Chocolate Mallow Cake

Today was a good day.  I made a cake.

It’s been ages since I last did any baking.  It’s something I tend to go through phases with.  A while back I was making cakes at least once a week.  Then I got a bit bored with the effort of icing, the new baking powder I bought had a strange effect on my normal sponge recipe, and I ran out of consumers (no one in my house can afford to eat quantities of fattening treats).

But today a good friend of mine (a self-confessed chocaholic) needed cheering up.  So I got out my recipe book, turned to the section headed “Chocolate” and came up with this little beauty – Chocolate Mallow Cake.   Best of all, I had all the ingredients in my cupboard already.

That pleased me enormously.  Not because I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shops, but because having a well-stocked larder makes me feel like a proper homemaker.  Which could be why I have seven different sorts of flour in my kitchen cupboard, and almost as many types of sugar.  And luckily, hiding in amongst them was today’s crucial bag of marshmallows.

The cake was pretty easy and quick to make, although the marshmallow topping proved to be rather a labour of love.

Perhaps I was supposed to use big toast-on-a-fire marshmallows rather than little scatter-on-hot-chocolate ones.  But they did the job, and after five minutes in the oven they were ready for their chocolate coating (The recipe said “drizzle” but I thought of my melancholy friend and decided to “pour” instead.)

I will probably make this again. It was simple enough to put together, impressive to look at and delicious to eat, with a fudgy texture which was enhanced by the sweet chewiness of the topping.

My friend enjoyed eating it, and I enjoyed making it.  And I carried it to her house in a wicker basket, covered by a gingham cloth – which made both of us smile.


Making Notes: Sock Monkeys

This is probably one of the more ambitious items on my Christmas present list, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected, and I quickly got hooked.

I first saw a sock monkey just a few years ago, although apparently they have been around in America since the 1930s. It was love at first sight, and I couldn’t wait to make one of my very own. I looked around for patterns and instructions and hints and tips, and finally decided I was ready.

This is the pattern I use for cutting the socks*:

Sock Monkey Cutting Pattern

*Other methods of cutting are available. In particular some (possibly more authentic) versions make a longer tail by using the full length of the sock, but that must also make the arms thinner. Personally I think the half tail length is sufficient, particularly when using adult sized socks, but it’s an option to bear in mind.

Now some clever people could no doubt work out exactly how to put their monkey together just using the diagram above. But I am not that good at sewing, so I searched some more and found this excellent step-by-step tutorial. There is a tremendous amount of detail here, which I found extremely helpful. Even after making a number of pretty successful monkeys I still went back to the tutorial every so often to double-check things like the positioning of the nose and arms.

There’s not much I can add, but I do have a few tiny tips:

  • You don’t need a sewing machine to make a sock monkey. I sew all mine by hand, it doesn’t take long.
  • Stripes can be a bit intimidating when you are just starting out.  Although it might help you to line things up it also means you can tell when they don’t!
  • Don’t forget that any patterns on the sock will be upside down once you make it into a monkey. I have made one monkey (see below) using patterned socks, and I did manage to work out how to amend the cutting out in order to stop the flamingoes from standing on their heads, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
  • I think it’s worth using decent quality socks. They tend to make the finished article feel softer and cuddlier and are also more forgiving of any little stitching slip ups.
  • In fact, it’s worth using decent quality everything. Your sewing experience and your finished article will be so much nicer if you have sharp scissors, good quality thread and specialised soft toy stuffing.

My Sock Monkey Gallery

Sock Monkey the First
My first ever Sock Monkey

This was my first ever attempt at a Sock Monkey, and the fact that it came out pretty well says something for how easy it is to do. I went for spots rather than stripes, and a contrasting heel and toe. This wasn’t top quality though, made with cheap socks and some stuffing I pulled out of a cushion on my sofa because I was too impatient to wait until I could get to a haberdashers to buy the real thing.

Stripey Sock Monkey

There were a few more monkeys between the first and this one, so by now I felt able to cope with stripes. This was made for my teenage niece so I used brightly coloured socks from one of her favourite shops. It does look a bit on the thin side – I have a tendency to under-stuff – but in this case it helps stripey monkey to fit into my niece’s suitcase while she is off travelling.

Mini Sock Monkey
Baby Sock Monkey

A tiny sock monkey made using baby socks, for 12-18 months I think. This was made for an adult, but would also be great for a baby (although for safety you would have to use something other than buttons for eyes – small pieces of felt can work well.)

Our Wedding in Sock Monkeys

The ultimate sock monkey creation: our family as sock monkeys. This represents our wedding, and the groom monkey is actually made out of the socks my husband wore at our wedding. The eyes are buttons from the cuffs of his wedding jacket. (The hat was a misguided attempt to lighten it up a bit, and has since been lost.) The bride monkey is patterned with flamingoes because we were married at the Flamingo Hotel (that’s the one I had to reverse the cutting pattern for.) And the baby monkey is our little boy, who was at our wedding too (oops!)

Now it’s time for you to give it a try – but be warned, once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

Making Notes: Recipe Jars

Here goes with the first of my ideas/instructions for homemade gifts.  I did a few of these for Christmas, they are super easy and were a useful option for the younger ones on my list.   A couple of adults got them too, but fewer than I had originally planned – I was worried that people might be insulted by the implication that they can’t cook without help.

There are two varieties: Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Chocolate Brownies.  They use different sizes of jar, which is handy because it gives you options if you can only find one size.   (They are always available from Lakeland and other kitchen supply shops, but buying them at those prices makes this an expensive gift, so I prefer to track them down in pound shops etc.)

