Friday, 6 July 2012

What I like to call "domestic science fiction"...

I'm no stranger to sci-fi fans - my old housemate John was mad about Dr Who, my uncle Sean loves Star Trek and even I have been known to succumb to geekdom on the odd occasion.  Recently I was asked to make a birthday cake for a local man who loves science fiction and actually self publishes his own sci-fi books and podcasts (see his website  Rather than make him a dalek or darth vader cake that could be for anyone, after chatting to his wife we decided that his birthday cake should be a recreation of his own books and an ipod playing his podcast.  I really got a kick out of this idea as it was so personal to him, and I hoped he would really be touched by seeing his own books as the design.
I had originally planned to make two separate cakes for the books, until I was struck with the genius idea of making just one large cake and cutting it in two (see Dad - I didn't go to university for nothing).  My recipe makes a 3" tall cake, but to make the books look more realistic I didn't want them to be that high, so I used the recipe for an 11" cake in a 12" tin and it turned out at a perfect height.
I levelled and filled the cake and then cut into two, placing one on a separate board cut to size and the other on the large cake board.  Each cake then had to be carved slightly on one side to create the curved edge of a hardback book (20 minutes in the freezer to firm the cake up makes this job much easier).  I then covered each book in buttercream and smoothed off nicely:
If I wanted to make my life easy, I would have simply covered the whole of the top and sides with black sugarpaste, but anyone who has tried it knows that the huge amount of colouring that goes into making it that black is not the nicest to eat (incidentally, I have found that black Beau paste is much nicer than Regalice).  So, I resolved to work in some chocolate sugarpaste with a little extra food colouring as this improves the flavour, and I also used black only around the edges of the cake so there was as little as possible on the cake.
I started with the spine, then added a tiny strip all around the bottom of the cake to look like the back cover.  I created long strips of white sugarpaste which I scored with my favourite sugarcrafting tool - my pizza slice (it's soooo handy for cutting long straight lines or used to trim sugarpaste when covering cakes as it doesn't pull the icing like a knife does).  I then added these strips round the edges to look like the pages of the book (not that you can really see from my photo, sorry):
Then to cover the top, I used white sugarpaste in the middle and strips of black round the edge.  It was important to get the joins very neat and the top as flat as possible so that the image went on top nicely.
To make the ipod I simply made a rectangle of marzipan and covered it with white sugarpaste.  I added edible images which I made up specially to show the Ad Astral podcast and a happy birthday message.
The finishing touches were to dowel the lower cake so that it could take the weight of the upper cake and add the ipod earphones made out of white sugarpaste.  I added the upper tier which I secured with some edible glue to stop it moving in transit on the way to the party.
I'm very pleased with how it turned out - it's a really bold design that's also really personal.  Dave's wife emailed me specially after the party to say how much he loved it and how delicious it was too.  It always touches me when people take the time to say thank you and let me know how the cake went - when you work on your own it's great to have such lovely feedback and to know that something you have made has made other people happy.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Sewing cake for a crafty bird

Sometimes I think the best cakes are those with lots of details - often it's not the intricacy of each item but having lots of simple details really makes a big impact.  This cake I made for my very good friend Laura I think illustrates this really well:

As you may be able to tell from the theme of this cake, Laura loves making crafty things, particularly bold and striking cushions - take a look at her blog Always Have A Plan B to see some of the beautiful creations she makes.  When her boyfriend Slim asked me to make her 30th birthday cake, we both knew that there had to be some kind of crafty element involved.  I also had to make part of the cake cake gluten free so I suggested a cushion and a gluten free sewing box and Slim agreed it sounded like a great idea.  He sent me some pictures of the cushions she has made but we agreed that rather than copying one exactly, it would be nice to do one in her style.  I was placing an order for some edible butterflies (incidentally for Laura's mum's 60th birthday cake a couple of weeks before) and I saw these edible mexican skulls.  As soon as I saw them I knew I had to find a way of using them in a cake.  I sent the link over to Slim and he said it was just like some material Laura had used in one of her crafty projects as I added them to the order and waited patiently for them to arrive from America.

To carve the cake I followed a tutorial on Cake Central.  I started with a 10" chocolate and Baileys cake which I cut into just two layers and filled with Baileys buttercream - this would give me a handy guide for the halfway point when carving the cake.  The first step was to mark the cake with cocktail sticks one inch in on each side:

This gives you a guide to score a curved line to mark the basic shape:

Then using a large serrated knife held vertically, cut out the curved edge:

From this basic shape I used a serrated knife again to carve the edges to make nice domed top.  Then, carefully flipped the cake over and carved the other side to give a cushion shape:

I was surprised how much smaller the cake ended up once it was carved - if in doubt, start with a bigger cake than you think you need.

Once I was happy with the shape, I covered the top of the cake with a layer of buttercream and covered this with teal coloured sugarpaste and trimmed to the half way mark round the edge- this would be the underside of the cake:

I then carefully turned the cake over again and covered the rest of the cake with a layer of buttercream and the pale yellow coloured sugarpaste for the top:

Using the line of the teal sugarpaste underneath as a guide I trimmed the edges to match and eased together to make a neat join.  I could have used a thin sausage of sugarpaste around the sides to look like piping but that's not Laura's style so it was slightly trickier to make the join clean but it just needed a little patience.

Then to finish the cake, I brushed over the top with pearl lustre dust (anyone that knows Laura knows I had to get some glitter in somewhere!).  I also added a strip of teal sugarpaste which I went over with a quilting tool to look like the stitched hem of the opening for the cushion.  The final touch was to add the skulls using a very thin brushing of edible glue:

Once it was finished I added it to my custom made board:

Next I turned my attentions to the sewing box.  This was a 6" gluten free chocolate and Baileys cake which I cut into two to make the box and lid.  I put the lid on a separate board and covered it to look like a pin cushion top.  I made a ridge round the edge of the box from marzipan and covered this with chocolate sugarpaste to make it look like the inside of the box for the cotton reels to sit in.  I covered the sides with teal sugarpaste and some edible butterflies for decoration:

Then to bring everything together I made lots of cotton reels and buttons to fill the box.  The cotton reels were very straightforward, made from fat sausages of sugarpast that I rolled a knife around to score a pattern to look like thread, then ends were added on using edible glue and short lengths of dried spaghetti.  To make them look like they were inside the box I cut them at an angle before sticking on to the middle of the box.  I rolled a long length of white sugarpaste and drew on numbers and rules to make the measuring tape.  My favourite bit of the whole cake was the scissors that I modelled on my mum's old dressmaking shears - I think they turned out really nicely and looked quite realistic.

The cake a was brought out as a suprise at Laura's birthday barbecue bash and she really liked it.  So often when I make a cake I never get to see the reaction of the person I've made it for and it made my day.  Plus I got to have a slice too, another bonus! 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Record deck cake - happy 60th birthday Paul!

For my second 60th birthday cake in as many weeks, I was asked to make a cake in the shape of a lifesize record deck, for a man who used to run his own record shop.  I was certainly up for the challenge, although I had to admit to Kathryn who ordered the cake that it wouldn't be LP size, as the biggest cake I could make was only 12" square (anything bigger won't actually fit in my oven). Having said that, a 12" cake serves 72 portions which was more than enough for the amount of people going to the party.  It ended up as a lifesize 45rpm record player instead:

For this cake I tried a new recipe for Chocolate Mud Cake from my Home Guide To Cake Decorating book.  This is a lovely rich moist chocolate cake, and with over half a kilo of dark chocolate, half a kilo of butter and 1.2kg golden caster sugar it's not surprising it tastes good. I added some finely grated orange zest to the cake batter and filled it with my chocolate and cointreau meringue buttercream. Yu-um is all I can say.  And I don't even really like chocolate that much.  (Just in case you're wondering, there are always trimmings of cake leftover when I level the top of the cake, I don't just cut a sneaky slice out of the middle and hope noone notices)

After I had filled and levelled the cake I covered it with a pale yellow sugarpaste.  I worked the edges with my cake polishers to create a sharper edge to look more realistic.  I then left this overnight to firm up.

