Monthly Archives: November 2011

Let’s Make Christmas!

I’m sitting here writing this, still not quite believing that yesterday actually happened! I was invited to http://www.fortnumandmason.com/ by the lovely Vanessa Kimbell http://writingacookerybook.blogspot.com/ The idea was that foodies and food bloggers got together, we all brought something which we had made which was nice and ‘gifty’ and we went home with someone else’s baked goodies. We also provided the recipe, so the lucky recipient could bake it themselves and we all blogged about it as well.

I had intended on blogging prior to the event, but if any of you read this, you’ll know that I’m not always up-to-date with my blogging! (I promise to turn over a new leaf in the New Year!) So, I’ll write about the event and post my recipes at the end…

I decided to make gingerbread biscuits which I would ice. Up until about Wednesday I was going to take some chutney and jelly with me, but I had a change of heart and the thought of ‘amaretti’ hit me. I took Friday off work, had a lie-in (I’ve been busy recently and the Christmas rush is about to kick-off!) and then got baking. The gingerbread went well and whilst it was cooling, I made my amaretti, threw them in the oven and forgot to note the time. Oops. They ended up a pale golden, looked OK and I left them to cool whilst I made my icings.

To cut a long story short, the icing didn’t want to dry (if you look at the picture it’s quite tacky), but I had to leave as it had gone 3pm and I was supposed to be at Fortnum’s AT 3pm! In getting to the meet-up, I forgot my oyster card, the train was delayed, the tube was delayed and every traffic light I passed in order to cross the road was green! It was one of those days! I then had a fraught moment on the 3rd floor, even asking someone where Vanessa was. They’d never heard of her. Did she work there? It turns out I was a floor short, so rather flustered (and VERY late), I arrived.

I had my goodies taken from me, I got myself a drink and I caught my breath! It was really lovely to chat to so many people, none of whom I knew (apart from Vanessa and the lovely Charlotte from Go Free Foods http://www.gofreefoods.co.uk).

The goodies that we all made were judged by Dan Lepard (of whom I am in awe. I don’t think I did star-struck yesterday, if I did, I’m sorry Dan!) and there were prizes awarded which had been very generously donated by Kenwood, Fortnum and Mason and Rococo Chocolates amongst others. I never thought in a million years I would win anything, and I went along to meet fellow foodies and get some new ideas!

After Dan had tried every entry (it’s a tough job!) and deliberated, the results were in! Firstly, the award for best preserves went to Urvashi Roe for her blackberry curd http://thebotanicalbaker.wordpress.com/plants/blackberry/blackberry-curd I’m already looking forward to next summer, when I shall be trying this out!

Next came best baked goods. I was chatting (I think!) to a lady next to me and Dan mentioned ‘amaretti biscuits’. ‘Hang on a minute,’ I thought. ‘I made some of those!’ He then held up their bag and asked who had made them. I was dumbstruck. ‘I did,’ I said and tried to make my way forward. He didn’t hear (or see!) me and asked again. I was a bit braver (and louder!) this time and a path to Dan miraculously opened for me. He congratulated me and I was chuffed to bits. Then I was told what the prize was. A Kenwood food processor. My jaw dropped and I was in total disbelief. I couldn’t believe it. I think my photo was taken, but I can’t remember.

At this point in the story, I’d like to point out that, despite baking, LOTS!, and having a cake company for over 2 years, I don’t have a table-top mixer! (For those of you out there who don’t have one either, yes it is possible. It’s just hard work!)

I made my way back, still stunned and in shock. The next prizes were announced – Best sweets went to Snejana Simeonova for her mincemeat cake pops http://orangethyme.blogspot.com/ something else I’ll be trying! They looked lovely.

The final category – best drink – was won by Jayne Rivera-Lynch for her Slivovitz http://jaynerly.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/slivovitz-blog-birthday-cheers/ something else I must try!

After this, the final prize was awarded – overall best gift. It was still sinking in that I had won a Kenwood, when Dan mentioned ‘amaretti biscuits’ again. I almost felt a little embarrassed walking back, to be greeted with the news that I had won a Fortnum and Mason Christmas Hamper (cue delighted parents – their Christmas gifts are sorted now!).

Photographs were taken of all of the winners, there was a photo taken of me for Kenwood (I’ll do any publicity that they would like!!!) and until I left the event (to go to the bar downstairs), I was overwhelmed by the response and congratulations which I received.

