Friday, 31 May 2013

Russian Doll Matryoshka theme party

For the past few years I've had a theme for my birthday party because I think it's fun to make a cake and decorate the room and find a few props that all work together. I love Russian dolls and decided this year to have that as a theme for my birthday party. It's a theme that would work well for adults or children and I'll try to give a few ideas here.

It's actually quite easy to make a birthday cake in the shape of a Russian doll; this is a vodka and lime cake though you could easily make a different flavour for children and decorate it in the same way. See the blog post I did on the cake here.

I had this set of three Russian doll decorative boxes that I bought from Paperchase a couple of years ago. I used them as decorations on the table - I always think it's a good idea to arrange things at different heights, e.g. cakes on a cake stand, and if you have any props that draw the eye upwards as well. I used the front of the boxes to stand up on the table and used the inside of the boxes (lined with greaseproof paper) to serve crisps.

I made some chocolate cupcakes, which happened to be vegan, and decorated them with printed sugar paper that I bought over the internet. You can find the recipe for the cupcakes here.

Here are the cupcakes on a cake stand on the dessert table.

I also made some sugar cookies, which again were vegan, and decorated them to look like Russian dolls - at least I tried to! It was a messy job and I didn't have a huge amount of time, so I'm not particularly pleased with how these turned out but they tasted ok. An idea for a party, that would work well for older children, is to give each guest a few plain cookies and allow them to decorate them. You could even turn it into a competition!

I bought a table cloth with a Russian doll print from Ebay which I used to cover my dining room table. I did look online to see if I could find any disposable tableware (e.g. paper plates and cups) with a suitable design, but I couldn't find anything.

I happened to have an umbrella with a Russian doll design (from Totes via Tesco) and also some A4 filing boxes from Paperchase, which I use to store recipe cuttings. I stood one of the boxes up on the table to provide some height, and used the other one laid on its side and arranged the sugar cookies on top.

Here you can see everything on the table. If you look closely at the red and yellow items behind the main cake, you'll see a set of traditional matryoshka Russian stacking dolls - I bought these in Moscow and used them as an additional table decoration. In the bottom right of the photo is another set of Russian dolls, also from Moscow, but rather than women these dolls actually look like different Russian presidents and leaders (including Lenin, Stalin and Putin) and they are even wearing little hats.

 Here's a close up of the cake, cookies and Russian dolls. On the right of the photo you can also see a (fake) Faberge egg - the Kremlin has the world's largest collection of Faberge eggs, which I saw when I was there, and I bought this as a souvenir.

The cupcakes and crisps served inside my Russian doll boxes, with the umbrella in the background.

I wanted the meal I served to have a Russian theme as well, and looked for suitable recipes online. I needed something people could eat with their fingers or from plates on their laps and something where I could make vegan and meat versions without going to too much effort. I found a recipe for Russian shashlik kebabs which fitted the bill perfectly; you can read the blog post about how I made them here.

I made baked potatoes to go with it, which I filled with sour cream and caviar, for another Russian touch. Some people at the party had never eaten caviar before so it was quite fun to be able to let them try it.

And if the food was Russian, the drinks had to be too.. I was aware of a cocktail called a White Russian and decided to see if I could find any others. In the end I found about eight or nine and wrote up a 'cocktail menu'. I got the template for the menu from a website called I Do It Yourself, where you can print your own stationery - this template was actually free of charge. Each page was divided into three columns, with a cocktail menu header and picture of a drink at the bottom, but for some reason it would only allow me to duplicate the text across each column - what I wanted to do was put a different cocktail recipe in each column so there would be three to a page. As I couldn't work out how to do it I ended up writing them by hand!

The cocktail menus were a good idea as guests were able to choose what they wanted to drink - and I had a reminder of how to make them! All the recipes I found involved vodka so I bought a bottle of Russian Standard vodka, though you could also make non-alcoholic versions.

I got the recipes from various sources mainly on the internet. I particularly recommend the Bolshoi Basil, which tastes a little like a mojito.

Bolshoi Basil
40ml Vodka
30ml Fresh lime juice
3 Fresh basil sprigs
20ml sugar syrup
soda water

Muddle the basil and sugar syrup in a tall glass, fill with ice, add the vodka and lime juice and stir. Top up with soda water and garnish with a sprig of basil.

St Petersburg
40ml vodka
1/2 tsp angostura bitters
1 orange wedge

Mix the vodka and bitters, squeeze in the orange wedge and use as a garnish

Moscow Mule
40ml vodka
20ml lime juice
ginger beer
lime wedge

Mix the vodka and lime juice, top up with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge

Cossack Crush
40ml vodka
1 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
10ml grenadine
pomegranate juice

Mash pomegranate seeds and add with ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake well, add the vodka and grenadine and shake again. Strain into a glass and top up with pomegranate juice.

