Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Having myself a merry little Christmas

We're keeping the Yuletide bright and all that.

It's been a truly lovely Christmas. The snow helped - it's just fab to have snow forts and snowmen in the garden and a lovely snowy vista outside the window while we're warm and cozy inside.

On the cake side of things, it's been good too. That anniversary cake was a success, about which I am very pleased. The first Madeira cake peaked (drat!) so I sliced the domed part off, wrapped the evened-out cake in clingfilm and popped it in the freezer while I started again. The second one was much better.

I cut it in half horizontally, did the raspberry jam and buttercream filling the client asked for, masked it in buttercream and covered it in snowy white fondant (sugar paste). I piped shells around the base (somewhat ineptly, I confess). I'd used tap-it cutters and some red flower paste to do the lettering, as my piping skills aren't up to beautiful writing - heck, even my penmanship isn't up to beautiful writing - and with much faffing and cursing I laid them in place.

I piped a vine and leaves curling across 2 sides of the cake and off down one edge, and on it I placed the red flowers I'd made the week before. It looked pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. If this new laptop had a card reader I'd show you but unfortunately I can't get photos on the lappy just yet.

The main thing is that the client just loved it.

My Christmas cake from college was a thing of beauty too. It's amazing - in class, surrounded by some very talented people, my efforts look utter rubbish. Once I get them home and can look at the cake as an entity rather than a collections of minor errors and imperfections, my cakes actually looked marvellous. My sons were outraged that I "only got a Pass Plus - those teachers are far too picky and you should complain!"

Much as I appreciate the boys' support, from a technical point of view there was a lot of room to improve (damned shell borders, grr). But from an aesthetic point of view it looked lovely... and it tastes gorgeous. It did take me until Boxing Day to get the nerve to cut into it, though. ("all that work - I can't cut it, I just can't...")

That frozen Madeira cake became Miss B's birthday cake this week, and was a roaring success too. I'd made sugar paste butterflies in a several pastel shades a week ago, which I dried on a V of cardboard so the wings would stick up. They looked lovely on the (inevitably) pink cake with pink sugar flowers and glitter. Miss B herself added embellishments to half of the cake and used every single flower I'd made, plus a Christmas wreath. She was going for the snowman as well, but got distracted by eating sugar butterflies. It was a thoroughly garnished cake, and a big hit with its target audience.

The recipe for Madeira cake was one my classmate Andrew recommended (thanks, Andrew!) It's from the BBC food site, and comes from James Martin. In general I'm not a James Martin fan - a bit of a blokey petrolhead in a wannabe-Clarkson mould, I think - but fair play to the guy, it was a good recipe. I ditched some bits, but this is the part I did:

Heat the oven to 190, prepare an 8 inch/20cm round tin
cream 175g butter until pale.
add 175g caster sugar and beat until light and fluffy
sift 250g of self raising flour into a bowl and put to one side.
Add 3 eggs, one at a time, to the butter and sugar mix, and add 1 tbs of the sifted flour with each egg to stop it splitting.
Carefully mix in the rest of the flour with a splash of milk (between 1 and 4 tablespoons, just enough to make is a soft dollop-y batter) and the zest of 1 lemon.
Bake for 1 hour, but check after 45 minutes (the usual way - poke a skewer in and see if batter comes out or just crumbs. Crumbs means it's done).
If the cake is browning before it's cooked, pop a sheet of foil across the top - not fitted to the tin, just resting there. Oh, and leave the cake to cool in the tin for at least 10 or 15 minutes before you try and get it out.

To make a 10 inch square cake, I doubled the quantities. The cake got rave reviews from the grown ups and Miss B's birthday tea. The kids at the party were too busy eating the sugar decorations to care about the quality of the sponge, as is right and proper at their age.

Happy New Year to you and yours,
J x

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