Cheetahs In My Shoes

living with the imaginary menagerie and all that it entails


Friday Photo – Cake

I had a cake commission today *small fist pump*.  Not just a cake commission, a cake commission with the spec of “12 cupcakes, whatever you want, suitable for children”.  Cool.

So I made vanilla sponge cakes, took the core out and filled it with toffee sauce and then put a swirl of salted toffee buttercream on the top.  If you’d like the recipe, let me know and I’ll post up over on Bake Yummy.  The downside being that the cakes were in the oven by 8am as the children wanted porridge for breakfast and oddly enough needed to get to school.

What do you reckon..?



We were fortunate to celebrate not only the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee but the 60th Anniversary of the school that the Cheetah Keeper and his Sister attend being opened.  Cue, a playground street party, balloons, cake and ‘my’ (obviously mine because I play the piano for them!) brilliant choir singing.  These kids turn me into an emotional mess pretty much every rehearsal now – the growing confidence, beauty of sound, the one who cried because she was leaving the school and would miss choir…

We then embarked on what would be an epic nearly 7 hour journey to Devon for our half term break.  Sorry London, but if half the population was descending on us, we wanted to head in the opposite direction – along with the remaining half of the population so it seemed.  There we were treated to a street party at our Holiday Park, bunting and general merriment – and I realised I am a right sucker for bunting against blue sky pictures.


The Rice Crispie Cake Easter Bonnet

If you haven’t grasped it by now, I’m a bit mad (go read some more of the blog if you haven’t).   I live with 200(ish) imaginary Cheetahs, some banana people, 48 Dinos, 48 Dino Brothers (all called ‘Strike’) and a whole load of medical needs.  I’m also fond of making a cake (or 100), having a go at a bit of crafty stuff and whole-heartedly approve of kids getting stuck in and making a mess.

So when asked whether we could make an Easter Bonnet for the competition at school out of cake, the logical answer would have been….


The actual answer was – “well yes, ok then”.  Then I realised (duh…) that two would be required (one for each child) and that I had to significantly up my game.  The next line was the cruncher – bear in mind I have already said ‘yes’ – “and we can wear them to school…?  OK, time to make a plan… and after a quick trip to Sainsburys here’s how we made an Easter Bonnet Cake…(and you could too)

I glued a plastic serving bowl on an aluminium platter

you need to use ‘extra tacky’ glue and leave it to set for a bit.  Patience is required – this is the frame that you’re going to build the cake on.

Turn the 'hat' onto it's crown and use something sharp to make a hole to fit your scissors into

Using decent scissors (I used florist’s scissors that can be used to cut wire) work outwards from the hole so that it looks like this

into 8 triangles

Stop cutting when the tips of the scissors touch the edge of the bowl.  I tried gluing the triangles into the bowl (to form the actual hat bit) but that so did not work.  So with a bit, ok, a lot, of electrical tape I taped it all into place and made sure there were no sharp edges.

It's not going to show!

Check the fit!

She does have quite a large head – it fits her brother better but it will have to do.

Make sure the glue is really dry.

Ready for action!

Then get yourself a helper as you’ll need to make a shed load of rice crispie cake.

We used (for 2 hats – just) 250g butter, 10 tablespoons (ish) of golden syrup and about 500g of rice crispie (we used the basics range).

Melt the butter and golden syrup together in the microwave (do it in bursts and stir in-between) and then stir in the rice crispies until you get a thick, sticky mix.  Then smother the frame in it (seriously sticky work) and leave it to set.  Make sure you’re working on a tray or something else that will catch the bits!

and leave to set

We left it to set for 24 hours and then set about decorating it.

With icing, icing pens, sprinkles, cutters, writing icing, and anything else that I use to decorate my more sensible cakes

Leaving us with these

this is the Cheetah Keeper’s creation.  All his own work!

and this is what his sister will be wearing on Friday.  Hopefully it won’t rain, or be too hot and there won’t be any wasps about!  Yes, the chick is wearing glasses – just like she does now.

Fun – yes.  Messy – oh good grief, yes.  Quality family time – yes.  Unique – yes.


Spiced Toffee Apple Cakes

There are many advantages to living down the road to Renata who writes at Just Bring the Chocolate – not only does she write an awesome blog, dish out oodles of common sense, know how to perform the odd miracle, manipulate the NHS and give me a good kick up the backside when it’s needed, I also get home from work on some days to find a dozen eggs waiting for me.  Her chickens are laying and therefore cake is required.

