Friday, 16 December 2011

Woodland Animal Cake

For my latest commission I was asked to make a birthday cake for a one year old boy called Albert.  His bedroom is decorated with woodland animals so his mum asked me to create something along the same theme as the centrepiece for his first birthday party.
I had so much fun designing this one and creating the cute creatures to go round the outside. Here's how it turned out:

I started with a classic vanilla madeira cake, filled with raspberry conserve and italian meringue buttercream which is just the lightest, super smooth and utterly butterly creamy buttercream you can make.  I started making it a couple of months ago - it's a bit fiddly but I will never go back to regular buttercream, it pales in comparison.
Once I had covered the cake with a thin layer of buttercream and cream coloured sugarpaste I had a blank canvas for my design.  As I was decorating this cake freehand, without any moulds or cutters, the first element I had to get in place was the tree.  I rolled a layer of chocolate brown sugarpaste and used a funky new impression mat I bought which gives a tree grain texture when pressed into the sugarpaste.  I then cut out the tree shape freehand.  I deliberately made the tree longer at the top and bottom so that I could get it in the right place and then trim to size.
Next I added the grass trim round the bottom of the cake using the same technique as in the footballer cake I made a couple of months ago.  It's good to have a pattern, ribbon or trim of some sort to go round a cake as it really finishes it off and also hides any little imperfections that you may have from trimming the sugarpaste that covers the cake.
Then I had lots of fun creating all the woodland creatures that went round the side of the cake.  I wanted them to be bold and graphic but not too cartoony. I chose a few complementary colours and made everything freehand as I went along, starting with a cunning fox:
You can just about see the wee hedgehogs on the right.  There was also a bluebird flying, a few red toadstools and a badger:
And finished off with another bluebird and an owl on the top of the tree:

I created the texture on the owl's belly using the top of a piping nozzle at an angle.  I also used a different piping nozzle to cut the circles for his eyes - I find them so handy and probably use them more for cutting out sugarpaste than for piping!

I then finished off the cake with a big number one and Albert's name.  I had planned to write Happy Birthday, but I think it would have looked too crowded and decided it was better to keep it simple:

When I came home the other day the answerphone was flashing with a lovely message from Albert's mum saying how much she had liked the cake and that it really made a great centrepiece for Albert's first birthday party.  It's so nice when people take the time to say thank you, I put a lot of love into the cakes I make and it makes it all worth it when you know your creations have made somebody happy.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The art of a great food photograph

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Suzanne Goldenberg, a freelance photographer and journalist who offered to take some photographs to try and pitch a Brighton Bakery showcase article to local foodie magazine, Edible.  Naturally, I jumped at the chance for a bit of free publicity and we discussed a few different angles for the piece.  One of the key things that sets us apart from other cake makers is that we offer a range of vegetable based cakes, so that seemed like a good option and I set my mind to work thinking of the best veggie cakes to bake for the photoshoot.
Suzanne pitched the idea to her editor and while the article was given the go ahead, it couldn't be seen as promoting just one company due to advertising regulations.  So instead Suzanne planned to write a general article, with a reference to Brighton Bakery and some local cafes that also offer vegetable cakes.  What a shame.  Still, all publicity is good publicity, as they say, and I had a nice chat on the phone to Suzanne about the benefits of using different vegetables in cakes.  I also offered to make a cake for her to photograph for the article as I was really keen to pick up some tips about taking a good food photo as I really have no idea what I'm doing.  I was sure that a certain father in law of mine would be very happy to help out with any cake leftovers...
So last Friday I baked a firm favourite from our market stalls, Courgette and Cinnamon cake.  I thought it was a good option as it has a lovely texture where you can see flecks of courgette and lemon zest and it's set off by a pretty zigzag lemon icing on top which I hoped would add interest to the photo. 
Suzanne arrived a couple of hours later with a few props in tow - a white board to reflect the light, a small tablecloth, two chopping boards, some pretty plates and a cake knife and fork to dress the scene.  I was surprised that she was happy to take the pictures in our basement kitchen as I didn't think there was enough light, but by angling the white board it lifted the shadows and the photos came out well.
We did a few different set ups, one with the cake in its tin, un-iced on a rustic wooden board, then I quickly iced it and Suzanne took a few more shots of the whole cake on the board.  We both new that the best photos would probably be once the cake was cut, so I cut two generous slices which gave us lots of options for the set up.  Different angles, a slice of cake on a plate with a fork, slices stacked up in front of the rest of the loaf, Suzanne busily snapped away dozens of pictures, all very slightly different.  I asked loads of questions along the way and picked up some good tips.  A key thing is that she used a 50mm prime lens, which we might have to invest in - our zoom lens just can't get close enough to pick up the detail that hers can.  The 50mm lens also allows you to open the aperture very wide and take lovely pictures in lower lighting conditions, which would be a real benefit in our house! 
Like most photographers, Suzanne is very particular when scrutinising her pictures, and is happy if she gets just 3 or 4 good ones from a shoot (and I'm sure she took well over a hundred photos).  Here's her final selection:

