Monday, May 23, 2011

Our flat makes cake

Our flat makes cake. We make it at any notice, at all hours. Between the three of us we can always manage to muster all the ingredients needed to make anything from lemon slices, to coffee & walnut muffins and carrot cake even cakes made for spur of the moment birthday presents.

We will be sitting relaxing, probably about eight o'clock on a Thursday night and someone will say, I want something sweet to eat, but I don't want to got out for chocolate. They will turn to the other two and we will put our ingredients together and 40 minutes later, a delicious cake will come fresh from the oven, with almost no effort at all.

When S was living with us, she decided to make a cake for a friend's birthday, it was eleven o'clock by the time it came out of the oven so there was no time to stay up to let it cool ready for icing. She was up early decorating it before work the next day.

This is how it is done in our household. We are dedicated to cake.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Less is definitely more when it comes to glitter and colour

In the same batch of cupcakes as the aforementioned most beautiful cupcakes to ever come out of the oven was a house warming gift for N and D for when they moved into their Shepherds Bush flat.

Made from the same Hummingbird Bakery Vanilla and lemon zest recipes and the same batch of buttercream, these were a colourful, glittery version of the get well soon cupcakes.

I used colour paste in lilac and kelly green to colour the buttercream just slightly and topped them with a dusting of glitter which I had bought at the Cake International exhibition in Birmingham. The lemon zest cupcakes are the same recipe I adapted previously with no additional decorations.

It is important to use strong colours and glitter sparingly as I have found that nobody likes eating them and they are always the last to leave the plate. When colour, glitter or other decorations, remember, less is definitely more.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Have you ever seen something so perfect come out of the oven?

There are times when you simply cannot believe the beauty of the cupcakes which come out of the oven.

This was one such time. I was making cake for K, she'd been confined to her sofa at doctors orders after an operation. So one Saturday afternoon our friends descended on her to keep her occupied.  I couldn't make the gathering but sent cake instead.

I made daisy topped vanilla and lemon zest cupcakes made by adapting the basic Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcake recipe.

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml Milk (the original recipe says whole milk, but I only ever have skimmed, so I use that)
1 egg
¼tsp vanilla extract

You will also need a muffin baking tray and muffin cases, Tesco and Sainsbury's have the best shaped cases, I find that Waitrose cases are slightly thinner so you can see the cake through the paper once it's cooked.

I make buttercream equal parts unsalted butter to sifted icing sugar. I always add in a little more icing sugar to allow for it to escape whilst mixing it in with the butter. It doesn't matter if you include more icing sugar than butter as your buttercream will just be more fluffy, however if there is more butter then the buttercream will be too heavy.

I normally start off with 100 grams of butter and 100 grams of icing sugar if I'm just using a palate knife to top the cakes; piping a topping will use a lot more buttercream.

Here I was making lemon and vanilla flavoured buttercream, so I combined the butter and icing sugar together first, divided the mixture in half before adding a couple of drops of vanilla extract to one and some finely grated lemon zest and a couple of dashes of lemon juice to the other.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A sunny way to start the day

This morning I got the bus to work, the thought of wasting valuable sunshine hours on the tube did not appeal. It takes a bit longer but it's a nice route and I could drink my coffee from London Bridge's Pret along the way.

A relaxing, upbeat way to start the day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tea, scones and looking for wedding venues

This weekend I went looking for evening wedding party venues with my Mum. Before the congratulations start pouring in, no this is not for my wedding, it is for my Sisters. Now when I say evening venues, we are not looking for a day venue, wedding breakfast venue and not even a church - this is because my Sister, the unconventional one of the family is having her actual wedding in the Caribbean, Antigua specifically. More on this at a later date most probably.

As many of our family and friends won't be able to fly half way around the world to see not-so-little-anymore Sis' wedding there'll be a reception back in England a week or so after we all get back.

One venue which was on the original list of venues before the wedding moved 4000 miles away was The Great Barn in Ruislip, recently refurbished and host of the Duck Pond Markets every month. As soon as we stepped in we knew it was too big for just a party but after an afternoon on the road we needed some refreshment and soon spotted the small café across the central green.

We sat outside and shared the last scone with jam & cream and a banoffee pie and drank two large mugs of tea - this was a very English afternoon don't forget, no coffee in sight.

An enjoyable afternoon out on a sunny day but the venue search continues.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My tour of Great Britain: one night in a Highland Hotel

On our final night in Scotland we moved from out holiday park in Nairn to The Knockendarroch - a beautiful highland hotel perched on the edge of a valley overlooking the surrounding hills in Pitlochry in the south of the CairnGorms.

We stayed in the top of the hotel in two rooms with balconies which afforded a brilliant view of the sunrise moving along the valley and gradually lighting up the green below.

In the morning I sat in the lounge, which is all highland charm, but none of the stuffiness. It features 'authentic colours and design from Farrow & Ball, Zoffany, and Yves Saint Laurent' - as The Knockendarroch website boasts and with good reason, it is beautiful. If I somehow were to meet a Laird and find myself with a castle to do up, this is how I would do it.

Added to the wonderfully coloured interior my coffee came in a cafetiere. Perfection.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My tour of Great Britain: Royal Wedding Day

I was beginning to worry that the Royal Wedding Day would come and we would be stuck in a Scottish village that wouldn't give two hoots about it. So when I received an email from N whilst in Bridgend that we could watch the wedding in the grounds of Balmoral Castle I was over the moon.

Friday morning came and we drove the winding heather flanked roads from Nairn over to the Balmoral Estate, which we expected to be absolutely rammed. When we arrived at nine thirty we were nicely surprised that it wasn't as busy and had the atmosphere of a village fête complete with Rule Britannia being played and Union flags being handed out whilst we paid our entrance.

We settled in front of some of the large screens which had been placed on the front lawn to watch the wedding and I got a coffee from one of the little stands, the other stand had a hog roast cooking ready for the lunch time rush. My coffee came in a stupidly small paper cup - I had asked for a large but this was all they had apparently - but was otherwise quite drinkable.

After the excitement of THE dress, the trees down the centre of Westminster Abbey and THE kiss, we calmed ourselves down and went for a look around the house. Well it turns out you can only go into the ballroom as the rest of the house is shut up until the Queen goes up in the summer. We did get to see some of her very sparkly ball gowns though, although they had nothing on THE dress.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My tour of Great Britain: on a boat in the middle of Loch Ness

Coffee on this holiday has been thin in the ground, due to our many early starts and the remoteness of our accommodation. I've been making do with cups of tea and taking any opportunity to sit down with any hot drink and watch the world go by.

Our trip to Loch Ness on Thursday was one such opportunity. As I feared, the aforementioned coffee in horribly designed orange paper cups reared it's ugly head and on this occasion it was a particularly horrible one.

It was windy, cold and we were on the roof of a boat; then it started to rain. I decided to go downstairs in search of warmer seating and refreshment. This is where I discovered that they were serving hot drinks. Joy I thought, I nice hot mug of coffee as I watched the world go by on the water, how lovely. I was to watch the world go by on the water, but it would not be holding a nice hot mug of coffee.

The coffee was produced from one of those machines that masquerades as an espresso machine but is really an automatic, 'the attendant pushes a button and it dribbles out of a tiny nozzle' machines. After I saw this, I dropped my expectations a couple of large steps. The orange cup was put in front of me and as I saw the foam didn't even reach two thirds of the way, my expectations dropped significantly more. I poured some more milk into the cup to make up the shortfall and the lid of the jug dropped onto my coffee cup, nearly spilling the whole thing. This was not going well.

After all that I was left with a pretty mediocrely tepid cup of coffee which was only rescued from disaster by the view I had of the Loch whilst drinking it. It was so bad that I had to go back for another, just to check that it really was that bad.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My tour of Great Britain: up a mountain in the CairnGorms

I could drink coffee anywhere, and climbing a mountain is no exception. I bought my coffee and a cozy crimson fleece (yes a fleece, it was cold, I had to make a sacrifice) at the mountain shop 637m up at the bottom of CairnGorm, (1245m high).

I later discovered CairnGorm not to be the highest mountain in the Cairngorms National Park - a fact which makes me slightly disappointed and wondering why we went to so much effort.

We walked the 10 km long, 1245m high route in five and a half hours, with lots of scenic snack and photo stops along the way.

There's not much else to say as the views are pretty breathtaking despite it not quite being the highest route in the area!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

My tour of Great Britain: in the grounds of Cawdor Castle

On our first full day in Scotland, which was also N's birthday,  we decided to take in some of the history of the area and visit a Cawdor Castle which was a short drive from our caravan in Nairn.

It was beautifully bright and sunny but the wind had a cold kick to it in the morning, so we opted for looking around the house first.

It didn't look like a stuffy home that  nobody had touched for the last 50 years, each style had been piled upon the last with books stacked everywhere and personal photos of the family ranging from the sixties to the present day - the Dowager Countess of Cawdor still lives in the castle during the winter months.

We sat down for lunch by a tree with a pretty red bench next to it, although it was warmer now, there was still a cold nip in the air so the café selling hot drinks was welcome.

After lunch we walked around the castle gardens which put us even more in the mood for tea and birthday cake back at the caravan.

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