White Russian
40ml vodka
40ml Kahlua
cream or milk

Fill a glass with ice cubes. Pour the the vodka then Kahlua into the glass and top up with single cream or milk.

Black Russian
40ml vodka
40ml Kahlua

As above but straight without the cream or milk.

I think the cocktails were the best part of the evening, along with the birthday cake of course!

I am sharing this with the readers of Cooking Around The World; Chris hosts a challenge called Bloggers Around the World and this month is asking for Russian-inspired recipes. There are plenty here to be going on with!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

How to make a Cupcake Bouquet for a Wedding

cupcake bouquet

I was asked recently to make some cupcakes for a wedding; they turned out really well, as you can see here. But I was thinking about a way to make the cupcakes stand out on the buffet table and remembered I had seen something called a 'cupcake bouquet' on the internet - a way of arranging cupcakes so they look like a bunch of flowers. So I decided to have a go!

I made a basic vanilla cupcake which was fluffy and delicious; the recipe is here.

To make the cupcake bouquet, you need a ball made of polystyrene or a florist's oasis, and a flower pot that it will sit in. I bought the polystyrene ball from Hobbycraft. The wedding colours were white and pale pink and I happened to find this flower pot in a 99p Store as part of a set of three. It was almost the right size so I stuffed some bubble wrap into the bottom of the pot and sat the polystyrene ball on top.

If you are using oasis you will need to wrap it in clingfilm to stop it shedding. I decided to wrap my polystyrene ball in green tissue paper as I knew there would be gaps between the cupcakes and decided this would look like foliage.

I piped buttercream roses onto the cupcakes; you can easily find YouTube tutorials of how to do this so I won't go into detail. This was my first time piping buttercream roses and they are far from perfect; I used a fairly small nozzle and would rather have had a bigger one.

I used three cocktail sticks to fix each cupcake onto the ball. Because the polystyrene was quite tough and I didn't want to push the cakes too hard, I stuck three cocktail sticks into the ball first, and then gently pushed the cupcake onto the three sticks. A trick that Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker gave me was to start with the cupcake on the top and then work downwards and on both sides, or the whole thing might tip over!

It wasn't difficult at all to fix the cupcakes onto the polystyrene ball. I also scrunched up some more pieces of green tissue paper and used half a cocktail stick to secure them, for added foliage.

Here's a view of the cupcake bouquet from the top:

And from the front

I also tied a pink ribbon around the flower pot.

I was pleased with how this turned out and how easy it was; I gave it to the groom and for a moment he thought it was a real bunch of flowers! The bride realised immediately what it was of course.

I thought it made a nice focal point on the buffet table and was a bit different; here you can see it next to the cupcakes I made.

wedding cupcakes

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Wedding Cupcakes, How to Make Sugar Flowers and some Reviews

I was delighted to be asked to make some cupcakes for the wedding of my boyfriend's lovely cousin and her fiance. They wanted the cupcakes for the evening buffet, and the bride sent me a photo of some she liked, which were covered in white with white roses and bows. She also told me that the wedding colours were white and pale pink. I didn't have much time (as I didn't get a huge amount of notice) and wasn't sure I could make that many edible decorations in time, so the bride-to-be had found a website where we could also buy some. I ended up using a combination of both and also came across a product that made making edible flowers a lot quicker and easier, which I will review below.

I spent several evenings over the course of a week making the flowers. I used flower paste, as you can roll it thinner and it dries harder than fondant, so is ideal for modelling.

The Craft Company is a supplier of cake decorating products, ingredients and baking equipment that I have used before and have always been pleased with their service and quality. They contacted me to ask if I would like to review a product from their range, and I chose this blossom cutter and mould set, which costs £9.98. It is also available in other flower shapes including butterfly, daisy, hydrangea and petunia. I chose the 'blossom' shape as I thought it would be ideal for the wedding cupcakes.

The set is very simple to use. Roll out the flower paste and use the cutter to cut out the shapes.

Place the flower shape on one side of the silicon mould - one side has an indent and the other side is raised.

Close the mould and press down gently - you don't actually need to press very hard at all.

Open it out and you have a beautiful flower with petal details. This is really quick and easy to use and would be a God-send if you are having to make a lot of flowers for a big cake or lots of cupcakes. I was sent this free of charge but is definitely something I would have spent my own money on. The cutter and mould also comes with an instruction leaflet which was easy to follow.

I made several flowers in the space of just a few minutes and left them to dry.

It's also very easy to colour the flowers (or use coloured flowerpaste in the first place). I used pink lustre dust on the flowers, giving more coverage to some than to others.

