Edible Masterpieces – Fundraising with a piece of cake

In a departure from my usual blogging M.O., today I blog not about what I have just baked but about what I am planning to bake in the coming months. The Art Fund has conjured up one of the most brilliantly creative fundraising initiatives I’ve seen, enabling people to have a blast making something awesome, raise funds to support British culture and EAT CAKE (other foodstuffs are available). I mean, really, what’s not to love?

The plan is this: dream up a culinary way to recreate a recognisable work of art, then arrange to auction it, raffle it or sell slices to colleagues and friends. Make the art, do the event and send the money you raise to the Art Fund to enable them to continue their amazing work supporting British galleries, museums and historic houses.

Are you in? If you are, request a free fundraising pack from the Edible Masterpieces website and spread the word on Twitter using the hashtag #EdibleMasterpieces and the Art Fund’s handle https://twitter.com/artfund.

My poor little brain is buckling under the weight of numerous ideas – all of which are cake-based, obviously – but I won’t share them here. Instead, I’ll share some of the inspirational pieces the Art Fund team has created, plus a couple of others I have found online.

Food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun, photography by Maja Smend

Food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun, photography by Maja Smend

Food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun, photography by Maja Smend

Food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun, photography by Maja Smend

Food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun, photography by Maja Smend

Food styling by Kim Morphew, prop styling by Lydia Brun, photography by Maja Smend

I find these creations very pleasing indeed (and simple to create):

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

The Scream

The Scream


A joyful, colourful 40th birthday cake

I would like to open this post with an apology for the handful of dedicated readers among you who might feel a little short-changed, owing to my recent radio silence.  I beg your forgiveness.  I have been baking and cooking like a machine but have failed to find the time to blog about it all, which I hope to rectify in the coming weeks.  So, with that awkwardness behind us, I move on the highly important subject of a very special friend’s very special birthday…

My vivacious, glamorous friend Lindsey recently turned 33 (+VAT) and asked me to create a cake for her party.  She set very few criteria, provided some ideas and then let me run with it.

1. quality of bake and flavour must be greater than or equal to aesthetic impact
2. go easy on tooth-enamel-dissolving sweetness; needs to taste ‘grown up’
3. to serve approximately 75 people

Ideas / Relevant Information:
1. Lindsey’s childhood birthday cakes were always shaped as the relevant number
2. Lindsey put together a Pinterest board featuring lots of colour, miniature bunting, hundreds & thousands etc

I leafed through my numerous books and flicked through several websites before choosing Dan Lepard’s vanilla chocolate marble cake recipe, which he paired with crème fraîche icing.  From the recipes I had studied, this one was by far the most promising in the ‘grown up’ flavour department.  I also hired a couple of huge number tins – a ‘4’ and a ‘0’, each measuring 14″ x 10″ – from the lovely people at La Cuisiniere in Clapham.  Some head-scratching maths and a pinch of guesswork concluded that I should quadruple the recipe for each tin.  So, it went something like this:

These quantities are for one 14″x10″ number tin (double it if you’re doing two tins, obv):
400g unsalted butter
100ml sunflower oil
300g crème fraîche
700g white caster sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract
8 medium eggs
400g dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s 70% cocoa solids)
200ml milk
800g plain flour
8tsp baking powder

For the method, follow that link above and use the instructions straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

Epic marble cake - the cast

Epic marble cake – the cast

The lovely lady in the cake tin shop assured me that buttering and flouring each tin would be sufficient to get the cakes out, but is this a risk one really wants to take?  Within the realms of occasion cake baking, can you imagine anything more heartbreaking than making a HUGE sponge mixture perfectly, baking it perfectly, cooling it properly and then screwing the whole thing up because it wouldn’t come out of the tin??  No.  If ever a baking situation called for figurative belt, braces and a good elasticated waistband, this is most definitely it.

Belt, braces and elasticated waistband

Belt, braces and elasticated waistband

I had the benefit of two KitchenAid jugs, so mixed up a vanilla batch in one, covered it tightly with clingfilm and left it in a cool room while I mixed up a chocolate batch (if you do this, bear in mind that you’re halving everything above for each batch except the chocolate and the milk, the entire quantity of which goes into the chocolate mixture).  

