Sunday, 4 January 2015

Owl's House

A second gingerbread house, made without a single sticky thumb of child's influence but with reverent attention to A A Milne's Pooh of Pooh corner.

"Owl lived at The Chestnuts, and old-world residence of great charm, which was grander than anybody else's, or seemed so to Bear, because it had both a knocker and a bell-pull. Underneath the knocker there was a notice which said:



      Underneath the bell-pull there was a notice which said:



      These notices had been written by Christopher Robin, who was the only one in the forest who could spell; for Owl, wise though he was in many ways, able to read and write and spell his own name WOL, yet somehow went all to pieces over delicate words like MEASLES and BUTTEREDTOAST."

Here's E.H. Shepard's illustration. Being halfway up a tree, it's not the easiest subject for gingerbreadification, but after Elsa's Frozen castle I felt magically all-powerful.

Cinderella Christmas Cake

Another kiddy kristmas spektakular - this time, Cinderella getting ready for a rather seasonal ball.

Iona helpfully designed me a fairy godmother:
I painted her on to royal icing, in a vaguely Rackham-influenced scene that I improvised in the last hours of Christmas Eve.

Oddments of marzipan went to make buttons and cotton reels for the "frame" - I remember the dress-making scene in the Disney Cinderella having a huge influence on me wanting to make clothes, so wanted to echo their enticing chaos. The sides of the cake are indented to look like quilting, with a fabric-like ruffle and marks like tiny stitches.
Thank heavens for tiny nine year old thumbs to help make those buttons: they were made from a tiny ball of marzipan, indented with the lid of a Berol felt tip to make the rings, then holed with a toothpick.


Elsa's Ice Castle

Never give a nine year old girl free rein over the theme for your annual gingerbread house...Or maybe do. This was a huge amount of fun, and consumed a whole day in a flurry of planning, making and icing sugar. My niece Iona (said nine year old girl) drew some pretty elaborate plans
Which clearly called for a whole 3D diorama, not the mimsy little castle I'd imagined. She was particularly keen on the narrative elements: the treacherous ice bridge, Elsa's balcony, and Anna's struggle up the mountain on a rope.
We paused the YouTube video of Frozen again and again to unravel the fiendish architectural plottings of Elsa's ice magic. I still don't really understand how her nest of ice promontories fits together, and most of them were cut from our still-complicated scheme. What did stay was the way she makes the floor from a single, swollen-up snowflake. Our castle was built on a hexagonal floor plan, with gothic arched windows made from melted Fox's glacier mints. How appropriate.
The rest of the scene was built from a dentist's nightmare of meringues, cake, and 2 kg of icing sugar. Iona had the brainwave of adding an ice rink for Elsa to skate on, and was insistent that we didn't leave out the liquorice rope, even if the mountain wasn't quite high enough for a truly perilous ascent.
Here's the castle when Iona went to bed: a sticky but structurally sound monolith of gingerbread and icing sugar. But that night I performed the delicate operation of threading battery-operated fairy lights through its rooms. In the morning, we couldn't face the thought of yet more gingerbread - the castle had over 20 separate pieces to bake - so we printed out more Frozen characters to live in it. Here's an aerial view...
And here it is, sitting in state and sisterly love as we ate Christmas dinner.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Greenhouse Cake

I've never seen an edible greenhouse before. Gingerbread houses with sugarglass windows, yes. But since I love making life complicated my original plan for a vegetable patch birthday cake was hothoused into a mad sugar structural challenge. I made the frame out of chocolate gingerbread, rolled out and cut to shape, then filled the holes with crushed glacier mints before baking, then glued the whole thing together with more melted chocolate.

Sugarglass doesn't last long before it gets sticky and melts, so I made it the morning the cake had to be transported to my Aunt's garden party - in a marquee right by her actual greenhouse. You can't really tell in the photos, but I filled it with marzipan "plants" - seedlings in pots, aubergines and cauliflowers. And there's a tiny marzipan replica of one of her cats, sitting by a pot of pansies.

The soil is crumbled gingerbread (left over from making the greenhouse frame) and the stones are hazelnuts. And because life wasn't complicated enough already, I decided to make multicoloured chocolate leaves to decorate the sides. I painted melted chocolate onto real (washed - authenticity only goes so far here) leaves from the park, left it to set, then carefully pealed off the leaf to leave a delicately veined chocolate leaf. 

You can't tell in the photos, but the whole cake was sparkly with edible gold powder - unfortunately, this fairy dust wasn't  magic enough to prevent the cake from meeting with a horrible accident en route to the party...

A huge chasm opened up in the middle of the cake -  a falling box had skewed the layers so they slid out from under the greenhouse in chunks, scattering icing and crumbs. My sister kindly took me on an emergency dash to Lidl to buy more hazelnuts and a huge pot of Nutella, and I used them to fill up the chasms. Amazingly, the greenhouse stayed in one piece, but the leaves crumbled to autumnal dust. 

A few people asked if I'd learned a lesson from the whole experience, and muttered darkly about assembling on site. Well, maybe. But I think my strongest resolution is to make a marzipan witch to go along with the pumpkins next time, to defend her property against natural disasters. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Thassa, God of the Sea

All my bakery is a bit nerdy, but this one takes the cake. Although arguably it's not my fault - I don't even play Magic: The Gathering, although I do secretly quite enjoy the artwork. I just picked the prettiest card to try and replicate -- she's a cool David Bowie-looking mermaid, which I obviously like. Here's the original card:

My interpretation is a bit more pastelly, in part because the cake-odds were stacked against me. I only had purple and pink food colouring to work with, and had to improvise other colours from leftover tinted marzipan, melted dark chocolate and coffee grounds. Sigh. I do actually quite like the 3D look the cake came out with as a result though.

A mise-en-scene also starring my favourite rabbit mug and my beautiful new Tala icing syringe -- it's exactly like my Grandma's one that she bought in the 1950s, and which I started to feel guilty about using, in case I was damaging it. The only difference is that my new one comes in a nice sturdy tin instead of a battered, yellow sellotape-coated cardboard box.

  Aand there's Thassa's disembodied head, thinking up ways to wreak divine vengeance for indignities suffered. I might not know much about Magic, but apparently I scored some accidental fan-points for ensuring she had her signature two-pronged bident with which to do spells -- not the more conventional trident upstart newer versions of the card have tried to impose.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Cassette Tape Cake

This was a commission/birthday cake for Lone Omi -- a handy bit of multipurposing! After a bit of Photoshop primping it'll be the cover for his joint EP. For now, it's sitting partially dismembered in the kitchen, after a mammoth photography session.

I was extra proud of the way the window came out -- it's made of glacier mints melted down -- but it's not very camera friendly. But getting the writing done was the really hard bit, because I wanted it to look as much like Sharpie on paper as possible, not like raised icing, and had to make sure it would come across in the photos. Really specific commissions like this are so satisfying to do because it means I can skip the agonising and deliberating stage and get on with baking, icing and piping -- more please!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas cake - Puss in Boots

A bit less high brow than last year's effort, here's Puss in Boots in full 18th century garb (this is the Perrault version dahling) on stage in a grand panto.  The curtains and edges are 3D, but the stage scene is just painted straight onto royal icing. I sometimes wonder whether decorating the fruit cake is actually my favourite bit of Christmas!

Aand a side view...