Whilst I know that she is after a batch of my rolo cakes I need to restock on rolos so in the meantime, I set about creating something with the bramley apples that I have in stock.  I wanted to do something a bit more with them than just grate the apple into the sponge mix so I softened the apple off first in a caramel…

So, preheat your oven to about 190C, 170C (Fan), Gas 3/4ish and line some deep bun tins with cases – this batch made 16 cakes.

Peel and core 2 largish bramley apples and chop into small dice.  Pop these into a frying pan (you want a single layer) with 3 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of water and cook very gently for about 10 minutes until the apple is soft and there’s no obvious liquid left.  As you turn the heat off, stir in 1 teaspoon of mixed spice and leave it to cool a little.  The apple should be soft, slightly golden but not disintegrating completely.

Then, in large bowl put in 150g softened butter, 150g light muscavado sugar, 150g Self-Raising flour, 1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder and 3 eggs. Beat together with your trusty handmixer until you’ve got a smooth batter.  Finally, add you warm apple mix and give it one big mix together.  Unless you’ve let the apple cool completely, the warmth of the apple mix will mean you get quite a runny batter and you need to work relatively fast once you’ve mixed it in because the baking powder will start working and you need to make the most of it!

As usual, the ice-cream scoop method of filling the cases works really well and I filled them to about ¾ full which gave nice domed cakes.

I didn’t want to slather these in buttercream but wanted to add a bit more toffee to them so I sprinkled some little fudge chunks (ice-cream sprinkles) on some and some caramel sugar (other ice-cream sprinkles) on the others.  Demerera sugar or crumbled sugar lumps would do the same job – or bashed up bits of toffee.  You don’t want too much otherwise it will push the cakes down as it melts (still tastes good though).

I baked mine for 20 minutes and they came out looking like this.

I think they’d be great warm with cream, ice-cream, custard (or natural yoghurt if you’re feeling worthy).  Cold, they’re just as yummy.  Enjoy

Other recipes from my kitchen:



Do Something Yummy – Share Cake

This week, Love All Blogs are asking us to “#dosomethingyummy – share cake!”  and post a picture of cake to raise awareness and support of Yummy Mummy Week – 10-18th March 2012. Yummy Mummy Week is a week long fundraising event where mums are being asked to get together with friends and family and ‘do something yummy’ for CLIC Sargent.

So here you are – cake,

And if you want to do something yummy and bake some cakes in support of CLIC Sargent (or any other charity for that matter) here are some of my very easy recipes – great for baking with children.


6 months of Blogging and 5 things that make me happy

I’ve been blogging for 6 months.  6 whole months…of me, my laptop, my camera and a whole load of imaginary friends.  Bits of my history, bits of now, sadness, family life, beautiful (I hope) pictures, some silliness and a fair amount of cake along the way.

So, how to mark this auspicious occasion?  It’s not been a jolly few weeks for me but after You’re Beautiful yesterday I think the blog needs a bit of a smile so I’ve taken the lovely Kate Takes 5 Listography theme of 5 things that make me happy to do so.  I’ve spent too much of today thinking about the word ‘happy’.  It’s not a word I associate with ‘me’ at the moment, it’ll come but it may take a while.  So I’ve chosen 5 things that are helping me get into a better ‘place’:


Washing on the line, drying, with bright blue sky, in February


Things growing that we planted together - these daffodils were planted with the Cheetah Keeper's sister 5 years ago! Spring is on the way


Pepsi Max on special offer in the supermarket. I have a bit of an addiction!


Baking. I'm not very good with compliments but watching people look at, eat and enjoy the cakes that I make is something that baffles and delights me in equal measure


Going to the Zoo. Seeing things (like this Sloth actually moving!), feeding the children's love of learning, being outside in the fresh air and being lucky enough to see these amazing animals on such a regular basis.

Here’s to the next six months – and if there’s anything I write that you particularly enjoy, please let me know.

There’s lots of other happy thoughts over on Kate’s Listography this week – pop over for a bit more feel good blogging



Certifiable – the life of the Rainbow Leader

I volunteer.  Too much.  I tried to make 2010 my year of not volunteering – it didn’t work.  I returned to the worldwide family of Guiding and became a Rainbow leader (oh, and started playing the piano for the school choir).

Rainbows are aged from 5-7, all my Guiding training is with Guides (10-14 year olds), and Brownies (7-10 year olds).  I’ve risen to the dizzy heights of Assistant Division Commissioner, been part of the consultation for the introduction of the new IT system and taken girls camping abroad.  I’ve spent 8 years involved with the St Albans Gang Show, met my husband and worked with something like 1000+ kids over the last 20 years.  Blimey, that makes it sound very grown-up.

