Friday, 16 December 2011

Volcanos on the school run

Questions from Darling boy this morning on the school run included; what is a volcano? what is an earthquake? what is inside a dinosaur? what is inside concrete?  He is 3 1/2 years old.

All these tricksy questions meant I took a wrong turn on the school route- which I have driven 4 times a week for a year, so taxed was my brain.

I searched a long way back to my geography lessons and came up with an answer to the volcano one which involved the words 'magma' and 'lava' and me describing it like a mountain with a big straw in the middle which goes into the centre of the earth, where it is so hot, the rock has turned to liquid. I hope this is right. My answer to the one about earthquakes involved the word 'tectonic plates' which I said were like jigsaw pieces- though I got a bit vague on why they rubbed together and got wobbly. I really couldn't remember why they do this.

I said dinosaurs had organs inside them just like we do, i.e. heart and lungs and livers and stomachs- I hope this is right too, I'm not sure.  As soon as I said it I had my doubts.  By this point, I was hoping to dodge the concrete question, but Darling boy wasn't so easily put off and really wanted to know.  I came up with 'sand and special glue'.  

I told marvellous dad all about these questions.  He laughed and said he could tell Darling boy all about concrete when we go there for christmas- and I just know Darling boy will be hanging off his every word.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Stir up Sunday

Ok, so Stir up Sunday was a few weeks back, and is actually for the christmas pudding, not the cake- but what is christmas if not a chance to break from tradition (actually, thats the opposite of what christmas is,  where it seems everything from the ancient decorations on the tree, to the order in which the days events should unfold, should be the same every year for complete seasonal family happiness all round, but anyhoo)

So, this year I opted for a Nigella cake as it is both nut free (for Handsome husband who is an almond dodger) and also contains the magical chestnut puree stuff which is beyond delicious and has the most beautiful packaging.  You wrap it like a traditional christmas cake homage to the Sound of Music (a brown paper package, tied up with string) pour the goodness in and bake in a lowish oven.  Once its out, you can feed it with booze each week as you like, then glaze the top with fruits, stand back and admire.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The chocolate bourbon

Here is chapter one in the cannon of classic biscuits...the chocolate bourbon.  Much more chocolately and  satisfying than the shop version.  Pretty easy to make and with a chocolate buttercream icing in the centre, it makes the biscuit something more of a treat too.  It's more squeezey to eat, but worth making again.  Little brother chose the home-made one over the shop one when offered both- clever boy.

I'm sure you can play around with the flavours too, and go all spicy and cinnamony, should you be so inclined.

It went with a swing.

What a lovely evening- the jazz concert was a warm and toasty success.  A nice big audience and the band and singers were all great.  The church looked really pretty with holly and candles and fairy lights everywhere.  The mulled wine and mince pies went down a storm.  Pictured here is Dave the postman's famous shortbread. I truly believe that if you didn't feel all warm and snuggly and christmassy when Mike Long sang White christmas than you must be a robot, from planet Grinch.  Mike's voice was velvety rich and evocative and his version could easily stand next to Nat King Cole's anytime.  It was a lush evening.  I'm already daydreaming about organising another one- bigger and better, next year.  Next time I'm thinking of finding a brass section from somewhere- we all need trumpets in our lives after all.  We raised a lovely amount of dosh for the feel restoration fund too- brilliant.

Friday, 2 December 2011

THE Christmas jazz concert, it's tomorrow!!!!!

How can I have forgotten to mention I have been organising a jazz concert? It is tomorrow night at the local church and is in aid of the church bells which need re-hanging. The re-hanging will cost about a squillion pounds and we are applying for Heritage Lottery funding, but need to raise 10% locally.

It was my big idea to have a concert so I was the one to drive it forward, but it couldn't have been possible without my fellow ringers being super duper helpful. I suggested it back in August and have been beavering away ever since.

The band, Just Misbehavin' are booked, the brilliant singers Mike Long, Emily Wraith and Lynn Thornton have agree their set list, the wine is ready for mulling, the mince pies are ready for munching (we have all been madly baking) we even have a hostess trolley on standby to keep the mince pies warm (yes, we have thought of everything!)

Tomorrow we decorate the church in the morning and then the band arrive before 6pm for a little run through, then it's show time at 8pm. It's very exciting and I've gone past nerves, though I'm sure they will return tomorrow. Can't wait. It's been a long time since I put on a show (I used to run a contemporary dance company back in London, but more about that another time) so I'm really looking forward to it.

As a bonus, marvellous mum and dad are coming down with my brother and his lovely partner, hooray! Darling boy and Little brother are very very excited.

I will post again soon to say how it goes, I'm sure it wil be with a swing though!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The biscuit classics

I have started a new venture; to home bake all the classic biscuits you wouldn't normally bake yourself.  I'm thinking of the old skool biscuits that you had at school.  Rolling off my kitchen work bench and into the hungry waiting mouths of Darling boy and Little brother (and Handsome husband if he can get there quick enough) will be custard creams, rich teas, digestives and the classic chocolate bourbon.

