Dissertation Diaries: Getting there

Hello! I hope you all had a great week and a fabulous weekend. I went on a date (which was full of laughs and strange conversations, so I apologise profusely, Date, if you’re reading this), got an assignment checked off, did some reading and spent today with family (and prepping myself for uni tomorrow after a long, tiring Reading Week).

If you’ve been keeping up with my “Dissertation Diaries”, you should know that, every Sunday, I try my best to get somewhere with my dissertation and- every Sunday- I post my progress (or lack of) just for you!

(Lucky you).

In my first post , I was in the dark. I was terrified at the prospect of writing so much on a topic of my choosing and it just felt so horrible and so unknown…eek! In my second post, I was getting somewhere and- honestly- I was hoping to get passed the planning stage. In my third post, I talked about what to do once you’ve stopped planning (which, in short, is to actually write).

In my most recent post, I spoke about making a start. It’s scary but, eventually, you have to rip the planning plaster off and get started. So today, instead of spending the day binge watching Netflix or, well, doing whatever else to avoid working, I got stuck in.

I’m 1000 words down!

All it took was putting the “Hold” app on my phone (which is free to download and rewards you with points for every 20 minutes you spend off your phone), putting on some tunes and powering through it.

I’m feeling a lot better than I did at the start of the dissertation, more sure of my topic, my writing and the dissertation.

Now, here’s a question. What should I post on Wednesday? The Great British Bake Off finished a while back (my thoughts on the final are HERE) and I tried out posting about books, but what would you like me to write about?

What I read last summer

Hello! As you might have heard if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (if you’re NOT following me on these platforms you definitely should be, as long as you can put up with me retweeting Bake Off related stuff or trying to get to grips with Instagram Stories!), I needed to fill the gaping hole in my blog left by The Great British Bake Off ending last week (you can read my thoughts on the final here!)

So, how do you fill the void? Well, I’ll (try to) fill this particular absence by talking about another thing I love: books!

There are so many amazing book bloggers out there, and so many amazing books to talk about, I just thought I’d join in!

Summer is long gone, replaced with cold dark nights under blankets, sipping hot chocolate (other hot drinks are available) until you’re pretty sure it’s in your bloodstream! Of course, as well as enjoying trips to Spain and doing limited uni work, my summer was spent reading (you know, actual books I don’t have to read for uni- they still exist!).

So I thought I’d go back to summer and talk about (some of) the books I read:

“I’ve Got Your Number” by Sophie Kinsella

I’ve not read any Sophie Kinsella, but I’ve heard a lot about her books over the years. This wasn’t a book I was particularly planning to read and, I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of it! Of course, a beach day (and a snoop around the apartment where I was staying in Spain) led me to this book and, honestly, I was surprised.

As much as studying English at uni has opened my eyes to new genres and authors I otherwise wouldn’t have read, there’s nothing I love more than a cheesy, girly read and Kinsella’s “I’ve Got Your Number” definitely delivered.

Blurb:

Poppy Wyatt is about to marry Magnus Tavish but, in one afternoon, her happily ever after starts to crumble.

Not only has Poppy lost her engagement ring (the ring that’s been in Magnus’s family for three generations) but her phone has also been stolen. When she finds a phone in the bin, and takes it into her possession, she thinks the problem’s solved.

Not quite. See, the phone’s owner, Sam Roxton, wants his phone back and is less than appreciative of Poppy reading his private emails and messages. What follows is a series of unpredictable (and enjoyably funny) events as Sam and Poppy get increasingly involved in each other’s phones…and each other’s lives.

Review:

This book tells us the story of Poppy Wyatt, starting in a hotel with our protagonist hunting down her engagement ring (a family heirloom, which has belonged in her fiancé Magnus’ family for three generations) and, simultaneously, losing her phone in the chaos. She finds another phone and things get really interesting.

What I loved about this book straight off the bat was Poppy, Kinsella has managed to create a character who is so likeable, so relatable but also original (I loved how Poppy navigated her way through the novel with footnotes, it was nice to see this not used in an essay for once). To be fair, all of the characters were extremely well crafted and, in some ways, I identified/felt for all of them. Kinsella took me through the stress of wedding planning (which, at least for now, I haven’t experienced) and the equally (if not more) stressful occurrence of losing your phone (I felt for Poppy, considering I lose my phone at least once a day!). The book was also well-paced and there were plenty of funny moments, too!

The only thing I will say, and I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not, the book was predictable. A lot of these Chic-Lit books are the same, very ‘Will they-won’t they’ the whole way through. There wasn’t really an element of surprise in the ending, but I was surprised by the development with Magnus. As exciting as it was to see romances move on and develop, I wasn’t as excited as I thought I’d be by the end.