Apart from the jar, all you need is some ribbon to decorate it, some card (and hole punch) or a large label, and a printer (or just a pen) for adding the instructions.  Plus the ingredients, of course.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Uses a one litre preserving jar.

165g (6 oz) dark brown sugar
100g (3.5 oz) granulated white sugar
20g (0.5 oz) cocoa powder
60g (2.25 oz) pecan nuts, chopped
170g (8 oz) plain flour
half teaspoon baking powder
half teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt

Layer the first four ingredients into the jar in the order listed, pressing each layer  down firmly before adding the next (I used the end of a rolling pin).  Mix together the remaining ingredients then add them to the jar.  It might be a tight squeeze.

Make a label with the following instructions:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Just add: 125g softened butter, 1 egg and 1tsp vanilla

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.
  • Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  • Empty the contents of the jar into a large bowl and mix together with your hands.
  • Mix in the butter, egg (beaten slightly) and vanilla essence.
  • Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls and place on the baking sheet 5cm apart.  Bake for 18-20 mins.
  • Cool for 5 mins on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool before tucking in!

Then all you need to do is to attach the label to the jar using the ribbon.  I told you it was easy!

cookie jar
Chocolate Chip Cookie Jar

(Unfortunately I neglected to take a photo of the finished item.  I only remembered after I had given it to someone, so this picture was taken in their rather dark living room.)


And for the smaller, 500ml jar we have:

Chocolate Brownies

225g (8 oz) light muscovado sugar
75g (2.75 oz) self-raising flour
25g (1 oz) cocoa powder
100g (3.5 oz) pecan nuts, chopped


Chocolate Brownies

Just add:  3 large beaten eggs, 200g unsalted butter and 400g milk chocolate.

  • Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2.
  • Melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl in the microwave.
  • When it is cool, mix in the eggs and contents of the jar.
  • Pour into a 20cm square cake tin and bake for 1hr 5mins.
  • Remove from the oven and cool in the tin before slicing.


And if all this talk of baking has made you hungry, there’s nothing to stop you cutting out the middle man and using the recipes without the jar!

Here’s Some I Made Earlier

Last Christmas a lot of the presents we gave were handmade (by me.)  In fact, most of them were.

I don’t quite know where the idea for giving only handmade gifts came from.  It might have been that I was feeling disillusioned with the whole Christmas shopping experience.   In the run up to Christmas, shops are full of things that no-one really wants or will ever use, many of them specifically created to fill non-existent gaps in people’s stockings.  Much as I love shopping, I can’t get excited by spending money on something that will end up gathering dust in the back of someone’s cupboard.

It may also have been partly prompted by a desire to keep our credit card bill at a manageable level.

But mostly it was because I enjoy making things, and I kept coming across good ideas.  I won’t deny that it was a massive undertaking, beginning in August and only completed – in a bit of a panic – just before the day itself (by which time it had become clear that making my own wrapping paper was probably a step too far.)

It was hard work, very time consuming, but ultimately quite satisfying, and – I think – appreciated.

Behold the fruits of my labours:

Handmade Presents Christmas 2010

In traditional left-to-right, top-to-bottom fashion, you should be able to see: skittles, colouring books, photo calendars, story books, a cookbook with spice mixes, puzzle books, bath fizzers, flavoured vodkas, marmalade, cupcake flannels, juggling balls, taggie blanket, jingle cube, handmade cards, photos, paper wallets, pen pots, apron, car seat tidy, “moment of calm” bags, seed paper shapes, cookie mixes, mobile phone holder, book safe, sewing kit, handbag bra, folding bag, pints of socks, curry mixes, shortbread, fish seeds, stress ball, record bowls, sock monkeys, surprise balls, and a ring pull bracelet.

If you feel inspired and want to get started early for Christmas 2011, keep watching.  I’ll be posting links, photos, instructions and ideas for some of these creations anon.

The Things We Do For Love

In our house this evening there is a football match on the television.  It’s Wrexham vs Luton, and we have actually paid to subscribe to a channel for the night just so we can watch it.

I say “we”, but although the money comes out of an account with my name on it, I’m not taking advantage of this purchase.   My husband, brought up in North Wales, is the one glued to the box, groaning as his team seem to be losing quite badly.  I gather it’s some kind of playoff, but I can’t tell you what for.

There was a time when I made more of an effort to know these things.  When we were first dating, I did my best to get to grips with the different leagues and cups, and what they used to be called before it was all changed.  I knew the names of the Wrexham players and sort of understood the offside rule.  I even donned layers (and layers) of warm clothing and stood on the terraces to cheer on the team.

I admit that part of my motivation, for away games at least, was a night in a hotel, plus the promise of a pie at half time to help keep the cold out.  But clean sheets and warm pastry can’t be the full story.  I’m not *that* easily bought.

It certainly wasn’t a genuine love of the Beautiful Game (which I always felt was at least 30 minutes too long.)  I can only assume that it was a desire to share in the interests and passions of my not-yet-husband which provided the incentive for me to endure those cold, windy out-of-town football grounds.   What else but a wish to find common ground and experiences could have driven me to learn all those unsavoury anti-English football chants?

So does the fact that I no longer feel the need to watch the football – even from the comfort of my own sofa – say something about my relationship with my husband?  Do I feel less of a need to connect with him now we are married?  Have the incentives disappeared now I have his ring on my finger?

Or is it just that we now have other shared interests and experiences which help to bring us together?   Things like buying a house and having a child – events that are (dare I say it) even more important than a football match.

That’s my theory.  And I think it’s a good one.  Especially as it absolves me from having to watch Wrexham ever again.