Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year, New Venture


It's good when a plan comes together. In February 2015, when we were living in London, I wrote a post about my work experience at the Cavan Bakery in West Molesey and ended it with a paragraph saying ....

So it's back to my public sector 'day job' on Monday – I’m coming to the conclusion that a part time admin job (for the steady salary and boring pension....zzzzzz) and part time baking role (for the job satisfaction and variety) is what I need to keep me sane!! So that needs to be my next plan……

Nearly a year later, we're back in Shrewsbury and I am working part-time in the NHS (steady salary and boring pension - tick), I successfully completed my NVQ3 City & Guilds Diploma in Patisserie & Confectionary and we recently moved house. I now have a lovely smart kitchen large enough to create cakes, worktop space for my new Kenwood stand mixer and plenty of room to store my ever growing collection of cake decorating equipment and books. Time to see if I can make a success of a cake decorating business.

There's still a lot to think about and organise including marketing and ensuring I operate legally, complying with all regulations. I've registered our home as a Food Business Establishment with Shropshire Council, I passed my Level 2 Award in Food Safety in Catering and have arranged Public & Product Liability Insurance. I now need to sit down and develop a pricing structure - probably one of the most difficult things to get right. Too low and I won't cover my costs, too expensive and people won't use me - see my previous post here about the tricky business of pricing home-made bespoke celebration cakes. 

Input from my son Owen, who is a graphic designer, has been invaluable. I came up with the company name - Crescent Cakes - based on the area of Shrewsbury we have moved to. From this he has created a fantastic logo, designed business cards and is now working on my website. He even designed and commissioned a crescent shaped cookie cutter and arranged for it to be produced on a 3D printer as a Christmas present. You should have seen my face when I unwrapped it - you wouldn't believe anyone could get so excited about a cookie cutter!

I really need to get up to speed with marketing my business on social media. I've decided to concentrate on using Twitter, Instagram and writing blog posts. If you like what I do please spread the word, or better still commission a cake from me! But bear with me while I work out the price......  

Sunday, 8 November 2015

3 Tiered Mini Cake

I'm still recovering from making my first 4 tiered wedding cake a couple of weeks ago. Time wise it 'physically' took about 40 hours or so to complete but 'mentally' it took over almost every waking moment for a month or so. Making this little mini 3 tiered cake was a breeze in comparison!

I'd been inspired by a beautiful array of entries into the Miniature Wedding Cake competition when I visited the Squires Kitchen Exhibition in March this year. I preferred the simplicity of some of the non-winning entrants but the intricate work on these tiny (regulation - maximum 6" height and diameter) cakes was so impressive. 

My favourite - Entrant 525
So when I came across this mini cake pan set from Lakeland costing £7.99 I didn't hesitate to add it to my ever growing cupboard full of bake-ware and not long after quickly knocked up some lemon cakes and covered them in sugarpaste.

The flowers were made using simple cutters and were attached to the cake using royal icing with a matching thin sheer ribbon attached to each tier to finish it off.

My cake - 5" high and 5" diameter


I reckon you could easily feed about 8 guests with this little cake so it's ideal for a small gathering.

Cute isn't it!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Wedding Cake

Weddings - lengthy planning, so many decisions, the nerves .... and that's just me making the cake! 

Although I've made quite a lot of quirky celebration cakes it's been some time (21 years!) since I last did a formal wedding cake for friends. I put a lot of time into this one - getting the dimensions, finish, textures and especially the sugarpaste roses just right. I'll probably do another post explaining the steps and intricacies involved in producing this but for now here's a small gallery of photos....

The brides brief was for 4 sponge tiers all sitting on each other with navy ribbon to match the bridesmaids dresses, a small number of hot pink roses and simple icing dots on the sides. I haven't heard from the happy couple yet but I'm hoping they liked it.....

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Computer themed cupcakes

Life's got a bit busy recently.....starting a new admin job in the NHS, helping out casually in a bakery, getting organised to sell and move out of our house, buying another house, making a wedding cake for a friends son and volunteering with a charitable organisation offering people advice and support when using computers.

For the launch of the charities new venture I offered to make some cupcakes. If truth be known I'm probably better suited to helping people learn about baking and cake decorating than computing but we're not talking programming or analytics here just the basics for those with limited knowledge of, or access to, computers. I decided on a computer themed cupcake design for the launch party and created a variety of royal icing run-out logos for the toppers. I also modelled a few laptops out of black gumpaste finished off with the flying windows desktop screen printed onto rice paper and,  again using rice paper, decorated a few cupcakes with the organisation's 'Go-to' logo.

The launch party was a success, the mayor cut the ribbon, the venue was officially opened, the ethos explained and plenty of food and cake was eaten. I hope it proves to be a valuable resource for the community - good luck Go-to Internet Cafe at the Roy Fletcher Centre in Shrewsbury! Now I'd better brush up on my knowledge of cookies of the computer not edible kind!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Sourdough September

How long does it take before something becomes a habit? Research seems to indicate that it depends on how difficult that task is. Drinking more water on a daily basis - relatively easy, getting into running - very difficult (for me anyway), making sourdough......? I think, after 6 weeks, I'm just about there. But it does take commitment, an organised mind and, for best results, some new additions to your baking kit.

The Real Bread Campaign has been championing Sourdough September for a few years now and it is well supported by a range of businesses and promoted in local and national press. I've recently been helping out in a small artisan bakery in Shrewsbury called Bread and Loaf on a casual basis. They specialise in sourdough and interesting yeasted and rye breads and seem to have a loyal and growing customer base.

Telegraph - 12/09/2015

The Shrewsbury Chronicle - 03/09/2015

A few weeks ago, to promote Sourdough September, Bread and Loaf gave away a small tub of sourdough starter to anyone interested in 'having a go' along with a recipe and information sheet. Over 160 starter packs were given away and 13 plucky customers returned with their loaves on Saturday to be entered into a competition judged by Kate and Martin who own and run the business. Interestingly all looked and tasted quite different despite starting with the same recipe and starter.

I wonder how the other 150 recipients are getting on. Is their starter languishing in the fridge waiting to be refreshed? Has it grown and grown as people feed it and can't bring themselves to throw half away? Or have people given up as they cannot fit making soudough bread into their busy lives? I'm probably making a loaf every two or three days and alternate between using the Bristol sourdough starter we acquired and my own 'home grown' starter. Below is a pictorial story of my sourdough 'journey'...

In the beginning....... sourdough starter

Equipment list - bread stone, lame (scoring blade) & banneton basket

Sourdough rising slowly in the basket (12 hours plus)

Sourdough turned out and ready to be scored and cooked

My 6 weeks worth of sourdough loaves - all different!

So although Sourdough September has come to an end I hope making soudough bread is one habit I'll try and keep up.   

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Fabulous Figs

It's a bit of a family joke that eating a Fig Roll covers at least one of your '5-a-day' - who knows it could be more - depends on how many you scoff in one go of course! Joking aside figs are a good source of dietary fibre, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamins A, E & K. So these naturally sweet fruit will promote a healthy nervous system and contribute to strong bones.

Fig Rolls are a long time favourite with hubby Dave and he has experimented with most of the supermarket own brands as well as the more upmarket and expensive Jacobs. One website has gone to the trouble of comparing most of the varieties out there - now that's dedication to the cause! So I decided it was time to try and make my own and found a great recipe on The Little Loaf website. What they lacked in appearance and uniformity they more than made up for in taste and they disappeared very quickly.

With some dried figs left over I decided to try out a Fig and Honey Coil recipe in my Pocket Bakery cookbook. Similar to Chelsea Buns these use an enriched yeasted dough onto which a fig and honey mixture is spread. The rectangular dough is then rolled up and left to rise before glazing and cooking. If anyone wants the recipe please send me a message.

A nice fruity twist on the classic Chelsea Bun recipe - delicious.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Gadget Girl

Not for me the iPhone 6 or latest tablet. Sad I know but I've fallen in love with my new gadget.

It's my birthday soon and my lovely twin sister Sue gave me money to buy a mixer of my choice. There's so many out there........which one to buy? After reading reviews and comparing prices I decided on the Kenwood KMix which came with a 5 year warranty from John Lewis. It's solidly made and has so many attachments. Those following the Great British Bake Off this year may have noticed that the stylish KitchenAids have been replaced with the more affordable Kenwood KMix. See the Telegraph article here

It's so shiny and new - shame to get it covered in flour and cake mix......

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Sourdough bread

I don't think I'm a bad mother.....

Next week Dave and I will be at Gareth's Masters graduation ceremony. He's doing all right for himself in London and Owen is living and working in Bristol. With plenty of support and nurturing they've grown into independent young men. So why am I doubting my motherly skills.... well I have (or rather had) 3 new 'babies' in my life ........ sourdough babies!

About 2 weeks ago I started to grow and nurture my sourdough babies - I made one from rye flour and the other from white flour. I carefully followed the recipe and step-by-step method in The Pocket Bakery book by Rose Prince, a Christmas present from the lads last year. 

Just like children the sourdough starters need feeding, watering, warmth and a very close eye watching over them for the first few weeks of their 'lives'. Sadly one of my 'babies' turned a funny colour and started smelling and, after referring to the trouble-shooting section of the book there seemed to be little I could do to resurrect the starter, so it had to be discarded.  

RIP - 1 week old sourdough starter

Luckily I'd had the opportunity to adopt another 'offspring' courtesy of Owen. This was no baby though - it is reportedly 15 years old and 'grew up' in Joe's Bakery in Bristol. So my new 'family' consists of a very active teenager who I keep in a jar in the fridge and feed every 3 to 5 days and a struggling 2 week old baby in an incubator (i.e plastic tub).

I don't (yet) have all the equipment to make professional looking sourdough loaves so I have muddled along with what I have - although I did splash out on a terracotta baking stone. I'll have to drop hints for my birthday coming up for a wooden paddle and some banneton baskets! I was very pleased with my first efforts though. Practice makes perfect and I need to learn how this dough differs to dough I am more familiar with, how to correctly gauge the temperature and time needed for the optimum slow rising and how to manhandle and turn out a beautiful artisan loaf.

I do have quite a bit of time on my hands at the moment so I've no excuse not to try and perfect this new skill. I suspect my waistline is going to suffer!!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Gluten Free Afternoon Tea

We're back 'home' in Shrewsbury permanently now having left the lights and sights of London behind us. As well as applying for jobs and getting the house and garden in some sort of order, I've been busy catching up with friends. Back in 2012 when Dave and I set off on our travels around Europe I left a job, and a team, I really loved. Thankfully we've kept in touch since then and last week I invited them over for afternoon tea.

One of the 'girls' is on a gluten free diet so I set myself the challenge of ensuring that nothing was 'out of bounds' for her. The savoury dishes included smoked salmon pinwheels, celery and cottage cheese boats, mozzarella and cherry tomato salad, quiche (made with gluten free pastry) and individual prawn cocktails. The mini desserts included meringue nests with strawberries, profiteroles,  lemon tart, chocolate cheesecake and macarons with salted caramel.

It might have been beginners luck but the two variations of gluten free pastry I made were a great success.  I had read horror stories of how difficult the pastry could be to work with and how wet/hard/inedible others had found the end result. The trick seemed to be to start with a slightly wet mixture, let it rest in the fridge and roll it out between two sheets of cling film. The recipe on the Doves Farm Gluten Free Flour packet varied slightly to that on their website so I aimed for somewhere in the middle! For the lemon tart pastry case I added a little sugar and egg yolk to the standard mix. I followed the Doves Farm Choux Pastry recipe to make the profiteroles and was very satisfied with the results. I would defy anyone to tell the difference once they are filled with cream and covered in chocolate!

Piped choux pastry panade

Macarons and meringues are already gluten free so no adaptations were required there. The chocolate cheesecake I made with crushed Asda GF chocolate cookies for the base and a standard cream cheese topping.

Good food, good friends, good times........all gluten free! 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Macaron Tower

Ta dah.....

The challenge for my last practical session at college was to produce a stunning centrepiece. Our lecturer suggested a creation in chocolate or sugar but I was keen to try and produce something impressive using macarons. Google images for 'Macaron Tower' and just marvel at the beautiful multi-coloured displays.

There are basically two main ways of presenting the tower - the first is to line up the macarons on their edges and display them on a tiered stand. The downside with this method is the cost of the stand and the vast number of macarons needed........way too expensive. The second method is to display them on a cone using cocktail sticks. After much searching I found the perfect polystyrene cone for about £4 in the fantastic  Watson & Thornton  haberdashery shop in Shrewsbury and I set about planning how many macarons and fondant roses I needed to make. I also found a cheap and cheerful pink glass cake stand in Tiger for the bargain price of £5.

If you read my earlier post on macarons you will realise that they are a bit of a faff to make and I decided that whilst I would make a few on the evening to prove I had the skills to produce the macarons, swiss meringue buttercream and fondant roses I would also have to pre-prepare a whole batch to take with me. The evening session at college is short enough without the fire drill they had arranged for Tuesday evening. Over the course of last weekend I prepared 75 tightly closed sugar roses and 120 macarons (about 3.5cm in diameter) as well as covering the cone and a small chocolate cake with fondant icing. I sandwiched the macarons together with swiss meringue buttercream ending up with 'around' 60 (allowing for a few breakages and taste-ages!).


On the assessment evening I made a few roses and a small batch of macarons but spent most of my time nervously assembling the tower. I inserted the cocktail sticks halfway into the cone then carefully positioned the macarons onto the point sticking out - trying not to squash the delicate shells. Half way through I panicked as it was looking a bit of a mess, time was ticking away, the fire drill was imminent and my lecturer was coming back to assess my work. I decided I had to pull them off and start again to get the pattern right. I really hate the sound and feel of polystyrene so did all this with gritted teeth!

I'm glad I did persevere as the finished article certainly had the WOW factor! My tutor was suitably impressed and insisted he take me and my tower on a tour of the college showing it to his chef colleagues and other catering students. It seemed a shame to dismantle it but Dave doesn't have a sweet tooth and although I would have made a valiant effort even I couldn't/shouldn't eat 60 macarons! I left a box at college to be shared out amongst the staff and took the other half into work the following day. They were light and tasty and went down very well. Some colleagues cheekily asked if I had bought them in a shop, with most macarons costing £1.50 to £2 each to buy, the box of 30 I took in would have cost me about £50 - my NHS salary doesn't stretch to gestures like that!!

Macarons on sale in France
So that's it - I have one more week at college to finish the remaining theory. Then my folder and photographic evidence will be assessed and hopefully I will get my NVQ certificate. In July we will leave London and return to Shropshire - I wonder if Shrewsbury is ready for me championing a macaron revolution!