Hermione Birthday Cake Tutorial

little girls dressed up as Hermione Granger

There are worse book characters to idolise than Hermione Granger

The youngest children in all families are inevitably influenced by their older siblings, and Mini is no different. She learned to read better so that she could read her sisters’ favourite Harry Potter books. She’s such a huge fan that I am now the only one in the house who’s never read them, nor am mad-keen on everything Harry Potter.

So for her 7th birthday, Mini asked for a Harry Potter-themed birthday party (more in another post) and a birthday cake for her actual birthday that had “something to do with Hermione Granger”. Hmmmm, no challenge for this non-HP fan, then (!)

I decided to do a fairly simple book cake, and call it Hermione Granger’s Diary. I took photos of the process so that I’d remember it for her more complex birthday party cake later that week. And as a bonus, I can use them as a tutorial to show you how easy it was. Remember, I’m not a great cook or a talented cake decorator – if you take your time and follow my top tips, you’ll produce something far, far better. Please share your own hints and tips too!

Hermione cake Harry Potter

Hermione’s Diary Cake

  1. OK, start the day before by baking the cakes and preparing a cake board. Don’t bother buying a board. Just get some stiff cardboard (I cut a bit off a packaging box, but have been known to use a couple of empty cereal boxes) and cover it entirely in tin foil. This makes it look good, gives you something big enough to work on, makes the cake portable, and it’s also easy to wipe crumbs and smears off the side.

  2. Make 2 loaf-cakes and let them cool completely. Maxi suggested I make them both chocolate and orange marble cakes and so I used double the recipe at the link. I didn’t ice them with the drizzled chocolate and I didn’t use food colouring.

  3. Make up a batch of plain buttercream. I used a block of unsalted butter (250g), 2 cups of icing sugar, and my all-time favourite method of making Whipped Buttercream Icing.

  4. Using a sharp knife, cut the top off the loaves on a bit of a slant. This shapes the cakes so that they’ll look a bit like an open book when you press them together. If you were neater than me, you would cut the tops off entirely so that there are no curved edges. If you’re worried about the cakes becoming too thin, you could raise them up by slicing each loaf in 2 and filling with jam and/or cream at this point.

  5. In the interests of thrift, crumble the bits of cake you sliced off and mush them together with a spoon or 2 of buttercream. Effectively you’re making a batch of cake pops, but you’ll use it like mortar to hold the 2 loaf-cakes together.

  6. Put a smear of buttercream on your cake board and place a loaf cake on top (this will hold it down). Squish the cake-pops mortar along the side of the cake, then smear more buttercream on the board and stick the second loaf-cake to the first. Really squish the cakes together.

  7. Now cover both cakes in the rest of the buttercream. Don’t worry about getting crumbs in the icing: it really doesn’t matter because it’ll all be covered in fondant icing.

  8. Roll out some white fondant or ready-roll icing to form the pages along the sides of the cake. I used a 500g block in grand total, but you might need more or less: it depends how thinly you roll the icing. You could be extremely neat and cut them into beautiful rectangles, or you can be slap-dash like me and just wodge them on. I used the excess fondant icing to start to disguise the misshapen bits of loaf-cake, but as I said in (4) above, you could avoid that by slicing the tops neatly and more severely.

  9. Use a blunt edge (spatula, back of a long knife, etc.) along each side to make lots of page marks. The layer of buttercream under the fondant icing will help.

  10. Dip a clean paint brush in some cocoa and use it to brush the edges of the pages to make them look old and dirty. I’m not sure that Hermione’s diary would actually be so grubby, to be fair, but I wanted to try out the technique.

  11. Roll out more white icing and place over the top of the cake. Shape it with your hands so that it looks like an open page. Brush more cocoa along the edges and on the ‘pages’. Roll some coloured fondant icing (or colour the last of the white fondant icing with some food colouring) into long thin sausage shapes and place them around the edges to look like the book’s cover, peeping out from under the pages. Flatten the sausages with a flat edge on top and at the side. If you have any black icing, add a little arch in the middle of the front and back to look a bit like the empty space where the edges of the pages curve away from the book binding. (Or just brush lots of cocoa in that corner to achieve the same / a better effect).

  12. Decorate! I used a pen that writes on icing to write something, and made a bit of a bouquet of roses with a tiny bit of green fondant icing I had leftover from The Boss’s birthday cake last month and some shop-bought icing flowers. I shook some little white chocolate stars over the top to use them up (they’ve been lurking in my cupboard for too many years… I swear they’re breeding…).

  13. Add some candles and go!

Midi’s Favourite Cubs Badge

I think I’ve written thousands of words about Midi Minx and her love of cooking and baking (and my love of troughing her creations). Ha, my Instagram page features more of her baking than my own! Recently, she’d been grizzling about Maxi’s speedier accumulation of Cub Scout badges than her own. I can see why: when she’s in Cubs uniform, Maxi looks like she fell out of a cornflakes packet… I explained to Midi that she’d need to be patient and earn her badges slowly, as she learned new knowledge and skills. No, she wants more badges NOW. She asked whether she could get any badges for existing skills. For instance, was there perhaps a baking badge..? Crafty minx! I explained that she wouldn’t get badges just for turning up and that all work for badges has to be equally taxing for everyone. I had a chat with her Akela, who was game for her to work on the badge at home. After a quick check that Midi planned to make something that would be appropriately difficult for her current skillset, she was off!

We checked the requirements of the Cubs Chef Activity badge and any available resources – no point reinventing the wheel, eh? The online pack certainly contains lots of activities (pretty handy, as it appears I’ve now merrily volunteered myself to help other Cubs get their Chefs badge!). Like her sisters, Midi’s been drilled in food hygiene and safety since she was tiny, so we just quickly looked at the relevant exercises in the activity pack and discussed them so that I was certain she’d sufficient knowledge of the areas covered. We didn’t do the food techniques game, as I felt that was a bit too easy for her. Instead I grilled her (badoom-tish!!) on which cooking techniques she’d choose to best cook different foods that I listed.

When it came to planning the menu, I know that the Eatwell Plate listed in the pack was updated and replaced in March 2016 by the Eatwell Guide, so I used that instead as a basis of discussing the food choices with Midi. We talked about food groups and proportions, and because this was already old hat to her, I added the challenge of also varying the flavours, textures and colours of the food. She’s only 8, so I didn’t enforce The Boss’s suggestion of also only choosing seasonal or local produce (!) Maybe next time…

I ended up cutting her a fair bit of slack when it came to actually cooking things up and changing the menu: the preparation took far, far longer than expected, and she desperately squeezed in a quick bike ride with her Dad in the middle of the cooking before it got dark. As a result, there were fewer fruits and 1 less vegetable than she’d originally planned. I helped her change her plan for a seasonal fruit salad into a quick yogurt, honey and nut side-dish with just the one fruit to go with the biscotti. And the swede mash didn’t happen at all because her chopping skills aren’t yet safe enough to slice the thick skin off the swede (and not her hand) competently. Maybe if we’d had (much, much) more time

So what was her Showstopper Menu for 5, then? Midi chose to make a vegetable and lentil soup for a first course to show that she can prepare vegetables, follow a recipe and safely use a liquidiser; she decided on cottage pie and mixed greens for main as they’re quite easy to cook, used different cooking techniques, and are a standard winter dinner in our household; for dessert she made some super-crunchy hazelnut, chocolate and lemon biscotti, with Greek yogurt, honey, nuts and pomelo segments alongside, just because they’re her favourites. They all tasted fantastic, but the best bit for me? She had to serve, clear up and wash everything up afterwards. What a treat for the rest of us!

I’ve written this post partly because I’m desperately proud of her emerging cooking skills and am constantly encouraging her independence, and also so I can send a link to her Akela as proof of what she produced. The photos got fewer as she needed closer supervision / time was running out! I’ve added 2 of the recipes she used (weeeeell, one recipe and one set of directions), so I hope you give them a try, too.

Vegetable and Lentil Soup For 10

Ingredients

  • tasty-lentil-soup

    The finished soup. No garnish needed

    tablespoon of olive oil

  • 2 small / 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • crushed clove or 2 of garlic
  • teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 175g lentils (we used a mix of red and white because it was all we had)
  • 2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  • scant tablespoon of tomato puree
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • bay leaf

Method

  1. Serving up - a new skill

    Serving up – a new skill for Midi

    Heat the oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion over a medium heat for about 10 mins till it’s soft and transparent.

  2. Add the carrots and celery, and sweat for a few more minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and ground spices. Stir for a minute.
  4. Add the lentils, stock, tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, a bit of seasoning, bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 30 mins till the veg is soft.
  5. Cool slightly, then liquidise. Check for seasoning. Serve. We stored half in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch!

Cottage Pie and Mixed Greens

Ingredients

  • cottage-pie-dinnertablespoon of oil
  • 1 large / 2 small onions, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 750g beef mince
  • pint of beef stock
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • about 500g potatoes
  • large knob of butter
  • about 500g brussels sprouts
  • about 300g frozen peas

Method

  1. Peel the potatoes, chop into even chunks. Place in cold, salted water, bring to the boil, simmer for 20 mins or until soft enough to mash.
  2. While the tatties are coming to the boil, put the oven on to heat to 210degC / gas 7.
  3. While the tatties are simmering, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Fry the onion till soft, then sweat the carrots. Tip onto a bowl.
  4. First attempt at serving dinner in fair portions to 5 hungry people

    First attempt at serving dinner in fair portions to 5 hungry people. And aye, although she’s tall she still needs a step to use the cooker safely

    Turn the saucepan heat to high. Fry the beef mince till browned. Add the vegetables, stock, Worcestershire sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer gently while you’re getting on with the tatties.

  5. Drain the potatoes when they’re ready. Mash roughly with a large knob of butter and a little pepper.
  6. Put the mince in a deep ovenproof dish. Put the mashed potato through a potato ricer and squeeze it in noodles over the mince. Place in the hot oven for 15 – 20 mins until the potato has browned and gone crunchy.
  7. While the cottage pie is in the oven, cook your brussels sprouts (trim the tails, cut in half, pop in a little saucepan. Cover with boiling water, bring back to boil and simmer for 5 mins. Drain, serve with a small knob of butter swirled over them.
  8. While you’re serving the cottage pie and brussels sprouts onto plates, cook the frozen peas in the microwave according to the package instructions.

Hazelnut, Chocolate and Lemon Biscotti

I promise to add more details for this when I check what amendments Midi and The Boss made to the original Paul Hollywood recipe. I can’t reproduce his recipe because it’ll be copyrighted, but I’ll at least link to it.

The Finale… tidying up!

And she’s still smiling. Will she willingly tidy up from now on? (Don’t be silly – you can’t get a badge for that!)

 

Christmas Eve 2016

I’ve been driving everyone demented in the house over the past few weeks, insisting on playing HeartXmas on the radio whenever I’m at home. The unrelenting barrage of Christmas-themed music was surprisingly soothing. Well, to me at least. I’m a grumpy old sod who always, always hates the overly-commercial and overly-long build-up to Christmas. Perhaps after the 12 months I’ve just had, I think I needed a nudge into feeling faintly ridiculous and a bit happy. Even if it’s artificially and commercially produced by silly songs with inane lyrics and cynical producers.

Anyway, I like to sing / screech / croak along to the radio. Not knowing the words or tune has never slowed me down, oh no, I just crack right on with my own version, the ruder the better. Though admittedly that made learning the correct words to their school carol concert a wee bit trickier for my trio than it should have been, but that’s another story… So the minxes were getting fed up with me imitating Bruce Springsteen, moaning about how gravelly and awful his voice was and that his Santa Claus is Coming To Town sounded like more of a huge parody than my send-up of it. I’m not a big fan of his work, to be fair, but do have a very soft spot for Streets of Philadelphia. So I decided to play the girls it, the version at the link. Personally I love the way it sounds like he’s walking along the street, singing it. And I love the sound of his voice in that particular song. However, I didn’t expect the reactions I got from the girls…

dsc_0359 dsc_0361

I guess they’ll not be big fans, then.

 

We had some friends over today for lunch. Their girls are the age of Mini and younger and a real joy to be around. We finished off a huge meal (brisket that had been in the slow cooker for 12 hours and Midi’s best savoury dumplings) with my friend’s delicious pavlova, then emptied an entire can of shaving foam playing Pie Face. Ahhhh, you can’t get kids too hyper on Christmas Eve!

Well, I say that… They were all bouncing off the walls. Properly going bonkers. ‘Unable to speak an entire sentence’ level of excited. I didn’t hold out much hope of them ever getting to bed. Then The Boss had a brilliant idea of breaking out the tubs of gingerbread dough his mum had given them – get them to bake gingerbread biscuits, decorate 7 shades of living hell out of them, then leave them out for Santa. Awesome! I watched the 3 of them slow down, start of concentrate, calm down more and more, get engrossed in their decorating, focusing on their creations. They stopped moaning about my Christmas music radio station and even joined in singing, while me and Mini went all kitsch on this year’s Christmas cake (those blobby things are robins. With their wings and tails outstretched. Of course they are. You see it now, don’t you?)

