Friday, 27 April 2012

Versatile blogger and Sunshine award

I'm very pleased to say that I have received a Versatile Blogger and a Sunshine award from Anuja at Simple Baking - do check out her site if you aren't already familiar with it. I particularly like the makeup bag cake she made for her daughter's birthday!

Rules for both the awards are :
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this Award and link them back.
2. Say some 5 random facts about you.
3. Spread the  joy by nominating other bloggers.
4. Convey the blogger about the nomination.

Random facts about me:
1. I helped renovate a school in Namibia with the Bobby Moore Fund last year which was the most rewarding and possibly most challenging experience of my life.

2. I used to be a financial journalist on the Daily Telegraph and once realised I was wearing a fake Burberry scarf when I was about to meet the CEO of Burberry so had to quickly stuff it inside my bag. That would have been embarrassing! (Note: most journalists are not paid enough to afford real designer labels). 
3. I am extremely short-sighted and have worn contact lenses since I was 12. You know the sight chart in the optician's that starts with one big letter at the top and gets smaller? That one big letter is all I can read without glasses or contacts.

4. I gained a grade 3 certificate in ice skating when I was 31 - it means I can skate backwards and on one leg (though not at the same time!). 
5. I have joined Slimming World in an effort to shift the extra pounds that have come from making - and eating - so many cakes! Though it's not going too well so far....

I would love to share these awards with:
1. Ros at TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker
2. Mel from SharkyOvenGloves
3. Janice from FarmersGirlKitchen
4. Gem from CupcakeCrazyGem
5. Laura from LauraLovesCakes

Please pass on the love!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Celebration cake for a new baby - cake decorating class #4

After a three-week Easter break, I was looking forward to my next cake decorating class - particularly because we had been told we would make a christening or celebration cake for a new baby, and a member of my team at work has just had a baby girl.

But while we haven't needed to bring a cake for some classes as we were just modelling, we were told this time to bring a round cake which we had already filled and covered with white fondant at home (to save time in the class) and to also cover a cake board in white fondant. As well as that, we needed to make some Mexican paste in advance to use for modelling in the class. Which was all very well, but I went to Amsterdam for the weekend and got home at about 11pm on Monday night - and the class is on Tuesday night straight after work.

Luckily my boyfriend's lovely mum offered to make a cake for me, and I made the Mexican paste before I went away and put it in the freezer (but more on that later). So on Monday night the taxi that dropped off my boyfriend on our way back from the airport had to wait while his mum came out and thrust a cake into my hands, and when I got home rather than unpacking I was icing the cake and covering it with fondant - it was nearly midnight before I finished!

The cake itself is a triumph - a really deep Victoria sponge from a Mary Berry recipe, and filled with loads of buttercream. Thanks Janet! She also turned the top piece upside down so the top of the cake would be perfectly flat for me to decorate. I bet you wish your mother-in-law was like this ;-)

I realised this was only the second time I had ever covered a round cake in fondant, and the first time was a little messy but as I was making a cow print cake, I could use the black patches to hide where the fondant had torn or overlapped. I couldn't do that this time! But this time I was only covering a one-tier rather than two-tier cake so it was a lot easier, even though I'm still definitely not as confident doing this as I could be.

I also covered the largest cake board I could find with fondant, as I wanted there to be plenty of room around the edge of the cake for decoration or maybe lettering... and then found that I didn't have a single box or carry case big enough to fit the cake board! Given I would have to walk to and from my cake decorating class and then take the cake into work on the train and bus, I was totally lost as to how I was going to transport it.... so I decided to start again with a smaller cake board! This time there wouldn't be as much space around the edge of the cake, but more importantly it would fit in my cake carry case.

The picture below shows my icing smoother which I used to, well, smooth the icing. This is a new piece of equipment I bought for my cake decorating class though to be honest I'm not sure how much difference it makes.

So after all that, I finally had a cake and board covered in white fondant - and I could go to bed!

So fast forward to the cake decorating class... we were told we would begin by making a pair of baby's booties. I had made my Mexican paste to Lorna's recipe and followed her instructions to put it in the freezer over the weekend and take it out the morning of the class. However, the paste was completely unusable - rock solid and when I did manage to warm it between my hands enough to make it pliable, it was really crumbly and there was no way I could have rolled it out. I think I didn't knead it enough before I put it in the freezer - Lorna says this would have most likely been the reason, and as I was in a hurry to pack for my holiday I didn't knead it for very long at all. Luckily I had emailed Lorna that morning when I took the paste out of the freezer to say it looked very crumbly, and she made sure she had enough in the class for me to use. Lesson learnt!

As my colleague had just had a baby girl, I decided to go with the traditional pink - funnily enough everyone in the class was using either pink or plain white. Lorna gave us a print-out with instructions and a couple of templates for the baby's shoe, which we cut around. The picture below shows the template for the sole of the shoe, which I cut around.

We then used another template and another piece of Mexican paste to make the top part of the shoe, which you fold around and stick to the sole. I seem to have a tendency to use too much edible glue and the shoe became a little soggy around the edges and I had to keep lifting it with a palette knife so it wouldn't stick to the table!

