A panoply of (sometimes) lovingly handmade crud.

Tag Archives: birthday

The stars aligned for one of my increasingly rare opportunities to bake. I was hosting a gathering at my house for my quidditch team, one of whom was having a birthday the next day. Since she is lactose intolerant, I decided to have a go at a dairy-free bake. I looked specifically for a recipe that still included eggs, since I’ve had mixed success with vegan bakes in the past. This Nigella recipe popped up on Pinterest, so I decided to give it a go. The cake is also gluten-free.


The recipe states that the cake is best eaten warm, so I made the apple sauce in advance to save some time. The apple sauce was delicious- I might well make that again. I enjoyed this cake, especially considering it’s a ‘free from’ type recipe. Not the best pictures I’ve ever taken. I may have already started drinking when I was making this cake.


I finished sewing my fairytale Cleo dress just in time for my thirtieth birthday, which was yesterday. Hence a finished object being presented on a day other than a Friday. Gasp! Behold my now-haggard form.

My 30th was a mix of immaturity- cake for lunch and going to a ball pit (albeit an adult ball bit)- and age appropriate activity. The evening was spent at the Newport Street gallery.

There’s so much discussion when you’re a woman turning 30, and plenty to think about. When is it time to worry about settling down and having kids? Do I want to settle down and have kids? Am I happy in the life I have created for myself over the past three decades? Am I too old to wear a mini-dress with little mushrooms on it?

I have few comments on the Cleo dress pattern. Overall, I think it’s cute though I’m still not sure whether the style actually suits me. The dress was a quick make- two evenings in total, including plenty of mistakes and unpicking. I think the most time-consuming part was sewing all the patch pockets. I found Tilly’s tips on working with corduroy very helpful.

I made the size 2, but I probably should have just gone for the 3. I let the side seams out a bit as the dress looks nicer on me with a bit more room around the hip area. I made the dress quite short, the hem was over two inches.

I can see no reason not to add in-seam pockets to this dress. I may add afterthought pockets to this mushroom dress if I feel it’s going to get a lot of wear.

Pattern: Cleo by Tilly and the Buttons

Fabric: 2m needlecord in print, plus 0.5m in plain. I had leftovers of both

As anyone who follows me on social media (I’m @craftycrusader on Twitter and Instagram) may have picked up, I spent last weekend at Wilderness festival for a friend’s birthday. It was really good fun although I’m getting too old for sleeping on the ground for four nights in a row. I thought I would do a little roundup of some of the crafty aspects of the festival.

My Orza came in really useful. The weather was beautiful, which had the unexpected consequence of very cold nights once the sun went down. I also layered it with my Bradway shawl, which was a real lifesaver. Here’s the only picture of that ensemble.


My Acid Refresher socks also kept my feet toasty.


One day day I spent a very enjoyable two hours making a silver ring. I call it the annulus of uncertainty. In my work it’s very important to hold on to a sense of not-knowing and not be pulled into the position of an expert, and I hope this ring will help me to hold on to my sense of being okay with uncertainty.

I also love swearing, so a cheeky touch was that I engraved some curse words on the inside. I know it’ll always tickle me to have these words constantly on display, but also hidden.

Click the image to go to the uncensored version (NSFW)

Click the image to go to the uncensored version (NSFW)

I also made some sprinkle cookies for the birthday boy.


I can confirm that these cookies keep well in a boiling hot tent for five days.

I’m still plugging away with my craft knife and most recently made a small piece for a friend’s thirtieth birthday. The more I hear about turning thirty, the more I like the sound of it. I decided to emphasise the sunny aspect of growing older and wiser in the cut.


I wonder if this also represents an unconscious response to the feedback that my thesis celebration card was ‘too dark’. Ain’t nothin’ dark about a lovely sun, right? Right?

Here’s what the card looks like finished and backed.


The heart is totally there just for cuteness, and not to cover up a mistake I made right near the end.

