Hannah Banana: THE Vegan Cake Lady

Recently, I was lucky enough to win a competition run by Hannah Banana Bakery to celebrate her reaching 2000 Facebook followers. My prize was a 9 inch cake of my choice!
Hannah Banana Bakery is based in Southampton and is run by Hannah who single handedly creates beautiful  cakes, cupcakes, cakepops, cookies, cheesecakes, wedding cakes and even chocolates, that are all vegan and can also meet other dietary requirements such as being gluten free, sugar free or soy free! I have followed her on Facebook for a long time and her cakes are always amazingly creative, beautifully decorated and consistently receive fantastic reviews. In March this year she even won first prize in the Vegan Cupcake category at Bournemouth Cupcake Camp!
I am super envious of her, not only because her cakes look and taste better than mine, but because she started training and setting the business up while still finishing her PhD – I’m in the final 9 months of my PhD and I can’t imagine doing anything alongside it, I only just manage to squeeze in blogging!!

For my prize I selected a red velvet cake with ‘cream cheese’ frosting, but it was a hard choice as she has a fantastic range of yummy flavours. It wasn’t for a particular occasion, I just love cake, so booked my prize in for the earliest available time (as a one-woman show, and being in high demand, she can get quite busy so it’s wise to make a booking well in advance!). I collected my cake, I’m not sure but I think all large cakes need to be collected, but her smaller treats can be posted, even her cupcakes thanks to some pretty ingenious packaging!

The cake was beautifully presented and came in a great box that I am totally going to reuse, she even finished it off with cute little red heart sprinkles and a ‘Made with Love’ ribbon. My cake was very simple so is by no means any measure of her talent (check out the gallery on her website to see just some of her amazing decorating skills!), but I still loved it!
Obviously, with a cake, looks are important but are far from everything. Some people may be suspicious of vegan cakes, but you shouldn’t be, especially not if they’re made by Hannah. Honestly, if you didn’t know, I doubt you would notice any difference between a vegan cake and a ‘normal’ cake. The texture was great, not heavy or cloying, really moist and very, very yummy – I could probably have eaten a whole bowl of the frosting (not that the cake wasn’t good, but I bloomin’ love frosting!!). I had intended to share it with work colleagues, but instead my boyfriend and I polished it off all by ourselves  :/ (over a few days, not all in one go).

Hannah is really lovely and so hard working, and she produces great results! I will definitely be buying cake from her again, and will recommend her far and wide. If I can come up with a good idea, I would love to commission her to make my birthday cake 🙂
I’m also going to be lucky enough to learn some of Hannah’s decorating skills, as she’s been kind enough to donate her time to run the cupcake decorating at my WI group, the Sotonettes, next week. I am very excited.

Hannah has a blog where you can keep up to date with her new cake recipes and ideas, her seasonal creations and events where she will be selling cakes. She also posts vegan recipes on Lasthours.org.uk – here.
Thank you so much Hannah! I tried to think of a good Bon Jovi reference to get in here somewhere, but I just couldn’t make it work :/ Hannah- her cakes are tres bon (jovi)………

Hope you are all having a good weekend,
Love

PS. Apologies for the lighting in the pictures, my flat is so dark but my flash is so bright :/

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Taste the Rainbow (Cake)

Note: This is not a post about Skittles, although Skittles are great!

Yesterday was my boyfriend Pete’s 25th Birthday 🙂 He was working all day, which was a bit sad for me (although he loves it as he works with dogs at the Blue Cross), but that gave me plenty of time to prepare a special birthday evening for the two of us.
My main task was baking him a birthday cake. He always says he’s not a big cake fan, but a birthday cake is a necessary part of a birthday as far as I’m concerned (plus I love cake and baking). I had decided exactly what kind of cake I was going to bake ages ago, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time – Rainbow Cake!
I was a bit nervous about it all going horribly wrong, but it was actually surprisingly easy. The main drawback for me was that I only own one circular cake tin, so had to bake each layer one at a time :/

(This is actually a slightly adjusted recipe from the one I used, as next time I’d prefer a bit more cake batter to work with.)