Of course, it was still incredibly enjoyable and I devoured it very quickly, soaking up the sun at the beach.

“Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart

I’d come across E.Lockhart before, after reading (and half-liking half-disliking) “We Were Liars”, so I more or less knew what to expect. It was a confusing, intriguing novel, perfect for sun soaked days.

Blurb:

Runaway heiress Imogen is also an orphan, a cook and a cheat.

Jule is a socialite, a fighter and an athlete.

The story of an intense friendship, a disappearance, a murder.

The story of a girl who refuses to be who people want them to be.

A girl who refuses to be who she once was.

Review

Everyone loves a bit of mystery, right? Well, there’s plenty of that in “Genuine Fraud”…About as many twists and turns as a bowl of curly fries (so, in short, a lot!), it’s the kind of book you’ll keep reading on.

There were plenty of glamorous locations in this book, a beautiful heroine and enough intrigue you’ll feel like you’re playing a game of Cluedo.

Of course, here comes the not so good part. Whilst I can’t criticise Lockhart’s clever writing, and the ability to keep readers hooked, I didn’t really know what I was hooked on. I thought it was one of those books that I’d struggle getting the gist of then I’d get straight to the point but, honestly, I didn’t find the point.

That being said, I’m a sucker for captivating characters and lovely locations and this book had that…I just wish it was easier to follow.

“The Rosie Project” Book 2, “The Rosie Effect”, by Graeme Simsion

I’d been wanting to read “The Rosie Effect”, the sequel to Simsion’s 2013 book “The Rosie Project”, for a while. Luckily, I came across it at my Auntie’s house over the summer and happily started reading.

I think after how enjoyable I found “The Rosie Project”, I expected the same enjoyment out of its sequel. I got some enjoyment out of it, but it by no means lived up to its predecessor.

Blurb:

Don Tillman and Rosie are back. The “Wife Project” is complete, with Don and Rosie happily married and living in New York. Of course, things aren’t always 100% for Don and he’s about to face a new challenge: Rosie is pregnant.

So begins Don’s new project, learning about fatherhood whilst saving his business, saving his friend’s marriage and saving himself from problems with the law.

Review:

I read “The Rosie Project”, Simsion’s 2013 debut novel and the first in the series, a while back and- let’s just say- I loved it. So, as soon as I knew there was a sequel, I jumped on it like sugar-high kids on a bouncy castle!

What I loved about the first book was still there, Don was the same methodical, lovable nerd who graced the first book. Just with a new obstacle to overcome, so a new Project to undertake: fatherhood.

The quirks I’d grown to love in the first book were there: Don precisely scheduling every activity, his humour but also his vulnerability. I loved how he attempted to cope with this new development, as it showed he was sensitive but also led to some of the really funny moments in the book. I also loved the new characters in the book, particularly the rockstar character he meets (though his name escapes me!).

Of course, like any other book, there were problems. “The Rosie Project” felt so Rosie-filled but its sequel wasn’t. Rosie spent most of the novel getting lost in her PhD, going to scans or just not really being there. I loved her character in the first book but I struggled to like her in the second.

That being said, “The Rosie Effect” was still throughly enjoyable: funny, sweet and a bit sad. It was a bit like a Disney sequel, I wanted this book, I was happy that this book was written but- in the end- I sort of wish Simsion had left “The Rosie Project” to one book.

“The Keeper of Lost Things” by Ruth Hogan

I’d seen this book dotted around for a while and it was the kind of book I see in a bookshop, don’t buy but reaffirm that I will come back to it in the future. With uni, time to read books that aren’t ‘academic’ or ‘on the reading list’ is short and- even when I do get the time to read for pleasure- I often find myself reducing books to ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ rather than just enjoying them (CURSE YOU ENGLISH DEGREE!).

Thankfully, my Auntie bought me this book over the summer and- taking a break from uni work- I gave it a read. This was one of those books that people hyped about and, honestly, I think it lived up to it.

Blurb:

Anthony Peardew is the “Keeper of Lost Things”. Forty years ago, he lost a keepsake belonging to his wife, Therese, and she died unexpectedly on that day.

Reeling from her loss, Anthony begins to collect lost things and writes about them. Now at his end, he worries about returning the lost things to their owners and so- in his will- he passes his secret mission on to Laura, his assistant.

So begins a new life for divorced Laura in Anthony’s sprawling mansion, full of new friendships, a second chance of love and plenty of lost things.

