Woodland Creatures Cookies and Tree Trunk Packaging

A couple of months ago, my friend Nikki asked me to come up with a concept. She wanted to make gifts to give to her children’s teachers at the end of the year as a thank you gift. What made this request really interesting is that Nikki is a genius with biscuits, royal icing, cake and fondant and I’ve been dying for an opportunity to pick her brains and to work on a project together, so this was the perfect excuse!

We also both have little ones very similar in age, so with this project we had crafternoons and play-dates all rolled into one! Admittedly it wasn’t easy, Munchkin and her friend O liked to keep us on our toes! But after quite a few catch ups and some work alone once the little ones went to bed of an evening, we got them done.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

When it comes to icing and piping work, I’ve not touched a piping bag in… years! And so when coming up with concepts my mind instantly went to things I felt I could help with. Then I remembered these amazing cookies I’d pinned a few years ago. I love the idea of using the cookie dough to create the image and then adding just a little icing for the details.

Detailed cutting and splicing I can do!

This is what I came up with. A series of woodland creatures including a fox, owl, hedgehog, squirrel and bear. All to be packaged up peeking out of a ‘tree trunk’.

Layout

Nikki mixed up a batch of each her (I’m told) delicious chocolate and vanilla doughs at home so as to avoid accidentally poisoning me with gluten, I was just very careful to wash my hands after handling the dough and definitely didn’t taste test it!

To make the cookies, we rolled the dough out using rolling pin guide strips so as to ensure all the dough was the same thickness, then put the dough in the freezer to harden up. Using templates created out of wax proof paper we’d traced, we then cut the hardened dough using a scalpel to get a nice clean finish (an X-acto knife would work just as well, just make sure you’ve given it a good clean first).

As fate would have it, we made these on the hottest days we’ve had this Summer! So we had dough cycling in and out of of my freezer making sure it all kept hard enough to assemble. We then spliced the pieces together, gently used our fingers to join the edges and baked them.

Unfortunately I had my hands so full of dough and babies that I didn’t get many photos taken during this process. But I’m going to re-create it with some gluten-free recipes and another template I’ve made to create a tutorial in the coming weeks.

This is what the owls looked like just before we baked them.

Woodland animal cookies

And this is what they looked like afterwards

Woodland animal cookies

Flash forward a few days, after we’d both completed cookies on our own (once the little ones had gone to bed) and we were ready to add the icing details! Nikki, whipped up some royal icing and after laying the templates underneath wax paper, traced the features in royal icing. It is a fabulous method I can’t wait to try myself, particularly as it allows you to keep going until you’ve created one you’re happy with before you apply it to the biscuit! Here’s some information on royal icing transfers.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

We glued the eyes, beaks and noses down with some more royal icing.

Woodland animal cookies

The limit of my piping on this project consisted of using royal icing to glue toasted slivered almonds onto the hedgehog to give him spikes, and piping on the hedgehogs noses.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

I think they turned out really cute.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

Then I got to work making the packaging! I wanted to display them standing up and so made a box within a box. I glued the biscuits in using royal icing which allowed them to be transported without fear of them falling out of their peepholes. But if you wanted to you could add some acetate or clear plastic to the inside of the box to ensure your cookie is safe.

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies

I’ve included all the templates in a PDF file at the bottom of the post if you want to try and make your own!

Here are the steps to put the packaging together.
You’ll need an x-acto knife, adhesive (I used a Pritt Stick) and 3 pieces of A3 card stock about 160 gsm or as thick as you can get through your printer.

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I then used a little bit of tape to hold the lid in place. But a clear sticker or double sided tape works well too.

Here’s the finished packaging.

And here they all are just before they went to school to be given to some lovely teachers!

I had a fantastic time working with Nikki on this project. I can’t wait until we get to do another one

Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
Woodland animal cookies
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Crochet Baby Toy – Noise Makers

Crochet baby noise maker

 

One of Munchkins favourite toys was this Pram Necklace from Littlephant that we bought her for her first Christmas. She adored the colours and the textures of the toy hanging over her pram. And apparently it tasted delicious too!

But as she’s gotten older it has fallen out of favour, she’s now showing preference for toys that make a noise or that we build towers out of and she knocks down. So I decided to make her a toy. One that combined the tactile nature of the Littlephant pram necklace along with a rattle and shake!

The fact that they’re also round and can roll a little way from her is also a good thing as we’re trying to encourage Munchkin to move. At present, she’ll just happily play with whatever she can reach or make big eyes and pout until her father gets the toy she accidentally just launched.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

These are what I came up with. They use the plastic insert from a Kinder Surprise filled with various noisy items. For these I used whatever was handy in my kitchen cupboard. Popcorn kernels, quinoa, rock salt and sunflower seeds were put in the shakers and they were closed and taped up. Each has a very distinct sound in comparison to the others.

 

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I then added some decorative embroidery with contrasting cotton. Stitching in and out of the holes between the crochet stitches. This has two benefits, it makes the cotton wadding surrounding the Kinder insert pretty much impossible to pry out by tiny fingers and it looks pretty!