I’ll be a Rainbow Leader until Easter when I return to the safer ground of being Tawny Owl at Brownies.  Not every week – the Cheetah Keeper’s sister needs to have some independence , but if she’s going to go to Brownies, my skills will be part of the deal.

So today, my 2 hours ‘real’ (paid) work took 4 hours which somewhat disturbed my volunteering schedule for today.  Then a trip to the osteopath to have my pelvis back together (again) and then to Tesco to buy supplies – some for home, the rest for Rainbows.

The Rainbows programme runs around 4 themes “Look”, “Learn”, “Laugh” and “Love”.  This week (being the closest to Valentine’s Day) we were working on Love.  We made cards for anyone they love (and yes, we have a 6 year old with a boyfriend…) and then we were planning on icing heart shaped cakes.

Crisis.  No icing pens in Tesco.  None.  Nada.  NOTHING!  Ignoring the fact there were no heart shaped cakes cooling beautifully in my kitchen – there were no *insert expletive of your choice* icing pens.

So what did I do..? (and bear in mind at this point the queues in Tesco are resembling those found on Christmas Eve – there is snow forecast, PANIC BUYING is compulsory…)

I bought royal icing sugar and made icing pens for them.  With my piping bags and a liberal dose of food colouring.

Whilst making nearly 4 dozen little vanilla cakes for them to ice, and some butter icing.

All between getting home from school at 3.30pm and leaving again at 4.35pm to run the meeting.

The cakes weren’t heart shaped but to be honest, making them in paper cases rather than silicone was a good plan (they catch the sprinkles better).

So, in the cold church hall, we played games, sang songs, made cards, iced cakes, welcomed new Rainbows into the family of Guiding, wished others well as they move up to Brownies, sung Happy Birthday to a Rainbow and one of our other fantastic volunteers who’ll be 16 this weekend (she came to Brownies with me when she was 7 – I love the fact she’s stayed…)

They had a fantastic time – in a safe, girls only space.  We’re taking some of them to see the Gang Show on Saturday afternoon and after half term we’ve got a whole load of other stuff planned – including talking about International Women’s Day and continuing our theme of “Being the best I can”.

Making icing pens for them is something that is just another box ticked on the list confirming that I’m absolutely bonkers.  You know what though?  The girls had a fantastic time and that’s what volunteering is all about.  It’s why I find it really hard to use that little ‘no’ word when someone needs a hand.  Which is why I was shovelling snow off the school playground on Monday morning (please don’t tell my GP…)

I work, I have children with additional needs, my health isn’t that predictable, I have a home that needs cleaning and and an ever overflowing washing basket.  Volunteering adds to the mix – it makes me better at all these things (well, maybe not managing the washing basket) and it’s given me friends for life.

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If you’ve got some Time to Share have a look over here


Rolo Brownie Cakes with Meringue Topping

I have a confession.  Just a small one.  I’m the mad woman who trawls the reduced sections in the supermarket – not just the ‘reduced to clear’ chilled shelves but the main shelves (looking for those yellow stickers), the ‘separated from the rest of the multi-pack’ corner and the dregs of whatever season is now over shelf as they prepare to re-stock with whatever’s coming next, usually way, way too early.

And that’s where you find the very reduced tubes of Little Rolos in their Christmas packaging – for 50p – and if ever there was an excuse to create another cake, this had to be it.

So, for a seriously decadent cake this is what you’ll need:

200g rolos (we had Little Rolos) – this quantity allows for what is known in our house as ‘snitching’ (testing for quality purposes)
100g butter
200g light muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
½ teaspoon of baking powder
For the meringue topping
2 egg whites
100g sugar

Preheat your oven to 180C, 160C (fan), I reckon that’s around Gas Mark 4 and line a muffin tin with deep cupcake cases.

This is possibly the reason why they were reduced!  They seem to have done the going white thing.  Rest assured, the taste is completely unaffected.

Into a medium size (we used the loyal 2pt pyrex) microwaveable bowl, put the rolos, butter (chopped – it melts faster) and the muscavado sugar.  Microwave on medium for about 2 minutes and then give it all a really good stir to combine thesugar into the chocolate.  Work relatively fast at this point as it keeps the mixture smooth – it should be quite shiny.

Get your beautiful assistant to break your eggs into the mixture and mix it all in really well with the fork.  You’ll be heading towards the gloopy stage.  Then add the flour, baking powder and mix it all together really well.

