Wednesday 31 July 2013

C is for...

Right, lets get straight to the point, topic of todays blog… CAKE.

Those that know me, will also be familiar with my sweet tooth. Its true, once a fussy eater with the taste buds of a 5 year old, I became a quivering wreck when faced with peas, carrots or veg of any kind- however, I always struggled to turn down dessert!
It has become my mission recently to grow up, culinary speaking, to learn to cook real meals (apparently cheese on toast doesn't count as real) and to expand my mind and lose the fear holding me back from trying 'scary' stuff.

As my list of success continues (tomatoes, lamb, coffee…), I some how still bring the intended quest back to the good stuff, pudding :) And in celebration of my mothers birthday I decided to try combing this effort with a great big birthday cake, by baking a carrot cake.

Ive never made one of these before, so began by searching for some recipe ideas I liked the sound of, and stumbled across this lovely blog Lucy's Recipes. Lucy uses a Hummingbird Bakery recipe for the carrot cake (ding ding ding!!), but presents it in a gorgeously unique way, that certainly caught my attention. Take a look at the other recipes, the Deconstructed Banoffee Pie is next on my list to try!! 

The Hummingbird Bakery is known for its authentic American baking, and its beautifully iconic red velvet cupcakes are a classic. Lucy offers a recipe and easy to follow baking instructions for this delicious cake:

300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 (HEAPED) tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract
200g (instead of 300) grated carrots
100g chopped walnuts, (plus another handful chopped for decoration)

300g icing sugar, sifted
50g butter, room temp
125g cream cheese, cold

Preheat the oven at about 170*
Prepare 2x 8" tins cake tins with a little butter and line the bases with baking parchment. (In the original blog the recipe says 'makes one large cake' but doesn't specify how many cake tins are required. I used two rather shallow 8" tins and there was plenty of mixture!! Including a little left over, which I baked in a third tin, to scoff whilst the other cakes cool, hihihi).

Beat the sugar, eggs and oil in a mixer until nicely combined, then slowly add the dry ingredients (flour, bicarb, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt) plus the vanilla, and continue to mix. Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts with a spoon, do not freak out at the sight of this mixture, because I assure you, at this stage it ain't a pretty sight!! Have faith, this ugly duckling turns into the sexiest, moist sponge!

Divide into the two (or chefs special, three) cake tins and bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 - 25 minutes, until the sponges bounce back when you press them. Use something sharp and pointy to pierce the centre of the mix, if it comes out clean, you're good to go. Let them stand a little, then upon turning out of the tins, leave to cool.

Now comes the frosting! Add the sifted icing sugar (beware of sugary cloud inhalation!) and the butter to your mixer, and let it combine. At this stage my frosting was too dry and started turning into a crumby mix, so rather than waiting for things to incorporate or adding extra butter, I went ahead and threw in the cream cheese- which worked lovely! I kept the mixer going for at least 5 minutes until it was totally smooth and looked scrumptious. I then wrapped with cling film and left in the fridge to harden to a thick, workable paste.

To assemble, use one sponge as a base, sandwich with the other using the frosting in-between, then of course, smooth the rest of the frosting over the top. Next came the left over walnuts sprinkled on top, I also added a naughty treat… Chopped up Dime bar!! Trust me, it so works.

This was such a successful cake that I can't wait to make another. Really delicious moist sponge, not too sugary, nice amount of spice, with the light frosting and the obligatory crunch from the walnuts. I fully recommend trying this one, especially for a special occasion as its quite a generous size. And totally guilt free thanks to the carrots ;)

Get in touch if you've tried any of Lucy's other dishes, or are a fan of The Hummingbird Bakery (who isn't!).

Sunday 28 July 2013

To Infinity and Beyond!

Who listens to your problems without ever complaining? Who can always be relied upon to make you feel better when you're feeling under the weather? Who gives the best hugs, whenever you need them? Your teddy bear of course!! Whether its a brand new Minnie Mouse (for your 27th birthday…) or a chewed up oldie, teddy bears rule when it comes to comforting an exhausted heart.

I have been collecting ideas and patterns for making a bear from scratch for a while, but was a little intimidated by tackling such a nostalgic and well known character. That was until my friend was taken quite ill, and the question arose 'what do you send someone who is already surrounded by flowers and cards?' So I made her a little buddy to keep her company, someone to squeeze and maybe make her feel a bit better. Resulting in this little guy!

On a scavenger hunt around the local rag market, I stumbled across some awesome off cuts of fluffy business! I picked up a creamy short haired number with tiny flecks of grey in it to give it texture and depth, while my mother spotted a fuzzy brown, perfect bear making materials! We stocked up on wadding, felt in browns and creams and various other treasures for a rainy day.

The pattern I used was from one of my most favourite craft magazines 'Molly Makes'. This magazine covers everything, from up cycling old clothes into beautiful one off pieces for your wardrobe, to decorating lamp shades with patch work, to top tips on where to shop vintage. In this particular issue (issue number 20 ) designer Yvette Spencer lends the cutest pattern for a small sized teddy.

The pattern is fairly basic and allows huge room for artistic flair. I decided to simplify this even further, and rather than using joints and pins I just stuffed my bears limbs with wadding and stitched him together piece by piece.

When following the instructions of this pattern its always handy to remember to use tiny close together stitches, perhaps a small, neat back stitch, to ensure your wadding doesn't poke through and to minimise visible stitching. Also, depending on your bear's do, you may need to use a quick unpick to pull out the hair from the joined pieces. (And do remember to fluff up your bear once its all fastened together!)

I used two small beads for his eyes and a satin, or embroidery stitch for his nose.

Upon inspection, once he was complete, I found his head to be a little small for his body, so I think next time I will attempt to go bigger! I struggled a little positioning the ears, almost went into mouse territory, but I think the over all look is kind of cute nether the less!

My second bear, using the fluffy brown fur, with a head upgrade >

I am pleased to say my friend fell in love with him immediately. And that I was pleasantly surprised how easy, (or not too difficult, should I say), the little dude was to make. Now, wheres Minnie? Its time for a nap.

Have you used this pattern, or one similar? Do you have any helpful tips or bear necessities, when it comes to doll making?

Saturday 27 July 2013