A Christmas Pudding Cake

When my mother-in-law asked me to make a Christmas cake it was difficult to decide on how to decorate it. There are so many possibilities with Christmas cakes and generally traditional ones are decorated with dazzling white fondant. However, this year I decided to try something slightly different and make a cake that looks like a Christmas pudding.

To start, I made a traditional fruitcake around a month ago and kept it topped up with brandy since then. It should be made even earlier really, so next year I'll probably do this step around September/October. 

Then, when ready to ice the cake, I carved the top slightly to give it a little more of a dome like shape:

Christmas Cake Carving

Before icing a fruitcake the best thing to do is brush it with boiled and strained apricot jam. However, in this instance I didn't actually have any apricot jam at hand and replaced it instead with a layer of amaretto - perhaps not quite as sticky, but it'll do the job just fine! 

I covered the cake in a layer of marzipan, then a layer of fondant and, since it's Christmas, I added a dusting of edible bronzing powder for an extra shine:

Now the next bit was the fun bit - making it look like an actual pudding. I rolled out a piece of white fondant and hand cut it to look like a big splodge for the top, followed by a sprig of fondant holly:

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But, of course, no Christmas pudding would be complete without a penny stuck in for luck! Thankfully this is edible too so there should be no emergency dentist trips on the day:

Merry Christmas everyone! I'll be back baking and writing in the New Year!

Where the forest meets the sea

A friend asked me to make a surprise wedding cake for her sister's surprise wedding - so many surprises! Like the happy couple, the cake needed to combine an eco-warrior wowing woodland theme with a sailor-suitable navy theme, which certainly provided a challenge for design. Fortunately my friend was at hand with lots of advice and we managed to find a combination for the cake which we think suited the couple to a tee. 

We decided that it would be good to surround the cake with flowers in the wedding colours and with lots of little woodland animals. I can only hope that real animals smile as much as these fondant chaps:

Woodland creatures need some nice wildflowers to play in. It's just cruel otherwise. Fondant roses are fun to make, but a little more complicated than normal flowers.

For both you need to do a bit of palette mixing, kneading up some nice colour combos into your fondant. Flowers are perhaps worth their own post at some stage...

Once the cake (a Victoria sponge) was baked and iced, I placed it on an iced cake board and got to work on the nautical element. I started by hand drawing anchors on the icing:

Using a light brown fondant, I made lots of small pieces of fondant rope to write 'Congratulations Rosie and Mike'. Basically that meant making two thin cables of fondant and twisting them together, pretty much like a real rope. But not as suitable for actually rigging up a yardarm, obviously.

Then I went round the edges, adding some woodland features - blades of grass that climbed up the side of the cake, wildflowers and animals. I was going for that disorderly, natural vibe. Here's the final result:

So congratulations again to Rosie and Mike, and I hope you enjoyed the cake! Big thanks also to Emma for asking me in the fist place and for helping with the secret plans (mwah ha ha!), and to Rachel for carrying it all the way back to Yorkshire! 

Making mince pies (& pastry ghosts)

It's December - did I really have a choice? Having had a tub of mincemeat sitting in the fridge for 3 months, I don't think I did.

Personally I'm not a fan of overly buttery pie bases, so I always follow the magical Dan Lepard's recipe which uses ground almonds and cream cheese to create a soft, sweet pastry. This compliments the spices in the mincemeat rather than just acting as a casing for it all.

After a good hour in the fridge, the pastry was ready to use and easy to shape. I only popped a heaped teaspoon or so of mix in each case so as not to overfill them:

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The next part was probably the most difficult for me - mainly because I don't have a star shaped cutter that's the same size as the top of these pies. Still, who needs such things when we have knives? I laugh in the face of cookie cutters!

Also, the wonderful bonus with this method is that your rolled pastry can sometimes end up looking like a spooky ghost too. Ideal. 

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After the construction phase was finished the mince pies needed a mere 20 minutes in the oven, resulting in a lovely smelling flat and the following:

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Cream cheese pastry can often be a little softer than normal pastry, so at this stage I had to leave them to cool in the tin for a good 20 minutes to avoid them falling apart. But I think it was worth the wait...

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But is any dessert really finished until it's on a plate? I think not.

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If only my spiced berry infused gin was ready to enjoy with this... to be continued...

Making a gingerbread house

There’s something very satisfying about making a gingerbread house – it takes time, planning, precision and nerves of steel for it to all come together, plus about a kilo of royal icing!

First I got to become a fairytale architect and plan the actual design of the house (clearly one of the best bits).  Unfortunately this also involved more maths than I’d like, but it’s important to be precise at this stage!

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Like Rome, gingerbread houses aren't built in a day. So first I made the dough, and after two nights resting in the fridge (so it was nice and firm for shaping) I cut and baked the gingerbread pieces. This meant I had a very gingery smelling flat but dinner on my knee that night:

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A few hours and a lot of icing sugar later, everything started looking a little more Christmassy:

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After the icing had set I started gluing the pieces together with royal icing, but I’m afraid this is where there’s a gap in my photo documentation. With one hand piping and another holding the whole thing together, I just couldn’t reach the shutter!

On the plus side, it makes this post sort of like a makeover show with the before and after shots. Drum roll please…

Ta da!

For me, the joy of a gingerbread house lies in the little details around it, not just the house itself, so this year I decided to include a few gingerbread chaps playing in the snow outside. There would have been more on there but unfortunately this house did not have a big enough garden (London property prices, eh?).

All in all I was pretty happy with the outcome . My one regret is that the scene takes a tragic turn when the gingerbread men can’t fit inside their own house, but I know for next time to measure the people before piping the front door on the house!