Saturday, 3 December 2016

Advent 2016 - three

Using an excellent tutorial from calligrapher Lindsey Bugbee of The Postmans Knock, I made some gift tags

I had completely forgotten the pleasure in losing myself for a couple of hours painting and herby resolve that 2017 will be the year of more painting. You heard it here first folks!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Advent 2016 - two

I have spent many hours this week decorating Christmas cakes for a market on Saturday but my favourites are these mini ones which I have been making for the past few years.

Different toppers this year using my new poinsettia modelling skills. I'm hoping they will sell out otherwise guess what everyone is getting for Christmas!

You can find the recipe here should you want to make your own... except I no longer dust with icing sugar when I roll out fondant. Oh no, cornflour is so much easier and much less sticky.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent 2016 - one

I'd hate to break with tradition so today on this first day of December I'll give you the same picture that I think I have posted pretty much every year since I started blogging ( I can't actually be bothered to check so it may be a slight exaggeration!)

Our advent calendar is up, hand stitched by me many years ago and finished late one November 30th... Or possibly even in the early hours of 1st December in the days when there were four small boys living here. As ever the little bags are filled with chocolates. And yes, the four small boys are grown up and gone away and there are just two adults in our house at present since you ask. Is that a problem?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Woolly Madness

Did I mention that I get struck with a madness at this time of year... I knit and crochet all year long but suddenly in the last week of November I am deluded into believing I can knit everyone Christmas presents. To be fair my output does somehow seem to increase but it remains a delusion. However, that said I have finished a couple of things that have made me happy...

This very cute bunny was made from a kit using a ball of Erica Knight fur wool that came from a shop in Saffron Walden, Craft Days. The instructions were a little sparse as in "sew up and add optional fabric trim". Luckily I've done a bit of sewing now and then, so I worked it out, but despite that it did knit up very quickly and was finished in just two evenings. If only everyone would like a fur bunny for Christmas I might stand a chance of getting them all done but I'm not so sure my boys would be all that thrilled! But at least the newest little boy will have a present when he arrives.

The second thing I finished were these mitts in an attempt to use up random skeins of yarn I seem to have accumulated. The pattern is "Camp Out Fingerless Mitts" which is free on Ravelry and the yarn is Collinette bamboo and wool DK. I added the roses because I could. Between you and me I'd like to keep them but that wouldn't help my Christmas present situation so they are destined for one of the girlfriends.

And on the needles now are socks because him indoors always gets socks. They may get finished, they may not but long time readers will know we have a history of me giving him one sock and a promise, so I would hate to disappoint! I have plans for more mitts, a little hat or two and some tea cosies but we know it's not going to happen don't we.

Plus I have other plans... In previous years I've done a sort of advent count down on the blog in December... quite a few years actually... 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. I didn't manage last year but thought it would be fun to do it again... Yes, well you already know I'm bonkers. Just a single photo, maybe two... A few words, nothing lengthy or meaningful... because even if no one else reads it I quite like to look back on these countdowns to Christmas as a gentle reminder to keep calm, because it comes and goes whatever we do. Fancy joining me?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Life of Cake

Where does the time go... aside from the little bit of self promotion mid week which wasn't exactly overly successful... although many thanks to the couple of people who did buy patterns from my shop... I've barely had time to think about this little blog. Except for wondering should I carry on bothering with it at all... but then I'm feeling like that about a lot of things lately! My weeks seem to be defined by cake. Lots of other things get done but it is all interspersed with cake.

I'm continuing to bake for the farm shop but it does feel like flogging a dead horse at times. I make them small loaf cakes and quiche to sell by the slice. There were a couple of weeks in October when I made three quiches and over twenty cakes in a week and I thought that it was really taking off at last. But I popped in on Friday and they had sold two slices of quiche and one little cake all week which seems to be a trend lately. And of course if it doesn't sell I bring it home and we either eat or bin any profit I might have made.

I made my first batch of mince pies of the year for my last embroidery class on Tuesday. I actually made two batches... who knew that gluten free pastry was so difficult? You probably did, but not me! But my gluten free lady was very appreciative so it was worth while. 

Last week I was out five nights out of seven... mostly meetings but I'm getting too old for this lark. I hanker after cosy evenings round a fire with my knitting. This week was better, just two nights out. One to get defibrillator training and learn about a village first response group. It was a really interesting evening but something I hope I never have to put into practice. My second night out was to see the wonderful Laura Mvula. I thought she was fantastic and  it made me forget all about cosy fires and knitting. Stewart wasn't so impressed unfortunately.

The farm shop baking maybe somewhat demoralising but the orders for birthday cakes keep trickling in. Which is good because they are fun to do, although if I'm realistically going to be making a living I need to be doing several a week (or put my prices up!)... but then I'm guessing that might stop being so much fun! The two this week were lots of fun though.

Friday night I got my night in with my knitting and we watched this film. I read the book a while ago and thought it was excellent so I was apprehensive that the film would be disappointing  but it was really good. Very gentle, quality acting... I can definitely recommend it. And the knitting... that might even be a post all of it's own as I optimistically delude myself into thinking I can make everyone hand knitted gifts for Christmas. See even my knitting is a frantic attempt at doing too much!

And yesterday I had an afternoon out with some of the other volunteers from Free Cakes for Kids and the very generous Helen Marie who runs Helen Marie's Cake Boutique. We spent a happy couple of hours playing with fondant decorations and I think all my Christmas cake orders might be topped with fondant poinsettias this year.

And if the tone of this post sounds tired and grumpy I do apologise. I'm not particularly grumpy but I am tired, probably doing too much, packing too much in and trying to make decisions about the future. I listened to a snippet of a radio programme whilst in the car this week. Not sure what it was but there was a woman who works as an end of life companion being interviewed. It wasn't at all morbid but she said the thing she has learned from listening to those who are dying is that she no longers feels she needs to pack her life full of doing things and being constantly busy, but she now tries to do less and savours the moment. I'm working on it... but the week ahead looks just as packed!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Cracking Crackers

Every so often I am reminded that teaching textiles and machine embroidery is what I do in addition to making the occasional cake or two. This week has been my last week teaching this term and as always in my weekly class we've been doing some seasonal makes and I was reminded of these crackers we made a couple of years ago.

Which in turn reminded me of my sadly neglected Etsy Shop and I decided it was time for a little update.

So please forgive the fact that this is a blog post devoted entirely to me selling stuff... but a girl's got to make a living you know

I've updated all the patterns in my Etsy shop but these little crackers are particulary suited to this time of year... although personally I think pretty crackers and fairy lights should be obligatory all year long... but that's just me! They are simple to make with a basic knowledge of free machine embroidery, although if your free machine embroidery skills are in need of a refresher I have a comprehensive DVD available too. Just £10 with free p&p in the UK. Send me an email if you want details.  It makes a great Christmas gift for those hard to buy for "stitchy" friends!

And as an added incentive, if you put in the code BLACKFRIDAY at the checkout of my Etsy shop, you'll get 10% off between now and next Monday, available on all patterns and anything else I might pop in for sale before the weekend (okay, I'm being wildly optimistic here but humour me)
Normal service will be resumed on this blog (i.e endless cake) very soon... but do check out my shop in the meantime! Thank you!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Danish Apple Cake

It's been a funny old week, family worries, pointless arguments and lack of sleep have left me feeling rather tired, miserable and  out of sorts. I didn't think I could be bothered joining in with the Cake Slice Bakers this month, even though we are baking from a brand new book, World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey.

But as the week wore on, things resolved as they tend to do,  there were some wonderful restorative walks in the sunshine, especially in the early morning and gradually my enthusiasm and energy returned.

So on a last minute impulse I invited some friends over for supper on Friday night which seemed a good excuse to pick a cake from the new book for dessert. Our choices this month were some little French Chocolate and Rum Canneles, but as I didn't have the appropriate molds in which to bake them I didn't feel this was an option. I could have happily baked any of the other three choices though... a Bee Sting Cake, named because of its honey and nut topping, a Maple Syrup and Pecan Layer Cake which I will definitely still make one day and a Danish Apple Cake. This seemed a good dessert choice, especially served warm with good vanilla ice cream.

The cake batter was very firm, necessary to support the layer of apples on top.

And it was a good excuse to use this nifty little gadget for slicing the apples.

I didn't have the right sized springform tin so used a slighly bigger 9" one which I think was a mistake as the cake came out quite thin. I had assumed it would take slightly less time to bake as a result but in fact it took longer. It wasn't the prettiest cake to be seving for dinner but the kitchen smelled wonderful whilst it was baking... definitely a good thing as it masked the fishy smell from the thai seafood curry I'd made for main course!

And it was quite delicious, served with vanilla ice cream. I'm not entirely sure I would make it again as I already have a good apple cake recipe I use with lemon and almonds that I think I prefer, but this one seemed a popular choice last night.

And after a quick trip into Cambridge this morning where I picked up some essential baking supplies, we had an excellent brunch at The Afternoon Tease and met up briefly with son no. 2 who was about to start work on the punts...

And then came home to a slice of cake which went down rather nicely with a cuppa. So good at any time of day!

Should you want to try it yourself ,it is definitely very quick and easy to put together, so here is my version:

Danish Apple Cake (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need  an 8" springform pan, greased and lined. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan), 325 deg F
  • 40g sultanas 
  • 165g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 175g sifted self raising flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 Braeburn apples, or other good flavoured eating apples
  • 50g Demerara sugar
  •  Beat the butter and caster sugar togetrher until light and fluffy
  • Gradually add the eggs, with a little flour on each addition, beating until well combined.
  • Fold in the sifted flour until well combined.
  • Add the raisins to the batter and then spoon into the prepared tin
  • Peel, core and slice the apples into thin wedges and arrange in a circle around the edge of the cake.
  • Sprinkle the Demerara sugar over the surface and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until golden and cooked through.
  • Cool for ten minutes in the tin and then turn out on a wire rack and strip away the baking parchment.
  • Serve warm with ice cream... or thick cream... or even custard!

See what the others have baked here: