Wednesday, 18 February 2015

You did WHAT?! And other such things...

First things first, this is not cakey post. Sorry. I'm using my (mostly) cakey blog to vent. I hope you can relate. I'm sure that far more people can than would actually care to admit to it. So, here goes.

I'm a lot of things- a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cake maker, a teacher, a parent. I am not perfect at ANY of them.

Being a part of a social media obsessed generation makes it hard not to feel inferior on many levels and for many reasons. As a cake maker, there are other artists out there who create absolute masterpieces that I can probably only ever dream of producing. On the other hand, they probably don't post photographs of their disasters and I can keep practising.

No way I'd have done this to pay for my petrol, any idea how long this used to take?!

Parenting is the WORST thing to read about on the internet. Whatever the platform- blogs, Pinterest, Facebook, community forums and so on. Last night, I read two posts on a local Facebook mums' group. The first was admonishing a woman for leaving her children in the car whilst she went into the supermarket. Not particularly sensible, granted, but a quiet word with the security guard in the shop, or simply standing next to the car and watching the children until the parent returned would have done. Shouting at the poor woman, who let's face it, may well have had her reasons for leaving them, in the middle of a car park, loudly enough to concern other shoppers that it would come to blows wasn't strictly necessary. I guess she got the message though. This lady, however, didn't feel that she had yet done enough and went on to post on a group of over 2000 local mums about how disgusting and irresponsible it was. Usually, I stay out of these things, but people were replying and saying that they would NEVER (yes, in shouty capitals!) leave their children in the car, even if they had just gone to pay for petrol... As a mummy who had twins, then a baby when they were two and a half, I can tell you that it is highly impractical to drag all three into the petrol station or to put the trolley away in the car park. Anyway, I digress.

The second post was by someone who works in a local supermarket and she was DISGUSTED (they like that word, these perfect parents) and had seen a toddler in the shop inappropriately dressed, WITH NO SHOES ON! For once, the person who this was aimed at got to have her say (well done that woman!) and do you know what? There was an actual *reason* for it!

Did someone say inappropriately dressed?

I realise I'm ranting, but my blood was almost at boiling point by now. By the time I read a third post, elsewhere on Facebook, written by someone else wearing their best judgey pants, I decided enough was enough. Time to out myself. So I did. I posted this first thing this morning.

My name is Becky and I am NOT a perfect parent...
My children go out in various states of undress.
They sometimes don't leave the house for a whole day.
I let them play in the garden with the dog when I am not watching.
I don't iron their clothes.
I let them eat rubbish sometimes.
They went to their swimming lesson in their PJs last week.
I don't do school reading every night.
We did nothing academic with them.before they started school (and I'm a teacher, shock, horror!)
I very much doubt that they get five a day most days.
I could go on.
Anyone want a virtual high five for being an imperfect parent?!
This is a totally light hearted, tongue in cheek post before anyone calls social services, although all of the above is true ;) 

A little social experiment to see just how many women would admit that they are not perfect parents. Three hours on and several hundred 'likes' later, I think it's safe to say that we would all love to be the wholesome Pinterest and parenting-blog-worthy mothers whose glossy photographs we all fawn over, but at heart, we all know that no-one's really like that and boy, do we like to share our flaws! 

Next time you're with a group of friends, or even better, on a Facebook group where no one really knows you, get them to list the things that make them a bad parent. I guarantee you'll laugh, possibly cry and definitely sigh inwardly with relief that in fact, yes, 'our sh*t does all smell the same' (thanks to one of the girls on my original Facebook post for that gem!), we do all have moments of total child-induced insanity and we do all take shortcuts to make life easier.

I'll leave you with these guidelines for helping yourself and others to feel better about it all...

1. Opt out of the Bullsh*t Olympics (I'd love to claim this as my own, but it's down to the Unmumsy Mum) Your life is very unlikely to be as perfect as you are making out, so just BE HONEST! Particularly on Facebook- Even if I really love you, I may have blocked you if you continuously post about how wonderful your life is ;)

2. Don't judge. Unless the law is being broken, or a child is suffering, keep it to yourself.

3. Respect other people's choices. No need to explain I don't think.

4. Eat your chocolate in the bathroom so you don't have to share with your children, then we will all be much happier and not feel the need to cyber-bitch (again, thanks to one of the girls on Facebook for this!)

5. Finally (and I need to remind myself of this often), don't get riled by the people who feel the need to judge from behind their Facebook profile/Twitter handle, whatever. Don't give them the satisfaction of getting into the debate. Unless you are right, then definitely jump in.

Normal service soon to be resumed. That is, I'll write another cakey blog post when my children are sat watching something on Netflix munching on popcorn and crisps and I can't stand looking at the washing pile any longer.

wink emoticon

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Consultation to Cake~ Part Three, The Big Day!

Finally the big day arrives, and I have to say, as nervous as brides are on their wedding day, their cake maker won't be feeling much better! The cake is such a big part of the day and so many couples have a clear idea of their dream cake that the worry that they won't like it is huge! The other problem with cakes is that so much can go wrong! One wrong step on the way into the venue, one obstacle that you don't notice underfoot and, well, crash. *shudder* I actually don't even want to think about it!

We assemble our cakes, in part if not in total on site, so that we can achieve the best possible finish and avoid any breakages on the way there.

Beth and Graeme's cake arrived safely and I tracked down the cake table and commandeered a nearby table to lay out all of the different bits on. Beth and some of her friends and family met me at the car, so they saw the cake in pieces. Luckily, they were so bowled over by the flowers that they weren't too shocked by the cakes (they don't look that pretty un-stacked and with dowel holes in them!)

Before I go on (and forget), many thanks to Brett Symes for his fabulous photographs.

There were some left over flowers which I popped into a nearby jam jar to tie in with the rest of the room. It fitted the rustic theme of the wedding perfectly and as you can see from the photographs, a fabulous day was had by all! The minions were a little personalised surprise gift to each of the bridal party from Beth and Graeme. I love the photo of the men with their cakes!

I hope this has given you a bit of an insight into the amount of work that goes in to a wedding cake. I love every part of the process, but it's not easy!

Thanks to Beth and Graeme, their family and friends, plus of course Brett for the photos (check out his website- amazing!)

Consultation to Cake- Part Two

I know, it's been a while, sorry! I was waiting for the official photographs and well, then it was Christmas and that just got in the way, etc etc. Enough excuses!

After the initial consultation and sketches, we go away and sketch the final design (always open to artistic interpretation- if it looks rubbish when I start making it, I'll tweak it until it looks right). Once the bride and groom have approved the watercolour sketch, we make a start on any early preparation. In this case, Gail started work on lots of flowers, based on the pictures Beth had provided us with.

The flowers were about four solid days work, but the final result was definitely worth it!
We always make more than we think we'll need, because invariably there's a gap that needs filling that you didn't expect.

As the wedding day gets closer, we bake, fill, crumb coat and finally ice and dowel the cakes before packing them in boxes ready to assemble at the venue.

So with the boot full and a box of 'kit' ready to go (spares, royal icing, scissors, pritt stick etc), it's finally time to set up the cake.

See Part 3 for the official wedding photos!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Consultation to Cake~ Part One!

Earlier this year, we ran a competition in conjunction with Society magazine for one couple to win a wedding cake. The cake was won by Laura, on behalf of her sister Beth and fiance Graeme. Their wedding is later on this month, so I thought now was as good a time as any to start documenting the process of designing and making a wedding cake.

A few weeks ago, I met Beth and Graeme at their home for a design and tasting consultation. By visiting our clients at home, we get to know them and their planning and ideas are usually close to hand.

We talked about their plans so far, and I took photographs of their colours, invitations etc to help with the design while Beth and Graeme looked through some cake magazines and previous designs for inspiration.

It's interesting how different each couple is at this stage, both in terms of their involvement in the design and ideas that they already have. Some people have a very clear idea of what they want (or definitely don't want!), others know what elements they would like but are unsure of how to put them together and some people have no idea at all. Some grooms seem to think that their role in the consultation is just to be the chief taster, others are definitely in charge of the design. Whatever the starting point, the process is similar each time- chat, look at pictures, taste and sketch!

What begins to develop during the consultation is a series of sketches and notes that will form the basis of the final design. By the end of the first meeting, we usually have a fairly clear idea of the direction the design is heading. Sometimes it is done and dusted there and then, sometimes sketches are sent back and forth via email and occasionally we have follow up consultations. Whatever happens, nothing is made until everyone is happy with the design.

The next stage usually involves a lot of phones calls and emails to finalise everything, then we can start prepping some of the cake. In part two, I'll show you a bit of cake in progress, followed by part three which will be the big reveal from the wedding itself- can't wait!

Monday, 8 September 2014


I don't know about you, but I have so many egg shells to dispose of that the compost bin just can't cope! Here's a little tip...

Crush 'em up, store in a jar and use as pet friendly slug pellets! My husband swears he's seen the slugs eating them, but I've been assured it's a tried and tested trick- let me know if it works for you!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Jammie Dodgers for grown ups

Ok, so really they're not at all like Jammie Dodgers, but they were certainly my inspiration! These are crisp, sweet vanilla sugar cookies with buttercream and beautiful, tangy passion fruit curd. If you've never tried it (like my husband who is so repulsed by the idea of it that apparently the biscuits sound horrible!) then you are really, truly missing out- passion fruit curd is possibly my favourite cake filling. This brand in particular, though not easy to come by is incredible.

These biscuits are very, very simple. I use a basic sugar cookie recipe, to which I add any extra flavours I fancy.

For the biscuits:
225g butter
225g caster sugar
1 egg, medium/large
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
375g plain flour, sifted

For the butter icing:
250g butter
1kg icing sugar
seeds of one vanilla pod
A few spoonfuls of liquid- water or milk
*This makes FAR more than you will need, but freeze the rest and you'll have it on hand for the next batch. Or keep it in the fridge until the best before date on the butter*

Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and vanilla paste and mix well.
Mix in the flour to form a soft dough.
Place a sheet of baking parchment on your work surface, then the dough, then top with another sheet of baking parchment and roll the dough to an even layer about 4mm thick.
Put the sheet of dough into the fridge to set for at least half an hour. Once it's chilled, take it out and cut out circles, then cut a shape from the middle of half of them. I used a heart cutter, but any shape will do! Save the middles- they make lovely little biscuits to serve with coffee.Place the biscuits on a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray.
Remove the trimmings and put the cut shapes back into the fridge for ten minutes. Chilling time is really important to stop the biscuits from spreading in the oven.
Squish the trimmings back together and keep re-rolling, cutting, chilling etc until you run out... then eat the last bit, raw cookie dough is amazing!

Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes at 180/160 fan and keep checking until the edges begin to go slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave on the tray for a few minutes to cool before placing on a cooling rack to cool completely.

Soften the butter (I stick in in the microwave on full for 30 seconds) and place in a mixer or bowl with the icing sugar and vanilla. Add a little liquid (water or milk) and beat slowly to begin with, speeding up as the icing sugar is incorporated into the butter and liquid. If you are using a hand mixer, mix slowly with a wooden spoon to begin with to lessen the effects of the icing sugar cloud!
Beat for about 5 minutes until really light and fluffy. It should be spreadable, but still hold it's shape.

Once the cookies are cold,  spread each whole circle with some buttercream, then a generous blob of passion fruit curd, or jam, or anything else you fancy, then just add the top with the whole. That's it, simple. I warn you though, you won't want to stop at one!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sticky Plum Flapjack

I came home from visiting family a few days ago with a*huge* bag full of plums from my Sister-in-law's farm. My usual fail safe recipe is a crumble cake or muffins, but I fancied trying something different. I turned to Google and discovered a recipe for Sticky Plum Flapjack which you can find here on the BBC Good Food website.

Now, I'm not great at following recipes and I was out of a couple of ingredients, so I made a few tweaks! Don't be fooled into thinking it's good for you because it's a fruit flapjack- it's packed with butter and sugar. Still, everything in moderation! Here's my version. Afterwards, I thought how amazing it would be with an extra 50g or so of crumbled amaretti biscuits over the top. Good job I have lots of plums left!

  • 450g fresh plums, halved and stoned
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • 300g soft brown sugar
  • 350g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 300g rolled porridge oats
  • 140g plain flour
  • 100g pistachios
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Tip the plums into a bowl. Mix with the spice, 50g of the sugar and then set aside.
  •  Gently melt the butter and syrup in a saucepan. In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, pistachio nuts and remaining sugar together, making sure there are no lumps of sugar, then stir in the butter and golden syrup until everything is combined into a loose flapjack mixture.
 Grease a square baking tin about 20 x 20cm (I used a tinfoil baking tray from Asda, these I think). Press half the oat mix over the base of the tin, then tip over the plums and spread to make an even layer. Press the remaining oats over the plums so they are completely covered right to the sides of the tin. Bake for 45-50 mins until dark golden and starting to crisp a little around the edges. Leave to cool completely, then cut into 18 little bars. Will keep in an airtight container for 2 days or can be frozen for up to a month.
I couldn't wait until it was cold, so it was very soft when I photographed our afternoon snack. It tasted amazing- sweet flapjack and sharp plums, what's not to love?! But, and there is a but, it is *very* sticky and *very* soft. Almost too soft to eat as a slice. It would be fabulous with a dollop of vanilla ice cream as a pudding though. Next time (there will definitely be one!) I'll fiddle with the amounts a bit and bake for longer to get it a little more firm. If you try it, please do comment to let me know how yours turns out.