24 hours later, it still hasn’t quite sunk in. I feel so proud of myself and I’m still giddy that Dan Lepard likes my biscuits!!! I’m not the most confident person (which may surprise people!) and to hear praise like this was humbling. I fought back a few tears as well as I was just so overwhelmed. You may notice the picture at the top of my blog is for my gingerbread biscuits. I didn’t even take one of my amaretti!!! I’ll be making some for my fair next weekend and the camera will be going ‘click! click! click!’!

So, finally, thank you so much to Vanessa for organising such a wonderful event, to Dan for liking my biscuits, judging and being an all round good egg, to Fortnum and Mason for hosting the event (and for your hamper!), to Kenwood for my fabulous new toy and finally to everyone I met yesterday and for those who I didn’t meet, but who have tweeted me. I have been blown away by everyone’s kindness. And now for the important bit of this blog, the recipes! If you replicate either, my one wish is that you enjoy them. They have given me much pleasure!

Gingerbread
125g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
3 1/2 tbsp golden syrup
300g plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 200C.
In a pan, melt the butter, golden syrup and sugar. In a bowl, mix together the flour, bicarbonate of
soda and the ginger. Stir the butter mixture into the flour mixture, to make a stiff dough. Roll out
to a thickness of about 1/4" and cut out shapes.

Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until firm and a little darker
round the edges. Remove from the oven and trim (they will spread during baking). Leave to cool on
a wire rack. You can either enjoy as they are, or decorate. I made royal icing using icing sugar,
merriwhite (an egg albumen) and some water, or you could use icing sugar and egg white, or even
packet royal icing.

Amaretti (makes 20)
180g ground almonds
120g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2tsp almond extract
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1 tbsp honey
100g flaked almonds
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 160C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
In a bowl, place the almonds, sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and salt. Rub together with your
fingers, until well mixed. In a separate (and spotlessly clean) bowl, whisk the egg whites and
honey together until soft peaks form. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold the meringue mixture
into the almond mixture, to give a soft paste.

Roll into 20g rounds. Flatten them a little. Put the flaked almonds onto a plate and then roll
the rounds in them, and then roll in icing sugar. Place onto your prepared baking tray and bake
for 14-18 minutes - they should be a very light golden brown, but still relatively pale. Place
them on a wire rack to cool completely before serving, or gift wrapping. 

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Be careful who you buy from…

I feel like I’m going to be bombarding you with posts this week – I’m either silent or the chattiest person around! I just heard a heartbreaking story which I wanted to share, although my blog at the weekend will still go ahead.

Back to this very sad story. Someone bought a cake from a lady who just had a facebook page, which was full of very good images. It turns out that this lady had copied the images from another (and reputable) cake maker.  The customer was unaware of this however, and ordered a cake for his daughter’s christening.

When he had collected the cake, he was very disappointed. It looked nothing like the picture.On further investigation, he tracked down the original cake maker, but as she lived in another part of the country, was unable to help him and although she offered to find him someone she trusted to make another cake for him (he felt he was unable to share the cake with his family and friends), he declined as he couldn’t afford another cake (he was trying to get the money back from the lady who made the cake), but more importantly, he didn’t trust anyone to make another cake for him.

Like many cake decorators, I watermark all of my cakes. It’s not that I’m particularly precious about what I’ve done, but I don’t want someone else using my work on their website. This can lead to misrepresentation and ultimately, as shown above, disappointment.

So I urge you, if you’re buying a cake, do a little work first. Don’t just accept the cheapest quote. I’d also advise against using someone who just has a facebook site and not a website. I’m not saying that there aren’t very good cake decorators out there who just have facebook sites, but I’m looking out for you. Also, make sure that there is an address for the cake decorator on the website and if possible, a landline phone number too.

I do have a facebook site (which true to me isn’t updated as often as it should be!), but I also have a website, which contains my address and phone number.

If you’re having a cake made, ask some questions. See if the photos are watermarked. See if the style of the cakes is broadly similar as most cake decorators have a style, sometimes without them particularly realising it! Be prepared to spend a bit of money – you are buying a bespoke cake, made just for you, to your exact requirements and desires. If you think a cake sounds too good to be true, in all likelihood it is. There are so many very talented and amazing cake decorators out there, who work really hard and its a shame that their good names are being sullied.