A few additional points;

  • Although the number of colours might look intimidating, remember – you can mix your own, so you only really need a red, yellow and blue, then mix the green (blue & yellow), orange (red & yellow) an purple (red & blue) yourself!
  • I used a silicone cake ‘tin’ which I very lightly oiled to be extra sure the cake didn’t stick. If you’re using a metal cake tin remember to grease and line to avoid sticking.
  • Keep an extra close eye on your layers as they’re much thinner than a standard cake. My oven is poor so takes longer than most :/ Bake until the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed or a cocktail stick/skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow cake to cool slightly before removing from tin, then leave to cool fully on a cake rack before frosting
  • As usual, I cheated on the frosting and used Betty Crocker’s Vanilla Frosting which I got from Tesco, but you can get a much greater range of flavours and alternative brands on AmericanSweets.com A lot of these frosting’s are ‘accidentally vegan’ as they contain nothing even close to an animal (or natural!) ingredient, but do be careful to check ingredients as not all brand/flavours are vegan suitable. For my cake I used around a can and a half of frosting to frost between layers and all around the outside – for this modified recipe it might be closer to 2.
We had a lovely evening. Pete got to open all his presents – I got him lots of sweets and biscuits (all suitable for his cow-product-free diet), lots of books, some comics and a torc bangle from St Justin Jewellery. I think he was pretty happy with his haul. I cooked duck legs (£2.50 for 2 in Tesco!) with hoi sin noodles, followed by the cake, then we chilled out with beer/wine and watched Ironclad- the DVD his brother bought for him 🙂
I’m very glad he had a good birthday evening 🙂 It all makes me excited for my birthday though – shame that’s still five and a half months away!!
Hope you’re all having a good weekend,
Let me know if you have a go at the rainbow cake. I promise it is easier than it looks, it’s more about time than skill.
Love,

Brush with Greatness

I love make-up. I love wearing it, buying it, looking at it, experimenting with it; The whole kit and caboodle. Except, I don’t own the whole kit or caboodle.
With the exception of one year when I worked full time in retail, I have been a perpetual student, with a student budget. I’m also not a make-up pro, as much as I love to play with the stuff. So, a combination of limited funds and not always really knowing what I’m doing has meant I’ve never really had anything close to a good collection of brushes. I have owned and used some brushes in my time, but mostly cheap ones, bought in sets and usually nothing much use beyond applying blush and basic eyeshadow.
I’ve wanted to improve my make-up skills for quite a while, specifically when it comes to applying eyeshadow. Also, the blogging world has exposed me to a whole world of beauty blogs full of gorgeous girls with flawless make-up! Both of these things have only served to fuel my desire for a good brush set. But, no matter how much I want good brushes, I’m still totally at sea when it comes to knowing what brushes I might need and which brands are any good (or at least, good on a budget).


Ok, I’m not completely ignorant about brands, but I put some feelers out on Twitter and did some of my own research to be sure. The usual suspects all popped up; MAC, Japonesque, Bobbi Brown, NARS. It was only when I started looking at and reading about some of the individual brushes that a few terms kept popping up – synthetic and natural – and that made me stop and think. So many of these high quality, big brand brushes are made from natural fibres or a mixture of natural and synthetic fibres. Now, some people might chose to ignore the fact, or just not realise, but natural fibres mean animal fibres – animal hair. 
I wasn’t really sure how I felt about that.
Now, I don’t want to get into my overall views on animal cruelty, but, basically, when it comes to cosmetics, I try to avoid animal testing as much as possible and I certainly would never wear real fur (with the possible exception of vintage). So why then, would I want to apply my cruelty free make-up with animal hair brushes? 
Come to think of it, why are these brushes even made of animal hair in the first place? Reports on the benefits of natural versus synthetic fibre brushes are mixed, I suspect due to improvements in producing synthetic fibres as well as the price you pay for a particular brush. Supposedly, natural fibre brushes are softer and create a more natural finish. However, they are no good for applying cream based products and can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin. Some sources say that synthetic fibre brushes are not as soft, shed more and become brittle and easily caked with time. Other sources say more or less the exact opposite; that they are softer, shed less and have the added bonus of being cheaper.
Whatever the benefits, I still can’t get my head around the idea of using the hair of a squirrel, goat, pony, sable or badger to put my make-up on. That’s a real sticking point. If I let myself think about it too much things get even worse as I know synthetic fibres are made from oil, and that’s not exactly environmentally friendly either. All this ends in a bit of an internal ethical debate, but I still come out the other side preferring the idea of synthetic fibres.