I used some of my remaining cotton wadding from my quilt rather than normal cushion stuffing also because it’s nice and firm, making it hard for little fingers to get out and it makes crocheting the Kinder insert into the ball much easier as you’re less likely to get your hook caught up in tons of little fibres.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

To start with, I put a small amount of my selected seed into the Kinder insert. I taped it up to make sure that it didn’t come open inside the toy and spill it’s contents. Mainly because this would stop it making a lovely rattle noise and as yet another safety precaution.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

Crochet Baby Noise Maker Pattern:

 

Stitches you need to know:

Magic Ring

Single Crochet = sc

Increase (2 single crochet in the same stitch) = inc

Decrease (singe crochet decrease) = dec

 

Materials

Cotton yarn in at least two colours

3.5mm crochet hook

Cotton wadding

Plastic container insert from a Kinder Surprise or alternate small plastic container (the ones in the vending machines that kids love and parents loathe would probably work well for this project too)

Seeds, Grains etc

 

 

Row 1: Create a Magic Ring and sc 6. Pull magic ring closed and place marker at end of row. Move stitch marker at end of every row following.

Row 2: inc 6. (12)

Row 3: *sc 1, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (18)

Row 4: *sc 2, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (24)

Row 5: *sc 3, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (30)

Row 6: *sc 4, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (36)

Row 7: *sc 5, inc 1.* Repeat *to* 6 times. (42)

Rows 8 to 12: sc 42. (42)

Row 13: *sc 5, dec 1.* (36)

Row 14: *sc 4, dec 1.* (30)

Row 15: *sc 3, dec 1.* (24)

At this point I placed a piece of wadding into the bowl of the ball. Wrapped the shaker egg in wadding and pushed it in. I then used my crochet hook to stuff more wadding in until I had a nice full ball. Then placed another piece of wadding over the top of the shaker, tucked it in nice and firmly and continued crocheting the Noise Maker closed.

Row 16: *sc 2, dec 1.* (18)

Row 17: *sc 1, dec 1.* (12)

Row 18: dec 6 (6)

Row 19: dec 3 (3)

Finish off and sew in the ends. I did this by taking a large needle and pulling the cotton through to the other side of the egg, in between the shaker egg and the wadding, and then cutting of the remainder. This left the ends well out of reach of those cheeky inquisitive fingers.

I did the same thing with the ends of the embroidery I added.

To add the embroidery, merely fasten on, and sew in and out in the spaces between the crochet stitches.

 

Crochet baby noise maker

 

Depending on how much wadding you add and how firmly you pull your embroidery stitches, you’ll either end up with a nice round ball shape (lots of wadding, stitches reasonably loose) or an oval shape (less wadding, firmer stitches). I did two of both as the ball shape are a little too large for Munchkin to hold easily at present, but the oval shape are perfect! And they don’t roll away so easily, encouraging her to move in small increments.

 

My templates and tutorials are free for personal use only.

 

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Finally finished

Next to nicx quilt

 

They say that every quilt tells a story.

This one certainly does!

I started it before Munchkin was born. Last Summer, my friend and quilter extraordinaire Lynne, went with me via ferry to Thonon les Bains in France to pick out fabric. It turned out to be one of the hottest days that Summer and neither of us was dealing very well with the heat. I was seven months pregnant and feeling every bit of it!

But I was determined to get a quilt finished for Munchkin to come home in. So I waddled around Thonon and we selected the fabrics. Then over the weeks that turned into months, Lynne taught me how to cut the fabric out, sew it together and quilt it.

I struggled though-out the pregnancy. It turns out I’m not one of those people who glows and feels fabulous and honestly, I didn’t like being pregnant at all. Probably because it felt like I was unwell for most of it.

My sewing machine even attempted to die before I’d completed the project! It threw out springs and twisted bits of metal in a cartoonish fashion, only missing the associated “SPROING!!”.

Thankfully we were able to get it working again. And poignantly, this quilt turned out to be the last project I’d do on this machine. My mother gave it to me about 10 years ago, it was second or third hand when I received it and it had survived being lugged halfway around the world when we moved to Switzerland. But I now own a beautiful new machine, given to me for Christmas by DM and Munchkin.

 

P1060371

 

At some point I gave up on having the quilt done to bring Munchkin home in. Only digging it back out to give quilting it one more try the day before I was due to be induced. I’d been having regular contractions for 11 days by this point. I was exhausted… and scared. In an effort to distract ourselves, DM commenced painting a robot and I finished quilting my quilt.

Amusingly you can see when I had contractions in the quilting. In places it resembles the monitor they plugged me into frequently over the last weeks of my pregnancy! The stitching goes from lovely, straight and ‘in the ditch’, to off tangent quite badly, and then back ‘in the ditch’!

Finally I packed it away, a little disappointed that I’d not managed to complete it (I had the binding and hand sewing to do), and we went to the clinic to meet Munchkin.

