Friday 31 May 2013

Print Exchange

I have recently been involved in a fun exchange organised by Lesley... of limited edition prints.
Now I am not a printmaker by any stretch of the imagination so this was quite a challenge, but after going through a lot of ideas that were then rejected mostly on the basis of I didn't have a clue how to do them I decided on a collagraph. A couple of years ago I did quite a bit of work on daisies resulting in a some embroideries and so I took this monoprint from my sketchbook at the time as a source of inspiration.
With the collagraph plate prepared, a couple of Saturdays ago I set aside a day for printing. Frustration struck almost immediately as I tried to get something with a little more colour than this. After several unsuccessful attempts I was getting to the stage where I was starting to think I needed to buy more paper, but then I decided to change from the ink I was using to oil paints.

This was better although now the prints were coming out too dark...

Eventually I managed to print an edition of nine prints of which I was moderately happy and six of them are now safely arrived with the other members of the print swap .

I've only ever attempted collagraphs once before but as then, I almost prefer the plate after printing to the actual prints.

As there were a total of seven of us taking part in the exchange that means I have a couple of spare prints left from the edition so I thought I might give one away on here as a thank you to everyone who continues to read and follow my blog... there wouldn't be much point without you! So leave me a comment by Sunday 9th June to let me know if you would like to win a print and I'll pick out a winner.

Not all of the other prints have arrived yet as some participants have been away but when I've got the full set I'll show you them all. It's been a lovely exchange (if a little nerve wracking) so thank you Lesley. I've really enjoyed it.

Thursday 30 May 2013


1. Butter or margarine? Not really a decision for me as unsalted butter is all I ever use to bake as I don't think you can beat the flavour, although Mary Berry might disagree
2. Golden or white caster sugar? After some research I've found that white seems to dissolve into the fat better whereas the golden leaves small crystals that appear on the surface of the cake.

3. Plain Flour with added baking powder or self raising? I use self raising because the baking powder is evenly distributed throughout the flour... although I added an extra half teaspoon of baking powder just for good measure!

4. To add vanilla or not? I do because I like the flavour.

5. Weigh the eggs and add equal amounts of the other ingredients or go for standard weights? I tried both ways and found 4 large eggs with 225g of flour, butter and sugar seem to work best and give a softer mix and less dry cake.

However, all these decisions fade into insignificance when faced with the prospect of making the perfect Victoria Sponge, in an unfamiliar kitchen, start to finish in just one hour.  That's right... tins prepared, ingredients weighed, everything mixed (by hand, no electric gadgets allowed), cakes baked, cooled, filled and assembled with both jam and whipped cream in sixty minutes flat.

I've had a few trial runs just making the cake and have got the mixing and baking down to 40 - 45 minutes but there is no way the cake will ever be cool enough to fill. I had a proper timed go this morning and as I predicted the filling melted into a gloopy mess.

It tasted okay (even though I am not a fan of cream in cakes)...  but this doesn't exactly look like a prize winning cake now does it?

I've decided I shall bung my cooling cakes in the fridge and if that's not allowed I will refuse to add the cream!
Wish me luck for Saturday!

Sunday 26 May 2013


All thoughts of cake are now cast aside for a few days as today I've been in London as we begin to set up for this exhibition...
Except that is not entirely true because there has been lots of cake of the knitted variety...

and some of you might be surprised to find that you too are also exhibiting with Prism this year!

I'll be at the Mall Galleries on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday so please do come and say hello if you are in the vicinity. It looks to be another fantastic show.

Saturday 25 May 2013


After a week and a half of baking and tasting different chocolate layer cakes I finally found the perfect recipe.
It wasn't the pecan fudge cake of my previous post, nor the amaretti cake... not even the Mary Berry cake with white chocolate icing.

After my last post Annie suggested that what I might be looking for was her "best ever chocolate cake"... and she was right. It was wonderful.

I wouldn't be so arrogant to say I  improved the recipe because a best ever cake can't really get any better but  I made a couple of small changes and tweaks to enhance the flavour, did a second trial run on Thursday and knew I had my cake.

The First Bake Off challenge was this morning and along with 100 other entants I delivered my cake to the Cambridge School of Cookery. There were some amazing looking chocolate cakes and they were all so different. After a tense three hour wait we went back to collect the results...

and I've got through to the next round! Not only that, my cake was one of the top three with 9 out of 10 for both taste and texture. I think I'm really excited but I'm too tired to tell. All I have done is think chocolate all week... and when I have managed to get some sleep I've dreamt about it too. I know I don't want to make another chocolate cake for a very long time.

I can't show you the inside of my cake because I left it to be donated to a shelter for the homeless (we really have had quite enough cake for one week) but this is one I made earlier! And the recipe... (with many thanks to Annie):

Best Ever Chocolate Cake

315 g plain (all-purpose) flour
75 g  cocoa powder
2 level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (not baking powder)
1 level teaspoon espresso coffee powder
½  teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
150 g  golden caster sugar
150g dark muscovado sugar
180 ml grape seed oil (or similar bland tasting oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
180 ml puréed tomatoes (a large can of tomatoes, run through the blender and then sieved will give you more than you need.)
80 ml butter milk

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee powder and salt.
Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until they form stiff peaks.

Beat together the sugars, oil, vanilla extract, tomato purée, and egg yolks.
Fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
Stir in the butter milk and fold in the egg whites until everything is well combined.

Divide between two greased and lined 20 cm round tins and bake at Gas 4/180C/350F for 35 mins.
Fill and decorate as you please (Mine had a white chocolate buttercream filing and a dark chocolate ganache coating topped with chocolate shards)
And I promise you... not one person has guessed about the tomatoes!

Sunday 19 May 2013

Rabbits... and Cake

You may think all I have done for the past week is bake chocolate cakes, but I have been knitting too. For the knitters among you I'm sure it will not have escaped your notice that Julie has written up some patterns for her Little Cotton Rabbits... which are available here. And I just couldn't resist!
I was feeling quite pleased with this first attempt until Julie came along to join us for knitting and brunch on Friday morning and brought along her little rabbits to meet mine... and believe me mine looks like some monstrous half cousin by comparison! My rabbit's head is about twice the size of Julie's... that is Julie's rabbits' heads not Julie's head you understand.

I'm not sure my knitting and finishing will ever be up to the standard of Julie's and I was tempted to make another, hopefully smaller bunny head. But then I thought that my great niece who is only two months old will probably love this bunny anyway!

She was fun to knit and the pattern was so clearly written and easy to follow that I'm sure I'll be making more. It was also lovely to have Julie join us for knitting too.
Oh... and there has been more chocolate cake of course...

This one is a chocolate pecan fudge cake which is the most intensly chocolatey and moist cake so far. I think I might have my entry for next week's bake off sorted with just a bit of tweaking and the decoration to sort out!

Friday 17 May 2013

Just so you Know...

It's not all baking success around here.
I would hate you to think I was some sort of domestic goddess...
I am pretty good at rescue and recovery though

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A Bake Off!

Earlier this year I sent off an application to take part in the 2013 Great British Bake Off. I filled in a 9 page application form and gave details of baking successes and baking disasters. I wrote about signature bakes and recipes passed down the generations and I sent this off together with pictures of buns..
and cupcakes... and various other baked goods.

But I was unsuccessful. I was a little disappointed not to have even got as far as a first heat but consoled myself in knowing that there were thousands of entries. And to be honest I don't think I would have enjoyed being on TV and having to bake in that tent with those blue eyes scrutinising my soggy bottom. If you've ever seen me trying to roll out pastry without getting floury hands (I hate having floury hands) you will know what a disaster I would have been!

But recently I discovered that Cambridge are having their very own Bake Off and before I knew it I'd sent of another entry. Much simpler this time... just one photo and a couple of lines about why I love to bake. I sent the photo of the cake above... and I've got through to the first round... along with 99 other people! In just over a week I've got to make a two layer chocolate cake for the judges.

So today I've been practising! We have been told that the judging will be on taste and texture foremost so for now I'm concentrating on finding exactly the right cake... I'll worry about the decoration next week.
I've made a amaretti chocolate cake with chocolate ganache...

and a Mary Berry chocolate sponge with a white chocolate icing

The amaretti cake wins hands down for taste and texture for me... but I'm waiting for my team of testers to come home and give a second opinion.

And if you are in the area next week do call in... there will be tea and chocolate cake on offer all week long until I find that perfect cake!

Friday 10 May 2013


The private view of the exhibition last night was excellent.
There is a fabulous selection of work on view ranging from the most exquisite traditional hand stitching to innovative work that pushes the boundaries of embroidery and textile art. In addition the gallery is light and airy and the work well displayed. It is well worth a visit if you are in the Letchworth area.
There were many pieces of work worthy of photographing but I've just picked one or two pieces from people I know well enough to know they won't mind me putting pictures up here.

Sue's stunning hand embroidery.

Margaret's machine embroiderered bouquet

Brenda's fabulous painterley landscape

And a brilliant large work of printed and stitched fabric from Marian

Also it was very exciting for me to see the work from my Young Embroiderers displayed along with that from our older members. Don't their leaf embroideries look fabulous?
I only had one small critisism of the whole exhibition... who on earth decided it was a good idea to hang my piece that had been used for the poster under a window? I didn't even notice where it was for about an hour and several others said they hadn't seen it at all which is hardly surprising since most of us are over 2' 6" tall!

So when Marian suggested that we each have our photo taken with our work... there was only one thing for it really...

It's not the first party where I've ended up on the floor!

Thursday 9 May 2013

Stencil and Stitch

At our Spectrum meeting yesterday, in addition to eating lots of cake which seems to be the focus of our gatherings lately (thank you Gill... it was delicious) we spent some time playing with Markel paintsticks. I used a tried and tested image of poppy seedheads and rubbed the Markel through a stencil using an old toothbrush ( apparently they clean up quite nicely with white spirit so you could pop it back in the bathroom mug and he would never notice)
I stencilled the image over a couple of black and white monoprints from a previous meeting.

There was no doubt that many of us were influenced by this lovely book from the equally lovely Bobby Britnell. A couple of us had been to the book launch at Art Van Go on Monday and others had been on a course there with Bobby this week.

Today is the only day this week that I'm not teaching so instead of getting bogged down with reading blogs admin etc on the computer I decided to allow myself the luxury of a morning stitching and I've quilted one of my monoprints with free machine stitching.

It is very much in the style of Bobby's work so I need to play around a little more to inject my own style but it was still a satisfying morning and I enjoyed myself.

The other thing I brought home from Spectrum was this black and white piece below which is the next piece of work for our Round Robin project. Whereas I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my previous piece I haven't a clue with this one... any ideas? I might have thanked you for the cake Gill, but I'm not so impressed with this! Where on earth do I go from here?

But I'm not worrying about it this evening because I'm off to the private view of this exhibition.

Threads Galore
An exhibition of textiles from the North Herts and Beds Branch of the Embroiderer's Guild
Letchworth Arts Centre
8th - 30th May
Open from 10 am, Monday to Saturday