When you look at a lot of these brushes it can be hard to tell what they are made from. Most website, like MAC and Japonesque, simply describe brushes as being made from natural or a mix of natural and synthetic fibres. As a result of this, I think a lot of people could end up using animal hair brushes without realising, if they don’t know what ‘natural fibres’ really means. On this point, the NARS website is really good, telling you exactly what type of hair each brush is made from.
Just because these well known, high quality brands use natural fibres doesn’t mean that natural is the only way to go if you want a good quality make-up brush. If you take a little time to look, there are actually loads of synthetic fibre brush ranges out there, some from specialist companies and some from brands you’ve probably heard of.





An eco-conscious beauty brand using environmentally sound materials and supporting environmental charities. Their brushes are made from synthetic taklon fibres with bamboo and recycled aluminium handles.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about this brand, these are amongst the synthetic brushes that I’ve heard are as soft if not softer than natural fibres. They have a good, clean look with their natural bamboo handles and the price range is good, definitely cheaper than most of the high-end natural brushes.

Bamboo Foundation Brush. £6.25 from Cocktail Cosmetics
Bamboo 6 Piece Eye Brush Set. £11.05 from CutECOsmetics




The Bambu range from Bdellium is certified vegan friendly. As with the EcoTool brushes, they are made from synthetic fibres with handles made from bamboo and recyclable aluminium. Apparently, bamboo is the most sustainable plant in the world (according to their blurb on Cocktail Cosmetics). They have a funkier look than the EcoTools brushes, going for a bright green finish to the handles and brush fibres, still reflecting their ‘green’ eco credentials. They’re a bit pricier than EcoTools, but still cheaper than a lot of natural fibre brushes.

Banbu Green Vegan Foundation Brush. £10.50 on Cocktail Cosmetics and cutECOsmetic
5 Piece Bambu Smokey Eye Brush Set. £24.95 on Cocktail Cosmetics and cutECosmetics


You may not know the brand name, but you might have heard of it’s creator – Sam Chapman of Pixiwoo! The brushes are made from synthetic Taklon fibres with aluminium handles. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the design, as the brushes are colour coded by stage of use, have their names printed on them so you don’t get confused and stand up on their ends so you can display them on your dressing table. Again, they’re priced well, much cheaper than the big brands using natural fibres.

Foundation Brush. £8.95 from Cocktail Cosmetics
Starter Brush Set. £20.95 from Cocktail Cosmetics


I love Illamasqua make-up, and all their brushes are made from cruelty-free synthetic fibres. If it’s good enough for Illamasqua then it’s good enough for me. In-keeping with the general image of Illamasqua and their products, the brushes are all sleek black in design. In terms of price, these are more on a level with other big brand brushes, but are probably worth it!


Foundation Brush. £26.00 from Illamasqua
Eye Shadow Brush. £18.50 from Illamasqua


These aren’t the only brands specialising in synthetic brushes. Urban Decay brushes are all synthetic and vegan friendly, however, I couldn’t easily find the brushes I wanted so didn’t feature them. Also, some of the brands I mentioned earlier do have some all synthetic brushes. Cocktail Cosmetics make it quite easy, splitting brushes by natural, synthetic and vegan. CutECOsmetics specialise in eco-conscious products, so all brushes they sell are synthetic. Either search specifically for synthetic brushes or make sure you read about the materials used. If you prefer to buy these things in shops rather than online, ask about materials!
You might have guessed by now, that I’m most keen on getting a foundation brush and a set of eyeshadow brushes. I think I’m leaning towards the Real Techniques brushes at the moment, I really like the style and the starter set looks awesome!

