Saturday, 13 December 2014
How’s your Christmas shopping going? We started ours last Sunday. After a successful day in town, we stopped at Longhorns Barbecue Smokehouse. We've heard a good things about this fairly new eaterie. So were really looking forward to this meal.
You can't make bookings here and over the course of our visit, it was clear to see why. There is not a lot of sitting and seems to be a very busy place. We were happy to wait for a table though and seating for the two of us did open up shortly. There are large communal tables downstairs if you're happy to sit by other people.
Onto the menu and ordering food/drinks. We were told that there were no more ribs and chicken wings, nor hog rind. This was such a shame as we were hoping to get the ribs (before getting there). The menu is compact to start with - so it seemed poor that some of the food offered wasn't available - therefore the menu was made even more limiting.
The prices of food seemed reasonable for what you get. However, the cost of the drinks is seriously overpriced. I got a can of cream soda, which cost £3! I felt begrudged paying this much for fizzy pop. Leigh got Jakehead IPA (Wylam Brewery) for £4.50, which not as overpriced as mine, was still a bit on the pricy side. Though Leigh did like it that there was a local beer on the menu.
We both ordered a BBQ board each and between us got to sample 3 of the 5 meats on the menu (2 were sold out). The brisket was really tasty (the best bit), the pork was soft and moist but not that flavourful, and the Andouille sausage was alright. We tried all the sides (apart from Hog rind which was sold out). The fries were decent but we didn’t rate the coleslaw or the bean chilli much. You can get 3 meats and 2 sides for a tenner, which is reasonable for the quality.
A family sat down on the table beside ours shortly after we had sat down. They had already ordered their drinks then went to order the food. They retuned to the table and we overheard them saying that there was virtually no food left, including the one vegetarian option, which was also sold out. They were clearly unhappy and left without finishing their drinks. It is a little concerning why they weren’t told about the food situation before they ordered their drinks. The customer service and care didn’t come across very well.
Food is constantly being cooked 24/7 and talking to the staff, it was clear that they have been unable to cook enough food to meet the demand. Often selling out way before closing hours. I think if they manage to sort out this problem then they are onto a winner! If they don’t, then I’m afraid they may lose customers if they keep disappointing people and turning them away.
We would return, as want to try the things we didn’t get to have today. Pork ribs in particular and the chicken wings (a staff member also recommended the beef ribs). But we will try to get there earlier rather than later, in the hope that the food hasn’t sold out yet that day! The staff member (who had been very helpful during our visit) advised us that the best time to get their food at its’ best is during the week at lunchtime. The Christmas holidays are around the corner, so we are going to try here very soon at these recommended times!
Thursday, 13 November 2014
At the end of last month, It was my work colleague's last day. I'm known for my bakes at work, so a homemade chocolate cake was fitting for a parting gift. He has always been a really supportive co-worker. Over the years, I have learnt a lot about youth work from him.
I used Be-Ro recipes for both the cake and the buttercream. I made a naked two-tier cake (like I normally would) and was going to leave it as it was. However, by the next day, I was unhappy with the way it looked (so ugly!), so decided to cover it all with the chocolate buttercream.
My second attempt at crumb-coating a tiered cake. I also piped some buttercream stars around the top of cake (using a Wilton star tip), as well as gave it a few sprinkles. Think it looks much better for it!
I was pleased that I decided to cover the cake and add extra decoration. It was also extra practice in cake decorating for me! My co-worker was really touched by the cake :–)
For the 2 sandwich chocolate cakes
200g (7 oz) Self-raising flour
25g (1 oz) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
75g (3 oz) plain chocolate, broken into pieces
275g (10 oz) light brown sugar
50g (2 oz) butter, at room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml (1/4 pt) sour cream
75ml (3 fl oz) milk
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan / 180°C conventional / gas 4.
Grease and line the base of s 2 x 23 cm (9 inch) sandwich tins.
2. Sift the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl and set aside.
3. Place chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl.
Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until melted.
4. Cream sugar and butter together in another bowl.
5. Gradually add the eggs, with a little of the flour mixture after each addition.
6. Stir in the vanilla, sour cream, milk and melted chocolate.
7. Pour the mixture into the tins and bake for 30 minutes,
or until firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
8. Cool completely before icing the cakes.
For the chocolate buttercream
100g (4 oz) butter, at room temperature
220g (8 oz) icing sugar, sieved
2 tbsp cocoa powder, sieved
4 tsp hot water
1. Beat butter until soft.
2. Gradually beat in icing sugar and cocoa powder then the water.
Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Parents got me many fresh figs on the cheap (4 for 23p)! I’ve never used fresh figs in baking and wanted to try a few experiments. Two out of three experiments were a success. Here, I am sharing the recipes for Fig almond cake and Fig chocolate slice. These turned out well and the evidence disappeared quickly at work!
I chose to use this Nestle recipe for Fig almond cake. I normally have condensed milk in the cupboard/fridge so this is a good way of using it up. I really enjoyed the taste and texture of this Fig almond cake. I didn’t have any flaked almonds to put on top so left them out. However, I think they would have added another tasty dimension to the cake.
I used this Taste.com.au recipe for Fig chocolate slice. People were surprised and couldn't tell that there were figs in the brownie-like Fig chocolate slice. Apart from the occasional crunch from the fig seeds, you wouldn’t know there was something very healthy in it. A great way to sneak goodness into a very chocolaty indulgent treat!
The original recipe for Fig chocolate slice is served warm with a Brown sugar cream. I didn’t make the cream but you may want to give it a go. I ate mine at room temperature but imagine it would be nice warmed up too.
I made a few cupcakes out of the Fig cake mixture. I had leftover caramel buttercream icing leftover so used it up on these cupcakes. I use this recipe for caramel buttercream icing that goes well with chocolate cake. I let the caramel icing cool down and harden at room temperature. I then beat it with a hand-held mixer which loosens the hard icing. It becomes more like a buttercream consistency which you can pipe easily onto cupcakes. I had a go at trying different piping techniques with my new Wilton ruffle 125 piping tip.
Leigh really enjoyed these cupcakes. The Fig cake pairs well with the caramel buttercream.
So, here are the recipes for both Fig almond cake and Fig chocolate slice.
Starting with the Fig almond cake…
¾ cup butter (150 g), softened
½ cup (100 g) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tin (397 g) condensed milk
1½ cups (210 g) plain flour
½ cup (50 g) ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups (300 g) fresh figs, peeled and chopped
¼ cup (25 g) flaked almonds, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Grease and line a 23 x 28 cm baking tin.
2. Mix in a bowl the butter and sugar until well combined.
Add eggs, vanilla and condensed milk then mix to combine all together.
3. Add flour, ground almonds and baking powder then mix until well combined.
4. Fold the figs into the mixture and pour mixture into the tin.
Sprinkle flaked almonds on top, if using.
5. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes,
or until when inserting a skewer in the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool completely.
And followed by the recipe for Fig chocolate slice…
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
150g butter, cubed
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, whisked
250g fresh figs, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 cup self-raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
Line base and sides of 4.5cm (deep), 18cm (base) square cake tin with baking paper.
2. Place chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth.
3. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool.
4. Stir egg and fig into chocolate mixture.
5. Sift flour and cocoa over mixture. Stir until well combined.
6. Spread chocolate mixture into prepared pan.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out slightly sticky.
Slice should be set and have a crust, but still be a little soft inside.
8. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely in tin.
Cut into 16 slices.
Friday, 7 November 2014
I had a packet of walnuts that needed using up. When looking for a recipe, I came across a tray bake with an unusual name – ‘Chinese Chews’. On further research, I couldn't find out much more about the origin of the name. No one seems to know where it has come from.
Anyways, I liked the sound and look of them and decided on using this Chinese Chews recipe. I don’t think I've had anything like it before. Don’t know why they’re called what they’re called – didn't think they were particularly Chinese! However, I found this to be an easy-to-make and delicious tray bake (the flavours of dates and walnuts marry well together) with a surprisingly good texture (chewy from the dates with bits of crunch from the walnuts). I definitely recommend making this!
3/4 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3 eggs, well-beaten
Icing sugar, for topping if using
1. Preheat oven to 150° C.
Grease and line an 8 x 12-inch pan.
2. Combine flour, caster sugar, baking powder and salt.
Sift into a medium sized mixing bowl.
3. Stir the dates, walnuts and eggs into the dry ingredients.
Make sure ingredients are well combined – the batter will be sticky.
4. Spread the batter out into the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 30 minutes,
or until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
6. Cool completely and cut into squares.
7. Dust with icing sugar, as desired.
Monday, 6 October 2014
As much as I enjoyed making sugar models for my previous two birthday cakes (1 & 2), I wanted to take a break from modelling (it does get pretty intense consuming your life!). And try my hand at something else in the cake decorating world.
I’ve not worked with buttercream decorations much before. With my friend Nichola’s 30th birthday coming up, I fancied having a go at decorating a cake with buttercream roses. I’ve seen these a lot online but didn’t know how to make them. With a bit of research, I discovered that it wasn’t so much a technique but more of an essential piece of equipment! This being a Wilton 1M or Wilton 2D piping tip. So I ordered both and looked forward to making my own buttercream rosettes!
|Image taken from Wilton|
As well as purchasing the Wilton piping tips, I got myself a cake decorating turntable. I’ve always wanted to get one and it is the best help!
I started off making my Triple layer chocolate cake with caramel icing. I then gave my cake a ‘crumb coat’ with Vanilla buttercream. This was the first time I’ve covered a cake as I normally leave them ‘naked’. Not perfectly smooth but I was happy with my first try.
The crumb coat is essential for ensuring that there are no cake crumbs showing when you pipe your buttercream decorations on. It also gives a good surface for the buttercream to stick too. And as I found out, it means you can easily scrape off any buttercream decoration that you’re unhappy with, without taking off any of the cake.
I chilled this for half an hour to help it set. Next time, I’ll go over the crumb coat again after chilling with a hot pallete knife to get it smoother.
I ended up with 6 cupcakes from leftover cake batter. I used these to practice piping buttercream roses.
I planned to have a red swirl effect rose on my cake. I wanted the roses to go with the ‘30’ candles, which were a white colour with red outline. But due to mis-planning of the amount of buttercream needed to cover a three-tiered cake in roses (you need a lot!) - combined with removing roses and starting again several times (I'm a perfectionist!) – I ended up with a peachy pink due to the red food colouring mixing completely with the buttercream. Which ended up being a very pleasant colour!
Anyways, you achieve a coloured swirl by painting lines of food colouring down your piping bag. Add buttercream and pipe as normal.
Gel food colouring is the best and I recommend Squires or Wilton brands. Gel tends to be better than liquid food colouring because you need a lot less, so it achieves a better colour, without affecting the taste or texture of what you are colouring. I have used Squires gel food colouring to colour flower paste for my models/cake toppers. And I used Wilton gel food colouring to colour this buttercream.
It took a bit of practice but once you’ve got the knack - it’s fairly quick and a breeze to pipe buttercream rosettes!
I was pleased with the finished product as it makes for a ‘Wow’ celebration cake without too much work. Nichola and friends were impressed with the cake :-)
I don’t normally pair vanilla buttercream with chocolate cake but found it worked well here. I would use this combo again.
My mother-in-law Sandra has been making and decorating cakes for a long time. You can check out her creations on her FB page here. Anyways, she asked me to show her how to pipe buttercream roses, as she’d never done it before. So, I took round my piping tips and we had a go using cream cheese icing and purple food colouring. The icing was a bit wetter and looser than buttercream so didn’t pipe or set as well. But we managed to get some roses out of it. It was great getting to teach her something new!
Since making this cake, I’ve been looking at other ways of decorating with buttercream. There are a few new techniques that I want to try and I’ve already ordered the Wilton piping tips needed. So, watch this space for hopefully more prettily decorated cakes with buttercream.
Friday, 26 September 2014
Shortly after making my cousin Carine’s surprise birthday cake, I was honoured and excited to be asked to make the figures for my father-in-law’s birthday cake. My mother-in-law Sandra requested a duck hunting theme and gave me some ideas to work with.
Sandra made the vanilla sponge cake, covered it with chocolate flavoured roll icing and made the bushes. I spent about a week and a half making the different components for the figures. I made Ron (in his Barbour jacket he goes hunting in) with his double barrelled shotgun, his black Labrador Jet and three wild ducks (two ‘in the bag’ and one ‘that got away’).
I am really pleased and chuffed with my second go at modelling. I found I made a lot of improvement since my first attempt on Carine’s cake. I can only keep practicing and getting better! Sandra was over the moon with the finished cake. Ron with the rest of the family were also impressed and delighted! :-D
Read on if you're interested in the process of making this cake figures/toppers...
Like with my first cake decorating attempt, I searched online a lot for tutorials and images of similar cakes/figures that I wanted to create.
I started off by making the ducks first. I thought in terms of scale, it would make sense to make the smallest things first then I would know how big the next things would be. So, ducks first, dog second, and man last.
I found a lot of duck hunting themed cakes but the ducks were mainly sitting on a pond. Sandra had wanting flying ducks originally so I tried to create my own from pictures of real flying ducks. I tend to do best when I copy of something but in this instance had to make it up myself!
I came across some fondant dogs holding ducks in their mouths and liked that idea. I then decided to have Ron holding a dead duck too. I liked the look of mallard drakes for their multi-colouring. Even though it would have been simpler to make the duller coloured females!
The first duck I made (furthest right below pic) was a tad big, so I scaled down and made a few others until I was happy with the size. It made for good practice.
Next, I tackled the challenge of making a dog. I looked up tutorials and pictures of fondant dogs online but a lot of what I came across looked very cartoonish. I wanted something with a bit more detail and realism. I eventually came across this Renshaw how to make a fondant dog tutorial and loved the look of their work.
The first dog I made was far too large (I see a theme starting to run here!). Ron would have ended up being monstrously big. So I made another one which was smaller. The second dog was more refined than the other – less chunky and cumbersome looking – more realistic. And for some reason, perhaps the placing of the head or the head was too heavy – the first dog’s head ended up drying looking down. So, it was worth trying again!
I have to say, that making the dog was my favourite bit of this whole process. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Renshaw’s tutorial is excellent. Very easy to follow with a good result. People loved this figure in particular – it reminded them of when Jet was younger and brought back happy memories :-)
And finally, onto making Ron. I mainly used these tutorials part 1 and part 2 to make a standing person topper for Carine’s cake, as well as this one. I also used this figure modelling tutorial for the human figure template, as well as ears and hair for this cake.
For both cakes, I had trouble in getting the human figure to stand securely in the cake. Both ended up falling over!
For Carine’s standing topper, this was due to not having all the right equipment. I didn’t have a suitable base (e.g. styrofoam block) for it to stand in from the beginning of making it. I thought I’d combatted this when I got a floristry block to make this standing topper. I didn’t like how it left a gritty dust everywhere and was difficult to push things and pull things out of it. I was also given dowels from Sandra to thread through the legs to give them extra strength and structure. Unfortunately, I found the dowels didn’t work as the legs fell apart and were squashed to mush when i tried to thread them through. I decided to use candy pop sticks instead as they are thinner (and also used in the above tutorials). These threaded through the legs fine but ended up not being sturdy enough to keep the topper standing.
I also had difficulty with getting the arm to stay stuck to the body that was holding the duck. I ended up having to swap the hands around and stick the arms to the body rather than have a gap and they hold on their own. There was too much weight for the topper to handle. I didn’t want too but had to resort to using super glue to hold bits together, as the edible glue wasn’t strong enough.
I think I need to make standing toppers smaller/shorter, as I’ve been making them too tall and therefore too heavy to be supported sufficiently on the cake. I know this now and will try for next time!
All in all, I spent a lot of time and love in making these cake figures/toppers. And it was worth it. Don’t know when my next cake decorating challenge will be but I look forward to improving and creating some more! :-)
Monday, 1 September 2014
I made a surprise birthday cake for my cousin Carine’s 30th last month. It was my first time doing some serious sugar crafting and cake decorating. I was originally going to do just a veggie patch with different veggies. But then decided to go the extra mile and also have a go at making a mini Carine!
The cake was a challenge (it actually caused a few arguments at home!) but I mostly enjoyed the process. A lot of love went into it and I was really chuffed with the outcome. I was itching to get started on another cake decorating project straight after finishing this one! I already have loads of ideas of how to improve and want to challenge myself some more.
Carine was truely surprised at her birthday meal and she was delighted with the cake :-)
|Carine's 30th birthday cake|
|Carine's veggie patch cake|
I chose to do a butternut squash cake with vanilla buttercream, as know this is one of Carine’s favourite cakes of mine. It then occurred to me that I haven’t shared this recipe yet. Even though this is one of the first bakes I ever tried that was successful. So here it is, better late than never!
I use this Halloween pumpkin cake recipe but substitute the pumpkin for butternut squash. I then top the cake with buttercream but you could use this cream cheese recipe instead.
For the cake:
150g self-raising flour
150g muscovado sugar
1 + ½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
85g sultanas, chopped
¼ tsp salt
100g butter, melted
Zest of ½ an orange
½ tbsp orange juice
250g butternut squash flesh, grated
For the topping:
8 oz unsalted butter or margarine
16 oz icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 180 Celsius/fan 160 Celsius/gas 4.
Grease and line a small roasting tin with baking parchment.
2. Put the flour, sugar, spice, bicarbonate of soda, sultanas and salt into a large bowl and combine.
3. In another bowl, beat the eggs into the melted butter, stir in the orange zest and juice.
4. Then mix with the dry ingredients until combined.
Stir in the butternut squash flesh.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes,
or until golden and springy to the touch.
6. Cool cake completely.
7. Whilst cake is cooling, make the topping.
Beat butter until creamy.
Add extract and mix.
Add icing sugar then mix until thick and creamy.
8. Spread buttercream on top of cake.