photos ©
And here's the link to Suzanne's article on the Edible Magazine website: Courgette Muffin Anyone? 

I love how our battered old wooden chopping board has come out in the pictures, and the rustic water icing really sets off the cake with a lovely contrast.
We only got a brief mention in the article, but it was great to see how Suzanne worked, and we already have a cake photography project planned for next year, so it was well worth the price of a couple of courgettes and a little bit of time.  Thanks Suzanne x

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Last Minute Christmas Cake!

Yes I should really know better, being a *proper* baker now and all, but my family Christmas cake is still, as yet, unbaked.  My dad is a big fan of Christmas cake and I'm also hoping to convert certain non-believers in my family with this one so I have a big challenge ahead.
Usually Christmas cakes, like most rich fruit cakes are matured for at least two months before eating.  There are a few reasons for this - one, it develops and deepens the rich flavour; two, you can give your cake regular "feeds" with brandy (or other spirits of your choice) to add even more flavour, moistness and festivity; and three, it makes the cake cut better without crumbling, which is particularly important for a wedding cake, where the cake must be cut into lots of small portions.
So how do you cheat it?  According to Jane Asher, the secret is to boil the fruit mixture with whisky, stout, orange juice and treacle for ten minutes and leave overnight before adding the rest of the ingredients.  She claims it will give the same "matured" flavour, and can be made as close to Christmas as you like.
So I'm putting her to the test, although I am making a few alterations to her recipe, mainly in the addition of ground almonds, lemon and swapping the whisky for Drambuie.  I would normally lean towards using brandy, but I inherited the bottle of Drambuie along with several slightly leftfield spirits in the drinks cabinet when my grandpa died and I've been waiting for a reason to use this one.  Plus it means there will be a memory of him in our Christmas celebrations, which makes me happy.

