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Christmas Baking

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
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Throughout the festive period you will find tasty goodies everywhere you look, but if you can’t indulge over the holidays then when can you? Here at Sykes Cottages, we have an extremely sweet tooth so the holidays are the perfect time to satisfy our cravings for baked goods. If like us you like to treat yourself over the holidays then keep reading as we share our favourite Christmas baking recipes.

Biscuits

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

I make a lot of biscuits for the team here at Sykes and judging on how fast they disappear they must be pretty good! I’ve included my own recipe for butter biscuits below which makes 25 biscuits and takes around 50 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients

  • 250g butter (softened)
  • 300g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 3tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk

Method

  1. Cream together the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl using a wooden spoon.
  2. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract before beating the mixture together.
  3. Sift in the flour and stir until the mixture is combined – if you are struggling to do this with the spoon get your hands in and press everything together.
  4. Wrap the dough in cling film and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes, this will make it easier to work with.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and place it on a floured surface and pre-heat your oven to 180c.
  6. Roll the dough out to around 5mm thick before cutting out shapes using festive cookie cutters.
  7. Place your biscuits on to backing paper on top of an oven try and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.
  8. Remove the biscuits from the oven and leave to firm up for 2-3 minutes before placing on a cooling rack. Wait until the biscuits are cool before decorating.

Mince Pie

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Mince pies are a true Christmas classic and much easier to make then you would first think. The recipe we have suggested below is from the master baker himself Paul Hollywood, will make 16 mince pies and takes around an hour to complete.

Ingredients

For the filling;

  • 600g mincemeat
  • 1 apple (finely chopped)
  • 2 satsumas (segmented)
  • Zest 1 lemon
  • Icing sugar for dusting

For the pastry:

  • 125g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
  • 260g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 375g plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 beaten egg (for glazing)

Method

  1. Rub the flour and butter together until it looks like crumbs then add the sugar and egg before mixing everything together.
  2. Tip the pastry mixture out onto a lightly floured service and fold until the mixture comes together – be careful not to over fold the pastry mixture. Wrap the mixture in cling film and chill for 10 minutes.
  3. Put your mincemeat into a bowl and add the satsumas, apple and lemon zest. Pre-heat the oven to 220c.
  4. Take out the pastry mix and roll out until 3mm thick. Using a 10cm round cutter cut out 16 bases and fit them into a muffin try. Fill each pastry with around 2 tbsp of mincemeat mixture and brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg.
  5. Re-roll the pasty this time cutting 16, 7cm lids and place them on top of the mince pies applying slight pressure to seal around the edges. Glaze the lids with the rest of the egg then sprinkle over a little caster sugar before making a small cut in the top and place them in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven when golden brown and leave to cool. Once cooled take them out of the muffin tray and add a dusting of icing sugar before serving.

Yule Log

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Who doesn’t love a chocolate cake, especially one with a creamy filling and a chocolate topping? Mary Berry certainly isn’t shy of chocolate and that’s why her yule log is the perfect centrepiece to any Christmas buffet. The following recipe from the Queen of baking takes around an hour to make and will serve up to ten people.

Ingredients

For the chocolate sponge

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 65g self-raising flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 4 large eggs

For the cream filling

  • 300ml double cream (whipped)

For the chocolate ganache topping

  • 300g dark chocolate (broken into small pieces)
  • 300ml double cream
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200c and lightly grease a Swiss tool tin then line with non-stick paper or baking parchment making sure to push it in at the corners.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture turns pale. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour then carefully fold together the mixture using a spatula until all the cocoa powder and flour are incorporated into the mixture – careful not to beat any of the air out!
  3. Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin making sure to evenly cover the surface and corners. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch (the sides should be shrinking away from the edge of the tin.
  4. On your work surface place a large sheet of backing parchment (bigger than the Swiss roll tin) dust this with icing sugar before carefully tipping out the Swiss roll and removing the bottom piece of paper.
  5. Cut a score mark 1in in along one of the longer edges and begin to tightly roll up the sponge using the paper. Keep the paper inside and sit the Swiss roll on top of its outside edge to fully cool.
  6. Whilst the Swiss roll is cooling you can make your ganache topping. Heat the cream in a pan (it shouldn’t be too hot that you can’t place your figure in it). Remove from the heat and add the dark chocolate, stirring the mixture until it has dissolved. Cool until it reaches room temperature and then place in the fridge to firm up – remember you’re icing the ganache onto the Swiss roll so it needs to be thick enough to pipe.
  7. Once the Swiss roll has cooled uncurl it and remove the paper. Evenly spread the whipped cream on top then re-roll tightly.
  8. When the ganache has firmed up put it into a piping bag which has been fitted with a star nozzle. Pipe long thick lines across the cake covering it completely. Cover the ends with chocolate ganache before dusting the icing sugar over the top and serving.