Review:

“The Keeper of Lost Things” was the first book in a while I’ve not been able to put down. Instantly I was hooked by the narrative, jumping from Anthony to Laura, to a story about one of the lost things, to the past and the story of Eunice and Bomber.

The characters led this book, from kind Anthony to worrisome Laura, I was captivated by each of them and I couldn’t help but want to know what happened to them all.

Another thing I loved was Hogan’s style of writing. Not only was it sad, thoughtful and humorous, but I loved the way she weaved stories of different characters into her narrative in a way that didn’t prove confusing or annoying like it would in other books.

Now, onto what I wasn’t a fan of. To be fair, when I picked my brain to write this post, I couldn’t think of any problems. The only thing I guess I didn’t like with this book was the sub-plot with Therese. The fact that she was a restless ghost, causing trouble around the house, didn’t really add much to the plot and (after a while) it got a bit tiresome.

Of course, the minor problems with this book shouldn’t overlook the fact that- on a whole- it was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It was funny, sad and sensitive and touched on something we all know about: how it feels to lose something. What makes ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ so beautiful is its idea that there is life after loss and there is always the potential that lost things can be found.

“Finding Audrey” by Sophie Kinsella

There’s a funny story behind this one. As I mentioned before, I’d picked up another of her books on holiday and gave it a read. Then I started to read this one and, halfway through reading, I could’ve sworn this author was familiar!

This was another one of those books that the book reviewing and reading community raves about so, naturally, I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Blurb:

Audrey can’t leave the house, she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.

Then Linus, her brother’s friend and gaming partner, finds his way into her life. With funny notes and that orange-slice smile, Linus starts bringing Audrey out of her comfort zone: outside (Starbucks is a great place to start, right?)

With Linus at her side, the outside world doesn’t feel so scary anymore.

Review:

I hadn’t read a YA book in so long so, against the heavy literary classics I’d been reading, “Finding Audrey” was a welcome relief.

I liked how Kinsella dealt with the topic of mental health, as Audrey suffers from social anxiety and depression. It wasn’t the whole “manic pixie dream girl” narrative authors love plonking into YA these days, it was actually sensitive, not always easy and real.

Plus, I liked the whole angle of the video camera. At one point in the book, Audrey’s therapist urges her to record her surroundings and her life. I thought this produced something both nice and funny throughout the book, as the family felt very real.

In terms of what I didn’t like, there’s a few things. I didn’t like the fact that I felt as though questions felt unanswered: what had caused Audrey’s mental health to get so bad? What happened at school? Of course, it’s been a long time since I read it so these questions might be answered but- from memory- I remember finishing it and scratching my head over certain plot points. Also, I was annoyed with Audrey’s mother, I felt like she wasn’t really much apart from an overbearing parent addicted to The Daily Mail and assuming she knows what’s best for her children. Another thing that sort of annoyed me was Frank, Audrey’s brother. I liked his character, I really did, but I felt like his gaming addiction took up too much of the story and I learnt more about that than I did about his character.

Despite the few problems I had with it, I really liked ‘Finding Audrey’. It was sensitive in its handling and discussion surrounding mental illness, most of the characters were developed and I enjoyed reading about them. It deserved all the hype it got and, having read something else (completely different) by Kinsella, it affirmed that she’s a writer to watch.

I’ll let you into a little secret. I’d read more books than this over summer (I had two holidays and, admittedly, went a bit book crazy to compensate for no uni work!) but, just so I don’t hurt anyone’s eyes, I thought I’d leave it there.

So, what do you think? Have you read any of these books before, what did you think of them? Are there any books you recommend to read over the summer or, alternatively, are there any books you recommend for now?

Dissertation Diaries: Making a start

Hello! I hope you had a pleasant week and a lovely weekend. I spent mine shopping, getting some reading done and wishing I had more of the spooky chocolate brownies  I made for Halloween!

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts on Sundays, you’ll know that I’ve started writing my “Dissertation Diaries”: a series of posts about my dissertation, what progress I’m making and any advice/tips I’ve learnt along the way.

Well, everyone, I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way since my first Dissertation Diaries entry. In that entry, I wrote about how nervous and less than optimistic I was feeling about my dissertation (I mean, being forced to write 8,000 words with limited guidance? Who wouldn’t feel horrible about that?). In my second Dissertation Diaries entry, I spoke about getting passed the so-called ‘planning stage’ (which is pretty difficult if you’re comfortable just planning and not ready to actually write, like me most of the time!). Thankfully, my third Dissertation Diaries entry moved on towards ‘next steps’, as I spoke about what to do once the proposal’s over.