I've just boiled up the fruit and I have to say it has already put me in the Christmas spirit, as the house is filled with delicious festive aromas.  And as it's the season of giving, I thought I would share with you my version of Jane's recipe.  I will report back in the New Year with the family's verdict!
Last Minute Christmas Cake Recipe
(makes 1 x deep 8 inch round cake)
200g currants
200g raisins
100g sultanas
100g dates, chopped
75g dried prunes, chopped
75g dried figs, chopped
150g glace cherries, halved
100ml Drambuie
225ml Guinness (a little nod to my lovely wife's Irish heritage)
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange and 1/2 lemon (to make 75ml)
2 tablespoons black treacle
200g butter, softened
200g muscovado or dark brown sugar
200g plain flour
50g ground almonds
5 medium eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
75g blanched almonds, chopped
1. Take a large saucepan and fill the pan with the dried fruit, Guinness, Drambuie, orange and lemon juice and zest and treacle. Bring the mix to the boil and simmer gently for ten minutes, stirring every so often.  I like to add a bit of Irish Christmas spirit by singing out loud very badly to The Pogues' Fairytale of New York as I'm stirring, but that's optional.
2. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.  Once it's cold, tip the mix into a bowl, cover and chill in the fridge overnight.
3. The next day, preheat your oven to 140C and double line an 8" round cake tin with parchment.  Make sure your parchment is a good 4 inches tall as the cake is quite deep and can rise higher than your tin.
4. Seive the flour, baking powder and spices into the bowl of your mixer, then add all the remaining cake ingredients except the chopped nuts and beat thoroughly until smooth. 
5. Fold in the fruit mixture and chopped nuts.  At this stage you can add good luck by asking everyone in the house to give the mix a stir**.
6. Pour the mix into your prepared tin and smooth the top, making a dip in the middle so that it rises up evenly.
7. Bake the cake for 3 hours and check with a skewer to see if it's done.  It may need 30-60 minutes more so keep checking every so often and cover the top with foil if it's browning too much on top.
8. Cool the cake in its tin for 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely.
9. Once cool, wrap the cake in baking parchment, then foil and keep somewhere cool until ready to ice.  Feed the cake by skewering a few holes and drizzling over 1-2 tablespoons of Drambuie every few days.

**I remember the tradition of stirring the cake mix when my mum made our Christmas cake every year and I loved the chance to be involved from a really young age, when I had to stand on a chair to reach the bowl.  We also did this at our primary school, and all 100 pupils plus all the teachers would line up in the Dining Hall at lunchtime to stir the giant mix in the bowl.  I wonder if any schools still do that?  I hope so.

UPDATE 8th December: I baked my cake today - it took nearly 4 hours in total and it's a lovely deep cake and smells beautiful, just like my mum's Christmas Cake.  It's still cooling now, and I can't wait to eat it!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Converse Boots Cake - my favourite yet

It was Melissa's birthday way back on 19 October, but the week of her birthday we had so much leftover cake from the Indulge Sussex stall we held that at the time it seemed crazy for me to add another to the cake mountain.  So finally, six weeks later I was able to make Melissa's birthday cake, and I wanted it to be extra special as she had waited so long.  It was also an opportunity for me to really push myself to try something new and I had the perfect challenge in mind.
Anyone who knows us will probably have noticed that Melissa and I live in Converse boots.  I'm a little embarrassed to say that between us we have at least 8 different pairs of Converse in the house.  Well I decided that 8 wasn't quite enough and for Melissa's birthday cake I would make her a pair of edible Converse made out of carved cake.
Here's how they turned out:
I was so pleased with this cake and think it's probably the best one I've done yet.  Here's how I made it:
I started off with an 8" square lemon madeira cake which I filled with lemon curd buttercream (I didn't bother to level the top as it was going to be carved anyway).  I put the cake in the freezer for about an hour to firm up for carving.
Meanwhile I found a picture on the internet of a Converse sole and adjusted it in Photoshop to the right size.  I then cut out a template from baking paper and used it to cut around for the left boot:

Using the same template I flipped it over for the right boot:
I created bases from a cereal box covered in foil using the same template.  I used buttercream to secure the cake to the bases:
Then using pieces of the leftover cake I added the top of the boots and secured with buttercream:
I pushed a couple of dowels down into each of the heels to secure the back of the cake while I was carving it.  Then using a sharp paring knife I started to sculpt the shape.  It's best to go little by little as it's easy to take away but much harder to add back on if you take too much. Here it is about half way through:
The toe section is still too high so I need to be a bit braver .  Must try not to eat all the cake trimmings while I'm doing this....
Done.  Now I'm happy with the shape they are ready for a layer of buttercream:
Getting the buttercream smooth was really time consuming as all the surfaces are curved.  I used a small pallette knife dipped in a glass of hot water and lots of patience!  At this stage they look more like wellies than converse but I have faith.  The cakes then went into the fridge to firm up the buttercream before decorating.
In hindsight, I wish I had left the cakes in the fridge a bit longer as I decided to make the sugarpaste sections freehand as I went along, using baking parchment held up against the cake to create templates.  The parchment kept sticking as the buttercream was still a bit soft.  I had to be really careful when placing the sugarpaste on as if I got it wrong it meant resmoothing the buttercream before trying again.
Using a real Converse boot as a guide (as you know we have many kicking round the house), I figured out the order for which layers had to go on first, and started off with a piece to cover the top of each boot:
Next came the tongues.  I made a template with parchment first and cut out the shapes with a cutting tool - this looks like a mini pizza wheel and helps to cut the sugarpaste evenly without pulling out of shape (which can happen when you use a regular knife):

You can't really see it in the picture, but I used a teatowel to make an imprint to give a fabric texture but rolling over the towel onto the paste with a rolling pin.  I also added some detail using a knife making small indentations round the edge to look like overlocked stitching:

Then I added the tongues to the cakes and trimmed the sides at the front once they were in place:
Next I made another parchment template for the sides, using the same template I flipped it over for the other side of the boot.  Once I had cut the shape I used my new quilting tool to make the stitching:
I then used a piping nozzle to cut out the eyelets:
I used some silver lustre dust mixed with a little vodka to make a silver paint and painted the inside of the holes before securing to the sides of the cakes:
It's now starting to come to life and look like a Converse trainer.  Next up I added the toes and the trim round the edge, which I did in two pieces to make life easier.
Time for some colour now and the red trim makes all the difference.  I also texturised the piece round the toe by making a criss cross pattern with a small knife:

Another bit of colour was added with the blue trim and the All Star logo on the heel.  I didn't have any deep blue royal icing so I made the lettering with a very thin sausage of sugarpaste fixed on with edible glue:

By this point the end was in sight but I had been on my feet for hours and needed a break.  So I sat on the sofa with a tray in my lap and made the laces in front of the TV.  I rolled a rectangle of thin sugarpaste and texturised it with a criss cross pattern made using the side of my small pallette knife.  I then cut thin strips of this to make the laces.  Back at the work top I attached the strips using edible glue starting from the bottom, placing one end in the eyelet hole and then trimming to the edge to make it look as if it went underneath the side piece:
Then the final detail was to add the round Converse logo to the sides of the boots.  This called for the tiniest piping work I've done to date.  Strictly the logo should have gone on the inside but I used a little artistic licence and placed them on the outside so they would read better:

Converse boots cake - done!
All in all I think this cake took about 9 hours to make, carve and decorate, but I was so pleased with the finished cake.  There's plenty of detail and I think they look pretty close to the real thing.  Melissa was really pleased with them too - I hope they were worth the wait :o)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Dr Who Tardis Cake - Happy Birthday Lula

Last week set a pretty impressive record for the furthest distance anyone has travelled for a Brighton Bakery cake.  A very nice man called Phil lives in Rome found us online and ordered a cake for his goddaughter's birthday.  Unfortunately I couldn't persuade him to cover the plane fare for me to deliver it to him in Italy  as he was coming to Brighton for the birthday party that just so happened to be only two streets away from us.

The birthday girl Lula is a big fan of Doctor Who, and after discussing a few ideas Phil decided to go for a cake in the shape of the Tardis:

I was really looking forward to making this one, but it wasn't quite as easy as I thought it would be. 

I started off with an 8" square chocolate cake, which I levelled and filled with chocolate buttercream:

I put the cake in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up so that it would cut more easily.
I then made a template for the shape of the Tardis and used it to cut the cake:

And then used the offcut to create the top:

I created a a base out of card covered with foil the same shape as the Tardis, and secured the pieces of cake with buttercream:

Then it was time to get busy with the buttercream, which I smoothed in a thin layer all over the cake so that the sugarpaste would stick.  The cake then went into the fridge to firm up for an hour or so.

