Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Nom Nom Nom

I just received an email to let me know that I have been selected as a finalist, along with my friend, Tamzin Aitken from Animal Crackers, for the Nom Nom Nom Awards 2010. This means, while the rest of you are glued to your tellies watching the World Cup Final on 11th July, we will be aproned-up and cooking our little socks off, alongside other food blogging teams for a day of friendly competition. You can find out more about the competition here: http://www.nomnomnom.co.uk  and follow our progress here: http://nom-nom-nom-3.blogspot.com/p/finalists.html

While I'm on the subject of Awards, there are only three days left to vote for Victoria's Cake Boutique for best independent shop or retailer and best UK food blogger for The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2010. It only takes a couple of minutes to vote and you could win a trip to Flanders, dinner at Fifteen in Cornwall or one of a host foodie treats...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Aging always feels better with cake - 30th Birthday Cake.

I love birthdays and always feel genuinely distressed at the number of people who prefer to leave the occasions unmarked. OK, so the growing older, wrinklier and creakier of joints bit isn't much fun, but that's not the fault of birthdays per se. It's the gradual work of the brutal hand of time, pointing its nasty, little, jeering finger at us, giving us age spots and making us wake up several times in the night to go for a wee. Poor old birthdays cop the flack because they make us take note and take stock of ourselves and our bodies. Forcing us to remember that this time last year we could touch our toes, sit down without making a "what a relief" groaning noise and were left unphased by overly loud music in bars. But birthdays themselves, without the weight of blame and responsibility we lumber them with, are truly wonderful things and should be celebrated as such.

You get cards and presents and phonecalls from child relatives singing "Happy Birthday" songs at you. You get text messages, Facebook messages and emails sending best wishes for a wonderful day. You get bought lots of drinks and don't get judged for drinking every single one of them. You get £5's worth of free stuff from The Body Shop if you've got a loyalty card. But, most importantly, you get to celebrate with people you really really like, in the same room, at the same time, on a particular fixed date. If ever I have tried to arrange a get together with more than 6 people, the dates are thrown back and forth and swapped about so many times, that, more often than not, it ends up never happening. This doesn't happen on birthdays, because the date isn't negotiable. It just is when it is. Granted, there are always people who can't come, but that's OK, it just means more celebrations are to be had with them at another time, and more cake can be eaten.

True to form, I have managed to have four celebrations for one birthday already this year. I like to drag them out for as long as humanly possible. The last celebration was on Saturday night and it was a joint party with two dear friends of old. We lived together as students at Leeds University and had fairly regular parties at our gaff back in the day. This time round we made mixtapes and banners, but what's a birthday party without a cake?

I made a two tier cake, iced in light blue sugar paste. The top tier was a sachertorte (a Viennese chocolate cake named after the Sacher Hotel) and the bottom tier was a chocolate and black cherry cake: a grateful nod to a childhood favourite - the black forest gateau, which gets a very undeserved bad press these days. I decorated the bottom tier with Spring/Summery flowers, bumble bees (a personal favourite addition to any cake) and butterflies. I painted the top tier with clouds, a big red kite, a "V" formation flight of birds and a big gold "30". For all the painting, I used edible powder dye mixed with melted cocoa butter. For the flower heads and butterflies I used floristry paste with royal icing centres and I used sugar paste for the bumble bees. The photo is unfortunately very dark as it was quite late at night by the time the camera came out, but in real life, the cake's colours were bright and sunny.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

DIY SOS - tips for choosing and making your own wedding cake.

Weddings are expensive old things and, for most people at least, the chance to practise getting it right just isn't available. We only aim to do it once after all, and even if we find that once just isn't enough, it's unlikely any aisles will be walked down enough times for the experience to become old hat. Doing things yourself can be a great way to cut down costs and make things that bit more personal, but it's worth working out how a DIY approach can work for you, before crashing in and finding yourself in a whole new world of stress and mayhem. The things that people often DIY are table decorations, flowers, photography and the cake. Lucky you if you are friends with great photographers, florists and cake makers already, but if you aren't and are thinking of doing it yourself, here's a bit of advice on the cake front.

You can find lots of articles giving you a step-by-step guide to making a particular wedding cake design, but I wanted to show you the pros and cons of different styles, to help you know which is right for you and your personality. If you're easily flappable, avoid anything which requires last minute attention, but if you work best under pressure and tend to leave everything until the eleventh hour, steer clear of cakes that require foreward planning and early preparation.

Cupcakes
Cupcakes are a popular choice and already come in neat individual portions, so the cake won't need to be taken away early for cutting, meaning you can have the cakes displayed right up until the last moment. If you want a tower of cupcakes for your wedding, it's worth considering the cutting of the cake photo op. Some couples feed each other a cupcake as a modern twist to mark this tradition, but if getting papped with a gobful of cake and smears of icing on your face isn't your idea of a memory worth keeping, making a separate top tier to sit above your tower of cupcakes is a good option and creates an elegant sense of unity to the overall design.

People think that cupcakes are the easiest option for DIYers and they certainly can be if done right, but do note that you will be giving yourself or your trusted friend/ family member a tight and stressful deadline. You can freeze them, but you'll need lots of freezer space. Personally I don't like the idea of pre-made frozen cakes as they're just never as nice as fresh. If you do opt for the deep freeze, open freezing the cakes first will help them keep their shape before you wrap them securely and pop them back in. You have to wrap them to ward off freezer burn. I wouldn't leave sponge in the freezer for longer than three weeks ideally, but then, when I'm in charge I'd always leave the freezer door shut entirely. It's your wedding day! And fresh is most definitely best.

When cupcakes are made fresh, it needs to be as close to the day they are going to be eaten as possible. Essentially they are, by their very nature, a last minute job. A scary responsibility for some. Chocolate cake tends to last that little bit longer than other sponges and most chocolate cakes actually  improve if left in an airtight container for a few days. This can make them a slightly less stressful proposition than vanilla or lemon. Do bear in mind where you're going to store them though, as you will need A LOT of tins for these little darlings.

Where and how your cakes will be stored should be thought through before baking commences. Don't pack them too close or too tightly together and avoid stacking them, as you'll end up ruining the edges of the paper cases. This will not only make them look messy but will also make them harder to ice later. Don't forget to consider what you want the cakes topped with too. Perhaps cupcakes don't sound so easy when you've got to make 100 pretty things to stick on their tops? Making little sugar roses is a very pretty option, but they do take time and practise and you will need a lot of them. They can be made up to a month before (or even longer if you don't mind them becoming rock hard) and you can do a few here and there in spare moments or even on a tray in front of the telly if you like. I'll give you a step-by-step guide to making your own sugar roses in another blog very soon.

Alternatively, you can buy some ready made sugar flowers, but they can end up being much more expensive, but you will save yourself a lot of time. Steer clear of wired flowers for cupcakes, as your guests will just want to sink their teeth straight in without worrying about cutting their mouths open or breaking a tooth. Whether you choose buttercream or royal icing, make sure the cakes are properly covered, so that they aren't exposed to any air. Wedding cakes sit out for hours before they're eaten and your cupcakes will dry out in no time if not properly protected. So don't be lazy about icing right into the corners - you don't want all your hard work turning into dusty crumbs.

One last tip for wedding cupcakes is to cover them FULLY with icing, but absolutely NEVER with cream. Cream can only be left unrefrigerated for up to four hours and less in hot weather. It's worth remembering this little health and safety rule if you don't want your wedding reception to turn into a giant queue for the loo.

If multi-tiered cakes are more your style, the same last minute pressures apply if you choose sponge cakes. I set up a cake a few weeks ago and was told a horror story by the venue's resident toast master about a wedding he had recently worked at. When the couple cut their cake, the whole thing was rotten and mouldy all the way through. Clearly the cake maker had been a little too eager to tick that particular job off his/her list, resulting in the whole cake being thrown straight in the bin. The very earliest the cakes should be made is 7 days before the big day, but I still think this is too early for most sponges, especially a Victoria sponge, which can go stodgy if made too far in advance. It is always easier to ice cakes after they have been marzipanned, so it might be prudent as a DIYer to marzipan the cakes first. But, if you, like many others, turn your nose up at almonds, you will need to cover the cakes in two layers of roll out icing, allowing the first layer to crust properly before applying the second. I will outline structuring your tiers securely further down, but first, a word on delivery.

Delivery

I think it's extremely important to make a visit to the venue by car from wherever the cake will be delivered from. Take note of any pot holes in the road, steep hills or sudden declines and also check the entrance to the reception venue for speed bumps. Wedding venues seem to be particularly keen on speed bumps and they are the bane of a cake maker's delivery days. Check out with the venue's wedding co-ordinator that there isn't an alternative speed bump-less entrance; there quite often are at the bigger hotels. Pack your cake securely in a specially designed cake box and never carry anything bigger than a three tiered cake in one piece. You can get away with it, just, if you can deliver it in a van with a person sitting by it to ensure it remains in one piece, but I still wouldn't advise it. People who like watching shows like The Ace of Cakes (I'm totally with you) might think it's usual to transport cakes unboxed in the backs of vans, but unfortunately, in Blighty, red tape prevents it and food for public consumption must be fully covered during transit. That means that even if you do take it by van with someone watching over it in the back, they won't see any potential damage coming, they'll just hear a thump and hold their breath as they lift the lid off the box.

Traditional fruit cake
More and more people are opting not to go for traditional fruit cake these days, but it's certainly worth reconsidering getting fruity if you're planning a DIY job. See my recipe for Christmas cake to find the amounts for 6", 9" and 12" cakes. You can make the cakes a couple of months before the big day, wrap them up and they'll need no further attention other than the odd top up of brandy, rum or whisky. You can marzipan the cakes up to two weeks before and ice the cakes the week before your wedding date. People often make the unpractised assumption that rolling out icing and covering cakes is the easy bit. Unless you're used to doing it, easy it certainly isn't, especially when covering really large cakes. And if economy is the reason behind doing it yourself in the first place, then there's no point spending lots of time and money honing your skills before the big day.

If you're thinking that simple is the way to go, be warned, you might wish that you'd chosen a design that could cover up any air bubbles, lumps, bumps, cracks or billowing bottoms. My advice if you're icing the cakes yourself, is to be flexible with the finished design. You may well find that the smooth, polished white finish you were planning has become something quite different along the way. Don't panic though, if you follow my icing guide, you're more likely to get it right first time round. But maybe think about investing in some thick ribbon, just in case...

Victoria's Cake Boutique's top tips for a smooth icing finish:

