Christmas Cakes

It’s been fun doing the Christmas cakes this year, although I could do with being just a tad more organised about things – a little lot less last minute dashing is the plan for next year.

Working with different media is always refreshing, and it was great to be able to work on the solidity of a fruit cake rather than the more fragile sponge ones.

Devoted though I am to Italian meringue buttercream, it was a nice change to use marzipan again.  That stuff is so easy to handle, mould and form – I wish more people liked it!

I was also reminded that I really must get to grips with royal icing.  The trouble is, it’s about as unpopular as marzipan so I generally only get one request a year for it (on a Christmas cake).  It’s easy to give it low priority.  Nonetheless, I need to make the effort to practice with it; quite apart from anything else, the marzipan button tree cake would have looked SO much better on a smooth topped cake.

Anyway, the last three Christmas cakes of 2015…

Star tree cake

Star Tree Christmas Cake – 6″ traditional fruit cake, covered with marzipan and fondant, finished with fondant stars and silver nonpareils.

I like the design of this but wasn’t happy with my finish on the stars.  I also don’t like the slightly lopsided look of the tree…better star positioning needed!

Snowman Cake

Snowman Christmas Cake –  6″ traditional fruit cake, covered with marzipan and fondant, finished with fondant features and bobble hat.

He’s cute, isn’t he?  I was pleased with him.  I was particularly happy with the fondant bobble on his hat, which was made using a ‘brainwave technique’ (involving scissors) that truly worked 🙂

It’s a shame this picture was taken before Mr. Snowman was beribboned and that I forgot to take one after – with a jaunty red and white spotted ribbon tied around him he looked even more appealing.

Gold star cake

Gold Stars Christmas Cake – 5″ traditional fruit cake, covered with marzipan and fondant, finished with antique gold fondant stars and gold nonpareils.

I really like the pretty simplicity of this cake – the gold board added just enough glitz to lift a fairly plain cake into understated glamour.

Five cakes in total and I really can’t decide which is my favourite.  I think the gingerbread man…but maybe the gold stars…p’haps the snowman…?!

Which one would you go for?

x

 

Gingerbread Man Christmas Cake

Another Christmas cake has been completed and is ready for delivery –  hurrah!  Only another 3 to go.

Gingerbread Man Christmas Cake

This dinky little 4″ brandy infused fruit cake has been covered with marzipan and fondant then finished with hand crafted fondant decorations and a perky gingham ribbon.

Gingerbread man cake in box

I know certain TV shows would have it that BIGGER is always much better, and the big complex numbers are undoubtedly productively challenging to a person’s skills and impressive when well executed.

Nonetheless, I do like doing these smaller cakes; apart from the fact they’re a doddle to cover with icing ( 😀 ) I also think there’s a simple cuteness to them that tends to be missing from grand scale cakes.

I think this little gingerbread man cake is pretty adorable anyway!  What do you think?

x

Christmas Cupcakes

PHEW!

There! That’s the huge sigh of relief promised in the previous post.

Now here come the pictures…

Blurred boxed up

I’m delighted to say the cupcake order (also mentioned in the previous post – c’mon, keep up now! 😉 ) is now complete.

Santas, snowmen, robins and elves – a total of 72 cupcakes, all boxed up and ready to go.

Christmas Cupcakes
A selection of vanilla sponge and chocolate sponge cupcakes, topped with vanilla Italian meringue buttercream and decorated with fondant.

These cakes are notable for two reasons:

  1. It was the largest single order for cupcakes received to date, and
  2. It was the first time I paid someone to help me complete an order (see above!).

And so, with baby steps, I continue to make the dream a reality.

x

Traditional Christmas Cake with Marzipan Button Tree Decoration

Marzipan button Xmas tree cake

Rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and royal icing, topped with a hand crafted marzipan button design and finished with a smart red ribbon.IMG_2886[1]

Five traditional Christmas fruit cakes are being made this year…they’re a little drunk now as I’ve been steadily feeding them Cognac for weeks.Button tree Xmas cake This one was finished today and has now left the building.

I’m currently working on a rather large order for Christmas cupcakes…due Monday.  I’ll be back with pictures, and a massive sigh of relief, once they’re done.

Until then, I hope the festive spirit has come your way and has filled you with good cheer.  If not, I recommend vodka – it helps 😉

x

Banana & Caramel Blondies

These crispy edged, squishy middled, sweet little squares don’t take long to get into the oven, and are the perfect sweet treat on a rainy afternoon, with a good book to read and a cat to sit on your feet (cat totally optional).

WARNING: If you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake, or you’re on a weight loss diet, you probably shouldn’t read this post.  In fact, don’t even look at the pictures.

Banana and caramel blondiesAww…you didn’t listen did you?  Never mind, tomorrow’s another day – just don’t say I didn’t try to head you off 😉

Caramel SauceServes one (oh, all right – makes around 20 squares…you decide how many that serves!)

Ingredients
2 ripe bananas, sliced
200g golden caster sugar
100g butter
2 dessert spoons caramel sauce (ready made or make your own by boiling a tin of condensed milk for 3-4 hours) plus some for drizzling on top
100g white chocolate, broken into chunks
2 medium eggs
200g self-raising gluten free flour mix (eg. Doves Farm)
Music

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/350ºF.

Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin.

Chocolate, sugar, caramel and butterOver a low heat, gently melt the sugar, butter, caramel and chocolate, until blended and smooth – stir frequently.  Set aside to cool a little (5-10 minutes)

with flour and bananas folded inBeat in eggs then fold in the flour and sliced bananas.

in the tin and drizzled wih caramelPour batter into the prepared tin and drizzle a couple of teaspoons of caramel sauce over the top.

