Thursday, 29 November 2012

Guest Blog : Accidental Baking Champion

This is my first guest blog and something a bit different :) I will publish the recipe shortly but for now hear from a baker's better half....

'As the end of 2011 approached, my girlfriend boldly announced her new year's resolutions every couple of days (I think, to make sure we couldn't forget them and could hold her to account). One of those resolutions was to start a baking blog. I've known Ruth since 2008 and she's always spoken about wanting to have cafe, specifically to have a cafe specialising in sweet, baked, deliciousness. Countless times she has presented me with her creations; marvelous cakes, dainty macaroons, crumbly biscuits, warming tarts and of course the dazzling cupcakes. It's hard work having to try and keep it all off the waistline, but I know (trust me - I really do know) how hard she works to make everything she does the best it can be, as all skilled perfectionists do. I'm very proud of her and when she got her current job as a full time baker I was really overjoyed. It's boosted her confidence massively and given her a great new lease of life so thanks for being part of that and reading her blog!

All that said - I have NO idea why she does it. I understand I'm guesting on a baking blog here, but I really don't get what makes people bake. The mess, the time, the's mental! With that I think i should get on and talk about my own baking experience, what took me there, and where I'm going with it now (I think you can already guess that part).

A few weeks ago one of those pan-office emails went out about "The Great *************** Bake-Off". It was around the time The great British Bake-Off was in full swing, and was being arranged by one of the sales team. It invited everybody from the 150 strong events staff to submit a bake of any kind that would be judged, with prizes to be awarded in the following categories:

- Best Looking Bake
- Most Original Bake
- Best Technical Bake
- Best Overall Bake (I think this is a sort of judgment on general pretty/yumminess)

Our team, which sits seperately from most of the company briefly discussed entering. For no other reason than I thought it would be lazy not to, seeing as I know, oh too well, how our cupboards are clogged with all the ingredients and instruments i could possibly need, I piped up, declaring that I would enter and make some cupcakes. Of course, this initial verbal commitment didn't actually mean that I'd do it (or so I thought). So I went about repeating it and thought that eventually I'd just casually make up a reason that I couldn't. However, as it drew closer i realised that I was now in danger of letting people down, particularly the three ladies I work closest with, who were not going to let me off.

So, now comfortable with actually having to do it, I decided on Salted Caramel cupcakes, which Ruth had given me a few weeks earlier and were just delicious. Ruth had some caramel left over from being a prop at her latest market stall and the rest of the general cakey-ness was all in the house already so I didn't even have to go shopping - amazing!

The bake-off judging was on a Friday morning so the Thursday night before I settled down and began following Ruth's recipe to the book. I've not baked, let alone written about it before so my style might be a bit unorthodox but here we go:

MIXING - Fun Rating 6/10

I took sugar and butter (equal weights) and sort of mashed them together which took a little while but was strangely pleasurable. Then I put in some eggs and was left with a yellow mixture. I sieved in flour until it looked like cake mixture. Then I added a tin of caramel and salted the mixture to taste. I wasn't sure what it was supposed to taste like - but I just put in quite a lot of salt and it sort of always tasted good so I thought it would be okay.

SPOONING - Fun Rating 5/10

I spooned the mix into regular cupcake tins. I enjoyed trying to make sure they were all the same size but Ruth didn't seem to think it mattered.

BAKING - Fun Rating 2/10

This doesn't really involve doing anything, except for remembering when to take the cakes out which I did quite well. The oven was around 170 degrees C. Whilst I did that I made the salted caramel buttercream to ice the cakes with.


This was by far the worst bit. I had to cream some butter which actually was just a bit frustrating and quite painful. Once that was done, I had to add icing sugar, using and electric whisk to mix it all together. Again, I added a tin of caramel and salted the icing to taste. This was a terrible job as the whisk just chucked icing all over me every now and again.

FILLING - Fun Rating 6/10

I punched some holes in the cakes (which had cooled first) using a little device that Ruth has. Again, she mentioned i didn't have to be so precise but I actually thought that was quite fun. I filled the holes with yet more caramel, to give the cupcakes a delicious "melty" centre.

ICING - Fun Rating 7/10

I piped the icing onto the cupcakes and though it took me a while to get used to the required technique, I eventually managed to make them all look pretty good (in my opinion!). This was enjoyable because I was allowed to be precise. I sprinkled some edible glitter on the top and broke up some DIME bars to place on the top, sticking up jaggedly.

I boxed up the cakes and took them to work in the morning. To my surprise, people were genuinely shocked and many thought I'd just bought them from Hummingbird or something. I actually had a meeting that morning in St Pauls so I had to leave the office and walked there because it was a really nice day. I tubed back to the office and when I arrived I was desperate for the loo so I went into the Gents. A workmate came in as I was washing my hands and blithely announced that I'd just missed "my presentation'. I asked if I'd won something and he announced I'd won "Best Cake or something".

I was pretty pleased to have won, and when I went to the part of the office where people had gathered to purchase the goods (this was a charity bake off of course!) I quickly had it confirmed that I'd won Best Overall Bake. I was presented with a framed certificate (now proudly displayed on my desk) and generally with the congratulations and good-will of the office. It was a bit weird because I had never baked before but now I'd actually baked something good and been recognised!

Of course, now I get to the part of the blog about where I'll be taking my baking from now on. To be honest, I don't really want to bake again, It turned out that none of my team had actually got any of my cakes as they'd been hoovered up too quickly. So I made them some more the week after the bake-off (exactly the same) but this was more stressful and less enjoyable than the first time and that is enough for me.

I love Ruth's baking and she will always be able to provide me with doughy sweetness so I feel no burden to continue or develop my skills. If you are an amateur or professional baker, hats off to you. Not only do you create delicious food but I know from experience you do it even though it's hard and boring!

Thanks for reading, and for supporting Mixing Bowl Magic!'

Monday, 19 November 2012

J is for Jazzies

I love Jazzies. They seem kind of kitsch and retro and they remind me of being a kid! What's not to love about something that transports you back to the excitement of sprinkles?! Oh and they're chocolate :)

One of the most popular cupcakes at the shop is the 'Jazzy Marble'. It's a marble cake with two tone buttercream and Jazzies on top and it flies of the shelves and into bellies :)

I had some chocolate cupcakes left over from baking the Halloween cake so I decided to create giant Jazzies in cake form for this month's Alphabakes challenge.

I piped a large blob of chocolate frosting onto each cupcake. I then dipped each cupcake into a bowl of sprinkles. Move the cupcake around in the bowl until most of the top if the cupcake is covered. You can then use the palm of your hand to smooth the sprinkles and make sure all the cake is covered. To finish it off I used a little bit of the buttercream to stick a white Jazzy on top of the cupcake.

A very simple idea but I think actually rather effective and tasty :)

Alphabakes is hosted by Caroline Makes and The More Than Occassional Baker and November's host is Caroline from Caroline Makes.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A life of cupcakes....

It's now almost two months since I took a considerable pay cut and acquired an early morning commute out of London to bake cupcakes for a living. It has been a big change, I am very tired and my figure is fast deteriorating as I struggle to eat well and rarely get to the gym. It is a struggle financially and I will be sad to leave the little patch of south London which we have come to love. However all this is more than worth it to do something I love!

Before I started this job I had never covered a cake in fondant icing, in fact I rarely worked with sugarpaste at all. My focus has always been on flavours rather than decoration as you can probably tell if you've read my blog!

Since starting this job I have covered 4 celebration cakes, not to mention countless giant cupcakes; I have made first wedding cake (which was the first fruit cake I had ever made!) as well as wedding cupcake towers for every weekend I've been there. I've made my first cupcake bouquets, made 1000+ cupcakes in a day (same day as the wedding cake!) and even taught myself to make sugarpaste roses.

I'm so excited to improve on what I have learnt and develop new skills. I would love to do some kind of course so that I can get some real training but at the moment I am trying to teach myself as much as possible and learn from those around me.

Here are some examples of what I've been up to:

I want to say that two months ago I would never have imagined that I could have this job. Taking these leaps are not easy and I realise that I am fortunate in that I am young and have no mortgage or children to worry about so the risk was lower. But this whole experience has opened my eyes opportunities there are out there. I'm not special and I haven't always had the attitude of 'you can do whatever you want'; I just decided to go for it. And to be honest if it wasn't for the people around me who saw it a lot clearer than I did, I probably would have been brave enough - I am very lucky :)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Happy Halloween!

I haven't really got into Halloween properly for a few years now - it seems to be a celebration reserved mainly for children and students. However this year is different as I have been planning cupcakes and window decorations since I started my new job 6 weeks ago.

Here are some of the cupcakes I have been making in the shop. I've seen these ghosts around a lot now and think they're really effective - I'll be making snowmen verisons for christmas. My personal favourites however though are the pumkin cupcakes which are topped with maple cream cheese frosting. It may be too sweet for some but I have a huge soft spot for maple syrup!

And I tried out some themed cake pops - not sussed out how to get the candy melts nice and smooth yet but hopefully I'll get there!

I have also been working on some Halloween creations at home. One of my friends hosted a Halloween party at the weekend so of course I promised a cake! I had wanted to make a pumpkin cake but all the delis and supermarkets within reasonable reach failed me and I had no time to order it on online so in the end I settled for a chocolate cake. I baked the cake as one and then cut into three layers and sandwiched them togethr with green buttercream. The idea was for the buttercream to create a visual contrast with the dark chocolate sponge but the buttercream had soaked into the sponge. I don't know whether this was because the buttercream was on a surface of cake that had been cake and so wasn't 'sealed'.

The fingers are made from sugarpaste with a flaked almond nail. The eyeballs are cake balls covered in candy melts and decorated with sugarpaste and food colouring. The 'blood' is a mixture of egg whites and icing sugar and red food colouring gel. It is far from perfect but considering most of the decorating was done in the dark sans icing smoother or edible glue and surrounded by what seemed to be a small party, I was pretty pleased with the final effect.

I used the same recipe for this cake which was made at the request of my boyfriend's mum for a childrens party. The skeletons are gingerbread and the spiders are again cake balls with sugarpste eyes and legs. This time I did just two layers and baked them separaely. I levelled offthe tops but turned the bottom layer upside down so that the bottoms of each cake are being sandwiched together with cream cheese frosting. I used orange frosting in another attempt to create a colour contrast - fingers crossed it has worked!

I have never been very good at the decorating side of cakes and baking and I think that this is the cake that I'm most proud of.

This is the recipe I used for both cakes. I would normally be wary of chocolate cake recipes with no actual chocolate in it but this serves well as a layered celebration cake as the buttercream and fondant keep the sponge moist. It's the recipe we use at Dixies, or at least a variation of it. It is certainly not perfect but is useful as a basic chocolate cake recipe.I'll From these quantities I made one 8 inch cake and 12 cupcakes ) I would add that I don't think this recipe is as good for cupcakes.

330g butter
330g brown sugar
330g caster sugar
250ml soured cream
12 eggs
510g self-raising flour
165g cocoa powder
4 tsp baking powder
30ml coffee

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Cream together the butter, sugars and soured cream until well mixed and fluffy. Add in half the eggs and beat well. Mix in half the flour. Beat in the rest of the eggs and finally fold in the rest of the flour, the cocoa powder and the baking powder. Pour into a lined and greased baking tin and bake until a skewer comes out clean. Check it after 45 minutes and cover with foil if the edges look like they're catching.