How to make a really easy Volcano Birthday Cake

For my son’s 7th birthday he wanted me to make him a Volcano Birthday Cake. I am by no means an expert cake decorator, so I knew whatever I made would need to be really simple to put together. The great thing about making a volcano cake if you’re not an expert cake decorator, is if it looks a bit rough and rustic when you’ve finished, it all adds to the rugged volcanic charm.

A few years of watching The Great British Bake Off has given me a few ideas, so I sketched the plan and set to work. You will need six round sponge cakes. I also used my favourite kind of shop bought frosting – Morrison’s Chocolate & Brazilian Orange Frosting. It’s the best shop bought frosting I’ve ever tried and it’s well worth searching out. If you can’t find it, use whatever chocolate frosting you can get your hands on.

How to make an easy Volcano Birthday Cake

Here’s how I made my pre-historic Volcano Cake.

How to make a Volcano Birthday Cake

You will need:

6 round sponge cakes (I used 9 inch tins)
2 tubs of Morrisons Chocolate & Brazilian Orange Frosting
Dr Oetker Regal Ice Ready to Roll Icing pack of multi-coloured icing
Wooden skewers or long straws
Selection of small plastic dinosaurs
Fountain Sparkler candle
One cupcake per letter of name (eg Ben = 3 cupcakes)
Birthday candles
Wooden letters spelling name

How to build your cake:

On a large clean tray or board put a dollop of Morrisons Chocolate & Brazilian Orange Frosting and start to build your volcano on top of this. The frosting will help to anchor the cake in place.

Sandwich your six layers of cake on top of each other with a layer of the Morrisons Chocolate & Brazilian Orange Frosting in between each cake. Take your skewers or straws and push then down from the top of your volcano structure down through the six layers to the bottom, this will make the cake more stable.

Carefully using a knife, carve your cake structure into a volcano shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect, remember if it’s rustic it all adds to the charm. Dust as many loose crumbs off your cake as you can and then start to plaster the whole cake in the Morrisons Chocolate & Brazilian Orange Frosting. Once it’s completely covered, leave it to harden a little for an hour or so.

How to make an easy Volcano Birthday Cake

Taking the red and yellow icing from the Dr Oetker Regal Ice Ready to Roll Icing pack, cut each pack of icing in half. Set aside half of each pack and with the other halves, knead them together to make an orange coloured icing.

Here’s where you can get artistic. Roll pieces of the red, yellow and orange icing into rivulets of lava and press them into your volcano. Make sure there’s plenty of lava coming out of the top and running down the sides. You might want to pool some lava at the bottom of the volcano.

How to make an easy Volcano Birthday Cake

Taking your dinosaurs and a little of the chocolate orange frosting (to stick the dinosaurs in place) add some dinos to the scene. Again be artistic; get them caught in the lava, running away from it, have them in little family groups, whatever you want.

Take your cupcakes and top with some frosting; wedge a letter on the top of each one and using the frosting on the bottom of the cupcakes, stick them in place to spell out the name. Again you can have dinosaurs around the cakes, or looking like they’re eating them maybe.

How to make an easy Volcano Birthday Cake

To finish your cake, put the fountain sparkler candle in the top (so when you light it, it should sparkle and flame like a volcano.

My son was absolutely delighted with his volcano birthday cake, and his friends were pretty impressed too. It’s surprisingly simple to put together and it doesn’t have be perfect in order for it to be impressive. I dread to think what he’s going to ask for next year!

How to make an easy Volcano Birthday Cake

How to make a really easy Volcano Birthday Cake

If a volcano cake doesn’t cut it, what about this super-simple train birthday cake?

Crafts: Simple Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

This month Craft Merrily have set the Bostik Bloggers the task of creating a flying craft. I asked the boy what he wanted to make with his friends and he said hot air balloons. His wish is my command, and so I set to work gathering what we needed to make hot air balloons.

These hot air balloons are a really simple craft and a great excuse for the children to let their imaginations go wild and to decorate their balloons however they want. I did originally imagine that they would want to decorate the hot air balloons with pieces of coloured paper and sparkly embellishments, but on the day they were very keen to just draw pictures of the dog.

