Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Last lesson before Christmas

My remit - as the school baking lady/parent volunteer baker - is to choose easy, fun, fast recipes, so that the kids don't lose interest part-way through and so that we have enough time to complete all the tasks in the allocated lesson time.  I had thought that this lesson's recipe (for simple, roll-out sugar cookies) fit that bill, but as John Steinbeck so aptly wrote many years ago, 'the best laid plans of mice and men aft gang awry'  (it's a good few years since I studied this book in high-school English Lit class, so if that quote isn't verbatim, then let's call it a paraphrase).
Here we can see the instruction board that the teacher made - not too many ingredients (top left), tasks (right hand side) or length of recipe (lower left) - right?
This recipe required a hand-mixer, so the teacher kindly brought in her vintage Kenwood number - some of the children had never seen nor used one, so it caused much merriment.
Everyone wanted a turn!
You won't be surprised to learn that the resultant dough was rather sticky, probably from being overworked.  So we just spread out more flour before rolling out the dough and stamping out the fluted circle shapes (I'm telling you the actual shape of cookie, because when you look further down you may not recognise those shapes as circles, bless them (we didn't have a spatula with which to lift up the cookies onto the tray))
Here we see a couple of the children rolling out the last possible bits of dough in order to stamp out just one more cookie!!
And the final tally - 3 trays of roll-out sugar cookies, counted just as the bell was ringing for the end of the period.  The school is gearing up for the St Andrews Day (November 30th) performance and then the Christmas Show so we won't have time for any more lessons this year.  Here's hoping they want me back next term/next year.  Happy Holidays kids!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Everybody loves Cookie Monster

Mini-1 never had a best friend in nursery (kindergarten).  She was very happy and played well with whomever was in class that day.  Mini-2, on the other hand, bonded early and well with a lovely little girl I'm going to call S (that may or may not be because you can see the letter S on the chair she's sitting on).  At first, they couldn't function well without the other in class, but in their 4 year old year of nursery (as distinct from their 3 year old year) they learned to function separately.  I found this dependence upon one another very interesting, as did S's mother, and we learned early on to warn one another/manage the girls' expectations if one child was going to be absent one day.
When they moved up to school, they were not placed in the same class and are functioning very well indeed. They often sit together in the lunch hall, and I found out today that if Mini-2 doesn't share her after lunch treat with both S and Mini-1, S gets upset.  Too cute.  Lucky for us that Mini-2 is so kind and thoughtful, she shares it out evenly between all 3 where necessary.
S's 5th birthday party was last Saturday, but because we had been invited to play after school at her house on her actual birthday, we didn't take a gift to the party.  Rather we brought it with us today, along with these super-cute Cookie Monster cupcakes.
I had seen these cupcakes done by other bakers, and been lucky enough to receive a Wilton 233 grass tip/nozzle from my friend J in the USA.  I'm sure I could have bought one locally, I just hadn't.  I had a look on YouTube at a couple of different videos on how to do the technique, then just went for it.
I'm not best pleased with the eyes, and as we don't have mini M&M's here in the UK I couldn't easily think of anything to use for the eyeballs.  The black edible food marker didn't work too well on the white chocolate drop as it was slippery.  Our mini Smarties are too light a brown to be effective, and our chocolate chips are shaped like tiny Hershey's Kisses, so also wouldn't look right.  I'll just have to keep looking I guess...
Nevermind though, as the birthday girl was absolutely thrilled with them - her mouth actually dropped open when they were presented to her!  What a great result :)  She then turned blue from the icing, and thoroughly enjoyed her surprise treat.  Happy 5th Birthday sweetie!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Honey, I shrunk the cake club

I belong to a cake club.  You probably aren't surprised, and probably also already know that.  It's similar to a book-club, in that you all get together to chat, but you bake a cake to a set theme.  Then you eat all the cakes and talk about them.  Seriously.
We decided to go off-piste this meeting (I love the sound of that phrase.  It conjures up breaking-of-rules, and being a dare-devil.  I never went off-piste when skiing, as it was usually the black runs that had the off-piste areas, and they were challenging enough as it was.  Although actually, I think Dad and I did go off-piste once when I was in my later teens.  It was at Mt Hotham, and the run was the Blue Ribbon and I'm sure if you skied directly under the chairlift that was technically off-piste.  I tell you, those moguls were huge!  Ahhh, great times) and go mini.  Petit Fours was the theme, and go small but many was the instruction.
I ummmed and ahhhed over what exactly to bake/bring this time.  Cupcakes are smaller than cake, but I couldn't decide which flavour.  Cookies are smaller than cake, but again I had trouble deciding which ones.  Then I had a brainwave, whilst reading an email.  Brownies bites.  With peanut butter!  A la the late, great Betty Crocker.  And a star was born. 
Other bakers brought mini cupcakes, whoopie pies, chocolate dipped fondants, macarons, baked donuts and so on.  Mmmm, mmmm...