So now, it’s a matter of waiting for feedback on my proposal and- well- actually writing the dissertation! I’m actually terrified of the feedback for this proposal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with what I’ve done (minus, I came to realise when I started quoting a source today, using the WRONG surname in my proposal and bibliography!) but it’s by no means my best work. Plus, despite how lovely my adviser is, I’ve got a feeling there might be a harsh mark coming my way.

Of course, I have two options once I get my grade:

  1. If it’s good, I know my line of argument for my dissertation has some legs and I’ll happily go from there
  2. If I’m not happy with my grade, I’ll look closely at the feedback, read more and write the actual dissertation as best as I can

I can let out a sigh of relief now, considering the fact that that’s one hurdle jumped over. Now, my next thing is my draft chapter. This part is due mid-December, and should be 2,000 words. Of course, being who I am, I’d ideally like to get a good bit of my dissertation done before second semester starts (considering the fact that I’m taking three modules in that semester, rather than two).

It feels a bit nerve wrecking at the moment, knowing that 8,000 words can’t write themselves and (eventually) they’ll have to be done. I’m making sure I look at how these types of essays are structured, plus I’m ensuring I’ve read into the subject carefully and precisely. I know that, from now, a few library trips will be essential but what’s truly getting me through, minus keeping positive and the encouragement from family, is the end result: I’ll have produced something I’m proud of and be on my way to finishing my degree and whatever the future holds for me awaits.

On that note, I’ll leave this entry here. This Wednesday I’ll be trialing something new: talking about books. It’s a bit nerve wracking going from talking about one thing, gaining some love from that, to then talk about something different. As much as this blog is to get myself out there as a writer, it is always about me talking about what I love and, if you haven’t guessed it already, I love books.

As part of this new direction, I’ll be taking a bit of a different route: What I read last summer. I’ve put so much effort into the baking side of my blog, and I’ve began on the student aspect, but books haven’t really had a look-in. So, I’m hoping after Wednesday’s post that I’ll start talking about books more….and I hope you guys like that direction.

Word count: 654 words

Spooky chocolate brownies

Hello! I know Halloween has well and truly ended, in place of loud fireworks, Christmas cups and the inevitable two month build up to one day (I’m probably only being cynical considering the fact I’ll be getting through deadlines over Christmas!) but that won’t stop me posting my spooky brownies.

[Plus, the person who predicted the Bake Off result last week, which I mentioned in my blog on the Great British Bake Off final, will probably be happy to see this one.. and I’d definitely encourage them (and YOU, the person reading this) to give these a go!]

I know, I know, “what makes them so spooky, Jen?”. These aren’t normal brownies, really. They’re not possessed by a ghost or cursed by a witch, but- for a little spooky touch- I scattered a few M&Ms into the mix which not only added a brilliant crunch, they also gave the brownies an even more chocolatey flavour.

Of course, those of you who’ve been following me since the beginning (I’m so glad you are!) will know I’ve posted Chocolate brownies before. So, in a way, I am repeating myself but- with the Halloween version- there were a few tweaks I’ll have to make clear.

Ingredients:

140g dark brown sugar (I didn’t have any light brown to hand, but using this sugar actually produced richer, fudgier brownies so- if that’s how you like yours- dark brown sugar is the way to go!)

2 large eggs

100g butter

100g chocolate (I used half dark chocolate, half milk)

100g plain flour

Red, yellow, orange and brown M&Ms (though other spooky sweets would work here, too. A friend suggested Reece’s Pieces which I think would be incredible!)

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 170/180 and line a square tin with baking parchment.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of water then leave to cool.

3. Whisk together the butter and sugar until the mix is incorporated (by using dark brown sugar the mixture isn’t as pale as my first version of brownies was).

4. Add eggs and the chocolate mixture and fold together until combined.

5. Add the flour until the mixture is incorporated, then place the mixture in the lined tin, scatter your chosen spooky sweets evenly over the mix (don’t press them in, just leave them on top) and bake for 20 minutes (I found these ones took a little longer, so it might be a matter of taking them out and putting them back in again).

6. Leave to chill and, once chilled, cut into slices and enjoy.

I baked these for a Halloween social at uni and the people who were there (plus my family afterwards, as there wasn’t many people at the event) loved them. Even though I have a trusty brownie recipe (thanks Mum), the addition of dark brown sugar to the usual mix produced rich brownies that were so intense and fudgy I couldn’t resist another piece! Plus, the M&Ms made them even nicer somehow and it was really interesting to see the pop of colour at the top (not to mention, this recipe can easily be tweaked so you can add whatever chocolate you like to it).