Crafts: Simple Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

How to make Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

You will need:
A paper plate
Some string or wool
A paper cup
Bostik White Glu
Scraps of colourful paper
Felt tips
Sparkly embellishments

How to make your hot air balloons:

Set up your craft table and set the kids to work decorating the back of the paper plates (this is so the balloon looks domed). I lay our Bostik White Glu, scraps of colourful paper, felt tips and some extra embellishments and let them get on with decorating their balloons how they wanted.

Crafts: Simple Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

While they were busy decorating, I took the paper cups and made two small holes to thread the string through. I then cut a length of sting, threaded it through each hole and knotted it inside the cup.

Crafts: Simple Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

Once they’d finished decorating their plates I sellotaped the loop of string to the back of the plate, making a loop at the top of the plate so it could be hung up. We then left them alone for a few hours for the glue to dry.

Crafts: Simple Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

They were delighted with their hot air balloons and were really happy when we hung them up around the house. They filled the paper cup basket with all kinds of things too. Small teddies and little LEGO figures found themselves floating through the sky!

It’s such a simple craft, perfect for a rainy day and great for making use of any craft bits and pieces you’ve got in your craft box.

Check out my other craft tutorials here!

Crafts: Simple Paper Plate Hot Air Balloons

A little catch up with HodgePodgeDays – Spring 2018

Hello there. I don’t feel like I’ve been writing much about the things we’ve been doing and what we’ve been up to lately, so I thought it might be about time for a little catch up.

The last month has been a bit of a whirlwind really. We went away for a week in Devon with some friends for February half term. That seems like it was a million years ago now, but in reality it was just over a fortnight ago. We had a brilliant time. It was so good for my son, an only child, to share some space with other children. To have the more lively companionship of people his own age, rather than just his boring parents who want to sit down with a brew every hour or so.

A little catch up - Spring 2018 Devon cottage

We were incredibly lucky with the weather too. It wasn’t wet or miserable, it certainly wasn’t warm, but for the most part it was clear blue skies and sunshine. We returned home just before the “Beast from the East” made itself known and we were treated to a week of snow. We didn’t have drifts of it, but enough for the boy to go to school on his sledge on a couple of days. I don’t like snow, so I spent most of that week looking out of the window wanting it to go away so I could go out again.

I always worry a little more about some of my neighbours when the weather is bad. So I did force myself out to visit a neighbour who I am very fond of. I took her a cake I’d baked, had a chat with her and fussed her dog for a bit. It was nice to get out and I felt a bit better about seeing her. It put my mind at rest that she wasn’t starving or shivering to death and that she wasn’t too lonely.

A little catch up - Spring 2018 snow

Then I had some bad news from my husband. He’d broken my favourite chair. This really is bad news, because of my ruined spine (I have constant pain and my legs are always a bit numb and prone to going completely numb) this is the only chair I can sit it comfortably. The problem is, it’s a vintage g-plan saddleback armchair made in the 1960s. They don’t make them anymore and they’re very hard to come by. I’m hoping my original chair can be repaired, but in the meantime we’ve managed to find a replacement in Glasgow and hopefully that should arrive this week.

I was a bit cross about it, but if my chair can be repaired and my new one reupholstered, then I will have two good chairs in the house which I can sit on in comfort. I work in my favourite chair, with a plank of wood resting across the arms with my laptop on. It sounds weird, but ergonomically it’s the best set up for my back. In the meantime (and as I type this) I’m working for my bed. Three days into this working arrangement and I can’t feel the soles of my feet anymore. Hurry up new chair, hurry up!

And then it was Mother’s Day. I don’t want anyone in my life to feel like they need to make grand gestures to make me happy; so Mother’s Day is always a low key affair. I was woken with a card and a cuddle. He toasted me a hot cross bun which slid off the plate several times on its way to me before dog ate it. It’s the thought that counts!

