Category Archives: Baking

Marzipan overload

Even more Easter baking this week with not one but two Simnel cakes. Both are intended as gifts. I only hope they make it that far – the smell is driving me wild as I’ve just liberated the second one from the oven.

I don’t really have what they call a ‘signature bake’ but people do seem to enjoy and remember my Simnel cake. Always overexcited by a bit of praise, I felt duty bound to bake it again this year. I most often go for the traditional look, topping it with toasted marzipan balls but I thought I’d try something different this time. I found a lovely mini bunny cookie cutter and soon had rabbits chasing around the edge of the cake (typical of me that the cutter inspired a piece of embroidery before it made it into the kitchen). I was always a fan of the rabbits that chase around Bunnykins pottery. You can see the lovely two-handled mug that was my christening gift. When I got it down off the shelf, I found the little china bunny inside. I don’t know how long he’d been hiding in there but what an appropriate time for him to hop out!

Adding a real ribbon bow is always a satisfying way to finish a cake. I like the way releasing the ribbon adds to the ceremony of cutting into it. What I don’t like is when greasy marks appear through the ribbon. My solution was greaseproof paper. This refused to tuck neatly behind the ribbon so I decided to make a feature of it with the help of a Martha Stewart paper punch. Result: a very frilly, marzipan-laden cake. I do hope my recipients have a very sweet tooth.

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Crafting for Easter

I seem to be having quite a crafty Easter this year. I usually confine myself to a mad dash around the shops acquiring suitable chocolate novelties for my nearest and dearest but I’ve actually managed a bit of seasonal crafting this time round. It all started when Thea left a comment letting me know about the lovely Easter competition over on her Spoonful blog.

At first I just read about the competition and thought wistfully, I wish I’d known earlier as I just don’t have time to join in. Then I came over hopelessly optimistic and thought “I’ll just make time!” The challenge was to create something carrot-related to reward the Easter bunny. I resisted the Spoonful suggestion of making something from an actual carrot and went for an afternoon tea combo instead. I’ve embroidered an old-fashioned table mat with bunnies inspired by the shape of a mini cookie cutter, then added carrots with a little appliqué. Hemming the edge and getting it to stay flat was probably the fiddliest bit but a bit of strategic bullying with the point of the iron sorted it out. To set the mat ready for afternoon tea, I decided on Easter cupcakes topped with marzipan rabbits having their own carrot feast. (I shall probably need to feast on nothing but carrots myself for weeks after this as I scoffed so many marzipan off-cuts as I worked.)

I had real fun and can’t wait to see the other entries. The results will be posted on Good Friday. If you have chance to magically make a little time for yourself, there are still two days left to enter the competition. Hop over to Spoonful for all the details.

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The power of dreams?

Do you ever have great ideas just before you go to sleep? I’m never sure if I’m actually asleep but I get some of my best crafting inspiration then. I can see exactly how to make the idea work and better still, see how fabulous the finished item will look. If only this could carry over into reality.

In just such a pre-sleep moment, I dreamed how amazing my Christmas cake could look with a simple iced design like I’d seen at Betty’s Teashop. I’d only have to mix up one colour of icing and have a little practice. The fact that I’d never used a piping bag before didn’t stop the power of my dream. This time the enthusiasm did carry over to the daytime and I set about icing my cake with excitement. How difficult could it be?

What was I thinking? I suddenly developed the shakiest hands ever! You can see the results for yourself. My top festive tip would be that you can cover up a lot with little silver balls. I’m also trying the diversion tactic of adding a big fancy ribbon around my cake. And yes, the pale pink patch on the right is where I was concentrating so hard on the front end of the piping bag, that I failed to notice what was spilling out of the back. Ah well, I don’t think Betty’s icing squad will be calling me anytime soon!

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A tour of makes & bakes

Last week I made the four-hour journey north to visit the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Held in and around the wonderful Royal Hall, it was a real feast of yarns, fabrics and embroidery exhibits. Over the years, I’ve changed my show-going tactics. I used to set off with the focus of a few definite items to hunt down. Now I aim for a more relaxed approach and go with the flow of what grabs my attention when I get there. While this approach may not be so productive in terms of finished projects, it wins hands down for excitement. My purchases this time were a little random but I love them!

I started by falling for the grey woodland fabric. I love the silhouette animals and simple splashes of red for the toadstools, and quickly committed to half a metre of this. Then came the Paris map print (imagine having the plan out the repeats to print this!) and a fat quarter of the gorgeous retro floral. All came from the dreamy Eternal Maker. After this I was relatively restrained and only added two Liberty fat quarters, which spoke to me with the promise of a mini patchwork project.

As if the inspiration of all that fabric and yarn was not enough, the trip gave me a boost for my baking ideas too. I arrived too early for the show, so took a stroll around the centre of Harrogate. The famous Bettys Tea Rooms was on my must-see list and I soon had my nose pressed up against the glass of this amazing cake and confectionery emporium. Sadly there wasn’t time to take tea but I did pop into the stunning wood-panelled shop. It was a world of amazing bakes, from Christmas puds presented in their old-fashioned basins to the most exotic boxes of chocolates. My favourite item was something a little simpler , ‘mouse bread’. This small round loaf is made with an extra lump of dough fashioned into the shape of a mouse, made to look at if it is running across the loaf. Very cute but sadly not the sort of thing I could manage to carry around a show all day.

Having made my own Christmas cake last weekend, I could hardly buy another but I was very tempted when I saw this stunning red and white design. I’d love to recreate this for myself but I don’t think I can be that brave with an icing nozzle. (By the way, my cake turned out fine if a little taller than expected.)

After a crisis of indecision, I did buy a tin of Christmas biscuits plus a little something for a friend’s birthday. It’s his special day later this week, so I won’t reveal my purchase here just in case he’s looking!

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Celebrating ‘Stir up’ Sunday

I’ve always tried to avoid doing anything Christmas related until it’s actually December. I feel more excited about the preparations if I wait. It’s a practical consideration too as most of my family’s birthdays fall in November and early December, so it feels right to do these justice before getting festive.

This year I’ve broken with tradition. For the very first time I’m observing ‘Stir up Sunday’ by baking my Christmas cake. Like so many of our Christmas traditions, I think we have the Victorians to thank for this. The last Sunday before Advent is the time to make Christmas cakes, plum puddings and mincemeat as all of these benefits from time to mature. (There’s a whole heap more history here together with recipes.) Traditionally it’s good luck to gather everyone in the house to take a turn at stirring the mixture as it brings good luck. There’s only me here today. I can’t make up my mind if this is unlucky or it means I get a whole heap of luck to myself!

I wish you were here to appreciate the way my home is slowly filling with the rich aroma of the baking fruitcake. It takes an incredible four hours to transform the gloopy mixture containing brandy-soaked fruits into a firm, heavy treat to share. At the time of writing there’s still over an hour and a half to go on the kitchen timer, so today’s pictures are just the ‘before’, the ‘after’ is still down to my oven. I’m not a very confident cook, so I always view baking as nine parts alchemy and only one part chemistry. For now all I can do is peer through the glass of the oven door and cross my fingers. The cake is so heavily clad in baking parchment and brown papers, that it’s giving little away.

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The knitting forecast

They said it would rain in North Wales for my break. Thankfully they were wrong, well almost. On the one day it did pour down, we were rewarded with a glimpse of a rainbow spanning the estuary and seemingly ending at our house.

It was a wonderfully creative five days with woodland walks (so many acorns!), plenty of time to catch up and chat and a goodly amount of knitting. It was even warm enough one afternoon to knit outdoors on the big stone balcony. The stripes on my project progressed slowly and surely as the tide crept its way up the estuary. I could see down the wooded slope to the water, and just make out the tower of the ‘Camera Obscura’ marking the end of Portmeirion Village. I even baked scones in the tiny kitchen. The old oven of a rented holiday house is obviously unused to such activity and rebelled by taking almost half an hour instead of the usual 15 minutes to bake my scones. Eating a warm, if rather hard, scone and jam as the light fades on an autumn afternoon is certainly my idea of heaven

Thank you Sir Clough Williams Ellis for opening up your crazy dream of a place for us all to share. My quest for holiday souvenirs led to the purchase of a tea towel (why is this the object of choice for so many souvenir makers? A flashback to magical moments while tackling the mundane?) and a mouse mat. It makes me smile that this wouldn’t quite have been Sir Clough’s vision for his village when he started to build back in 1925. I chose the mouse mat for the philosophy printed around the edge of the design: “Cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future.” I’m quite content with my mission to adorn the present.

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Celebrate National Apple Day!

Did you know that Friday 21st October is National Apple Day in the UK? Not an occasion I’ve celebrated in the past but it’s now definitely on my calendar since the Apple Tree Café, near Lands End, asked permission to run a workshop using the fabric apple templates from my recent project in Mollie Makes. This cosy community café and arts studio sounds like a lovely trip out. They’re hosting all sorts of apple-related events over the half term week and of course they have lots of apple cake to eat too. I’ve not visited yet but if I do I would have to try one of their lattes with apple-shaped foam. I do like it when things match.

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