I’d love to hear if any of you have any input on this subject; Do you use natural or synthetic? Do you think about your brushes being made from animal hair? What brands do you love? What brushes are in your essential selection?

Hope you’ve all had a good week and are looking forward to the weekend! If you’re going to TOWIB, have  loads of fun, I will be at the next one!
Love

Vegan Chocolate Truffles

Now it is December, I can just about allow myself to think about Christmas.
For a number of reasons, I am trying to do a Nothing New/Handmade type gifts this year. Basically, no big brand goods. I haven’t had as much time for trawling charity shops or crocheting as I had hoped, so it’s looking like a lot of my gifts are going to be food based!

Yesterday I made Vegan Chocolate Truffles that are (hopefully) going to be Christmas presents (if I don’t eat them all first). They were so easy to make, so I guess if I do eat them all I can always just make more (although I may not fit into my party dress).



Recipe


The recipe is actually really adaptable, so I’ll give you the ingredients I used but also some suggestions for variations that you might want to try.

I used;

  • Approximately 100g of cashew nuts (mine weren’t roasted, you could use roasted but only if they’re not salted too)
  • A small amount of soy milk (you could easily substitute with regular cow’s milk, any other type of milk substitute or even just water)
  • 400g dark chocolate (I used dark and made sure it had no milk/animal ingredients to make mine vegan, but you can use milk chocolate if you prefer and don’t need to make them vegan friendly)
  • A good glug of Kahlua (there are so many alternatives you can use here, any spirit/liqueur you like – Baileys, Whiskey, Rum maybe even Creme de Menthe for an interesting minty twist? Or you can skip the alcohol all together and use a teaspoon of vanilla essence or other food flavour essence)
  • Some cocoa powder and/or icing sugar
  • You will need some kind of food processor, doesn’t need to be fancy, I used my small Kenwood Mini Chopper and it was fine.
The number you make will depend on the size of your final truffle, but using teaspoons full of the mixture I made about 28 truffles from these ingredients.
How to;

1. Soak the cashew nuts in water until soft. Some recipes will recommend you do this overnight, but I only soaked mine for 2 or 3 hours and they were fine. Once soft, drain off the water.
2. Put the cashews into you food processor and blend until you have a reasonably smooth paste. Add the soy milk/alternative as required to help the paste form without making it too wet. I found I had to mix a bit then scrape around with a spatula to make sure all the bits got mixed. My final paste looked and felt quite gritty, so it doesn’t need to be totally smooth. I didn’t use mine straight away so put it in a jar in the fridge until I was ready to make the truffles.
3. Melt your chocolate. Usually I’m a microwave chocolate melter, but as I was using so much chocolate and wanted this recipe to go well, I used the old pyrex bowl over a pan of hot water method. Once it’s all melted take it off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before the next step.
It’s really hard to resist dipping your finger in 400g of melted chocolate 🙂

4. Now combine your cashew nut paste and chocolate and add your spirit/liqueur/flavour of choice. Make sure you stir it thoroughly so that the chocolate goes all the way through the nut paste. Once combined, cover the mixture and put it into the fridge for maybe half an hour. The chilling is necessary or you will really struggle to make the truffle balls.

My combined chocolate and nut paste

5. Now it’s time to make truffles! Take small amounts of the mixture (depends on the size of truffle you want, I used teaspoon sized scoops) and roll it in your hands to create a rough spherical truffle shape, the roll in your cocoa powder and/or icing sugar. Most truffles come rolled in cocoa powder but I always think this is too bitter so I mixed my cocoa with some icing sugar to take the edge off. The rolling can help you get the shape as well, as it will stop them sticking to your hands. I placed my finished truffles in mini cake cases, but they can just be placed on a tray covered with greaseproof paper or cling film.
This stage can get very messy, I had to wash the excess chocolate and cocoa powder off my hands after about 3 or 4 truffles.

6. The truffles need to be left to set, you can do this in the fridge but I just left mine on the side as my fridge is far too tiny to accommodate a whole tray of truffles as well as it’s regular inhabitants.

And, that’s it!

So far, I’ve managed to only eat one, and that was a necessary tester! The final product is probably a little firmer than I was expecting, maybe a bit more fluid in the nut paste, or a bit more nut paste in the overall mixture might fix that. Or I might just pour a load more Kahlua on a couple and see what that does.

Now, mine probably aren’t going to win any beauty prizes, but if they looked too good people might not believe I made them!

I keep thinking of more variations that I could try; coating the finished truffle in chopped nuts, or having a whole nut in the centre, or a whole nut inside and chopped nuts outside for your own sort of Ferrero Rocher, or topping with sprinkles, putting a whole raspberry in the middle, making them with white chocolate, making them with some of the fancy flavour chocolates from Hotel Chocolat (like their caramel flavour chocolate!)…..I think this list could go on. Any other suggestions are welcome too.

I do have one specific variation in mind that I will let you know about once I’ve tried it to see if it works.

As a final note, I would like to welcome my newest blog followers! Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this post and my others to come.

I hope December is going well for you so far, and that the build up to Christmas isn’t causing you too much stress or annoyance!

Love,
Betty
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Chocolate Week

You may or may not be aware that this past week has been Chocolate Week. If I’m honest, I really don’t need an officially dedicated week to encourage me to celebrate the joy that is chocolate, but I’m happy to use it as an excuse to talk about the stuff!
I’ve had a bit of a crumby second half of the week really, what with a huge work load, absolutely zero motivation and some strange semi-illness that keeps rearing it’s head and making me feel very weak, tired and fuzzy. However, on Friday my perfect crappy-day cure arrived in the post, in the form of my Hotel Chocolat Chocolate Tasting Club box!

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I’ve been a member of The Chocolate Tasting Club for about six months now, and I’m a big fan. If you haven’t heard of Hotel Chocolat or The Chocolate Tasting Club, the you’re definitely missing out. Hotel Chocolat is a high-quality UK chocolate brand selling what they describe as ‘artisan chocolates’. They have an absolutely stunning range of products, from basics like slabs of milk, white and dark (up to 85% cocoa) chocolate through caramels, truffles, pralines and chocolate coated fruits, to seasonal cocktail flavours and Halloween/Christmas/Easter themed chocolates (their Easter eggs are amazingly thick). Everything is beautifully finished and usually, as good to look at as to eat. Another bonus is their strong ethical policy, which is spelled out fully in their website, so you can be sure of getting an ethically produced product. Some of their dark chocolates are even vegan friendly! While all this high quality does mean that their chocolate is more expensive than your standard supermarket chocolate, as far as I’m concerned, it’s easily worth the extra money. The luxury and indulgence of proper chocolate is hard to beat, plus I like the fact that, as it’s a bit more expensive, I savour it more and usually don’t eat quite as much!

Anyway, onto The Chocolate Tasting Club. The Chocolate Tasting Club is a monthly subscription service run by Hotel Chocolat, that sends you a selection of Hotel Chocolat chocolates to taste and evaluate. There are three selections to choose from; Classic gives you a bit of everything, Dark gives you only dark chocolates and Elements gives you a selection of most of the range, excluding alcoholic chocolates. I started on the Classic Selection, but I was wasting too many of the strong alcohol ones, so have now switched to the Elements Selection, which I’m getting on with better.

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So, once a month I get a beautifully packaged box of luxury chocolates arrive through my letterbox (the boxes are specifically designed to fit through letterboxes, so no need to make a trip to the sorting office if you’re out when it arrives!). I’ve already spoken about my excitement at receiving pretty, well packaged parcels, and this is no different, if anything, it’s more exciting as I don’t know what wonderful chocolates I’m going to get until I open the box and read the menu.