And there you have it our three favourite recipes for Christmas baking. If this post has left you feeling inspired to try out these seasonal recipes then please share your tasty results with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Tips For Renting a Christmas or New Year Cottage

Sunday, December 14th, 2014
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Christmas and New Year getaways are extremely popular here at Sykes Cottages with some of our properties booking up over two years in advance! Most people will rent out a cottage so they are close to friends and family whilst others opt for our large properties where everyone can be together under one roof. With so many of us heading off on a festive adventure this winter we thought we’d share with you some of our top tips for renting a cottage over the holidays.

Locking up the family home

Tyddyn Tyfod, Ref: 16229.

Tyddyn Tyfod, Ref: 12162.

Even though you won’t be at home over the holidays it’s still important to protect your house and make sure it’s intact for your return. In order to keep your home safe during your time away simply follow these tips:

  • Keep wrapped presents out of sight; under the tree is the first place a burglar will look.
  • Ask a neighbour to keep an eye on the house for you and, if on the odd chance it snows, to keep the driveway clear.
  • Set the heating to low and make sure it comes on at least once a day; this will keep your pipes from freezing or bursting whilst you’re gone.

Transporting the Christmas presents

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Whether you’re travelling alone, with the children or even your other half, keeping them from discovering their presents is a top priority. When we’re travelling over the holidays we like to hide gifts in our cases, this works really well with small to medium sized presents but what about large gifts? If you’re struggling to disguise your gifts this Christmas here are a few suggestions:

  • Have the gift delivered. You can chose the delivery date then have it dropped off at the cottage once you arrive. Alternatively, many companies are happy to drop parcels off at the local post office and you can pick them up from there.
  • A number of stores now offer a click and collect service where you pay online and pick up in store; simply use your cottage’s postcode to find the nearest store. Alternatively give them a call and reserve the item until you can get there.

Stocking up on food and drink

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

When travelling over the holidays your car is filled with clothes, toiletries and presents, with hardly any room left for the family let alone food and drink. To give you more space in the car this year why not try one of the following options:

  • Have your food delivered to the cottage. Many supermarkets and online stores offer a home delivery service; you simply need to check which store is in the area and order online, they will then drop off your shopping on a day and time that’s convenient for you.
  • If you’re renting a cottage close to friends and family why not ask them to shop for you? As they are doing their own shop it would be easy to pop a few extra items in the basket which you can collect from them once you arrive.

Making your holiday cottage more festive

Image via Flickr.

Rushmore Lodge, Ref: 16229.

Here at Sykes Cottages, many of our owners will decorate their cottages over the Christmas period so there is no need to worry about the property feeling festive, however if the cottage doesn’t have their own decorations there are a few easy steps to make you feel more at home:

  • You could bring decorations with you – pack up the tinsel and baubles and use them to make your holiday cottage a little more cosy.
  • Have some family fun by making decorations at your holiday cottage. Cut out snowflakes to go on top of the table or turn paper cups into Christmas angels, there are plenty of crafty ideas out there which not only look good but keep the children entertained too!

We hope these suggestions have been useful for your holiday travels this year. If you have any handy tips which could be of use to our customers this Christmas and New Year, please feel free to share them with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Christmas Pantomimes

Sunday, December 7th, 2014
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It’s time to raise the curtain on this year’s Pantomime season and we’re convinced that children of all ages are going to love the flamboyant characters, dazzling musical numbers, cheesy one-liners and vast amounts of slapstick humour involved. The variety of Pantomimes taking place in the UK this year is outstanding and with so many fantastic options available it can be hard to choose which show to see. So to help you make up your mind this December, we’ve put together a list of our favourite Pantomimes and included some information on where to find them.

Cinderella

cinderella-pantomime-glasgow-clyde-auditorium

Image from The SECC – Clyde Auditorium website.

Thanks to Disney, everyone knows the story of Cinderella; a poor young girl forced to work hard under the rule of her evil step-mother and ugly sisters. The pantomime tale of Cinderella follows a similar track to the movie so the audience are guaranteed excitement, a handsome price and of course a happy ending.