I may have responded overly aggressively to a couple of people who asked whether this was a Valentine’s Day cake. Maybe I was asking for it by daring to make something red in February, but people need to know that I don’t do VD. It is the reason that I have had to call about ten restaurants to get a reservation on my birthday. I still don’t have the reservation, and the core of bitterness buried deep within my heart only grows bitterer. Or something.
Here’s the cake money shot.

I’m not going to post the recipe today. I will say that the cake was extremely well received and I was the most popular person in the office for a day. People are so fickle when they’re hungry. I really liked the combination of flavours and the cheesecake in the middle gave the cake a delicious velvety texture.

I found it via Pinterest here, though I think this is the original post.

Although the cake looked and tasted pretty good, I wasn’t entirely happy with the actual cake part. It was a bit dry and not as red as I would have hoped. The layers also didn’t stick together well, so it was difficult to cut and take nice pictures.

I’ve got a hypothesis about this matter. I think it’s the European Union. No, I haven’t turned into a frenzied Daily Mail reader in my age and decrepitude. I think that you’re not allowed the same crazy food colourings in the EU as you get in the States. Even though I put in the suggested 1/4 cup (1.5 bottles!) of red colouring, the cake just wasn’t red enough. I added additional quarter teaspoons of red paste colouring until it began to look redder, but I do think it left the cake with a more chemical taste than it ought to have had. I tried making red velvet cupcakes for my birthday four years ago and I had the same problem. At the time, I thought it was the recipe, but now I’m not sure. Have any English bakers had the same problem?

I’m also having a minor ongoing issue with my cream cheese frosting. I realised that part of the problem was that I use 300g tubs of cream cheese rather than the standard 250g, which was part of the reason it was coming out too soft. I’m now wondering if the generic soft cheese I use is part of the difficulty. Next time Philadelphia is on sale, I may experiment.

There are recipes for red velvet that use beetroot and raspberry juice to colour the cake rather than chemicals, and I think I’ll try one of these next time. Here are some process shots of the cake if you’re interested.


Here is the middle layer of baked cheesecake. This was my first attempt at baked cheesecake and I really liked it. I was quite lucky though as I was a bit cavalier with the foil and only narrowly avoided having loads of water leak into it from the bain marie.




Even though I made the cake and cheesecake in pans of the same size, I had to trim down the cheesecake. While the cake layers shrink a little after baking, the cheesecake layer spread. It’s very easy and quick to do, though.



This is the crumb coat. I refrigerated the cake for about an hour at this stage, before putting the final layer of frosting on.



These cupcakes were for one of my oldest friends whose dearest wish on her 27th birthday was a cake mountain. I’m pleased with my contribution. These were like the foothills. I know she loves white chocolate, hence the frosting. The crazy sweetness of the frosting is tempered by the rich darkness of the cakes. And glitter. Shiny shiny green glitter to remind us of the time we visited the Leprechaun Museum in Dublin. 20140330-223845.jpg

Pots of delicious gold.

I used my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe, which I halved because I knew there was a strong likelihood that there would be way too much cake at the party. I’ll give the full recipe, which makes 20 cupcakes. I also halved the frosting recipe, and ended up with enough frosting for 8 cupcakes. Again, I’ll give the full recipe. There aren’t many process pictures today because I was baking at night. Check out this earlier post for more pics. Frosting recipe adapted from here.


For the cupcakes

1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, at room temperature

1 cup (7 oz) sugar 2oz (60g) of your favourite chocolate

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fl oz) oil. I used walnut.

