin and sesame seeds, natural apple and apricot pieces and flaked coconut. I then went back and added a handful of dark chocolate curls – being curls they just melted in the mouth, and even sprinkled in a generous amount of cinnamon for an extra warming Christmassy scent. I was so excited by this as I absolutely adore cinnamon with nuts and chocolate, plus its meant to be very good for controlling blood pressure. Once our cereals were mixed we were then presented with our very own personalized country crisp cereal box complete with our picture and a short character description! How cool is that!!

I had a bowlful of the cereal this morning and it was divine. Nutty with crisp oaty clusters, chewy raisins, creamy coconut and the warming scent and flavour of cinnamon. If you live in the Bedfordshire area and fancy creating your own cereal mix then you can visit their shop in Biggleswade to stock up on all the raw ingredients they use in their own cereals or simply just pick up one of their ready made mixes from the shelves. I have visited the shop many times (it also sells a great assortment of herbs, spices and other gifty things) and found out yesterday that the lovely lady who runs it is actually Bill Jordans Mum!

It was a fantastic morning and we left with a bag full of our lovely goodies – pear chocolate crisp cake, personalized cereal and box and a couple of boxes of the Country Crisp cereal. Thank you so much to everyone at Jordans and Wild Card for arranging the day and it was great to meet so many cereal enthusiasts.