Adventures in cake decorating (part 1)

I started a cake decorating course at my local community centre a few weeks ago. The reason I signed up is a simple one – while I absolutely love making cakes, they never look particularly pretty (evidence of this can be seen all around the blog!). I had absolutely zero experience of anything relating to decorating cakes before I started – adding water to icing doesn’t count! So I knew I would be pretty much bottom of the class from the start.

It’s quite a small class, with around 10 of us (all women) attending each week. Many of the others have been to the class in previous terms, but there are a couple of other women who, like me, have never done anything like this before.

The first class was pretty much an induction, but it was good to find out what we’ll be doing over the next couple of months. I’d never come across most of the concepts before, but I’m very excited about attempting to make an edible handbag and string people (I might try to make a string cow!).

Last week, we tried our hand at brush embroidery. I had never heard of the technique before and was a little worried about it – I envisaged two hours of attempting to ’embroider’ a sheet of rolled-out sugarpaste and failing miserably. However, it’s not quite what it sounds like. The technique involves piping royal icing in a pattern of your choosing (in our case, a flower) on to some sugarpaste and brushing the icing in such a way that it creates a pretty textured effect.

We used a flower-shaped cutter first to emboss the design on to the sugarpaste, and then made our own piping bags and filled them with some royal icing that the tutor had already made the previous week. We were encouraged to mix some bright colours into the icing. I attempted to mix red and blue to make purple, but didn’t mix in quite enough red and ended up with this blue instead. We then created the yellow middle using a bit of sugarpaste embossed with a repeating circular pattern, which was done using the end of a straw.

My attempt at brush embroidery

My attempt at brush embroidery

I’m quite pleased with my efforts – it at least looks neat and like a flower! It’s a far cry from some of the more professional results you can gawp at elsewhere, though – but hopefully with a bit more practice I can make my brush embroidery look more artistic.

We’re going to be playing with Mexican paste (something else that’s brand new to me) this week – hopefully I’ll do a tad better this time round!

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A surprise cow cake

Cow cake!

I went to visit my boyfriend yesterday, as he was cooking a French feast for various members of his family who were staying over for the weekend. The meal itself was wonderful, but the cherry on top was this amazing cow cake that was presented to me at dessert time.

My boyfriend’s sister is a brilliant baker, and had apparently wanted to make this cake for me for a while. I have a bit of a thing for cows, and I’ve mentioned a few times recently that I’d like to make myself a cow cake for my birthday next month – but I’ve very definitely been beaten to it!

The head is made entirely of sugarpaste, while the grass was painstakingly piped on to the board. The body is a delicious blondie – or white chocolate brownie – cake, and the legs are little chocolate Swiss rolls. The best bit, though, is the colour of the blondie cake…

A piece of purple cow cake

Purple! (And green, but that wasn’t intentional.) There’s a layer of bright purple icing under the sugarpaste on the top of the cake, which helped ‘dye’ bits of the sponge purple, too. In case you hadn’t guessed, I also have a bit of a thing for purple (and yes, I ❤ Milka chocolate).

The cake tastes just as good as it looks – the blondie cake in particular is absolutely perfect. Also provided, but not pictured here, was a big pile of rocky road, which may or may not have been cowpats! Apparently.

Cow cake head

It was all such a lovely surprise, and it’s still making me smile today. The only problem is I have no idea what to make myself for my birthday now!

First bake: rum and raisin biscuits

Rum and raisin biscuits

I had yet another week last week where I was determined to give the baking (and my sugar levels) a rest for one weekend, but swiftly changed my mind after spotting another brilliant recipe. The culprit this time was a recipe for rum and raisin biscuits on the excellent Caked Crusader blog. Rum and raisin is a combination I find utterly delicious, yet I rarely get to indulge in it. So on Sunday I left my visiting boyfriend (read: baking widow) sitting around in the living room while I tried to turn these out.

Rum and raisin biscuit mix

Rum and raisin biscuit mix

The recipe is extremely simple and straightforward. The mix (above) came together beautifully, so I didn’t need to add much more rum to it (although I did add a little, of course, just for extra booziness). The raisins themselves were soaked in the rum for nearly two hours, rather than overnight as recommended. However, they were certainly boozy enough after just two hours, so I wouldn’t worry about soaking them for ages if you want to try this recipe while in a rush.