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup (3oz) full-fat sour cream*

1 cup (5 oz) plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup (2 oz) cocoa powder

1/2 cup (4 fl oz) room temperature coffee, water or a mixture

*I substituted Greek yoghurt as I didn’t have sour cream. It was okay, but I think the sour cream gives a more moist result, probably due to its higher fat content

For the frosting

6oz (170g) white chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup (230g) butter, at room temperature

2 cups (240g) icing sugar

¼ cup (60ml) double cream. I substituted milk, but cream gives a better frosting.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt (to taste, be careful if you use salted butter)


  1. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and preheat your oven to 180C (170 fan)
  2. Melt the chocolate. A minute in the microwave should do.
  3. Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. The mixture should resemble wet sand.
  4. Once the chocolate is cool enough to touch, add to the butter and sugar and mix until combined.
  5. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating between each addition.
  6. Add the oil, vanilla and sour cream and mix until combined.
  7. Sift the dry ingredients together into a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing between each addition.
  8. Add the water or coffee and mix until smooth.
  9. Divide the batter among your paper liners, filling each 2/3 of the way up. 1/3 cup of batter is about right.
  10. Bake for 14-20 minutes, until they pass the toothpick test
  11. Remove from pan immediately to cool on a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

  1. Melt the white chocolate and leave to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth. I made this frosting by hand with a wooden spoon and it came out really well. However, a hand or stand mixer may have given a slightly smoother result.
  3. Add the icing sugar about 1/2 a cup at a time and mix until smooth after each addition.
  4. Stir in the cooled white chocolate and then beat until creamy.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and salt, to taste.
  6. Add in the cream. If using milk, add slowly and stop when the frosting reaches the consistency you want.
  7. Beat until smooth.
  8. Spoon or pipe onto your cooled cupcakes. My trusty Wilton 1M tip has got a bit bent so the piping wasn’t as gorgeous as normal. Treat your piping tips with gentle loving care, peeps!



I was a busy baking bee last weekend. During a stressful period in 2012, I got a bit obsessed with the idea of rolled and iced sugar cookies even though I’d never tried to make them. My obsession was such that I spent a rather obscene amount on all the equipment- squeeze bottles, piping bag couplers, nozzles, cookie slats… the works. And I made cookies exactly once that year. These, to be precise


Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to make royal icing if you aren’t lucky enough to possess a stand mixer. I made this with an hand blender and while it looks okay, the icing really only stays shiny and brightly coloured for a day. After this, the cookies still look nice, but they lose their sheen and the colours mellow. I wouldn’t allow this to put me off using royal icing, I’ll just keep dreaming of the day that I become the proud owner of a stand mixer.

Anyway, enough yacking from me. This technique is adapted from Cookie Craft, which is an excellent book for anyone who wants to get into iced sugar cookies.

Makes approx. 40 small cookies


  • 1 cup nuts. I used pecans, but walnuts and almonds are reported to be lovely too.
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • If you use unsalted butter, 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2tsps vanilla

For the royal icing:

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon powdered egg white (OR 4tsps meringue powder)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or other) extract
  • A little warm water
  • Food colouring. Paste colour is best, but liquid works fine too. Just add slightly less water.

Special equipment

You can get by without any of this guff, but it’ll make life an awful lot easier if you plan to make cookies more than once.

  • Cookie slats- 1/4 inch thickness. I bought mine on-line, they can also be used to roll marzipan to a uniform thickness.
  • Baking parchment
  • Rolling pin.
  • Piping bag, preferably disposable with No. 2 piping tip and a piping bag coupler.
  • Squeeze bottles (optional)


