Friday, 31 January 2014

Brit Decor: Bakes / Apple & Almond Pastries

Apple & Almond Pastries

Taste their best fresh from the oven with a cup of coffee
I made a firm vow to myself on New Year's eve that in 2014 I would push out of my comfort zone and try new things, however big or small. For some inexplicable reason, until now, I had never even attempted to make pastries. Therefore, I used last weekend's wash-out weather as the perfect opportunity to test my culinary skills that little bit further...

Although the entire process took me a couple of hours, which would normally prove a test of my patience, I kicked back, enjoyed the radio and fully immersed myself in this recipe and concluded that the entire experience was actually quite therapeutic. This is also one of those bakes where you can, if you need to, busy yourself with other projects whilst the dough is proving.

Best of all, having put in so much effort, I felt like I'd really earned a bite (or three) of one of the final pastries. These certainly taste their best fresh from the oven with a cup of coffee.

So come on friends, let's bake our way through 2014!

Ingredients (makes approximately 6 pastries)

For the pastry
60ml whole milk
60g caster sugar
55g unsalted butter
380g strong white bread flour
1 large egg
7g dried active yeast
1 tsp salt

For the filling
2 medium Bramley apples, peeled & cored
80g unsalted butter
40g raisins
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp cornflour
100g soft brown sugar

For the topping & glaze
1 large egg (beaten)
200g icing sugar
50g caster sugar
50g flaked almonds

1. Heat the milk in a small pan, add the butter, sugar & salt and mix until fully dissolved.

2. In a separate bowl, dissolve the yeast in 80ml of warm water and leave to one side until the yeast has fully dissolved (approx 25 minutes). Then add the yeast water and one egg to the milky mixture in the pan.

3. In a large mixing bowl, place the flour and make a dip in the centre. Pour in the milky liquid and mix together until a firm dough is formed. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth and even. Then place the dough back into the mixing bowl and seal with cling film. Leave in a dry, warm spot to rise for approx 1 hour.

4. Whilst the dough is rising/proving, go ahead and start making the filling. Peel, core and chop the apples, melt the butter in a pan and add the apples, raisins, sugar and cinnamon. Cook until very soft. In a jug, mix the cornflour with 50ml of water and add this to the cooked apples. Stir repeatedly until the mixture becomes thick. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

5. Go back to your dough, which should have proved nicely and knead this gently before rolling out onto the floured surface again to make approximately a 25 x 46cm rectangle. Using a knife, cut the dough along the centre of the rectangle and then into 6 strips.

6. Place about 2-3 tablespoons of the cooled apple filling into the centre of each strip and fold the pastry over this. Lightly press down the edges and pinch the bottom ends together, creating indentations. Place the pastries onto the greased baking trays and cover with cling film for 20 mins (this allows the pastry to rise again).

7. Preheat the oven to 170 0c Gas mark 3. Lightly brush the pastries with the beaten egg mixture and sprinkle on top the flaked almonds and caster sugar. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

8. Now time to glaze these crispy beauties! Mix the icing sugar with 3-4 tablespoons of water to create a runny mixture and drizzle over the pastries once they have cooled slightly.


All Images / Mike Ahern

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Brit Decor: New Luxe / Mumo

Image / House Bliss / 1 Moema Geometric Pillow £55 Mumo / 2 Gold & Pewter Geometric
Patchwork Cushion £75 / 3 Part Block Foil Copper Cushion / 4 Niemeyer Print Cushion £60
Available at Selfridges (Oxford Street) and online.

Try mixing metallics with darker shades...
We all love a shot of luxury every now and again, don't we? This selection of textiles from the sustainable interiors brand Mumo is luxury with ethics, or 'luxe with attitude' as I prefer to term it. I am thrilled to see the inclusion of one of my favourites, geometric pattern, along with distressed metallic golds and coppers created by foiling techniques - just look how these finishes catch the light!

This is an exciting time for the Mumo brand, with a cross-section of their soft furnishings now available at Selfridge's flagship store in Oxford Street and also online nationally. For those of us not living in the capital, it's great to know that cutting edge interior brands are still available at the click of a button. However, availability of the Mumo brand will soon extend to include selected House of Fraser stores in the UK.

Try mixing metallics with darker shades to accentuate the notion of contrast, which at the same time will emphasise the light reflecting properties of the metallic colouring. This will also bring a luxury edge to your scheme.

Image / Mumo

Monday, 27 January 2014

Brit Decor: Loves

All images / Mike Ahern

The friendly smiles make a huge difference...
On Saturday we took a long awaited trip to the Somerset market town of Frome, or more precisely, to its exciting Artisan quarter St Catherine's. Set on a charming cobbled street, there is an exciting new find to be had behind every beautifully painted shop door and best of all, each one is an independent retailer.

I am not about to be become a hypocrite and pretend I don't love some of my trusted high street home ware brands but there is something really special about shopping in these unique stores; the experience becomes very intimate as many of the business owners also work on their own shop floors and the friendly smiles make a huge difference.

However, one store in particular really appealed and caught my immediate attention. Assembly is the brainchild of the very talented Anthony Hick, who has drawn upon his background in the fashion industry to develop a unique menswear-meets-homeware brand. Products include British ethically sourced menswear and a must-have home and object collection.

Anthony's exquisite creative flair seems embedded in the shop and shines brightly like the eye-catching electric 'a' light inside the doorway, which helped to draw me in from the street. Once inside, I immediately began browsing the clothes rails before feasting my eyes on the beautiful enamelware amongst many other on-trend finds. 

Maybe it's because I am a guy who is an avid fan of fashion and interiors but I have always been struck by the practically non-existent presence of this type of retailing concept for men, and I have long felt that every town and city is screaming out for this type of shopping experience. Therefore, Assembly really does strike a chord for me; Anthony, thank you and I will be back!

@shopassembly #Inspired


Friday, 24 January 2014

Brit Decor: Bakes / Strawberry Milkshake Cupcakes!

Strawberry Milkshake Cupcakes

'My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard...' as the lyrics go! You can be sure that these strawberry milkshake cupcakes will bring everyone over to yours as they are just so cute to look at and taste just as good as they look. I find baking so therapeutic and I had great fun using some recently purchased vintage-style stripy drinking straws for the photo shoot, my favourite being one being the on-trend teal stripe, naturally.

Here's the all important 'how to make' bit...

Makes 12-16
For the Sponge
70g Unsalted butter
210g Plain flour
250g Caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Salt
210ml Whole milk
2 Large eggs
40g Strawberry milkshake powder

For the frosting
500g Icing sugar, sifted
160g Unsalted butter, softened
50ml Whole milk
100g Strawberry milkshake powder

Preheat the oven to 1700c (Gas Mark 3) and line the muffin tins with cases. To make the sponge, use an electric mixer to mix together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Separately, mix the eggs, milk and strawberry milkshake powder before slowly adding this to the electric mixer until smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake for 20-25 minutes and then leave to cool on a wire rack.

Now onto the frosting! Mix together the milk and the milkshake powder in a jug. Use an electric mixer to slowly combine the icing sugar and the softened butter. Then gradually pour the contents of the jug into the butter mixture and continue mixing until you have a light and fluffy frosting. Sweet!

Use a palette knife to add the frosting to the cupcakes or if you prefer, pipe the frosting instead. Optional decorations can include a mini drinking straw and/or a sprinkle of the milkshake powder. Oh the joys of baking!

All images / Mike Ahern

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Brit Decor: Flashback / Venice

All images / Mike Ahern

Recently I have been seriously missing the sunshine and uplifting light of last Summer. I find myself clinging to the gradual increase of daylight hours here in the UK and appreciating every minute of precious sunshine when it does appear. I have even resorted to looking at the world clock on my iPhone and gazing at warmer cities (LA for example can expect a reasonable 25 degrees today, that'll do me!).

However, my own vivid memories of holidays past can offer all the escapism I need on a rainy day, like the gorgeous shimmering reflection of sunlight dancing on the Adriatic sea as my partner and I approached Venice by boat, soaking up the sights and immersing myself in 'holiday mode'. Our trip to this famous city last August with its beautiful Venetian architecture, delicious cuisine, culture, the volumes of history, oh and a touch of romance too, made a profound impression on me and I still feel inspired by it right now! 

At times I almost found myself overwhelmed from the mountain of inspiration on offer during my trip, and despite sharing as many sights as possible via my instagram  page, this never seemed as much as I wanted you all to see! The Doge's Palace was incredible and St Marks square became our favourite evening stop-off to soak up the culture, live music, the buzz of tourists and locals, and of course, a sweet treat from the famous Caffe Florian, established in 1720 no less! After this we'd set off to explore, sometimes with a set destination in mind, other times to simply lose ourselves. 

Once away from the main tourist hotspots, the winding maze of back streets and canals made every day a new adventure (in other words we got lost most days) but it meant discovering new people, shops, cafes and cultural gems every time. This is definitely a destination that I need to visit again to discover all the places that we almost certainly would have missed, including a boat trip to the colourful island of Burano (a setting straight out of a Bright Bazaar post!). 

So I hope this feature has offered a dose of holiday inspiration for us all to indulge in today and I'd love to know where you are headed this year, however near or far from home.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Brit Decor: Home i.d

Images / My Impress / Pinterest / Loed / ebay

The entrance to the 'world of you'
A house number can seem the smallest of details but, for visitors, it is more often than not the first detail of our home they will see; the name or number that identifies our living space. To really call the place where we live 'home' we really need to own it, not in financial terms, but stylistically. Therefore, our homes should reflect our personality and what we are all about. So why not start from the very beginning; with the entrance to the 'world of you'?

House numbers don't have to be brand new and squeaky clean, they can be old vintage finds, handmade or maybe ones inherited with the property.

So can we really tell who lives in a house just by a sign? Probably not but we can have fun guessing, right? Like a magpie, my eyes are always drawn to brightly coloured signage, and there is something so cheery and welcoming about vibrant house numbers; surely a social butterfly would live here? Equally, some of the urban-style bold and blocky typefaces in monochromes or greys can create a slick and minimal  look, which suggests this is the abode of a career professional...perhaps.

Thanks to the likes of Artists like Banksy, the stencilled look is also big right now and this can be both a highly cost-effective and creative way of customising your very own design - what better way to tell people 'a creative lives here'!?

Having previously lived in the city of Bath several years ago, I have a huge appreciation for the many vintage hand painted numbers emblazoned onto the Bath stone, usually positioned above the door (like the number '11' above). Whether faded originals or freshly restored, the crisp detailing is stunning and it's easy to appreciate the skill that went into painting these. However, bringing this concept into the 21st Century, I am really taken with the '101' graphic below and how striking the white and orange looks against the slate grey wood panelling.

I think it's safe to say that there is something for everyone - so which style are you?

Images / Anstee / Vienna for Beginners / Le Container / Sea Faring Gypsy / Patrick Baty

Friday, 17 January 2014

Brit Decor Bake: Pears in Chocolate

Brit Decor Bake: Pears in chocolate (Serves 4)

Hello friends! I think it's time for another treat don't you?

I discovered this divinely easy-peasy pudding on New Year's eve when I decided to cook a special meal for my partner. The main course of homemade Italian meatballs with spaghetti went down a treat so expectations were high for dessert and thankfully this one delivered! Apart from the deliciously sweet flavouring, the great thing about this dish was the minimal effort required which allowed me the luxury of more time to concentrate on cooking the main course.

The pears softened beautifully as they baked to perfection with the caramelised sugars. The piece de resistance was the molten chocolate sauce which gave a tiny kick, courtesy of some pear brandy. I am pleased to report that his dessert was not overly filling and I think this might also work as a chilled Summertime treat - seconds anyone?

2-4 Pears (depending on size)
25g brown sugar
100g plain chocolate
2 tablespoons pear brandy
20g butter

How to make:
Beging by preheating the oven to 160oC /Gas mark 3oC. Gently sprinkle half of the brown sugar into an ovenproof dish before peeling, halving and coring the pears. Add the pears to the dish and then sprinkle over the remaining brown sugar. Bake for 15 minutes.

Whilst the pears are baking, break the plain chocolate into pieces and melt together with the butter in a pan. Then add the pear brandy and stir until smooth. Once the pears have been removed from the oven, pour over the chocolate and serve. Yes I kid you not, it was that simple!


All Images / Mike Ahern

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Brit Decor: West Elm Collection/ News

The Stateside home furnishings store, West Elm, newly based in the UK (hooray!) has this week launched an exciting collaborative range of beautiful handcrafted textiles and home-wares with esteemed fashion designer, Steven Alan.

In the video, above, check out how Steven, along with West Elm's President, Jim Brett, took an amazing journey to India to seek out handcrafted and traditional methods for creating an authentic collection of inspired home-wares.

As a result of his journey, Steven was able to produce hand-loomed and hand dyed fabrics - each one unique and beautiful! One of my favourites has to be the hand-blocked triangle pillow cover (see below) in midnight blue. The texture, colouring and slightly imperfect print is Brit Decor to a 'T'!

However, it doesn't stop there, each of Steven's rugs are hand-woven by Indian artisans and then dyed using a traditional gabbeh technique, this beats mass-produced identical designs, right? Similarly, Steven's vases are individually made from locally mined clay and then thrown using a foot-powered wheel before being fired in a traditional pit. There's also the good ethics element to all of this as the vases, for example, are handmade by local Nicaraguan potters at a local artisan fair trade market called Chaka MarketBridge.

To visit the UK website for West Elm, click here or pop into their new store at Tottenham Court Road, London.

Why not have fun sharing your stripes on Instagram with #shareyourstripes

All images / West Elm

Monday, 13 January 2014

Brit Decor: Coffee Table Chic






Coffee Table Chic

Does a coffee table grace your living space? These sometimes undervalued furniture pieces can bring added functionality to a room as well as all important style and here's why... 

The coffee table will often taken centre place in a room but not necessarily centre stage. It always makes me sad to see a neglected coffee table used only as a holding area for clutter, when it could showcase stylish and interesting objects or simply stand alone as a beautiful piece of furniture.

The subtle texturing of the wood combined with the sexy oval curves of this stunning mid-twentieth century table (no.1) is more than enough to elevate it to the centre of attention, and I love how the wood fuses with the rose-pink sofa to create a warm and inviting feel. This type of vintage look is so hot right now and looks great when placed alongside other items from the same period, or alternatively, as a contrast to more contemporary pieces.

I was immediately drawn to the silhouette-style table (no.2) which cuts clean architectural lines into this arrangement, and glass is such an effective material for creating the illusion of more space. In this case, it allows you to fully appreciate the intricate leg work going on underneath. 

In complete contrast the heavy rustic look of (no.3) brings a strong natural vibe to the room and note how it connects with the outdoors too via the window in the background. The unfinished surface of the wood and the soft neutral colouring proves there is beauty in imperfection and consequently gives the room a relaxed and informal feel - the kind of room that you would want to kick off your shoes and relax in!  

I just want to explore coffee table no.4 or more specifically, its contents! This eclectic collection of books, plants and objects makes for a very interesting talking point, especially if you frequently have guests around. Grouping together items in such an orderly way creates the look of an exciting curated collection and for this look, why not pick a selection of some of your favourite things and try to update it on a regular business so it remains a captivating source interest.

Having gone through the sometimes tricky planning process of designing for a small cottage, I know that space really is at a premium so these two petite tables in image no.5 offer the perfect solution. Either as singles or nested together, smaller coffee or side tables are highly effective for adding  quirky pockets of style to a room and don't these too look so cute!?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Brit Decor: Get Fresh

Top Image / Remodelista / 1 Jacquard weave blanket £24.99 H&M / 2 Zig Zag runner £30
Urban Outfitters / 3 Gum Vase £45 Couvert & the Garbstore / 4 Cotton cushion cover £1.99
H&M / 5 Camera Pillow £19.33 Etsy / 6 DQT Polka Dot Men's Handkerchief £3.49 eBay /
7 Northern Light 'Spring Green' £32 Skandivis / 8 Ceramic plate £3.99 H&M

Get fresh for the weekend (wasn't that the opening to an eighties pop track?). We hear a lot about fresh beginnings at this time of year and if you love interiors as much as I do, then it's all about a fresh new look for the home. We have already looked at adding greenery through house plants and cut flowers this week so I couldn't resist picking out this exhilarating collection of fresh mint greens and aqua blues to help springboard us all into the weekend.

I consider myself duly inspired by the first image above with its very Brit Decor-style raw painted bricks  - do you like the contrast of the mint and white colour combo as much as I do? The pureness of the white detailing gives the green an added clean-look whilst the latter colour holds all the connotations of new life and nature - so what better colours to have for my first week back on the blog in 2014!?

