Wednesday, 8 January 2014

And now for something a little bit different

As 2014 kicks off, I'm thinking about how on earth an entire year has passed, and doing all the usual new year stuff - not drinking, eating less, exercising more etc. etc. (well at least until the 10th January or so). Luckily, there were a few rather more fun things to get out of the way before the real hardship starts...

As well as my eldest daughter, I have two lovely friends who have birthdays just after Christmas.   It's a pretty hopeless time of year to have a birthday, something that didn't really cross my mind when trying to have a baby! However, it makes me keen to clear the Christmas detritus and get back to work - I love  creating something special for those poor people who've endured years of joint birthday and christmas presents , or worse, the "she's only just had christmas so I'm sure she doesn't want anything else for her birthday"- type relatives.

Birthday number one was a rather fun affair at a bar and restaurant called Circus in Covent Garden where circus performers do their thing in between courses of scrumptious pan-Asian food.  Our party of 10 were sat at a large communal table which doubled at the stage so we were front row for a fire-eater, a hula-hooping Elvis, dancers and some very impressive acrobats.  I'd checked out the website beforehand and taken some inspiration from the venue's design (by British designer Tom Dixon) to create a cake for the occasion.  The harlequin chequerboard on the sides of the cake reflected the wall at the front of the open kitchen and the feathers and mask captured the circusy, cabaret vibe of the bar.  Inside was a strawberry and champagne sponge with white chocolate ganache, and for a change, I actually got to eat a rather generous slice!

A surprise for the birthday girl!

The second cake has inspired me for this year.  I've done a few cakes with buttercream finishes which take less time than a sugar pasted cake, which in turn means I can produce them for more pocket-friendly prices and for last-minute events.  My friend had a little get-together in our lovely new local pub, The Milk House, and I thought the remains of the Christmas Bailey's would be a great starting point flavour-wise.  I made the sponge with 1/4 soft brown sugar, a dash of butterscotch flavour and replaced some of the flour with ground almonds to make a slightly denser, moister texture.  I decided on a petal design and used cocoa powder to create an ombre, or graduated colour effect on the cake.

Brown sugar sponge with Bailey's buttercream

So, looking forward at 2014, I am considering pulling together a range of buttercream-finish cakes in popular flavours for celebrations which can still be personalised but offer an alternative to more formal cakes.  Watch this space…

Rainbow vanilla sponge with sprinkles finish
Small version

And the large, full-rainbow version!

After dinner coffee sponge with espresso buttercream and petit fours

Ombre roses cake 

Vanilla and strawberry sponge with strawberry buttercream and fondant rosebuds

'Hidden heart' cake - white chocolate mud cake filled with raspberry mousse and finished with white chocolate ganache buttercream and sprinkles

Traditional Victoria sponge filled with vanilla buttercream and strawberry jam, finished with fresh berries

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Seasonal Expansion

A couple of weeks before Christmas was another exciting and slightly hectic week with cupcake and Christmas orders rolling out of the door and the first workshop in the new Flossie Pops Cakery studio.

When we first saw our house 10 years ago, we were both very interested in the potential the annexe had.  The previous owners had run a 12-person design agency from the former cow-shed  in the garden and although we both had jobs in London, within 5 months of moving, Mr Flossie-pops had set up his own consultancy.  It was a huge culture shock for both of us, but we both learned loads and having worked alongside him on the admin side and as company secretary since 2004, I've learned loads and it certainly made setting up my business much easier. 

Mr FP has a large, L-shaped studio, overlooking the pond with a storeroom (which used to be a darkroom and is now mainly a dumping ground) and more importantly a pool table and wine fridge.  However, the rest of the building was rather unloved especially the meagre kitchenette and dingy loo (which was frankly a crumbling health hazard having not been touched for 25 years). Scattered with gym equipment and unused furniture, the rest of the space was wasted (although very good for parties!). I really enjoy teaching but find the setting up and mad dash around scooping up piles of children's detritus before teaching a class quite stressful and realised the perfect solution was literally on my doorstep. I called our friendly Bulgarian builders who have managed on a very tight budget and short timescale, to create a wonderful space to work in.   I will continue to bake in the house as I love my kitchen and it has much more space, but I'm really excited now about the new-found potential for workshops (and i'm rather enjoying shopping for kitchen stuff and furniture too!)

The first class we held was a Christmas cake workshop (which was also the first ever workshop I ran last year). Four lovely ladies brought their home-made Christmas cakes, filling the room with the smell of Christmas, I even subjected them to a random selection of seasonal music which got gradually tackier as the day went on! We covered the cakes in marzipan and sugarpaste (using a neat little trick to ensure a flat top!), covered and ribboned cake boards and made bows, cut out reindeer, made striped fondant, gingerbread men and glued on a lot of silver and gold balls.  The results were fantastic - I get the same buzz from every class I run - people always go away with a huge smile on their faces having achieved something they didn't think they we're capable of.  

I'm currently working on a programme of classes and workshops (daytime, evening and weekend) for the new year to include layering and covering a sponge cake, modelling with fondant and  seasonal cupcakes. Please do drop me a line if you fancy doing a class or have any ideas for themes you would like to see covered. 

Not bad for a first timer!

Just drying!

Sweet gingerbread men and candy canes

A smart reindeer design

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Time poor, sugar rich!

I tried to take November off from the cake business as our new arrival, Bailey the chocolate cocker spaniel puppy would need an awful lot of attention, but of course, by the third week I was actually quite grateful to have an order to fulfil.  It was for a regular customer - I'd made both her daughter's birthday cakes last year and she'd been to two cake classes as well so I didn't really feel I could turn her down!  It also gave me a chance to practice standing figures and ruffles - so it was a win/win situation.  As it happens, Bailey is very full-on as you'd imagine, but seems happy enough in his playpen (which sits in a central hallway in our house, near the kitchen, playroom and living room) for a few hours to allow me to work. 

However, the first few weeks were very much like having a newborn again.  Cups of coffee abandoned as I sprint outside with an 'eliminating' puppy trying to preserve my pale living room carpet, needing eyes in the back of my head to ensure he's not destroying the sofa/shoes/gloves/hats/carpet/door frames/skirting boards/coats/loo roll… the list is endless.  Sure Andrex puppies are cute, but it's not cute when you've got through all 9 rolls of loo paper and can't leave the house long enough to go and get some more!!  We're through the worst now, he's a clever chap and figured out very quickly that whilst eating the kitchen towel (and my hands) as I was trying to clean up his accidents with is fun, playing outside and trying to uproot the lavender bushes is a much better pastime.  So my carpet (other than being a little chewed) has survived the house-training!

It's been cold and miserable and the children have needed extra energy for their various outdoor activities, and being unable to do anything that took more than 10 minutes, baking was fairly tricky.  Here's a great recipe (in honour of Bailey's beautiful chocolate coat!) I've adapted which you can bung pretty much anything in and get a very tasty - though admittedly not very healthy - and moreish energy boost.

Chocolate Rocky Road

  • 125g unsalted butter
    150g good quality dark chocolate
    150g milk chocolate (I like to use Maltesers bars for this)
    (for a more adult flavour you can use 300g dark chocolate only)
    3 tbsp golden syrup
    200g rich tea biscuits
    50g mini marshmallows
    50g White Maltesers

    Melt together the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a saucepan over a medium heat

    Crush the biscuits into largish pieces in a  freezer bag with a rolling pin (or I put them in a deep bowl and bash with the end of a rolling pin if I'm really short of time) and stir in the marshmallows and maltesers.

    You can also add pistachios, toasted nuts, raisins, glace cherries, other chocolates, anything you fancy as long as it adds up to around 100g in total.

    Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the biscuit mixture and mix really well to make sure all the dry ingredients are covered.

    Pour into a brownie tin lined with greaseproof paper and place a piece of greaseproof paper on top and press down.  I use a 17cm x 25cm dish for this recipe but it depends how deep you like the finished pieces. 

    Sprinkle with mini smarties, hundreds and thousands, sweets or a dusting of icing sugar and pop in the fridge for a couple of hours to set before cutting into 3cm squares with a sharp knife.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Such a pretty week

My work is so incredibly varied.  I feel really lucky that one week I'm making popcorn cake pops or a small bicycle to pop on top of a mountain then maybe a handbag or a trainer, or even a hobbit house!  

The thing I love most, however, is making properly pretty cakes, it brings out the girl in me big-time.  I've been using Pinterest a lot more recently as there are so many stunning images - I actually prefer it to googling as it's like someone's already been through and sifted out the best bits to save you the hassle.  Obviously it also makes me feel unworthy, insecure, envious and all those other pitfalls that social media bring to the party... So everyone else's houses are more beautiful, more organised, their wardrobes are perfectly coordinated, their cake making abilities are epic and their insight into life is deeply profound...But of course, that's how everyone feels, so actually it's ok.  I heard Pinterest described as a collection of completed ideas rather than a medium for inspiration which in my opinion is definitely true.  However, there's loads of damn good cakes to dribble over!!

I've been obsessed with peonies too - they've featured in a lot of the wedding shoots I've been browsing for ideas and two of my best friends had them as wedding flowers.  They're beautiful, frilly, blousy, and large so make a perfect single focal flower.  I've made three, all slightly different this week, and along with a vintage palette of coral, pink, soft green, duck egg blue and plenty of lace and grossgrain ribbon it's been one of my favourite weeks since starting Flossie Pops Cakery!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

I had the huge pleasure of two home-made birthday cakes last week, neither made by me, and despite having lots of orders to bake, it inspired me to try something different flavour-wise. 

Because I'm a September baby, I get really excited by this time of year.  I love the subtle shift from fresh, light summer dishes to richer more comforting food and the excitement of Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas.  I love the opportunities to bake interesting, fun things and have noticed in our Internet age, that regional traditional flavours and ingredients have become more universal.  Pumpkin pie is something I think of as quintessentially American, but a few years ago after being given the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book for my birthday, I baked some pumpkin whoopie pies with a delicious marshmallow fluff (another US import) and cream cheese filling.  The recipe uses tinned pumpkin (I posted the recipe last year - find it here) which seems to be seasonal in availability in the UK, with this in mind I must have stocked up as there was a tin lurking at the back of the cupboard and half a jar of marshmallow fluff that was still in date by 3 weeks!  

I'd bought some beautiful little cupcake cases which i really wanted to use, so instead of whoopie pies, I opted for a spiced pumpkin cupcake.  Adding pumpkin puree makes the sponge really moist and reduces the amount of butter you need.  It also gives them a rich, orange colour and they turned out fairly dense so these cardboard cups were perfect for this puddingy cake which is best eaten with a fork. I'm also buying some more of these gorgeous little cups in red or maybe green for some Christmas treats! 

This was an experimental recipe so hasn't had extensive testing - but all three girls and my chief cake-testing husband really enjoyed them!

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Makes 12

For the sponge:
75g unsalted butter, softened
150g soft brown sugar
3 large eggs
150g self-raising flour 
1/2 tsp mixed spice
100g pumpkin purée

For the frosting:
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g full-fat cream cheese such as Philadelphia
400g icing sugar
3 tbsp vanilla marshmallow fluff

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius (gas mark 3) and put 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.
  • Cream together the butter and soft brown sugar in a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) until fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Fold in the flour, mixed spice and pumpkin puree.
  • Divide evenly between the 12 cupcake cases (an ice cream scoop is very useful for this) and bake for 15-20 minutes until the sponge bounces back when pressed lightly. 
  • Remove the cupcakes from the tin straight away and put on a wire rack to cool, this reduces the likelihood of peeling cases.

For the frosting:
  • Beat the butter and icing sugar together (either in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy (anything up to 10 minutes).
  • Beat in the cold cream cheese and marshmallow fluff until well combined (don't over-beat or it will become runny).

When the cupcakes are completely cold, pipe on some frosting and decorate any way you think fit!