Thursday, March 28, 2013

Simple Simnel Cake

As I mentioned in my last post I thought I'd have a go at some simple Easter recipes this year as I won't be here for the Easter what could be simpler than a Simple Simnel Cake.
At first glance this appears to be a somewhat unusual recipe as it's a fruit cake with marzipan baked inside and orange icing on the top along with caramelised almonds, but it was actually really tasty and it was the first time I had used this particular method to make my caramel.
This is simpler than a traditional Simnel cake as you don't have to worry about the marzipan and the balls on top amongst other things. The cake itself is very similar to these Simnel Muffins which I love and make every year. To add the marzipan to the cake, half the cake mixture was spooned into the loaf tin, then a sausage of marzipan was rolled out to the size of the tin and added on top before spooning in the remaining cake mix. The benefit of this is it prevents all the fruit sinking to the bottom!
The cake was topped with runny icing sugar, made up with orange juice, and then the caramel almonds. I have previously made caramel by dissolving sugar in water and bringing it up to a specific boiling point but this can be a tricky process. However, to make this almond caramel I used a frying pan and toasted the almonds. The almonds were then removed from the pan and 100g of caster sugar added. When heated the sugar turns to liquid caramel but it is important not to heat it up too fast otherwise it can burn. When the sugar turned to the caramel, the almonds were added back to the pan and coated in the caramel before pouring it out onto a greased baking tray where it sets hard. The recipe called for the caramel almonds to be chopped but I kept my pieces slightly larger and just broke them up. This process was all very quick and easy.
The recipe for this cake is from BBC GoodFood and if you'd like to try it, you can find the recipe here. I am entering this cake into this month's Calendar Cakes with the theme being Easter Extravaganza. Calendar Cakes is hosted here at Laura Loves Cakes on alternate months with Dolly Bakes. If you'd like to enter you can find all the details here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chirpy Chick Easter Cupcakes

Well Easter is nearly upon us, so I thought I would get my Easter baking underway this weekend as I'm going away for a week from Good Friday. For this reason I thought I'd stick with some simple Easter bakes this year and I also tackled Simnel Cake, Hot Cross Buns and Traditional Easter Biscuits last year.
I love these Chirpy Chick Cupcakes they're so cute and perfect for kids. You can use any vanilla cupcake recipe but I particularly like this one from the Hummingbird Bakery. You could also flavour the cupcakes, lemon would be good!
I piped a swirl of buttercream on top of each cupcake with a Wilton 1M nozzle. Buttercream is easy to make, it's just 500g of icing sugar to 250g butter or any 2:1 ratio. I also add 1/2-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a tablespoon or so of water if it needs loosening.
To make the little chicks on top I used yellow sugarpaste which was mixed with some CMC. CMC stiffens up the paste to make it a little more robust and it means that the circles won't flop when placed on top of the buttercream. I cut out the circles using an Ateco cutter a few hours before I needed them and then left them to harden for a while.
For the wings it is the same sugarpaste with CMC. Each wing was cut out with a heart cutter and then the cutter was twisted slightly to one side and the paste cut through again which gave the wing shape. The eyes are little balls of black flowerpaste and the beak sugarpaste with CMC which was cut out freehand. To finish off the chicks, little flowers were added. These were cut out of white flowerpaste which I coloured up and then PME blossom cutters gave the shape.
The design for these cupcakes comes from Seasonal Cupcakes by Carolyn White which is a very reasonably priced little cupcake book and I think the finished product is very effective. The desgin can also be modified to make a number of different bird cupcakes. I previously made some Christmas robin cupcakes which were similar.
These cupcakes are my entry into this month's Calendar Cakes with the theme being Easter Extravaganza. Calendar Cakes is hosted here at Laura Loves Cakes on alternate months with Dolly Bakes. If you'd like to enter you can find all the details here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last year or so you can't have failed to notice the Clandestine Cake Club. It's 'Britain's first and only underground cake club' and it's been so popular that it's now gone global! They've even been featured on the BBC's One Show as well as in various national newspapers.
The Clandestine Cake Club was founded by Lynn Hill who was inspired by the popularity of Supper Clubs. The premis is simple, advertise your event on the CCC website, give it a theme and only disclose the secret location once the bakers have signed up. From small beginnings 'thousands of home bakers are now meeting covertly in hidden locations with the same simple mission: bake, eat and gossip about cake'.