My top source of palette co-ordinated goodies today has to be H&M, the home of affordable style, with (no.1) this elegant lightweight blanket with the intricate contrasting pattern and tassels, and one of my favourite picks has to be the striking zig-zag patterned cushion cover (no.4) which really sums up just how well these colours work together in juxtaposition. On a similar note, the mint zig zag runner (no.2) from Urban Outfitters would look great in a hallway and would definitely draw me into any house. I am sensing this pattern is going to be huge in 2014!

I would love to hear how you freshen up your interiors. Have a great weekend...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Brit Decor: Bring your home to life!





Images (from top) 1/ Madness & Honey 2/ Christopher Baker 3/ Casa Gradina 4/ Dougelissa
5/ Hunt and Bow

Bring your home to life!

I have noticed how so many of us use the ushering in of a new year as a trigger for cleansing our homes, whether it's a re-vamp, detox or simply placing a new print. Once our Christmas tree has been cleared away and greetings cards recycled, I always use these moments of seeming bareness to re-evaluate my living space and try out previously unexplored furniture layouts.

The New Year is also a great opportunity to indulge in a mini-interiors makeover and, personally, I like to begin with some new treats for home - cue my imminent delivery of goodies from Future and Found! However, one fantastic and relatively inexpensive makeover is to quite literally breath some new life into your living space with a pot plant or cut flowers, this also gives you the fun task of sourcing a beautiful pot or vase. Alternatively, customise an existing pot with some vibrant paint and give it your own creative stamp like the glamourous collection in the image directly above - fab huh?

I really love the drama created by larger architectural plants like the Rubber Plant Ficus Elastica in no.1 above, which is great for adding a healthy shot of greenery. However, if like me you are limited on space, the extremely popular range of succulents (no.2) can prove to be little gems and these come in a plethora of shapes and colours so there's a plant for everyone AND they require minimal up-keep!

If you really need to save on space or want to create a unique wall feature, then these amazing wall mounted pots (no.3) would make the perfect choice. The great thing is you can chop and change styles and colours of plants far easier than applying new wallpaper or paint and you can co-ordinate colours! Below are some of my favourite picks to help you create your very own stylish interior garden so let me know if you have a go...  

1/ Ragkorn rattan pot £19 IKEA 2/ Livfull £4 IKEA 3/ Ceramic Skull planter £26.31 Etsy
4/ Froer herb growing set £2.50 IKEA 5/ Mini plant pot (hand dipped) £8.14 Etsy

Do you have a favourite plant or planter in your home?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Brit Decor: Bake

Lemon and Ginger Heart-Shaped Biscuits

A very big and very happy 'hello' to you my friends in this, my first post of 2014! What better way to kick off the year than sharing a Brit Decor bake with you? This one is a typically sweet treat and bang on trend for 2014 with Spring-bright yellow lemon flavoured icing and neon sprinkles. Naturally I couldn't resist using my heart-shaped cookie cutters to show my big love to you all!

Please don't be deterred if, like my partner, you are not a fan of ginger biscuits because the flavour turns out to be very subtle and compliments the sweet lemon icing perfectly! The baking session also gave me an opportunity to sport my recently purchased vintage 1/3 pint milk bottle from Bloomsbury & Co and the fresh white cake stand (a Christmas gift from my amazing folks - thanks Mum & Dad!).

Here's how to make...

150g light brown sugar
350g plain flour
75g unsalted butter
4 tbsp treacle or golden syrup
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 egg (beaten)
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1x heart-shaped metal cutter

For the Icing:
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Neon yellow sprinkles

Cream together the butter and brown sugar, adding the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda. Meanwhile, add the treacle to the beaten egg and then mix with the flour mixture until well combined. Finally, add the lemon juice and fold into the mixture, wrap in cling film and place in the refrigerator for 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to around 1800c/Gas mark 4 and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper, then roll out the chilled dough and cut out the heart shapes. Place in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes (I love the home-baked smell of biscuits in the oven!).

Once cooled, mix together the icing sugar and lemon juice (add water for the right consistency) and dip the biscuits into the mixture. Immediately sprinkle over the neon bits whilst the icing is still soft. There you go, easy as...

It's great to be back, I've missed you all!

All images by Mike Ahern

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