Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My First Wedding Cake

So, my lovely friend Emma is getting married in May and has tasked ME with the wedding cake. Eeek ! Is she frickin' crazy ???? Of course, I should be thinking about Christmas and all that, but I have that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, and the thought of the cake is filling my mind.

The wedding theme is red, ivory and roses. I had an idea of red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and red love heart sprinkles. Too cute for words huh ? Earlier, Em told me that the cake would also be dessert. So, it gets even worse - people are actually going to be eating the stuff instead of leaving it in the bottom of their handbag for a week before chucking it in the bin, which is what I think happens to the majority of party cake, no ?

On another subject, well actually still on the subject of parties.. I was at a birthday party this week where I was served the most absolutely delicious pound cake made using sour cream. I don't think I have ever tasted a plain, unembelished cake that tasted quite so delicious. I look forward to trying out the recipe (which I begged the cook for) on here at some point...

Well, one would hardly know it is Christmas from this post, but I am pleased to report that I have packed the chutney and the homemade cranberry sauce and whilst cooking Christmas dinner may be daunting, I think I have it under control! Full report to follow soon.

Merry Christmas Everyone !

PS> Any hints on making wedding cakes - PLEASE  let me know.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snowed in (again) and Christmas Cake Decorating - Step 2

So, you have a lovely marzipaned cake and now it's ready to decorate.

Firstly, remove your watch and rings. You would be amazed how easy it is to mark the icing.

This is what you need.

Your cake :o)
1) A rolling pin
2) A small glass of vodka
3) A pastry brush
4) A pack of ready-to-roll icing
5) Your various decorations - ribbons, edible decorations, 'Merry Christmas' sign etc.
6) A tape measure

Technical stuff eh ?


1. Take you cake, and if you have one place it on a revolving, raised board - as in the photo below:

NOTE: I only had a revolving board because I did a cake decorating course and I thought it would be nice to have one. You definitely don't need one, just try and position yourself and the cake so you can see all around it when you lay on the icing. Ditto the icing sugar shaker above, nice to shake on to your worksurface when you are rolling out the icing, but good enough to just toss some sugar onto the work surface too.

2. Take your icing and using your hands, knead it until it is soft and pliable. The aim here is to warm up the glucose in the icing to make it easier to handle.

3. Take your tape measure and measure your cake so you know how large to make your icing.

4. Clean your work surface with anti-bacterial spray or soap and then leave the work surface for five minutes to dry, so that the icing is not tainted.

5. Roll out your icing to the measurement you took in step 3 above. I prefer to move my icing every second roll with the rolling pin so that the icing does not stick to the work surface. You don't have to turn it, just move it a couple of inches at a time. You might have noticed I have a lovely rolling pin in the photo above. This is especially for icing, it has a smooth surface and does not leave pit marks on the icing like a wooden or other rolling pin might. Having said that, using a different roling pin which may leave marks is not a major problem as it is easy to get rid of icing marks by polishing the cake (see step 10 below). I only use the rolling pin above for icing cakes - which is a little bit of a kitchen kit indulgence on my behalf, no ?

6. When you are ready to put the icing on the cake, quickly brush the vodka all over the cake. The vodka makes the icing stick to the marzipan, and then evaporates so no alcohol taste is left behind. NOTE: If you put the vodka on any sooner, it will evaporate and the icing will not stick. (eek!)

7. Carefully lift the icing by folding the icing over your rolling pin, you will also probably need to use your arm to manouever the icing. The icing is about 3-5mm thick (depending on how thick you like it), perhaps 20-25 centimetres in length, and depending on the size of the cake the icing can split easily so just take it slowly. I like to look down on the cake, as I position it and ensure the icing fits the cake all the the way round.

If the icing should not stretch all the way to the bottom of one of the sides, then there are a couple of things you can do. Firstly, you can gently lift the icing and reposition it. Or, you can coax the icing down the sides of the cake and do some patchwork on it from left over icing.

8. Once the icing is on, roughly trim the excess as soon  as possible. I have found that sometimes the weight of the excess icing can cause the icing to rip. Then, take the blunt edge of a kitchen knife and trim the icing so that it is close to the cake. Run the knife along the edge of the cake, to smooth it down, still with the blunt edge of the knife. This is simply because the sharp edge of the knife could leave knife marks on your board.

9. Your final result shoud look like this:

10. Now, use your hands to smooth down the cake. Start with the top, and move your way down the sides. Defintely make sure you have no jewellry on at this point, as you will mark the cake. I tend to use the palm of my hand, and the bottom of the palm of my hand. You can achieve a really shiny, smooth, polished finish.

11. I then use a paintbrush to brush on lustre dust and I then scatter on edible glitter. Then I 'glue' on my little shop-bought figures, and add a pretty ribbon to the base of the cake. I stick the ribbon and the figures to the cake using either a tube of white, shop-bought glue if I happen to have some around, or I mix a little icing sugar with a drop of water to make a icing 'glue'. Just a dab will fix ribbon or figures quite firmly to the cake.

Leave the cake alone for a day or two, so that the icing can dry. I then wrap my cake in cellophane and tie with a matching ribbon.

Voila !

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marroush - A review

Today I had a lovely Christmas lunch out. Maroush is a chain of lebanese restaurants in central London. This is their web site:

To start we shared houmous, tabbouleh, a pastry filled with vegetables and an aubergine salad. The houmous was smooth and silky, the aubergine salad smoky yet fresh, and the tabbouleh bright green and crunchy, and acidic. It was truly delicious.

For the main course, we ordered chicken shwarma, prawn kebab, green salad with sumac - in the salad was lettuce, tomatoes, onion and red pepper. The salad was vibrant, cruncy and tasty. We also enjoyed yoghurt and lebanese flat bread.

This was all 'washed down' with a nice bottle of red, and a bottle of water. We had filter coffee and my friend had mint tea to finish. The mint tea was delicious. We were offered a complimentary fruit basket which was very nice, so I had a couple of slices of the sweetest pineapple before the coffee arrived. Also, on the fruit basket were bananas, pears and plums. So, we didn't need any additional desert, although I'll bet the baklava was delicious.

We were at the branch in Vere Street. The atmosphere is quite casual, so you could go along in your jeans.We were slightly more dressed up, although we still did not feel out of place.

The service was good, I would have preferred a little more resting time between courses, the houmous bowl was scooped up a little too quickly for me (there were still some whole chickpeas in there !) and I would have happily scraped my bread around the bowl it was so delicious.

As soon as the starters were cleared away, the main course arrived. There was no delay, maybe 5 seconds but it's not like it's the kind of food that will ruin if you leave it for ten minutes while you rest before courses. So we did.

The same promptness though was applied when we ordered coffees, I ordered 2 filter coffees and then it was only when I had chance to get the dessert and coffee menu, and saw that there was 'Lebanese coffee' on the menu, that I thought it might be nice to try that -  but it seems that it was not possible to change my order. I've no idea how the coffee order got back so quickly. It would have been nice to try the other coffee, but I felt like it was too much trouble...

The promptness of the bill's arrival when we asked for it was great. A pet restaurant hate is waiting an age for the bill to arrive. The food and drinks bill was £90 not including service, which I would consider to be excellent value for three people in central London.

When I next go it's falafel, mint tea and baklava for me !

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Warmer #1 - Pumpkin and Parsnip Cassoulet

I first came across this recipe in an email from Sutton Community Farm. They are a great organisation which gives people the opportunity to take part in some community farming. I would love to say that I have been and helped out, but the best I have done so far is signed up for their emails. One day, one day I hope to get there and lend a hand...

So, I thought the recipe looked great, made it and it was delicious and then I promptly lost the recipe, but thank goodness I found it again online on the BBC Good Food website. A link to the recipe is here:

This recipe is of course vegetarian, except I served it with sausages and it was the perfect delicious winter warming recipe. This would be just a lovely with veggie sausages or with garlic bread. I made some changes to the linked recipe of course ;o) I will put my changes in italics next to the 'proper' ingredient list (as usual).

Ingredients           (Serves 6)

2 tbsp olive oil       I usually use less olive oil...
2 large onions , chopped     I had these ..
500g pumpkins , deseeded, peeled and diced  I substituted courgette (yes, still got 'em!)
500g parsnips , diced  I had these too !
3 garlic cloves , crushed  .. and these !
2 x 425g cans mixed beans , drained I had to do a bit of a substitution here.. simply making sure that my bean blend totalled 950gr or thereabouts. You will see from the image below that I used 2 small cans of baked beans and one larger tin of cannellini beans
780g can tomatoes  I used 'cheap' passata and 4 fresh tomatoes
225ml red wine I had this
300ml vegetable stock  .. and this
2 large sprigs fresh thyme    .. and this
1 tbsp sugar         ..and this !
75g fresh breadcrumbs  I  didn't want breadcrumbs
25g vegetarian parmesan -style cheese, grated .. or parmesan, vegetarian or otherwise..

Here's what I did:
Preheat the oven to 200 deg.

1. Start by sauteing the oil, garlic and onions in a large pot until nice and soft.

2. Add the chopped pumpkin/courgette and parsnips saute some more. All this chopping takes quite a while, so I recommend making this recipe when in a 'chopping mood'.

3. Add your beans, thyme and chopped fresh tomatoes.

4. Mix briefly, and then add the rest of the ingredients and it will look like this:

Yum huh ?

5. Bring this to the boil and then tip it into a suitable receptacle for the oven and bake for 40 minutes at 200 deg.

It looked like this:

As you can see I cheated and used a tin foil tray  - perfect for the lazy cook that either doesn't want to wash up, or wants to freeze and then defrost and stick straight in the oven - perfect for busy days..

The good food recipe web site says the following if you are using the breadcrumbs and cheese concerning the crumble topping :

Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Cover, then cook for 40 mins. Uncover, stir well and cook for a further 40 mins. Serve with garlic bread and stir-fried cabbage

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mince pies - my way

I think Mince Pies are somewhat of an acquired taste, but if you make your own mincemeat, then you can tweak the recipe and add more spice and raisins, if you like them, and less if you don't.

Many mincemeat recipes use suet which gives a mince pie that almost greasy 'mouthfeel' that you get with some of them. I use that great Nigella recipe which was given to her by her friend Hettie and it substitutes apples to provide the 'fluffiness'.   (Find it in Nigella's 'Domestic Goddess' book)

Here is a link to the recipe (no time to type this evening...):

I am also somewhat averse to too much pastry (trying to maintain the figure y'know ?). Anyway, instead I use marzipan (because that's just SO healthy no ??) Actually, I really just don't want a top and bottom layer of pastry.. The marzipan caramelizes when baked so you are left with the most gorgeous chewy, almondy loveliness.

I made these last year with my vintage mincemeat and again this year, with more vintage mincemeat. Whilst I cannot advocate keeping your mincemeat for two years (eek!), mine has been in an unopened jar and still tastes seriously scrummy. Indeed, I think the flavours have developed in a most lovely way...

Last year I took some mince pies to work and the girls there loved them and this year they begged me to make some more, and you know how I just love to have my food complimented. I just couldn't resist taking them some more to hear their appreciation. And oh lordie mcglordie, were they good !

This is the easiest recipe in the world.

1) Preheat your oven to 200 deg c.

2) Take a bun tray and grease it.

3) Buy some frozen pastry. Defrost it and roll it out. (or make your own if you have time..)

4) Cut pastry circles to fit you tin (pastry about 3-5mm thick)

5) Fill your pastry cases two thirds full with your mincemeat.

6) Roll out your marzipan to about 3mm thick

7) Cut out stars or other Christmassy shape and place on top of the mincemeat

8) Brush the stars and any exposed pastry with beaten egg for a glossy finish.

9) Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the marzipan has caramelized as shown below.
10) Leave to cool on a wire tray (if you can resist !)

10) Pack the mince pies into clear bags and tie with ribbons

11) Take them to your friends and be adored ! :o)

Dust with icing before serving if you wish.

Merry Christmas everyone!