Monday, 31 December 2012

Turning 30 in 2013

There are just a few hours left of the last full year of my twenties. In three days I turn 30.

I will not be sad to see the back of the last decade, which seems to have had more downs than ups. But I've come out the other side with a wonderful boyfriend, a house I can call my own, and consider myself a much nicer person than I used to be. My twenties taught me a lot, even if the ride wasn't that enjoyable.

I'm not where I want to be yet, by any means, but where I am gives me a lot and I'm grateful for everything in my life right now. I fully indeed to remember all the things that make me and my loved ones happy and do more of those things in the next year, and decade.

It's important to look after yourself and not ignore the warning signs. Your body tells you a lot about your mind, and both are fragile things that need to be cared for.

Cakes and baking makes me happy, as does quilting and sewing. Feeling the pressure to complete a million challenges and projects does not make me cheerful, and so I will craft and bake as much or as little as I want. Walking, in the woods, by the river, being on my bike, seeing churches and castles, reading.

This year I also want to get out and sort out our new garden. We moved in at the start of autumn so we've not been able to do much yet. I got a big book of gardening for Christmas so I'm going to read up on what to do first.

Keep close those around you who you care for, and also who care for you. Remember that friends are supposed to support you and not make you feel like a worse person for their presence.

Dark and light are both vital for existence. We can strive for more light and happiness, but the dark times make the bright ones worthwhile. I just hope I've ha my fair share of dark for a while yet...

Friday, 28 December 2012

Gingerbread house demolition site

Last year I made a gingerbread house at Christmas for my godson, George. This year, as he's a little older, I decided I would bake and construct the house, and then help George to decorate it.

Last year's gingerbread house...
...and this year's demolition site...

I thought this would mean letting go of my perfectionist tendencies and desire for everything to be 'just so', and I was right. But I needed to relax even before George came close - the construction was a nightmare, and it looked terrible without any Jelly Tots came close. George's mum is expecting, so I couldn't use Royal icing because of the raw egg, so just normal icing sugar and water it was. This was just not stable enough, and it was impossible to keep the walls and roof in place.... One of the roof panels snapped in half and I nearly had a breakdown.

Broken gingerbread house roof
However, although George did say "It's broken!" the minute he saw it, I don't think the roof issues stopped us having fun covering the house in sweets and chocolates. We had a great evening making a right mess, and it was night not to worry about whether all the sweets were lined up neatly.

Looking pretty
A great tip I learned a couple of weeks ago when baking gingerbread is to roll out the dough on baking paper, preventing the terrible sticking to the work surface that can ruin many a roof tile.

Someone was eating more chocolate buttons than he was sticking on the house...
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas biscotti biscuits

I love a good biscotti biscuit. These are great as an after-dinner treat with a cup of good coffee, and also make great gifts for friends and family at Christmas.

Now, I know these aren't cakes, but they are Christmassy, so I'd like to enter these into the Calendar Cakes 'Go Crackers for Christmas!' blog challenge! Calendar Cakes is the brainchild of Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes and has a fab theme every month.

Christmassy biscotti

350g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
2tsp mixed spice
250g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
Zest 1 orange
85g raisins
85g dried cranberries
50g flaked almonds
50g pistachios

Mix together the flour, sugar, spice, and baking powder. Add the eggs and zest, and stir, then knead.
Add fruit and nuts and work in.
Roll into 4 sausages.
Bake at 180C for 25-30 minutes.
Take out and cool for 5 minutes. Slice with a bread knife into 1cm thick slices.
Bake again at 140C for about 15 minutes, turn over, and bake for another 15 minutes.

These are lovely with coffee after a Christmas meal, but I do love to give them as little presents too. There are loads of flavour varieties you could try with them, they're very adaptable.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Not very red velvet cake

For the second meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club, the theme was 'Black Tie', the idea being that instead of going to a fancy party, we'd make our cakes the glamorous element while we could all lounge around definitely not wearing black tie. I thought, one might wear a red velvet dress to a black tie event, so decided on a red velvet cake - decorated with white Malteasers, pretending to be pearls.

'Red' velvet cake with white Malteasers

Of course, best laid plans and all that. In the event, I had food colouring issues, and ended up with a brown velvet cake. I still argue that you might wear a brown velvet dress to a black tie do...

I used a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook for red velvet cupcakes, and doubled the recipe to make a large cake. It was far from incident-free - but, as is the important thing, it tasted quite lovely.

I would like to enter this cake into the Tea Time Treats challenge for December, the theme being Chocolate (admittedly I could enter quite a lot into this category!) - this month being hosted by the lovely What Kate Baked (it could also have gone into last month's 'cake' themed TTT, which was hosted by the equally lovely Karen at Lavender and Lovage but I wasn't quick enough!).

120g butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
20g cocoa powder
Red food colouring - the recipe says 40ml Dr Oetker food colouring for a large cake, but I don't like using it in such quantities, so I bought some proper gel stuff. However, I think I did it wrong (I think I should have diluted it in some liquid before adding it to the mix, but didn't, and hence the cake stayed brown!)
1 tsp vanilla paste
240ml buttermilk
300g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarb
3 tsps white wine vinegar

Ready for cake club
 Preheat the oven to 170C (160 fan)
Prepare two 20cm cake tins
Beat the butter and sugar togethre.
Slowly add the eggs.
In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa, food colouring, and vanilla. Mix into the egg mixture.
Slowly add half  the buttermilk, followed by half the flour, then the remaining buttermilk, and rest of the flour.
Add the salt, bicarb, and vinegar, and mix until combined.
Fill the cake tins equally and bake for about 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

I wanted to cut each layer into two, so there would be four layers to the cake - but, one decided to fall apart as I got it out of the tin, so I didn't want to risk it falling completely to pieces by trying to slice them in half.

Sandwich the layers together with a cream cheese buttercream frosting (I used 300g icing sugar, 50g butter, and 125g cream cheese, and this was enough to sandwich the layers and also cover the top and sides). I attempted painting the cake all over with melted apricot jam, in order to prevent crumbs mixing into the frosting. However, this didn't work either (a comedy of errors, this cake was), and so all the frosting got a bit crumby. I decorated it with white chocolate Malteasers. Best to eat this cake quickly because of the cream cheese in the frosting.

Not very red on the inside...
Although it looked nothing like it was supposed to, and I really missed the dramatic redness that I was expecting, this cake definitely tasted lovely. It is light and fluffy while being moist too, and the tang of the cream cheese frosting really works well.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Stamford Clandestine Cake Club goes Black Tie

The second meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club on December 3 was a glamorous event, full of decadent delicious cakes.

With Christmas just around the corner, we wanted to shun all those sleek and sassy festive parties that we'd been invited to, and instead to meet at a cosy pub in our comfy clothes and let the cakes bringing the glamour. The theme was Black Tie, although all bakers ended up baking a variety of chocolate cakes. It was a testament to everyone's imagination and baking skills that each cake was different in taste, texture, colour, and look. Well done everyone!

Two nervous-looking bakers!
We had a few cancellations due to sickness, and indeed I nearly cancelled myself as I'm still recovering from surgery, slowly. But, nothing stops for cake, and eight of us got together to eat cake, talk about cake, and take cake home.

We met in the All Saints Brewery, aka Melbourne Brothers Brewery, in Stamford. This pub was another brilliant venue, full of ancient beams, comfy and characterful furniture, and lovely owners who really looked after us. We all commented on what a great pub it was and how we would all be returning. Maybe the CCC will make a return journey in the future!

The range of cakes included:
Red velvet cake
Three chocolate sponges, one with silver balls, one with chocolate sprinkles, and one with glitter, silver balls, and mini champagne bottles
Chocolate and caramel layer cake
French chocolate orange cake, decorated with a black tie silhouetted in icing sugar
Chocolate cloud cake with Cointreau cream 

Red velvet cake with white Malteasers

I decided on my own cake, the red velvet decorated with white Malteasers, thinking one might wear a red velvet dress accessorised with pearls (the Malteasers) to a black tie event. In the end, however, the food colouring didn't quite work and it was a brown velvet cake instead - but I still maintain that you may wear a brown velvet dress to a black tie event!!

It was good to see two male bakers at the event this time, although one was a guest and didn't bring a cake on this occasion, I'm hopeful he will bring one next time. The other male baker, Simon, showed off with his cloud cake, topped with Cointreau cream, and informed us that he certainly is a dedicated caker as his lunch was cake batter.

Chocolate caramel layer cake

The chocolate and caramel layer cake, by Anthea, was a real star, although we ignored the fact that it has about 12,000 calories in each slice! 

Thanks to everyone who made it and for all the effort everyone put in with their lovely cakes. I'm loving our Stamford cake club and long may it continue. Hopefully in the New Year all the nasty bugs that kept some members away will be gone and we can kick 2013 off with a big cakey bang.