A little catch up - Spring 2018 Devon

We hung out together for the day, none of us were feeling particularly amazing. I think we are about to simultaneously come down with colds. I even managed an early night. I’d like to say I woke up feeling refreshed and wonderful, but I woke up with a sore throat and a snuffle. And now we find ourselves in mid March.

Shall I do a little catch up post on a more regular basis? What do you think?

There’s more to The Printworks than meets the eye!

Living and working in Manchester, I am spoilt for choice for places to hang out for an afternoon or evening. The Printworks has long been a place we visit as a family, usually to go to the cinema and then for lunch afterwards. Last week I went along to The Printworks to hang out for the afternoon with some friends and discovered there’s more to The Printworks than meets the eye.

There's more to The Printworks than meets the eye!

My first stop was a sauna and a swim at Nuffield Health at The Printworks. I’d always known there was a gym somewhere inside, but I hadn’t really thought about where it was in the building. You hop in the lift and go up to the first floor and you’re met with a huge, beautiful state of the art gym.

I was given a quick tour of the facilities, then I took myself off for a swim. The pool is a good sized 20 metre long pool with a jacuzzi, sauna and steam. I bashed out 30 lengths (that’s 600 metres fact fans!) and enjoyed the fabulous view across the city centre. I then went for a well earned sauna and a steam, grabbed a shower, got dressed and headed off into The Printworks to see what else was on offer.

The Printworks is mostly known for the wide variety of bars and restaurants it houses. I have a few favourites I always go to when I visit, but it’s always good to expand your horizons.

I went to Waxy O’Connor’s for a post-gym drink. Waxy O’Connor’s is an Irish themed bar and if you walk downstairs there’s a huge bar area with lots of tables. They do food too, and I was tempted, but I stuck to my Black Velvet cocktail and was later joined by my friends. By this time it was 5pm and the bar was starting to fill up with people popping in for an after work drink with their colleagues and friends.

There's more to The Printworks than meets the eye!

We could have picked anywhere in The Printworks to carry on with our evening; but we headed to Wagamama for a steaming bowl of ramen. Then off to Hard Rock Cafe for a few cocktails and a good old gossip.

There’s something for everyone at The Printworks; whether you’re taking the kids to the cinema and for a bite to eat afterwards, painting the town red or if you’re in search of a workout and a pool with a view; The Printworks has it all!

For more information about what’s on at The Printworks visit their website.

I was offered a free swim and a cocktail when I visited The Printworks. I was not asked to write this blog post.

5 places to take Science mad kids in the North West

As the parent of a science mad child, we seem to spend a lot of our free time in science museums and visitors centres getting hands on with the sciences. As a result we’ve had some brilliant days out in our hometown of Manchester and across the North West. Today I’m sharing with you five of our favourite places to visit in the North West for science mad kids.

Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

I can’t even contemplate writing about science in the north without mentioning the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a huge and iconic site, you can pop in for a quick hour or very easily spend a whole day exploring, learning and getting hands on. They have a wide range of permanent and temporary exhibits as well as lots of hands on things to do.

Tim Peake science

As I write this they have Tim Peak’s Spacecraft on display as a temporary exhibit as well as the vast number of permanent displays including the Power Hall, Air and Space Hall, Textiles Gallery, Revolution Manchester and explore some artifacts from the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Take a ride on one on the working steam trains along the track at the museum.

It’s such a great day out, slap-bang in the heart of Manchester City Centre. Find out what’s on at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry on their website.

Catalyst Science Discovery Centre, Widness

The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is the only museum in the UK which explores the science and technology behind the chemical industry. Packed with lots of hands-on exhibits, activities and demonstrations it’s one of our favourite places to visit with our son. They have an ever-changing programme of hands on exhibits as well as a fabulous observatory, a “Scientrific” Gallery and the Alchemy Theatre & Catalytic Discovery Lab.

It’s a brilliant science-packed place to visit, we love it there! For more information about the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre, visit their website.

Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire

Most people will recognise the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire as the place where Stargazing Live is filmed. Jodrell Bank is owned and run by the University of Manchester and it is the home of the Lovell Telescope, the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. It is open to the public and has a lovely new visitors centre as well as fantastic hands-on exhibits and gardens to explore, as well as the chance to have a look at the Lovell Telescope up close and personal.

