How to bake a wedding cake…?

Now, not a sign of my impending nuptials, but those of my friends, who have requested that I bake their wedding cake! How exciting/scary/responsible is that? Once my initial euphoria died down, I started getting down to some serious thinking. I’ve got plenty of time to get started, as the wedding is more likely to take place in 2017, but I’ve never made or decorated anything on so epic a scale before. It’s really quite terrifying!

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There are so many factors to consider in the making of a wedding cake. The logistics of it are mindblogging. The cake has to be made in advance, in order for it to be decorated, then transported many miles to the wedding venue. Then it has to arrive immaculate, be assembled without toppling over, and somehow through all of that, the cake still has to be tasty inside? So I thought I would have a trial run at one tier. Forward planning or what?

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I went for Peggy Porschen’s chocolate cake, cut it into four layers, and filled with vanilla buttercream. To test the ability of the cake to withstand days of sitting around, I baked it to real time, and only cut it open on day 5 after baking.

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I was excited to find out whether the cake had retained the freshness of a newly baked cake or whether it had gone dry and stale. Happily it was still moist although I cut into again the next day to find it had dried out quite a lot.

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The cake was also disgustingly sweet! I think it’s because the buttercream to cake ratio is so high, and the cake itself is also brushed with sugar syrup. Although four layers is pretty, two layers of cake and one layer of buttercream will provide a much nicer ratio of buttercream to cake.

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The next stage to consider is how many tiers will be required. It’s a fairly big wedding so I may bake up to 4 tiers in total. That’s a lot of cake! It’s also important to consider that my friends may also want some variety in there too. Other options could include a victoria sponge layer, traditional fruit cake, and carrot cake. I haven’t cracked red velvet cake to include that in my repertoire yet, plus I’m nervous about using cream cheese/mascarpone-based icing on a cake that will have to sit around for so long in early summer. Ahh, the million possibilities! Anybody else baked a wedding cake before? Any great tips to share?

Valentine Sugar Cookies

It’s almost Valentine’s Day!

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Regardless of whether you are coupled-up, single or even in a polygamous five-way….this is THE best time of the year for kitsch baking. Cover everything with hearts, pink icing, glitter and rejoice. January is over, the worst of the Winter blues is past. Spring is coming!

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Biscuits store well in a tin, and always go down well in a crowd. I had a lot of leftover lemon sugar cookie dough from Christmas and I wanted originally to make some biscuits that I could sandwich together with raspberry jam. However, I completely ruined the first batch of biscuits by a) burning them and b) letting them get totally stuck to the baking sheet. So, there weren’t quite enough left biscuits left for sandwiching purposes. On the bright side, I got the chance to test out my new food colouring from Squires Kitchen.

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This shade here is Poinsetta, and I think it’s pretty spot on!

It seems I am inherently unable to go totally OTT when it comes to decorations; I rather like the contrast of bright red icing and plain lemon biscuit. The rest of the sprinkles, sparkles, and sugar flowers might have to wait until next time.

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Christmas Gingerbread House Part 1

Christmas food in the UK relies deeply on aromatic spices, dried fruits, sugar, nuts and a dash of brandy. Honestly, most of it doesn’t float my boat. I wanted to make an alternative to the traditional Christmas Cake, and so, this Gingerbread House came into being.

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I’d wanted to make a Gingerbread House for years, but the images online looked so impressive I was quite intimidated at the prospect of making my own.

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Two years ago, I tried to freestyle what turned out to be an inedible biscuit church that was thoroughly glued together with gallons of overboiled fondant icing.  This year I wanted to aim for something pretty, but something that would remain tasty too.

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I have a lot of recipes for gingerbread biscuits, but the one from Peggy Porschen caught my eye. I made a few changes based on what I had in the cupboard: I substituted extra golden syrup for the treacle, contributed the spice flavours from a jar of French quatre d’epices, and added a little wholemeal flour. Crisp, crunchy, and full of Christmas spice, this is my new favourite recipe.

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Gingerbread House Part 1

Adapted from Cake Chic by Peggy Porschen

  • 5 tbsp water
  • 210g brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 tbsp quatre d’epices
  • 250g salted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 80g wholemeal flour
  • 480g plain flour

Put the water, sugar, golden syrup and spices together in a saucepan, and heat until it comes to the boil. Then take off the heat, and mix in the butter until completely melted and amalgamated. Add the bicarbonate of soda and briefly whisk in. Then leave to cool until just warm, and mix in the flours to form a fairly wet dough. Wrap this up, and pop in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Make the template for the gingerbread house. I downloaded mine online.

Roll out the gingerbread dough in batches between two sheets of greaseproof paper. Lay the templates on the gingerbread and cut out shapes, removing the scraps to be re-used. Don’t move the cut shapes around, but transfer them to the baking sheet by sliding the tray underneath the sheet of baking paper. Put them in the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C, and bake the sheets of gingerbread for approximately 15-20 minutes. The differently sized shapes will vary in their baking times. Take out of the fridge, and quickly, whilst the gingerbread is still soft, lay the templates on again, and trim the baked gingerbread.