Why we love it: My Birthday is in mid-December so as I child I was always treated to a day at the Pantomime and Cinderella was my favourite show! I loved the way it brought the movie to life, the songs, dances, audience participation and atmosphere really made my Birthday special. – Nicole

Showings:  The SECC – Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow is hosting a wonderful rendition of Cinderella this year, filled with famous faces including John Barrowman, The Krankies and X-Factor’s Melanie Masson.

Aladdin

Aladdin

Image from the Kings Theatre website.

Aladdin is one of the most spectacular Pantomimes out there with a captivating story line, magic, musical numbers and plenty of humour. The memorable characters are enthusiastic and do a fantastic job of encouraging audience participation which really makes you feel like part of the production.

Why we love it: I love Aladdin because it’s a proper, traditional pantomime that’s fun for all the family, full of laughs and slapstick humour. It’s got a prince and princess, Panto dame, a genie, sparkly costumes and stunning sets – what more could you want from a pantomime! – Lousie

Showings: The Kinds Theatre in Portsmouth is putting on a fantastic showing of Aladdin this year. Their star-studded cast is sure to keep you entertained with fantastic musical numbers and classic Pantomime pranks.

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

Image from the Hippodrome Theatre website.

The classic rags to riches tale of Dick Whittington and his cat offers something for everyone this Christmas; with a lovable hero, menacing villain, classic Panto Dame and thrilling musical numbers it is sure to keep the whole family entertained.

Why we love it: Sadly, it’s been years since I went to see a panto, but one I remember fondly from childhood is the story of Dick Whittington and his Cat. This rags to riches tale of one orphan’s journey to London’s golden streets – accompanied of course, by his rat-catching feline – is infused with some brilliant comedy, and the arrival of King Rat makes for some classic “it’s behind you” moments. – Jonathan 

Showings: The Hippodrome Theatre in Bristol are serving up a very special rendition of Dick Whittington this year, one that features the amazingly talented ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ winners Ashley and Pudsey!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White

Image from the Manchester Opera House website.

As a fairy-tale classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has everything you need in a Pantomime, the dashing hero, beautiful princess, wicked queen and of course seven wonderful Dwarfs – Just add a sprinkle of comedy and you have the perfect Panto.

Why we love it: As a child Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs was one of my favourite films and I remember being amazed at my first pantomime experience, where I got to see my favourite fairy tale come to life! It’s still a favourite to this day and I hope I can catch a show of the pantomime at my local theatre this year. – Leanne

Showings: Promising to be bigger and better than ever the performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Manchester Opera House is sure to delight audiences of all ages and even features Hollywood superstar Warwick Davis!

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Image from the Cliffs Pavilion website.

Peter Pan is a world class show, one that transports the audience to Neverland where they will find pirates, mermaids, Indians and the boy wonder himself. With musical numbers, adventure and tones of Pantomime puns you wont be bored at this show.

Why we love it: Back in the day I used to love being treated to a Panto but I’d have to say that my favourite was always Peter Pan. I adored the Disney film version of it throughout my childhood but it never quite matched seeing it in pantomime, before you know it you’ll be roaring with laughter and this year you’ll be able to see many famous faces with Bradley Walsh, Christopher Biggins and even the Hoff taking centre stage! – Jamie

Showings: Cliffs Pavilion in Southend-on-Sea is really setting the standard with their performance of Peter Pan. This Pantomime promises excitement, adventure and a number of famous faces including David Hasselhoff and Christopher Biggins.

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nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Scotland’s Top Ten Film Locations

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
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With its rugged coastline, vast glens and imposing mountain ranges, Scotland is a film maker’s dream; imagine historic battles re-enacted at the foot of Ben Nevis; sci-fi thrillers shot amongst the mountainous landscape; and romantic scenes set in front of a castle’s roaring fire. With a number of movie blockbusters and popular TV shows using Scotland as its backdrop the scenery here is instantly recognisable. Why not test your memory and see if you recognise our top ten film locations in Scotland.

The Wicker Man (1973)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

A true cult classic, The Wicker Man saw the film crew using several locations in Dumfries and Galloway for their movie, including the iconic St. Ninian’s Cave. Fans of this film will recognise the cave from the scene where Howie finally tracks down the elusive Rowan.

Braveheart (1995)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Braveheart is the story of legendary Scottish hero, William Wallace, and his battle for freedom. Along with Mel Gibson’s terrible Scottish accent, the film is most memorable for the stunning scenery, like that around Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross.

