Thursday, 2 April 2015

So many colours!

While I was looking for a Guinness cake recipe I came across Cupcake Jemma on YouTube. One of her other videos is a rainbow layer cake and it's something I've wanted to try for a while. In the video she recommends gel colours as they have a stronger pigment, so naturally I went shopping!
I decided that the 6 colours I planned to use for the rainbow cake would provide a good base of colours for other projects. These were Rose, Violet, Lemon Yellow, Royal Blue, Leaf Green and No Taste Red (apparently bright reds need a lot of gel which can cause a strange taste so this one has no taste) all by Wilton. The colours worked brilliantly, very easy to mix and gave a strong, deep colour so I'd really recommend them if you're looking for some.
I found that Jemma's method for weighing out equal amounts of cake dough was very helpful in creating equal layers. My other new toy, a cake leveler, really helped achieve uniformity in the layers. I also bought myself a long spatula to try and achieve those crisp, smooth finishes. I think that's going to need some more practice though. I did not go to the extremes that Jemma went into to achieve absolute perfection, such as cutting the edges off, as I didn't feel it needed it.  Having equal and level layers was enough to make it look neat and professional.
When I was planning this cake I considered going for a plain white, crisp finish with a colourful cake topper but without the materials to create the topper I decided to go for hundreds & thousands. There is apparently no easier way to do this other than patting them into the wet frosting my hand. It will be awkward, it will be messy and you will find the little blighters in every nook and cranny of your kitchen but the effect is worth it. It's colourful, adorable and hides any imperfections in your frosting technique.

Despite the hundreds & thousands the hardest thing about this cake was not being able to cut into it and knowing that that rainbow surprise was hidden inside. Luckily I was sent some pictures so I can share the magic with you guys.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Motivation and a multitude of bakes.

I hate how lazy I can be with certain things. I've had a lot of time on my hands recently as I've moved cities and am looking for work. It's the perfect opportunity to bake and blog and paint and make and read and basically do everything I feel I don't usually have time for. And I have baked, I have the pictures to show for it and the pounds on my hips too but for some reason I haven't had the motivation to blog about it. It's the same for other things too, baking is about the only thing I have done for myself in the last 3 weeks. When I say 'for myself' I mean a hobby, I have spent a lot of time cleaning and I've even become a little obsessive about making sure the gas hob is shiny and streak free.
In the last week or so I've picked up my paints and a canvas as I feel the motivation returning but I've yet to make a mark. It seems to be a slow process and Sod's law will be that the day after a start will be the day a job offer comes through, then I'll go back to not having free time. Perhaps with a little foresight I can avoid that and make time to get back into other hobbies.

So let me show you what I have been up to in the kitchen.
Easter is coming up next week and my a 12 pack of creme eggs turned up in our kitchen (I guess my partner intended on working his way through them one by one but I had other plans for them). I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of Cadburys Creme Eggs but stick them in a brownie and you have a sticky, sweet chocolate overload that is right up my street. These turned out so tasty, (thanks to this recipe at that I had to make them twice. They were very popular and the boy has suggested stockpiling creme eggs for when they go out of season.

17th of March was also St Patrick's day and although I don't usually celebrate it the boy is Irish so I decided to do something special for him. His Mam would have been proud of the Guinness chocolate cake we celebrated with.
I only made this cake because I'd been assured by Cupcake Jemma that it does NOT taste like Guinness. Due to the sweetness and high malt content of Guinness you get a chocolate malty taste that isn't overly sweet and the cake is very moist. It's delicious! I also followed her recipe for cream cheese frosting which works so well with the dark cake. I'd never made it before and it did come out with little lumps of butter throughout but I think with a little practice it would become a firm favourite as an alternative to buttercream.

As I look back at the photos of everything I've been baking lately (I've gotten into the good habbit of taking pictures of everything) I realise it would take me all day to catch you all up on everything that I've done so I'm just going to share the pictures and a brief discription of what it is. If you want to know more you can leave me a comment!

I've made Tea Braec before but this recipe from Odlums is the best I've found. My partner loved it so much he posted it to Facebook claiming it could compete with his mothers, I guess I've proved myself as I am now privvy to that secret recipe!

Millionaires Shortbread is one of my favourite treats. I love biscuit, I love caramel and by now you should have realised I love chocolate. I could the biscuit base on this so it was a little crunchier than i'd have like but still delicious. It was a quick bake using a basic shortbread recipe with tinned caramel and melted chocloate on top. Very simple but very delicious.

I spent most of the Autumn and some of the Winter looking for tinned pumpkin to make a pie, trying all kinds of shops and supermarkets and coming away empty handed. I finally gave up in January and resorted to making Sweet Potato Pie. Over the Winter I have seriously developed a taste for sweet potatoes and I can't seem to get enough of them lately.

After the Creme Egg Brownies I decided to try another type of Brownie with Oreos. This Brownie is from Lorraine Pasqual and was very dense and gooey. Now don't get me wrong It was good but in my opinion the Brownie base for the Creme Egg Brownie was much better, still sticky and gooey but not so heavy that it makes your jaws stick together.

These were a bit of a mash up, last minute Viennese Whirl. I'd made some butter biscuits from a baking book I have with the intention of dipping half in icing and sprinkles for a fun,sweet treat. After baking them I ran out of time and pit the into storage. A couple of days later I had a small amount of left over cream from the Guinness cake so I decided on a couple of these. They'd be perfect for an afternoon tea.

Just before I leave you for today I wanted to make a point about baking parchment. I started off not owning baking parchement and making do without it and then when I did get some I felt it was such a faff to prepare tins with the curling paper that I didn't really bother. Since January I've started using it religiously and I can't believe how much time and effort I save cutting circles out of the parchement compared to the skill level and patience required to extract a cake from it's tin without breaking it plus the extra time it takes to clean said tin. So if you ever wonder if it's worth using baking parchment...ABSOLUTELY!!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Catching Up

Gosh, it's been a while since I've blogged. It's been a busy time and I've not had much inclination to sit and write but it was about time for an update.

I guess the biggest news is I got old! Well I hit the big 30. Everyone always says it happens easily and the trepidation and anxiety you feel on the approach is pointless. I'd have to agree, turning 30 is anticlimactic but it feels old. When you're in your 20's nobody expects anything of you, as long as you have a job you can do whatever you like: travel, volunteer, experiment with career options, educate yourself and nobody will judge you. When you hit your 30's you feel like you should have you s**t together:  married/engaged, having children, developing your career and moving onto the property ladder. Why do we put these pressures of societal norms on ourselves? Leaving 29 I felt like a complete underachiever so I decided that this was the year I was going to try to reach my potential. I sat down on New Years Eve and wrote the bucket list for 2015, things to do before 2015 kicks it, not me. I don't intend to live my life by the expectations of others so these things are things I've really thought about, purely self indulgent and food for the soul rather than steps on a ladder to adulthood.
I'm not going to share the list as of yet but when I do tick a box off I'll update you all.

Now I realise that this blog is developing into something more than a record of baking activities, it's cathartic though so I'll continue to develop it but for now we'll catch up on some baking activities.

My last post, however delayed, spoke about the power of word of mouth and now I really am developing a reputation for my baking at work. I had a colleague, who I work closely with, ask me to do a birthday cake for her son and when she told me the theme I couldn't resist!! *Not a geek*

*And YES that Arc Reactor does light up!*

I spent a while researching to make sure I used the right kind of cake, it's Madeira as it's denser to hold the weight of the icing. It's also easier to carve when you want to make things like a hulk fist. One tip i will add is to go for an overall shape when carving rather than trying to get the intricate detail into the cake. If the icing is a little thicker when you cover it then you can add more detail (such as fingers, as well as nails and creases). Also a trick I learnt as an art student when you are copying something, try to have the original in front of you. I'd seen some really awful attempts at fists on the internet but if you clench your hand in front of you and copy that rather than an image it looks much more realistic and less Jeremy Beadle.

(I really did learn a lot from this attempt and doing the research beforehand, when I think back I realise just how much.)
My method for covering the cake comes from this video tutorial and blog. An invaluable tool is a smoother. I cannot tell you how amazing this piece of kit is, especially if you usually end up with lumpy bumpy cakes. You need to get one! It also helps with smoothing the edge that sits against the board so that I didn't have to pipe around the edge to disguise it. I really love that crisp finish.

In the past I've always used icing sugar to roll out the icing but next time I'd like to use a grease as recommended on the tutorial. The icing sugar didn't really leave cracks as they claim but I'd like to experiment to see which I prefer and which is easier to work with.

Finally, my last bit of advice- Don't bother with the pre-coloured icing that is available at Hobbycraft. Yes it's easier and the price weighs out well against convenience but it stinks to high heaven! Seriously! Not good!

Word of mouth

Apologies for this delayed post but rather than waste it I've decided to post it now so I can work on a new update...

Well I've been away from here for a while but that's not to say I haven't been baking.

Since my last post I was asked to do cakes for the christmas fair at work, I've done gingerbread, banana bread and also salt dough decorations for my christmas tree. It's that time of year again where shops are a buzz, Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, the festive cheer starts to spread and time seems to vanish completely!

I like words, hearing them, speaking them and reading them. They look good on the page and they can sound almost musical, no matter what language. It is also the fastest way to communicate. It's a useful tool in advertising and even when your not purposely trying to advertise it will get you interest. Word is spreading of my baking ability and requests have started coming in. This was not my intention at all as I don't enjoy the pressure of baking to a brief and a timescale. It's why I would never turn my hobby into a business, it would take the fun out of it completely. If the brief is vague enough or if I'm feeling up to a challenge I'll accept and a charity bake sale is not too taxing so I accepted.

I decided on cupcakes with a simple christmas/winter design and a chocolate tray bake jugs to bulk it out. They went down a treat! (Pun intended). Though I think the staff ate more than the visitors.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Pinwheel cookies: Take two... or 3 if you like.

I can be a perfectionist sometimes. I don't like to leave things unfinished and I was not happy about posting my last blog post without having the pictures to show for it. I had an afternoon off so I thought I'd revisit the pin wheel cookies to show you how good they looked. This time, however, I thought I'd stick to the more traditional vanilla and chocolate design.

After looking through a few recipes I found one (in metric!) that was quite simple. This recipe calls for cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate which is far easier and involves less washing up. Very efficient!
These hypnotising biscuits make you look like a whizz in the kitchen, they look more complicated than they really are and the contrasting design is really fun without having to decorate them. They can also be stored for weeks in the freezer as dough, just cut off a few slices when you have visitors or fancy a quick chocolate hit.
The only thing I'd say about these is slice them a little thinner or cook them a little longer for a better crunch to your biscuit and then serve with the obligatory glass of milk. I'll definitely be checking out some more biscuit recipes soon, biscuits are underrated!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Disaster averted.

I narrowly averted disaster today in an attempt to make Pinwheel biscuits. I'd seen them on Pintrest and was looking for a reason to make them. Not the chocolate and vanilla ones, these were pink and white and cute as a button. The concept was simple without looking at a recipe, 2 layers laid flat then rolled into a 'sausage' and then sliced before baking but I wasn't sure what biscuit recipe to use.
As much as I love biscuit I haven't made them since I was a kid, using cutters to make cute animal biscuits that would then suffer decapitation or have their limbs devoured one by one. I'm not a masochist, honest! I always remembered these biscuits being a little bland so I decided to use a richer, tastier recipe loved my millions: shortbread. What I didn't realise until I began to roll the 2 layers together was that shortbread is not all! It crumbled (as shortbread should) and I had to attempt to separate the pink crumbs from the plain with despair.
To fix the problem I compared the shortbread recipe to a Christmas cookie cutter biscuit recipe and realised a bit more sugar and an egg would make the dough sticky enough to roll. So half an egg to the pink dough and the other half added to the plain worked brilliantly and the extra sugar made it sweeter than the animal biscuits of my childhood. Epic recovery!
I actually don't have any pictures of the pinwheels, I took them to work almost as soon as they were out of the oven as we were saying fair well to a colleague. Which leads me on to the main subject of the picture below. It's the same girl from my previous post. She starts her 9 months 'Maternity' leave so we did a whip round and I offered to make a baby clothes bouquet.
You will begin to tell from this blog that I am very creative and love crafts as well as baking. I don't like the term crafty as it makes me sound sly. Not only do I enjoy the skill of making things but I thoroughly believe that a hand made gift shows so much more thought and effort than a store bought gift. I had made fabric roses before and thought it would be a similar concept (which it was). You can find all sorts of tutorials on the internet but here are a couple of random ones to get you going.
Baby Clothes Bouquet
How to make fabric flowers roses

If you have all the materials ready you can create this in around 2-3 hours. A word of advise though when purchasing the clothes- anything long and thin will create a better flower shape and socks make the best cute little roses!

Just another note on the picture above. Of course after learning how incredibly simple shortbread is to make I couldn't not knock up a batch for myself! Buttery goodness!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

It's not a celebration without cake!

There is no better reason to eat cake than in celebration. It's an integral guest at any birthday, Christmas, baby shower, wedding, engagement, retirement, anniversary etc. etc. celebration and if you haven't got cake at your party then you're not doing it right!

Todays special occasion is very special and a little unusual. A friend at work was in court yesterday to find out if she could (finally) adopt a little girl and she has been accepted! There is such a buzz of excitement in the air around the my team so cake was obviously needed, but what to bake?!

I thought I'd go for a baby shower type them as the girl she is adopting is only a few month old, so lots of pink. I wanted to do a gradient caked covered in a buttercream piped rose design (I've not tried these before but I think they're so pretty). I decided against it because it's rather difficult to serve without a kitchen, cupcakes however are perfect to pick up and eat on the go. Pintrest is full of inspiration and I took a few ideas from some of the cupcakes on there, including the piped buttercream roses.

I also took this opportunity to practice my sugar craft skills. I've made a good amount of occasion cakes using roll out icing and crafting various shapes, particularly flowers for my brothers wedding cakes (note the plural- all 8 of them). I'm no expert but I think I'm pretty decent for an amateur and I will use any opportunity to practice and improve these skills, however I'm far too messy a worker for them to ever be perfect and I will forever live in awe of those who can perfect the skill.