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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An update…

At the Food Show

So, it’s been a while huh?  I thought I would write a post to explain our absence and update you with what has been going on with us.  But first a history lesson (did you know that Courtenay and I are both qualified history teachers? - we’ve only ever taught English since getting our teaching diplomas though).

Courtenays coctail party

When we first began this blog (back in 2010!), Courtenay and I were both fairly new to teaching and working at the same secondary school in South Auckland.  We both quite liked baking and would sometimes bring in treats we had made to share at work.  Our colleagues would often ask for the recipes (they were probably just being polite), so one day when I was driving home I thought ‘why not start a blog?’.  Stuck in traffic (I used to work in South Auckland before the Mangere Bridge was upgraded so my trips home were often close to an hour) I began dreaming all about it, I even came up with the name ‘Baking Makes Things Better’ based on the fact that often when I had had a crappy day all I felt like was forgetting it by making a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I can’t remember if I got home and told Courtenay about my idea or if I couldn’t contain myself and called her from the car, but either way she agreed with my ramblings, despite I think not know what I was on about, and so bakingmakesthingsbetter.com was born.

When I first set up the site, it was just for fun.  We baked as a hobby.  We definitely weren’t food photographers.  I didn’t really know what I was doing with the tech side of the blog, Courtenay even more so.  But, we enjoyed it.  It was a fun creative outlet.  We posted recipes mainly for ourselves and never really considered people were reading it.  I set up a facebook page and we harassed our friends to like it. Soon random people we didn’t know started liking the page and our blog readership grew.

Visit from max and courtenay at work

We started posting to our blog all the time - like, all the time.  I was talking to Courtenay or sending her a dozen facebook messages daily about the blog. Thinking back to what was going on in our lives at the time, I had met and started dating Simon and we had moved in together.  Courtenay became pregnant with Max, went on maternity leave and after Max was born her little family moved to New Plymouth.  All the while, our blog readership grew, we were becoming a little more professional at this blogging thing, and our social media numbers were climbing.

One day we got an email from someone at Food TV.  They were looking to reach out into this growing world of blogging and contacted us.  We didn’t really believe it, but went along with it anyway.  We got back to them and the next thing I know is that a meeting was arranged and I was making my way into the Food TV offices one day after work.  Courtenay wasn’t in Auckland so I nervously had to go into the offices by myself - I remember walking in to be confronted by a life size cardboard cutout of Colin Mathura Jefferies promoting season one of NZ’s hottest home baker, and wanting to snap a sneaky pic of it to send to Courtenay but being too afraid of getting caught by a staff member.  I left the meeting carrying a bunch of random cook books that they had given me.  We signed a deal which involved us being sent new episodes of their upcoming baking shows to review on our website (Courtenay somehow managed to fit this into her life,  as I didn’t have Sky TV!).  In exchange, they advertised our blog on their channel.  Food TV whipped something up and next thing we knew, during the ad breaks our little blog was being promoted on the telly.

At Ulearn in Rotorua

Our blog readership soared.  We were being sent products from PR companies and invited to Press events. It got to the point where we had a calendar and we would book in when we were posting something. I even colour coordinated the thing.  I must’ve been a nightmare to put up with.  In fact, there were a couple of phone calls between Courtenay and I where things had become too much.  Courtenay persevered with me, but it got to the point where both of us had had enough. She had moved back up to Auckland and was getting back into teaching.  I was still working at our old school.  The blog needed someone to work on it full time, but it was never going to pay our wages despite us taking on advertising, not even close.  

While it was really fun receiving packages of new products in the post, the resulting pressure to then create a recipe and blog about it all was huge.  It became a real drag to see all the other awesome creatives from the food and mummy blogging community that we followed and had watched grow over the years also being sent the same stuff and posting about it.  We felt like we’d just become a cog in the advertising machine.  It made us step back and realise that we weren’t baking and blogging for us anymore. We couldn’t keep up with what we had created. After a lot of discussion, we ended our relationship with Food TV and decided to blog only when we felt like it. But, I think by the time we had got to this point, we had burnt ourselves out.


Blogging has now taken a backseat in our lives.  In the last few years, Simon and I have ticked off a lot of things that we have planned together.  We saved up and went on a big overseas trip to Europe.  While over there we got engaged, and then a year and a half later we got married.  We’ve then spent the past year looking to buy a house. Weekends visiting on average 10 open homes does not leave a lot of time for baking! The time, energy and money spent trying to find a home has left me pretty drained.  However, we did recently manage to buy in the Auckland property market and have just moved into our first home which we are super excited about.  I also started at a new school at the beginning of this year, which I am loving, but boy does adapting to somewhere new also zap your time and energy.

