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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Midnight Makery

Let it be said, right at the start; I’m not a person that is very good at making things.  Some people are wonderfully talented, they can craft, sew, knit, throw clay onto a potter's wheel and emerge with amazing sculptural pots - there seems no end to their talents.  I am not one of those people.  Some people are amazing cooks; I’ve read some mouth wateringly good blogs with photography worthy of Delicious magazine to match.  Whilst I’ll concede, I am better in the kitchen than at the sewing machine, I am not one of those people either.  So, it was with a heavy heart that I listened as my mother dropped a huge stone like hint into the rock pool of my well being and let the ripples flow towards me. 

“It would be so lovely if someone would make me a cake for my birthday”.  

I waited for calm stillness to return but then, just in case I hadn’t heard correctly the first time..PLOP..along came the follow up, as she added wistfully; 

"No one ever makes me a cake".  GUILT.  That’s what I felt. Pinging at me from all directions, like overstretched strands of elastic.

Making a cake for my mother is not like making a cake for any old Tom, Dick or Harry. Move over Mary Berry. You are not the undisputed Queen of Cakes. Possibly you are the princess, but it’s probably my Mum with her 27 year old trusty Kenwood mixer, who reigns majestic over all things cakery.  Pressure. That’s what I felt at the challenge ahead.  Of all things kitchenesque, baking is probably the thing I’m least good at.  I was never particularly good at science at school, or maths for that matter. When I attempt to bake, I find that I end up getting foxed.  For example, in those situations when I want to use a different size tin to that prescribed in the recipe and then can't work out how to adjust the quantities of ingredients needed.  That’s when I think, I should have paid more attention to that maths lesson on πr².

And so it was, that last Thursday, still with a mountain of holiday washing to get through, and an architect champing at the bit to sort out details of structural beams on the house project, I found myself ignoring them all, as I set out to make THE CAKE.

I tried to enthuse myself, I honestly did. I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll even try and make a foodie blog post out of this.’ How hard can it be?  Answer - not as easy as I thought.

It started well enough. I popped out to the shops in the morning. List in hand. Prepared. I ventured into the cake decorating shop, I bought my fondant icing in the colours I wanted. I even checked with the woman in the shop; "Is this going to be enough icing to cover my cake?" "Oh yes, plenty there," she reassured me.

Returning home. I felt super organised and enthusiastic. Like all good food bloggers, I took a photograph of my ingredients at the beginning. 

All weighed out and raring to go...

I made my cake. (Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge recipe). Husband, a much better cake maker than I, had instructed me to double the mixture, to ensure the cakes were ‘extra high’ as we’d decided to make a layered cake. (Unfortunately I forgot to take a photograph  of them when they came out of the oven, but they were pretty impressive.) 

The day continued.  Just some jam and buttercream needed and the icing/ decoration, which I planned to do after husband and I had eaten our dinner that night.  Therein lay the first problem; we didn’t finish dinner until after 8pm, we were both tired and time showed no time of slowing down as the kitchen clock measured our minimal progress.

I’ve always been good at delegating.  Husband got the task of making the buttercream and layering the cake with jam and cream, whilst I set about making the decorations.

In these situations, it’s always good to have a design plan.  I had a ‘sort of’ plan - the loose kind of ‘wing it’ plan that I often have. Purple icing for cake base, with white and yellow and lime green flowers.  (Made with special puncher purchased from the cake shop which I had yet to work out how to use.)

Of the many things I learnt that Thursday night about cake decorating, these were my most valuable lessons:

Lesson 1. Do not try to teach yourself to make fondant flowers at 9.30pm the night you need to finish the cake.  It turned out to be far trickier than I thought.  The icing was either too thick or to thin or too sticky, and as I hadn’t been able to buy any ‘Tygol glue’ to glue one on top of the other, I also had to improvise at the last minute. (The Internet recommended denture paste but deciding this might be unpalatable, (and also lacking in said denture paste)  I opted instead for a thick paste made from Royal Icing Sugar and water after a distress text to a cake-making friend.)

Enthusiasm waning I forgot to take a neat and tidy picture...

Lesson 2. Release your inner control freak.  “You’re putting too much buttercream on.” I lamented to Husband. “It will be far too sweet’. "It’ll be great..." he said, ladling yet more onto the cake.  In the end I just gave up interfering. I had the fiddly flowers to worry about. (Putting it politely.)  By 9.30pm I’d decided that the end objective should just be delivering a cake, not worrying about what it tasted like.


Lesson 3.  Always buy more icing than you need. Especially if you are using one colour to cover the base of the cake (and the shops will be shut when you are making it).  At 10.45pm this happened:

No amount of stretching was going to get the purple bad boy to fit.

The purple icing barely covered the top of the cake.  At this point, exhausted after hunching over flower petals for most of the evening, I had a sense of humour failure. (Obviously completely blaming the woman in the cake shop for the deficit of icing.)
 
Husband: ‘Well, we could leave it like this and you can go and buy some more icing tomorrow and finish it.” “No, I need to leave for Mum’s at 10am” I wailed. “I haven’t got time..” . I felt like throwing the whole thing at the wall. Be GONE Cake. BE GONE.

Lesson 4.  Even when it seems like all is lost. It hardly ever is. Especially if you’re willing to bend the rules a little bit. Or in my case..the best before dates.

In a flash of inspiration, I remembered that there was a box of various packs of unopened icing in the cellar left over from last year’s Bob the Builder cake (made by the husband I might add. ). I dispatched Husband to the Gruffalo’s cave to see what what there, and prayed to the icing fairy.  He emerged with a bumper 1kg pack of white icing.  Hurrah! We were saved. The slight catch was it turned out to be two months out of date, but I took cheer from the fact it was still fully sealed and the mice obviously hadn’t got to that corner yet of the cellar yet.  The executive chef in me made the decision to use it.  My logic was...it’s nearly all sugar...what's in it to go out of date?

Thank goodness for my husband and his strong kneading muscles. It was like a rock.  A little while later, he’d rolled it out and stretched it over the cake.  It’s not as easy as it looks covering a piece of cake in a whole piece of fondant icing.  With the exception of a very dog-earred bodged patch towards the bottom he did a pretty good job.

Lesson 5: Husbands can be very helpful in situations like this.  Especially when, as mine did, they make up humorous songs about ‘making a cake for the mother in law' to buoy your spirits.

At 11.30 pm I began the job of sticking on the flowers.  After some emergency mass production of some more flowers in alternative colours, as obviously, white on white was now going to look a little..strange.  


Lesson 6: Flowers are a great thing to use for the novice cake maker.  Apart from the hassle of making them they do cover a multitude of sins.  Cracked edges and bodged white icing - gone.

At 12.30am the cake looked like this.  I went to bed praying that the flowers would still be stuck to it when I emerged the next morning.



6am. Flowers still intact. Phew.


Overall, I was quite pleased with how it turned out. Depending on the angle you looked at it, it was a little lopsided, a sort of leaning tower of cake.  I wish I could say I enjoyed the whole experience more, but frankly, it was a labour of last-minute love.  I'm sure my mother appreciated it, although the unanimous verdict from my direct speaking family was that it was ‘too sweet’. (At least they didn't say the icing was 'off'.)  

I think I'll be heading to M&S for next year's cake.




21 comments:

  1. It may have taken a lot of doing but that is one fantastic cake! Well done! Seems a shame to cut it up and eat it now.

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    1. Thanks MLSM. I have actually got an uneaten cake in the cupboard. My Mum made a christening cake for my son out of the top layer of our wedding cake. As the cake was 7 years old though I didn't want to risk upsetting any of the guests stomachs so ordered an 'eat' version as well!

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  2. Anything in the world of cakes / baking turns out much trickier than anticipated, but that aside, the end product looks fantastic! And you got an entertaining post out of the whole experience lol. I am uber impressed though, you might find you have a little bug for it now - a need to beat the cake?! Buttercream is a bugger, I make it for cupcakes every now and then and always remember just as I start creaming the mixture how much of a pain it is. I put whipping cream in my Victoria Sponge, but this has to be done on the day and then kept cool, which is also a bit of a pain! Baking is supposed to be relaxing, pah I say! Lol.

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    1. I can say with my hand on my heart I definitely do not think I'll be getting the bug for it. People who own cake making businesses must do it for the joy of it I reckon! Agree..was not relaxing one bit!

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  3. Cheers mum for dropping that not so obvious hint .... But what a result. That creation is fantastic - it looks amazing and those flowers are gorgeous. I don't think I would have the patience to bake something like that. Hats off to you. Good job those pesky mice hadn't bitten a crater size hole out of that bag! I hope your mum did appreciate your gesture, the night before her birthday - I am assuming it was the night before!

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    1. Mothers eh? But as she was 65 I felt it was a special birthday and I should make the effort. Yes, was amazed the mice hadn't got to the icing. Must've been because it was boxed on the top shelf - they're obviously not climbers!

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  4. OMG what a beautiful cake!!!! I am not a baker either. I do cake from a box and RARELY. I rather run to the store and buy a premade cake for birthdays (even for my own son!) It gives me cold sweats just to think about making anything that elaborate!

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    1. Thanks Julia. My husband is the baker in our house, but I got the impression my Mum really wanted a cake made by ME. I tried. I think if it hadn't all been so last.minute.com I might have enjoyed the whole experience a little bit more!

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  5. I think it is a fantastic effort. I got the bug after a bit if a disastrous Thomas the tank engine cake 8 years ago and now feel quite proud of my attempt - infact I've just posted today about one of the first cakes I have been asked to do that is not for family. As for your flowers you really need to use petal paste or flower paste which sets harder and the flowers are then easier to handle (I only learnt this a while ago!). And water is the best glue for sugar paste!

    I think it is a brilliant effort, 1000 x better than my first few attempts at cake decorating and I would not dare share those photos on here!

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    1. Thanks RP. Did not know about flower paste. If there ever is a next time...I'll look it up! Will pop over and have a look at your latest creation. :0)

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  6. Oh my word this looks absolutely amazing! A cake fit for a king...or queen! Either way, you did a fantastic job, and the husband definitely deserves some credit there too. I do hope that your mum was suitably impressed and that it tasted as good as it looked. Your efforts to make it, really did make me laugh, it sounds ilke just the sort of thing I would do!

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    1. Yes, husband definitely deserves some of the credit. He was my sanity saver. It's never as bad when you've got someone 'sharing the pain' with you.

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  7. It looks lovely, and cakes aren't meant to be sweet anyway! I have found with 'special' cakes something always goes wrong despite how good or not you are at baking x

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    1. Yes, I think that you're right there. There is such a weight of expectation on oneself to make the 'special' cake amazing that chances are there will be something that you're not quite happy with. Still, for those special people who are lucky to get a homemade creation hopefully for them, it's the thought that counts.

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  8. that is one fantastic cake MP & lucky you having a sous chef aka DH! Mine loves to bake too so we have to jostle for kitchen time! The flowers are superb! I always cut the sugar in my cakes because there is usually some kind of sweet icing but doesn't matter if its too sweet, you're only having a slice.

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    1. Yes, he's not a bad old sous chef. I think a man who likes to bake is generally a good man - so glad you've got one too!

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  9. That cake looks brilliant and your mum should be pleased that you made the effort - I think it looks superb, it took a lot of effort and I'm sure it tasted better than any of the cardboard creations you get in the shops. Well done you, you should be proud. I would definitely have thrown it at the wall! Polly

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    1. Thanks Polly. It was a challenge, I rose to it and better still, I finished it. Husband's birthday is this week I really feel that he's expecting a cake too now..and after all his help with Mum's cake I should make the effort.. *groan* I don't even like making cakes that much! :0)

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  10. I think that looks wonderful! My son doesn't let me make cakes any more - not even for HIS Birthday - he says 'It'll be rubbish Mum' and he's right. What a brilliant result after all you efforts. Hope it went down well? X

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    1. Nothing like direct feedback from your children! Yes, I think she appreciated the effort and thought. But I did notice her say she was planning to send the remaining cake to work with my brother on the Monday!

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