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It’s nice to be able to try some different types of chocolate without having to shell out for a full pack. As much as I love chocolate, I do tend to go for the same things, the ones I know I like, so these boxes help me try new things. I had no idea I liked praline as much as I do, and I’m not sure I would have ever picked up the white chocolate lemon cheesecake slab in the shop, but it is absolutely fantastic! I would thoroughly recommend the club to anyone who really loves their chocolate (as a member you also get a card that entitles you to 5% discount on purchases in-store or on the website.

If you haven’t already done so, go celebrate what’s left of Chocolate Week while you still can!
Love,
Betty
x

The conundrum of baking whilst on a diet

As you may well be aware, I have been on a ‘diet’ of sorts for about six weeks now. I say ‘diet’, it’s more trying to eat sensibly and with fewer snacks than I did before, significantly fewer snacks, with a greater awareness of the calorie content of things. Ever since sitting down and calculating the calorie content of a cupcake I have been too terrified to bake, with visions of taking a bite and every seam of my clothing splitting open as I instantly gain a stone. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but not actually a million miles from the actual fears racing through my mind.
Finally, this morning, I got on the scales to discover I had reached the weight that I had been hoping for, 10 and a half stone! Although I didn’t feel quite the level of elation that I had anticipated, I am still pretty pleased with myself. In celebration I decided it was time I indulged my baking passion once more, by breaking out my slightly-adapted-for-a-lower-calorie-content cookie recipe.

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The base recipe came from the Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz except I replaced the oil for Pure Dairy Free Sunflower Spread and some of the sugar for Agave nectar, as both contain fewer calories than the original ingredients.
I wasn’t totally sure the recipe would work, as the recipe goes on about some sort of reaction between the oil and sugar, and I had no idea how essential this would be to the finished product! Fortunately, they came out well. The mix didn’t spread as much in the oven as when made with oil, but that’s hardly the end of the world. Maybe the finished products are a little soft, but I honestly don’t know if that’s down to the recipe or my rubbish oven, I’ll bake them longer next time to see. On the most important point, taste, they are definitely a success. Also, with getting 14 out of a batch, based on my calculations, they’re only around 100 calories each, which isn’t bad for a cookie!!

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Now my next task is to control myself so I don’t eat them all in one sitting :/
I have used the agave syrup before, but only in recipes where it was prescribed. I think I shall be trying it out as a sugar substitution in some other recipes. I had never heard of it before I started my journey into vegan baking. It come from the agave plant, which I have been led to believe is a cactus and is also used in the production of tequila. Apparently, it’s popular in vegan baking as an alternative to honey, as vegans class honey as an animal product. I’ve also heard things about agave being potentially suitable for diabetics, but I’d check that out for yourself, don’t take my expression of vague hear-say as fact.

Anyway,
Hope you are keeping well,
Betty
x

So much for the exercise

I have actually been exercising, but today I baked brownies and shortbread, which will need some serious working off :/

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The recipes were both from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, although I adapted the brownies a bit. I’d not tried the shortbread before but I’m pleased with how it worked out. I was concerned as my dough didn’t look as crumbly as the recipe suggested but it came out fine, in fact if the dough had been crumby I think the finished product might have been too dry. I went for a rustic finish, as I had to spread out the dough on a baking tray, in theory in should be made in a nice round tin but it’s not like it affects the flavour! It was really quite simple, creamed together vegan marg and sugar, then add vanilla, flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt, with a bit of sugar to sprinkle on top when it comes out of the oven.
The brownies I have done before, but I added syrup and melted chocolate to the recipe as brownies rarely work out as gooey and fudgey as I like them. It definitely made the difference, the texture is great, crisp on top and insanely gooey and chewy in the middle, although, if anything, they may be a bit too rich (not that I’m complaining). The recipe uses silken tofu, but only a quarter of a pack, so there is now three quarters of a pack of silken tofun in my fridge, so looks like I’ll be whipping up some more brownies soon and maybe some blondies too (blonde brownies rather than an 80’s pop group).

I’ve already had more than one persons worth of brownie and shortbread for one evening, although it’s only 9.20 and I don’t think I’ll be going to bed for a while, will be a trial to keep myself from eating more. If anyone is bored and fancies helping me out with some of them, let me know 🙂
See you later
Betty
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