Trainspotting (1996)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Following the story of Mark Renton, Trainspotting is a film famed for launching the career of Ewan McGregor. With several film locations throughout Scotland, we’ve chosen to focus on Princes Street in Edinburgh; you catch a quick glimpse of the city in the film’s opening scene as Mark races through the centre.

Entrapment (1999)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

This award winning action film features not one but two Hollywood legends; the beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones and the ever popular Sean Connery. Duart Castle masquerades as the home of Sean Connery as he puts Catherine through some intense burglar training.

Harry Potter (2002)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets sees our heroes Harry and Ron unable to access Platform 9 and ¾ so, in a race to reach Hogwarts in time for the new school year, they steal Mr Weasley’s flying car. Whilst following the Hogwarts Express, the duo ends up on the picturesque Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for its many appearances in the Harry Potter franchise.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Ever taken a flight over the Scottish highlands? To see what you’re missing out on we suggest watching The Dark Knight Rises; you get a wonderful view of the Highlands from above as Bane and his crew make quick work of escaping one aircraft and getting into another mid-flight!

Prometheus (2012)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

If Sci-fi, mystery and adventure are your thing then I’m sure you’re familiar with 2012’s award winning film, Prometheus. Not only used in the film, but also in the trailer is the Old Man of Storr and the gorgeous scenery from the Isle of Skye.

Skyfall (2012)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Making his third appearance as the legendary James Bond, Daniel Craig looks completely at home surrounded by the peaks at Buachaille Etive Mor in the award winning film, Skyfall. The impressive surroundings make the perfect backdrop for the final fight scene between Bond and the bad guys.

Brave (2012)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

In 2012, Merida took her place amongst Disney royalty as the newest Disney princess. Yes, Brave is an animated film, but the San Francisco based creators travelled a long way to gather inspiration for their mystical stones. They made the lengthy journey to the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, and the resemblance between the two sets is uncanny.

Outlander (2014)

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

The hit TV show Outlander has taken the country by storm and Americans just love it; but who could blame them with the devilishly handsome Sam Heughan taking the role of Jamie Fraser. The series is set entirely in Scotland and famous landmarks like Doune Castle play a pivotal part in production.

And there you have it, our top ten film locations in Scotland. Is your favourite Scottish set mentioned above or have we missed it? Let us know via our Facebook and Twitter page, we would love to hear from you.

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nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Scottish Wildlife Watch

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
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From its sandy shores and rocky cliffs to its deep green glens and towering mountains, Scotland is home to a vast array of wildlife. As the cold weather sets in and the nights draws in you would expect Scotland’s wildlife to retreat into hibernation or migrate to warmer shores; but no, these hardy species are in for a long winter and autumn is just the warm up. From playful seals to soaring eagles, here’s what you can expect to find in Scotland this autumn.

Seals

Seal

Image via Flickr.

There are two types of seal found in Scotland: the common harbour seal and the grey seal. Although seals spend most of their lives out at sea, grey seals will come ashore between September and December in order to give birth. That means, throughout the autumn, you will find dozens of gorgeous baby seals dotted about the coast. For the best seal watching experience, head to the Orkney islands which is home to the second largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world.

Deer

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Autumn is the most exciting time to view deer in Scotland as this is when the male deer enter their rut and compete for the female’s affections. During the rut you will see the younger males challenge the dominate stag for the attention of the hinds (females); this involves head-to-head battles between the males until one is crowned victor. For a tour that is safe for both you and the deer, take a ranger-led tour by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Birds of prey

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Scotland is home to a number of magnificent birds of prey; soaring high across the Scottish skyline, these majestic creatures are a real treat for bird watchers. Throughout autumn you will be able to see an array of birds taking flight including ospreys, red kites and the glorious golden eagle, which has a wing span of over two meters! This deadly hunter usually feeds on hare and rabbits but they have also been known to scoop up foxes, large birds or even young deer so keep your eyes peeled for their aerial acrobatics.

Gorse

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

It’s not all about the animals in Scotland; the country also has an incredible selection of plants on offer. Perhaps not a golfers favourite, but still beautiful to behold is Gorse (Ulex europaeus) also known as Furze or Whin in Scotland. This pretty plant covers Scotland and is especially fond of sandy, coastal and upland soil. Although the bright yellow flowers are extremely handsome, Gorse is also thorny and tough in nature, so when your golf ball gets lost in the thick of it you may have a hard time getting it out.

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nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.