Mini Cookie Christmas Trees

These mini cookie Christmas Trees make a fabulous table gift.  I like to make the vanilla cookies with green icing and gingerbread cookies with white icing.

Cookie Dough

  • 225 g plain flour
  • 110 g caster sugar
  • 110 g butter
  • 1 medium egg
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • 6 or 7 concentric circle cutters (plain or fluted, it doesn’t matter)

Royal Icing

  • 1 kg icing sugar
  • 2 tbs meri-white meringue powder (or other powdered egg white)
  • 150 ml cooled, boiled water (plus more for thinning the icing later)
  • green food colouring (preferably a paste colour)

To Decorate

  • 3″ single thick cake boards – one per cookie Christmas tree
  • mini smarties
  • magic stars
  • dragées etc

First make the cookie dough.  Whizz the flour, butter and caster sugar in a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the egg and vanilla extract and blend until the mixture forms a ball of dough.  Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.

Once chilled, roll out the dough to 5mm thick and cut out your circles.  You’ll need about 6 different sized circles per tree, depending on how big you want them to be, but make sure you start with the smallest cutter size and gradually get bigger.

Bake the cookies at 160°C for about 8-10 minutes, turning half way.  Leave to cool on a wire rack whilst you make the royal icing.

Put the egg white powder into a mixing bowl and add a tablespoon of water.  Mix to a paste, then very gradually add the rest of the water, mixing carefully.  If you take a bit of time now and prevent any little lumps forming you’ll avoid blocked piping tubes later on.  Add the icing sugar and mix in thoroughly.  Now, carry on mixing (about 5 minutes if using stand mixer) until your icing is a really bright white colour and has reached stiff peak consistency.

Add a teaspoon or so of cooled boiled water until your icing reaches soft peak consistency.  Add enough green food colouring to get a nice, bright Christmas tree colour.

Spoon some icing into a piping bag fitted with a number 2 writing tube until it’s about one-third full.  If you don’t have any piping tubes then snip the very tip off the bag.  Carefully outline all the circles with icing and leave to dry for about 10 minutes whilst you thin the icing.  You can tell I was icing these well past midnight – when I came to take the photos they’re as wobbly as I think I’ve ever done!

Outlining the cookies

Outlining the cookies

Remove about half the icing and place in an airtight container.  You’ll need this later on.  GRADUALLY add more water to the remaining icing until it reaches flooding consistency.  I do this using a syringe, adding no more than 5 ml at a time.  To test the consistency, drizzle a teaspoon of the icing into a figure of 8 on the surface.

Count how long it takes for the shape of the 8 to disappear leaving a completely flat surface.  When this happens on the count of 10 you have the correct consistency.

If it takes longer than the count of 10 continue adding more water GRADUALLY.  If the figure of 8 disappears before you’ve counted 10 it’s not a disaster – the icing will just take a lot longer to dry.

Once you’ve got the correct flooding consistency half fill a piping bag fitted with a number 3 writing tube, or alternatively pour into a plastic squeeze bottle. Fill the outlined cookies with icing and leave to dry overnight.

Flooding the cookies

Flooding the cookies

If you’re short of time, you can dry the cookies off in a very low oven (50°C) for an hour or so.  Once the icing is dry and set you can stack the cookies.

ready to stack

Dried cookies ready to stack

Using the saved icing, fill a piping bag fitted with a number 2 writing tube to one-third full.  Pipe a dot of icing onto your cake card and place the largest cookie onto the icing dot.  Now, pipe lines up and down the edge of the cookie, to look like the branches of the tree.

Part finished cookie Christmas tree

Part finished cookie Christmas tree

Pipe a dot onto the top of the cookie, add the next sized cookie and pipe all around the edge again.  Continue stacking the cookies, finishing  with piping in a swirl to cover the top cookie.  Working quickly, dot mini smarties, dragées etc around the tree to look like lights and baubles and top with a chocolate star.

Mini Cookie Christmas Tree

Mini Cookie Christmas Tree

Leave to dry for a couple of hours.