  1. Put the nuts on a baking tray and bake in an oven at 180C until fragrant and light brown, about 10 mins. Watch them- they burn very quickly. Allow to cool.                                                    IMAG0708
  2. Mix together flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the cooled nuts with 2-3 tablespoons of the flour and salt mixture until the nuts are finely ground. The texture should be similar to wet sand with no large pieces that could disrupt the smooth surface of your rolled cookie.
  4. Pulsed nuts
  5. Add the ground nuts to the flour and mix together well.
  6. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.Creamed butter and sugar
  7. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until well blended.
  8. Gradually add the flour and nut mixture until the two are thoroughly mixed.
  9. Divide into two or three portions and form each into a rough disc. I froze half of my mixture at this stage (well, maybe a third as I ate so much of the raw dough. It’s delicious).
  10. Place a piece of baking parchment the same size as your cookie sheet onto your surface. This means that you can cut the cookies out and then transfer the whole sheet onto a baking tray and bake. Place your cookie slats either side, rolling pin width apart.
  11. Put your cookie dough on the parchment.                 Lump of dough about to be rolled
  12. Put another sheet of parchment, the same size, on top of the dough. Gently flatten the dough with your palm so that it is evenly distributed across the paper. Roll with your rolling pin on top of both cookie slats until perfectly flat. You’ll feel when this happens because the pin will glide across the dough with very little effort. If the top sheet of paper wrinkles, lift and smooth it.Rolled dough under parchment
  13. Slide the dough and paper onto a cookie sheet and chill until firm, around half an hour. If necessary, repeat the rolling process with any remaining dough.
  14. Once the dough is firm and stiff, return it to your worktop. Peel back the top sheet of parchment and cut out your shapes. Make sure you leave around 1cm between each shape as they will rise slightly in the oven.Star cutters on dough
  15. Remove any excess dough with a small offset spatula.Cut out unbaked letters
  16. When you’ve got as many cookies as you can out of the dough, squidge up and re-roll using the same method. The beauty of rolling using this method rather than flouring your surface is that the dough never becomes dry and unworkable.
  17. Bake on the middle rack of an oven at 180C (160C fan) for 10-16 minutes, until the cookies are just turning golden at the edges. It’s better to bake one sheet of cookies at a time.
  18. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.                Baked letter cookies
  19. Now it’s time to make the icing. And yes, this is hassle. To ice sugar cookies, you need the icing at two consistencies- pipe and flood. The first is stiffer so that it holds all the lovely shiny flood icing in. Now, I just make up the piping icing, colour it and pop it into the bag and then add water to make it flood consistency. It’s entirely possible that this is part of the reason why my royal icing doesn’t stay nice for very long. But I’m going to keep doing it this way until someone tells me otherwise.
  20. Combine the sugar, powder, extract and 3 tablespoons of warm water in a small bowl. The bowl should be small, or your hand mixer won’t be able to mix it very effectively. If you have a stand mixer, use that.Flood icing uncoloured
  21. Beat for 10 minutes. It should be glossy, with a consistency similar to toothpaste. You can test this by pushing a small amount of the icing into a No.2 pastry tip with your little finger and practice some loopsSwirls showing piping consistency
  22. This rather blurry picture is supposed to show that the loops should stay distinct and not run together once your icing reaches piping consistency.
  23. Transfer about a quarter of the icing to a small bowl and immediately cover with clingfilm. Royal icing should always be kept either covered or in an airtight container.
  24. Return to the bulk of the icing.
  25. Add about a tablespoon more of warm water. Mix until blended, with the consistency of double cream.
  26. Pour into your squeeze bottles and colour. Get those tops on straight away! If you don’t have squeeze bottles, use small airtight containers.
  27. Pouring flood icing into squeeze bottle
  28. Return to your piping icing. Colour it and then transfer to a piping bag, ideally fitted with a No.2 tip and coupler. Use a twist tie to secure the top, and then put another one about 2 inches further up the bag for safety. I used black paste colouring and had to add loads- over a teaspoon- to get even close to black.Black piping icing
  29. Here are all my colours ready to go. I think that 3 colours with black piping looks very effective.All colours of icing ready
  30. Begin icing! For the piping, hold the bag at a 45 degree angle to the cookie and apply firm pressure. Hold the tip a few millimetres above the cookie. I tend to hold it slightly higher for straight lines, then closer to the cookie for intricate bits.Piping outline onto A
  31. It’s quickest if you work in an assembly line method- do all the piping first, then all the icing. A fun idea for a party might be to pipe all your cookies beforehand, then let your guests squeeze in the flood icing themselves. Royal icing is fine if left to stand in the airtight squeeze bottles for a few hours.All outlines completed
  32. Now for the flood. Get all Noah on those suckers.Piping pink flood into star
  33. Leave to dry (if you can wait) before eating. These transport really easily with parchment between each layer of cookies. I added a little extra bling to a few of mine while the flood icing was still wet.Iced coloured cookies