We then used an embosser and a cutter to make a semi-circle part for the front of the shoe, but you could also cut this freehand.

The two shoes taking shape, with the templates I used.

And now with the front part of the shoe in place- it really does look like a baby's shoe!

Finally bend the two parts of the strap around and stick with edible glue. I should have made a little bow to stick on here to cover the join, but I didn't have time. I did stick a little sugar ball from a packet of mixed sprinkles on the front of each shoe.

Unfortunately this was all we had time for in the class. Lorna demonstrated how to use a Garret frill cutter to make a frill to go all the way around the side of the cake, which I think would have looked really nice, but we didn't have time to even start it in the class, which was a bit disappointing as I had bought the frill cutter specially. Lorna did say we could do it at home but I had promised the cake for work the next day, it would be almost 10pm by the time I got home, and I didn't have any more Mexican paste! So once I put the shoes on top of the cake, this is all I had:

I decided that just wasn't enough to take into work for my colleague's baby shower so when I got home, remembered I had bought some mini baby cookie cutters some time ago, and never used them. I'm not even sure why I bought them other than they looked cute, but I was very glad I had them in the drawer! I coloured some ordinary fondant pink - I was pretty sure it would dry hard enough to work and it wouldn't matter that I wasn't using Mexican paste.

I then used edible glue to stick the shapes - a rocking horse, baby's bottle and teddy bear - around the side of the cake.

I still felt the top looked a little bare, and wanted to add the baby's name. I have the Tappit alphabet set but have never used it, and realised that it wouldn't work with soft fondant and I did need Mexican paste, so that idea had to go on the back burner. Instead I bravely - foolishly? - decided to pipe freehand using a tube of writing icing. I've never, ever, tried to pipe lettering onto a cake before so I had a feeling this would turn out to be a disaster but actually I think it was OK!

There was still quite a lot of white space on the cake so I used some butterfly cutters to make a couple of small butterflies from the same pink fondant.

Overall I'm quite pleased with the cake, especially as it looked decidedly unfinished when I got home from my class!

I am going to be slightly cheeky and enter my 'baby cake' in this month's Alphabakes, hosted by Ros at TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker as this month's letter is B, even though the cake is actually a Victoria sponge. I'm sure she won't mind!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Nigella Lawson's bacon brownies

When I learnt that the letter for this month's Alphabakes was B, I was really excited as I was looking for an excuse to try out a new Nigella Lawson recipe - for bacon brownies. She recently guest edited an issue of Stylist maagzine and wrote an article extolling the virtues of sweet and savoury combinations - and gave what I think was a totally new recipe, for bacon brownies. I was very intrigued and as I love chocolate brownies - and my boyfriend loves both brownies and bacon-I couldn't wait to give these a try.

 You can find the full recipe here on Nigella's website.

To start, you need 125g of streaky bacon; use scissors to cut it up very small and fry at a high heat until it goes crispy.

Add 2 tsp golden syrup. The recipe says then take it off the heat and spoon the bacon onto a plate or piece of foil to cool. Unfortunately when I needed the bacon later in the recipe, the golden syrup had hardened and I couldn't get the bacon bits off the plate! I had to put it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it enough that I could scrape it off the plate!

Melt butter and add brown sugar (see recipe link for quantities)

Add cocoa powder

Add flour and baking powder and mix well. At this stage the mixture is very stuff.

Beat 4 eggs and add to the mixture then add chocolate chips and finally the bacon bits. I should also say in the interest of fairness that I used milk chocolate rather than dark chocolate chips as they are the only ones I had - I'm wondering now if they made a difference to the flavour.

Bake in the oven... looks yummy! Question is, how did it taste?

Just come out of the oven.. can't wait for the sweet and savoury taste explosion!

It was quite easy to slice into squares while it was still warm

And so for the final verdict....?

Sorry Nigella, but I really didn't like these!! I was hopeful on the basis that I love salted caramel, and in America pancakes are often served with maple syrup and crispy bacon, but I just wasn't a big fan of these. I wouldn't dissuade anyone else from trying the recipe - even though my boyfriend's verdict was that they were "wrong. Just wrong" and something else I probably shouldn't say here in case I get accused of libel. While I may not have had quite such an aversion to them I found them pretty salty, which was fine but just didn't work quite as well as salted caramel, and the occasional bite where there must have been more bacon just tasted not unpleasant exactly, but not something I would choose to eat again.

Update: A few of my workmates have been brave enough to try them (but were literally saying to each other "I'll eat it if you will"; "No, you go first!" - and decided that they're really not bad. The general consensus was that they wouldn't have known there was bacon in them if I hadn't told them, but that they were a bit too salty and they would all prefer a 'normal' brownie given the choice. One guy said the aftertaste is more bacon-y and his brain isn't sure what he's just eaten - but he was smiling as he said it, so I guess that's not such a bad thing!