Today’s a busy posting day (just because I didn’t want to miss the window for posting Halloween stuff, with Christmas rearing its ugly head) so, later on, you can expect the latest instalment of my “Dissertation Diaries”. I’ll let you into a secret….I’ve made progress so, if that means anything, I think I deserve a brownie!

Dissertation Diaries: What to do once you’ve finished your proposal

Hey guys! If you’ve been reading my posts on Sundays, you’ll know that I’ve moved on from recipes (though I will still be posting them up on my blog from time to time!) and towards writing about my dreaded dissertation in something I’m calling my “Dissertation Diaries”.

My first entry was all about how I was feeling about my dissertation which, SPOILER ALERT, wasn’t too fantastic. Even though I knew full well I’d join loads of students actually going to the library to fret over secondary material, it hasn’t felt real until now and- as my first entry will tell you- I’m pretty terrified about that!

In my second entry I talked about getting passed the so-called “planning stage”. I don’t have those pens to colour code everything, or the cute Paperchase notebooks other students have (only because I wouldn’t be able to pick between the choices!), but I just get stuck going over paragraph after paragraph so often I forget about the end result: a completed thing!

Luckily, today’s post is a bit more encouraging! It felt like it took a long time but, I’m happy to report, my dissertation proposal is done! I’m by no means over the moon with it but I’m glad I’ve got it done when, a few weeks ago, all I’d written was a possible title and the word “Plan”.

Of course, rather than put my feet up just yet (though I have, regrettably, indulged in watching Gilmore Girls and The Inbetweeners this week, when I probably could have done some work!), the big one- the 8000 word dissertation every student dreads- is still looming! So, with that in mind, I thought I’d talk about what to do once you’ve finished your proposal:

Start thinking about what you want to say in your actual dissertation

A proposal is basically a poshed-up draft, where you talk about what you’re planning to do when you actually come to write. Of course, sometimes, what you’ve written in your proposal and what you write in your final work is pretty different. So, with that in mind, (I don’t want to say plan, given the fact I’ve just written a post about moving from it!) think about what you want to say in your actual dissertation- get an idea of secondary reading, get to grips with your chosen text(s) and think about an overall theme/idea you’ll refer back to.

Read, read, read

I said about this in my first post, so I apologise for repeating myself, but this is really important. I know students rely on things like Spark Notes to get them through, which I won’t knock as a source as I’ve used it myself (for background information) before, but it’s different for your dissertation.

You actually have to know your texts and, whatever way you look at it, this will mean you’ll be reading things other than one-page summaries. So, head over to the library and get yourself into some books- you’ll be surprised what you learn and how useful books can actually be!

Think about chapters

I know this seems difficult considering many people aren’t set in their ideas but, if you brainstorm possible chapter titles, you’ll feel good.

Look at previous examples

Even though the dissertation subjects had no similarity to mine, I found myself looking at some examples the module leader for our dissertation had sent over.

Whilst they may not give you an idea where to go for your proposed idea, looking at how a dissertation is structured is incredibly helpful because, let’s face it, many of us won’t have seen one before.

Use your teachers

Ok, ok, I’ll admit, this isn’t an original tip at all…I actually took this from our dissertation module leader. He’s right though, your tutors aren’t just those people whose seminars or lectures you may (or may not) attend. They’re actually people and, even better, they’re people who know their stuff.

Odds are if you’ve submitted your ideas, your supervisor will be matched to you considering the fact that you’re writing about their area of expertise.

The Great British Bake Off Week 10

It’s the FINAL (ok, deep breaths, guys!) of the Great British Bake Off. Can you believe after 10 weeks of tiers, tears and tension in every Brits favourite tent the competition is over? (I definitely can’t!).

(For my thoughts on the previous weeks: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9)

Twelve entered the tent but only Kim-Joy, Rahul and Ruby had what it takes to impress Paul and Prue and make it to the final. Plus, the baker’s families and friends were in attendance, and some very familiar faces, too! Long story short, the final of this year’s The Great British Bake Off was exciting, very exciting indeed!

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS FOR THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF, SERIES NINE EPISODE TEN, AHEAD!

The bakers

As we’ve seen over the past nine weeks, Kim-Joy, Rahul and Ruby have demonstrated skills, fantastic flavours and- most importantly- that they’re all worthy to compete in the final!

The challenges

The final began with the Signature Challenge, which saw the bakers make 12 doughnuts: six ring, six filled. The final three produced various flavoured doughnuts and, I’ll admit, they all looked delicious. Kim-Joy’s had great flavour, but they weren’t uniform. Ruby’s were too sweet and underfilled. Rahul, who has never eaten a doughnut, produced good, but tight, doughnuts.