You can read about our visit to Jodrell Bank Observatory here. For more information about Jodrell Bank Observatory visit their website.

Jodrell Bank science

Spaceport Planetarium, Wallasey

Spaceport is small, but well worth a visit if you’re in the area. With its focus on space and space travel, this attraction is suited to visitors aged 7+. Visitors learn about space as they walk through different themed galleries, which all have a variety of interactive and audio-visual exhibits, the highlight of which is a visit to the brilliant Spacedome planetarium itself.

Read this review of Spaceport Planetarium from Mini Travellers.

For more information, visit the Spacedome Planetarium website.

Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum is such an iconic place to visit for Mancunian children. It has so many interesting things to explore and is packed full of science exhibits. There are lots of natural history exhibits, plus geology, archaeology, botany and Earth sciences to go and see. The big draws for us are Stan the reproduction cast of a fossilised Tyrannosaurus rex and upstairs the frog filled Vivarium, home to a large collection of endangered Costa Rican Frogs.

We visit Manchester Museum with almost alarming regularity. It’s a brilliant place to spend a few hours exploring and learning about all kinds of things.

For more information about Manchester Museum, visit their website.

There are so many fantastic places to visit in the North West. Where are your favourite places to take the kids to learn about science?

5 places to take Science mad kids in the North West

Holiday Memories: Vintage Style Cornish Art Posters

I’ve been holidaying in Cornwall since I was a baby. Cornwall has a way of getting under your skin and making you fall in love with it. Whenever I’ve visited Cornwall I’ve always picked up momentoes to remember the wide blue skies, rugged scenery and clean sandy beaches once I get home. One thing I’ve been wanting to bring home for a while has been a vintage style Cornish art poster. Artist John Dyer specialises in these. If you’ve ever visited Cornwall, you will almost certainly have seen his work on display somewhere.

The vintage style Cornish art poster I chose features a print from the well-known and acclaimed Cornish artist Joanne Short. Working with her husband and fellow artist John Dyer, Joanne has spent much of the last 25 or so years travelling around Cornwall and painting the stunning sights that she sees. You can buy their original paintings and prints in The John Dyer Gallery in Cornwall and they have recently launched their new range of affordable vintage style framed art posters.

Holiday Memories: Vintage Style Cornish Art Posters

We visit Cornwall several times a year as a family. Last year we spent a wonderful weekend in Rock as guests of Sharp’s Brewery and Chef, Nathan Outlaw. It was such a special weekend that I wanted something to remember it by. When I spotted this beautiful Vintage Style Seaside Cornish Art Poster by Joanne Short of the Camel Estuary, Rock in Cornwall I had to have it.

This colourful print reminded me so much of that wonderful weekend. I especially liked that it wasn’t the standard Padstow Harbour scene. The print came beautifully framed and looks fabulous in my light, bright kitchen; it really lifts my spirits every time I look at it.

The framed A3 sized print costs just £45 and I’m delighted with it. The white frame really helps the colourful print “pop” out. I love how the pools of water shimmer on the soft sand and how they’re beautifully framed by the elegant flowers in the Cornish hedgerow. Looking at it, you can almost smell the fresh sea air!

Holiday Memories: Vintage Style Cornish Art Posters

I love my Cornish art print so much; I think I’m going to buy a few different prints and make a feature wall of them. That way when I look at them I can remember all the wonderful holidays we’ve had and all the beautiful places we’ve visited.

For more information, or if you want to buy a print of your own visit The John Dyer Gallery’s website.

I was sent this Vintage Style Cornish Art print in return for this review. All images and opinions are our own.

Recipe: Baked Guinness Cheesecake

A few weeks ago I had the idea for this Guinness Cheesecake. Given that I’d never made a cheesecake before, I knew it would take some thought, planning and possibly a couple of failed attempts that would end up in the bin. I read a lot of recipes and a lot of advice about how to bake the perfect cheesecake. Then I went and did things my own way.

Most people use digestive biscuits as their cheesecake base, but my Guinness Cheesecake needed something darker, so I opted to use bourbon biscuits instead. How was I going to turn a plain vanilla cheesecake into a Guinness Cheesecake? I needed to make a thick batch of Guinness syrup and spoon that over. This cheesecake would take a few days to make fully from scratch, what with needing to make the Guinness syrup first, but boy, was it worth it. It’s the best thing I’ve baked in ages!

Recipe: Baked Guinness Cheesecake

Baked Guinness Cheesecake

300g bourbon biscuits, crushed
100g melted butter
1 tablespoon of Guinness syrup
600g cream cheese
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 eggs
Half a jar of Guinness syrup
Melted white chocolate to decorate


Whiz your bourbon biscuits up in a food processor until you have fairly fine crumbs. Add your tablespoon of Guinness syrup and melted butter and whiz through again.

Grease a springform tin, I used a 30cm one. Press your biscuit crumb mix into the bottom of the tin. Make sure it’s evenly spread and well-packed. Pop the tin in the fridge for half an hour to firm up.

Pre-heat your oven to 170°.

In a large mixing bowl, beat your cream cheese, then add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice. Add the eggs one by one taking care not to beat them too hard, you don’t want to create air bubbles in your mix.

Take your base out of the fridge and wrap the base of the tin in foil, some mix may leak out so it’s best for your tin to have a foil “nappy” to catch the drips. Put your springform tin on a baking tray too, it just makes it easier to take out of the oven.

Bake for an hour. Keen an eye on it and keep the oven door shut as much as you can. Once the cheesecake has risen all over (mine had a dip in the centre until right near the end), turn your oven off and leave the door shut. This will stop your cheesecake from cracking. Leave it as long as you can, after half an hour I opened the oven door a fraction and I left it overnight to cool fully before decorating.

Carefully remove the cheesecake from the tin and put it on a large plate or whatever you’re going to serve it on. You ideally want something with a bit of a lip to catch any syrup which slips off the cheesecake.

Recipe: Baked Guinness Cheesecake

Depending on the consistency of your Guinness syrup, you may want to re-boil it until it goes thick like a slightly spreadable toffee. If you do this, make sure it’s more or less cool before you pour it on your Guinness Cheesecake.

To decorate, pour your thick Guinness syrup over the top of your cheesecake, just enough so it sits on the top. Melt some white chocolate and artistically drizzle it over the top of your cheesecake, then admire your hard work!

Recipe: Baked Guinness Cheesecake

This Guinness Cheesecake is a real beauty of a cheesecake. It’s the perfect celebration cheesecake and it’ll feed an appreciative crowd. The Guinness is both sweet and savory at the same time, and it has a wonderfully bitter edge. It’s a fantastically grown up cheesecake which is so good, even my son approves of it.

Recipe: Baked Guinness Cheesecake - Pure Genius!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Tasked with coming up with some interesting crafts and things to do with three children during the half term, I thought we’d start our week by making some egg and cress heads. I thought it would be interesting to watch them grow over the week. They’re easy to put together and all three had great fun making them and watching them grow over the week.

This activity is perfect for my 7 year old who is in Year 2. Cress grows incredibly quickly, and almost before your eyes. This fast growing crop was really exciting for the children to watch growing. Each day they found a new thing to be excited about. The best day was when they got to try eating the peppery cress, it’s a rare sight watching three children delightedly eating their greens!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Growing egg and cress heads is a great opportunity for children to talk about their observations about how the seed grows into a plant and guessing what will happen next. It can also help to promote scientific thinking and helps with linking science to real life experiences.

Growing Egg and Cress Heads

You will need:
A hard boiled egg each
Cotton wool
Cress seeds
Felt tips to decorate your egg

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

How to make your egg and cress heads:
Hard boil your eggs and get a grown up to carefully take the top off and scoop out the egg inside.

Gently decorate your egg however you want. We drew pictures of cats and dogs on ours, but you could do almost anything.