The events are free to attend and may be hosted in all sorts of unique venues. Events generally tend to occur monthly. Each baker must bring with them a cake that fits the theme. However, the rules forbid cupcakes, muffins, brownies, pies or's just cake, cake and more cake.

When I attended a CCC meeting, the theme was March Madness with the cakes being inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I made a teapot cake which features in the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Some of the themes for forthcoming events include Easter Eggstravaganza, Spring Clean, New Beginnings, My Favourite Ingredient, Sweet Shop and Continental Cakes, plus many can be as inventive as you like.
There are now over 100 affiliated clubs in the UK and over 150 in total so there's bound to be one near you...and if not you could start your own! You can find out about the events here.
Due to the popularity of the CCC, Lynn Hill has recently published a cookbook of all the best recipes from CCC members around the country. The book contains '120 sensational recipes from Britain's most famous cake club'. It has been split into the following sections:
    1. Classic Cakes
    2. Victorian Cakes
    3. Fruity Cakes
    4. Global Cakes
    5. Zesty Cakes
    6. Chocolatey Cakes
    7. Celebration Cakes
    8. Creative Cakes
So what's it like? Well I have to say that this is a lovely book and if you're a keen baker this could be just the thing for you. The greatest selling point is the fact that it doesn't contain all the cupcakes, muffins and brownies etc which are forbidden at CCC events. These all have their place and I enjoy them as much as the next person but it's really great to see so many enticing cakes all in one place...there's bound to be a cake for any occasion.

It also contains some more unusual cakes that you may not have come across before as all the recipes come from CCC members, with many putting their own creative spin on things. Sometimes when you buy a new cookbook it's just the same old recipes that you can find in all your other books but with the CCC book you are bound to find something new and exciting.
Finally, nearly all the recipes are accompanied by a full page colour photo which is always a bonus as you know what you're aiming for. The photographs are all very enticing too and are guaranteed to have you heading to the kitchen to try out the recipes.

So all in all a highly recommended book and I for one can't wait to start working my way through the 120 recipes! The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook is widely available in stores such as WHSmith and you can also buy it online from retailers such as amazon.
Please note that I was sent a copy of the CCC Cookbook to review but with no expectation as to the content. All opinions are my own and I genuinely would recommend this book! :-)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Minnie & Mickey Birthday Cakes

It's been a few months since I properly decorated a cake but I've been getting back into the swing of things this week with these cute Minnie and Mickey Mouse cakes. They were for a joint third birthday party for a boy and a girl.
I've described the method previously for similar stacked cakes so I'll just give a brief overview of how they were made. I started with two slabs of cake and cut around the cake board to give three circles of cake for each of the individual cakes. These three layers were then stacked on each of the cake boards and sandwiched with buttercream and raspberry jam before crumb coating the outside and placing in the fridge, for half an hour or so, to firm up ready for the sugarpaste covering.
Each cake is made up of a 7 inch cake on top of a 9 inch and the board at the bottom is 12 inches. In order to support the top cake and stop it sinking into the cake below, there are three dowels in each of the bottom cakes. The board was covered in icing separately to the 9 inch cake sitting on it, the cake went on first and then the board was iced around it.
The little Minnies and Mickeys around the bottom tier of the cake were cut out using a sugarpaste cutter that I found on amazon. They are cut  out of black flower paste which is stronger than sugarpaste and can therefore be rolled more thinly. Mickey was then finished with a bow tie and Minnie with the bow in her hair, these were again made out of white flower paste that I coloured up. They're stuck on with royal icing and then Minnie's bow was finished with small piped dots of royal icing.
Normally for a birthday cake I might personalise it with a name around the cake board at the bottom  with the letters being cut out with tappits but I thought that with everything else going on this might look a bit crowded. So I opted for a simple initial on the top of each cake which I was very pleased with as when I added them it just finished off the cakes! 
Finally, for the bows and ears on top I used flower paste again. I cut out the ears using a circle cutter and made the bow out of three separate pieces of paste. Two to make the side loops and one to wrap around the middle. The bow is stuck together using edible glue. All these pieces were left to harden overnight before being attached with royal icing. Here is a bow tutorial from the food network using only two separate pieces of paste which is good for smaller bows. The demo uses sugarpaste which is useful if you just want your bow to sit flat on top of a cupcake for example, but for all other bows where you want it to sit up with a bit of shape or you want to stick it on the side of a cake, you'd have to use flowerpaste. To keep the shape of the bow whilst it's drying you can also roll up some kitchen paper and pop it through each loop until it's set.