Going into the Technical, the competition was pretty tight, too. For this challenge, the bakers were out of their comfort zones…and out of the famous tent! Whilst outside, they braved the elements (and an open fire) to craft 6 Pitta breads with three dips. Honestly, I’m amazed there wasn’t any catastrophes given the whole open fire thing but, honestly, the three bakers actually survived the challenge and produced acceptable bakes.

After I wiped the last tear from my eye, I was able to see that the Showstopper (the final one for this series) was to create a landscape dessert with 3 elements. Unusual challenge, right? The bakers produced an equally unusual set of landscapes: a magical one, a trip to Atlantis and a beautiful garden. Now, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t actually that impressed. There was a slip up very early on, so that affected performance, but I honestly don’t feel as though the Showstoppers were as impressive as previous years (maybe I’m just bitter because the competition’s over?). Even considering that though, I admire the final three for the work they did and their results.

The result

Despite the fact I had Ruby in the sweep with my friends, and the fact that I very passionately argued for Kim-Joy to win (so ‘Person I argued with over this’, I am eating my words, you win this one!), I think we all (even me) knew what the final result would be.

After all, Rahul has been front runner from the start. Even when Dan looked like he could win it, and other people (like Kim-Joy, Ruby, Manon and Briony) looked like they were onto a winner, I think Paul and Prue knew there could only be one winner. Though it’s not exactly the result I wanted (because everyone wants bragging rights), I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Rahul and I hope he can finally crack a smile now he’s out of the tent and the pressure’s no longer on!

Well, everyone, that’s it! The Great British Bake Off, over for another year. I, like the bakers, will hang up my apron…for now. Of course, you can still expect plenty of posts from me on all things books, baking and being a student. Plus, if you can wait that long, I’ll (more than likely) be posting my thoughts on The Great British Bake Off 2019 before we know it!

Halloween cupcakes and spiderweb shortbread

Hey guys!

Considering it’s not long at all until Halloween, I thought I’d post not one but TWO spooky treats you just have to make this year and, trust me, they’re scary good!

Whether you’re hosting a Halloween party, looking for something to do with the kids or just in need of a treat for a Halloween movie marathon, these two recipes are ideal for whatever you’ve got planned.

I’ll start with the Halloween cupcakes first. Delicious chocolate cupcakes, just a little buttercream with a spooky marshmallow character on top, what more could you want?

Of course, you can customise the cupcakes how ever you like: change the flavour (red velvet would be a particularly spooky choice) or the decoration (I’m dying to try out the new chocolate decorating pens I’ve seen dotted around the shops!).

Here’s how a few simple ingredients make these delicious cupcakes:

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

110g butter

1tbsp cocoa powder

110g self-raising flour

110g caster sugar

2 eggs

For the decoration:

1 bag of marshmallows

Food colouring (red, yellow and green)

Black decorating icing

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 170c and line a cupcake tin with cases.

2. Combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Next, add the eggs until light and fluffy.

4. Once combined, add the cocoa powder and flour, mix until combined.

5. Bake for 15-17 minutes and allow to cool.

6. For the decoration, combine the yellow and red food colouring and coat some of your marshmallows then draw on eyes, nose and a mouth plus a stalk at the top of your marshmallow- there you have a pumpkin! For your zombies, coat the marshmallows in the green food colouring and draw on the eyes, nose, mouth and stitches with the decorating icing. For ghosts, draw on the eyes and mouth. To stick the marshmallows on your cakes, you can make a buttercream or use icing (depending on how much time you have)!

Here’s how they turned out:

Last Halloween I went a bit baking crazy (probably to substitute being “too old” to go trick-or-treating) so, as well as the cupcakes, I made spiderwebbed shortbread.

Unfortunately, I ran out of the black icing when I came to make these so, as a result, I created red and green spiderwebs (which are super cool, if you ask me!).

Here’s how a few ingredients make these spidey shortbreads:

Ingredients:

87.5g butter

90g caster sugar

135g plain flour

Green and red icing (though you can obviously use black!)

Method:

1. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add in the flour and mix slowly until they come together.

2. Turn the mixture out onto a workshop and roll out the dough until it’s about 5cm thick (TIP: Flour your surface so the dough doesn’t stick, now that’d be scary!) then put in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Preheat your oven to 170c and cut your dough into circles using a cutter (though you can use a glass, as I did).

4. Bake the shortbread for 12-15 minutes, then leave to cool.

5. Once cooled, decorate by piping the cobweb shape on the shortbread (they don’t have to be perfect!) and enjoy.

Here’s how they turned out:

I’ll be baking for this year’s Halloween celebrations, too, so no doubt pictures (and recipes) will be up on my blog next week. What will you be baking this Halloween/ what’s your favourite thing to make for this occasion?