I have made custard creams a few times, a la Nigella. They were infinitely more delicious than any shop bought version, a million times so.  Not being a fan of the commercial biscuit, finding it powdery and bland, I was delighted with the results.  I never fail also to be enraptured with the romantic background of the key ingredient, Bird's custard powder.  Mr Alfred Bird's wife loved custard deeply, but was allergic to eggs.  He strove to engineer an alternative that would enable his sweetheart to have her custard and eat it. Romance and puddings, who could ask for more.

By they way, Mr Bird also invented baking powder (again for his wife, so he could make yeast free bread).  What a hero.

So, watch this space for some classic biscuit action.  First up, the bourbon.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Nutty cinnamon whirl biscuits- who can resist them??

In this world of cold swirling winter winds what we all need is one, if not more of these nutty cinnamon whirl biscuits.  These chaps are perfect with a hot, strong coffee.  I took a batch to marvellous mum and dads recently.

On the way, I had to stop at the garage to get some boring car stuff fixed (something about the wheels, blah blah blah) and the box of biscuits were fresh from the oven, and cooling on the front seat.  The car was in the garage for an hour or so, so me and Little Brother explored the amazing local 'sell everything you never knew you wanted' shop.  I swear when we got back to the car, the box just might have possibly perhaps have been one or two short!  Those cheeky mechanics couldn't resist the spicy smell of warm biscuits.  I'm not cross, who could blame them?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Oh christmas tree, oh christmas tree, how lovely are your branches

My mother in law kindly volunteered me to make the 'Guess the weight of the cake' cake for the local village Christmas Craft fete.  Always happy to help out a good cause, and flex the creative muscle I agreed and racked my brains for a christmassy themed cake.  I came up with this bad boy.  The tree is made from a vanilla sponge with a chocolate buttercream filing, topped with vanilla buttercream.  The trunk and pot are made from chocolate cake truffle, with the trunk coated in cake crumbs to make it look tree-like, and copper gold edible glitter to make it look all sparkly, innit.  The star is made from dark chocolate with a layer of white chocolate on top, and then more gold glitter.  There is no such think as too much glitter.

The guesses were from the tiny to the ridiculous.  A local farmer, complete with tweedy jacket and rouge cheeks guessed the nearest weight and was the lucky recipient of the cake and the glory.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Swirly whirly, double icing cupcakes

I have been practising and perfecting my swirly whirly cupcakes.  It's a tricky technique, but well worth it.

These beauties are chocolate cupcakes, with a raspberry pink and chocolate buttercream icing.


Boo! Halloween cupcakes for the school party.

I made these chocolate beauties with orange and green  or orange and chocolate vanilla buttercream icing for the kids at the school Halloween party, but the PTA decided to auction them off instead for the Bille Butterfly fund.

The lucky auction bidder who won them was a mum from Darling boys school who is also a nurse.  It's nice to know that my cakes have supported such a great local charity, as well as feeding hungry nurses (i.e., people with proper jobs!) who are in professional need of chocolate.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Gingerbread men wearing Y-fronts.

Darling boy, Little brother and I went to a friend's house for tea recently and what would be better suited than a team of cheeky gingerbread men and ladies to take along with us.  I haven't ever iced like this before, it's tricky but good fun.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Dark chocolate cake truffles

When is a Cakepop not a Cakepop?  When it doesn't have a stick... 

Darling boy, little brother and I went for a lovely visit to the marvellous mum and dad.  Whilst there we had a family dinner to which I bought along some 'dark chocolate cake truffles'...I knew that something chocolately would always go down well after a big dinner.  So, simply make your cake pops are usual, but eschew the stick and pretend they are a grown up treat instead.  Oh, and if you do a double coating of dark chocolate, it's all the better.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A minnie mouse birthday cake for a grown up girly

After making the caterpillar cake recently, one of the mums at the party got in touch and asked me to make a cake for her little sisters 21st birthday.  The brief was 'anything chocolate, Spice Girls, or Disney-she loves Disney'.

Off I went and brainstormed.  I couldn't find anything in my imagination that could represent the Spice Girls via the medium of buttercream.  The Disney idea had more possibilities.  As it was a 21st, I wanted to keep it playful, but a bit sophisticated.... or as sophisticated as you can get with giant chocolate ears.

It's always slightly nerve-wracking presenting a cake (will they like the design? will they ike the flavours?  will it get there in one piece?....actually, I'm normally fairly confident about the design and taste- its the logistics of transporting that gives me the willies), but I delivered the cake this morning and it was happily received...phew.  I've never really made anything like this before, but I'm learning all the time.

The ears are giant cake pops made in the form of flat discs moulded onto 2 bamboo skewers, then coated in dark chocolate and then a layer of buttercream and golden chestnut glitter.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A pink and girly cake, for the new girly in our family (that's extended family folks, don't get excited)

As well as the new chicks which arrived recently, a much more exciting and important family member has been welcomed to the clan.  Handsome husband's uncle and his wife have adopted a 3 year old little girl after years and years of longing for children.  It's such wonderful news and it was a real treat to finally meet her.  They live in Germany which means a recent visit over was our first opportunity to meet the loveliness that is Darling boy and Little brother's new cousin.

In honour of our new cousin's first visit to Devon, I baked her a 'Welcome to the Family' cake.  Since I have two boys, I got pretty excited about the chance to 'go girly'.  I was feeling in a novelty mood, so shaped the cake in the silhouette of our new cousin's initial (making good use of my new bundt tin too)  The glittery pink buttercream icing went down a storm, as did the sweeties all over it and the chocolate sponge inside.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Garden cake, or school cake, but not as you knew it

I've joined the PTA (Parent Teachers Association) for Darling boys fabulous preschool.  The wonderful Head teacher Mrs P and other members of the PTA kept asking me to join and I kept making vague excuses about being really busy.  I did however say to a fellow mum that if I was asked once more the I would probably crack.  Guess what?, she squealed.  I was asked again and relented.  Actually, it's good being on the PTA, someone has to, parties and fundraising do not organise themselves.   I see it as my bit of community spirit, supporting the school.  Plus being a full time mum, I may as well get involved; after all, if you are going to get wet, you may as well go swimming.

Anyway,  it is the school's 30th birthday and at the most recent PTA meeting, Mrs P said she wanted to find someone to make a big birthday cake so she could get the press in to do a feature on the school and it's anniversary.  If only they knew someone who made cakes? (I was sat next to her) The hints were sufficient and I was more than willing to oblige.  It's the least I can do, it's a great school and Darling boy loves it there.

I wasn't given a brief aside from 'chocolate, all children love chocolate', so was able to do whatever I fancied.

I decided on a '30' shaped cake, as I knew it would photograph well (and also good for numeracy, innit)  I was stuck for a decorating theme, until I remembered these darling ready made decorations I had.  I have never bought ready mades before, but the bumblebees and ladybirds are super cute and very unisex.  The school is very outdoorsy too and I hoped the garden theme would chime well.  My new Wilton nozzle came in handy too (number 233 if you are interested).  This was it's first outing and it was a labour of love.  It's a big cake and my hand is still aching.  It took about 5 hours to decorate, from shaping to glittering.

I must admit I am pretty proud of this one.  The school loved it too.  Hooray.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The chicks have landed

So cute!, the chicks have hatched.  For reasons I missed as I was away on a girls weekend (!) we have 3 chicks from the original 6 eggs that mother hen started with.  They are as cute as you could imagine.  Fluffy, wobbly on their little legs and chirpy chirping all the time.  Cute.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

You must be quackers

The in-laws asked if we fancied going along to the village Duck Race.  There would be money on it to make it a more 'sporting' event, and then scones and jam after.  Well, who could resist such an invitation?

I don't know what I was expecting, I had never been to a Duck Race before, but this being the countryside, I had imagined there would be actual, live ducks, somehow persuaded or bribed to run from one end of a course to another, with the winner being the first duck across the line, with hilarious results.

Elements of this were right, there were ducks that had to make it across the line, and there was betting.  But one crucial difference leapt out when we arrived.  The ducks were of the bright yellow plastic variety and came tumbling out of black bin bags into the stream.  Each duck had a number on its bottom and locals were invited to back a duck in hope of successfully pairing with the winning quacker.   Proceeds- as ever- were going to the church hall roof.

We followed our rubber beauties down the stream, helping them along with a little boot when the stream was shallow.  Little brother insisted on being at the heart of the action and walking in the very cold and very wet stream for the length of the course.  At the end when the winner was declared, we finally persuaded Little brother out of the stream and had to pour most of it back from his wellies.

Darling boy and little brother did themselves proud at the tea afterwards and ate their own body weight in scones, jam and cream.  Pretty impressive since they both weigh around 2 stone each.  It was a lovely, and weird afternoon.  More please!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Caterpillar birthday cake

 One of my lovely Devon friends asked me to make a joint birthday cake for her super lovely children.  Her eldest is a boy who is 4 years old today (and incidentally, one of Darling boy's most favourite of friends) and her little girl, who is a total cutey pie will be 2 years old in a few days.

The only request was 'with your yummy buttercream icing and glitter please' as both are so popular with the birthday boy and girl. I racked my brains thinking of something I could do for a joint cake.  Trawling google images didn't bring much joy.  I thought animals might be popular and was trying to think of two animals that go together, but are a bit boyish and girly in their own way.  Genius struck and the idea of a caterpillar and butterfly theme landed in my head. The body is made from two vanilla bundt cakes, cut and shaped.  The legs and feet are made from CakePops, shaped into feet and moulded onto chocolate fingers for legs.

I finished the cake late last night and was so pleased, I was very tempted to wake up Handsome husband so he could come and admire it too.  Luckily good sense prevailed (I don't think he would have appreciated being woken up, however pretty the butterfly cupcakes, or how jaunty the caterpillar's antennas)  He did however admire the cake in its glory this morning and was suitably impressed.

The party was today and the cake went down a storm.  It is such a joy to make things that are such fun to create, and that delight and please the people it is made for.