Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year

 I started this blog intending it to spur me into action, I thought if I did something public it would make me do more did. I was only going to post photos, but somehow the words started too. I never imagined so many people would look at it.
Now I get visitors every day from all over the world: hello and thank you all for dropping by. I hope those of you that also made the Gingerbread House this Christmas had as much fun as I did watching the small persons it was intended for eating it all up, that you have enjoyed seeing paintings from sketch to finish, the flowers, the quilts, the felt brooches and all the other nonsense on my blog. Happy New Year to you all, thanks for reading and looking and lovely to meet some of you in the real world this year - see you again in 2013! 
Have a good one...x

Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas One and All

Here we go bake-along people- the Christmas Sideboard of Cake 2012...didn't get time to bake the Czech honey cake, I'm saving that for my birthday...this morning the Nowegian Kransekakke was added, simple to make as long as you hold your nerve at the 'piling up and sticking together with icing' stage of the process!

Have a lovely Christmas, wherever you are, a Happy New Year and thanks for dropping by my Blog - see you next year! x

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Bakealong: Decorating your cakes

If you are going to use ready-made icing to cover your velvet cake, warm it up before you take it from the packet to knead and roll it out. It will be so much more obliging if it is warmed up- just pop it behind you in the armchair while you have a coffee. Perfect. What we are aiming for here is minimum effort for maximum impact, lovely ribbon and sparkly accessories make a big impact!

I leave my Lemon Drizzle cake in one piece as the syrup makes it really moist and sweet enough - if you want to layer it, cut extremely carefully with a serrated knife/bread knife. I would suggest layering with lemon or orange curd.
I decorate the top with cut-outs from the left over icing used on the Velvet cake. As the top of the drizzle cake is very shiny, a bit of glitz seems appropriate: stars and snowflakes cut from the left-over icing from the velvet cake, some gold balls and stars and edible glitter star shapes.

The Velvet Cake is my equivalent of the traditional Christmas Cake, white icing and Santa's Sleigh on top.

Stage 1: Once the cake is properly cold, slice it horizontally into layers. I make two small shallow cakes rather than one large deep cake as it makes this slicing simpler. Use the flattest and most circular of the cakes as the top layer, you want a nice smooth top. The sides won't be perfect- don't get too worried about this, buttercream will hide some bumps, the icing will hide a multitude of sins, ribbon around the icing will hide even more- getting the top smooth is the important thing.

Stage 2: Layering. Decide what flavour you want- the cake is chocolate- if using buttercream you can flavour it with orange/raspberry/mint/chocolate...whatever you like best. I spread my  cake with alternate layers of Nutella and Dutch spiced Speculaas paste. Build up your cake on the plate/board you intend to serve it on, you don't want to be moving it around once it is iced! Once it is layered together, smear the outside with a thin layer of buttercream to make the icing stick to it. Chill it ( if you have room in the fridge) so the buttercream isn't too sticky and slippy.

Stage 3: have that coffee and warm up your pack of icing, so it easy to knead. Prepare a good flat surface for rolling out your icing and have some icing sugar ready to prevent it sticking to that surface. Make sure your rolling pin is really clean and smooth so it gives a blemish-free surface.

Stage 4: Remove the icing from the pack, give it a gentle kneading to make it pliable. Place it in the middle of your flat surface, a light dusting of icing sugar will prevent it sticking, firmly but gently roll out the icing sugar to about a quarter inch thick, working from the centre out. Measure up the sides and across the top of your cake, your icing needs to cover an area at least as large. Once it is smooth, even in thickness and large enough, you are ready to do the scary bit. This is a bit of a leap of faith, so keep calm.
 Carefully lift up your icing, it is about a quarter inch thick, which is quite thick for icing, so will hold together. In one smooth movement lift it and place it roughly centrally  above your cake, lower it down so it gently drops onto the cake top and drapes itself down the sides. Pause to recover. Now start to gently smooth the icing into place around the bottom of the sides of the cake, trimming the excess off with a sharp knife- you can re-roll and use this for other cake decorations.You will have an element of pleating happening- don't worry we will cover this with the ribbon that goes around the cake.

 Smooth and polish the cake icing with a smoother, if you have one. Smoothers really do work to get rid of a surprising quantity of lumps and bumps, my cake was a right mess before I smoothed it! 

 Now put some nice wide, wire-edged festive ribbon around the sides- wide ribbon hides bumps, wired ribbon makes lovely bows. Cut your ribbon longer than the circumference of the cake so you can make a decorative flouncy bit/ turn under the edges neatly to the back. Pin any bows/edges in place with dressmaker's pins- remember to remove them before cutting!

Stage 5: Add your decorations to the top of the cake. Stand back in awe of your achievement and enjoy the ooos and aaahs of your nearest and dearest.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Cake Countdown:Bakealong: Velvet cake and Lemon cake

I love these cakes, they are both delicious, flavoursome, moist cakes that keep well. Very moreish and both ridiculously easy to make. They cook at the same temperature, so are good to bake together.