Fluff up some cotton wool and put it inside the egg. Then pour some water over the cotton wool. Sprinkle some cress seeds on the top of the cotton wool and put on a windowsill in an egg cup.

Check the progress of your seeds every day, sprinkle more water on the seeds every so often. Within a week all of your seeds should have sprouted and your egg head should have a thick crop of cress hair!

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy this Jelly Bean STEM Architecture

STEM Learning: Growing Egg and Cress Heads

Win a Copperpot Originals Cornish Butter Fudge Hamper

Copperpot Originals have been making beautifully creamy batches of fudge in their shop in the Cornish town of St Ives since 1978. Made in a traditional copper pot, their fudge is handmade in small batches in the popular Cornish seaside resort of St Ives.

Win a Copperpot Originals Cornish Butter Fudge Hamper

In the Copperpot Originals online shop you can find five of their most popular varieties of fudge. Choose from…

  • Caramel & Sea Salt Butter Fudge
  • Milk Chocolate Coated Honeycomb
  • Milk Chocolate Coated Butter Fudge
  • Apple & Cinnamon Butter Fudge
  • Christmas Spiced Butter Fudge

They also have a range of gift packs to give to fudge loving friends and relations, including this Butter Fudge Multipack with Tote Bag which costs £10.99 and comes with Caramel & Sea Salt Butter Fudge, Real English Butter Fudge and Milk Chocolate Coated Butter Fudge. The perfect gift for any fudge fan!

Win a Copperpot Originals Cornish Butter Fudge Hamper

For more information about Copperpot Originals, visit their website.

Win a Copperpot Originals Butter Fudge Multipack with Tote bag

To be in with a chance to win a Butter Fudge Multipack & Tote Bag worth £10.99, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

Check out our other giveaways over on our competitions page.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only aged (18) and over.
2. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered.
3. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter widget above, complete any mandatory entries and any optional entries you would like.
4. The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
5. The winner will be sent a Butter Fudge Multipack & Tote Bag.
6. The closing date for entries is 11.59pm GMT on 2nd April 2018.
7. The winner will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date.
8. The winner will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode for delivery purposes.
9. The winners name will be available on request
10. Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the prize out to the winner, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for prizes being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
11. Entry to this giveaway confirms that participants have read, understood and agree to be bound by these Terms and Conditions.
12. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this giveaway.

Recipe: How to make Guinness Syrup

Why would you want to make Guinness syrup I hear you ask? My answer? Because it’s completely awesome, that’s why. This lovely syrup has a surprising number of uses; it’s pretty simple to make and it has all the complex bitter, stouty flavours of Guinness, but in a sweet form which makes it fabulous for puddings and cocktails.

I have many plans for my Guinness syrup, so do keep your eyes peeled for recipes in the coming weeks, but first, let’s make a batch ready to be drizzled over pancakes, stirred or shaken into cocktails and even baked into cakes.

Recipe: How to make Guinness Syrup

How to make guinness syrup

500ml bottle of Guinness
500g of sugar

Tip your Guinness and sugar into an enamel pan or a preserving pan, stir carefully with a wooden spoon on a gentle simmer until the sugar has dissolved.

With the lid off the pan, and stirring frequently, gently simmer the liquid for at least an hour. I simmered my syrup for nearly 2 hours until it reached a thick pouring consistency, slightly looser than golden syrup. Depending what you need your Guinness syrup for, simmer it until it’s the syrupy consistency you need.

Make sure you have a couple of squeaky clean jars or bottles which have been sterilised ready for your syrup. To sterilise your jars, put your clean jars in a low oven for at least half an hour. Carefully remove your jars from the oven (they will be incredibly hot) and pour in your syrup. I suggest you use a jug and a funnel for this. Work quickly and carefully and get the lids on your jars while everything is still hot. Leave your syrup to cool overnight and it’ll be good to go in the morning.

How will use your Guinness syrup? I think it’s got so many possible uses, but drizzled over plain vanilla ice cream would be a pretty good start!

Recipe: How to make Guinness Syrup