Happy Christmas to All my Readers

DSCF0088Happy Christmas everybody! By the time you get this your Christmas day will be either half over or well over (depends if you decide to have a ban on looking at the computer on Christmas Day or not 😉

Regardless of the time, I’d like to send you all best wishes for the season… and hope you have all you need to make this a happy time.

Here we have family visiting  (#2 son. #3 son and his lovely wife) and will have aunts, uncles and neighbours in for Christmas day, making us twelve.

The Christmas tree is looking it usual crazy self (no restricted colour themes or fashion-following for me)

IMG_1648 cropThe cake is a riot of the holly leaves I blogged about making last week

and, as I write, the veg (including a single 3lb plus stripy beetroot from the garden) has been peeled and chopped by my lovely team of youngsters. DSCF0090

 

 

 

So all that is left to do is wish you all the best and thank you all for following the blog and commenting on the pieces, I really do appreciate hearing from you. Thank you too if you are one of the many people who have read my novels over the past year, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Hope you have a lovely time – Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for a peaceful and joyful New Year

Sharing:

Too Late to Decorate a Christmas Cake??

No, it’s not too late to decorate your Christmas cake AND make it look special … let’s be honest here… I haven’t decorated mine yet. But, here’s one I did earlier.  As in; I decorated the Christmas cake for our WI party.. and posted the result on Facebook.. and have had more than a few queries about how it was done.  Well, it was fairly simple and really didn’t take very long – though some drying time is needed between stages .. and luckily I had taken a few photos as I went (not really enough but I hope it will give you what you need) DSCF0063

BASICS:

Not wanting to teach my grandmother to suck eggs… but I am often amazed how many people do not start themselves off with a nice flat cake, trusting to luck that the top of the cake will be flat enough. You may skip this paragraph if you are a grandmother experienced in sucking eggs. 😉  If you are doing a quintessential snow-scene the rough or rounded top really doesn’t matter. For almost anything else cut the top off the cake to level it up. Turn it upside down and set on the cake board: the base is now the top and will be lovely and flat!  This can be stuck in place with a blob of royal icing or jam  (though the latter not so firm)  Hint: measure up the sides to the point where the rounding starts. At the same level on 4 sides (or corners if you are doing a square cake), slice into the cake. then, keeping the blade level with the table top work round to the next cut… thus joining the cuts up, all at the proper level, when all the side/s have been cut into then slice through the centre. You should now have a cut ‘top’ surface but a level cake – then you turn it over.

ROLL-OUT

I like fondant icing and, though I did once make it, I usually just buy Regal Ice.  I prefer this one for flavour and texture – but you can use the others if you prefer. If you like marzipan, by all means give your cake a layer of that. Certainly at this late stage it is not necessary to prevent colour ‘bleed’ from the cake coming through, so if you do not like marzipan ( as I do not) you do not have to use it!  The following  instructions would apply to marzipan as well as fondant.

Heat a tablespoon of apricot jam in a small container (Microwave until just bubbling would be fine) Brush the warm jam all over the cake top and sides.

On a worktop dusted liberally with CORNFLOUR (not icing sugar) roll out a kilo of fondant icing. I usually thump it about a bit first to make it square rather than rectangular and it also seems to soften it a bit before rolling.

Roll to a minimum thickness of 5mm – 7mm is preferable – thicker than 7 and it’s just too much icing, thinner than 5 gets tricky to lift and smooth.  Keep turning or moving the icing to make sure it isn’t sticking to the worktop at all.

When it is at least 2 inches (5cm) larger than your cake surface-area, lift, using a rolling pin to support the icing , and drape over the cake centrally.

If it is a square cake: gently, with cornflour dusted hands, ease and smooth the icing down over the corners first. This will leave ‘baggy’ bits along the sides, but with gentle easing this bagging can been smoothed away along the sides until they, and the corners, are all smooth.

If it is a round cake: gently, with cornflour dusted hands, ease and smooth the icing down evenly, so the baggy areas are evenly spread. With gentle easing this bagging can been smoothed away leaving the icing even all around the sides. DSCF0049 edge crop

Make sure your hands are well cornflour dusted and ‘polish’ the top and sides with light circular movements. Press down around the base towards the cake-board.

The icing lapping onto the board can be dealt with in a number of ways. It can be trimmed tight to the cake, which leaves an edge that calls out for a piped trim. You can make sure it covers all the board, and smooth it down right out to the edge and trim level with the edge of the board, or you can cut it into shapes, a wavy line is easy, or use a cutter to give a trimmed pattern. On the cake I made for WI I used a small circular cutter* to make lots of small spikes. *flat-ended apple-corer – but I could also have used a icing nozzle – same size)

Take the excess icing and roll it up together again. If you have some gum tragacanth powder then blend in about quarter of a level teaspoon by kneading it well – this will make the icing harden much better.

Making the DECORATIONS {Note: if you are running VERY close to the date, cut off about a quarter of the kilo of icing and make the decorations first .. then cover the cake when they are dry and ready. Keep the rest of the roll-out well wrapped in cling-film and sealed in an airtight bag}

Roll out icing.. thinner than before. You can use a holly cutter (or two) as I did… but if you haven’t got holly cutters you can use a fluted (sweet) pastry cutter (most of us have those – right?)  See HERE for pictures how to make this type of holly leaves in a previous blog. I then like to mark these with a knife – to show centre line and veins – just a few marks – not necessary — but … DSCF0047DSCF0048

Prepare a A4+ piece if card by folding it into a zigzag and cover it with foil or cling-film. I always  have an odd cereal packet folded up in my cupboard 🙂 (hangover from having children – great source of scrap card) .

As you finish each holly leaf drape it over this zigzag – so each one will have a different curved shape when they dry.

Take remaining fondant and colour it red. Roll it out and cut out letters to spell Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…. if you have letter cutters (A really great item to have in your cake decorating armoury!) – if not then  roll into long thin sausages, shape the letters to spell Happy DSCF0052Christmas, leave to dry on a tray which has been covered with cling-film and dusted with cornflour. (my photo shows silver words — but let’s keep this simple eh?)

To make holly berries roll out a long  thin sausage and cut small even sized pieces and roll to make berries – leave to dry on something they won’t roll off of!!!

 

ASSEMBLY

Make up 1 egg-white’s worth of royal icing (1 egg white beaten with about 200g/8oz sieved icing sugar until thick and glossy)  (or use ready to mix royal icing – about 100g / 4oz) DSCF0051

If you want a candle as I have in the centre wrap its base in a piece of foil.

Put a large blob of icing in the middle of the cake, carefully site the candle in the centre – do not worry if it wobbles at this stage. Add the dried holly leaves starting with smaller ones round the base and culminating with four large ones at the top. This will all help stabilise the candle. Drop some berries onto the wet icing amongst the holly leaves.  Carefully remove the actual candle and leave this arrangement to set.

DSCF0060Mix a little of the icing with a drop of hot water to make a slightly runnier ‘glue’, using a small brush paste the back of the letters and carefully position on the sides of the cake – hold each one a moment to make sure it is holding on. Using the same technique place a holly berry at each spike round the base, then distribute the rest at random but evenly over the remaining space on the top.DSCF0057

Allow all to set then keep covered until the day 🙂 DSCF0066Replace the candle and it is ready to show off.

By the way.. this is not turning into a cooking blog – promise – but if I left this one until next week it might be too late to decorate your cake!

 

Confession – I have been known to decorate my Christmas cake on Christmas eve 🙂

Have you decorated your cake yet? Come on – confess!

Do you have a tradition of a specific design year after year or do you vary them?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you!

Sharing:

My Meringue-Snowmen army rides again …

DSCF0041It was our Festivities committee’s BIG EVENT this weekend – it is the one this group was ‘invented’ for … to bring a bit of community spirit and festivity to the heart of the village.. thus a HUGE Christmas tree bedecked with light and a community ‘tree-lighting ceremony’. This is a village event that has grown over the six years it has been running and includes now a ‘lighting’ of the small (planted) tree behind the post-office parking area, the church bells ringing, then the walk to the Hall singing Christmassy songs, where the Hand-bell ringers play and then we have singing of Carols – this year led by the primary school’s brilliant choir. Finally we all get into the warmth of the hall for free mince pies, sausage rolls, juice or mulled cider (wassail) and good fun is had by all……

What has this to do with snowmen … meringue or otherwise?? …. well the mince pies are all home-made and supplied by lots of lovely people including us on the festivities committee. Now I always make my rich shortcrust with egg yolks. Cue meringue –  what else do you use the whites for? However this time I decided to make some mini-mini-pavlova bases as I know I have an event I need to take finger-food along to, and they will do very nicely. I had piped out as many of these as I wanted and still had plenty of meringue mix left and I was suddenly reminded of the mini-snowmen I used to make for the boys to take to their primary school class  party when they were in the infants. (Yes – I know I am mad – as if I didn’t have enough to do 🙂 ) …so I decided to make some of these for the children at the lighting-up event.

However, it was a busy week that also saw me at an event all day Saturday with my books, so I didn’t get them finished in time. After the lighting-up evening I decided to finish them to add to this blog in-case someone out there might  fancy making them too.

Stage one: Make up the meringue mixture as per MY pavlova recipe ( so – 4 egg white – whipped, plus 8 oz of sieved icing sugar – click link for full details – it is an easy and reliable recipe – this would make you two dozen mini-mini-pavlovas and two dozen snowmen)

Stage two: Put in piping bag with large nozzle – I used a very open rose. Grease flat baking trays well. DSCF0004DSCF0003

Stage three: Pipe bodies: Two good squeezes to give a bit of shape. ON a different tray – Pipe heads – one squeeze

DSCF0008
size comparison with a 5p piece

Stage four: Cook – 140 oC  or 120 oC  fan oven best for these very tiny items. About half an hour. Check, should have firm base if picked up. turn oven off and allow to cool in oven. Remove (you can store in an air-tight box until you are ready to use them)

Stage five: Make up 1 egg-white’s worth of Royal Icing (or if you have it – mix some instant Royal Icing) (1 egg white = 6-8 oz sieved icing sugar) beat well until smooth and glossy)DSCF0012

Stage six: divide into 5 portions. Leave one white – colour the others blue, red, black and orange (deep yellow)

Stage seven: Make up 4 small greaseproof icing bags. Follow link (or look under Recipes top-bar drop-down) for instructions.

 

Stage eight: Snip off end of black (little)  and dot in all the buttons ….. then all the eyes.DSCF0026DSCF0029

Stage nine: Snip off end of Orange (little) – add ‘carrot’ noses.DSCF0032

Stage ten: snip off the ends of red and blue – and more from end of Orange. Create scarves on all the bodies.DSCF0031

 

Stage eleven: using a paint brush or a cocktail stick add smiles – red or black – as you think fit – I can never make up my mind about this bit!DSCF0034

Stage twelve: Using the back of a teaspoon add a little blob of white icing to the base of the head … and stick the head on the body of each snowman.

Stage thirteen: If you have enough icing left give the snowmen a contrasting bobble hat.

DSCF0038
meet the motley meringue-snowmen crew

Ah! Memories … the meringue-snowman army on the move …. now I only need to find some small children to eat them 🙂

Hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these little fellas come to ‘life’ …

Do any of you make special sweet-treats for your family  at Christmas?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you

Sharing:

Enjoyed this blog? Please share :)