Rum and raisin biscuits, pre-baking

Rum and raisin biscuits, pre-baking

The Caked Crusader says the recipe is supposed to make 30 biscuits, yet she only ended up with 13 (I’m guessing they were massive!). I managed a respectable 25 with my mix, and they only took 15 minutes to bake – perhaps a little less for the ones that weren’t quite as brown as the others. Consistency-wise, they turned out a little more cakey than I would have liked (a bit more like cookies than biscuits), so I’ll press them flatter next time. Taste-wise, they were amazing! Very boozy but with enough sweetness to counteract the rum. The healthy (or unhealthy) amount of butter in the recipe also helped lend these a moreish flavour.

If you love biscuits and the combination of rum and raisin, you honestly can’t go far wrong with these! Expect to see these turn up in the re-bake category soon…

Rum and raisin biscuits

The recipe

From the Caked Crusader blog here: http://thecakedcrusader.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/rum-and-raisin-biscuits.html

Re-bake: olive muffins

Olive muffins and olive & feta muffins

Olive muffins (first 6 from left to right) and olive & feta muffins (last 6)

In between making the icing and sponge for my mocha fudge cake on Saturday, I decided to tackle Madhur Jaffrey’s olive muffins again. I made these for the first time last month, but had a bit of a disaster after forgetting to add the spring onions to the muffin mix. Happily, I remembered to do it this time, and also made a few other changes.

The muffins came out a bit dry and bread-like last time, so I added more olive oil (about 1.5 tbsp on top of what the recipe calls for). This definitely improved the texture and made it softer. I also added about 65g of cubed feta to half of the mix to make olive and feta muffins. But perhaps the most transformative change was using kalamata olives, despite the recipe stating salty olives must not be used. Kalamata olives have quite a strong, salty flavour, and I don’t understand why the recipe says you shouldn’t use salty olives, as they really made a big difference to the taste of the muffins.

Olive muffins and olive and feta muffins

Olive muffins in close-up (the bottom left muffin is olive and feta)

The olive and feta muffins are just as delicious (if not a little more!) as the plain olive muffins. I’m a huge fan of feta and can’t get enough of it, and combined with the kalamata olives it really does create a sensational flavour. However, I think the feta tipped the muffins towards being a little too salty – possibly too salty for some people. Next time I’ll add a little sugar to redress the balance.

First bake: mocha fudge cake with coffee icing

Mocha fudge cake with coffee icing

Oops... mocha fudge cake with runny coffee icing

My boyfriend set me the challenge of baking everything from the wonderful BBC Good Food 1o1 Cakes & Bakes book a while ago. The 13th recipe, mocha fudge cake with coffee icing, is one I’ve been looking forward to making for a looooong time.

It’s a pretty traditional concept – chocolate + coffee + lashings of butter and sugar = heavenly. The method for this one is a bit more complex than the chocolate cakes I’ve made previously, though. It involves a few things I’ve either never done before (making a meringue mix) or have only done rarely (separating eggs). I found it quite time-consuming to make, as there were lots of little tasks to do, but sticking closely to the recipe seems to have worked on the whole.

I say on the whole, because the one bit of the recipe that simply did not work for me was the icing. The picture in the book suggests the icing should be very thick in consistency, but mine ended up pretty runny – as you can tell from the messy photo above (my extremely amusing brother suggested I record a video of it, rather than take a photo, because of all the icing dripping from the edges). It was quite runny before I put it in the fridge, but I assumed the three to four hours of chilling time would help thicken it up a bit. Wrong! I think I’ll add more butter/less coffee if I make this again to ensure I end up with icing I can spread, rather than one I have to pour.

Mocha fudge cake with coffee icing

Despite the icing disaster, the cake really is delicious. All the faffing to make the sponge was worth it; it’s delightfully light yet moreish. It is extremely sweet, though (apparently there’s 77g of added sugar per serving!) – after my recent dental troubles I don’t think I’ll be having any more of this cake for now!

The recipe

From BBC Good Food 1o1 Cakes & Bakes, and also available online here (where you can see what the icing should look like!).

First bake: tea masala cake

Tea masala cake

I’ve wanted to come up with a cake recipe inspired by the Indian tea spice mix my mum makes for AGES. I finally got round to doing some research to create the recipe on Friday, and decided to take the plunge and bake it today.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, most Indians add a mixture of warm spices to their tea to create ‘chai’. My mum makes her own tea masala, which consists of ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, black and white pepper, cloves and cinnamon. I love having my tea this way – for me, it’s not quite right (but still nice) without the tea masala. So it was pretty natural for me to hit on the idea of a cake containing all of these wonderful flavours.

Tea masala cake mix

Tea masala cake mix in the tin

Researching the recipe was difficult at first. I knew it would have all of the above spices in it, plus sultanas and a buttercream icing topped with pistachios. Existing recipes for chai cake didn’t seem to be quite what I was after, and I couldn’t get my head round working out the right quantities of flour, eggs, butter and sugar to create the recipe from scratch, so I asked around for some advice.

It was suggested to me that adapting an existing fruit cake recipe could work, so I used Delia’s Dundee cake recipe as a starting point and a great post on Cupcake Project on how to get tea flavours into baked goods for the icing (the most successful part of the recipe, in my opinion). I also took inspiration from BBC Good Food’s porter cake recipe for infusing the fruit with tea, lemon and ginger flavours, which worked to a limited extent.

Making the cake was pretty straightforward after I’d settled on the recipe. I did tweak some things as I went along, but for the most part I stuck to my method. Delia’s recipe calls for milk if the mix ends up too dry, but I didn’t have to add any as it seemed to be the perfect consistency. The icing was easier to make than I thought it would be; Cupcake Project suggests simmering loose tea in butter, and as I was using the butter in the icing rather than the cake, I was worried I’d end up with icing flecked with bits of tea. Happily, this didn’t happen, as I used an extremely fine tea strainer to get rid of the leaves.

Tea-infused butter

Tea-infused butter

I left the butter to cool for quite a while (I may have popped out to buy shoes and lipstick…!), so it had solidified again by the time I got round to actually making the icing, but a few seconds in the microwave and a bit of beating returned it to a butter-like consistency. I was initially going to add 140g of icing sugar (following the method for the buttercream in BBC Good Food’s Victoria sponge recipe), but settled on 115g to avoid it becoming too sweet. I loved the colour change in the icing; as you can see in the above pic, the butter went a strange green/brown colour because of the tea in it, but the icing turned a pleasing pistachio green shade after I added the sugar – and I’d already decided beforehand to top the cake with pistachios!

Tea masala cake, pre-icing

Tea masala cake, pre-icing

The result of my hard work? A wonderfully moist fruit cake with a hint of tea masala, topped with a creamy icing with very strong tea flavours. It’s a very nice cake, but not quite what I had in mind – luckily, I already knew I’d have to perfect this cake over several bakes! I will make a few changes next time – I’ll use the tea-infused butter in the cake as well as the icing, and ramp up the spicing so the tea masala is more prominent. I might also use a little less fruit and lemon, and add some chopped stem ginger. Nevertheless, I’m very pleased with this effort, and it goes wonderfully with a cup of Indian tea!

Tea masala cake

The recipe

The below recipe is what I actually did to make the cake, with tweaks, as opposed to the original recipe I came up with.

Serves 10-12

  • 150g butter, at room temperature
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 60g light muscovado sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 level teaspoon baking powder
  • milk, if necessary
  • 350g sultanas
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.5 tsp ground cloves
  • 0.5 tsp ground cardamom
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • 0.5 tsp ground white pepper
  • 0.5 tsp grated nutmeg
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 300ml hot, strong black tea

For the icing:

  • 120g butter, softened
  • 115g icing sugar, sifted
  • 3.5 tsp (approx. 2 teabags’ worth – I used Yorkshire Tea) strong loose tea
  • 1-2 drops vanilla extract
  • 25g pistachios, shelled and chopped
  1. Preheat oven to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C). Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
  2. Put the sultanas, black tea, lemon juice and zest, and fresh ginger into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then strain – reserving the drained liquid – and leave to cool.
  3. Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Whisk the eggs separately then, a little at a time, beat them into the creamed butter and sugar.
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cardamom, nutmeg, white pepper and black pepper together into the bowl.
  6. Using a large tablespoon, carefully fold the flour mixture into the wet mix. Your mixture needs to be of a good, soft, dropping consistency so, if it seems too dry, add a dessertspoon of milk.
  7. Carefully fold in the sultanas and spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing it out evenly with the back of the spoon.
  8. Place the cake in the centre of the oven and bake for 2-2½ hours (two hours was spot-on in my gas oven) or until the centre is firm and springy to the touch. Let it cool before taking it out of the tin.
  9. In the meantime, make the icing:
    – Melt the unsalted butter until just melted and adding the tea. Heat gently for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
    – Strain the mixture through a fine sieve (a tea strainer is ideal), pressing hard on the tea leaves, and remove any tea leaves from the strained mixture. Leave to cool to room temperature.
    – Beat the butter until smooth, add the vanilla extract and add the icing sugar gradually, beating all the while.
  10. Prick the top of the cake all over with a skewer and drizzle the reserved tea mixture from cooking the sultanas over the top.
  11. Spread the icing on the top of the cake and scatter with the pistachios.

First bake: lemon coconut cake

Lemon coconut cake

Coconut is one of my favourite flavours, but I don’t bake as much as I’d like with it. I’ve had this recipe for lemon coconut cake in my folder since last Easter, and when it was decided that there would be a huge Easter bake sale at work this week for a mega fundraising effort, I knew I was probably going to make this cake.

I don’t make many layer cakes, mostly because I’m not properly equipped for them – you usually need several shallow cake tins of the same size, and I always seem to have one fewer than needed (for my favourite Victoria sponge recipe, I always bake one big cake and slice it in half). For this three-layer cake, then, I had to be a little inventive. I ended up using my deep cake tin to bake two-thirds of the mixture for longer than stated and for cutting in half later, and a shallower tin of the same size for the rest. I probably should have measured the mix in a jug or something, because each layer turned out a slightly different size!

Lemon coconut cake mix

Lemon coconut cake mix

No matter. While the cake looks like one big glorious mess (I really need the cake decorating class I signed up to recently!) it tastes divine. A word of warning: this is not a cake to try if you’re a bit scared of calories. The cake itself contains a hefty amount of sugar and butter, while the cream cheese icing is pretty much just pure fat. But it’s well worth it. The combination of the tangy lemon curd, super rich icing and light coconut sponge is wonderful. I would personally prefer a bit more coconut flavour, but my mum (who is notoriously hard to please) said it was perfect!

The recipe says you can decorate it if you like. I just sprinkled some dessicated coconut over it, but it would look lovely with a bit of the curd mixed into the top layer of icing to make it Easter yellow and mini eggs or edible flowers scattered over. I’m not sure how well the cake will hold up on the bus-train-walk faffery that is my journey to work tomorrow – the slices are pretty tall and might fall over in my tupperware box! If you were to make this and need to transport it somewhere, it’s probably best to do so with the cake in one piece and slice it up at your destination.

Lemon coconut cake

The recipe

From Asda Magazine, April 2011

Serves 10

  • 225ml milk
  • 5 tbsp lemon juice
  • 350g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of two large unwaxed lemons
  • 100g dessicated coconut
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 225g butter
  • 4 large eggs

For the filling:

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 300g soft cheese
  • one-quarter tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 150g good quality lemon curd

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line three 20cm shallow cake tins.

2. Put the milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice in a jug and leave to stand for at least 5 minutes.

3. Put the rest of the juice in a pan with 75g of the caster sugar and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and coconut. Set aside.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside.

5. Cream together the butter and the rest of the sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

6. Fold in the flour, milk and coconut mix. Transfer to the tins, level the tops and bake for 25 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack.

7. For the filling, cream the butter and icing sugar, then beat in the soft cheese, vanilla and lemon juice.

8. Sandwich the cakes with the lemon curd and two-thirds of the filling. Spread the rest on the top of the cake and decorate, if desired.