About my baking challenge

I discovered the joy of baking for the first time ever in 2013, shortly after my dear mum passed away from cancer. During 2014 I tried to bring these two things together in a positive way , have fun and raise some money for Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield where my mum passed away. Throughout the year I tried out new techniques and recipes from time to time ... and then sold some of my bakes for charity in my workplace. Since then I have continued to bake with some ups and downs .. and this blog charts my baking experiences, good and bad!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A real showstopper!

I haven't really had either the opportunity or the inclination to do much baking this year, as my dear dad was very ill through most of the year with cancer, until sadly he passed away in November. We live in Liverpool and he was in and out of hospital in Derbyshire, so trying to help him, keep an eye on him and travel whilst still doing a full time job has been a bit of a challenge over the past months. Although it's still early days, I thought I would like to try to get back into some baking, and was provided with the ideal opportunity when my department at work announced a "Christmas crafty" competition, to take place on the same day as our departmental Christmas buffet. So I thought I would try to kill two birds with one stone, and bake some kind of "showstopper" to contribute to both events. As my baking skills are not enormous I thought it must be something that could provide a "wow" factor but would not be too difficult ... so I settled on trying to make a gravity defying cake!

Black Forest Surprise Gravity Defying Cake

For the cake:
50g cocoa
6 tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
2 tbsp milk
175g self raising flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
100g softened unsalted butter
300g caster sugar

For the filling:
100g softened unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp morello cherry jam (I used Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Morello Cherry Conserve)
1-2 tsp kirsch liqueur
For the icing:
150g (6oz) dark chocolate broken into small pieces
150ml pouring double cream

For the truffles:
300g dark chocolate  broken into small pieces
50g softened unsalted butter
300g thick double cream
2 tsp kirsch (or to taste)
Cocoa powder and choclate vermicelli to decorate

Decoration (optional):
Gold ribbon
Gold edible glitter.

2 * 20cm (8 inch) loose bottomed sandwich tins
1 baking tray
1 melon baller (optional)
1 Lakeland Anti-Gravity Pouring Cake Kit

a) Truffles
1. Make the truffle mixture by heating the cream in a saucepan until hot (not boiling) and then pouring over the chocolate and butter in a large  bowl. Stir continuously until all the chocolate and butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Add kirsch to taste and stir in. Allow to cool and then refrigerate until firm (2-4 hours).
2. Make the truffles by scooping balls of the truffle mixture, using either a melon baller or teaspoon, and rolling between the palms into a ball. Place the vermicelli and cocoa powder on separate saucers, and roll each truffle in one or the other to coat. Place each completed truffle onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, then refrigerate to chill.

b) Cake
1. 1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4
2. Grease 2 x 8" sandwich tins and line the bottom with baking parchment.
3. First measure the cocoa and boiling water into a large bowl, and mix well to make a paste.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and beat again until combined.
5. Divide the cake mixture between the prepared tins. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes until well risen and shrinking away from the sides of the tin.
6. Cool in the tin for ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
c) Filling/icing
1. Make the buttercream by beating the butter until pale and fluffy (approx. 5 minutes) then adding the icing sugar and vanilla extract, and beating well.
2. Make the chocolate icing by placing the cream and chocolate into a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Stir well until the chocolate is melted and the mixture smooth. Set aside to cool.
d) Assembly
1. Stir a small amount of kirsch into the morello cherry jam. Sandwich the 2 cakes together using the jam and buttercream.
2. Place the sandwiched cakes onto the Lakeland cake base, and insert the anti-gravity kit tube.
3. Cover the cake in choclate icing, and paint chocolate icing over the whole tube.
4. Build up a tower of truffles around the cake,  using a little extra chocolate icing to stick them together.
5. Balance a small gift bag on top of the truffle tower, to make it look as if the truffles are cascading out of the bag.
6. I finished the whole thing off by wrapping a gold mesh ribbon around the cake while the icing was still wet, and attaching a bow using a cocktail stick. I also lightly sprayed the top of the cake and the truffles with gold edible glitter.
This cake was a bit of a hybrid of Mary Berry's very best chocolate cake, crossed with a standard truffle recipe, and my own devising of Black Forest flavouring. The cake itself was delicious, although it did rather crumble - a problem I have quite often and would love to receive any advice on why this may be.
It was the first time I had ever made truffles and they were very easy but OMG were they messy to make ... one recipe advised using disposal gloves when rolling the trufffles, and this really was excellent advice as the mess would have been uncontainable otherwise!
It was also the first time I had used my Lakeland Anti-Gravity Pouring Cake kit - and I would have to say there were a few issues with it. In theory you should assemble the base and rod and then lower your sandwiched cake over the rod onto the base ... even if my cake had not been crumbly to start with I'm sure it would have broken trying to lower it over a rod; and other bakers in my workplace agreed this would  be a fairly dicey procedure. In the event I just stuck the rod into the cake, which meant it was not secured to the base ... luckily it held firm, but this was probably largely due to the density of chocolate icing I used, and may not have been as successful with a different type of icing. I also found that I had to use a LOT of additoinal icing to anchor my truffles in a tower, which was to some extent visible in the finished product.
Another consideraton with this cake was that it was very difficult to transport .... it is too tall for any cake carrier, and I ended up placing it just on a large plate base in the boot of my car and driving VERY CAREFULLY the 15+ miles to work, with particular attention to avoiding speed bumps!!
All that being said, the cake's appearance received a lot of compliments in the office, bagged one of the prizes in the works competition, and was soon demolished once the buffet lunch got into full swing. I'm very glad I had a go, but I'm not sure I'd be in a hurry to do it again!
I would like to enter this offering for  the following baking challenges ....
1. December's Love Cake theme of Festive Fun
2. December's We Should Cocoa theme of Christmas, hosted by Munchies & Munchkins, and Tin & Thyme.
 We should cocoa
3. Lakeland's December #MyLakelandbake, where the theme is Christmas.
Here's hoping it won't be so long next time before I'm back with another bake.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Beginners' Cupcake Decorating Workshop at Windsor Cake Academy

I think after my last large-scale foray into baking for the pre-Christmas charity cake sale I was somewhat "baked out"; so what with that, the Christmas rush and having had laryngitis before Christmas which left me with a troublesome cough and chest infection, I haven't done any baking for quite a few weeks.

However I sprang out of bed with a renewed enthusiasm this morning, as I had booked myself and my friend Christine onto a Beginners' Cupcake Decorating Workshop at Windsor Cake Academy in Warrington. The course was taught by guest tutor Paula from Paula Cake Couture, whose website is full of amazing cake creations!

I was really excited because the pictures of what we were aiming for were so gorgeous .... our goal was to produce something looking like this!!

beginners cupcakes

(picture by Paula Cake Couture)

Our class started at 10 am., and when we arrived we were shown into the cake studio which is set up really nicely with long benches divided into "workstations" comprising a seating space, long beech worktop, and shelving with various bits of equipment tucked underneath. We were invited to don our aprons and get ourselves a drink ... I felt like I was in the GBBO tent!! Every workstation was provided with a box of freshly made cupcakes, and some clingfilm-wrapped fondant icing in various colours.

The room soon filled up with the 15 class participants, and we gathered round for Paula to demonstrate the techniques for making some sugarpaste flowers, butterflies, ladybirds etc., which she explained we should make first so they would have some time to harden into shape before being placed on the iced cupcakes. We then all selected  a few icing cutters, punches and/or moulds from the large selection at the front bench, and off we went to start getting creative, before moving on to piping techniques.  For the frosting we used some industrial cartons of frosting in a variety of colours suited to the flowers and grass we were trying to create.

I had never done anything remotely like this before; but I was soon rolling and cutting using the dinky sugarcraft rolling pin and board provided, and putting my little decorations on a couple of rods to mould them and create dimension while the icing dried out and hardened a little. Before long I was also ladling various frosting colours into piping bags with my chosen nozzles!

Paula showed us various techniques for piping with buttercream frosting; including a rose, beehive, blossom, grass, sunflower (piped around an Oreo biscuit stuck to the top of the cupcake), and a dual-coloured swirl.  She walked around the class helping the participants and answering questions so that we could gather hints and tips to get the most out of what we were trying to do.

Here's the result of my efforts (the deep pink rose is actually a much nice shade thatn the photograph suggests!!) ...

Whilst they are clearly not in the same league as the professional picture, I genuinely don't think they're too bad for a first attempt and I'm actually pretty pleased with them.

In more detail ...

I struggled initially to get the hang of piping grass; but by the time I had completed two cupcakes it was definitely getting better. The secret apparently is to hold the nozzle just above but not touching the cupcake; squeeze for a couple of seconds and then pull quickly upwards to release the blades of grass!  I found it quite slow to pipe though hopefully this will improve with practice ... my friend had the great idea of making cupcakes for a man  in future, with grass and a little foil-wrapped chocolate football on top!
(Nozzle used = No. 233 - Small Grass)

My second style attempt was a rose: this was actually pretty easy and I'm sure I could soon get this looking fairly good with a moderate amount of practice.
(Nozzle used = No. 2D - Drop Flower)

Thirdly I tried a beehive. Tbh this was my least favourite of the lot .. the piped frosting again was easy; but the bee was made using an icing mould rather than a cutter, which I found very difficult to shape and then release from the mould. I also tried to mark its stripes with my edible pen a little too soon while the fondant icing was still quite soft; so I ended up making a replacement bee which I had to mark when I got home. Hence my second cupcake in this style ended up with a flower perched on top!!
(didn't write down this nozzle number!!)

This on the other hand was my absolute favourite of the day .... original and so cute! An Oreo  biscuit was anchored to the top of the cupcake with a blob of icing; then 3-4 layers of iced petals were created attached to the sides of the biscuit.

I think this is a really fabulous design despite being quite time-consuming to pipe; although in real life I think it would be quite difficult to eat as it would require fishing the biscuit off the top first!!
(Nozzle used = No. 352 - Leaf)

Paula said she thought we would probably find this one the most difficult; though strangely I didn't find that to be the case. The main difficulty I had with this was that the afternoon was wearing on by then, so the frosting was getting a little softened; also it involved holding onto the piping bag for a minute or two which softened it up even more! Indeed one of the main lessons of the day was that the consistency of your frosting is crucial ... I think I have always made my buttercream too soft at home in the past.
(Nozzle used = No. 104 - Petal)

Last but by no means least I had a couple of goes at a dual-coloured swirl. I tried this using 2 piping bags inside a third one fitted with a nozzle but I found them quite difficult to align (I  also got me confused at first and put my second colour straight into the outer bag - oops!!). I love the effect though, so I might grab some dual-colour icing bags from Lakeland!! 
(Nozzle used = No. 1M - Open Star)

The session was inevitably followed by a bit of a shopathon in the Windsor Cake Craft Shop - several nozzles + a  nozzle cleaning brush (soooo cute!), plunge cutters, pots of Sugarflair colour pastes, a pack of icing, an edible writing pen and a dinky sugarcraft rolling board somehow fell into my basket; and that point we could go for  a late lunch tired but satisfied!

All in all it was a really fun and informative session, and my friend also enjoyed it which was good to know as it was her Christmas present from me! I would definitely consider doing more workshops in future, and would recommend both Windsor Cake Academy ( an excellent studio space) and Paula Cake Couture (brilliant designs and tuition).

Time will tell whether you see any creations on here using my new found skills!