Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mini pumpkin pies, better late than never

Before I got around to the actual baking and cooking, I had had great plans for things to bring to Thanksgiving dinner.  These mini pumpkin pies were one of the items I planned to make, but after reading (incorrectly, as it turned out) through the recipe, I felt that the dozen it would supply wouldn't be enough so didn't do them.
I had the time a few days later, and started by cooking the pumpkin and so forth.  I rolled out my sheet of room-temperature shortcrust pastry (you didn't think I was going to attempt making my own pastry, did you?  Thanks for the vote of confidence, but not yet) and stamped out as many circles as I could.  After filling them with mix, I couldn't figure out why they were so full and I still had loads of mix left?!
So I read and re-read the recipe, and then discovered that I had bought a 375g packet of pastry, and the recipe required 500g.  Aha, problem solved.  But what to do with the extra mix?  Nah, we couldn't figure that one out either... The pies baked up really well, and tasted very American.  Which is to say, sweet and gently spiced and not at all like we expected - good but different.  So I won't be making these for us again in a hurry, ha ha.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cake Club 2, buttercream icing

We had so much fun last time, that we wanted to do it again, this time at H's house.  She had learned her icing and decoration skills when working for the American Ambassador in Fiji way back when - it's the way his wife spent her Saturdays.  As you do, ha ha.  Lucky us, we got to learn her skills too. 
We each baked a cake and brought it along uniced, however mine was iced because I wanted to learn how to do a character cake.  Here is the table H had prepped for our arrival, and I'll show you the cakes in turn too.
She had laid out her large set of Wilton icing nozzles, her old but faithful Wilton icing colour set, a ruler, disposable and re-useable piping bags, a Wilton angled spatula and I can't recall what else.  And before you wonder, no I don't have a deal with Amazon or Wilton, but I thought these links would let you see exactly what I mean.
So here, in no particular order, are the cakes we baked and all took turns in icing. Yep, that's right - we each took turns icing sections of each cake, so that we could practice the skills and correct any mistakes. So you'll notice that the icing isn't tidy and uniform all the way around the cakes. Sorry.
We practiced using a flat line nozzle that was serrated on one side, and using a coupler with the nozzle so you could change colours and bags easily.
 Now we tried shell borders, with mixed success.
And finally, we tried buttercream roses and two types of leaf nozzle.  It's kind of pretty, right?  ha ha.
Here we're learning to do a transfer onto the cake of a character, using a pin to prick out the shape.  Then you fill it in with a fine writing nozzle, and then use a closed star nozzle (sorry, but I don't own either of these types of nozzle so can't tell you the number.  Perhaps if H reads this blog, she could comment below with the correct nozzle numbers...) to fill in the shape.  It's not a great rendition of Mickey Mouse's head, but it's recognisable.

And here too we have the addition of buttercream roses and leaves.  They'll appear on pretty much every cake, as we were excited to do something different and new, and were pleased with our efforts.
Here we are learning basketweave icing.  It looks impressive when done neatly and consistently, and we all tried really hard to make it work, ha ha.
From this angle you can see we also learned the rope border technique, and used a press (to make the dots like the pinprick technique showed us) to show the shape over which to use a writing nozzle to make the dots for the heart.  And, of course, the ever-present roses and leaves.
Do you think it looks a bit like a rattan basket??
With this cake, the baker learnt how to ice around corners, and is going to stick to round cakes from now on. We also practiced with the serrated lines, and another style of press but using lilac icing this time.
Here we practiced shell borders again. 
This one was fun, and hard to do wrong.  Called Cornelli Lace, the idea is to wiggle about with a writing nozzle and fill up the space without letting the lines touch or cross over.  We all had a try, then did some shell borders.  Then, as it was a school night and getting ever closer to midnight, we called it a night.  However, the next morning our hostess H and her young daughter 'fixed' the cake and added a princess and some pink...

Thursday, November 24, 2011


We are lucky enough to have friends from many countries here and today it is Thanksgiving in the USA.  Our friend Jill is from Virginia and loves the holidays (hers was the 4th of July party we attended a few months ago) and has invited us around again to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It was originally a festival to celebrate a bountiful harvest, and judging by the menu she has on offer, it sure will be a bountiful feast!  She's got an enormous turkey (already in the oven I believe) and is making sweet potato mash, pumpkin pie, lots of veg, and so on and so forth.
As is tradition, guests bring a dish too and I've checked with the boss/hostess and have made Cornbread (because I really enjoyed hers last year) plus a cake and some Rocky Road for dessert.  I know that pie is the traditional dessert - especially pumpkin or apple - but I'm not great at pastry/pies as yet.  There's no time like the present, as the saying goes, but time was of the essence and I didn't want to risk a mistake and necessitate a re-bake at the last minute.
So, Cornbread.  I found a recipe at Goodtoknow recipes and got together all the ingredients.  Polenta flour wasn't available at the first store I tried, so I asked Mr Becca if he knew where I may find some.  'Above the stove, in the pasta cupboard', he said.  How very handy, ha ha.  This was really easy to make, and had they been home at the time the girls could easily have helped with all aspects.  It baked up really well, and seemed done at the appointed time.  I cut it up and popped it into the cake tin, to take to Jill's and only tried a few pieces, honest...
The little bits you see are spring onion and red chilli flakes.
Next on to the cake - Lemon & Cream cheese.  This recipe was from a Facebook page called Fans of Cake Baker, which is a lovely community page of home and professional bakers who are kind and helpful with any query you may have.  This cake sounded light and perfect for after a heavy meal, needing as it did the zest of 3 large lemons plus some juice.
It too was easy to make but took ages to bake - 1hour 35mins at 150c.  I couldn't decide how to ice and decorate it, switching between thinking lemon buttercream and lemon cream cheese icing.  Then felt that a simple dusting of icing sugar and neon orange edible glitter would be ideal.
I had wanted to make some Mini pumpkin pies or Pumpkin and Feta filo triangles, both also from Goodtoknow recipes, and even bought a beauty of a butternut squash but felt that they wouldn't supply enough of each to feed the guests.  Another time...  So after checking again with the boss, I made some Rocky Road, sprinkling it with the same neon orange glitter.  After all, if it's from Becca Bakes, it's gotta have glitter!
Most odd, the glitter is blatantly orange in the jar, but seems to have lots of green and some gold in it?  Sorry, perhaps if I were a better photographer?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pumpkin, in a cupcake?

You may have gathered by now that I'm not a born-and-bred Scot, but rather an honourary one by virtue of the amount of time we've lived here.  And in the land of milk and honey where I was raised (but interestingly, not born) I don't recall us ever eating pumpkin.  Certainly Halloween and Thanksgiving weren't celebrated.  Suffice it to say, I love butternut squash and so did the girls when younger.  I bought a lovely-looking one and then toyed with the idea of serving it to them with pasta, creme fraiche and herbs for dinner.  Or in cupcakes for afternoon tea.  Guess what won?
I found just the recipe I wanted in the first Hummingbird book, read it over, and got to work.  These were pretty much like vanilla cupcakes but with mashed pumpkin and cinnamon added, and buttercream icing.  As such they were really  moist (note to self, make them taller next time) and lasted well.  Or they would have, if they didn't get eaten so quickly.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chocolate Fudge

Mr Becca likes fudge, and I'd found what seemed like an easy recipe by Lorraine Pascale when checking for recipes after watching an episode of her latest series.  We checked, bought some evaporated milk, then got down to business after the school run (walk).  We had a friend-of-Mini-2 coming to play about 10am so only had a wee while...
After melting the starter ingredients, we added in marshmallows and melted them through.  Mini-2 was really keen to help so I carefully let her mix the marshmallows in.  The pan was hot, the mix was hot and of course, the stove was hot, so she was very highly supervised at this point. 
I didn't have quite enough time to finely chop all the required chocolate so we broke it down then put it all into the hot mix to melt.  Not a problem as it happened, it melted easily.  Then it all set quite quickly as it was poured into the tray - I didn't expect that or I would have tried to make it flatter somehow.
The recipe recommended cutting it into 25 squares but they seemed a bit big to me, so I got 36 out of it instead.  We had some after lunch, then I took some to a couple of nursery parents.  Mr Becca and Mini-1 tried it when they got home and pronounced it good but sweet.  Mr Becca then decided that he preferred plain fudge, thanks.
I took the remainder in to Toddlers this morning and it was all gone in minutes - that's more like it!!  Glad you enjoyed it ladies ;)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Uncle Sam needs you!

A lady was due to emigrate to the gool ole US of A, and was excited but also sad to leave her family and friends behind here in bonnie Scotland.  So her lovely daughter-in-law reqeusted a cake that would help make her happy, an American flag.  We looked at a couple of images, discussed ideas and this is how it all panned out. 
I thought it would be fun if, when they cut into the cake, it was coloured appropriately, so started out like this - one blue half, one red.  Once baked, the tops were sliced to flatten the cakes for layering with jam and buttercream and crumb-coated.  I saw this on one of the YouTube videos and am embarrassed to admit that it was news to me.  But no more!  It's basically where you coat the cake in a slightly thinner than usual layer of buttercream so that it catches all the crumbs, then after you cover it in buttercream or fondant.  Here's a photo of what I mean.
It's not pretty, but it is a foundation.  You can see that I'd tried to smooth the edges so that the next layer would lay well, in theory anyway.  I cut out the stars and couldn't decide whether to use small or large ones, so cut out both...
In the end I went for the large ones, and laid them onto blue fondant.  I did the stripes in Fruit Winders, which ended up a bit wobbly. Sorry.
The customer reviews were positive, phew!  "Thank you so much :) they both loved it! Looked Amazing, tasted amazing!" from the daughter-in-law and "Thanks Becca. Great cake! Really delicious. Thanks to our family party co-ordinator too for organising it! :) " from the lady herself.  They even took an interior shot for us, awww.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Cake Club 1, fondant icing