The Great British Bake Off Week 9

It’s the Semi-Final of everyone’s favourite baking competition (just my favourite? Ok) and, so far, it’s been quite the competition! There’s been plenty of heat, helping, Hollywood handshakes and amazing flavours and designs.

(You can read my thoughts on the previous weeks: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7 and Week 8)

For the penultimate week of the competition, the bakers faced Patisserie Week: the kind of week which has me wishing I was in Paris, face in window of a cake shop drooling (and probably getting funny looks from onlookers). Paul and Prue were picky over patisserie, as expected and there was plenty of action in the tent.

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS FOR THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF, SERIES NINE EPISODE NINE AHEAD!

The bakers

The stakes were high this week and, as suspected, the pressure really got to the bakers. Each had a few blips, but I think Ruby came out on top.

The challenges

Patisserie Week began with the Signature Challenge, which saw the bakers make 24 dipped Madeleines. Lemon ruled the day, with all bakers using the citrus in their bakes.

Of course, Paul and Prue were picky over the Madeleines- criticising the bakers flavours and techniques. All I knew was that I wanted one…or one too many!

Next came the Technical Challenge, which saw the bakers make a Torta Setteveli. This was the longest ever Technical and proved extremely…well, technical. There were a lot of components to this bake and so a lot of pressure! Despite the difficulty, most of the bakers got through the challenge in one piece…or in pieces.

Rather than a nap (which the bakers definitely deserved!), the Showstopper Challenge came next. This challenge saw the bakers make a Parisian window filled with 36 pastries (Mill-Fueille, choux pastry and pate sucree). Things got a little bit salty in this challenge, as a few bakers found themselves subbing sugar for salt (by mistake, obviously!) but- even so- the bakers produced some delicious looking bakes.

The result

I wasn’t too shocked with the result this week, I’ll tell you that. I mean, I do think Kim-Joy looked as though she could’ve scooped the prize. Of course, given what she made, Ruby did deserve Star Baker.

I’m actually pretty sad about Briony leaving this week. I think she’s been brilliant throughout the competition and I did think she could’ve made it to the end.

So, there we have it! Nearly 10 weeks of baking based drama done, I can’t believe it! Next week, the winner of The Great British Bake Off will be crowned…how exciting?

(Who do you want to win?).

That’s it from me, for now, but the third entry of my Dissertation Diaries will be up on Sunday.

The Great British Bake Off Week 8

Can you believe it’s the quarter final already? (I definitely can’t!). The competition stepped up a notch as the final five battled for a place in the semi-finals, in rather cheery Hawaiian shirts (as an ode to Jon, who left the competition last week) but- as Paul and Prue got critical- the atmosphere in the tent got a little sad.

(You can read my thoughts on the previous weeks: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6 and Week 7)

This week, the bakers said ‘Velkommen’ to the tent’s first ever Danish Week. This week saw the bakers dish up delicious Danish delicacies and, as usual, Paul and Prue picked each offering apart showing the stakes really were high for the quarter final.

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS FOR THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF, SERIES NINE EPISODE EIGHT AHEAD!

The bakers

The bakers weren’t exactly familiar with the ingredients and recipes put to the test but, even considering that barrier, most of them did pretty well. This week (cue the gasps) there was NO Hollywood handshake(s) even though, at least in my opinion, some bakers did actually deserve them.

Kim-Joy continued to produce wow worthy bakes, Briony showcased her skills and Ruby (who I’m glad to see still going strong, even if it just feels like she’s there for Paul Hollywood to flirt with) proved she was a contender.

The challenges

Danish Week kicked off with a sandwich-y Signature Challenge, in which Paul and Prue asked the bakers to make two varieties of Smorrebrod which- I was happy to find out- is basically a fancy open sandwich. They had to use Danish rye bread for the sandwich part, but had free reign to fill it with what ever they wished.

The bakers produced a variety of scrumptious sounding sandwiches, featuring tomato swans, a post work-out wonder, the cutest little bees and a Smorrebrod with enough toppings to feed the entire tent (and then some). Most of the bakers impressed, but nobody managed to bag themselves a Hollywood handshake (so it seems, Bread Man Paul isn’t that fussed on sandwiches after all!).

Next came the Technical Challenge, which saw the bakers create 14 Danish aebelskiver, a doughnut/pancake hybrid featuring cinnamon and apple (I never knew I wanted it, but I do). The challenge started with the bakers, unsure what 90 degrees looked like (Maths isn’t my strong point, so I’ve probably been there, too!) but- eventually- they got to grips with the challenge and (minus a few exceptions) produced absolutely amazing looking aebelskiver.