KitchenAid earning its keep

KitchenAid earning its keep

Chocolate sauce ready to go into the cake mixture

Chocolate sauce ready to go into the cake mixture

Ready to marble...

Ready to marble…

Having seen a slice chopped out of these now, in hindsight I would marble them a bit more enthusiastically.  I tried to get a good mix of the two flavours throughout whilst maintaining definition between them but one or two slices still came out mainly chocolate, which wasn’t ideal.  Next time, I’ll use smaller spoons and checkerboard three or four layers of small blobs, marbling each layer before spooning out the next.

The first layer of marbling on the '4'

The first layer of marbling on the ‘4’

Filling quite close to the top to guarantee the right depth of sponge

Filling quite close to the top to guarantee the right depth of sponge

I filled the tins right up to just about an inch short of the top edge so that the sponges would rise above the tin but not overflow.  I then trimmed the top off so that I knew that each sponge would be the same height.  Conveniently, I had enough mixture left over to make myself a couple of “quality control” cupcakes.

Quality Control muffins

Quality Control cupcakes

I baked each tin at 180 for 1 hour (rotating at the 30 minute mark), then tested with a skewer.  At this point (with both tins), I reduced the temperature to 160 and baked for a further 10 minutes.  Leave them to cool entirely in their tins to reduce the amount you need to schlep them around.  Also, don’t underestimate how long it’ll take these beauties to cool down before you ice them.

I covered two boards with rolled fondant (I would get fatter boards next time, because these are a little too flexible for the amount of manipulation they had to endure – the fondant covering suffered for all the messing about).  I splatted a few blobs of icing onto the top of each sponge before turning them onto the boards so that they didn’t slide off while I decorated.  That would’ve just about ruined my day.

A nerve-wracking moment

A nerve-wracking moment

A small flaw, but a really annoying one

A small flaw, but a really annoying one

When I tipped the ‘4’ out onto the board, a small chunk of chocolate sponge came away (marked in the above photograph), so I thought little of it and patched it back on with icing.  Sadly, the texture of the sponge and the consistency of the icing didn’t really lend itself well to a patch job.  I battled (gently) with this little spot before finally conceding that it would never be perfect but could be concealed with decoration later.

I mixed up a triple batch of Dan Lepard’s crème fraîche icing for each cake, which was 225g crème fraîche to approximately 850g-1kg icing sugar, depending on the consistency you’re after. Decorating the ‘4’ cake took me two solid hours.  This is partly because it was really fiddly, but also because I made the icing too thick – I used less icing sugar for the ‘0’ cake and it was a much quicker exercise.

About an hour in to the application of sprinkles

About an hour in to the application of sprinkles

I popped the ‘4’ onto my tilting turntable and covered the whole cake with a thin layer of icing.  The surface area was so huge that by the time I had covered the whole cake, the bit I did first had dried, so in order to make the hundreds and thousands stick, I had to dampen it down a little and smooth it out.  When it comes to the technique of sticking hundreds and thousands to vertical surfaces, I wish I could claim to have a miraculous technique to share.  I do not.  But what I will tell you is that there is as much skill in managing the hundreds and thousands that roll or bounce off the cake as there is in managing the ones you get to stick.  I placed my empty (and clean) grill pan under the lowest bit of the turntable in the hope of catching as many as possible, but there were still THOUSANDS all over my kitchen (many of which are still in residence behind my fridge… must pull that out…).

A small representation of rogue sprinkles

A small representation of rogue sprinkles

It was virtually impossible to cover the inside edges of the ‘4’ with sprinkles because the space is so tight, and extremely difficult to get a smooth finish on the icing (especially in the aforementioned damaged bit) so I had to cut my losses and rely on soft evening lighting to help me get away with it.

Move along; nothing to see here

Move along; nothing to see here

I had my technique down by the time I got to the ‘0’.  I used the world’s tiniest non-stick palette knife to slather icing smoothly on a patch of cake, quickly slapped it with sprinkles and overlapped the edges of that patch to do the next.  I even managed to get sprinkles all over the inside walls but – of course – couldn’t retrieve the fallen ones in the middle so they just happily rolled around.  I did briefly consider disinfecting my vacuum cleaner nozzle and getting in there, but then envisaged the ones that were beautifully stuck to the cake lifting off and shooting into the Hoover so I decided against that.  Instead, I blew up a few tiny balloons and squooshed them into the middle gaps to cover a multitude of sins.



In case you’re interested, for the bunting, I covered two bamboo skewers with colourful washi tape, then used a craft knife to cut out coloured card and stamped a festive message on it.  A couple more tiny balloons (creatively held in place with hair grips as I forgot to take cotton) and hey presto!  A 40th birthday cake FULL of childish joy and colour, whilst packing a serious ‘grown up’ flavour.  WIN.  

Easter Weekend: an embarrassment of riches

I always feel that the four-day Easter weekend – much like New Year’s Eve – comes with a pinch of pressure to Make It Count.  Rather than subject myself to the inevitable rail-engineering-works-bus-replacement-induced rage that comes hand-in-hand with visiting my family at this time of year, I chose to stay in London.  I planned only one thing in advance and left the rest of the weekend wide open.  It paid off.  I had four of the most rewarding, restorative days I can remember.  Highlights included:

Fabulous dinner with Mike and Michelle (long-serving readers might remember that it was these lovely folks who introduced me to the life-changing phenomenon of Christmas Pie) and George.  I even managed to get there early enough to meet their beautiful, smiley baby daughter Eva before bedtime.  They cooked up an absolute storm, including homemade smoked mackerel pâté, Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken with Jerusalem artichokes, shallots, saffron and other delicious things, finished with a totally sinful and yummy trifle.  I have rarely felt so full.

Discovering that I’m not quite as hopeless with a needle and thread as I had always believed.  I had bought a navy jacket which I liked, but which fit everywhere except the ribs, where it bagged far too much (smug face).  So, after trying on about a dozen other jackets and finding nothing I liked more, I stared my ineptitude in the face, gritted my teeth, furrowed my brow and dug out my rather sparsely furnished sewing kit.  Not only did I successfully tailor the jacket to nip in at the ribs (ahem, don’t look at the lining, ahem), I also customised it.  Gok would be impressed.  Actually, he probably wouldn’t be, but my Mum is, and that’s good enough for me.

Discovering that Kensington High Street was a ghost-town on Easter Sunday but that the gorgeous art shop was open, and a perfect place to indulge my creative side with some quiet browsing.

Using up leftover Christmas giftwrap to make three large origami boxes for organising my sock drawer.  I realise this seems unfeasible.  Something that NO NORMAL PERSON WOULD EVER DO.  I did it.  And I rather enjoyed it.

Completing a brilliant bread baking class at the Notting Hill branch of Jamie Oliver’s Recipease with my buddy Cat.  It’s utterly fantastic – book yourself a lesson if you have the chance.  The place is custom-designed for these classes and you get to take home a bounty of wheaty-goodness.  They even feed you a bacon sarnie (made from the bread rolls you baked) while you wait for your loaves to bake.  Amazing.

Recipease spoils: white bloomer, white rolls, focaccia and white bread filled with Parma ham, sundried tomatoes, olives, Camembert and rosemary

Recipease spoils: white bloomer, white rolls, focaccia and white bread filled with Parma ham, sundried tomatoes, olives, Camembert and rosemary

Recipease spoils: white bread filled with Parma ham, sundried tomatoes, olives, Camembert and rosemary

Recipease spoils: white bread filled with Parma ham, sundried tomatoes, olives, Camembert and rosemary

So, it’s now Easter Monday evening and I am spending my time glued to my iPhone, anxiously awaiting news of my dear friends Liz and Olly, whose baby girl is considering relocating from the comfort of The Mother Ship and taking up residence amongst the rest of us.  It’s taken her longer than anticipated to make her move – these decisions are important, after all – so we are all very impatient to meet her.  Come on, Tiny Person.  It’s time.

Christening Cake for a Beautiful Little Girl

Last September, I made a rainbow cake for my lovely friend Jo’s birthday while we were on our Cornish holiday, and I was absolutely tickled pink when she and her husband Chris recently asked me to bake for their delicious daughter Sophie’s Christening.  As a variation on a theme, we chose a cake of six layers in different shades of pink rather than rainbow colours.

My first consideration was how best to decorate the cake.  While I have dabbled with a bit of piped writing, I’m not sufficiently confident with my skills to risk piping Sophie’s name directly on the cake for such a prestigious event.  I decided, instead, to use rolled fondant to create pretty bunting on which I can pipe individual letters.  Cop out?  Perhaps.  But a lower risk strategy, for which I shan’t apologise.  So, I sat down to plan it out, mix the pink fondant and start fashioning some pretty things with it.

Girl's Christening Cake - making fondant shapes

Girl’s Christening Cake – making fondant shapes

Girl's Christening Cake - creating the decoration

Girl’s Christening Cake – creating the decoration

At this point, I realised exactly how hard it was going to be to pipe tiny lettering onto the bunting, so I asked my phenomenally talented friend Stephanie to help me out.  When I say ‘phenomenally talented’, I really mean it.  She is the creator of the most incredibly beautiful biscuits, which she sells through her business, Ice My Biscuit (follow that link and like her Facebook page – you will be regularly stunned by her creations).  I spent a couple of hours in Steph’s studio, during which she transformed my understanding of icing and the way it behaves in a piping bag.  I can even pipe straight lines now, and it’s all thanks to Steph!  After copious trials on plates, I was sufficiently brave to give the bunting a bash (please note the date has been abbreviated due to a couple of casualties in the bunting department).

The next stage was to consider my strategy for the pink sponge.  Of course, a standard vanilla sponge comes out a lovely pale yellow colour, which is perfectly acceptable in many scenarios but for a cake on which I’d like the pink shades of the icing to match the pink shades of the sponge as closely as possible, this is problematic, so I embarked upon a few trial runs to see whether I could come up with a solution.

Project Pink: Experiment 1
Eggs, butter, white caster sugar, flour, vanilla extract (fluid)
The pink shades of the sponge seem acceptable until you compare them with the shades in the icing shapes, when the sponge starts to appear rather peach-y.  Conclusion: it would do, at a pinch, but is not ideal.

Project Pink Trial 1 - mixing

Project Pink Trial 1 – mixing

Project Pink Trial 1 - baking

Project Pink Trial 1 – baking

Project Pink Trial 1 - assessing

Project Pink Trial 1 – assessing

Project Pink: Experiment 2
Egg Replacer Powder, butter, white caster sugar, flour, vanilla extract (paste)
I tested the vanilla paste to see how visible the vanilla seeds would be and I’m perfectly satisfied that they don’t negatively impact the appearance of the sponge.
Egg Replacer powder is a weird substitute I acquired when I baked for my vegan friend, Martha, which requires 1½ tsp powder to be mixed with 2 tbsp water before mixing the sponge as usual.  The vegan chocolate cake I baked for Martha last year was absolutely lovely; the difference in taste from a non-vegan chocolate cake was perceptible but acceptable, and the rise was exactly the same.  Not so with these pink cupcakes, as you will see.  Conclusion: fail.

Project Pink Trial 2 - Egg Replacer

Project Pink Trial 2 – Egg Replacer

Project Pink Trial 2 - examining vanilla seeds

Project Pink Trial 2 – examining vanilla seeds

Project Pink Trial 2 - mixing

Project Pink Trial 2 – mixing

Project Pink Trial 2 - baking

Project Pink Trial 2 – baking

Project Pink Trial 2 - disappointing

Project Pink Trial 2 – disappointing

Project Pink: Experiment 3
Egg whites only, butter, white caster sugar, flour, vanilla extract (paste)
I discussed Project Pink with Angharad (who – you may remember from previous posts – is a genius), and, with some degree of inevitability, she found the solution in the form of this recipe from an American blog.  I halved it in order to do a trial run without too much waste, the results of which are below.  The whisked egg whites need to be carefully folded in without losing the air, which means that the colouring stage has to happen before the egg whites go in.  Conclusion: we have a winner.

Project Pink Trial 3 - mixing

Project Pink Trial 3 – mixing

Project Pink Trial 3 - baking

Project Pink Trial 3 – baking

Project Pink Trial 3 - looking promising

Project Pink Trial 3 – looking promising

Project Pink Trial 3 - and we have a winner

Project Pink Trial 3 – winning

I realise this might just be the longest blog post in the history of t’internet, for which I apologise.  The final stages are purely photographic…

Pink Layer Cake - mixing The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – mixing The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake - baking The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – baking The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake - cooling The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – cooling The Real Thing

NB When I baked the trial, the cupcakes domed magnificently, so in order to prevent this happening and try to get an even rise, I made a shallow crater in the first batch of three sponges (the bottom three layers).  As it turns out, they didn’t dome at all and they actually baked with the craters still in tact, as you will see more clearly in the final photograph.  Lesson learned.

Pink Layer Cake - building The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – building The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake - finishing The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – finishing The Real Thing

London in the Snow - a nice day for a white christening

London in the Snow – a nice day for a white christening

Pink Layer Cake - anxiously waiting to cut The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – anxiously waiting to cut The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake.  Done.

Pink Layer Cake. Done.  (Apologies for the blur – I was shaking.)

Christmas Pie

Last Christmas, my good friends Mike and Michelle introduced me to a wondrous culinary innovation. This delicious recipe is so obvious a gastronomic win that I simply cannot understand why it isn’t a widespread annual tradition.

My friends, may I present… CHRISTMAS PIE.

The recipe is utterly brilliant in its simplicity: take every single little bit of (savoury) food left over from your Christmas feast, throw it all in a pie dish and cover it with pastry. Bake.

Our 2012 Christmas pie consisted of: turkey, pigs in blankets, cocktail sausages, roasted potatoes, roasted parsnips, roasted butternut squash, mashed carrot & swede, brussel sprouts, pancetta, chestnuts, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and puff pastry. I tell you, it’s worth making the turkey dinner JUST FOR THIS PIE. Every portion is like a lucky dip designed by Carlsberg: the best lucky dip in the world. Probably.

Christmas Pie, pre-pastry

Christmas Pie, pre-pastry

Christmas Pie, pre-baking

Christmas Pie, pre-baking

Christmas Pie, baked

Christmas Pie, baked

Christmas Pie, a modest portion

Christmas Pie, a modest portion

Traditional Gingerbread House

I’ve been plotting a gingerbread house for Christmas for many a month and, each time it has come up in conversation, I’ve been asked, “Who’s it for?” and been sheepish about my answer. The gingerbread house has lived at my Mum’s over Christmas and has therefore been seen by lots of people aged between 1 month and 80 years, but the truthful answer is that it isn’t for anyone, really. I wanted to make a gingerbread house because I’d never made a gingerbread house before. Is that wrong?

So, my self-indulgent project began with a search for the perfect gingerbread recipe, which consisted of leafing through dozens of magazines, extensive Googling and substantial traipsing through some genuinely astonishing Pinterest photographs. In the end, I decided to play it relatively safe for my first effort, with a view to upping the ante next year. I chose the gingerbread house recipe and template on the website of my favourite foodie magazine, delicious.

Gingerbread House - phase 1 (rolled and cut)

Gingerbread House phase 1 – rolled and cut

Gingerbread House - phase 2 (baked and cooling)

Gingerbread House phase 2 – baked and cooling

Gingerbread House - where's the washing up fairy when you need her?

Gingerbread House – where’s the washing up fairy when you need her?

According to the recipe, stained glass windows can be simply achieved by breaking up some boiled sweets and popping them in the holes before baking the biscuits. I’m sure this is true. But… during my search for some appropriate boiled sweets, I stumbled upon some neon coloured sugar crystals, which seemed an even better solution. I tested their melting point by pouring a pile of crystals on a bit of foil and baking at the same temperature and for the same time as the house would be baked, and it melted well. The pink crystals burned but I was happy with the yellow. Imagine my frustration, therefore, when the crystals failed to melt at all during the actual baking! In hindsight, I conclude that this is because they were resting on baking paper, which didn’t conduct the heat in the same way as the foil. Should’ve seen that one coming,really.

Plan B involved a small saucepan and some Foxes Glacier Fruits, reminiscent of the bottom of my beloved late Grandma’s handbag. I only used the two flavours most red in colour, to achieve a festive rosy glow (next year I might try to use two colours to make a pattern).

A couple of tips, if you choose to do this yourself:
1. Melt gently on a medium heat. If you whack the heat right up – as I did initially – it’ll burn and will taste horrible.
2. You needn’t worry about it being so fluid that it runs to places you don’t want it – it melts to quite a thick syrup.
3. Work FAST as the syrup will solidify quickly. Pour into one hole at a time, then work quickly to spread the syrup out, making sure that it adheres well to the gingerbread on each side.
4. If you, like I, need to transport your house in an IKEA-style flatpack, make sure you interleave with greaseproof paper – the biscuit won’t stick, but the windows will.

Gingerbread House - phase 3 (installation of stained glass windows)

Gingerbread House phase 3 – installation of stained glass windows

Gingerbread House - phase 4 (testing of stained glass windows)

Gingerbread House phase 4 – testing of stained glass windows

Ok. Confession time. I wanted to create something truly magical with my gingerbread house. Something that, as a child, I would have approached in wide-eyed wonder, torn between the desire to keep it exactly as it was forever and ever, and the temptation to pluck off and munch the colourful sweets. It was this child-like wide-eyed wonder in which I was entirely caught up when I accidentally (on purpose) stumbled upon the Candy Store inside Harrods, so I spent a ridiculous sum on decorative sweets. I’m not even sorry.

I packed everything up in a big box and transported it to Mum’s for construction; this is where the real fun begins.

Gingerbread House phase 5 - icing the board

Gingerbread House phase 5 – icing the board

At this point, I whipped up a fairly large quantity of royal icing (3 large egg whites, 675g icing sugar, 3 tsp lemon juice, 1.5 tsp glycerine) to decorate and glue everything together. I’d advise you build in stages and allow each to set before proceeding with the next. The roof, for example, is surprisingly heavy and will collapse the entire structure if you’re too impatient.

Gingerbread House phase 6 - a chocolate-covered pretzel fence

Gingerbread House phase 6 – building a chocolate-covered pretzel fence

Gingerbread House phase 7 - more mess

Gingerbread House phase 7 – more mess

Gingerbread House phase 8 - construction begins

Gingerbread House phase 8 – construction begins

Gingerbread House phase 9 - moving into position

Gingerbread House phase 9 – moving into position

Gingerbread House phase 10 - setting the scene with Frosty the Snowman

Gingerbread House phase 10 – setting the scene with Frosty the Snowman

This cheeky chap is made from sugarpaste and decorated with coloured dragees and a thin strip of strawberry confectionery, procured at great expense from the cinema pick ‘n’ mix.

I realise at this point that I was rather remiss in my photography, and neglected to take a shot of the roof tiles before they went on. The only thing to note here is that I decided to rotate them by 90 degrees to achieve a slightly more fantastical flavour. I rather like it.  Here’s one, already attached:

Gingerbread House roof tiles

Gingerbread House roof tiles

Gingerbread House phase 11 - setting the scene with Christmas trees and presents

Gingerbread House phase 11 – setting the scene with Christmas trees and presents

I’m disproportionately proud of these little trees. I painted a thin line of water around two waffle ice cream cones to weaken them, then gently sawed away at them with a knife to get a straight edge. I then stuck each in turn on the end of a finger, and stabbed at it with a piping bag loaded with a star nozzle and green royal icing. Tweezers were required for the application of multi-coloured dragees.

Gingerbread House phase 12 - a rosy glow from battery-operated tealights

Gingerbread House phase 12 – a rosy glow from battery-operated tealights

A quick scattering of edible glitter, and hey presto:

Gingerbread House

Traditional Gingerbread House

Rainbow Cake IV, and a bit of a cake-tastrophe

Last night, I joined my family to celebrate Mum’s fella John’s 80th birthday, which was absolutely fantastic! For this wonderful occasion, Mum asked me to bake a rainbow cake, (the other three rainbow cakes were dress rehearsals for this: The Big One), which I decided to cover in rolled fondant so that we could use edible-ink pens to graffiti messages for him. Not your typical 80th birthday cake, but then he’s not your typical 80-year-old.

This cake is the most perfect rainbow one I’ve done so far – it’s flawless. There is an even rise on every layer, they’re pretty much identical in size, fantastic colours, and they stacked up like an absolute dream. I did a really, really thin layer of buttercream because I didn’t want to overload the cake with too much sugar, so it was purely to create as neat a finish as possible for the fondant to sit on.

Kit form:
Rainbow Cake, kit form

A bit of maths:


To record the moment I very nearly drank a jug of eggs instead of orange squash:One is orange squash; the other is five eggs.  Not a mistake one wants to make.




...and coloured.




...and stacked.


Buttercream layer.

I was a very happy cookie at this point.

Then came the nerve-wracking bit, and the point at which I made a couple of really stupid decisions (I stopped taking photographs on account of the consequences of said stupidity, so please forgive the purely narrative account). Although the cake was only 20cm in diameter, it was tall – being a five-egg mix – so I was concerned about rolling the icing big enough to completely cover it. I measured, and made sure I had rolled to the right diameter, but then noticed that it was slightly uneven (the perils of rolling an enormous slab of fondant with a silly little 9-inch non-stick rolling pin) so I worked it a bit more. It being almost midnight at this point, I failed to twig that I had therefore made it bigger, thinner and therefore seriously compromised its strength. Rookie mistake.

With my cake standing proudly on my not-entirely-necessary-but-deeply-pleasing turntable, I used a big wooden rolling pin to move the fondant and drape it over the cake, and things were looking good. But not for long. As I started happily working to smooth one side, the other developed a fatal flaw: the icing was breaking around the top edge and, much like an avalanche, there was nothing any human could do to stop its dastardly progress. I tried to grapple with it (and obviously yelled “No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no!” at it), but after some futile attempts, I watched helplessly as the rip travelled all the way around the top edge, and the detached piece slowly folded itself in a smug, self-satisfied heap around the turntable’s ankle. “You should’ve known not to roll me too thinly”, it seemed to say. I realise, of course, that the second woeful error I had made was to have the cake standing so tall during this process; had the weight of the excess icing been resting on the work surface rather than hanging from such dizzy heights, it mightn’t have had the power to rip like that. Lesson learned.

“Right,” I said, “time for Plan B, then.”

I calmly assessed the damage and, as the top was firmly adhered to the buttercream, I decided to leave it as it was and patch the sides as best I could. I kneaded and re-rolled the fallen piece, and carefully cut two rectangles that I could piece together. I brushed the buttercream with a little water to make it more adhesive and carefully put the strips in place, pinching it together with the edges of the top, and finishing with a careful once-over with the smoothing paddle.

It’s not perfect, but it’s nothing a massive ribbon can’t conceal. Is that cheating? Perhaps. Do I care? Yes; I’m a bit gutted, to be honest.

The final, patched up article.

And here is the final thing, pimped up with an unplanned ribbon and graffitied with loving messages, and chopped up in the restaurant:




Sunday Baking: Chocolate Madeleines & Lemon Poppy Seed Madeira Cake

Part of my weekend plan was a baking project with the wonderful Angharad, who popped round on Saturday afternoon. We got so side-tracked drooling over shiny cookware in Divertimenti (Mum: that link leads you to something for my Christmas wish list!), an unexpected drive-by by TRHs the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and accidentally falling into a pub and having mulled wine forced upon us, that we exhausted ourselves before we even got the tins out. So, I thought I’d make up for it today, Remembrance Sunday.

Knowing that my landlord George was coming round this morning and that I had nothing to offer him in the biscuit department, I decided to use my spangly new Madeleine tin (fabulous birthday present from my thoughtful friend Cat) to whip up a quick batch of chocolate Madeleines According to le legende Pierre Hermé, one is supposed to chill the mixture overnight before baking in order to achieve the characteristic bumps, but I didn’t have that kind of time so I sacrificed the bumps and threw ’em straight in the oven. A rather pleasing result, made more pleasing by the icing sugar artfully distributed with the shaker (another fabulous birthday present, from m’ good mate Suzzie):


After a little wander to collect some pottery I had painted a few weeks ago, a saunter around Waitrose and a spot of lunch, I decided to whip up something relatively low-maintenance before heading out to dinner. Happily, I stumbled upon a highly appropriate choice for today, Remembrance Sunday: a Lemon Poppy Seed Madeira Cake. Using the blue poppy seeds I picked up at Divertimenti, I whipped up a wonderfully butter-rich recipe: 250g plain flour, pinch salt, 1tsp baking powder, 2tsp poppy seeds, 225g unsalted butter, 200g caster sugar, zest of one lemon, 3 large eggs, 2tbsp lemon juice.


It’s ever so slightly irksome that I didn’t have a deep 8″ tin, so I chose a deep 7″ instead. Of course, it needed longer in the oven so the top has coloured more than I think it should have done but it smells delicious and if you look at the close-up hard enough you can see the delightful little poppy seeds nestling in the buttery sponge. Mm.


Remembrance Sunday. We will remember them.

My Parisian Birthday

There comes a point in every single girl’s life when it seems like every other bugger on the planet is getting married and having children.  Personally, I was entirely unprepared for all the ways in which the changes in my friends’ lives would change my own, an example of which was how I chose to celebrate my birthday this year.  In order to avoid the inevitability of my being the awkward odd number at my own birthday celebrations, I chose to run away to Paris with my mother for the weekend.  And what an excellent decision that was.

November in Paris is gorgeous.  Skies transform rapidly from clear blue to angry grey, trees vary from bare and spindly to golden and luxurious, and the temperature is just right for wandering around wearing cosy winter clothes without needing to strip each time you reach a restaurant or shop.  I suppose all of these things are true of November in London, too, but – you know – it’s PARIS, so it’s more gorgeouser than London.  (Note: I realise that’s not a word, and I don’t care.)

Of course, it wouldn’t be my blog without a good smattering of photographs of delicious food.  And booze.

Birthday lunch:


Birthday dinner (a…..MAZING):


Oops, we accidentally had to kill time before getting the Eurostar back to London:


So aside from eat, what did we do?  In a Parisian nutshell, we walked a LOT, we looked around the beautiful Panthéon and its crypt, we failed to find the Catacombs, we bought beautiful scarves from a fabulously chic Parisienne in the Latin Quarter, we walked along Rive Gauche, we stumbled upon a stunning foodie shop, we walked a bit more, we avoided the rain by spending two hours on a tourist bus, we took surprisingly good photographs of the stunning sights from the bus, we accidentally went into the Gents’ loos in Ladurée, we lost a Remembrance poppy, we shopped on Champs-Élysées, we stayed in a lovely little boutique hotel in a fairly grotty area near Gare du Nord, we (actually, I) resurrected a few bits of my A-Level French and we came home with very sore soles and very happy souls.


A very special first birthday

During my Cornish holiday, I was honoured to be present for the most special of special first birthdays, namely that of a gorgeous little giggler called Charlotte.  There was a time, not many months ago, when Charlotte’s future looked bleak, to the extent that we couldn’t be absolutely certain that a birthday would be something she’d experience.  Happily – nay, ecstatically – I write to celebrate the fact that she now has a birthday under her little belt and is looking forward to the next.

Thanks to the work and dedication of a great many people in the medical profession (particularly staff at King’s College Hospital in London), Charlotte is healthier and happier today than she has ever been.  And she is an absolute delight.  Here she is with her amazing parents, Sam and Alice:

Charlotte’s fabulous mother, Alice, joined us in Cornwall having completed The Great North Run with Auntie Amy last weekend, to raise money for Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, which has supported the family over the past year.  Should you wish to read more about Charlotte’s experiences or – better still – make a donation, please click here for Alice’s Just Giving page.

Though one year isn’t quite enough time for a tiddler to work out exactly what birthdays are all about, it was easy for Charlotte to conclude that her Lemon Cake Pyramid of Joy (with handmade marzipan monkeys, no less) was nothing short of BRILLIANT.  I told you Angharad was a baking genius.