And H came in later with some super-tasty mini eclairs, in chocolate or caramel
We had a few new members this meeting, and here we can see some of them licking their fingers in delight, and giggling at whatever funny thing one another may have said.  Oooh, cake club - another winning evening!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hearts bursting and falling for a birthday

I used to work in a well-known fast-food outlet before having the kids.  A good few years before having them, actually, but you know what I mean.  I really quite enjoyed it, it was very fast-paced, and challenging at times, but such a good laugh when a shift went well.  I worked with lots and lots of people during my years there - on a busy weekend shift we could have nearly 40 staff on in a day!  Anyway, one such person was A, and his wife S worked there too.  They got in touch recently to say they'd been watching my page and cake progress and wished to order a cake for their eldest's 18th birthday.  What??!!  Wasn't she just the same age as my Mini-1?!  Gosh, aren't children just the best (and worst) thing for proving how quickly time flies?
Anyway, their daughter had seen a cake of mine and wished to make some changes to it.  I duly met with A and S, in my first proper cake consultation - that was exciting!  Usually it's a case of back and forth with emails or texts, so a face-to-face meeting was fun.  Glad it was old colleagues for my first time though...
They hadn't planned a party for her to start with, but decided to go for it after all.  So we decided upon a cake as a centrepiece and a few dozen matching mini cupcakes for nibbles.  
The birthday girl chose to have some hearts bursting out of the top of the cake, and other cascading from the burst, across the cake to the bottom edge.
Her name and age were embossed onto the cake base, and highlighted in glitter piping icing
 The request for the cupcake decorations were J's, 18's, hearts and flowers.
A was due to collect the cake at midday, but I got a panicked call a half hour later to say that his lift hadn't arrived and he was about to jump on a bus.  A bus?!  He'd need at least 2 to get across to me, as our buses tend to go into the city centre and back out again like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, rather than across.  And he would have struggled to keep all the boxes flat in carriage.  Luckily I'd had my afternoon appointment cancelled, so was able to deliver the goodies.  And what a lovely surprise it was to receive this card and box of lovely chocolates from them, as a thank you for making the cakes.  Awwww...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Teacher Becca

Back to school for our baking group again this morning.  It was a bit less well organised than our first lesson, as I realised on Sunday evening that I hadn't confirmed the recipe we would be making this morning.  I looked through the book I had in mind, to find the Cheese Straws recipe and photocopied it and took it in to the school office for the teacher, Mrs F.  But I was busy yesterday, and hadn't had a chance to call her and see if that recipe was ok.
So I turned up at the school this morning and apologised but luckily the recipe was perfect, and she'd found time to do her images for the lesson.  Phew.
The children came into class, saw the board with all its information and their names against the particular task (removed for the photo) and got straight to work.  Mrs F was dealing with another student just outside the classroom and was proud of their good listening and remembering skills when she saw what they had done.
 The table all set out, some ingredients already weighed out...
 Mixing up the flour, butter and grated cheese with spoon.  Which didn't really work, so time to get messy!
These were meant to be straws of cheese, but after being rolled out and cut by a group of excited children, they are just long fingers of cheese mix, ready for the oven.  Hope they taste good!!
Before I left, we agreed on the recipe for the next class and have agreed to exchange email addresses and try to agree the following classes recipe at the current class - that should put less pressure on us teachers  ;)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cookie decorating, at a birthday party? What fun

Although I was fairly sure that the girls invited to Mini-2's birthday party would be alright if left to their own devices to play, I wanted to have a few activities up my sleeve, just in case they needed distraction or entertainment.  I bought a pin-the-wart-on-the-Gruffalo game, wrapped up a pass-the-parcel game (admittedly in the last hour before the party, not my best  plan) and was ready with prizes for musical bumps and the like.  I wanted to try out the edible marker pens again, so this time made the girls cookies and sugarpaste-covered them in plenty of time, so that it would harden and be a smoother surface on which to draw.
These were the edible ones, not for the kids to decorate.  You'll see I used the Muppet and Sesame Street rice paper toppers I had previously bought to match the napkins (see post about the petal cake for clarification).  Well, it'd be a shame to waste them...
A plate-ful of naked hearts and cupcakes, all ready to be decorated.  And below, on the art mat with the pens, ready for the crafty part of the party.
Why is it that children feel the need to name everything?  I suppose it's because it's one of the first words they are keen to master when it comes to learning to write...
 This child is a little bit older, so is trying to do an actual picture on her cupcake
Mini-1 wanted to make her cupcake look like an actual cupcake.  She's coloured the 'case' pink and is putting coloured line sprinkles on the top.  If you squint, you can just see a red cherry on top.
 All the cookies from all the girls - ready to pop in their party bags to take home to show their families.

Petal cake for a birthday girl

We talked over a few cake ideas, Mini-2 and I, for her birthday party.  We had bought some coordinating Muppet plates, cups and napkins a while ago (because we happened across them in shop one day, and they were on offer - we love a bargain) and had also bought some rice paper toppers from The Cupcake Company on Facebook (website coming soon)  in a similar vein (i.e. some Sesame St characters too) and had thought to somehow combine the lot of them in a cakey style.  A two tier cake sounded fun, and I had thought to do polka dots, like the border of the napkin.
But all those ideas went out the window when I saw the utter mess that was the top tier cake.  Oh my goodness, I don't think I have ever had such an unmitigated disaster with a cake before!  I had sized down the recipe I chose, using the fabulous CakeOMeter.  Only it ended up giving me so much mix that it went right up and over the top of the tin whilst baking, and never fully cooked in the centre.  This was despite me using a heating core and extending the cooking time by almost double.  Gee whizz.
So it was to be a single tiered chocolate fudge cake after all that (the pink vanilla cake wasn't even salvageable for cake pops, sniff).  I had been keen to try the petal technique of buttercream icing since seeing it on MyCakeSchool, but hadn't yet had an occasion to do so.  Aha, I thought, perfect occasion now. 
Once it was done it seemed a bit plain, so I added  a few sparkly flying butterflies and the job was done.  And the best bit?  Despite not being a part of our discussed plan At All, she totally loved the cake :)
At her actual party a few hours later, checking out how the number 5 candle looks from the side...  Do you see the big, pink Birthday Girl rosette badge?  She wore it to school on the actual day and got to wear it again today :)
And here she is posing for Daddy to take a photo.  Not quite sure why she wanted us to specifically take a photo of her with a Very Big Knife, about to cut her cake, but her wish is our command.  Happy Birthday darling!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Becca Bakes goes international, again

Oooh, another international order to be delivered locally - lucky us!  This time it was for the wedding anniversary of a man who liked fruity cupcakes.  We agreed on raspberries and cream (it was short notice and I had some raspberries in the house), and I got to work.  I had once not floured my fruit before adding it, and it had sunk to the bottom when baked, and once floured it and it hadn't sunk.  But this time I was only adding one or two raspberries so I thought it'd be ok... 
 I mean, they look as though they'd bake up just like that, don't they?
And once baked, they still looked as though the raspberry had stayed in the middle at the top of each cupcake.
So I decorated them in a 'manly' fashion, whilst still incorporating the wife's requests.  Despite being their actually anniversary date, 7-11 is a secret code in this relationship.
There were a couple spare (which pleased Mini-1 and 2 no end!) and sadly the raspberries had sunk to the bottom.  But hey ho, they tasted great - tart sponge from the raspberries and sweet smooth creamy vanilla on top, yummy.  Oh, and Happy Anniversary guys!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Happy birthday to our darling Mini-2

Today is our darling daughter's birthday.  That'd be Mini-2 I'm talking about, as we're lucky enough to have two darling daughters (darling son is always loved, never forgotten, but not with us any longer).  Not always darlings, but always lucky to have them.  I had seen a really cool image of a decorated-by-a-child cake a few weeks ago that we all loved, so I bought the requisite food colour pens and was just waiting for the day.  I also wanted to try a couple of other new things, so found out her favourite colours from a limited selection and set to work.
The cake itself is a vanilla sponge with strawberry jam and orange coloured vanilla buttercream in the middle, but the cake is (hopefully) purple and white zebra striped.  Now, you'll see in a moment that their artwork is nothing like as good as the little girl in the above blogpost who decorated the other cake, but our girls had a lot of fun.  And isn't that what birthdays are all about?
The naked cake - you can see little brown marks underneath the white sugarpaste - that's the bigger chunks of Oreo cookies that I didn't macerate quite enough with the mortar and pestle ;)
 They look just like normal markers, don't they?  We'll have to be sure to keep these out of the art box

 You can see that the icing was too soft, by the deep indents made by the pens.  Ah well, lesson learned for next time.
Two very happy crafty girls!!