Baking

More Cooking By Numbers

Recently I shared a recipe for Curd Cake in a post about a colouring by numbers phone app. I’m happy to say the app has added a few more recipes such as Bruschetta, Chocolate Granola and Cottage Cheese Pancakes!

Today I’ll be sharing my version of the recipe for Lemon Cookies with Olive Oil. These cake-like cookies are perfect for the coming spring weather (southern hemisphere). 

I dunked mine in tea flavoured with honey and lemon but they would also pair well with fresh lemonade/squash, lemon barley water or Limoncello.

Lemon Cookies with Olive Oil

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 + 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
icing sugar (optional)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 3-4 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the sugar and oil in a bowl.
Using an electric mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the lemon juice and zest and beat until combined.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
Dollop spoonfuls of batter onto lined trays.
Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until golden.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before placing on a rack to cool completely.
Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

Additional notes:
The recipe said 3 eggs but I used 2 eggs.
It didn’t specify the amount of lemon juice or zest so I made a judgement call based on how lemony I wanted them.
It didn’t specify the oven temperature so I went with the standard 180C / 350F baking temp.

A Memory Of Cake

One of the ways I reconnect with the Macedonian food of my childhood is through cookbooks. As I read the names of recipes and browse through the ingredients lists, memories of food and fun times come flooding back. I recently started reading The Melting Pot: Balkan Food and Cookery by Maria Kaneva-Johnson. Here, in the pages of this wonderful book, were some of my favourite foods. When I came across a recipe for Cake Soaked in Fragrant Milk, something odd clicked in me. What was strange was that it brought back a memory of a cake that I’m not sure I’ve ever actually had. No one in my family remembers it, but I was sure I had it at a Macedonian picnic. Could I be confusing it with another cake? I don’t know. All I know is that when I read the recipe it was familiar and I had to make it.

I followed the recipe and made a beautiful cake, but it was not the one I remembered. The cake from my memory had coconut so I made the cake again and added shredded coconut. This was close to the cake I remembered. I’m still not sure if this is a cake from my childhood but it is certainly a favourite cake and whenever I eat it I have memories of Macedonian picnics, delicious food and circle dancing with family and friends.

Milk Cake (Ravanija so Mlecko)

Ingredients
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
800ml milk
4 eggs
200g castor sugar
250g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Instructions
Mix the vanilla into the milk and refrigerate until the cake is cooked.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Grease and flour a baking pan, approximately 20cm x 20cm.
Beat the eggs with an electric mixer. As they start to become frothy, add the sugar and beat until pale, thick and frothy.
Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the flour and baking powder until combined. Do not over-mix the batter.
Gently fold in the coconut.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown.
Remove from oven.
Pour the chilled milk over the hot cake.
Allow to cool, then refrigerate.
Cut into squares or slices to serve.

Cooking By Numbers

I never thought I would be a “Colour by Numbers” person, but since downloading a colouring app on my phone, I have discovered the joy of unwinding with a picture or two. Not having to choose which colours to use is a great stress reliever. However, I still maintain some individuality by not always colouring in the whole picture. Sometimes I’ll just colour in particular colours (like red and black) or highlight a particular image (like a flower or animal).

I also love the variety of pictures I can colour. Naturally I was drawn towards animal pictures such as pandas and puffins but mandalas have also become a firm favourite. Equally unsurprising is another favourite category – food! Pancakes dripping with syrup, decadent cupcakes and lavishly decorated coffee and tea pots are a delight for the eye and imagination. 

While scrolling through the daily offerings, I couldn’t believe it when a recipe came up on my feed! My mouth watered when I saw a picture for a Curd Cake recipe. I immediately thought it would be a lemon curd cake, but as I deciphered the images and read the sparse instructions, I realised it was a cottage cheese cake! I love cottage cheese so I was keen to  make it – but not before I coloured in the picture. 🙂

The picture didn’t stipulate what size baking pan to use so I went with my trusty 10cm x 21cm loaf pan. I made a few tweaks to the recipe and was rewarded with a sweet, bread-like cake that is absolutely delicious when eaten warm. I enjoyed cold cake the next day served with a dollop of gin marmalade. This is an easy cake to make and one that you can tweak and make your own. Let me know if you make one!