Courtenay family

Courtenay has also thrown herself into work, taking on lots of new responsibilities.  It amazes me how many things she is involved in with her career.  At the start of this year, little Max, who is not so little anymore, turned five and started school.  So, Courtenay has been juggling work with Max being a primary school kid.  And, most excitingly, she is expecting baby number two!  Courtenay and Shane are adding to their family with a little girl to be called Ava, who is due any day now.  We all can’t wait to meet her.

So, that’s what’s been happening with us.  We do still love baking - eating it more so than the time it takes us to bake it, photograph it and then write about it if we were to put up a blog post.  We are incredibly proud of what we achieved with Baking Makes Things Better.  I was looking through the blog before writing this and I can’t believe that ‘I actually did that’ when looking at some of the recent posts - I decided on those flavours, made up that recipe and took that beautiful photo.  It’s really cool.
We might start posting again, we just don’t know.  We’ve left the blog running to keep what we’ve created available for everyone to enjoy and we may pick it up again if it takes our fancy.

Beach buddie

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How to make a Gingerbread House

Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (16)
One of the last things that I taught this year at school (and forever, as I am starting a new school next year) was a Gingerbread House making class.  We had about 20 kids who over the course of three days planned, baked, constructed and decorated their very own Gingerbread house each, starting from scratch.  It was a lot of fun, we had some tradition houses, some with pretty stained glass windows, others that needed a lot of ‘gluing’ together with icing, and we even had a summer holiday house – complete with palm trees, sand and a shark in the ocean.
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (17)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (12)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (11)

I’ve shared the recipes we used below along with some tips and tricks we learnt along the way.  The kids at school made their own templates, but if you do an internet image search for ‘Gingerbread House Template’ you’ll get lots – even some to make mansions!  Check out the facebook album I set up with photos from the class at my school or check out the Pinterest board I created for lots of inspiration and decorating ideas.
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (1)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (2)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (3)
125g butter
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup golden syrup
1 egg yolk (save the egg white – you use it in the icing)
2 ½ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 180°C and line baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
Using a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in golden syrup and egg yolk, then stir in sifted flour, ginger and baking soda in two batches.
Knead mixture on lightly floured surface until smooth.  If the mixture is too crumbly, crumble it back into the mixing bowl until it resembles a fine breadcrumb.  Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and stir it through the gingerbread mixture.  Keep adding melted butter until the mixture sticks together.  Alternatively, if the mixture is too wet, add in more flour.
Cover the mixture in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out on a floured bench until about 5mm thick. Cut out the pieces needed for your house and place 3cm apart on prepared baking trays.  If the mixture has become quite soft while you have been cutting out your shapes, place the baking trays into the fridge for a further 10 minutes for it to harden up again.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (6)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (8)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (9)

1 ½ cups icing sugar
1 egg white
Food or gel colouring, or brought writing icings

To make the icing, whisk the egg white in a small bowl and gradually whisk in sifted icing sugar.
If you are making the icing to ‘glue’ together your Gingerbread pieces, you want the mix to be a thick-ish paste, if it is too sloppy it will not stay in place and your pieces won’t join together.  It is is too runny, mix in more icing sugar.
If you are making the icing to decorate with, you will want it a little bit runny.  If yours is too thick, mix in a couple of drops of hot water as needed to thin the mix up a bit.
Divide the mixture into 3-4 small bowls and add colours (if wanted). Spoon the icing into a piping bag, or small plastic re-sealable bags – just snip off a corner to use as a piping bag. For a quicker, cleaner option do try using bought writing icings.
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (5)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (7)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (13)

Tips for assembly and decorating:
  • We gave each learner a small wooden board, wrapped in tin foil to assemble their Gingerbread House on, but you can buy specialty cake boards if you wish.
  • Decorate your house with icing and anything else you like – we had so many different lollies!  We also had pretzels which can create a log cabin effect, and thin chocolate squares make awesome looking panelled doors.
  • To make ‘stained glass windows’ cut shapes out of your gingerbread panels, crush up some candy (like lollypops) and fill up the cut-out shape before baking.  During baking, the candy will melt and create a window in the hole.
  • Some students found it easier to decorate their house pieces first, before assembling the house.  This may be a particularly good idea if you want to do intricate icing details, as you can work on a flat surface.
  • We used empty glasses to prop up the walls on either side while they dried.  We found icing the base and walls for two joining sides and waiting for the icing to go rock hard before adding to it worked best.
  • If any of your pieces do happen to crack or break, you can piece them back together with icing.  For added strength, place a couple of skewers in an ‘x’ shape on the back of the broken piece and icing over the top of it.
  • Make sure you have waited for your icing to thoroughly dry before adding to your Gingerbread house further.  When dry, the icing is almost hard like cement.  If you keep adding decoration while it is wet, it will not hold the weight of your house together and it will collapse.
  • If your house does collapse and crumble, maybe you can salvage it by some toy dinosaurs or plastic army men!

Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (15)

Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (14)
Gingerbread Houses by Baking Makes Things Better (18)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

CocoNut Cranberry Fudge

Coconut Macadamia Cranberry Fudge by Baking Makes Things Better

I thought up the recipe for this CocoNut Cranberry Fudge (aka. White Chocolate Fudge with Coconut, Cranberries and Macadamia Nuts – just thought it was a little bit too long of a title) a wee while ago and finally got around to making it.  And, I am glad I did because it is my new winner of a recipe!
I wanted something that would make a great festive season recipe, but I didn’t really want to put pistachio nuts in it (as that’s what most Christmas recipes put in because they look great with the touch of green included), as I didn’t feel like they would go well with the flavour of the fudge.  So, I tried macadamia nuts instead and they are perfect. 
The fudge is really quick to make and doesn’t involve anything fiddly like using a sugar thermometer.  It would make a great gift too.  I also think that you shouldn’t be just making it at Christmas either, this fudge is a delicious treat at anytime of the year!

Coconut Macadamia Cranberry Fudge

CocoNut Cranberry Fudge recipe by Baking Makes Things Better


125g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
200g white chocolate melts
½ cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
½ cup cranberries
¼ cup desiccated coconut

¼ cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
¼ cup cranberries
1 tablespoon desiccated coconut

Grease and line a 20cm square pan with baking paper.
Melt the butter in a pan.  Remove from heat, add the brown sugar and stir until thoroughly combined with the butter.  Add the condensed milk and stir until combined with the sugar and butter.
Add the golden syrup, mix and return to a medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly for 10 minutes (be careful not to let the mixture get to hot or boil to rapidly as the sugar will start to crystallise, which still tastes quite nice but ruins the smooth consistency.  If the mixture does start to crystallise remove from the heat immediately and stir rapidly). 
Remove from the heat and add the chocolate melts. Mix until smooth.  If needed, place the mixture over the heat to help melt the chocolate.
Stir through the coconut, macadamia nuts and cranberries.
Pour into the prepared tin.  For the topping, sprinkle the coconut, macadamia nuts and cranberries over the top of the fudge, lightly pressing the nuts and cranberries into the mixture.
Refrigerate until set (a couple of hours).  Once the fudge has hardened, cut into cubes ready to eat. 

Coconut Cranberry Macadamia Fudge by Baking Makes Things Better

Monday, September 28, 2015


Brigaderio recipe by Baking Makes Things Better

Brigadeiro is so simple and easy to make!  Brigadeiro is a Brazilian treat, which is apparently eaten at most major celebrations in Brazil.  To me, it’s kind of like a chewy fudge, and looks like a chocolate truffle.  Yum!
I only found out about Brigadeiro a month or two ago when I headed along to an event for NutriBullet.  While I was drinking my delicious smoothie I was talking to Alisa from The PR Shop and she was telling me how she would make this with her friends back when she was in school.  How did I not know about Brigadeiro?
I’ve since made this recipe a number of times, it’s really quick to whip up and goes down a treat.  Whenever we have condensed milk in the pantry I’m tempted to make it!  This would be great to make if you have friends popping over as it would go well with a warm cup or tea or coffee.  Or, if you’ve got kiddos, get them in the kitchen giving it a go – with only a few ingredients and simple recipe, this one is a winner.

Brigaderio recipe - Baking Makes Things Better

395g can condensed milk
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon hot chocolate cocoa (just use another tablespoon of normal cocoa if you don’t have hot chocolate on hand – I only used this for a little bit of sweetness)
1 tablespoon butter
Optional: desiccated coconut, chopped nuts (I used pistachio) or sprinkles for decoration

Brigaderio recipe on Baking Makes Things Better

In a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat, combine the cocoa, butter and condensed milk together. Cook, stirring, until thickened for about 10 minutes (the mix will thicken to a fudge-like consistency and you should be able to run a mixing spoon through it show the bottom of the pan during cooking). Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.  With slightly damp hands, form the mixture into small balls.  Roll the balls around in your chosen coating, if using.  Eat at once or chill until serving.

Brigaderio - recipe by Baking Makes Things Better

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chocolate Crunch Slice

Chocolate Crunch Slice by Baking Makes Things Better

I has taken me ages to get this recipe!  My Grandma used to make this Chocolate Crunch Slice when I was a little girl.  I think it is delicious and I find it hard to stop at just eating one piece.  In fact, I remember sneaking pieces out of the tin when she used to look after my brother and I during the school holidays.

I’ve been after the recipe for years.  I think she sent me a copy once (when I was about 10, my grandparents moved to Australia) but I lost it and then years later when I asked for it again she wasn’t too sure what I was asking about.  She sent a really old cook book over with a similar recipe in it, which I made, but it wasn’t quite the same.  Sadly, my Grandma isn’t very well anymore and has recently been moved into a care facility, so the days of sharing recipes have ended.

Chocolate Crunch Slice recipe by Baking Makes Things Better

But, a few months back, our flatmate Harry came home from work with some different bits of baking one of his colleagues, Marta, had made.  This slice was amongst the treats and it is exactly how I remember it.  Marta was kind enough to pass on the recipe to Harry for me, so now I can make the slice whenever I want.  It puts a smile on my face as it brings back memories of my Grandma and school holidays spent at her house.  The plate in the pictures is one from her old tea sets.

Chocolate Crunch Slice by Baking Makes Things Better (2)


3 Weetbix, crushed
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa
180g butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

50g butter, softened
3 - 4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 cups icing sugar
½ cup desiccated coconut

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the melted butter and vanilla essence and mix well.
Press the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Set aside to cool.
To make the icing, combine small amounts of the water with the butter, icing sugar and cocoa powder together in a medium sized bowl, mixing until you have reached a smooth consistency. Spread the icing over the top of the cooled slice and sprinkle the coconut over the top.
Once the icing has set, but into pieces and serve.  Store in an airtight container.

Chocolate Crunch Slice recipe by Baking Makes Things Better (2)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

5 Non-essential kitchen items that are essential to me

This is just a little list I’ve put together of my most loved kitchen tools.  None of them are really needed in the kitchen, you could do without them, but I use these so often that if any stopped working, broke or went missing, I would definitely replace them asap.

Silicone Spoon:

Silicone Spoons

I purchased one of Silicone Spoons from Stevens ages ago, and now have a few in different colours.  They are awesome for mixing as they scrape down the sides of the bowl really well and if you are making something like fudge, the mix doesn’t stick to it.  We use these all the time for general cooking too.

Kitchen Aid:

Black Kitchen Aid

Back when I first started getting quite into baking I treated myself to a Kitchen Aid, which I put on lay-by as I had only just started working.  It felt like it took absolutely ages to pay off and finally take it home.  But, I love it.  Stand mixers make baking a breeze – chuck everything in the bowl and it mixes it for you.  Clean up is easy too.  Simon loves using the Kitchen Aid to make pizza dough too.  I got mine in black to match our toaster and jug and the colour works well in most kitchens, but there are so many gorgeous colours available.

20 cm Square Cake Tin:

Square Tin

I have a 20cm square cake tin, with a removable base which I don’t ever make cakes in.  But, I use it for all my slices and when I make fudge.  I love using it instead of an actual slice tin as the removable base makes food easy to get out of the tin.  Also, I like that it has taller sides – I don’t need to guess a tin size when I am experimenting with a new recipe as I know the mix isn’t not going to spill over the sides.


Soda Stream

Simon and I were given our SodaStream machine as an engagement present and it has been the best gift!  We love it when guest come over and want to try it, and can choose what flavour they want.  I’ve also used it to make up some lemonade to make Lemonade Scones with.  I also like being able to have sparkling water on hand when I want something refreshing to drink.

Jamie Oliver Frying Pan:

Jamie Oliver Frying Pan

So, yeah, I think every kitchen needs a frying pan which means this item might be a bit of a cheat.  However, I’ve included it as Simon and I used to always buy cheap frying pans.  One day when we were in Briscoes and they had a sale on frying pans (haha, a sale, at Briscoes?) and we decided to bite the bullet and get a fancy Jamie Oliver one.  There was much debate about whether to buy it or not as we could have picked up about ten cheap ones for the same price.  I’m glad we did though – it is still going strong, is still non-stick and it has a nice heavy base so it doesn’t buckle on the elements.

What are your favourite kitchen tools to use?  What would you rush out to replace, even though it probably isn’t a necessity?