Food Festival Fun

The Great British Food Festival is taking place at Harewood House this weekend and I thought it might be fun to enter a spring-themed cake. So, after much deliberation, I opted for a carrot cake with a light honey and orange buttercream.

For the cake, I used Felicity Cloake's perfect carrot cake as my recipe, though I amended the measurements slightly so that I could use two 20cm tins instead of 18cm ones. I also changed a few other ingredients, just based on my own preferences! Who really wants sultanas in a carrot cake?

The ingredients I used were:

200g melted unsalted butter
200g soft dark brown sugar
4 free-range eggs
270g self-raising flour
1.3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
0.5 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon orange extract
270g grated carrots
200g walnuts

I started by whisking the melted butter, sugar, and eggs until the mix had doubled in size.

After sifting all of the dry ingredients together (excluding carrots and walnuts), I folded them into the wet ingredients, taking care not to beat too much air out. I then carefully added the carrots and walnuts, mixing until just combined, before splitting the batter between two cake tins and baking at 180 degrees for 35 minutes.

For the buttercream, I mixed together 500g unsalted butter, 1kg icing sugar, the zest of one large orange, a teaspoon of orange extract, and 2 tablespoons of runny honey, and beat everything together for a long time (seriously, about 30 minutes) until as light and fluffy as was physically possible. Thank goodness for food mixers!

When the cakes were cooling, it was an ideal time to start on my spring-themed fondant decorations, so I started as always by setting up my workstation. It's so much easier to get stuck in when you have everything to hand!

I started by making the bees (an essential for honey buttercream), which are incredibly easy to make. All that's needed is to gently roll yellow and black strips of fondant together, then use an edible ink pen to dot on some eyes and added a couple of white wings. Continue until you have a swarm:

Next, another easy job; carrots. Simply making a cone of orange fondant and adding a few lines with a toothpick makes these cute little veggies come to life. They're no good with hummus though:

Fondant bunnies weren't quite as simple to make as the bees and carrots, but as with all fondant work it was just about making the right shapes and adding them all together. The photos probably do a better job of showing how I did this than my words will!

I had to leave the rabbit heads and ears to set for a while before putting them together, but once firmer I used toothpicks to assemble them securely. So, during my wait, I made lots of flowers using plunge cutters (plus a few roses by hand) just to dot all over the cake:

Once the cakes had fully cooled, I sliced both into two and piped buttercream between the layers. I then continued to pipe all around the assembled cake (using a large round piping nozzle) until it was entirely covered. Then it was just a case of adding the decorations as the finishing touches:

Keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow... and preferably for some sunshine too!

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!

plans.jpg

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:

plain_gingerbread.jpg

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

piped-gingerbread.jpg

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!