Finally, it was Showstopper time! What do you make for a Showstopper on Danish Week? Well, human shaped pastry (Kagekona) traditionally eaten on birthdays or other occasions, of course!

The bakers made various Kagekonas, one for royalty, two for friends, one for a sister and one for a Nan. Though each person looked delicious, the bakes weren’t short of problems and- gasp, shock, horror- there were a few more ‘F’ bombs dropped in the tent from the person we all least expected.

The result

When it came to the result, I was shocked. After predicting the result perfectly last week, I couldn’t have been more wrong (on both results) this time around. Ruby emerged from behind the scenes to pluck the Star Baker crown from Kim-Joy’s grasp (despite her and/or Briony deserving the accolade this week, I think). The biggest shock, though, was the baker chosen to leave the tent.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Manon did perform poorly this week but- really- it wasn’t fair for the judges (Paul in particular) to penalize her for being French and (despite his previous performances in the tent) Rahul couldn’t hack the challenges this week so (with that in mind) he should have gone home.

Even though I should stay loyal to Ruby, I think my money’s on Kim-Joy to win (although Briony could do it, too, and I wouldn’t mind at all if she did). As usual, though, you never know what’s going to happen- it really could be anyone’s game.

Next week, the fab four face Patisserie Week, the Semi-Final!

That’s it from me, for now, but you can expect the second entry in my Dissertation Diaries on Sunday when- hopefully- I’ll talk about the progress I’ve made this week (fingers crossed, eh?)

Dissertation Diaries

Hey guys!

I know you’re probably thinking “where’s today’s recipe post?” considering that’s what you’re used to seeing on this blog on Sunday. However, I wanted to move away from posting baking content so much and towards something I talk about in my “About Me” section.

As well as an avid baker, and book lover (I’m sure you’ll find out in the future!), I’m also a student at Liverpool John Moores University. I’m loving my time there so far, learning more about my chosen subject (English Literature) and myself (like the fact that I will always fret about getting assignments done and I will almost always get them done early!).

In order to get a feel for uni life, or at least my uni experience, I thought I’d start posting my “Dissertation Diaries” , where I’ll keep you updated with how I’m feeling, any obstacles I’m facing (or any good things I’ve found) and the all important word count. It’ll be a place for me to vent and let off some steam but, also, I hope it’ll be a place for people who haven’t got there yet (or are in the process) to realise that your Dissertation actually isn’t as bad as you think!

It’ll be four weeks ago this week that I sat down for my first dissertation related lecture and meeting with my advisor. I was incredibly scared at that point, as (even though I’ve known that I had to do it since I got to uni) there’s been little mention of the dreaded D word until now. I mean, if someone told you to write an 8000 word essay, you’d feel panicked too, right?

My love of Victorian novels I’d developed on the course meant that, if I only knew one thing about my dissertation, I knew I wanted to write about Victorian fiction. This led me to choose Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White.

Where did I go from there? I thought about how they linked, in the way that they all show mental illness in women and- in my eyes- place has an impact on the women’s mental states.

At the minute, my dissertation is in the planning stages. A proper proposal is due November 2nd, which I’m nervous about (considering it’s not done and I’m worried I won’t be able to convey my ideas and research in the way I want to). Instead of letting it get the better of me, I’m just going to go for it and see how it goes- it counts for 10% of my final grade, which feels scary. BUT I know that either it’ll work out well and I’ll feel great going into the main part (writing the actual thing) or I’ll know what I need to work on.

At the minute, I’m living by three R’s:

Number One:

“Read”: You know what people say, you write better when you read a lot. So I’m reading a lot. I’m going to read around my subject more, read about how to structure my proposal more and just read, read, read!

Number Two:

“Research”: After all, you can’t write about something you’ve not researched. It means I’m revisiting some stuff I’m familiar with but, also, I’m looking at new perspectives in terms of my chosen books and ideas.

Number Three:

“Relax”: I know it sounds like I’m defeating the object but, as well as working really hard, you’ve got to make sure to give yourself some time to unwind, recharge and relax. This also works for if you get yourself in a bit of a flap over your dissertation (which I have, and will still do), relax. It feels scary at the start but, eventually, you’ll start feeling better in yourself and your ideas.

So that’s this week’s Dissertation Diaries done. At the minute, I feel a little bit stressed about it but- as hard as I can- I’m trying to let myself not be stressed.

That’s me, for now, but you can still catch my thoughts on the latest episode of The Great British Bake Off on Tuesday!

Current word count: 0 (still planning)