Meanwhile I coloured the sugarpaste and covered the board.  I wanted it to look like the Tardis was flying through space so I mixed several different colours into the black to create a marbled effect, although the predominant colour that came out when I rolled it was the white which looks like a cloud of smoke which I quite like:

Once the buttercream on the cake had firmed up I covered it with a layer of blue sugarpaste and trimmed the edges:

I then created panels for each of the sides and the top and cut out rectangles.  This was much trickier than I thought it would be as sugarpaste pulls out of shape when you cut it with a knife, and if you use a cutting wheel it is very difficult to get neat corners.  I wish I had a rectangular cookie cutter as I think that would have been the best tool for the job.  I fixed the panels on with edible glue and added in the windows and the poster which had the tiniest writing I've ever done on a cake before.

The finishing touches I added were a base, the light on top of the Tardis, which was secured with a short piece of dry spaghetti, and the black sign for each side.  I painted on the writing on the sign with Superwhite powder mixed with a tiny amount of vodka.

And to finish the cake off, I added some silver lustre dust and red glitter to give it a little space sparkle:

Even though it took longer than I thought it would, I love making 3D cakes and think it turned out well.  I hope Lula liked her birthday surprise of her own personalised Tardis and had a very happy 10th birthday.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Freddie Mercury Cake

Last Monday I had a bit of a disaster day.  I still freelance at my old job in London, and on the train in on my way to work I realised I had forgotten my glasses.  It was too late to go back and I can't see the computer screen without them, so I did a mad dash to Specsavers to get my prescription and see if I could pick up some cheap reading glasses before I got to the office.  After a rush around 3 different opticians it wasn't to be as my prescription is too specialised and has to be ordered in.  So I went into the office anyway to pick up my dunce's hat and a few instructions from my boss so that I could do some work from home.  I got back on the train down to Brighton, hopped on the bus to Kemptown and then as I was walking up the big hill home I realised that Melissa had taken my keys when we travelled in together that morning. GGGHHHHAAAHHH!  Exasperated, I walked to Brighton Police Station who were very helpful, and an hour later, along with two kindly neighbours they eventually helped me break into my own house.  Ridiculous!

I closed the front door behind me and caught my breath.  On the hall table next to the spare set of keys and my glasses case, the answerphone was flashing with a message from a lady called Jennie in Oxfordshire who wanted a cake for her son's 40th birthday on Saturday and could I call her back.  Well Lady Luck must have been feeling guilty.  I composed myself and called her back, and took down the details of the order.  There was a slight pause on the phone and the lady said there's a theme for the party - the Queen.  Interesting... running through my mind were thoughts of regal cakes, crowns and thrones.... then as she was talking I realised it wasn't the Queen, but the band with Freddie Mercury.  I had to smile, as my good wife also has a habit of putting a 'the' in front of band names and TV shows when there isn't meant to be one.  My suggestion for the design was to have a white cake with black diamonds round the edge to reflect the harlequin outfit Freddie used to wear, then a silhouette of Freddie in an iconic pose with the Queen logo in gold lettering.  Jennie loved the idea and all was set.

For what seemed like quite a simple cake, it actually took me a lot longer than I thought it would.  First I googled the images of the Queen logo and the Freddie silhouette, then worked in Photoshop to resize and fit to the shape of the cake.  I printed this off and cut out the image and letters as templates to cut around in sugarpaste.  This seemed to take hours - the letters were so fiddly, the paper kept moving, the paste pulls when you cut it so it's actually quite difficult to cut them out.  Maybe I should have just piped the logo on!

Then creating all the diamonds to be just the right size to fit nicely round the sides of the cake took a few goes to get right.  But when the cake was done it looked really good - simple, iconic and classic.  I took a quick picture on my phone and fully planned to take proper photos for the website the next day before delivering the cake in the afternoon.

Unfortunately as Melissa and I went shopping in town on Saturday I completely forgot about taking the website photos.  Another headsmacking moment of stupidity and frustration.

