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 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.

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?

HotCan Cake

Every now and again I get a commission which I really, really enjoy making. Recently, I was approached by Amber Locke of Derbyshire Life magazine and Bear PR who asked if I could make a replica of a HotCan tin.

HotCan are a locally based company who make self-heating cans. The geek in me absolutely loves how these cans work, and so I was thrilled to be asked to make the cake.

There’s some more great photos on the HotCan Facebook page. I especially love the “Angry Chef” photo with the cake instead of the original can.

Thanks to HotCan and Amber for a really fun commission.

ER Hospital Cake

Although I’ve always baked traditional cakes, it wasn’t until I became a mum that I started making the carved novelty type cakes that are now my favourite to create.   So far Hannah has had everything from the Teletubbies, the Tweenies, and Groovy Chick in her early childhood, through lots of Harry Potter cakes to last year’s Twilight cake.

Twilight Cake

This year she wanted a medical theme.  ER has long been a favourite of hers; we just had to decide which bit of the set to recreate.  Hannah eventually decided on the green trauma room with her as the patient and, after several hours of watching DVDs, we found some clips which showed the whole room.

I had originally thought that in order to make the cake as detailed as we wanted to that I would have to take a whole week to make it.  However, the best laid plans etc… and after two poorly girls at the beginning of the week, and an order for Brown & Green, I found myself starting to decorate the cake on Thursday afternoon for the party straight after school on Friday. Not ideal to say the least.

Hannah was really keen to make the cake with me, but a heavy homework schedule meant that she only managed to make herself.  She did a great job for her first sugar figure don’t you think?

One of my favourite elements was the X-ray screen.  Hannah has had problems with her joints since being very young, and regularly ends up in A&E herself, so it was an obvious choice to depict her most frequently x-rayed limbs etc on the cake.

The walls were made of gum paste.  I was really nervous about these.  Normally I would allow at least 3 or 4 days for them to dry before attaching to the cake but this time they had less than 24 hours.

This wall had a blind on it, and this was made by overlapping rice paper strips,  and dusting with silver food colouring powder.

The cupboards were made by drawing onto rice paper with food colouring pens.  The rice paper simply adheres to the damp gum paste.

The coloured rice paper then had a further layer added, to make the cupboard doors and to give an overall impression of opaque glass.  At Emily’s suggestion, one of the cupboard doors was left open.

ER Hospital Cake

Given all the time constraints, I was really pleased with the finished cake.  Hannah and her friends were certainly impressed.

I really enjoyed making this cake for Hannah.  Happy Birthday to you! x

Love is in the Kitchen!

It’s been a fun Valentines Day here at Quirky Towers.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been baking lots of these.

So this morning, I had a lovely surprise when I came downstairs to the kitchen to see that Mr Quirky (WID to our twitter friends) had been there before me.

Now, much as hubs loves my cookies, I decided that this year I wanted to make something different for him, so this afternoon, I’ve been relaxing in the kitchen making chocolate bars and hearts with Emily. 

Hmmm……..chocolate……..!

It was lovely to get a break from baking cookies for everyone else and to make something fabulous for my hubs, and as Emily says, because “I love you Daddy”.

Whatever you get from your special person today, I hope you have a lovely time.

Christmas at Quirky Towers

Here at Quirky Cookies & Cakes  the last few days before Christmas are a really busy time.  We’ve been busy baking Christmas goodies, and now there’s just a couple of days left to get your last minute orders in.  We’ve had a lot of fun designing the cookies and developing some new recipes to tempt you all during the holiday season.  Here’s just a selection of some of the things on offer.

Large Cookie Christmas Tree Table Centrepiece

 

Christmas Design Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

 

Christmas Design Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

Some more Christmas Designs

Placename Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

Biscotti

If you’re tempted, you can get an electronic order form by e-mailing us.   We can post UK wide, but hurry as our last order date is 12 noon on the 20th December.

If you can’t see what you’re looking for here, then why not get in touch, we’d love to help!

Quirky Cookies on the TV!

So….did you see it!? 

 

Leslie Jordan, (Will & Grace) with one of my cookies.

Photo Courtesy of Claire Sutton of Things We Make

We were thrilled be asked to appear on Good Food’s Market Kitchen: Big Adventures” which aired last night, and is repeated again today at 3pm and on Sunday at 8am (Sky 249, Sky  HD 283 and Virgin 260).  The programme has spent all this week featuring the very best of Derbyshire Food and Drink, and I was to be seen at home here at Quirky Towers, baking my now famous cookies and telling the story of how I set up the business, Quirky Cookies & Cakes, 18 months ago.

I had such fun doing the filming.  It was really interesting to see the care and attention that goes into such a short piece of film.  After the VT insert was filmed I had to send some cookies down to the studio for a “taste test”.  This was the most nerve-wracking part of the show for me.  Even though I know my cookies have always got a fabulous reception, I was still nervous of how my baking (which is all self-taught) would stand up to tasting by professional chefs and food critics. 

Well, I needn’t have worried as they all LOVED them! 

It felt like a bit of a Duffield special episode, as I was pleased to see Steve Croot from Croots Farm Shop also appearing on the same episode.  You can see more of Steve, and my friend Claire who writes the simply marvellous “Things We Make” blog in tonight’s programme, which airs at 7pm.

And the best bit?  Well, two really. Firstly, the approval of fabulous food critic Tim Haywood , and secondly, Mr Quirky, watching with me last night, and telling me I reminded him of Delia!!!!!

The Geek Calendar

Here at Quirky Towers we are pretty geeky.  Mr Quirky is an analytical chemist, and in my former life as a wannabe academic researcher (although I started my PhD, the accident meant I didn’t finish it) my chief interest was in exploring how a teacher’s own knowledge of science impacted on their ability to communicate scientific ideas and knowledge to their pupils. I read physics books for fun, even though I didn’t even take physics ‘O’ Level, and have a not-quite-secret ambition of one day doing the physics degree I probably should have done all along.  Pretty geeky so far.

As a family, our main geeky obsessions are Harry Potter and Lego.  In fact, our very favourite even combines the two.  We’re currently wading though rebuilding all our Harry Potter Lego (and since we’ve got almost all the sets ever issued, you can guess what a tall order that is!)  And of course now we’re into advent, I’ve added my santa minifig keyring to my keys and put out the Lego Christmas decorations.  If you follow me on twitter, you’ll also have been hearing recently about my Lego baking obsession, but more of that another time……

Yes, we’re geeky and proud!

So when I heard recently about the Geek Calendar, I knew that it had to be the perfect addition to my study / office for the new year and ordered one straight away.

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar 

And that was the beginning of one of the more surreal experiences of my life so far which ended with Mr Quirky and I attending the launch party in London recently, bringing with us my collection of geeky and quirky cookies.

Geek Calendar Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

The Geek Calendar has been produced to raise money for the Libel Reform campaign.  It features lots of my geeky heroes and heroines, including Imran Khan of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Simon Singh, Dr Petra Boynton, Jonathan Ross, Ben Goldacre and Professor Brian Cox with fellow science tv presenter (& his wife), Gia Milinovitch.  You can still order one here until 15th December for UK orders (10th December for international).

We had the time of our lives, met some really interesting people (I learned lots about the ‘flu virus) and I drank what can only be described as probably far too much gin and tonic! You can just spot Mr Quirky on the right hand side here, in the appropriately geeky grey cardigan!

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar 

And the highlights of the night?  Well, this photo is pretty special….

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar 

It’s really hard to pick just one highlight, but I think what I shall always remember is being inspired to go back to my academic work.  Giving up my PhD was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Over the years I had reconciled myself to the idea that my life had taken a different direction, but I’ve vowed to myself that I’m going to at least start reading again, and the one lesson I have learned is that you never know where life might take you.  Now don’t all panic at once…..I’m not giving up the baking…..but maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to combine the two over the next few years.

 Science, libel reform and baking, all in one event. It doesn’t get much better than this!