You can also make bigger versions of the Cookie Christmas Tree.

Cookie Christmas Tree with dragees

Cookie Christmas Tree with dragées

If you’re happier baking than arranging flowers then I definitely recommend making one as a Christmas Day table centrepiece – great to look at and you get to eat it too!

Cookie Christmas Tree with smarties

Cookie Christmas Tree with smarties

Cheese Straw Stars

These cheese straw stars are a Christmas variation on a classic favourite.  I like to make them with a bit of bite, but if you prefer a milder taste then either substitute the cayenne for paprika, or just leave it out.

  • 200 g strong cheddar
  • 50 g butter
  • 100 g plain flour
  • ½ tsp mustard powder
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • really good pinch cayenne pepper (for a milder version substitute with paprika which gives them a lovely, subtle warmth)
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbs soft cheese

Put everything except the soft cheese in a food processor and whizz up until you have fine breadcrumbs.  Add the soft cheese and pulse until the mixture comes together into a dough.

Turn out the dough, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 20 minutes in the fridge.  You can bake them straight away, but they’ll spread more and lose their shape slightly if you do.

Stamping out the cheese stars

Stamping out the cheese stars

Once chilled, roll out the dough to 3-4mm thick. Stamp out as many star shapes as you can, re-rolling the dough each time.  This is quite a dry dough, but don’t worry – it makes the finished stars quite flaky.

Bake at 180°C for about 8 minutes, depending on the size star cutter you have.

Finished cheese straw stars

Finished cheese straw stars

Once baked, cool on a wire rack.  These will keep in an airtight tin for about a week.

P. S    At Halloween I make them using my feet cookie cutters and call them cheesy feet!

Christmas Cupcakes

If you’re feeling festive but haven’t much time for baking these Christmas Tree Cupcakes are really quick to make and look impressive too.

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 2 large eggs
  • weight of the eggs in caster sugar
  • weight of the eggs in butter
  • ¾ of the egg weight in self-raising flour
  • ¼ of the egg weight in cocoa powder
  • 12 brown cupcake cases (you can use any colour of course, but these give the cupcakes a nice “tree trunk” effect)

Alcoholic Syrup – optional

  • 80 ml water
  • 80 g caster sugar
  • 40 ml liqueur of your choice

Buttercream Icing

  • 125 g butter
  • 125 g icing sugar
  • green food colouring

To Decorate

  • silver balls / multi-colour dragées / mini smarties
  • icing tube – red, yellow, whichever colour you like for the “tinsel”
  • chocolate stars

Make the cupcakes by the all in one method.  Simply add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix together until the mixture is light and drops off the spoon easily.  Spoon into the cupcake cases.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes at 160° C. They’re done when the centre of the cupcake springs up when you press it gently.    Remove from the tins straight away and leave on a wire rack to cool.

At this stage (if the cupcakes are for adults) I like to add a syrup made with a liqueur such as Tia Maria or Cointreau.  Gradually dissolve the sugar in the water, then boil for 1 minute.  Leave to cool before adding the alcohol.  If you have one, a medicine syringe makes it easier to control drizzling the syrup onto the top of the cupcakes.  Start with small drops to avoid the liquid just dripping off the top of the cakes and onto the worktop.

Soaking the cupcakes

Soaking the cupcakes

Make the buttercream icing by mixing the softened butter with the icing sugar.  Like Nigella, I make mine in a food processor; it’s quicker and you don’t have to sift the icing sugar first.

Colour the buttercream icing to a nice bright Christmas tree colour.  I like using gel colours for buttercream; they don’t alter the consistency of the icing as much as liquid food colourings and mix in better than the more solid paste colours.

Pipe the buttercream around the cupcake top gradually moving in towards the centre and raising the height of the buttercream.  Finish by pulling the icing tube up directly above the centre to get the “top of the tree” effect.

Pipe a swirl of icing “tinsel” in a spiral around the buttercream tree.  Sprinkle on silver balls / dragées / mini smarties for the baubles and lights and top the tree with a chocolate star.

Christmas Tree Cupcakes

Christmas Tree Cupcakes

If you’re looking for any more last minute baking ideas I’ll be on BBC Radio Derby on Christmas Eve between 10 and 11am.  All the recipes will be posted on here over the next few days.

Maths & Baking Part 3

Well, after the fun that was the Science Grrl launch and the whirlwind of Eat Your Heart Out Mr Quirky and I were really looking forward to a fun night out as Festival of the Spoken Nerd made their long awaited visit to Derby. Well, how could I resist the excuse to spend my day off doing more baking!

First up were the props for the show. Back in the summer Matt Parker asked if it would be possible to make some custard creams in the shape of a Pythagoras triangle as a surprise for the last show in FOTSN’s run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  How could I resist!  I’d thought a little about how to decorate them but my first attempts were less than satisfactory, so I was glad of the chance to have another go.   This time, I took inspiration from making Hot Cross Buns, and simply thinned down some of the biscuit mixture with milk in order to produce a piping consistency.

Pythagoras Triangle Custard Creams waiting to be sandwiched together

I settled on a suitably maths related decoration – you might just be able to spot the infinity and pi signs I piped around the edge to mimic the classic custard cream design.

The finished FOTSN Pythagoras Custard Creams

Following on from my musings on a Menger Sponge cake I decided to go back a step and make a cake based on the basic Sierpinski Carpet pattern upon which the Menger Sponge is based.  A Battenberg cake seemed the obvious way to go.  You could make it in any combination of colours and/or flavours.  This one was chocolate and vanilla.

First you make all the sections – easy in a Battenberg tin.

Sierpinski Carpet Cake Sections

Then you simply trim and assemble the cake, as you would for a normal Battenberg.

Sierpinski Carpet Cake

Of course once you’ve made one section you can make your Sierpinski Carpet Cake as big as you want.  I did contemplate making one of the subsequent iterations, but the combination of only having one tin, and baking with a migraine meant I settled for this one.

We had a fabulous time at Festival of the Spoken Nerd – if you’re as geeky as us and like your comedy too then do go and see the show if you can.  One last thing – I haven’t yet given up on biscuits of constant width – as soon as I can get hold of the supplies I need I’ll be baking as long as it takes to nail that one.

Eat Your Heart Out

Last Thursday I was thrilled to deliver some cookies and a cake which I’d been planning for months.

Eat Your Heart Out took place over the weekend in the Pathology Museum at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London (part of Queen Mary’s University). This most unusual pop-up cake shop brought together my two passions: baking and science. As an interested non-scientist I am drawn to projects which use unusual ways to engage and educate me about scientific concepts.

I knew that it was going to be amazing from reading Miss Cakehead’s blog in the run up to the event, and have to admit to being somewhat in awe of the talent shown by my fellow cake decorators: in particular the work of Miss Insomnia Tulip, Nevie Pie Cakes and the Conjurer’s Kitchen really stand out.

I was completely thrilled then at the reaction to my Necrotizing Fasciitis cake.    Ben Stansall (AFP/Getty Images) took the most fabulous photo of my cake which was named on the Guardian newspaper’s website as one of the “Best News Pictures”  from around the world that day! (Scroll down the page to 17:24pm for my cake.)  That was just the start of a whirlwind couple of days in which we saw the photo of my cake appear on news websites from Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Chicago USA, and various other European countries.  There was even some video footage of me finishing the cake by AFP (lots of shots of the other cakes too).

If you’ve never heard of Necrotizing  Fasciitis before (and many haven’t) then you can find out more about it here and on Wikipedia – but I would suggest only clicking the links if you’ve a strong stomach!

The cookies I made were inspired by the Wellcome Images competition.  I love the colours and shapes of individual cells and so the idea of producing some cookies based on deadly bacteria and viruses was bound to emerge.  I did some research on mortality statistics from across the world, then narrowed down my selection further based on what images were the most visually appealing.  Spanish ‘flu may have wiped out millions, but it wasn’t going to make a great looking cookie!

You can see more of the event on the Eat Your Heart Out  blog and Facebook page.   The following are just a few of my own pictures of the cake and cookies I made.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – we were working very late at night in order to get the cake and cookies finished, and so I didn’t have much time to set up the photos.

sponge carved and ready to cover

fondant cut away to form diseased section of the leg

Injured / Infected Leg Cake

The Finished Necrotizing Fasciitis cake

Infected Leg Cake

Necrotizing Fasciitis Cake Details

Petri Dish Cookies

Bacteria & Virus Cell Petri Dish Cookies

Top row left to right: Salmonella, Legionella, Smallpox.
Bottom row left to right: Bubonic Plague, MRSA, Ebola.

A huge thanks goes to Miss Cakehead and Carla Connolly at the Pathology Museum for organising such an inspiring event, and for asking me to contribute. This was definitely one of the highlights of my cake career so far.

Science Grrl

Regular readers will know that we like nothing better than to spend as much time as possible in the Quirky Kitchen baking geeky treats and boy, have we been geek baking this month.

This week saw the launch of the Science Grrl Calendar- a fabulous idea that emerged from the backlash against THAT video from the European Commission. It was a really inspiring evening, listening to fabulously glamorous scientists enthusing about their subject.  WID & I were delighted to be there along with quirky junior Hannah who was particularly inspired by some of the younger women there.

The cookies I designed for the launch party at the Science Museum took direct inspiration from the calendar photo shoots. I’ve been working on and off at developing a way to make my cookies glow in the dark for a while now but as soon as I saw the first pictures from Lia Han and Ceri Banner’s photo shoot I knew I had to make it work for the launch party. Well, I’m happy to say we did it!

Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookie

Some of the cookies depicted individual inspiring scientists.  These included Jill Tarter (of SETI), Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered Pulsars), Rosalind Franklin (whose x-ray diffraction images helped Watson & Crick work out the double helix structure of DNA) and Hedy Lamarr (who along with being a famous Hollywood actress was a talented mathematician and inventor).

Jill Tarter & Jocelyn Bell Burnell Minifig Cookies

Rosalind Franklin & Hedy Lamarr Minifig Cookies

The other cookies were inspired by both the photo shoots themselves and the various scientific disciplines in which those featured work.

Earth, Sun, Stargazing & Exploding Supernova Cookies

Tsetse Fly & Neuron Cookies

PET Diagram & Magnet (with “Iron Filings” sprinkles) Cookies

Petri-dish & DNA Cookies

You might recognise the Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 and the circuit board cookie from my post about Ada Lovelace Day.

Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 & Circuit Board Cookies

What better than a glass of champagne to illustrate bubble physics?  I couldn’t resist adding popping candy to this one too.  The pump shown is the famous Broad Street Pump which had the handle removed when John Snow linked the water from the pump to an outbreak of cholera in 1854.

Broad Street Pump & Champagne Cookies

Of course, I had to make lots of the minifig scientists.

Minifig Scientist Cookies

We had so many lovely comments, but I think I was most thrilled with the reaction to the Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookies and my Rosalind Franklin Minifig Cookie.  It was also great to hear more from the scientists about how accurate I had (mostly) managed to be in icing them.  Thank you to all those who took the time to talk to me about the cookies and how I can improve them.
Do take some time to find out more about Science Grrl.  The calendar has already inspired both my girls.  You can buy yours here and help “inspire a generation” not just in sport but in science too.

Ada Lovelace Day

I’m continually inspired by science in producing the cookie designs for Quirky Cookies & Cakes.  So in honour of today being Ada Lovelace Day here’s a sneak preview of two of the cookie designs I’m making for the launch of the Science Grrl calendar at the Science Museum this Thursday.  Can you guess what the cookies are?

Do have a read about Ada and what she accomplished in her lifetime,  She really was an inspirational woman.  You can find out more about her on her Wikipedia page or there’s a Radio 4 programme about her here.  Why not join in with the celebrations and share a story about a woman scientist who has inspired you.

Maths & Baking Part 2

I’ve been promising myself that I’d get the time to develop these ideas a bit more before blogging about them, but months have passed and we’re still as chaotic as ever at Quirky Towers so here goes.  I’ve been fascinated with the idea of communicating ideas about science, engineering and mathematics in unusual ways for a while now. Much of my inspiration for baking comes from scientific concepts, indeed I’m more likely to be found reading a book about science and/or maths than anything else.  I’m especially inspired by projects such as Helen Storey’s Primitive Streak or the Wellcome Image Awards. Here are a few of my ideas so far.

I’m a huge fan of the Venn diagram.

Venn Diagram Quiche

Making a Venn Diagram quiche is tricky, but possible.  I used the thickest foil tins I could find, and cut them up to make the basic Venn shape like this.

A Venn Diagram pizza is much easier to make…..

Bacon & Mushroom / Red Pepper

and still looks fairly recognizable once cooked…

Venn Diagram Pizza

As soon as I read about the Menger Sponge in one of my favourite books Alex’s Adventures in Numberland I knew I had to make one.  Here’s my first attempt as a work in progress.

Menger Sponge Cake


I’m determined to get better at this one.  They’re the devil’s own job to cover in sugarpaste and so I’m rethinking my approach and will have another go soon.

My first homemade Pork Pi really didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.  WID & I went to school in Melton Mowbray, so the idea of using cured meat in a pork pie really goes against the grain, but I hoped the mixture of ordinary pork and bacon would mean the shape of pi would appear once the pie was cut.  It didn’t.

Pork Pi

Like the Menger Sponge though I’m determined to have another go at this one.

I’ve got lots more ideas (biscuits of constant width) which I hope to get nailed by the time the Festival of the Spoken Nerd come to Derby later this month, so watch this space.

Skull Cake and Cookies

I had a really fun commission recently for a young man’s 11th birthday – just make it gruesome! After a brief chat about designs, the theme of skulls quickly emerged as the way forward.  We had a really, really tight deadline for this commission – just a few days instead of our usual 4 week plus lead time.  Luckily, Quirky Towers is full of books about science.  We even had a model skull!

I love making marshmallow, and have thought for a while that it would be great for brains.

Skull cookies with Marshmallow Brains

I’m not done with marshmallow brains yet though – there’ll be more to reveal later this month for Eat Your Heart Out.

The cake was really fun to make.  If you don’t have a skull shaped cake tin (and let’s face it, who does?) then don’t despair – you can carve the skull from a couple of square cakes.

From this start

I covered it roughly in fondant, allowing it to crack and dry out in places to make the texture more like a really ancient skull.

I then made a start on adding fondant muscle groups, as though the cake was a partially completed forensic facial reconstruction. The finished cake looked like this.

Skull Cake

October is officially science month at Quirky Towers. Keep your eye on the blog for more science and baking fun during the next few weeks.

Em’s Horrible Histories Party Part 2

Em’s parties are the stuff of legend at Quirky Towers.  This year’s theme was Horrible Histories. You may remember my attempts at making her a dress for the party. Well we had a great time, with lots of history inspired crafts from Yellow Moon, history games invented by Em and the usual themed baking from the Quirky Kitchen.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the day.  Apologies for the lack of quality – we were too busy having fun!

Roman Empress Hannah, WWII Mummy and Restoration Princess Emily

The wrap the mummy game – great for Halloween parties too.

What else could you possibly eat other than Pepys Pizza – pizza in the shape of Samuel Pepys face!

Personalised Horrible Histories Cookies

Horrible Histories Wax Seal Cookies

Of course there had to be cookies!

The cake had scenes from the Great Fire of London, topped with Charles II holding a bottle of champagne as a nod to the Mathew Baynton in the Horrible Histories Charles II song.

Great Fire of London / Charles II Cake

Party anyone?

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