I'm really glad I got the chance to try the recipe and I think it probably is a question of taste as to whether you like them or not but it was a source of much hilarity over dinner this evening and has certainly given me an interesting blog post. And despite the results, I am entering them in this month's Alphabakes, hosted by my co-host Baking Addict.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Cake decorating class #3 - Shoe cake topper

I made a pair of shoes to go on top of my birthday cake :-)

I was very pleased to hear from Lorna that in our third cake decorating class we were going to make a pair of shoes from Mexican paste. That was perfect because I had already decided to have a shoe-themed birthday party a month later and was planning to make a cake with a shoe on top. Once when I was browsing on Amazon - which I seem to do a lot - I came across something called a Jem shoe cutter and bought it, then never got around to using it. So I was really pleased when Lorna said we would need this specific cutter set for our class - given it cost about £15 I was quite pleased I already had it! Also, it was good that Lorna showed us how to use the set - it did come with instructions of course, but they are not the easiest to understand and as you can see below, the kit has some prety random bits in it!

The two pieces on the right are the ones we used first; they clip together to make a mould for the heel. Take a small piece of Mexican paste and roll between your palms into a cone shape, then place in the heel mould and clip it together.

Use a craft knife to trim off any excess and ta da! You have a heel. It's upside down of course.

Next we made the sole of the shoe. I had already decided my birthday cake would be black and pink, so I decided to make the shoes to match. I rolled out a small piece of Mexican paste that I had coloured black, and used the largest piece of the shoe cutter to cut out the sole.

As you can see the cutter also embosses a pattern in it.

If you go back to the picture of the cutter set, you'll see a couple of pieces of foam. They're about the same size and shape as makeup sponges, but are designed specifically to fit with the pieces of the shoe. You place the heel against one foam pad and use a little sugar glue to stick the end of the sole to the top of the heel. Then, using the foam, lay the sole at an angle and leave it to harden.

I decided to go for a two-tone effect so used the cutter to cut out pieces to fit inside the inner markings on the sole. It was hard to make it neat though and the edges look a bit ragged, never mind!

Next using a different cutter to make the top part of the shoe.

There was a second cutter in the set that was actually an embosser rather than a cutter, and I used this to mark out the pattern you can see below.

There was another, differently shaped, foam pad to allow this piece to remain curved as it dries:

Finally I used some sugar glue to stick the curved top part onto the sole of the shoe. Don't these look cute?

Finally I stuck a sugar flower from a Dr Oetker tub onto the top of the shoe. I wouldn't mind a pair like this in real life!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I'm happy!

I'm pleased to say that Kit from i-lost in austen - one of my favourite blogs - has given me a Happy Blogger award.

The idea seems to be to celebrate blogs that you like and pass the award on to others! So in no particular order are some Happy Bloggers I would like you to meet:

Ros aka Baking Addict at TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker

Laura from LauraLovesCakes

Ren from Fabulicious Food

Choclette from the Chocolate Log Blog

Karen from Lavender and Lovage

Dom from Belleau Kitchen

Alastair from Alastair's Miscellany

Nelly from Nelly's Cupcakes

Kate from What Kate Baked

Chele from Chocolate Teapot

and a non-baking blog but one I couldn't leave out: the irrepressible Amy from Amyless Wanderer

How to make Mexican paste

Well, first of all, what is Mexican paste and when do you use it? It is a type of fondant (icing) that is used for modelling as it holds its shape better than sugarpaste (the standard kind of roll-out icing) and it dries hard. It's made using normal icing sugar and gum tragacanth, which according to Wikipedia is "a natural gum obtained from the dried sap of several species of Middle Eastern legumes of the genus Astragalus". So now you know!

Anyway, we were told to either buy or make some for our third cake decorating class. It's pretty expensive to buy so I decided to make some- even though I needed to buy gum tragacanth, a pot of that would last longer and it would be a hassle to have to order Mexican paste online every time I needed it. Which turned out to be quite lucky as the following week at my cake class, we were told we needed twice as much Mexican paste for another project next time!
So how do you make Mexican paste? Here are the instructions that Lorna gave us:

1. Place 227g icing sugar in a bowl
2. Add 3x 5ml teaspoons of gum tragacanth or CMC powder. Mix together.
3. Add 6 x 5ml teaspoons of cold water
4. Stir until it becomes crumbly but damp enough to bind together. Add a little more water if it is too dry or icing sugar if it is too wet
5. Turn out onto a worktop and knead until pliable. Plaec in a plastic bag and leave at room temperature for at least 12 hours until firm.

If you won't need the paste for a while, you can freeze it, but according to Lorna it's best to roll it into a cylinder and cut into slices and freeze each slice in a separate freezer bag. Even if you use the paste right away after the 12 hours, you'll find it's extremely hard. After just a couple of minutes of kneading it becomes much more pliable and is usable for modelling - but it's really hard to knead! The trick is to break off small pieces and knead them.

You can also colour Mexican paste in the same way that you would colour sugarpaste - a gel or concentrated colour is better than a bottle of liquid food colouring. I coloured mine pink and black - which was extremely messy - but you will see why in my next post!