Put the gingerbread on a cooling rack and leave until cold.

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Next, the decorating step, coming up in Part 2!

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Fairytales and Festive Biscuits

Fairytales and folklore are best enjoyed during the colder months of the year. Endlessly open to reinterpretation, retelling and reimagination, just think of the wild contrast between Disney’s pastel films, and the twisted tales in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. While Disney’s saccharine formula is wildly successful, that’s not the sort of fairytale I’m talking about.

I like a dose of realism mixed into the magic, and Sarah Pinborough get this balance just right. By pulling out a completely new take of several traditional fairytales, and weaving them together, we get Beauty, then Poison, then Charm. I spent the last few weeks reading them all jumbled up in the wrong order but it didn’t matter. A good book is a fantastic way to spend a cold winter’s night huddled up in bed.

Now I’m working my way through Gossip from the Forest, by Sara Maitland. It intersperses loving descriptions of the British woodlands with short retellings of traditional fairytales, and entwines the two in a really rather beautiful way. The book is brilliant in that you can happily read one chapter at a time, like a sweet treat savoured once in a while.

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Anyway, reading material aside, it is indeed the festive season. December tends to bring out my inner Scrooge (along with Valentine’s Day and my birthday). It doesn’t help being at work throughout the holiday, but I thought I would try to make a bit of an effort, and bake something cheery to herald all that is Joy Unto Us.

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The making of Christmas biscuits is commonplace throughout many European countries. I had a flatmate from Austria who made it an event every year to painstakingly roll out and form hundreds of tiny, beautifully formed little biscuits that she would hand out to us in ribbon-festooned bags. This lovely tradition hasn’t quite crossed the Channel into the UK, although I do remember making Advent Biscuits at school ( the combination of cardboardy biscuit, gluey icing and rock-solid silver balls wasn’t the most tempting of repasts).

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Here I’ve used a basic biscuit recipe by Peggy Porschen that has a simple, elegant but subtle flavour. This makes it infinitely adaptable. Not only can you slather on icing, but also adapt the biscuit itself with different flavourings. I’ve used lemon zest, but you can easily put in vanilla seeds, orange zest, cocoa powder, ginger and other spices….the possibilities are endless!

Pretty Chocolate Cake

Why do I cook?

Well, there are a lot of reasons.

To feed, to nourish, to make people happy, a sense of achievement, copying what the masters do….

And there lies the problem. Sometimes I put myself under huge amounts of pressure, feeling like I have to achieve a certain degree of proficiency before serving a dish in front of everyone. Even when it’s a familiar recipe like a sponge cake – I can obsess at lengths over the decorations, symmetery, neatness, smoothness… and how much the filling oozes out of the middle.

In pursuit of perfection, this can sometimes involve repeating one dish over again so many times that I become thoroughly sick of it. And then it loses some of the spark that made cooking fun in the first place.

So I say – no more. It’s important to realise that you can’t achieve proficiency in all areas of life, and to be amazing at cooking is to be a chef, which I most certainly am not. And remember that even they have their weak spots. After all, you don’t employ them to cook every cuisine under the sun, do you?

Sometimes it is perfectly normal to need 2 or 3 tries before you get the hang of a technique. Some flops are inevitable, while you work out the consistency the fudge is supposed to achieve, or the rise of the bread, or slapping the cake with icing. Often, after a long hiatus, I forget to perform little tricks of the trade such as freezing or chilling a cake before icing it, or using a cake scraper to get a really smooth finish. Yet there have been times when I’ve made and decorated perfectly good cakes without using any special techniques, armed with just a butter knife and a paper plate.

Last week was a bit of a funny one.

I just let myself relax, and take a break from everything. No pressure to do anything at all.

What freedom.

So what did I actually end up doing?

Well aside from going to work (unfortunately non-optional), I snoozed a fair amount, read some excellent novels that Amazon has been kindly flicking my way via “My Recommendations” and caught up with old films. No baking, no cooking, nothing strenuous at all. I had essentially monotomous meals consisted of heating up a tin of soup, toasting a bagel, or quickly frying an egg, and guess what? It was BLISS.

Anyway, that interlude of peace wasn’t going to last very long, but then I got back into the kitchen, whacked on the oven to bake this fabulous cake, and you know what?

It turned out perfect first time!

Hurrah!

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The sponge is a Peggy Porschen recipe,  invitingly dark, chocolatey and divinely scrumptious. Originally I was going to make a white chocolate ganache, but somehow my hands worked separately from my head and I found myself whipping up my trusty Hummingbird Bakery chocolate frosting. It worked a treat, and I liberally sprinkled the top of the cake with my collection of pink sugar decorations.

I have to admit that making buttercream icing is not one of my favourite tasks. It’s sticky and messy and goes absolutely everywhere. However, it’s so tasty that it’s always got to be worth it.DSC05327