Baked Golden BrownBake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until golden, risen and set.

Allow to cool before removing from tin.

Banana and caramel blondies with ice creamServe warm with ice cream or cool completely and have with coffee.

Banana and caramel blondieWill technically keep for around 3 days if stored in an airtight container (or well wrapped in tin foil).  It’s improbable that this will happen though.
x

Wickedly Tempting Chilli Chocolate Brownies

For one reason and another it’s been a dreadfully long time since Barn and I were able to enjoy a leisurely Sunday brunch together; however, the calendar indicated that our free time would coincide this weekend – glee!

Barn was full of anticipatory excitement as Sunday approached – the ‘big food shop’ had been delivered, cupboards, fridge and freezer were bulging with exotic delights…expectations were high for some kind of culinary wizardry.

BrowniesThen the day dawned and all I wanted to eat was brownies – warm, fudgey, chocolatey brownies.

Now Barn’s not normally one to need persuasion to eat chocolate but for some reason he was being difficult:

“You can’t just eat cake.  You have to have something savoury first.”

“OK, I’ll have a piece of Marmite on toast.”

The LookHe gave me The Look

“Fine!  I’ll have a piece of Marmite on toast, cut it in half and therefore will eat TWO pieces of toast”

He wasn’t buying it

“All right, all right…I’ll have a bacon sandwich.  But only if you make it while I make brownies – of which I’m going to eat non-rationed and unquestioned quantities.”

And so the deal was done

Bacon buttyThis is the bacon butty that was duly consumed: rather tasty and actually a good call on Barn’s part, as me, fuelled solely by sugar and butter = likely bad ending 😉Chilli chocolateIngredients
200g unsalted butter
130g plain dark chocolate, broken into chunks
100g chilli flavoured dark chocolate, broken into chunks
alternatively, use 230g plain chocolate and a pinch or two of chilli flakes ground into powder with a mortar and pestle – add this in with chocolate
160g caster sugar (preferably golden, but white is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs, beaten
100g ground almonds
50g plain gluten free flour mix (I use Dove’s Farm)
Music

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/170°C/325ºF.

Lightly butter your baking tin and line with greaseproof paper (you can probably get away without lining but I tend to play safe).  My tin was a little to large and so the brownies were a touch too thin – a 8″ (20cm) square tin would be about right.

Broken chocolate chunksMelt the chocolate and butter gently over a low heat in a heavy-based saucepan.

Melted chocolate and butterTake the pan off the heat.

Vanilla pasteSift in cocoa powder, add vanilla and sugar and whisk until combined.  Leave the mix to cool a little (5-10 minutes).

Sugar, cocoa, vanilla and eggs addedAdd eggs to chocolate mix and beat until smooth and glossy.

Ground almondsBeat in ground almonds and flour then pour into the prepared baking tray.

Baked brownie trayBake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until just firm to the touch in the centre.
(I don’t know why that pretty swirly design happened – please don’t be cross if you don’t get this lovely effect 😉 )

Allow to cool a bit before turning out of the tray and cutting into squares.

Brownies and creamServe warm with whipped cream.

When completely cooled, store in an airtight container – this makes it easy to carry them around with you so you can snack at will through the day 😀
x

Blackberry & Apple Upside Down Cake

When I was a child, living in the depths of Wales, the summer holidays brought many good things…dawn-to-dusk freedom, yomping through fields and barns, ‘helping’ with hay making, riding bikes and ponies (not simultaneously), paddling in the stream, chasing water boatmen across ponds and marvelling at the way they could walk on water, eating crab apples (and never getting belly ache, despite everyone’s assertions that we would), building dens, grubbing in mud…kid paradise.

BlackberriesThe other thing that summer brought was blackberries – in fields and gardens, along hedgerows, in a derelict chapel, filling the little island in the middle of the stream – simply acres of unpolluted, naturally growing, free to all, fat, purple, lip-and-finger-staining berries. Three of us could easily harvest two buckets each within a matter of hours (it would probably have taken less time if we’d not eaten so many along the way), and there would still be plenty more for the days and weeks to follow.  Mum made a lot of jam.

So you see, to me blackberries are something you forage for and pick yourself by the bucket load – they’re not something you buy at around £2-£4 for a teeny little 170g pack of not-quite-ripe, cultivated, inferior flavoured, supermarket berries (oops, I think my food snobbery’s showing 😉 ).

That price just seems insane to me, so I tend to go without unless I happen across some rare, relatively unpolluted, inner city scrub land that’s bearing fruit.Big fat berries

However, if someone else succumbs to said insanity, then gifts me the berries, I am not going to spurn the gesture – that would just be rude.

Which is why, when a friend recently tossed a pack of Mexican blackberries to me and said, “I bought you these – thought you’d be able to do something with them”, I did not respond with, “Are you mad?!”  I simply said “Thank you very much”, and started to plan what to make.

Baked apple and blackberry cakeThis was an experimental recipe so required tweaks revealed themselves in the review process.  What follows is a posting of what I actually did, with guidance on the things that should be done differently.

The ingredients list is accurate and will work for a 7″ or 8″ round cake tin.

Because I was experimenting, I split my mix and did a 5″ tin with apple and blackberry, and a 4″ tin with just blackberries.  This produced two very different cakes – the one with apple was more of a pudding really, and the other a tea/coffee cutting cake.  Both had their own merits.

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