Munchkin entered our lives in something of a rush as I eventually needed an emergency cesarean. And she came home almost a week later swaddled in a super soft Aden + Anais muslin square instead of in one of my creations. I didn’t have time to feel disappointed. We spent the next 6 months learning about each-other, falling head over heels in love, doing all we could to help her thrive and enjoying our beautiful little spirited sprite.

 

Munchkin arriving home

 

Then, Lynne came around for one final quilting lesson and, at one point with Munchkin looking on, we made and sewed on the binding using my new machine.

I did the hand sewing, a little at a time, over the following few weeks (I’m not great at hand sewing, particularly when tired! ;))

And it’s complete! Almost a year since it was started my darling little girl is sleeping under it.

I love it. It’s perfectly flawed and I feel it tells the start of our story wonderfully.

 

Next to nicx quilt

 

I’ve been told it’s traditional to name a quilt and have it embroidered on the back. But I’ve been struggling to come up with anything other than “Contraction Quilt” which isn’t very romantic.

What do you think I should call it?

 

Next to nicx quilt

 

Quilting details: I used the pattern created by See Kate Sew as a guide but made a few changes. Lynne made up an alternate pattern piece that allowed for the triangle to have seam allowances added, meaning that it was much easier to get the points closer to lining up. The quilt Lynne made up as a test had the points matching perfectly! And I put my quilt pieces together randomly, only ensuring that the same colour didn’t sit adjacent.

 

See Kate Sew Quilt

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

There were a few things I gave up on finding when I found out I couldn’t eat gluten anymore. One of them was profiteroles and a good choux pastry. But a trip to my favourite bakery assured me that a gluten-free choux pastry is very possible. They make the most amazing gluten-free eclairs!

So when the latest issue of Delicious magazine graced my letterbox with a Better Cook Challenge on choux pastry I was determined to try and make a gluten-free profiterole. We had some friends and their gorgeous offspring coming for lunch last Friday, so I seized the second wind I got on Thursday night after putting Munchkin to bed, and tried.

And it worked! *cue cheer and happy dance*

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Honestly I can’t really remember exactly what the glutenous version tastes like, but both of my friends and my husband assured me that my version were delicious. And my husband advising that I could make them again very soon convinced me of it.

As per usual I used Schaer patisserie mix C as it’s the best commercially bought flour mix I’ve come across for pastries and cakes (and Sonja in Cully wouldn’t divulge her amazing recipe ;))

I finished them with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce rather than the chocolate one in the magazine. I’ll write up the caramel recipe for next weeks gluten-free recipe post.

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Profiteroles with Vanilla Crème Pâtissière‎

Ingredients for the choux pastry
  • 100ml of cold water
  • 45 grams of unsalted butter
  • 60 grams of Schaer patisserie mix C or your preferred gluten-free flour mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon of guar gum
  • 2 medium eggs

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Ingredients for the Crème Pâtissière
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 10 grams of Schaer patisserie mix C or your preferred gluten-free flour mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cornflour
  • 35 grams of caster sugar
  • 150 ml of whole milk
  • half a vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 100ml of double cream

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Method for the choux pastry
  • Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced) and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  • Put the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil, ensuring that the butter is melted and combined.
  • Remove from the heat, and immediately stir in all of the flour and guar gum. Stir quickly until the mixture thickens and starts to come away from the side of the saucepan.
  • Place back on the heat and cook whilst stirring for a little longer, just to dry the mix out a little. A minute or two should do it.
  • Put the pastry into a large mixing bowl. Leave for 2 minutes to cool. This ensures that when you add the egg it doesn’t cook immediately.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and stir in quickly with a whisk until well combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fit with a 1cm plain nozzle.
  • Pipe the mixture onto the baking paper. In the photographs I made large profiteroles, and so piped them about the size of a large walnut. Pipe them about 4 cm apart.
  • Using a finger, wet with a little water, push the spikes down so that the top of your profiterole is smooth and not peaked.
  • Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced) and then turn down to 140 degrees celsius (120 fan forced) for another 20-25 minutes to dry them out.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool on trays.

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Method for the Crème Pâtissière
  • Place the egg yolks, flour, cornflour and sugar in a bowl and whisk until combined
  • Put the milk and vanilla pod in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  • Pour the milk mixture over the egg mixture and whisk to combine.
  • Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and put back on a gentle heat, stirring continuously until very thick.
  • Take off heat, place in a bowl, discard the vanilla pod, cover with cling wrap and allow to cool.
  • Whip the double cream until you get soft peaks.
  • Fold in the cooled custard mixture and push through a sieve to get rid of any lumps.
  • Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 5mm plain nozzle.
  • To fill the choux buns, make a small hole in the bottom of each cooled profiterole and insert the piping nozzle. Gently squeeze in filling.
  • Serve on a plate or platter with your choice of sauce. I used a salted caramel sauce (recipe in next weeks blog).

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

Recipe adapted from May 2014 issue of Delicious Magazine.

 

Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)

 

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Gluten-free profiteroles (choux pastry)