Curd Cake

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Ingredients
3/4 cup sugar
75g (1/3 cup) butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line a loaf pan with baking paper.
Beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the cottage cheese and beat on low until combined.
Sift in the flour and baking powder.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir until combined.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Slice and eat while warm or place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Refrigerate any leftovers.

Rise To The Occasion

When the pandemic hit, I was expecting some food-stuffs might be difficult to get. What I wasn’t expecting was that dry yeast would be one of them. Wanting to make some bread, and not confident to try making sourdough, I opted for an ingredient that I haven’t used since the 1980’s – fresh yeast.

Luckily the local delicatessen had a small amount of fresh yeast in stock which I used to make Herb and Onion Bread. The recipe makes two loaves so you can freeze one and eat one straight away. It’s delicious straight from the oven and slathered with butter. It’s great the next day too.

Ironically, as I was writing this piece, I noticed that dry yeast was finally back on the shelves. 🙂

Herb and Onion Bread

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Ingredients
25g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
300ml buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
15g fresh yeast
2 tablespoons dried herbs of your choice
1 + 1/2 cups white flour
1 + 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
milk for brushing
sesame seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Grease and flour 2 loaf tins.
Place the butter and onion in a small frying pan and cook gently until the onions are soft but not browned. Set aside.
In a small saucepan heat the buttermilk and honey until warm but not boiling.
Pour into a small bowl.
Mix in the fresh yeast.
Sprinkle with the dried herbs.
Place in a warm spot and allow to bloom for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy.
In a large bowl, mix together the white flour, wholemeal flour and salt.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the cooked onions and yeast mixture. Mix together until combined and the dough forms a ball.
Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl.
Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, divide into 2 and place in prepared pans.
Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Cover and leave in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the loaves are well risen and golden brown. To check if bread is cooked, carefully remove one loaf from the pan and tap the bottom. It will sound hollow when cooked.
If the bread is not cooked, return to the oven and keep checking frequently until cooked.
Allow to cool slightly before turning out of the pans.
Serve warm or cold.

A Treat For Renfield

May 26 is World Dracula Day, a day which celebrates the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula in 1897. Dracula is full of fascinating characters and one of the strangest is 59 year old R.M. Renfield, forever remembered as a fly eating maniac.

 

Fool

The Dracula Tarot

Renfield is a character who appears spasmodically in Dracula but his brief appearances are both fascinating and instrumental to the narrative. We never know how Renfield came to be a patient at Dr Seward’s sanatorium as his personal history is a mystery. What we do know is that he has a particular fascination for blood. He devours live animals beginning with flies and quickly works his way up to spiders and birds. He even asks the doctor if he can have a kitten. Dr Seward calls his strange patient zoophagous, a term he devises to describe Renfield’s blood-thirst for live animals.

Renfield also has a connection with Dracula. From the moment Dracula’s ship nears England, Renfield is aware of its approach. Soon after Dracula moves into Carfax, Renfield twice escapes, runs to Carfax, and talks with Dracula. Renfield offers his allegiance to the dark vampire, as he desires the gift of eternal life that only Dracula can offer. In an interesting discussion with Dr Seward, Renfield becomes uneasy when they discuss souls. Renfield initially does not want to be responsible for the souls of those who may die at his hands, but it is a responsibility he eventually and reluctantly accepts.

When Renfield meets Mina, a guest at the sanatorium, he has a change of heart. Knowing that Dracula will come for her, Renfield warns Mina to leave. It is only through Renfield that Dracula can enter the sanatorium, as he needs an invitation. Renfield allows Dracula entry but regrets his actions when he sees Mina again. She is pale and withdrawn, a consequence of Dracula’s attacks on her. Renfield has grown quite fond of Mina and does not like the fact that Dracula is feeding from her. He decides to stop Dracula when he next tries to gain entry into the sanatorium through his window. In a show of strength, Renfield grabs Dracula as he begins to materialise in the room. The two struggle and Dracula fights off Renfield, delivering him a killing blow. As Renfield lies dying, he confesses his sins to the vampire hunters. He tells them that Dracula has attacked Mina and that he is with her now. He dies hoping that his brave actions can save Mina’s life and also his soul.

As a tribute to Renfield, I couldn’t resist making Garibaldi Biscuits. These pastries filled with currants are named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian general who led the struggle to unify Italy. What does that have to do with Dracula or Renfield? Well it’s the various nicknames of these pastries that are my inspiration. The look of the squashed currant filling has given rise to nicknames such as Fly Cakes, Fly Pie, Fly Sandwiches, Flies’ Graveyard, Flies’ Cemetery, Squashed Fly Biscuits and, my favourite, Dead Fly Biscuits. I think that Renfield would like these delicious (although fly-less) biscuits that won’t weigh heavily on his soul.

Dead Fly Biscuits

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Ingredients
2/3 cups dried currants
2 tablespoons marsala wine
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
80g (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, chopped
1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions
Place the currants and marsala in a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
While the currants are soaking, start the dough.
Place the flour, butter and a 1/4 cup of the sugar into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Turn out into a bowl.
Add the milk and mix until it forms a dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper (approximately 20x30cm / 8x12inches).
Divide the dough in half.
Roll one half between two sheets of baking paper to fit the baking tray.
Place the dough on prepared tray.
Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with the cinnamon.
Sprinkle two tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the pastry.
Drain the currants, discarding the marsala, and spread the currants over the pastry.
Roll the remaining pastry between two sheets of baking paper and place over the top.
Lightly roll with a rolling pin to squeeze the layers together.
Score the surface to mark out twelve rectangular slices.
Brush top with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Cut along the score marks to separate the slices.
These are usually eaten cold but they are delicious hot too. 🙂

A Tale Of A Felted Koala

Since discovering the Pagan wheel of the year over thirty years ago, I’ve celebrated the harvest festival of Halloween (Samhain) on April 30th. I still remember that first, long ago Halloween held in a Victorian forest on a bitterly cold night. After the ritual we warmed ourselves by an open fire. We watched the smoke rise in waves and patterns, trying to scry for messages in the fiery air. As the logs burned, the bright red embers turned to charcoal, making strange shapes as they transformed. We drank, laughed and talked through the night. We told jokes and shared stories until the sun rose and May Day dawned.

This Halloween I would like to share a story of a tiny felted koala, an idea forged during the horrifying Australian bushfires, and created by my dear artist friend Anne Belov as a symbol of comfort, hope and rebirth – perfect symbols for a Halloween tale.

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Many of you know Anne Belov as the creator of The Panda Chronicles. Anne is also a multi-talented professional artist (an incredible painter) who has recently branched out into the field of felted creations. Most of her creations are, not surprisingly, pandas, but in the mix there is a very special critter, Kevin the Koala, or as he is now affectionately known – Kevin the Scorched Koala. Before Kevin was born in felt he was introduced to the world in ink in a very special cartoon in The Panda Chronicles.

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Kevin was a huge hit and when Anne toyed with the idea of making a felted version of him we all said “Yes!” When she suggested adding scorch marks to her creation the more diabolical among us said “Hell Yes!” It wasn’t long before Kevin, complete with scorch marks, moved from the world of ink into the world of felt. I’m happy to say that I am the proud caretaker of the very first Kevin the Scorched Koala.

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To honour Kevin’s arrival to his ancestral homeland I created a special recipe that blends some Aussie ingredients (eucalyptus honey and macadamia nuts) with an imaginary cookie bar – the Binky Bar! If you’re a fan of The Panda Chronicles you’ll know that the pandas love eating and drinking and Binky Bars are one of their favourite treats. But what are they? No-one knows as it’s been left to our imaginations to visualise these tasty treats. When a Kevin fan suggested a Kevin Binky Bar would be fun I naturally volunteered to create one. Kevin’s Binky Bars feature a shortbread base topped with a sweet and chocolatey filling.

In honour of Kevin’s adorable scorch marks, I’ve served my Binky Bars with scorched macadamias. Scorched nuts are an Australian and New Zealand name for roasted nuts that are covered in layers of chocolate. Don’t worry if you can’t get them, or any other ingredients, just experiment and have fun. After all, nobody really knows what a Binky Bar looks like – or tastes like. 🙂

Kevin The Scorched Koala’s Honey & Macadamia Binky Bars

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Special Note:
These bars need to set overnight.

Ingredients
for the shortbread base
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

for the chocolate topping
50g unsalted butter
1/3 cup double cream
1 tablespoon eucalyptus honey*
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g Anzac biscuits (cookies), broken into various small and medium sized pieces**
1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces

Instructions
For the shortbread base:
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a baking pan (approximately 23cm x 17cm / 9” x 7”) with baking paper.
Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor.
Process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Spread mixture into the prepared pan, pressing it down with fingers or the back of a spoon to compress it slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before adding the topping.

For the chocolate topping:
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the honey.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. (You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the biscuits don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.)
Add the broken biscuits and chopped macadamias to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
Spread over the shortbread base.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into bars.
Serve with scorched macadamias.

*koalas love eucalyptus but you can use any honey you like or any other syrup such as agave, maple or golden.
**if you can’t find Anzac biscuits you can make your own or use my recipe here!

A Biscuit Story

April 25th is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. It was originally a day to honour members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served in the Gallipoli Campaign, which was the ANZAC’s first engagement in World War I. Today it is commemorated as a national day of remembrance for both Australians and New Zealanders who have served in war or other conflicts, to remember the sacrifices of those who served and honour those who died.

One way of commemorating Anzac Day is by baking Anzac biscuits. There are two stories explaining how these sweet biscuits (cookies) became associated with Anzac Day. The first one claims that the biscuits were sent to soldiers abroad as they wouldn’t spoil during transportation. The second story is that Anzac biscuits were sold as a way of fundraising for the war and eaten by Australians and New Zealanders at home. Whichever story is true, one thing that is not in dispute is the fact that Anzac biscuits are sweet and delicious.

Anzac biscuits also come with a legal warning! The term “Anzac” is protected by law in Australia, especially for commercial purposes, and cannot be used without permission from the Minister for Veteran Affairs. Happily there is a general exemption granted for Anzac biscuits but you must follow two rules. Firstly, the biscuits must remain true to the recipe which contains oats, flour, coconut, baking soda, butter, sugar and golden syrup. Secondly they must be called biscuits and not under any circumstances be called cookies. Here is my version of Anzac biscuits which, for taste reasons as well as legal ones, stays very close to the original recipe. 🙂

Anzac Biscuits

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Ingredients
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup sugar (granulated)
pinch of sea salt
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon boiling water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Mix together the flour, oats, coconut, sugar and salt in a bowl.
Melt the butter and golden syrup in a saucepan.
Mix together the water and baking soda.
Pour the baking soda mix into the melted butter, being careful as it may bubble up.
Pour the butter mix into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared trays.
Gently press on them with your hand. The thinner they are, the crunchier they will be and the less cooking time they will need.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool for 5 minutes on the tray before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

A Rosy Midsummer

The Summer Solstice occurs near xmas in Australia, so while I’m getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year and the shortest night, most of the stores are selling produce geared towards a winter feast day. I don’t mind, as I always look forward to the range of new shortbreads that are only available during xmas.

One of the other winter treats I used to enjoy at Summer Solstice was a Persian fruitcake filled with plump fruits and crunchy nuts and delicately flavoured with rose water. It was one of the most delicious fruitcakes I had ever tried. Every xmas I eagerly waited for the fruitcake’s arrival at the store until one year it wasn’t there and it never returned. That was almost two decades ago.

