Friday, 30 April 2010

Happy days

Friday was in all respects A Good Day.

Well, maybe not the part with the torrential downpour as I fetched the kids from school or the messy kitchen and the laundry I'm ignoring, but let's not sweat the small stuff.

It was Number 1 Son's birthday. He was delighted with and appreciative of his presents, he was very sweet with his siblings about the cards they'd made him. It was one of those lovely family moments when the kids are being gorgeous to one another and everyone is happy.

I sent him off to school with M&M cookies to share with his class. It was his specific request, and a pretty good choice. They are really tasty and stupidly easy - people dropping in for coffee when I'm baking a batch always comment on how quick they are to make. The recipe is based on the chocolate chip cookie recipe in the River Cottage Family Cookbook, which I will harp on about until you've all bought it.

melt 125g butter
stir in 100g granulated sugar (or caster if that's what you have in)
and 75g soft brown sugar,
then 1 egg
and a generous splash of vanilla extract.
Sift 150g plain flour and
1/2 tsp baking powder into the mixture.
Stir in 100g of chocolate M&Ms (much better than Smarties - they keep their colour when baked and they're not from Nestle)

Use a tablespoon to dollop the sloppy batter onto baking sheets and bake in a preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius (ish) for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool properly.

We get about 20 to 25 cookies from this. They keep for a good week in a tin, theoretically, although they are very moreish and tend to... erm... mysteriously evaporate in my kitchen.

Luke reports his class was very pleased. As they should be - I had the odd one for quality control purposes and they were very yummy.

On the way home from the morning school run I bumped into some of the very lovely parents of Luke's classmates who were heading up to the coffee shop. I had an extremely civilised hour drinking coffee and chatting with them. While I was there I received a phone call from someone starting a new business who was looking for a cake supplier.

Back at home I returned the call and am giving her a price list and suggestions that I think will suit her particular customers. We hope to meet up next week if possible to discuss my becoming her supplier. I am very excited about the possibility of a new outlet.

Next, I iced Luke's birthday cakes. I used the chocolate traybake recipe from the Annie Bell book (which again I highly recommend) and set about making LEGO blocks from a traybake. Luke owns more LEGO than LEGOland does, so I think I'm on to a winner.

I started by colouring sugarpaste in red, yellow and green - I meant to do blue but the colours I had weren't quite right, either navy or baby blue. I should get some royal blue for future use. Anyway, the green looked fine. Then it was time to get the cakes right.

LEGO is all about maths. If I didn't get each piece right in relation to the others, it wouldn't have looked right, so I got out my I measured a block of LEGO to get the proportions. I made the 8 block 23cm long by 11.5 cms wide, the 4 block 11.5 square and the 2 block 11.5 cm by 5.25cm. At those sizes, the little dimple things (what on earth are they called?) ought to be 3cm in diameter, so I fudged it with a cutter 2.5 mm across that I flattened a bit.

If I did it again, I'd smooth the edges on the dimple things a little better. I could do with a second cake smoother to help me do the corners slightly more crisply but on the whole I think it's pretty good. The birthday boy was very pleased indeed.

We all went to Pizza Express to celebrate. The waitress was lovely (we gave her some cake) and the kids behaved so nicely we were really proud of them. The whole evening was a pleasure.

This week it's all hands on deck. I'm doing my first order of wedding cupcakes and I'm putting together a tasting plate for the woman interested in my cakes. She's had the trade price list and seems perfectly happy, which all sounds pretty encouraging. And of course there's the usual deli orders, college work and a training day for the kids because of the election. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Spring has sprung

I've not blogged in nearly a month. Between the two and half weeks Easter hols with the kids, a few more baking jobs than usual and work in the garden, it's all been a bit of a blur.

I've used some of my college-taught skills in real, paid work - the best indication that it was a constructive use of my time and my fledgling business's money. I got a real kick out of modelling with marzipan at the end of last term, and it gave me the confidence to try making a garden cake for a 70th birthday.

I covered the cake with white sugarpaste over the marzipan. Next, I cut a circle out of the top of it and inserted a circle of green sugarpaste as a lawn, and cut a wiggly corner out for the vegetable patch.

I used sugarpaste to make the cauliflowers and orange carrot bases, with marzipan coloured green for the leaves and carrot tops. The terracotta pot was sugarpaste too. The picnic blanket, trowel, book and champagne bottle were all marzipan. I dipped the top of the champagne bottle in edible glue, then in very fine gold powder (edible, of course) to get the foil effect. The trowel was an absolute pig to get right. I gave it about 4 coats of silver paint, which was sticky horrible stuff and ruined one of my nice brushes. I don't think I'll try that again!

The soil was demerera sugar over a thin layer of royal icing to hold it in place. I used royal icing to pipe the foliage using two shades of green and 3 different sized leaf tubes in an effort to get a nice lush effect. The flowers were sugarpaste in yellow and peach, carried across as a detail on the picnic blanket to make it all fit together nicely. The base of the cake was edged in yellow satin ribbon.

On the whole I'm very pleased with it. I know that damned number 7 looks like a number 1 so everyone said "it's for a 10 year old?" But it's the only number 7 I had and I totally suck at piping. But in the main, it's a pretty cool cake.

I also did bags of heart cookies as party favours for a 50th anniversary. I printed the names and date of the wedding on parchment and cut it into labels. I tied up the bags and labels with pink gingham ribbon, and they did look just gorgeous. I think I'll do something similar for the next party we have. The customer was delighted.

The third job this month - apart from the cake boxes and the deli cakes, of course - was a 1st birthday party cake and 48 mini cakes. The party was in lieu of a naming or christening, and the customer wanted pretty pastels and a Number 1 on the cake.

I basically did a version of B's birthday cake, but with flowers I'd piped myself. I used an edible marker pen to add a little detail to the pink butterfly at the front of the cake and edged the base of the cake with tiny lilac fondant flowers.

The mini cakes were in the same colours - lilac, lemon yellow and pink - and some had the same flowers or butterflies on to carry the theme across. The rest had sprinkles in the appropriate colours. I do so with I'd thought to take photos of the minis in their boxes; they looked just gorgeous and really set off the large cake beautifully.

The customer was utterly delighted. She texted me after the party to say the cakes were a triumph and she'd been tempted to pretend she'd made them herself. I'm so pleased it went well.

I'm getting a bit over-ambitious with thoughts for L's birthday next week, and my first wedding cupcake order looms.