  • First things first. At the baking stage, please don't be tempted to mix up the batter for all your tiers together in one go. Not only will you have to fork out for an oversized mixing bowl to fit it all in, you'll also increase the likelihood of having one incredibly deep cake, one average and one the depth of a digestive biscuit. Mix up each cake separately so all you'll have to worry about is pouring it in the right tin and levelling it out before sticking it in the oven.
  • Is it level? Before you ice your cakes, make sure their tops are level - this is especially important if you're planning on stacking your cakes later.
  • Using a little boiled, seived apricot jam, stick each cake on a thin board the same size.
  • Fill in any holes or dips with marzipan before covering the cake.
  • Brush the cake's top and sides liberally with boiled and seived apricot jam.
  • Knead your marzipan on a clean surface dusted with icing sugar before rolling out. I like to roll mine on to icing sugar dusted sheets of baking parchment, as it doesn't stick as easily as to the table.
  • Roll out your marzipan to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a piece of string which has measured the size of the cake as a guide to know how big you'll need it to be.
  • Polish it over with an icing smoother if you have one, before lifting it with your rolling pin and placing it on top of your cake.
  • Pat the marzipan down and, using your hands, pat and smooth the marzipan down the sides of the cake, trying to avoid trapping any air underneath.
  • If you get an air bubble, use a scribe or sterilised needle to pop it, placing the needle in at an angle so you can squeeze out the trapped pocket of air.
  • Once you've patted and smoothed the icing down, preferably with a couple of icing smoothers for a really professional finish, trim off the excess marzipan.
  • Lift the cake up on to a turntable or upturned bowl and smooth the marzipan once more to ensure your edges are straight and haven't billowed out towards the bottom of the cake.
  • Trim the excess off using a small sharp knife, keeping it flush with the bottom of the cake board.
  • Leave the marzipanned cakes to "crust" for at least 24 hours before icing.
  • You can ice your cakes in a very similar way to marzipanning them, but instead of using boiled jam, use brandy, vodka or cooled boiled water to stick the icing to the marzipan.
  • Knead the icing thoroughly, but to avoid locking air into the icing and producing troublesome bubbles later on, press and fold the ball of icing under in a continuous circle, until the icing is properly pliable and any cracks or indentations will be on the underneath.
  • Always start with your icing in the same shape as your cake - a ball for a round, and a squared off ball for a square.
  • Liberally dust sheets of baking parchment with icing sugar and rub a little over your rolling pin.
  • Roll your icing to a thickness of 1/4 inch, but don't turn the icing over, we're keeping the "working" side on the bottom.
  • Use your rolling pin to lift the icing and follow the same directions as for the marzipan.
  • Leave the icing to crust for at least 24 hours before decorating.
  • If you are planning to stack the cakes, don't forget to check the tops are level with a clean spirit level.
Stacked, pillared or separated...?

Stacked

If you opt for a multi-tiered cake where the tiers are stacked directly on top of each other, you will have to create some internal scaffolding to stop the cakes from sinking into one another. Once iced, cakes are considerably heavier than you might expect and need a little extra support to prevent a sunken or capsized mess. You can buy cake rods which are either plastic or wooden, that can be cut to size with a hack saw. I insert the uncut rods (at least 6 for the bottom tier, but up to 12 is safer, depending on the cake's size) into the cake and mark where I need to cut with a liqourice pen - which is like a black felt tip, but the ink is edible. I then remove the rods, cut them to size, sand over the cut tip and wash thoroughly and dry before re-inserting them in the cake. Once properly rodded, the cakes can be placed directly on top of each other, using a smear of royal icing to secure them in place. I always (unless instructed otherwise) place the base tier on to an iced cake drum. It not only looks more polished and complete, it also make transporting the cake much easier.

Pillars

Pillars are harder to get right, and the cakes will each need to be placed on a cake drum (a thick cake board - ideally you should ice it to tie it in with the rest of the design. Otherwise it just looks like a thick piece of tin foil. Not especially attractive, I'm sure you'll agree). The iced cake drums will need to be 2" larger than the size of each cake. Using a compass, draw a circle the same size as the bottom and middle tiers on baking parchment or tracing paper and work out where you will need the pillars to go and mark them on the tracing paper circles at regular intervals. Next, place the tracing paper on top of the cakes and using a scribe or sterilised needle, prick the icing where the pillars will stand. Remove the paper and place your pillars lightly on the marked pin pricks. Take an uncut rod and press the rod through the pillar and down to the base of the cake until it hits the cake board, mark where the rod will need to be cut and repeat the process described above. The rods are what supports the weight of your cakes, not the pillars, which are purely decorative. When transporting the cakes to the venue, box them separately and wait until you arrive to arrange them on top of each other. Instead of pillars you can also use cake separators, which are glass-look acrylic tubes or squares which can be filled with petals, flower heads or glass beads. For these, rod the cakes firmly in the cake centre and cover up the hole you've made by smearing a little royal icing over the top of each inserted rod, before sticking the separator on to the cake with royal icing.

Separately presented

Separately presented multi-tiered cakes: This is the style of cake I would recommend as the least troublesome for DIYers. You don't need to think about internal structure and you don't have to worry about special boxes for transporting stacked multi-tiered cakes. The stand does the work for you and all you'll need to do is place your cakes on iced cake drums and decorate them as you wish. A ribbon and a fresh flower posey on top is a very simple and effective design. You can choose from a swan stand, an "S" or "E" stand for three tiered cakes or a "C" stand for two tiered cakes. Other vintage tearoom styles are also available, although you'll most likely have to buy one; the other styles can be hired from most decent cake decorating suppliers.

So there you have it, what is, I hope, a useful guide for choosing and making your own wedding cake. But if you decide it all looks a bit too much like hard work, Victoria's Cake Boutique will be happy to do it for you.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

It's a White Russian cake, dude.

I had a big birthday over the bank holiday. Not THAT big, I hasten to add. But big enough to hurl me into a new decade and, possibly, into a new ticking bracket when filling out forms. I found that the thought of getting older was more traumatic than the actuality of it - due largely to the spirit of good will from lovely friends and the good will-inducing spirits served in teapots at the wonderful Arts Theatre Club. Yes, that's right, cocktails served in teapots and drunk from china teacups. What's not to like?

After pickling my liver in hazelnut martinis on Saturday night, spending Sunday sitting around watching The Big Lebowski in my dressing gown felt like the perfect antidote. I didn't have a birthday cake this year - but I did get taken to The Fat Duck, so there are definitely no complaints from me - so I decided to make myself a belated one. After my excessive cocktail consumption and my dressing gown clad tellython, there could be no competition when it came to picking this year's perfect birthday flavour. It had to be White Russian all the way!

My White Russian cake was invented for a client who liked The Big Lebowski and White Russian cocktails so much that his friends, family and fiancee nicknamed him "the dude". The nickname has stuck in my head so firmly that I can't for the life of me remember his real name. So cheers, "dude", your commission made turning 30 on Monday a lot more palatable. And I thank you for it.

Slice of Caucasian anyone...?

White Russian Cake
Preheat your oven to 170C (150C Fan assisted)



When making this for home use (by which I mean, as a cake that doesn't need to be decorated as a tier of wedding cake or an iced celebration cake afterwards), I make it in a roulade tin, which I line with baking parchment. You can, if you wish, bake this cake in a 6" round tin, but you'll need to add about 25 minutes to the cooking time and it might be prudent to place a sheet of parchment over the top of the cake for the second half of the cooking time.

  
Ingredients for cake

150 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
4 tbsp whole milk
3 eggs, separated
A pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
125g caster sugar
125g plain flour

Ingredients for filling

4 tbsp of chocolate flavoured vodka or white creme de cacao
4 oz soft, unsalted butter
8 oz icing sugar
4 -6 tbsp kahlua

Method
  • Place the white chocolate and milk in a heatproof bowl and place on top of a saucepan of barely simmering water over a low heat. Place a foil lid over the bowl and leave to melt. Give the milk and chocolate a stir every now and then until it is melted and smooth.
  • Add the butter and stir until melted.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt together into stiff peaks.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy and immediately add the white chocolate mixture and stir thoroughly.
  • Sift over the flour and mix thoroughly.
  • Fold in the egg whites and pour out into your prepared roulade tin.
  • Bake on the centre shelf of your oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cake to cool in its tin on a wire rack.
Method for filling
  • Whisk the butter until light and creamy
  • Sift over half the icing sugar and whisk together
  • Sift over the remaining sugar and whisk again.
  • Add the kahlua and whisk until fluffy. Taste for kahlua and whisk in extra if you feel it needs it.
Building the cake
  • Turn the cake out of its tin and remove the baking parchment. Trim the edges off the cake and cut the cake, lengthwise, into three rectangles of equal width.
  • Brush the chocolate-flavoured vodka/ white creme de cacao over the first rectangle of cake, spread over some of the kahlua buttercream, top with another rectangle of cake and repeat and repeat again.
  • Smooth the remaining kahlua buttercream over the top and sides of the cake and the cake is ready to serve. Enjoy.