Music Cakes

Until recently, I worked for an orchestra, and having studied music at university, I am a little wary about overusing musical symbols in decoration.  Once upon a time I had a colleague who absolutely hated musical paraphernalia and so it was drilled into me that using musical notation for anything other than music was distasteful.  In my opinion there is always place for a musical sticker or treble clef pencil, but, each to their own, I appreciate that for some, it can seem gaudy.

Three years since working with the lady who hated all musically decorated things, I was asked to make a party cake to serve over 50 people for a retirement party for three professional musicians.   And while her voice was firmly in my head, I had to do it.  I had to go there.

My brief wasn’t too detailed– it had to be a big cake.  I knew the retiring trio and set about making a cake that would include their nicknames – Cat, Jan and Koggy.  This was the result:

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The ditched music stand (next to a blob of black fondant)

Originally, I wanted to place a sheet of music on an icing music stand in the centre of the cake. I made the music stand but decided it didn’t look quite right so I made the ‘Peters Edition’ style front pages to include their names and instruments. I hand drew all the manuscript using rice paper and edible ink before chopping it up to put around the outside.

I was really happy with the choppy manuscript effect – the front pages of the music were a little messy for my liking but without an icing printer it was the best I could do.  Also, in my slightly tired state, I managed to write ‘violin’ for Koggy where she is a viola player.  I still kick myself to this day.

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The Three Disgraces (self named) and their cake

 

A while after making this cake, I volunteered to make another for a charity fundraising evening called Made in Mind.  The organisers asked if I could do something piano related and immediately the old music paraphernalia decoration issue popped into my head.

Eventually, I decided to use the same idea for the edge of the cake as I liked it so much the first time. This time I even remembered to take a photo of the edible manuscript before chopping it up:

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To finish the cake off I made a keyboard to on the top (a handy colour scheme as I had been making a lot of penguin cakes around the same time…). IMG_1895So there we have it, a few musically inclined cakes, which I hope are tasteful enough not to offend… I’ll have to go back to my old colleague and find out.

Fried Chicken Cake

This fried chicken cake (made of cake, contains no chicken) was made for a colleague, Matt, as a leaving present:

Chicken 1When Matt (sadly) announced he was leaving, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the cake.The cake was inspired by one of his many stories – a story that perhaps I can’t post here, but needless to say it kept everyone in the office amused for months.

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When it came to giving Matt the cake he was so convinced that it was chicken that he didn’t know what to do, or how to be polite.  He settled by saying a coy ‘thanks’ and ‘I’ll have some later’ – it was 4.30pm and his 15 colleagues were stood round him.  I told him it was ok, it was in fact cake, which was met with a huge sigh of relief!  I was very impressed with how brave my colleagues were about tucking into the ‘chicken’; I had purposefully placed the chicken box on a Victoria sponge, thinking that the chicken pieces wouldn’t be too popular, but they were eaten with gusto.

A lovely final touch when presenting the cake was my friend’s idea – she suggested that I filled a bottle of ketchup with jam so you could have ‘ketchup’ on the ‘chicken’.  When eating the cake, it messed with your mind a bit as your eyes told you one thing but your taste buds another.

KetchupjamA lot of people have asked me how I made this cake so I thought I’d describe the process. I came across this wonderful blog with some pretty convincing fried chicken rice krispie treats.  I thought I’d take the same principle but use cake as the basis for the chicken. Using the same method as if to make cake pops (crushed cake with buttercream) I was able to mould the chicken shapes which I then covered in a cornflake, chocolate and peanut butter mix. The boxes were sourced from a local chicken shop where I bought them unused – I am a vegetarian, this cake never came into contact with meat!

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When he realised that he didn’t have to eat a bumper amount of chicken in front of his colleagues at 4.30 in the afternoon, Matt was pretty pleased with his cake.  He will be sorely missed in our office, not least for his dodgy, drunken chicken stories.

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Natural Kitchen Cake

Believe it or not, this little beauty is gluten, grain and sugar free:

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This cake was the result of a collaboration between me and a friend, Ceri.  As documented in my ‘About Me’ section, Ceri of Natural Kitchen Adventures is one of the main reasons this blog came into being.  If you haven’t ever checked out her blog, I suggest you do, she is one interesting and skilled lady with passion and talent for healthy cooking. When Ceri suggested that we should make a cake together I was slightly nervous about how I could maintain a standard of decorating that I would be happy with, without my go-to food dyes, sugar and E-numbers.

Ceri proposed that she made the cake and I decorated it – so far so good – the only stipulation was that everything I used had to be natural.  My forays into cakey excess, extravagance and flamboyance are well documented and so, approaching this challenge, I was slightly nervous.

Thinking about natural ingredients conjured the image of flowers for me and I started to think of how I could make a flowery cake without using sugar paste. I decided to use flaked almonds to make petals and beetroot to dye them pink.

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Ceri made four chocolate cakes that we layered with cream cheese frosting (sweetened with honey) and then she let me loose with flaked almonds, dried raspberries and green-tea dyed frosting.  Ceri had picked up the dried raspberries at the last minute as I had refused to tell her my decorating idea (I’m superstitious like that), I had just mentioned that I wanted to use red. She wasn’t sure the beetroot would be red enough and so had picked up the raspberries. My original idea was to use pomegranate seeds in the centre of the flowers but I’d forgotten to add it to our shopping list, so the raspberries were a happy last minute addition. It was Ceri’s idea to use green tea to dye the frosting for the stems.  It made a beautiful pale green that complimented the delicate pink of the beetroot-almond petals. Unfortunately it wasn’t the easiest thing to pipe – without the glossy sheen of royal icing, I found it slightly unwieldy to work with and the result is perhaps a little messier than I’d like.

P1040054I really liked the look of the 3D flowers and would definitely use the flaked almonds again to decorate a cake – natural challenge or not!

Ceri took the cake to a party and her hard baking work paid off, it looked beautiful when it had been cut into:

P1040068You can read more about this cake and get a recipe for it over at Natural Kitchen Adventures.  I really enjoyed the challenge and loved the results; I’m looking forward to the next collaboration…

 

 

 

Pastel Layer Cake

This pastel layer cake was for the Easter table this year at a family gathering.

Pastel cake

Last year, immediately after Easter I saw a beautiful cake from yuppiechef and was very sad I hadn’t seen it before my well documented easter cake crisis.

The yuppiechef cake stuck with me all year which meant I had roughly 360 days to mull over the idea and put my own twist on it.  I love pastel colours and spent quite a lot of time in the run up to Easter finding different sizes of sugar coated pastel coloured chocolate eggs for the cake:

EggsTo make this cake, I made four simple vanilla sponges and mixed some sweetened cream to go between the layers.  I then dyed the cream into four shades of pastels and layered the cake.

Pastel cream

The final touch was to add the eggs on top, between the layers and at the base.  I have to admit, it was a slightly precarious cake and certainly couldn’t have travelled further than the few feet from the kitchen to the dining room.

Pastel cake cut

My brother was home for Easter and has a fancy camera and a talent for good pictures, thus I have a rather lovely collection of snaps of this one:

Pastel cake close upsThe cake was quick to disappear – a good job really as the fresh cream layers wouldn’t have lasted long.

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Flapjack Cake

This flapjack cake was for a colleague on her leaving day. Lisa had introduced ‘Flapjack Friday’ to the office and was leaving on a Friday so it seemed fitting that her cake included flapjack.IMG_0445

Originally I thought about making a normal vanilla sponge and put a layer of flapjack in the middle tier.  I also toyed with the idea of decorating using only flapjack but neither idea seemed right.  The former too dense/weird and the latter too messy.  I then did a bit of googling of ‘flapjack cake’ and found this interesting looking recipe from The Caked Crusader and decided to use it as the basis for a tiered cake.

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Instead of making one cake as the recipe suggests, I made one and a half times the mixture recipe (with added baking powder) and split it between three tins.  I then made the flapjack topping and only put it on one cake.  As the cakes were thinner than the original recipe, they only took 20 minutes to bake. After they were cool I constructed the cake with layers of butter cream and jam in between the tiers.

The final touches were the white chocolate splashes and the sugar butterflies, on which I wrote little thank you messages using edible ink.  If I hadn’t gone down the flapjack route as a theme I would have made Lisa’s cake butterfly themed as I know she likes butterflies, so it was nice to be able to combine to two.

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This was a deviation for me as I don’t often branch out into new cake recipes, preferring my tried and tested fail-safe sponge.  However, the recipe worked really well and having oatmeal in the cake really gave it a flapjack flavour, combined with the delicious buttery and honeyed oats on top.

Unblogged cakes – 2013

Happy New Year!

It’s hard to believe that this little blog has been going for a year. My 2013 resolution was to get it on the road, and low and behold, here it is!

Self congratulations over, I wanted to do a round up blog about the year and a write up for all the bakes that never get mentioned. It is common knowledge amongst my friends that I take a lot of pictures. My phone memory groans under the strain of 2000+ photos that often don’t go any further than my little handset. It would be fair to say that about a third of the photos that I take are of cakes or baking activity and for every cake I write about, there are probably at least two others made around the same time that I don’t mention on the blog. This can be for many reasons – time, being the main one, or maybe they are repeat designs, or just plain cakes that aren’t worth blogging about (sorry plain cakes).

But now is their moment – a moment for some of the unmentioned and unseen cakes to be celebrated!

2013 roundup

From left to right, top to bottom:

One of 4 impromptu name cakes make from spare cupcakes and icing; A set of chocolate orange cakes for my Mum’s birthday; Cheesy cupcakes before baking for Tash (read about her arms here); Birthday cakes for Mike whipped up in an hour and a half; Birthday cakes for Nikki including a ukulele playing rabbit (she plays ukulele and has a rabbit); General cakes for my parent’s Bed and Breakfast guests; My name cake as part of a set of name cakes for my friend’s hen party, I then went on to make her wedding cake; An icing music stand that never made it to a cake, I will write a blog about the cake this was intended for; A slice of trial wedding cake that I doodled on in edible ink; All the little powder pots before they went on cupcakes for the Victorian Medicine cakes; A Victoria sponge, whipped up at the whim of Felix Hagan; A lonely Christmas cupcake on a tiny single-cake stand; An impromptu batch of cakes made from all I could find in a friend’s cupboard; A 60th birthday cake shaped like a pyramid; Wedding cupcakes with white chocolate leaves; A chocolate beetroot cake pre-decoration (blog to follow about this one).

This year I was also sent a picture of a cake that was made by Serafina, inspired by my Easter Cupcakes, a lovely surprise:

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This made me incredibly happy; any other cake pictures inspired by mine would be most welcome!

There was also this cake that I made to practise smooth icing for the wedding cake. I then took it to work for everyone to doodle on for the recipient, Simon. I love this graffiti cake with about 12 contributors to the artwork:

Simon's cake

A picture that should have made it into the blog post about the wedding cake is this beauty of Duncan, the groom, “helping” during its creation:

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And lastly, a couple of photos of what it took to make the aged posters for the Victorian cupcakes – help from my very lovely, very tolerant house mates:

Poster making

There are many more photos from 2013, but that is probably enough for the moment. Now is the time to look forward to what baking adventures 2014 will bring… watch this space and Happy New Year!

My First Wedding Cake (for a Wedding)

So I’ve already documented how I tackled my first wedding cake (with a degree of panic and trial and error) but it didn’t matter so much, it was a wedding cake not for a wedding. So for my latest and biggest cakey challenge, the pressure was really on as I agreed to make a wedding cake for one of my best friends, wedding. Oh, and I was her Bridesmaid so there was no chance of keeping a low profile.

Annie (the Bride) runs a wedding stylist and decoration business in the North West so I knew that her wedding would be spectacular and the decoration details would be carefully planned and measured to the nth degree. Months before Annie’s wedding we were discussing the cake and she was thinking about ordering one from M&S but before she did, she asked me if I’d consider making it. I thought about the practicalities – I’d have to take a couple of days off work, bake the cake in her kitchen (she lives about 250 miles away) and come up with a fitting design and I was unconvinced I’d be able to do it. Annie then showed me a broach she had sourced to use in the decoration and alongside other bits and bobs she had bought for her vintage film inspired wedding, my cake brain started thinking.

The fateful broach

The fateful broach

It seemed such a shame to order a bog standard cake (as lovely as they are) when I thought a cake maker could really go to town with such a striking theme. So, rather recklessly, I agreed to take on the challenge with the proviso that my cake might not be as perfect as the M&S cake, but it would certainly be more personal.

Between making that decision in May and the actual wedding in September I had many sleepless nights about the cake. Specifically what should be under the fondant. Duncan, the Groom, is allergic to nuts, so marzipan was out the window. I then spent a lot of time googling alternatives and found myself in cakey hell comparing the various merits of chocolate ganache verses buttercream. After producing test cakes and generally fretting about smooth icing, I decided to go with buttercream as something I’ve used many times before.

So when it came close to the big day, the plan was for me to travel up north on the Wednesday night, bake on Thursday, decorate on Friday, deliver on Saturday and the wedding was on Sunday. A sponge cake for about 100 people, 3 tiers – simple, right? Well, best laid plans and all that – I ended up being quite ill and was not able to travel till late Thursday evening. I had to call up the bride and ask her to make her own wedding sponge. Luckily Annie rose to the challenge, I had left my cake tins with her during a bridesmaid dress fitting, and under careful instructions she made the necessary 9 cakes (and 4 extra spares that went to very receptive family members…).

I set about stacking the cakes and decorating early Friday morning. I didn’t really know what my final design would be, but I had a few ideas and a general aesthetic in mind. Having iced and stacked the cake I started on the finishing touches.

Making cake

Making and stacking

I made 3 huge art deco fans, inspired by the broach, that I wanted to go up the cake. They were fragile and the gum paste needed 24 hours to set so I wasn’t able to stick them on straight away. Having added the ribbon to tie the cake in with the wedding colours, I wanted to make the middle tier more elaborate so piped beads and pearls using royal icing. I decided to leave the fans off the cake until I got to the venue as we had a 40 minute drive to deliver it.

This is me and the cake in transit.

This is me and the cake in transit.

It was quite risky to wait to put the cake all together design-wise, as certainly without the fans, the cake wasn’t impressive enough. I had some black feathers as a back up in case the fans didn’t survive the journey. I assembled the cake at the venue, was happy with the result and then had to quickly leave as there was another wedding about to happen. All I could do then was to hope the fans would stay put, the venue didn’t use it by mistake for the Saturday wedding(!) and the cake would be ok for the big day.

Luckily my worrying was unnecessary and the cake survived in one piece.

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Official photos by wedding photographer Paul Edwards

Official photos by wedding photographer Paul Edwards

I couldn’t have done it without Annie and her patience but I am very grateful that she and Duncan believed in me enough to let me do what I liked for their big day. They even took a tier on mini-moon!

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The cut cake and the surviving top tier.

As I predicted, the wedding was beautiful and Annie’s attention to detail was astounding. I was very proud to be a part of their big day.

Annie and I and the cake

Annie and I and the cake