The next day I started off with creating the turntable.  I found a cake tin with the right proportions to use as a template for the base.  I don't like to use black sugarpaste very much as it has so much colouring in it that it doesn't taste very nice, so instead I created a turntable out of marzipan and covered it with grey sugarpaste brushed with silver lustre to make it look metallic.  I then rolled the record as thin as I could make it from black sugarpaste and added it to the turntable with some edible glue:

Next up was adding the label in a nice bright red and the central spoke which was secured with a short length of dried spaghetti:

I left this to firm up before adding the writing and got on with creating the arm of the player.  For this I used a cake dowel covered with grey sugarpaste and brushed with silver lustre to create the main part of the arm.  I then made the head from black modelling paste and fixed with a combination of edible glue and dried spaghetti.  I think I was a little naive or just plain not thinking properly when I added a needle made from floristry wire - there was no way that that this would hold up the weight of the arm and show on the final cake, duh....  Anyhow, here's the completed arm, which I left upside down overnight to firm up with a ball of clingfilm to support the handle:

The rest of the cake came together fairly easily, with some details added made from black modelling paste.  I also wrote the label was using an edible pen

The trickiest bit was adding the arm.  I made the arm hinge in two parts with a section hollowed out to fit the arm in between:

The final dial was secured to the back using a couple of short lengths of dried spaghetti:

And with that the cake was finished:

But my challenge wasn't over yet.  I seemed to recall saying on more than one occasion that I would never take a big cake up to London on the train and tube again.  I clearly need to listen to my own advice more carefully as this was the heaviest cake I've ever carried, let alone during rush hour and standing waiting at Victoria Station for 20 minutes while they closed the entrance due to overcrowding.  I had given Kathryn advance warning that the cake was heavy, and to prove it I even weighed the boxed cake on our bathroom scales - it came to 1 stone 2.6 pounds, even I was shocked.  It's also darn awkward to carry, I must invest in some kind of cakemobile, at the moment I'm thinking of a suitcase strapped flat to two skateboards and a long handle to keep it travelling level - anyone got any other ideas???

Aside from the awkward journey up to London, it was a sturdy cake and made it there in one piece.  Kathryn collected it and took it home on the bus ready for Paul's party.  She said it was exactly what she'd hoped it would look like.  Paul - I hope you had a fantastic 60th birthday party, sorry we couldn't make it, but hope the cake makes up for it!

Friday, 8 June 2012

60th birthday butterfly cake

My dear friend Laura commissioned me to make a gluten free cake for her mum's 60th birthday party.  I was delighted to be asked and even more excited that Laura wanted to use some beautiful and very lifelike edible butterflies she found on Etsy (take a look at Sugar Robot's shop to see the amazing range of cake toppers they have).  In fact the whole design was created by Laura, who wanted a two tiered gold cake with lots of butterflies down the side. All I had to do was recreate her vision.  Here's how it turned out:
This was a fairly straightforward cake to make as all the impact comes from the butterflies themselves.  I started with an 8" and a 6" round cakes which were gluten free orange and elderflower filled with homemade orange curd Italian meringue buttercream.  Apparently Laura's mum was very intrigued by the sound of my Italian meringue buttercream from reading this blog so if you are reading I hope it lived up to your expectations!
I covered each cake with a pale yellow sugarpaste:
And then brushed on metallic gold lustre dust with a pastry brush.  This is quite a messy job and I seemed to get gold dust over everything (actually this isn't limited to just gold dust in my kitchen...):
I added some dowels to the lower tier to support the weight of the upper cake:
In fact as this cake had to travel 200 miles fully assembled I added an extra tall dowel in the middle which went up into the top tier through a hole cut in the cake board.  This made it slightly tricky to assemble the tiers and make sure it was in the middle but it turned out well.  A simple gold ribbon finishes the tiers off nicely:
Then to start adding the butterflies, which are made out of wafer and are very delicate to work with.  I created a slight crease down the middle and attached with a tiny dab of edible glue applied with a very fine brush.  You have to be careful as if you add too much glue then the butteflies actually melt and tear so there were a couple of casulaties as I got used to working with them. 
I added the butterflies in diagonal drifts to make sure she size and colours were balanced:


It was tempting to keep adding more, but I felt like this was just the right amount to finish the design:
The cake then travelled from Brighton up to the Midlands in Laura and her boyfriend Slim's converted ambulance campervan for a big birthday bash weekend.  I packed a few spare butterflies in the cake box just in case there were any casualties.  Luckily it survived the journey and everyone was pleased with the cake at the party.  I can't wish for any more than that - a very happy birthday Laura's mum!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Free cake please - my Gluten Free Chocolate Cake recipe

I would find it very hard to live a life without cake - it would be a very rare occasion that you would walk into our kitchen and not be able to find a slice of homemade cake or a sweet treat to go with a mid morning or afternoon cuppa (and even then there is probably a secret stash in the freezer too).  But a few of my friends and Brighton Bakery customers aren't able to enjoy regular cakes as most cakes use regular wheat flour, and that's no fun if you're gluten intolerant.

So I'm particulary sympathetic to those who are are gluten intolerant, especially as a lot of the gluten free treats I've tried on sale in the supermarket are far inferior in taste and texture to their wheat based versions.  I've dallied with a few GF recipes in the past for our market stalls and for various cakes I've made.  An excellent book I use a lot is Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache, where all the recipes can be made with either regular or gluten free flour, and they have the added bonus of being better for you as they use grated vegetables and ground almonds to reduce the fat and sugar content in the cakes.

So when I was asked to make a gluten free chocolate cake this recipe book was the first one I pulled off the shelf.  The Light Chocolate Cake looked perfect, which uses grated butternut squash in the batter to keep in lovely and moist.    Well how glad am I that I did a trial run of this cake, as it turned out to be a disaster!  The cake took more than twice as long as it should have done to cook and despite the lovely quality ingredients and expensive organic cocoa powder I used it tasted really bland.  Oh dear - having ticked and starred nearly every recipe I've tried in this book, this one got a big fat cross (I've carried on my mum's tradition of marking up her recipes - it's so handy when you try as many things in as many cookery books as I have).

I decided that I could do much better by tinkering with my favourite regular chocolate cake recipe instead.  It turned out so well that I thought I would share the recipe with you - next time your gluten intolerant friends are round for tea you can let them eat cake.

Emily's Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Recipe
serves 25 party portions or 10-12 big slices
165g very soft butter
300g golden caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
265g gluten free flour (I use Dove's Farm)
3 level teaspoons gluten free baking powder
1 level teaspoon xanthan gum
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
70g good quality cocoa powder (I like Green & Blacks)
250ml buttermilk
3-4 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line an 8" round deep cake tin.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter, sugar and vanilla with electric beaters or a freestanding mixer until pale and fluffy.
3. Gradually add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time, beating really well after each one (it's important to add them slowly and mix well otherwise the mixture can curdle).
4. Mix together all your dry ingredients really well and pass through a sieve to ensure the baking powder is evenly distributed.
5. Using a big metal spoon, fold about a third of the flour mix into the batter.  Follow this by folding in about a third of the buttermilk, then keep alternating with the dry mix and the buttermilk until it is all incorporated.  Finally add the milk so that you have a happy cake batter consistency (I find that the GF flour absorbs more liquid than regular flour - it's better to have a slightly looser batter than one that's too stiff as it can end up dry).
6. Bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes - if a skewer dipped in the centre comes out clean then it's done.  Cool in the tin for at least 5 minutes before tipping on to a wire rack to cool completely.
7. Once cool you can cut the cake into layers and fill with your favourite icing - I think the best is a chocolate meringue buttercream but you could use a ganache or any filling you like.   The cake should keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

I got some lovely feedback from the lady I made the cake for - she said the guests at the wedding couldn't tell any difference from a regular cake and the bride was thrilled she could actually eat the cake for once!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

In The Pink

This week I was asked to make a wedding cake that was a little bit different from the style of cake I normally make.  The couple had asked for me to incorporate rose flavour and to have fresh fruit on top of a layered sponge cake.  I suggested a vanilla sponge cake, with each layer drizzled with a rose syrup and filled with rose meringue buttercream and fresh raspberries.  Here's how it turned out:

To elevate the decoration on top I added some handmade sugar roses and blossoms and some butterflies which I cut from modelling paste and carefully threaded onto wires and left to dry overnight.  I was really pleased with how they looked against the fresh fruit.