This mixture is a brownie type mix so will be runny – so I find it easier to use the ice-cream scoop to half fill each of the cases.  I really wouldn’t fill them any higher – the cakes are rich and you run the risk of a volcanic explosion when baking.

Whilst you’re doing this, get your beautiful assistant to whisk 2 egg whites to the stiff peaks stage (in a very clean bowl – we used another 2pt one again).

Stiff peaks should look like this when you take the beaters out – do not be tempted to add the sugar before this stage

Then, a tablespoon (or so, like you’re going to measure it) at a time, add the sugar – using the mixer on a relatively fast setting.  Some say you need to fold the sugar in – I don’t.

Fill a (disposable – it’s so much easier) piping bag with the mix – I used a large star nozzle and pipe a swirl of meringue onto each cake – making sure you leave a border clear around the edge.

I would leave a slightly bigger border that this when you do yours – it’ll stop them exploding quite as much!

Bake for around 30 minutes – as I say with all of my recipes, I don’t know what your oven is like.  You need to get them to the point that the meringue is cooked and the cake/brownie mix is too – otherwise you may end up with the cake sinking under the meringue.  That’s just aesthetic though – it still tastes divine.

If they do bubble over the edge onto the tin whilst cooking (bear in mind you’ve got all that toffee in the mix), when you take the cakes out the oven, leave them for 5 minutes and then give them a little twist in their tin – one at a time.  This should mean they won’t stick to the tin.  Allow to cool in the tin then pop them on a wire rack (if you can be bothered/have space etc).

They should look a bit like this:

You could serve them warm with a bit of cream (other dairy products containing slightly less fat are available) as a desert – you’ll only need one!  Enjoy.


Butternut Squash, Maple & Ginger Cupcakes

We have had a butternut squash lurking for a while.  Some of it’s gone in risotto, some of it in soup and the rest, well, it went in cake today.

I’ve made a butternut squash loaf before which was ‘worthy’ and a great way of smuggling veg into children but pretty boring.  I’m fairly sure that most people don’t wake up at midnight thinking “what would happen if I made a butternut squash mash with maple syrup and put it in a sponge cake” – but then again I’m not ‘most people’.  So, after some late night night plotting, here’s a recipe for very moist little cakes, that don’t have quite as much sugar in as my usual concoctions…

You’ll need:

200g (that’s the weight when peeled) butternut squash cut into small dice
100g softened butter
50g light muscavado sugar
2 balls of stem ginger (keep the syrup in the jar, it’ll come in useful)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
125g self raising flour
2 eggs


This is how I made them:

Preheat your oven to 180C (160C Fan) – I think that’s about Gas Mark 4 and either line a muffin tin with cake cases or use silicone ones.

Put your diced butternut squash into a microwaveable bowl.  I used a 2pt pyrex one that was then big enough to use for everything.  Add 1 tablespoon of water and then cover in clingfilm.  Microwave on full for 5 minutes (I have an 800W microwave – you need to cook it until it’s steamed soft).

While it’s cooking chop your stem ginger – I tend to just stick it in a bowl and snip downwards with the kitchen scissors.  OK, I may have been watching too much “I Can Cook” on CBeebies but stem ginger is sticky stuff and this way you don’t take your fingers off whilst trying to hold and cut it at the same time.

Cut a small hole in the clingfilm (the bowl will be hot – really hot) and drain off the water.

Add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to the squash and then mash together with a fork.  Or you could use a blender if you want to do more washing up. Mix in the stem ginger too.  It doesn’t need to be really smooth but all mashed up.

Add to this warm mix, your softened butter (cut it into dice, it’ll make things easier), flour, sugar and eggs.  If you want a more domed cake add half a teaspoon of baking powder.

Then add a teaspoon of ground ginger.  If you want a zingier cake, add a little more ginger.



Using your beautiful assistant (and your trusty hand mixer) give all the ingredients a good mix together.  The mix you’ll get is quite gloopy – this is what’s going to keep your cakes nice and soft.

Using (if you’ve got one) an ice-cream scoop fill your cases to about two thirds full.

Bake for 15 minutes – they should be a pale golden colour and spring back when you press down on them.

In that I have absolutely no self-control, I tried one of these whilst still warm.  They would be excellent with a bit of ice-cream or custard as a pudding.

They were going to get a swirl of maple syrup buttercream (100g very soft butter mixed with 200g icing sugar , 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and a dash of hot water if necessary but the gannets in my household got there first…

Some of my other yummy recipes: