Sunday, 22 January 2017

Cake Toppers Review

I received a couple of free personalised cupcakes from Cake Toppers in return for a review. I snapped up this opportunity because I love all things cake!




I picked 2 images that I wanted to be used on my cupcakes. I decided on 2 of my favourite cakes – my own wedding cake (that my mother-in-law made in Summer 2012) and the first wedding cake I ever made (for my best friend Tor last Summer). After looking at the website, I asked if I could try the cupcakes in both classic sponge and chocolate flavours. This was fine and the cupcakes were delivered promptly and securely.

I missed the cupcakes when they came, so they went to the Post Office. I couldn’t collect them till till later in the week. I wasn’t sure how the quality of the cupcakes would be affected, as I wasn’t eating them straight away. The cupcakes were packaged well and were in good condition. They weren’t damaged in any way.






I thought the images were clear and I liked the different effects that the shape of the image brings. One was rectangular (with white space) and the other circular (filled the topper). I didn’t pick these and may have something to do with the type of images I sent. But it is probably something you can request/consult with Cake Toppers at the time of ordering. I needn’t have worried about the quality of the cake as they tasted fresh. I was pleasantly surprised how good they tasted. The cakes were both light and moist. They didn’t taste cheap but made of decent quality ingredients. The chocolate icing in particular is delicious.







I would recommend these photo cupcakes from Cake Toppers. They look professional, add a personal touch to any event and taste great too! You can order them and different size photo cakes from the website www.caketoppers.co.uk.



N.B. My wedding cake photo was taken by Henry Aarvold Photography.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Grainger Market: Christmas Night Market


It has now been a year in my (not-so-new) job as a learning mentor in a school. It has been both mentally and physically draining. See post earlier this year. It's been tough and hard work but there has been a lot of reward (when I see my mentees improving and benefiting from the mentoring).

I broke up from school early in 2016 (Friday 16th December). I know breaking up early means going back to school early but I was so ready for this break (as I'm sure all school staff are!).

I feel as if I've been so busy trying to keep my head above water, that I'm really not prepared for Christmas. I did however manage to fit in some pre-Christmas cheer early last month.

French Oven from Newcastle's famous Grainger Market invited me to their Christmas Night Market on the 1st December. I’m a huge fan of French Oven and the Grainger Market, so was excited to go to this late night shopping event. See previous French Oven post.





French Oven kindly provided me with a VIP wristband. This allowed me access to the Grainger Market air raid shelter and other special offers during the event. The air raid shelter tour was short and interesting. I recommend a visit if you ever get the opportunity. It adds so much to an already great institution.




We were hungry so sought some food. Having tried Sloppy Joes Deli & Sandwich Bar (see review), Pizza by the Slice, La Petite Crêperie previously (all good by the way); I had two eateries that I wanted to try for the first time in mind. Well, three, but Lindsay’s To Go was closed that night. So, we ended up sharing some dumplings from Nan Bei and Turkish tapas from Fez Food.

Nan Bei didn’t fare very well. The kitchen was very disorganised and ill-prepared for the event. You couldn’t order off the menu as you would expect. This left a limited dumpling filling option. And it was a massive wait; where we saw lots of people turn up, told what they wanted was unavailable, and walk away. When we finally got our dumplings, they were alright but don’t think I’ll be returning again. Nan Bei promised a lot (I’d seen good reviews) but we were disappointed. I hope Nan Bei sort out the system in the kitchen so they are able to turn out dumplings quicker. Or they streamline their menu so it is more manageable. The stress in the kitchen was evident and I really hope they improve and do well.

The VIP wristband got us 20% off dumplings at Nan Bei. This was clearly marked at their unit, which we were happy about.  Other places didn’t have clear signage; nor did people check if you had a wristband. This was a shame, as we felt uncomfortable and unsure all night. It was a bit of an inconvenience to keep asking whether the wristband was accepted or not. It would be good for future events here to make it clear where/who/what in the Grainger Market are taking part in the VIP wristband offers. Then you would really feel like a VIP and it would be worthwhile in purchasing the wristband.

Fez Food had no VIP wristband offers. The owner, however was hospitable and gave us a free Turkish tea with each of our meals. I really recommend the Chicken platter; it was tasty and you get a lot of your money. However, the large mixed grill was too pricey for what it was; so wouldn’t get it again. The owner was so nice that he gave us free teas after our first one. I love the blend of their Turkish tea. Wish I could buy it myself and have it at home. Ah well, It’s a good excuse to pop into town again to stop by Fez Food for some Turkish tea!




The French Oven were taking part in the 20% discount with a wristband offer. I was only told this the second time I visited that night, and not the first when I had already bought something. Nonetheless, I bought white sourdough bread, Scotch pie and Empire biscuit from French Oven. The bread is top notch from there (see review). I always have to buy bread from here whenever I am in town near the Grainger Market. The pie and biscuit was for my husband. He couldn’t make the event, as he was working at his school’s Christmas fair that night. And it was his birthday too. Bless him; he did enjoy the pie and biscuit very much. So much so, I didn't even get a chance to take a photo at home.

Overall, we enjoyed the Christmas night market at Grainger market and were chuffed to be part of this first event. I look forward to the next one, where I'm sure it'll be even bigger and better. Thank you for having us French Oven!


N.B. French Oven provided me with two free VIP wristbands for myself +1 in return for tweeting and a review.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes


I fancied making some cupcakes so turned to Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery book for inspiration. Chocolate orange cupcakes caught my eye. I’ve not made this flavour combination before but have made Primrose Bakery chocolate and caramel cake so know their chocolate recipes are good. See recipe here.

These turned out better than I expected. The batter smelt gorgeous. I’m not normally one for eating cake batter but I just had to try some. And it was good. The cupcakes are soft and well risen. The chocolate icing is decadent and different to my usual chocolate buttercream, so will be using it as a go-to recipe.  These were practically inhaled at work! They were so good that I made them again a couple of weeks later.






Chocolate Orange Cupcakes


Ingredients
115g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
90g unsalted butter (room temperature)
175g caster sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange (at least 75 ml of juice)
2 large eggs
185g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon semi-skimmed milk (room temperature)

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C.
Line a 12-hole muffin tray with muffin liners.
2. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl.
Melt in the microwave on a medium setting in 30-second bursts.
Stir well between each 30-second session.
Alternatively, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water.
Stir occasionally until completely melted.
Set the bowl aside to cool.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and orange zest
until the mixture is pale and smooth.
This should take 3-5 minutes using an electric hand mixer.
Add the eggs and beat again briefly.
4. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Mix the milk and orange juice in a jug.
5. Add the chocolate to the creamed mixture
and beat on a low speed until the mixture is just combined.
The batter will still be streaky.
Add one-third of the flour mix and beat until it all just comes together.
Add half the juice/milk mix and beat again until the mixture just comes together.
Repeat these steps until all the ingredients have been incorporated.
6. Carefully spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling them to about two-thirds full.
Bake in the oven for about 28-30 minutes.
To check they are cooked, insert a skewer in the centre of one of the cakes.
It should come out clean.
7. Remove from the oven and leave the cakes in their tins for about 10 minutes.
Then place on a wire rack to cool.
Once they are completely cool, ice the cupcakes with chocolate buttercream.
Decorate as required.





Chocolate Buttercream Icing


Ingredients
175g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
225g unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 tablespoon semi-skimmed milk (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar

Method
1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave
 until smooth and a thick pouring consistency.
Heat at 30-second intervals on medium, stirring in between, to avoid burning the chocolate.
Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a heatproof glass bowl bowl
over a saucepan of barely simmering water.
Stir occasionally until it has completely melted and is quite smooth.
Leave to cool slightly.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, milk, vanilla and icing sugar until smooth.
3. Add the melted chocolate and beat again until thick and creamy.
If it looks too runny to use, simple keep beating.
This will thicken the icing and improve its’ consistency.




Monday, 5 September 2016

Summer 2016: All about the bake

So, this has been the first time I have had six and a half weeks off education/work since I was at school myself. What did I do? Bake of course! This post is all about the bake.


Caking


I had five cake orders. The first being my first ever wedding cake for best friend Tor. That took place in the first week and for the whole week in the summer holiday. This was the most challenging and exciting cake that I have taken on. You can read more here.


Tor & Chris' wedding cake, Vermont Hotel, 28/7/16


I then had a week off caking and back on it with a one of my most detailed cakes, in terms of models. The Gruffalo baby shower cake. I've not read the book before and enjoyed my "research", which involved watching the two films. The Gruffalo is such a good story. I would definitely read this to my child (if I have one). This was such a fun cake to make and I loved seeing each of the characters come to life. This took about five days from start to finish. This has to be one of my favourite cakes. The finished cake brought a lot of joy and smiles to faces.


The Gruffalo baby shower cake, 14/8/16


Another week off caking, then I started working on three cake orders. details for the last three cakes in the last two weeks of the summer holiday. In the last week, I baked and covered all three cakes. Then added the decorations. It was a bit of a mad rush to get all three cakes completed for the last weekend, but I got there in the end!

For the two birthday cakes, I was going for colourful and magical; sunshine and enchantment. Whilst incorporating elements that Amelia liked (butterflies) and mum liked (a rainbow, bees and toadstools). Amelia is known by the family as"little fox" so obviously I  had to include one on a cake. Am pleased with how all the elements came together over the two cakes.


Butterflies birthday cake, 2/9/16


Little fox birthday cake, 3/9/16


I received Hotel Chocolat chocolates and gorgeous flowers from my cousin I-lin, as a "thank you" for making the Gruffulo cake and two birthday cakes. Such a lovely surprise!


"Thank you" flowers and chocolates


The third and final cake order was an elephant christening cake. This was a 10" chocolate cake and 8" Victoria sponge decorated with bunting, a balloon and building blocks. I thought the elephant topper turned out quite cute :-)


Elephant christening cake, 4/9/16


Elephant cake topper, 4/9/16


We defrosted our freezer at the end of the summer holiday. I had lots of cakes in the freezer that were test bakes or didn't make the cut for Tor's wedding cake. These all got defrosted and used up over the holiday. I decorated Victoria sponge and lemon cupcakes for Amy & Chris' housewarming, a 4" vanilla cake for Amy's birthday and a three layer 10" chocolate cake for our end-of-Summer barbecue.

I'd just bought Cake Craft letter and number cutters and wanted to try them out. Perfect size for a single letter/number on cupcakes.


Victoria sponge and lemon cupcakes


Amy & Chris' housewarming cupcakes


Amy likes butterflies and her fave colour is purple. So I decorated her cake with a purple buttercream rose and white butterflies. Simple but pretty and effective. People asked how I did the buttercream rose. I used a petal tip and this buttercream rose piping tutorial. Fairly easy with a bit of practice and once you get the hang of it.


Mini rose & butterflies birthday cake


Mini rose & butterflies birthday cake


For the chocolate cake, I used Primrose Bakery recipe, which you can find here. I trebbled the recipe to get these big cake layers. I sandwiched the three layers with chocolate buttercream. I left it naked and dotted the top with some playful Smarties. This cake was huge. I didn't think it'd all get eaten at the barbecue, but it did!


Three 10" chocolate cakes






Baking


I've gotten back into baking my own bread. Haven't done it for ages and it feels good. I use the Doughworks recipe, after attending bread making courses with them. Really recommend these, as it demystifies bread making, is a lot of fun and make ideal gifts. Me and hubby originally received the basic bread course as a gift from his mam. I then purchased the sourdough course as a gift for me and Leigh.

We had an end-of-summer barbecue during August bank holiday weekend and made a couple of batches of bread buns. These turned out great; some of our best bread yet; albeit a little on the large size; but went perfect with the homemade burgers. We received lots of lovely compliments. People didn't realise they were homemade. One said they thought they were bought from an artisan bakery; another wouldn't believe they were made by us even after telling them.








Of course, I had to make dessert. And what screams Summer more than a fruity pavlova. So easy to make and one of my favourite sweet things to eat. See recipe here, which I doubled to get large one.








August is a busy month for celebrations. It's both my mum and dad's birthday, as well as their wedding anniversary in August. My mum requested a cake made of two of her favourite foods: ginger and pistachios. I used Chetna Makan's recipe for Pistachio, cardamon & white chocolate cake with a few tweaks to make a ginger and pistachio loaf. I swapped the cardamon for ginger powder and the white chocolate for crystalized ginger. I wasn't going to top the cake but decided to melt white chocolate and drizzle it over. I added some chopped pistachios and crystalized ginger to make it look prettier. The result was a lovely moist and soft sponge. I would have liked more ginger flavour, so would add a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of ginger powder next time. However, mum said the cake itself was perfect the way it was. Just didn't need the white chocolate drizzle, which made it a bit too sweet. Very high praise indeed, coming from my mum!

















Sucre Kitchen Magazine


In July, I was approached by Sucre Kitchen on Twitter to submit some pictures of my home bakes. These would be considered to be featured in their new online magazine's first issue in September. I was well chuffed that I was chosen to be included amongst such talented home bakers.

You can download the free magazine here.





Friday, 29 July 2016

Wedding of 2016: first wedding cake

It was the wedding of the year on Thursday 28th July 2016 at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle. I had the honour of not only being bridesmaid for my best friend Tor, but also to make her wedding cake. This is my first ever wedding cake, so a lot of faith was placed in me. Tor had a great vision for the cake and I was really excited (and nervous) to take on the challenge.

Making the cakes


For those of you that follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me trialing bakes for the wedding cake in the past couple of months. The 5 wedding cake tiers were a 12" fruit cake, 10" chocolate cake with caramel icing, 8" Victoria sponge, 6" carrot cake with cream cheese flavoured buttercream, and a 4" lemon cake. I've never made fruit, chocolate or Victoria sponge cakes as big as this before. So trial runs of increasing my usual recipes were needed before hand. I also bought 2 sets of cake tins for the job, so these needed testing too.

The fruit cake was the first thing to do months before the wedding. I tried the best fruit cake at at friend's wedding last year and had to get the recipe. I found out it was Delia Smith fruit cake recipe, so had to try making it for myself. I made a couple of fruit cakes and fruit cupcakes and they went down well at Christmas. There isn't a recipe for 12" round fruit cake available. So, after consulting forums and with the help of Delia Smith scaling up cake recipe, I decided to double the 9" recipe for my 12" cake. This works well, but if you want a really deep cake, you should try scaling it up differently.

Making the fruit cake



12 " fruit cake

I held a cake tasting for Tor and Chris in April; where they sampled some cakes in the flavours they wanted. Chocolate, Victoria sponge, carrot and lemon cake.


Cake tasting


Cake tasting


I couldn't believe how quickly the wedding came round. As soon as school broke up for the summer holiday on Wednesday 20th July 2016, I got cracking on with the baking of the cakes. All except the fruit cake which was already done in advance and maturing from several brandy feeds. I had a full week off work dedicated to the making and decorating of the wedding cake. I needed this and couldn't have done it otherwise.

There were two chocolate cakes to choose from. A Be-Ro and Primrose Bakery one. Tor and Chris both liked different ones but in the end went for the latter. I used this Chocolate and caramel cake recipe and trebled the cake recipe over three 10 inch round tins. The caramel icing recipe sufficed to sandwich the three cakes.


10" chocolate cakes

In the past I have always used the Be-Ro recipe for Victoria sponge with good results. However, my recent test bakes kept failing. So, I decided to try and go with a different Victoria sponge recipe. I tried Primrose Bakery's recipe and this was successful.


8" Victoria sponge cakes


I used this Carrot cake recipe, which always yields good results. The recipe works over two 6 inch round tins. I wanted to find an alternative to cream cheese icing, as was worried it may go funny being left out of the fridge for as long as it would be. I came across Lorann oils and was intrigued to try the cheesecake and cream cheese flavourings, as have never seen these before. Neither tasted like what they professed to be. They just tasted very sickly sweet. However, if you add a tiny amount and let the flavour settle in the buttercream overnight; it is pleasant and does go well with carrot cake. I went with the cream cheese flavouring in the end.


Lorann oils


6" carrot cakes


I haven't had the best of luck with finding a good lemon cake recipe in the past. I've tried several recipes; some even from reputable popular bakeries. But always ended up with a horribly dry and tasteless cake. It's as if the lemon juice sucks out all the moisture and flavour of the cake when it cooks. Anyway, I turned to my mother-in-law Sandra (Sandra's Pantry) for her lemon cake recipe. She uses the Be-Ro Victoria sponge recipe with some 'family secret' tweaks. This was a vast improvement on my previous attempts.


4" lemon cake


Cake assembly and decoration


It was blazing hot the week before I started the wedding cake. The worry was, will the buttercream melt causing structural issues? Or, will the fondant be a nightmare to work with as it's so hot, cracking at every opportunity? Luckily, the weather cooled down a little when it came to frosting and covering the cakes with fondant. I'd just got a Honeywell tower fan from my parents for our anniversary. This was put to good use and came in handy to keep the cake (and me!) cool.




You know it's serious when your shopping includes a 25kg bag of icing sugar, 10kg of fondant and a litre of vanilla extract! All bought from Tom Anderson Distributor in Benton.

I used two boxes of 5kg Tom Anderson's brand of supreme ivory fondant. I didn't use it all but one box wasn't quite enough. I covered the 4 cakes (other than fruit cake) with double the fondant to try and get a smoother finish and in hope it'd help keep the cakes together more. Initially, a few of my first tries of covering the smaller cakes were complete fails, so had to throw some out. I thought it'd be easier to start small and work my way up in size. If it weren't for this and I didn't do double the fondant on 4 cakes, then 5kg would have definitely been enough. My palms, wrists and forearms were red and sore after all the rolling! I need more practice to get the hang of it and to get a smoother finish.




I had never used dowels or stacked cakes before. Leigh helped me with the measuring and sawing of the dowels. Considering we had both never done this before, he did a sterling job. We managed to dowel and stack the cake without much problem. If we hadn't done this right, the worry was, would it all hold during the journey to the wedding venue?  I had images in my head of cake tiers sliding off or the lower cakes buckling under the weight of above cakes.




The overall decoration was simple but effective. I loved the dreamy details that Tor chose for the wedding cake. Creamy blush pearls with soft rosy ruffles and rosettes.

I got the edible pearls from The Cake Decorating Company, which were really well priced. The edible pearls (although ready-made) took hours of pain-staking and careful work. I can recommend Renshaw ready-to-use royal icing. Not only did I use it for securing the stacking of the cakes, it also did the job of keeping some of the larger pearls in place. There were occasional pearls that fell and bit the dust but on the whole, they stuck and stayed whilst at home. The worry was, would they all hold for the cake getting delivered?

I enjoy doing buttercream rosettes and was pleased I would get to do them for this wedding cake. I covered a birthday cake in buttercream roses when I first forayed into cake decorating a couple of years ago. See here. Its like I've come full circle; from starting with these for a small (fun) bake to my first ever (serious) wedding cake order!

These are fairly easy to do with the right piping nozzle (Wilton 1M) and a bit of practice. They're very quick to do compared to the pearl decoration. I wasn't sure whether the buttercream ruffles and rosettes would stick to fondant as never done this before. I decided to cover the fondant in a layer of buttercream first and it seemed to work. Easiest job so far. Now the worry that they may melt and not hold between now and the big reveal.





The final flourish


The wedding cake survived the car journey. It was a tense one! But nothing budged. And it was actually seamless getting it from car to cake table. It also lasted over-night at the venue before the big day.  Nothing melted nor any repairs were needed. I did have a cake repair kit on hand in case though! I needn't have worried as much as I did but the stress was down to lack of prior experience.

It isn't perfect but it is my first wedding cake. A lot of time, effort and love went into it. I learnt a lot about what goes into a wedding cake from scratch; start to finish. Preparation is key. Don't be like me and rush to Tesco for marzipan at 11pm! Experience helps too. I definitely feel more prepared and confident in my abilities for the next one.

The bride & groom, family, friends and guests loved the cake. I did not expect the wedding cake to receive the reception it has. I was thrilled and am bowled over from lots of lovely compliments (throughout the wedding and afterwards on social media). I am really proud of what I've achieved. Thank you everyone for all the cake love and appreciation.

Congratulations Tor and Chris, the new Mr and Mrs Robertson! Thank you again for having me as part of your wedding. It really was an honour and pleasure. Love you xx