When I delivered the cake, Jennie loved it and said ooh aren't you clever.   I just smiled and said thank you.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Fishing Boat Cake - here's how I did it...

I was really pleased to be asked to make this cake by Clair, who wanted a special cake as a surprise for her partner's Alison's 40th birthday.  A few weeks ago I met up with Clair for a consultation with a few ideas in mind - I thought it would be cute to have a sand beach at the bottom, with crabs, starfish, oysters and a chocolate wooden fishing boat on top.  But after speaking to Clair, I realised that I had been rowing down the wrong river, as they love to fish in their white Hampton boat on the Norfolk Broads, where at the bottom the river is nothing but weeds!  So a couple of dodgy sketches later (luckily my cake decorating skills are better than my drawing skills) we had the design nailed and I was really looking forward to making the cake.  This is how it turned out:

The cake started with an 8" round zesty lemon madeira cake, which I filled and covered with lemon curd buttercream and left to firm up in the fridge for an hour or two. 

To create a water effect for covering the cake, I mixed pieces of white, dark blue and green sugarpaste into some pale blue sugarpaste and kneaded it together. I didn't knead it too much so that when I rolled it out it had a nice marbled effect:

Then covered the cake, smoothed the sides with a polisher and trimmed off the excess:

I then left the covered cake in a cool dry place while I made the boat. I made this out of Rice Krispie Treats (recipe here) and carved into a boat shape:

I covered with a thin layer of buttercream and then with sugarpaste on all sides to finish it off:

I did the same with the cabin and fixed to the cake:

At this stage I did worry a little that the boat was oversized, but it needed to be this big in order to take the figure and it matched the proportions on my sketch so I carried on and added the keydetails to match Clair and Alison's own boat:

You can also see in the background the 3D '40' I made out of orange modelling paste.  I added some nylon thread for a fishing wire to the 4 and left a long end for it to be attached to the fishing rod later. 

Next up was making the figure, which I decided to make straight onto the cake itself.  The figure was deliberately out of proportion with the boat as this makes a stronger design for the cake as a whole.  I find that often when designing cakes it's better to take key elements to give the essence of what you are portraying, rather than sticking rigidly to exact dimensions.

Using modelling paste (which is simply sugarpaste with some gum tragacanth added and left overnight) I started with the legs.  These are made from a long sausage shape, with a notch cut from the middle and brought together.  Further notches are cut from the back of each leg so they bend at the knee:

I made a body from a cone shape made out of pink modelling paste and secured the legs and body to the boat with a piece of dry spagetti straight down the middle:

The shoes were added with short pieces of spaghetti and edible glue and the star design on for the t shirt was also attached with edible glue.

I then added arms and sleeves with my favourite spaghetti and edible glue trick:

Ooh I love it when sugarpaste figures start to come to life!

Next I added the head and hair, which was made by pushing sugarpaste through a garlic press and cutting to length. 

I sprinkled pearl lustre dust on the orange 3D '40' and cut at an angle to make it look like it was being fished out of the water.  I secured these to the cake using lengths of dry spaghetti. 

The fishing rod was made from a length of floristry wire covered with chocolate sugarpaste.  I made sure the wire had an extra inch or two at the bottom to fix straight into the boat between the legs of the figure.  The tricky thing was securing the end of the fishing wire to the top of the rod and keeping it taught.  Sometimes gravity just doesn't like me.

And to finish it off, I added river weed details all the way round the sides of the cake and a wooden sign reading "Happy Birthday Alison" made out of chocolate sugarpaste.

Fishing boat cake - done!

The cake was collected the next day by Clair's sister in law and kept under wraps for a big surprise at the party, so I had to keep my fingers crossed that both Clair and Alison would like it.  Later that day I got a text from Clair to say "The cake has been unwrapped and it was fabulous, absolutely perfect, Alison loved it and it tasted so nice, a great success, thank you so much."

I can't really ask for much better than that.