Thursday, 28 August 2014

Campfire Cake!

Once upon a time, my kids went camping. Note the word 'once'.

They were in a pop up tent in the backyard, in the middle of Summer. They had a lamp, books, quilts, pillows and toys, and were all set to sleep outside for the night. It was also a few weeks after we had artificial lawn installed, and the novelty hadn't worn off yet...

They lasted until 9:30pm, when they came inside and went to bed.

We aren't a camping kind of family. The closest we get is our church event called ManCamp, where Husband and Ben have been going for the last 3 years (and where I, and the other two children, stay at home in the nice warm house, with cosy beds and a TV).

And even then, Husband sleeps in the car.

Well recently, after a long battle with my mind, I made the decision to take some time 'off' baking. But when Husband came to me last week and asked if I felt up to making a small and simple farewell cake for his boss, who was leaving their city office to head up a new one in a country town, I believed that I did, and I wanted to really try and make it simple.

Husband's boss loves camping... Real camping. Like, not in a car or on fake grass. Camping with a tent, on proper grass (or sticks and rocks), in the middle of nowhere. I looked up some ideas for simple camping themed cakes, and came across campfire ones that looked simple enough to re-create.

I thought that I was going well with not over-complicating the cake. In fact, I cheated with most of it - the 'icing', was actually Nutella! But the next morning, as I was creating the 'fire' with my little fire shaped pieces of fondant, Ben said to me "I thought you were making a simple one."

"This is a simple one" I replied, considering the many other options I contemplated while in the designing phase.

But, when there's a campfire...
There's gotta be marshmallows!

Regardless, I continued on the cake, and began the final touch of 'toasting' some marshmallows (for decoration purposes, but the kids all had test ones with their breakfast) with my lighter. I'm not sure they tasted quite like a campfire marshmallow, but hey - who says no to sugar!?

So with the Nutella, fondant, Cadbury's chocolate biscuit stick things, and marshmallows on skewers, the finished cake looked like this:

And as Husband's boss is moving from city to country, his going away present was a tool made specifically to be able to cut through long grass, bamboo, and jungle-like plants... A machete.

... Which his boss used to cut the cake, of course.

And just for fun, here's a picture of Husband on his most recent ManCamp-ing weekend, with the added addition of giant sparklers that I found at a discount shop on Friday:

And the annual "sparkler tower", which is usually consists of about 200 sparklers, but was increased to 1000 sparklers this year, all taped together, and set alight:

Boys will be boys when they're put out in the fresh air with no supervision! ;)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

To a Tea!

"Make tea, not war." - Monty Python

A 'High Tea' is an English meal that became popular in the 1600s. Served at a High Tea were a variety of snacks, cakes, and (obviously) tea. High Tea was originally around 4 or 5pm, and closely related to dinner.

The modern version usually takes place as an afternoon tea, with an outrageously delightful and colourful array of miniature (and oh so delicious!) edible items.

Whenever I attend a High Tea, I always feel proper. There's a mixture of excitement from being away from my children for the afternoon; nervousness about wearing a dress; and exhaustion because I would have stayed up all night shaving my legs for the occasion, making sure I didn't leave that one frustrating line of hair to glisten in the sunshine for the world to see.

Even though women aren't judgemental, and would never pay attention to that tiny detail and refuse to forget that time they met you and you didn't have your legs shaved properly... Women never hold onto random information like that, right?

High Teas are nice, though. Fancy clothes, delicate teacups, miniature food to eat daintily (you know, instead of shoving it in my mouth mid sentence because we're constantly running late), e.g.

I instead find myself crossing my legs like a real lady, practicing correct posture, taking the time to sip and enjoy a cup of tea (while it's still hot!), and not speaking with food in my mouth!

Perhaps it's just the novelty of an afternoon out of the house, with other ladies and no children!? It's like I'm reminded that I am more than tracksuit pants, crying preschoolers, dirty dishes, and disgusting floors.

Last year, I was asked to make some cupcakes for a Jane Austen themed High Tea event. When I asked for some specifics, I was told 'pastel', for the colour, 'pretty' for the style, and 'mini' for the size.

And this was what I created: Pink, yellow, purple, blue, orange, and green pastel, pretty, mini, floral cupcakes :)

The High Tea was set inside a church, and
here's what one of the tables set up looked like:

In "Wonderland", Alice attends a tea party that is quite different to this kind of High Tea...

Mad Hatter:  Would you like some more tea?
Alice:  Well, I haven't had any yet, so I can't very well take more.
Hare:  Ah, You mean you can't very well take less.
Mat Hatter:  Yes. You can always take more than nothing.

Monday, 18 August 2014

My Maddening Monday!

Rain, rain, pouring down,
Making puddles on the ground.
Soon the puddles will get so large,
To get to school, we'll need a barge.

"I HATE the rain!" I scream out loud,
I hate the sky so full of cloud.
I hate that socks, and shoes will get soaked.
"Let's stay at home", the children joked.

... Except when rain gets in the way.
I considered keeping kids at home,
But I really need some time alone!!

So we caught the barge out to the car,
We all get in, though we don't travel far.
I curse other drivers, who stop where they please.
"Are you serious!?" I say "Just so your kids don't freeze!?"

Arrived at school, and the umbrella is stuck!
I may have said something rhyming with duck.
The kids hurried off, because the school bell just rang,
Then onto the next stop, we left with a bang.

For the entire weekend, I looked forward to today.
But now, I just want to wish it away.
I hate the rain! I seriously do.
And knowing our luck, we'll all soon have the flu.

Meanwhile at home, I now only feel bored.
Even though a "day to myself" I had scored.
I don't feel like cleaning, or even watching TV.
So screw you, rain! You wrecked my day for me.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sax appeal!

There's a time in life when birthday celebrations include clowns, fairy bread, jumping castles, ice cream cakes, and McDonalds.

They then start to include sleep-overs, staying up late, plaiting each other's hair, and playing truth or dare.

Suddenly, they include high heels, clubs, makeup, cocktails and skimpy dresses.

All too soon, they include being woken up early by miniature people jumping on you, hand-made cards, and vouchers for massages and/or breakfast in bed.

Eventually, there's a time in life when birthday celebrations include teacups, scones, and mini cucumber sandwiches.

I am still in the miniature person category, even though two of my miniature people are almost as tall as me! But no matter where you're up to or in between, one thing that birthday celebrations usually have in common... is cake.

Sixty is a special age. You're not quite old enough to retire, but you are old enough to validate teacups, scones, and mini cucumber sandwiches for your birthday!

Earlier this year, I was asked to make a cake for a 60th birthday. A cake for a man who loves jazz music, plays the saxophone... and wanted tea, scones, and mini cucumber sandwiches for his birthday ;)

I sat down with his wife, and brought the design I had in mind for his cake. I imagined something black and white. Square. With music notes around each tier, and a saxophone on top with more music notes coming out of the saxophone. It was to be a cake of elegance. Of wonder. And of vanilla.

<insert sketch of imagined cake design here>

I'd convinced myself that moulding the saxophone out of fondant would be the hardest part of the cake, so I wanted to at least have that started/done before doing anything else. After looking on YouTube for some advice and tutorials, I found a great one of a lady making miniature saxophones. I followed her technique (but with a much larger amount of fondant), and basically rolled the fondant out into a triangular snake, and curled it around itself:

But as I stood there staring at what I'd just "created", I couldn't help but notice its similarity to a tobacco pipe. I assured myself that it would look much more like a saxophone once it's sprayed gold and has it's little pieces on it...


When it was time to make the cakes, I was pleased that they were simple to cover. One colour of fondant, with a black ribbon around the base of each tier.

Sometimes when I make cakes, I am tired and have a limited time frame to finish them (because I leave it until the last possible second to start)... Which means I don't sleep well.

I now find it helpful to write a list of things -in order- that I need to do the following morning (mainly so that I don't panic when I wake up wondering where I should start), and aim to get some decent sleep.

But, there's the occasional times (usually when I forget to write the list), that I end up wide awake at 4am.

This was one of those times.

I attempted to write a mental list while trying to get back to sleep, but that didn't work. So, I got up, thinking "the least I could do is tidy up the kitchen so that when I actually wake up (hopefully several hours later), I'd have a clear head/workspace to concentrate".

By 5am, the kitchen was clean, and I was even more awake, so decided to start decorating the cake. It was quiet, and I had the whole morning ahead of me. I could take my time.

I looked up some simple sheet music, scaled it to fit around each of the cakes, and traced it onto baking paper as a guide. I then cut out HAPPY BIRTHDAY letters in black fondant while I procrastinated painting the sheet music onto the cake. I found time to cut out the music notes, too, and attach them to wires.

After every other possible addition to the cake was done, I had no choice but to start draw on the music lines (I'm sure there's an actual word for what they're called), and begin painting on the treble clef and notes.

The sun was coming up by the time I finished.

It was finally time to decorate the tobacco pipe! Uh, I mean saxophone! This part was very much guesswork. I had edible gold spray and more pieces of fondant. I played the saxophone in high school, but if you ask me how to play now, I will hit you. After asking Google to remind me what a saxophone looked like, I got to work.

There we go. Looking much more like a saxophone now!

Though I use this technique with almost all of my cakes now, this was the first cake (I think) that I'd made the tiers separately - a cake board for each, and cake pop sticks/skewers, cut to size, in the bottom tier to act as the stands for the top tier:

It was 9am at this stage, and I was really proud of the cake. When I am particularly impressed with something I've made (which is usually a cake), I post it up on Facebook for friends to see.

N.B. I was also particularly proud that I had a clean bench top to photograph the cake on, too.

Lastly, as I studied the cake believing that something was still missing, I added a golden "60" and a few more music notes, that were the perfect touch to finish the cake:

If you can read sheet music (I can no longer anymore), you may have noticed that it is (supposed to look like) the tune of "Happy Birthday" ;)

Happy 60th birthday Tony!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

My second wedding gig!

I really enjoy weddings.

Not so much the spending an entire week getting ready part (ensuring enough sleep is had, leg hair is properly attended to, clothes are ready, and children are all accounted for). But more the rare opportunity to get dressed up, put some make-up on, see familiar faces again, celebrate the uniting of two people, and generally have a good time. That part I enjoy.

My own wedding was never a formal function. After the ceremony (which Husband will not ever let me forget that I was apparently 45 minutes late to) there was an afternoon tea in our church's hall.

We made our own wedding invitations, asked friends and family to fill in the various rolls for photographer, videographer, etc. I picked out flowers at the flower markets, and the bouquets were made at home. Make-up was applied by my cousin, and my sister braided my hair. Dresses were from a Harts warehouse store containing discontinued items at a cheaper rate, and my aunty made our wedding cake as a gift.

Not many things matched, I suppose. Well, not in the way I'd have absolutely everything matching if I were to get married again, for example. But it was still a delightful day, and I enjoyed myself. I didn't even notice that the afternoon tea continued until 10pm, and I was oblivious to the fact that it was midnight when we checked into our hotel, and we needed to get up at 5am the next morning to get to the airport to catch our flight.

Wedding receptions often include fancy tables, matching chair covers, intricate decorations, five course meals, three different wine glasses for each person, and bonbonnierres for everyone, as a gift to thank them for coming to their wedding.

I asked around what people have given/received as a bonbonniere from a wedding, and the answers ranged from cupcakes, miniature toys, CDs, shot glasses, jelly beans, chocolates, and little bottles of alcohol; to what I have made for a friend's wedding a couple of months ago: shortbread biscuits.

My first wedding gig involved making cupcakes as part of the cake tower display, which also doubled as bonbonnieres. The second one (this one), was making heart shaped shortbread biscuits as the bonbonnierres. To prepare (i.e. to make sure that I could actually replicate the same thing a few <cough-dozen-cough> times), I made these biscuits for Valentine's Day.

When I was both planning and making these biscuits, I'd laid out a step-by-step guide to what I needed to do to complete them. Some parts may or may not have been added in the process.

Stage 1 - "The biscuit part"

1.1  Make the shortbread dough.

This is the recipe I use.

1.2  Roll out and cut out shapes.
1.3  Bake.
1.4  Repeat and continue until there's 140 of them.

Stage 2 - "The fondant part"

2.1  Colour the fondant.

While discussing the biscuits with the bride to be, the original plan was to have the biscuits matching the four bridesmaids dresses. I was sent a photo of the dress colours, and tried my best to match them in fondant.

With further discussions on the day of the baking, it was decided that perhaps just two colours would be better, which were chosen to be these:

As a trial for how the colours look together on biscuits, I made a sample of each and sought approval from the bride-to-be before continuing on the next 100+ of them:

2.2  Roll it out, and cut the shapes.

2.3  Glue them onto the biscuits.

2.4  Repeat with the next colour, until all the biscuits are covered.
2.5  Take a picture of all the biscuits, that now take up your entire bench top.

2.6  Go to bed.

Stage 3 - "The decorating part"

3.1  Make royal icing.
3.2  Trace around the edge of each biscuit with the icing.

3.3  Write the letters D & K on each biscuit, as per the bride's request and original plan organised.

By about the 100th biscuit, I felt like I finally had the hang of it... All was going smoothly, until I was writing the letters on the 138th biscuit, and this happened:

It was perfect! The letters were (accidentally) smaller than the previous 137, but this one... this one looked so much better!

Having a minor panic attack, with the bride coming to collect them later that morning, I desperately called Husband, since he's had 11 years training to calm me down when things like this happen... Basically, I couldn't change the others. So, after I was breathing normally again, I continued to decorate the final few biscuits, and hoped that no-one would notice the one perfect biscuit amongst the rest of them when it came time to place them on the tables at the reception.

Stage 4 - "The wrapping part"

4.1  Carefully place biscuits into cellophane bags.
4.2  Tie them all with ribbon.

4.3  Re-count them five times because you kept panicking that you didn't make enough, even though you were counting them all day the day before, and all morning as you were icing, and knew that there was exactly the right amount.

4.4  Run out of time to take a photo of the 140 wrapped biscuits together (because you were  too busy panicking in the previous step), and hand them over to the bride-to-be.

Stage 5 - "The waiting part"

5.1  Wait until photos go up on Facebook.

5.2  Congratulate the happy couple on their wedding day.

Congratulations Danny & Kobie!!

Thank you for asking me to be a part of your wedding day.
Wishing you both love and contentment in your married life together :) xx

Monday, 11 August 2014

Playing like bulldogs!

"Football is a game of errors.
The team that makes the fewest errors in a game usually wins."  - Paul Brown

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog."
- Archie Griffen.

Football night at my cousin's place always involves drinking, yelling, punching fists up in the air, screaming at the TV, judging their own umpiring skills above the professionals, and a lot of swearing.

... Of course, that's every other night as well.

In my time as a baking enthusiast, I've made a few NRL themed cakes and cupcakes. A Sharks cake, a Rabbitohs cake, State of Origin cupcakes, and now I add to my list of football fun, by making Bulldog cupcakes.

Using the Canterbury Bulldog jersey*, I made these cupcake toppers for a friend and Bulldog fan, for his birthday:

*  Or is it guernsey? ... Is there a difference?

"Football is like life. It requires perseverance, self-denial,
hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and respect for authority."
- Vince Lombardi

Happy birthday Scott!