I was pleased with the finish cakes but had to brave the elements this weekend to deliver them which is never ideal!
The inspiration for the design came from Byrdie Girl Custom Cakes, although there seems to be many similarly designed cakes online.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Evening with Fiona Cairns - Maker of the Royal Wedding Cake

On Thursday last week I attended an evening with Fiona Cairns who was chosen to make the royal wedding cake for Prince William and Kate. The evening was hosted by the Peggy Porschen Academy at the Lime Tree Hotel in Belgravia, just around the corner from the Peggy Porschen Parlour.
Upon arrival we were greeted by Fiona and settled down with a cup of tea and one of Peggy's cupcakes. I had the carrot cupcake which was lovely and moist and was decorated with a little carrot shaped cookie on top. We also received a copy of Fiona's first book 'Bake and Decorate' which she signed for us.
Fiona talked to us about her journey from home baker to the maker of the royal wedding cake and then answered any questions we had. She came across as a lovely genuine lady who encouraged us to follow our passion for baking and to take it forward into business if that's what we were aiming for but she also warned us that we'd have to work hard!
Fiona's second book 'The Birthday Cake Book' is one of my favourites and you can read my review here. It received five stars! She also has another book in the pipeline which is due to be published in the Autumn and is all about seasonal baking.
Fiona initially trained in graphic design and had no interest in food but she then undertook a cookery course when she got married and found that she was best at the decorative side of things and this soon led into cake decorating. From there she started making cakes on her kitchen table and her very first order came from the Conran Shop who ordered 72 small cakes. This quickly led to orders from other top names including Harrods. When Fiona outgrew her kitchen table she moved into a bakery in a set of stables in her garden. Here the business continued until 12 years ago when they moved into a new state of the art bakery with over 100 staff and they now supply many well known establishments as well as Waitrose! The business has been running for over 25 years.
Fiona also told us the story of how she came to make the royal wedding cake and we were lucky enough to look through a portfolio which documented the process through photos and sketches of the cake.

I asked why she thought that William and Kate had chosen her. This was evidently a question she'd been asked many times and the answer was that she didn't really know and we'd have to ask them. However, when pressed she said she thought it was because they weren't really a celebrity cake business, they're quite traditional and they also represent traditional British craftsmanship which Kate was keen to incorporate into the wedding.

Interestingly, the royal wedding was in April but the companies under consideration to make the cake only got the call in February which didn't give them long at all as the cake was still in drawing stage in March. Fiona went to Clarence House to meet Kate and was apparently so nervous that she walked straight past William!

After a lot of fruit cake samples and discussions, Fiona was chosen to create the cake. She was phoned just as they were wrapping up the photo shoot for 'The Birthday Cake Book' but they weren't allowed to tell anyone. Even when the team were working on the cake they couldn't tell anyone else at the bakery so they were locked away in a room and told everyone they were working on a top secret project for a supermarket.

Fiona was given a piece of lace but not told where it was from and also a list of 17 flowers which she had to include on the cake, these included Sweet Williams. The list of flowers also included the enblems of each of the home nations. On 27th March the news broke that Fiona was making the cake and there was a deluge of press interest from around the world. She was even invited to go on Piers Morgan's programme in New York.
Overall, there were about 960 flowers and leaves on the cake and the team also made spares of everything just in case. In addition to the cake, there were also 4000 mini cakes in tins which were sent out as gifts after the wedding. The cake was moved to the palace four days before the wedding but had to be finished by 1pm on the Thursday, with the wedding on Friday. Fiona said that she was keen to sleep next to the cake to make sure that it was ok but she wasn't allowed.

When the cake was just about finished the Queen visited to meet Fiona and the team and to see the finished product. However, Fiona's biggest concern was having sticky hands should the Queen wish to shake hands with her but luckily she didn't.

Fiona and her husband were also invited to the wedding but hadn't realised until quite late in proceedings that they were actually invited, so she panic bought an outfit which as it turned out, three other people were also wearing on the day!

When the cake was cut there was no time to slice it for all the guests at the reception, so 600 slices were pre-cut ready to serve. The cake was very well received and Kate and Wills described it as "beyond expectations". Kate also rang Fiona on the Monday after the wedding to thank her. Fiona did however mention that she had a piece of the lace from Kate's dress and then subsequently received a call to return it so that it didn't fall into the wrong hands.

There were 17 cakes in total and the top three tiers were kept for the future...and with the impending arrival of a future heir to the throne, at least one of those tiers will be needed soon. After the wedding, Fiona had to rebuild the cake as it went on display along with the wedding dress. The sword mark where the cake had been cut was however left for the display.

So all in all this was a very enjoyable evening and it was genuinely interesting to hear how Fiona has built up her business. And as previously mentioned she gave us the advice that you do genuinely have to have a passion for baking and you have to work hard...and whatever you imagine working hard to be, you have to double it. Around the year 2000 Fiona did consider giving up her business as she was no longer enjoying it but she has since been able to have more creative involvement again and is now really enjoying what she is doing. She also told us that she still likes to bake cakes in her kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. However, her son is turning 21 soon and has requested a cake from the bakery rather than one from her!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Home Bread in a Day Workshop

As you may have guessed by now I'm a little bit addicted to baking courses! This weekend I attended a 'Home Bread in a Day' workshop with the Culinary Anthropologist. I've attended two of Anna's courses before and would thoroughly recommend them to anyone who lives in or around London. The previous courses were Festive Bread Baking and a Winter Preserving workshop.
So why attend a bread course? You may have read articles such as this one in the Daily Mail which explains how supermarkets really make their 'fresh' bread and about the additives that go into them but sometimes it's difficult to see an alternative. Homemade bread and artisan bread is currently enjoying a renaissance but many people worry about the time it takes to make a loaf or that it might be difficult to get right...however, this course attempts to demystify the art of bread making and prove that it can be quick and easy.

We certainly managed to squeeze a lot into one day creating all of the following:
  1. Classic white boule loaves
  2. Olive & sun-dried tomato focaccia
  3. Tomato & mozzarella pizzette
  4. Flatbreads and pittas
  5. Walnut, spelt and malted brown breads
And the secret to producing these goodies...a fridge dough. It can be made up in a large tub in 5 minutes and then keeps for a week in the fridge which means as you wish to bake a loaf or make a pizza, you just scoop a bit out and off you go! If you want to know more about fridge dough then you can google it for a recipe. The dough below had just been made and will increase in volume to the top of the tub and should produce 3-4 loaves.
Our first bread was a classic white boule which was made using the fridge dough. We learnt how to shape it into a boule but there are plenty of different bread shapes and methods, some of which you can see here. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube.
Once the bread has been shaped you also need to slash the top of the bread to prevent the loaves from bursting open. The slashes allow the bread to rise properly. Slashing is in fact a little more difficult than you think but with a bit of practise you'll soon get the hang of it. The secret is to flour the top of the loaf and really quickly run the knife through. If it's too slow the bread will drag.
There are many different patterns for slashing bread, below are just a few that we used. Again there are plenty of videos on YouTube and you may be interested in this blog post on slashing bread.
We also used our fridge dough to make a focaccia which was absolutely delicious, much better than one you'd buy in a shop and if you served this at a dinner party your guests would be really impressed. The focaccia used top quality extra-virgin olive oil and also contained olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage and rosemary. It was so tasty but again so simple to make.
For the focaccia and for the pizzettes the fridge dough had 3 tablespoons of olive oil added when it was made. The pizzettes were again really easy we just took a tangerine sized blob of dough, shaped it into a small boule and then left it to rest for 10 minutes before rolling it out and it doesn't matter if it's a little irregular. We then kept it simple with some garlic oil, chilli oil, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
Again for the flatbreads and pittas it was similar, shape the fridge dough into a boule, rest and then roll out. The pittas were put in the oven and puffed up nicely with an air pocket inside and the flatbreads were cooked on a very hot griddle. Once the flatbreads were cooked we brushed them with ghee and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Our final loaf was the only one that wasn't made with fridge dough. However, it still didn't take long to make the dough but it did take a bit of kneading but this is good for developing a bit of arm strength! :-) We still used the white bread flour for these loaves but to add a bit of variation we had the option of adding other flours to the mix. I added Shipton Mill's Three Malts and Sunflower Brown Flour, we then shaped our loaves into a batard or torpedo shape...again videos on YouTube. If you wish you can also add sesame seeds, linseeds or walnuts etc into the dough, however I just added some linseed on top after the bread had been shaped.
As always on Anna's courses we were treated to a delicious lunch. On this course we enjoyed the fruits of our labour as we munched our way through the focaccia, pizzettes, flatbreads and pittas along with butternut squash hummus and beetroot and yogurt dip for which we received the recipes. Lunch was also washed down with a glass of red!
 So to finish I'll leave you with some top tips and ideas from the day:
  • My favourite new term of the day was 'Gluten Cloak' which is a technique to impart tension to the outer skin of the loaf so it rises and holds it shape rather than spreads. This is done when shaping the bread as the seams are pulled under the loaf and sealed shut.
  • To make it easier to get your loaf into the oven you can use a bread peel. Here are some expensive bread peels from Bakery Bits. You can get them cheaper elsewhere or make your own with a bit of plywood! You can see the loaves below on their peels. A little semolina was sprinkled on before the loaf was put on top to make it easier to slide off.
  • When baking bread add steam into the oven. You can do this by placing a baking tray in the bottom of the oven and pouring in around 300ml of water as the bread goes in. However, if you leave the steam for the whole of the baking process the crust can go soggy, so with about 5 minutes to go leave the door slightly ajar. The steam stops the crust forming too quickly as this can stop the bread expanding inside and inhibit the rise. Steam also gives bread a lovely orangey brown colour.
  • To test whether your bread is sufficiently kneaded you can use the bounce test. When you think the bread is there, pull a bit taut and then stick a floured thumb into it. If it bounces or springs back quickly then it's done. The quicker it springs back the higher the rise is likely to be. If the dough is ready it will also become less craggy and it will become more stretchy as the gluten develops.
  • Don't forget to get yourself a dough scraper...they're invaluable.
  • Finally, it's also useful to have a baking stone. The stone evenly distributes the heat and gives a better bake. However, baking stones can be expensive so you might want to try a granite worktop saver that can be purchased for around £15 on sites such as amazon. They may also be marketed as a granite chopping board. Or how about an off-cut from your local kitchen shop.
Overall this was another great course which I really enjoyed and we came away at the end of the day with a fridge dough to take home, a peel, a dough scraper and a shower cap!?! The shower cap being ideal to cover the bowl as the dough proves instead of using cling film! I hope some of the tips included here help you with your bread baking...or why not try one of Anna's classes for some expert tuition.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Calendar Cakes - March

Thank you to everyone who created an Achy Cakey February can check out all the fabulous Valentine's entries over at Dolly Bakes.

And so on to our March Calendar Cakes theme...well it can only be one's an
Easter Extravaganza
We know all you lovely bloggers out there produce amazing Easter offerings every year and we'd love you to share them in this month's challenge. We want your Simnel Cakes to Hot Cross Buns to Easter Eggs and everything in between. All entries will then be featured in a round up at the end of the month :-)

To enter this month, here are the guidelines...

Entry Guidelines:
  • Post your entry on your blog and include the ‘Calendar Cakes’ logo
  • Add 'Calendar Cakes' as a label on your post.
  • Follow Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes blogs using the Google Join this Site button.
  • Add links on your post to your hosts Dolly Bakes and Laura Loves Cakes.
  • Link to your blog from here using the Linky tool below. It's dead easy...
  • If you don’t have a blog you can still join in, just email us a picture and a bit of information about your bake. Email to
  • If you're on Twitter, tweet us a link to your post @dollybakes and @lauralovesbakes - otherwise we won't see it! Use the handle #CalendarCakes.
Calendar Cakes Challenge Rules:
  1. You can enter as many times as you like. Bake to your little heart's content.
  2. It can be your own recipe or one you found elsewhere (please just state where you found it).
  3. You can use old posts as long as you update them with the 'Calendar Cakes' logo and link back (see above).
  4. If you want to enter your bake into other challenges too then please feel free.
  5. You must submit by the 31st March.
So…happy baking, we can’t wait to see what you come up and we’d be delighted for you to join us in our challenge!