And pink seems to be a bit of a theme at the moment.  Here's an 18th birthday cake I made for a girl who has a passion for handbags and loves pink.  Her mum suggested the tree design and so I found the perfect sugarpaste cutting tool which makes 6 different handbags and I ordered it as soon as I'd confirmed the booking.  Unfortunately it didn't arrive in time and I had to cut all the shapes by hand.  Just as I finished adding the final handbag the post arrived with the cutter in it - typical!

And for some homemade treats, I've been experimenting with pink grapefruit recipes after picking up some lovely pink grapefruits when I saw them on special offer.  With them I made two batches of marmalade - one three fruit marmalade which paired the grapefruit with orange and lemon, and one of pure pink grapefruit which was my favourite - it's got a jewel-like garnet pink colour and a beautiful flavour.  

There was one last grapefruit left in the bowl this morning and I decided to try making a grapefruit curd with some leftover egg yolks I had in the fridge.  I was hoping for a lovely pale pink colour to the curd but the orange of the egg yolks seems to have taken centre stage. 

If you really wanted to you could add a couple of drops of pink food colouring, but the flavour is what really counts and it's lovely and delicate and makes a pleasant change from lemon curd.  Now all I have to do is make some scones to go with it!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Who says Easter is over??

Ever since I was little I've always managed to squirrel away my Easter eggs to keep me in a steady supply of chocolate long after the Easter bunny had disappeared.  Maybe I had taken a cue from my dad who always to prolong the Easter celebrations by eating hot cross buns for breakfast from January to May.  He starts eating mince pies in early November too, I like to think that he's keeping the holiday spirit alive, and that I get to do that too by making celebration cakes every week of the year with the Brighton Bakery.

So with that in mind, I thought I would share with you my slightly-after-the-event recipe for hot cross bun pudding.  It's my take on a bread and butter pudding - I made one for Melissa and me the other night with some leftover buns we had stashed away in the freezer and it was such a treat, a real old school comforting pud.  Yum.

Hot Cross Bun Pudding

3 hot cross buns*
About 2 tablespoons butter
30g dried apricots, roughly chopped (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
2 level tablespoons caster sugar
125ml milk
100 ml single cream
zest of about 1/4 orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

*This really works best with stale buns (as they absorb the custard much better) so if they are fresh, split them and leave them out for a couple of hours first. 

1. Preheat your oven to 180C.
2. Split your hot cross buns down the middle and spread each side with butter.  Cut each in half along the diagonal and arrange the triangles pointy-end up in a small-medium pudding dish.  Sprinkle over the apricots.
3. Whisk together the eggs and sugar, then add the milk, cream orange zest and vanilla extract and whisk again until combined.  Pour over the hot cross buns ensuring they are all doused in the custard and leave to absorb for about 10 minutes.  If you like you can add a light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg on the top.
4. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until puffed up and golden brown on top.
Serve warm with extra cream.  Mmmm.

This is such an easy pudding you won't regret making it.  If you fancy a chocolate version you could substitute the apricots for chocolate drops or even chopped up leftover Easter eggs.

So from a spot of home baking back to my home baking business, here's a picture of a lovely Springtime and Easter inspired wedding cake I made.

Well, it was definitely Spring-like on the outside, but the inside was a rather Christmassy Chocolate Orange Cake with Chocolate Orange Buttercream.  The bride said that at first she was laughed at for picking that flavour but all her guests agreed that it was a great choice and they all loved eating it.  Well I think she must also have taken a leaf out of my dad's book, and I always salute anyone that takes the unconventional option. 

Congratulations Radka, I hope you and your new husband have a very happy life together.

Until next time, happy baking x