Ingredients are listed in an earlier post , the method for both cakes is similar-for the Velvet Cake shove all the dry ingredients into the mixer, whizz them together, add fat cut into pieces,whizz again until it is like fine breadcrumbs, whisk egg briefly, pour, with the cream, into dry mix, whizz again. Put into baking tins- I use half the mix and bake in two 7"/16cm tins so I have two nice little cakes that sandwich together easily, the full weight of mix will make three larger cakes. Bake for 25/30 mins or until a skewer comes out clean, 180C/350F. 

These cakes are soft and moist, so it is easier to handle smaller ones! I sandwich then together, once cooled, with nutella/butter cream. I prefer nutella- less sugary to taste. If cutting your cake into more layers, do it once it is thoroughly cooled and use a bread knife to cut gently through the cake.

 The lemon cake is even easier, just chop the butter into pieces and bung it and ALL the other ingredients in the mixer, whizz until mixed. I bake this in a large flat tin-10"/24cm- as a flatter cake absorbs the lemon drizzle syrup better. 180C/350F for 30 mins or until a skewer comes out clean.
Line the tins with baking paper before you put the mix in- even with non-stick pans this gives a better result. 

The Drizzle-4-6 oz of granulated sugar, juice of 2 lemons.
Gently warm the sugar in the lemon juice until it dissolves to make a syrup. Pierce the warm cake all over with a skewer and slowly, gently pour the syrup over the cake so it goes into the holes.This cake really doesn't need any other filling- the syrup soaks right into the sponge and makes it very juicy.

Both cakes: leave in the tins until they are properly cold. They are both soft, moist cakes and will fall apart if you turn them out too soon!
Tomorrow we shall do some decorating..

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Cake Countdown- finished, the Gingerbread House

If you want to make your own, instructions are in the previous posts this week- here is the first cake ready for the Christmas Sideboard of Cake 2012. Enjoy!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Gingerbread House : Raising the Roof

The final stage before putting everything in your arrangement together is raising the roof. The roof slabs are the heaviest piece and the hardest to stick, so be patient with this and use plenty of icing to cement the pieces together. The wet weather isn't helping to make icing set and gingerbread stay crisp, so be extra careful and give plenty of time for everything to be properly fixed.
Finish all your embellishing of the house walls before you put the roof on- I rather like these little Holly Leaves and Berries- cake sprinkles from Sainsbury's- stuck on with a little chocolate icing.
Fix one side of the roof at a time, trust me, don't try to do the second one until the first is firmly fixed, I learned this the hard way!
Put plenty of icing cement onto the slope of the gable and the top of the wall, gently place the roof slab into position and prop your house up so the roof slab lies flat and dries in position- lay the house on a soft towel to prevent damaging its decorations. Once the tops are in position, put more icing along the join at the top of the roof and stick on the 'ridge pole' made from finger biscuits/sweets.

Funky Tree Runner Design

  When I was working out the Funky Tree Runner design for Popular Patchwork  ( in the December Issue) I made quite a few versions of it and some variations. Over the past week or so I have been getting out the home-made baubles,

arranging festive red canvaswork cushions

and adding a few dried arrangements and glittery bits and bobs to make the sitting room look festive. I'm rather pleased with the results! If you made your own Funky Tree Runner at one of my classes, or from the magazine, I hope you are pleased with yours too!


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Gingerbread House: Building the house

This is the hardest bit as it requires you to curb your enthusiasm. Having baked and shaped the Gingerbread pieces for the house and made your Royal Icing 'cement' you really, REALLY want to see the finished house...but steady....take this slowly. Trust me, giving the icing the time it needs to set firm is crucial!

Start with two sides of the house, pipe a strip of icing on the edge that you want to stick. Press the pieces together, firm but gentle is the technique needed here. Prop it up so it stays in position- straight sided mugs, tins of beans, books or small boxes are good for this.

  Do the same with the other two sides. Leave them an hour or so to set, then VERY gently pipe a nice thick strip of icing all the way down the inside of the join. 

Leave them to set- overnight is good. Yes, overnight. Then the icing will be set properly  like rock. 

Now stick your two half houses together to make a complete house. Prop and leave to dry. The roof is heavy, so it is really important you let the house set firm before trying to put the roof on.

 Roof tiles- while waiting for the right moment to put on the roof, you can get it tiled. Using stripes of piped icing, stick buttons on one row at a time. Leave to set, with the house, until tomorrow.


Once your house is set you can decorate the walls- chocolate finger biscuits make good beams and doors- pipe icing to fix them in place and pipe extra decorative bits of icing to jolly it all up. Let all this set thoroughly before the final stage of putting on the roof.