As I mentioned, I also bought some cupcake toppers, from a website called Sugar Sugar Cake Decorations. There was a wide selection of products to choose from, and in several different colours. I ordered some bows, large roses and small roses in white, and mini sprays of roses in pink. Everything is handmade to order and you are asked to allow a few days drying time; these arrived in the space of a week and were carefully packaged in tissue paper and bubble wrap. I was also really pleased that the box was flat enough that it went through my letterbox - I can only get to the local sorting office once a week due to their opening hours so was a bit worried if I would get these in time for the wedding but they were delivered to my door.

Here you can see the products I ordered; they weren't too expensive though it's obviously cheaper to make your own if you can - I knew I wouldn't have enough time and I was happy to cover the cost of the cupcake ingredients, toppers and wrappers as my present to the happy couple.

I also decided to make some roses myself and used this Jem Easy Rose cutter which I also bought at Cake International, though you can get it from many stockists online. It's really easy to use once you know what you're doing, and did come with an instruction leaflet. Roll out your sugarpaste and use the cutter to press down and make a flower shape.

Roll a small piece of flower paste into a cone, and place in the middle of the flower.

Fold up each petal in turn, curling it around the cone in the middle. When you've done that, cut out another flower, place the rose you've just made on top, and curl up the petals of the second flower.

You may need a little edible glue on the second flower to get the petals to stick. Once you've folded them around, ease back the edges of some of the outer petals to create a curve at the top.

 I bought this PME pink lustre spray at Cake International. It's really easy to use and you can either give an even coverage or more of a subtle hint depending on how you spray it.

I gave some of the roses a light coating and left them to dry. I left the other flowers white.

 I also made one rose out of pink sugar paste but I decided the pink was too dark for what I wanted. Here are a selection of the flowers I made.

The bride had requested vanilla cupcakes, which I have to admit made my life easier! I used a simple recipe that turned out to be really light and fluffy; I usually find vanilla cupcakes too plain to be interesting but these were extremely good.

You need:
225g butter
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream the butter and the sugar, then mix in the eggs and fold in the flour and the baking powder. Add the vanilla extract. Bake in the oven at 175C for about 15 minutes; it will depend on the size of the cupcakes.

Most of the cakes were either flat or only slightly raised which was good. I covered some in fondant; I cut out circles with a pastry cutter and secured onto the cakes with a thin layer of buttercream.

I used more buttercream to fix the roses I had made onto the cakes. I was really pleased with these.

Pink and white rose cupcakes - I actually liked these more than the edible flowers I bought, though I have to admit they did save me a lot of time, as I wouldn't have been able to make enough of these to go on to every cupcake (I made nearly 60 cupcakes in the end).

I wanted to put cake wrappers around the cakes and found a website called Essesea that offered personalised cupcake wrappers, among other items. I chose plain white wrappers which I personalised with the name of the bride and groom and the date of their wedding.

Unfortunately I found that when I put these around the cupcakes they weren't quite big enough, and I had to secure them with sellotape (rather than tucking tab A into slot B, as they didn't quite reach). I think it's because I used large cupcake cases -the website does say these wrappers will fit standard-sized cupcakes rather than large muffin-sized cakes, so it's my own fault. They worked fine in the end with the sellotape anyway, and I thought they looked really good; the bride was very pleased when she spotted them.

The wrappers were 50p each so would be quite expensive if you needed a lot; I used these for some but not all of the cupcakes.

I covered most of the other cakes with royal icing and then placed the toppers I had bought over the internet on top. I also decorated some of the cupcakes with tiny white pearls all the way around the edge - it took a long time and was very fiddly so I didn't do all of them that way.

I bought some more cupcake wrappers from a website called Cake Craft World; they were only £1.99 for a pack of 12 so a lot cheaper than the others. They are a solid colour with a delicate rose pattern, so not quite as nice as lacy wrappers but a lot cheaper. They were also easy to fix together and fit around my cupcakes perfectly.

Here's a cupcake with a smooth royal icing top and one of the flowers I made using the blossom cutter and mould from the Craft Company.

A selection of cupcakes, some with the flowers I made and some with the decorations I ordered:

I also piped some buttercream roses onto some of the cupcakes; I will do a separate post on this.

 I took a couple of my cake stands to the wedding reception, and put them out with the cupcakes for the evening reception.

I was quite pleased with how these turned out and I had several nice comments from other guests at the wedding. I also created a cupcake bouquet but I think that deserves a separate post all to itself!

Thanks to The Craft Company for sending me the blossom cutter and mould set to review; I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own. I paid for the other items mentioned in this post with my own money and chose the suppliers myself.