Sunday, 27 July 2014

It's all in the detail

When I'm planning a cake design I like to find out about the recipients interests as well as getting inspiration from images, photographs and objects that are personal to them.

My late father-in-law Jack had a shed filled with tools and bits of wood. When the famous Welsh weather took a turn for the worse in the winter he had to make do with one of the back rooms in the family house. As all men know though the attraction of the shed is the distance it gives them from 'her-indoors'!

An engineer by trade, Jack worked at Stratford Railway Works in London before moving to Llanon where he worked at Aberystwyth University. He was brilliant at crafting wood and metal and his house was full of beautifully carved pieces of furniture, sculptures and models. Jack spent 7 years and a small fortune making a model of Petrolea (pictured below), Britain's first oil-fired steam locomotive, which was accurate down to the finest detail. His model will soon be on display at the newly renovated Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum in East London as the family have loaned it to the museum for their exhibition on the Stratford Works.  

Link to the museum's Stratford Works webpage
Close up of the fine detail of the model Jack made

I have no idea how long Jack spent carving this traditional Welsh love spoon - a wedding gift for Dave and I. Crafted from one piece of wood and so intricately carved it incorporates aspects of our lives that were so personal to us at the time. The wedding bells always remind me of the 'Bells of Aberdovey' - the little seaside village where we were living when we got married. The ropes, anchor and life ring symbolic of our jobs as we were running a yacht charter business in Turkey. Our initials and the year of our marriage are also carved into it - D & K, 1989. This year we celebrated our silver anniversary and few of the gifts we were given on that day have survived but our love spoon hangs up in our bedroom and still holds a special place in my heart.

 It really is all in the detail.....

Sunday, 20 July 2014

If music be the food of love, play on

Remember vinyl? Remember the beautiful artwork on the LP cover? Remember the photographs and lyrics on the inner sleeve? And what about the limited edition coloured vinyls - I remember having a lovely white '45' in my collection.

Son Gareth has an eclectic taste in music and, in addition to the hundreds of downloaded tracks, he also owns a few vinyl singles and LP's - not that we have a turntable to play them on! He asked me to make him a birthday cake for a small party he was having with his friends in London so I created one to look like a record player. 

I managed to source a pack of purple fondant icing which perfectly matched the colour of the Arctic Monkeys vinyl single he has in his collection. The 'label' was a copy of the text on the single, I added in 'Happy Birthday Gareth' and got it printed onto rice-paper - the same technique as used in Sue's  suitcase cake.  A couple of weeks before the party date I modelled the tonearm, cartridge and stylus to ensure they dried hard and would hold their shape when the cake was assembled. The tonearm was suspended above the cake, anchored to the tone arm clip and the counterweight base.

Gareth arranged for his friend Tim to collect the cake from Shrewsbury and take it to London on the day of the party. Tim is a bit of a petrol head and always drives everywhere so I boxed it up carefully ready for the journey. When he arrived and announced he was taking the train the logistics of getting the cake to its destination became a little more complicated. Tim assured me he would get it there safely ....... however a few drinks were consumed on the train resulting in some parts 'breaking off' and hurriedly being eaten to destroy the evidence! I'm not sure exactly what happened but it arrived at the party without the tonearm. 

Gareth was none the wiser until I emailed him some photos of the cake a few days after the party. He loved it anyway!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Three Lions (Football's Coming Home)

As the 'men' in my life sit down to watch the 2014 final between Germany and Argentina this evening we'll be reflecting on England's worst World Cup performance since 1958.

The catchy 1996 song 'Three Lions .... on a shirt' made famous by Baddiel and Skinner remains a favourite with England fans as the words still ring true - despite past failures we still hope and dream that the boys will bring home the silverware!

Gareth, Owen and Dave have followed England's 'journey' over the years as well as their own teams - Liverpool, Man Utd and West Ham. Not surprisingly I've made a number of cakes with football themes. This one, made in 2000, was for Gareth and his friend Daniel's 9th birthday, who were born just a week apart in February 1991.

The Three Lions crest was made using the run-out technique featured in my previous post. 

Later that year England fared poorly in the Euro 2000 tournament with an article in the Telegraph  entitled 'Inadequate England coming home' - seems like a case of deja vu!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Where it all began

I grew up in rural mid-Wales having moved to the tiny village of Pennal from Wolverhampton in the late 60's. Mum and Dad had bought a rundown Country House called Penmaendyfi and set about renovating it - building up a very successful business with bar, restaurant, self catering accommodation, swimming pool and squash courts. Mum was a good cook but was very busy running the business and we always made a fuss making out we never got cakes and puddings. On a regular basis mum got 'Home and Freezer Digest', one of the first cookery magazines available in the early 1980's, although she rarely had time to try out new recipes. A supplement sold with the magazine called 'Special Occasion Cakes' is still part of my small library of cake books.

Cake books - new and old

Our small local shops didn't stock fondant icing back then but the book included lots of techniques using Royal Icing - and as icing sugar and eggs were readily available I was keen to try them out.

Fascinated by a technique in Lesson 7 called Run-out Work I set about, using the simple instructions, recreating the effect on our family Christmas Cake.


I remember being really pleased with how the collar turned out complete with the little lace sections and piping around the edges. I'm no artist but even the scene I copied from a Xmas Card and painted onto the cake looked quite good to my untrained eye. Family and friends were impressed and that was the start of my interest in cake decorating. The scanned photo of the cake isn't great but you get the idea!

The book has been well used as it has my trusty rich fruit cake recipe in it. Using the run-out technique you can create shapes,numbers and letters, it's been many years since I did any run-out work but I might just have another go. Watch this space.....