Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Mexican Farewell Cake for Polly & Michael

Last Saturday Melissa and I were back up in London for another party, this time to celebrate my good friend Polly and her boyfriend's new adventure, which will see them travelling across Asia for six months before settling down in Australia for a couple of years.  So it naturally followed that the theme for the food was, er, Mexican!  Polly had cooked up the biggest pot of chilli I had ever seen (which was delicious by the way) and she had also asked me to make a cake for the occasion.  So carrying on with the Mexican theme, and also taking into account Polly's wheat intolerance, I made a gluten free lemon and lime cake for 50 people. 

The recipe I use is based upon one in Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet And Chocolate Heartache, which uses finely grated courgettes and carrots as key ingredients in the cake batter.  As well as being gluten free, it has the added bonus of only having about a third of the usual amount of sugar and also being dairy free, the only fat in the cake coming from the egg and ground almonds, which are much better for you than butter.  When you describe the cake on paper you'd never believe how delicious it actually is, plus it has the huge advantage of being a cake that is actually good for you!

The only trouble with this cake, is that it can be slightly temperamental as the water content in the vegetables can vary hugely, depending on the season, their size and how fresh they are.  This batch turned out to be extra moist and the cake took double the amount of time to cook than it should have done.  Polly had given Brighton Bakery a mention in her party invitation and lots of my friends were going to be there too so there was really nowhere to hide if the cake turned out badly.  I was worried.

The problem is, you can't cut a slice out of the cake to try it until it's too late.  I had to have faith in my judgement and carry on with decorating the cake and at least this could redeem me if the inside turned out dry.  Polly didn't want a cliched Mexican design with 3D cacti and sombreros so I had to think a little more abstract.  My first thought was to try and replicate a Mexican cut paper design that my friend Laura used on a stunning cushion she made:

(c) Laura Tovey

But alas I think this would be too intricate to do justice to the design in freehand, and I'm really trying hard not to keep buying new cake tools and cutters (honest Melissa!).  I did like the idea of including birds, as it was a nice symbol for Polly and Michael flying away on their adventure.  So I did a search on Google Images and came across the most fantastic Mexican bird design:

(NB If this is your image please let me know so that I can credit you!)

I knew I couldn't recreate the exact intricacies of the design but I used it as my inspiration and this is what I came up with:

The two birds have slightly different designs, all cut free hand from sugarpaste (and with the help of two piping nozzles to cut the circles).

I finished off the design by adding some colourful flowers round the outside and some added details in the same colours used on the birds.  As always, it took me longer than I thought it would as all the individual cut out pieces are quite fiddley but I was really pleased with the result:

Melissa and I dropped the cake off at lunchtime and Polly and Michael really seemed to love it.  Polly said that she's the smaller bird - I'm still trying to figure out which one that is, considering they were cut from the same template... 

We left for a few hours to take advantage of an afternoon in the capital.  We took a walk round Borough Market then along the South Bank to the National Theatre to look at the landscape photography exhibition and a quick look into the Tate Modern.  There's few things I miss about London, but those are probably my top 3 favourite places that I used to enjoy going to.  All the while we were enjoying our afternoon of culture, I had a niggle in my mind and a worry in my belly that the cake was going to be dry which meant I could never fully relax.  Melissa and I went back to the party at about 6pm and two thirds of the cake was already gone.  That had to be a good sign but I was still worried.  I had to try a slice for quality control.... luckily it was still lovely and moist and really tasty.  If I was really nitpicking the very edges were just a little too browned but it didn't seem like anybody else noticed, and by the time we went there were only 3 slices left.  Hurrah!

So Polly and Michael - it was a great party, we loved catching up with everyone and will really miss you.  Stay in touch and roll on 2014 for when you return :o) xx

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Cake That Groaned

Usually January is a pretty miserable month - everyone's dieting, cutting down on the booze and the party season has been long forgotten as we all try and figure out how to make it through to the end of the month after overspending at Christmas.

Well last Thursday night defied convention with a cracking launch party for the new graphic novel, The House That Groaned by the super talented Karrie Fransman.  The party was held at the Gallery in Foyle's, the iconic independent bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London and the room was full to bursting.  That Miss Fransman sure does know how to throw a party.  There was a magician, animations, characters from the book were working the room with big papermache cartoon heads, delicious canapes handmade by Karrie's mum and lovingly carried down from Edinburgh in her suitcase, and a room buzzing with fascinating people.  I was thrilled to have been asked to contribute to the festivities by baking a cake in the shape of the house itself.

Here's how it turned out:

Photo (c) Sabrina Dallot-Seguro
I was really excited that while Karrie was busy signing books, for once I actually got to cut the cake!

Photo (c) Susan Yan Mach
Although it could never compete with the multilayered, twisted adult fairytale that is The House That Groaned, I would like to share with you the story of The Cake That Groaned.

One windy afternoon, two days before the party, a couple of chubby packs of butter made friends with some golden caster sugar, a few eggs, some real vanilla and a cloud of flour.  Once they had thouroughly gotten to know each other in the bowl of a shiny red Kitchenaid, through the magic of bakery these ingredients gently rose in the warm oven of a basement kitchen in Brighton and a delicious 10" vanilla madeira cake was born.

As with all my cakes, I left it well wrapped overnight to settle, and the next day I split it into 3 even layers ready for filling.  The book itself uses different tones of blue throughout, so I thought the perfect choice would be a wild blueberry jam for the filling, which complemented very nicely with the real vanilla cake and Italian meringue buttercream.

I cut a two inch section from the side of the cake and fixed it to the top of the cake with a smear of buttercream, trimming at an angle to create the shape of the roof.  I then gave the whole cake a thin covering of buttercream and covered it with blue sugarpaste:

I then had some fun with my new brick texturing tool to create the brickwork pattern over the top and sides:

Next up I created the texture of the roof slates using the end of a piping nozzle.  I also added the chimneys, secured in place with a short length of dried spaghetti and some edible glue:
For the windows I had cut out rectangles of yellow modelling paste and left them to dry out before drawing on the room scenes with edible pen.  Once the ink was dry, I fixed them to the cake using some edible glue.

Karrie - if you're reading, don't look too closely at the drawings, I am definitely not an artist!  As with all my cakes, it's about capturing the essence of the object I am recreating, not an exact depiction...

I finished off the cake by adding the window frames and doors and it was ready to travel 50 odd miles up to London to the party.

Here it is, next to the book itself:

And I'm pleased to say that I had some great feedback on the cake.  Most of it had gone within about 20 minutes so that's got to be a good sign.

If you've not bought the book yet I can highly recommend it.  It's a cracking read, exploring the themes of body image and desire through the larger than life characters that live in a crumbling down house.  Take a look at the book's website to meet the characters and order your copy. 

Enjoy xx

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Happy New Year everyone

A very Happy New Year to everybody from the chilly South Coast!  It's been a few weeks since I've had a chance to post on the blog, and all those things I had planned to write about like my luxury mince pie recipe and how well the Christmas cake turned out just seem so last year. 

I even feel a little bit late in talking about the new year.  A couple of days ago we were all excited about new beginnings and plans for the coming year, new projects, getting fit, drinking less, cutting out the cake... it's now January 4th and I wonder how many of us have already slipped on our resolutions?  Well that last one seems to have been crossed off a few people's lists as we're almost fully booked for cake orders well into February.  So we're looking forward to a great start to the year at Brighton Bakery and hope it's a good sign for things to come.

Our big plan this year is to focus on making more wedding cakes.  We'll be attending our very first Wedding Fayre in Burgess Hill on 29 January which is really exciting but quite daunting too.  If anyone has attended a wedding fayre as a supplier before and has any tips please leave a comment below - they will be much appreciated!  

But before any of that I'm back in the kitchen this morning to decorate a cake for a very special event tomorrow night launching the spanking new debut graphic novel The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman.  You might just have time to buy and read the book before I post the pictures of the cake.

So before I go, I'd like to wish you our very best wishes for 2012 - may your year be filled with homemade jam and italian meringue buttercream.

Love Emily & Melissa, the Brighton Bakers x