A few months ago I went for a country drive to Malmsbury Bakery, famous for its homemade Dundee cake. I was keen to try to this Scottish fruitcake as it was rumoured to be a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth II is also reported to enjoy Dundee cake at teatime. A cake fit for royalty was something I just had to have!

The cake was quite large, but I was assured that once opened, it would keep for months in an airtight container. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but I was happy to take a chance. As I cut a generous slice I noticed how large and plump the glazed cherries were, which immediately brought back memories of my cherished Persian fruitcake. I took a bite and was rewarded with the flavour and texture of one of the best fruitcakes I had ever tasted. This was as good as the Persian fruitcake.

The cake lasted weeks and I enjoyed every slice. With only a few slices left I decided to make a bold experiment. Could I add a rose water element to a slice without ruining it? I had to try. At first I was going to sprinkle rose water over a slice but I decided to make a rose water icing instead. I simply mixed icing (powdered) sugar with rose water until it was thick enough to drizzle and then drizzled it over my slice of fruitcake. While it wasn’t my coveted Persian fruitcake, it was floral and delicious and brought back many happy memories of solstices past.

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In keeping with the xmas spirit I also dunked a few pieces of shortbread into the rose water icing and then let them set. Happily they were a delicious success as well.

Happy Solstice!

When Life Gives You Pineapples

I thought I had all the ingredients to make my version of a wolf bite cocktail, but I had forgotten to get pineapple juice. Rather than make another trip to the store, I opened a can of pineapple pieces and used the juice from the tin instead. Disaster averted, I made the cocktail and it was a tasty success.

Not wanting to waste the pineapple pieces, I tried to think of what to do with them. I had been craving fruit crumble all week so I thought I would try making a pineapple crumble. I was feeling lazy, so rather than rubbing butter into the crumble mix, I decided to melt it instead. The result – a sweet, golden crumble that is now one of my favourite treats!

Pineapple Crumble

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Ingredients
440g canned pineapple pieces, drained
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Spread the pineapple pieces into a small baking pan.
Mix together the flour, sugar, coconut and salt in a small bowl.
Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter.
Pour butter over the flour and mix until just combined.
Spoon the crumble mix over the pineapple.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit is bubbling.
Serve with your favourite topping.

Halloween Down Under

A burst of fallen bamboo leaves decorate my backyard in a swirl of autumn colours. Their dry brittleness holds a promise of the winter to come. This is my favourite time of the year. There are still sunny days and warm patches of sun during the day but the long, hot Australian summer is finally over. The coolness of autumn has arrived and with it Halloween, my favourite Sabbat.

April 30th is Halloween Down Under. It is a night when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest. Halloween is the night when the dead wait between the worlds, ready to visit their loved ones. 

There are many ways to welcome and honour the dead on Halloween. I wait until the sun begins to set and shadows of darkness shroud the coming night. I set an empty plate for the dead at my table. Late in the evening I light a black candle and do a tarot reading. I end the evening with food and drink. I leave a small offering on the table for any lingering spirits to enjoy before blowing out the candle and going to bed. Sometimes I have strange dreams. In the morning I pack everything up and try and do something fun and life affirming. 

So what will I be serving this Halloween? We don’t get trick or treaters in April as most people celebrate Halloween on October 31st. So in honour of these absent door knockers, I thought I would make Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies. Half of them have a savoury filling and the other half are sweet. You won’t know what you are getting until you bite them!

Trick or Treat Pumpkin Pies

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Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

for the rosemary pies
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

for the pumpkin spice pies
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Divide the pumpkin into two bowls.
Mix the salt and rosemary into one portion of pumpkin and the sugar and spices into the other. 
Using a 6cm (2.25 inch) cookie cutter* cut pastry into 16 rounds.
Place half the pastry rounds on the prepared trays.
Place 2 teaspoons of pumpkin filling on each round.
Cut eyes and mouths out of remaining rounds.
Cover filling with these rounds.
Gently press the edges together to seal the pies.
Press edges together with a fork to create a decorative edge.
Brush tops with beaten egg. 
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pastry becomes golden and is cooked on the bottom.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

*I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter