Monthly Archives: January 2011

How Much? The cost of a cake.

Cakes come in all different shapes, sizes and styles. They can have plain decorations or wild, elaborate decorations. They can have flowers or models; in fact cakes can be made to suit any client’s desires.

If you go for an elaborate cake, what can you expect to pay? Well, whilst I can’t give a definitive answer here, I can at least explain how a cake decorator comes to the price that they charge.

The first element to take into consideration is the size and flavour of the cake. It stands to reason, that a 6” round sponge cake will cost less than a 10” square fruit cake. I have a spreadsheet called ‘Cake ingredients’ which I update every few months. This is quite an elaborate spreadsheet and is fairly time consuming to update! The first worksheet is a list of all the ingredients that I use and their cost. Then I have a worksheet for each flavour of cake and this is broken down into size and shape and the cost of each cake is calculated that way.

This gives me a starting cost to base my calculations on. It is worth pointing out here, that cake decorators will charge more for a cake than a supermarket. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, cakes are baked to order, according to the client’s requirements. Secondly, cake decorators are unable to charge similar amounts to supermarkets due to the cost of the ingredients used. We are unable to bulk buy ingredients on the scale that supermarkets can. Thirdly, if you compare the ingredients of a supermarket cake to a handmade cake, they will differ wildly as we do not use preservatives or additives. My sponge cake contains butter, sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla and nothing else. I hand make the strawberry jam I use to fill it using strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Finally, a handmade cake will usually be at least 3” deep. Supermarket cakes are shallower.

Other costs that have to be factored in to the final cost are the costs of insurance (most cake decorators will have comprehensive insurance), the wear and tear of tins and instruments used, the cost of electricity and the costs of presentation (I always put my cakes on a cake board, with a ribbon around this and in a box).

Then we come onto time. To make a cake, bake it, clean up, cover it with icing and then finally make all of the decorations takes time. The more complicated the cake, the longer the time that it will take, even for the most skilled cake decorator. This time should be rewarded and therefore some cake decorators will add an hourly rate and others will add a figure that they think does them justice.

The local market is also a consideration as most cake decorators will research the area, find out competitors’ prices and charge accordingly.

Finally, if you purchase your cake from a well-known cake decorator, as you are paying for their name, you will pay more.

Coming up with a price is never easy, as I hope I have demonstrated. The next time that you choose to have a cake, if you go for a bespoke original cake, whilst you can expect to pay more than a supermarket cake, you are having a creation which is unique to you and your celebration and which will hopefully cause a talking point for time to come.

Lady Marmalade

I am positively spoiling you this week! Having not written a single recipe last year, I’m giving you two in two weeks!

For a few short weeks in January, supermarket shelves are full of Seville oranges, which I’m sure you’re aware, can be turned into marmalade. If you’re going to make orange marmalade, and you can make it from any citrus fruit, I recommend you find yourself some Seville oranges and have a go!

I must admit that I love jams and chutneys and look forward to the summer when I can go fruit picking and can then come up with all sorts of concoctions in my kitchen.

I’ve made marmalade a couple of times; most recently last November, when I made red grapefruit and lemon marmalade, but I’ve never tried Seville orange marmalade before. I like trying new things and with the Marmalade Festival fast approaching (, it seemed like an opportune time.

I have seen countless recipes and methods for making Seville orange marmalade. My first attempt, though not a total disaster, was not an unmitigated success! The two tips I have taken from attempt 1 and now share with you are: 1) don’t start cutting up oranges at 10.30pm. It’s a very time consuming process! 2) after you have added the sugar and brought the marmalade to a rolling boil, don’t suddenly start tidying your kitchen shelves! Whilst the marmalade, thankfully, wasn’t completely ruined, it certainly won’t be winning any awards!

So, I turned to Pam Corbin and followed her recipe as I figured she knows what she’s doing! Pam, if you aren’t familiar with her, is something of a legend in jam circles and I knew she wouldn’t let me down! I did change one thing from her recipe, which I’ve added below, and that was warming the sugar before I added it to the marmalade.

Batch no 2 is a thing of beauty. It may not be award winning, but I’m proud of it nevertheless. If you would like to try a batch of marmalade, and it will keep for a year, I suggest you have a go at the following. As for me? I’ve got some clementines which are calling out for marmalading!

1 kg Seville oranges
Juice of 2 lemons (100mls)
2 kg golden granulated sugar

1. Scrub the oranges, remove the buttons at the top of the fruit then cut in half around their circumference. Squeeze out the juice and keep to one side.

2. Slice the fruits into the size pieces you prefer removing any marked skin and any thick pieces of the white inner pith. Save these – the pith is where the most pectin is – tie these off-cuts in a square of muslin.

3. Place the sliced peel, orange juice, pith bag in a large bowl and cover with 2 litres of water. Cover and leave to soak overnight or for up to 24 hours – this helps to soften the peel and release the pectin.

4. Transfer the whole mixture to a large heavy based pan or preserving pan. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 2 hours (Sevilles have tough old skins) or until the peel is tender and breaks when gently pulled – the contents of the pan will have reduced by approximately one- third. Remove the pith bag, first squeezing it firmly against the side of the pan to remove all its gummy goodness.

5. Warm the sugar in a preheated oven for about 5 minutes. Then add along with the lemon juice. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached –this should take approximately 15 minutes at a full rolling boil but will depend on the size of pan you use and how hard the boil is. The marmalade is done when the mass of foamy bubbles on the surface have disappeared and the mixture appears to be thick and glossy.

6. Test for setting point by dropping of the mixture onto a very cold plate or a large stainless steel spoon – after a minute or so it should form a slight skin on the surface. Avoid over-cooking which results in a stiff overly sweet marmalade.

7. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for several minutes to allow the peel to evenly distribute – if you pour when the marmalade is too hot the peel will float to the top of the jar. Pour (to within 3 mm of the top) into sterilised jars and seal immediately.

Vanilla and Rhubarb Cupcakes – a match made in heaven!

Sometimes life is very good to me, I wake up with a spring in my step (though that rarely happens as I’m not a morning person) and the day just goes well. Today was such a day. After a weekend spent in my kitchen trying Christmas pudding recipes and Seville marmalade, with varying degrees of success, I was back there this evening after a quick visit on my way home to my local Waitrose.

For want of a better word, I ‘stumbled’ across Vanessa Kimbell on Twitter last week, quite by chance. It turns out she’s writing a cookery book, to be released in June and wanted some help testing her recipes. I admire anyone following their dreams, especially when food is concerned, so I was only too pleased to offer my services in any way I could.

Therefore, I found myself back in my kitchen, baking. I love baking, which is a very good thing as I want to have my own bakery one day! Tonight though, I was baking someone else’s dreams. I was trying Vanessa’s ‘Vanilla and Rhubarb Cupcakes with Elderflower and Rose Buttercream’. Sadly I couldn’t track down fresh rhubarb, but Bonne Maman do a rather splendid rhubarb compote. It’s quite liquid, so on opening, I stuck some in a pan and heated it gently, so it would reduce a little. I let this cool down and got started with the serious business.

I don’t normally make 2 dozen cupcakes, unless I have an order, but I wanted to follow the recipe to the letter, therefore my work colleagues will be very happy tomorrow! It’s an incredibly easy recipe to follow and I feel I showed tremendous restraint by only trying one of these very tasty treats!

I had a chat with Vanessa earlier today and she explained the concept of the book to me. She is giving recipes in the book for one dish and then making a new one elsewhere, using the original dish. What a fantastic idea! Hand on heart, if the recipes in the book are anything like this, they will be a joy to make and this will be a cookery book which will become treasured and much used! I wish Vanessa much success and happiness in this venture and I feel proud to have played the teeniest-tiniest part in it.

If you want to follow Vanessa’s adventures further, then please check out this link:

and don’t forget to order your copy of her book!

Makes 24

250g caster sugar
250g  margarine or butter
250g  self raising flour
4 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract

250g butter
300g icing sugar
7 tablespoons  elderflower cordial
1 drop red food colouring.
Half a jar of Rhubarb Jam

Preheat  the oven to gas mark 4 / 350 F / 180 Celsius Cream together the butter and sugar.  Beat well until white and fluffy.  Add 3 / 4 tablespoons of flour and then add the eggs.  This prevents the mixture from curdling. Don’t worry if it does, just keep adding the flour a little at a time, beating the mixture to ensure it is evenly distributed.

Place a large dollop of the mixture filling 24 large cupcake papers 2/3 full. Leave room for the cakes to rise.  Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until firm to the touch. Cool.

Place the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl. Beat this until it is light and fluffy adding in a tablespoon at a time of the elderflower syrup.

If the mixture is too warm to pipe then transfer to the fridge and leave until it has solidified enough. If for any reason the mix is too runny just keep beating adding a tablespoon at a time of icing sugar until you are happy with the result.

Scoop out a small walnut size piece from the centre of each cooled cupcake. Spoon a teaspoon of rhubarb jam in to the centre and replace the cut out piece. Pipe the butter icing over and decorate.

This recipe may change slightly in Vanessa’s book.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a fab Christmas, received lots of exciting pressies and ate far too much! I think I can tick all those boxes! I decided to use Christmas as a time to reflect on my achievements last year and to look forward to this year, so I committed my 2011 goals to paper. (Incidentally, I never make resolutions, but I do set goals for the year. Some are wildly optimistic – I want to conquer the Monroes, read War and Peace in Russian and finish decorating my flat – and some are much more realistic, like reading a book a month, royal icing a cake and trying out new recipes.) This list (which comprises 31 items!) is now stuck to my fridge and I will look at it from time to time, to make sure I don’t drift!

My goals also include my use of social media and PR to build my profile. I have a website, a blog, I’m on Facebook and Twitter. Towards the end of last year all of these were neglected for one reason or another and it’s time that stopped. Right now!

I had intended to review the year, which I have done, but as we’re already 2 weeks into the new one, I’m going to look forward instead. I’ve been thinking of how I want to use the blog and what I want to say. I’ve decided that this gives me an opportunity to show people who I am and what I like, so this will be about my journey. I’m going to start including recipes as well. Obviously, if there are amazing cakes that I make, I will most certainly write about them, but if you’re after cake decorating tips and advice, I recommend checking at ‘Claire’s Corner’ on my website:

This will be updated at least every fortnight (it’s in writing now, so it has to be!) and if I can tie in a project with an event (eg Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas), then I will, otherwise I’ll feature how-tos. The next one (to be published this weekend) will be a marzipan rose and this will be followed by a mask for the Venice Carnival. I have lots of ideas for what I want to feature, but if there are any requests, I will try to my best to grant them.

So I think that’s it for now. Sorry it’s been so long since the last time I was here and I promise I will be back very soon!