Now, I know that the first rule of Fight Club was that you didn't talk about Fight Club.  That obviously won't work in a blog situation though, so I won't talk too much, but will show you some photos of what we did.  We're basically just having fun and practicing techniques and passing on knowledge. 
Here we have M, with her mini marzipanned fruit cake.  She covered it in white fondant, and is rolling out shapes to make little robins having a snowball fight.  This cake is for sale at her son's playgroup fundraiser.
 M's finished product.  She's even done tiny feet for the one who got knocked over - too cute!
Here we see P cutting off her excess fondant with a pizza cutter.  We found this to be much easier than a knife, so H and I used it too.  P's cake isn't for anything in particular, she was just practicing her skills.
P trying to get smoother sides.  Someone passed her the plastic smoothing tool after this photo.  It really helps you to get a very smooth finish, you just have to be a bit careful that you don't push too hard and indent your cake.
P had a white powder, that had an E number for a name, and it's meant to be added to fondant/sugarpaste to make it more like flower paste (i.e. you can roll thinner and the item keeps its shape).  She decided to try it out on a butterfly or two, and left them to dry in a book to give them a lifted appearance.
P impressed us all with her flowers, and they look great with the butterflies. Then she saw the green colour that H had made, so added in some falling ivy...
Next we see what H did.  To my surprise, H had never used fondant icing before (I was sure we'd talked about it, but was obviously mistaken).  She was keen to use colour and shapes/cutters and decided to try a garden sort of a theme.  Again, her cake wasn't for a reason, but simply to practice on.
We had an old Wilton Yearbook and we all went through it for inspiration (none struck for me, as you'll see below) and H went for the garden idea.  M had done grass before, and suggested H cut into fondant in mismatched long skinny triangles, but she was finding that quite tricky to master.  This idea worked a lot easier, and she simply used a toothpick to press in the lines.  The grass sections were stuck on by moistening the back with a touch of water.  Then she went crazy with the flower cutters and food colours...   Lovely!
And finally we get to me.  Once you've seen it, you'll think I shouldn't have bothered.  Sorry.  Please keep reading, pretty please?  I had done Mini-2's birthday cake and had a bit of an issue with the rolled out fondant not being fully circular and thus not being quite smooth enough.  So we talked over possible fixes and I went for it.
This time the rolling out/smoothing etc went much better.  The only issue is that I came without any real idea of what I wanted to do, so ended up doing nothing much.  I haphazardly slapped on the leaves on the sides, and then wished I'd got down to eye level to do them in a clock formation, so they would have been more even.  I found the Gerbera flower cutter quite tricky to use effectively, even though it was the push-out style.  And M's gold dust wasn't as successful for me as my edible glitter usually is.
So in summary, we all had a great night, learnt new skills and have already booked in our next meeting and decided to do buttercream.  I think subsequent club nights may need to be decorated cookie related, and what else do you think??

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Happy birthday Mini-2!

Our darling little Mini-2 'changes her number' each year the day after Fireworks Day (known to adults as Guy Fawkes Day) and this year and last, has been very very excited about her birthday.  Mr Becca does a little fireworks show for the girls in our back garden, then the next day is all about her.  I really do think that 3 and 4 are the most magical of all birthdays.  The excitement of the build-up, the joy at seeing the cake, and the number candle, and of being able to blow it out by themselves - it's just too cute!
I seem to recall that my mother always made us feel really special on our birthdays, and I fully intend to make my kids feel the same way.  So Mini-2 had a few parties - here's the first one at Toddler group (with a store-bought cake).
We wear name stickers because the group is busy, and it's hard to remember everyone's names.  The rest of this cake was eaten again after school with a friend, then she had her birthday party with the lovingly crafted Octonauts cake - my first time using fondant icing.  Boy, was I nervous.  I had watched many YouTube videos and had advice from friends but it was still scary doing it myself.  I rolled out 1kg of fondant and it never quite rolled into a circle.  I re-did it times before deciding that enough was enough and just going for it.  Don't look too closely - you may see the flaws!  Mini-2 and her friends loved it, so I was happy too.
Here's a lovely photo, courtesy of Aspire2be, of the cake and also the mini cupcakes with Octonauts rice-paper toppers.  I also did her some Charlie & Lola mini cupcakes (you can just see them on the underneath layer).

You can probably tell that I took that last photo - it's the story of The Octonauts and the Giant Squid and she was lucky enough to receive it for her birthday, so we read it that night.