Santa and Rudolph's treats

Santa and Rudolph’s treats

After a few hours, they were done. I openly admitted how impressed I was with their artwork. I’m sure Santa was, too. So in a fairly calm state, they laid out Santa’s and Rudolph’s snacks, milk and whisky, posed gamely for the annual Christmas Eve photo, said goodbye to Edbie the Elf*, then went to bed without arguing.

Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve 2016

*The elf went back to Santa, of course, leaving a thank you note that included some insults to Elsa, and leaving behind some Santa hats, Christmas joke box and some elf cupcake toppers I found a few months ago.

Around midnight, me and The Boss got out all the minxes’ presents from their hiding places. This year I was smug as a smug thing because I kept an Excel spreadsheet listing everything I’d bought for them, roughly how much it was (so I could make sure they’d roughly the same spent on them, and that I didn’t go overboard), and (crucially) where I’d hidden it.

So there I was, hissing: “Gas Out… Midi… blue ikea bag behind the stripey bag in the wardrobe” like a mad game of Twister to a hapless Boss who was tiptoeing around helping me fetch things. He picked up said Gas Out game and gave it an innocent prod. It came with batteries already fitted. It let out the most massive, long, wet-sounding fart I’ve ever heard that reverberated noisily along the hall. Have you ever tried not to die of laughing silently?! I swear, I lay on the floor outside Midi and Mini’s room, doubled up, dry-snorting about the noise, the terrible timing, and his face looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. A guilty one. So that nearly started our Christmas morning earlier than we’d planned!

As it was, we first heard the pitter-patter of tiny jack-boots running around to see if Santa had visited just before 4am. I persuaded Mini to snuggle in with me for 20 whole sleepy snoozy minutes before I heard the other pair of tricksters giggling in the hall and gave up. I happily accepted the payback for the past 10 years of post-7am Christmas Day waking. It’s 0420hrs, Santa’s been, and the kids are shrieking and laughing and smiling over their presents – let the festivities commence! Merry Christmas!

3 Easy Christmas Cakes Icing Tutorials

Christmas cake iced with tree and snowflakesEvery year, starting around the end of October, my kitchen smells of Christmas cake. I bake 4 big ones, cut them up into different sized cakes, ice and decorate them, let them dry out, then send them off to brave the Royal Mail to reach relatives. So at any one time in November and early December you’ll find a glass dish full of dried fruit steeping in brandy, foiled-wrapped cakes occasionally being ‘fed’ with more brandy, and chopping boards laden with little cakes in various stages of sugar-covering, all hiding underneath a protective ceiling of foil. Oooooo, the smell is delicious!

1-xmas-cake-present11-hat-tutorialEvery year I do it and every year I mutter darkly that this’ll be the last year. But truth be told, I really enjoy making Christmas presents that I know will be eaten and not add to a mountain of plastic or clutter; I love thinking about the recipient as I finish off each cake. I know I’m not that great a cake-maker, but I think my relatives know that I make each cake with a lot of love. The trouble with me, though, is that I always leave the decorating to the last minute, so inevitably start applying royal icing before I’ve any clear idea of what I’m going to do. Trust me, inspiration rarely strikes at the right time…

This year, though, I had the foresight to look through Pinterest for ideas before I got out the marzipan. I thought I’d share my take on the ideas with you and tips on how I did them in case you’re tearing your hair out icing 9 cakes, too.

1. Tutorial to Ice a Knitted Hat Cake

Christmas Cake with Mittens by Alina Vaganova

Christmas Cake with Mittens by Alina Vaganova

I thought these little mittens on a cake looked sweet, but I’d no time to make intricate little decorations: a big hat would fit my timescale better. Here’s how I did it:

Start with your fruit cake iced already. I put a layer of marzipan and a layer of ready-to-roll icing on top of mine because I wanted to be able to smooth out the edges. If I had time (and the skills!) I’d have applied a layer of royal icing and left it to dry.

The knitted hat decoration is just coloured fondant icing. You can make your own or buy it ready-coloured and ready to roll.

0-hat-tutorial

 

Knead the coloured icing really well until it’s soft and pliable.

Take 2 golf-ball sized chunks of it and roll them into long sausages.

Twist them together into a long twirl.

Take another 2 chunks of icing and repeat, except this time twist the sausages in the other direction.

Lay the 2 twirls side by side, on a piece of baking parchment or a silicone mat. Pat them up close together until the twists match up.

 

 

 

 

 

5-hat-tutorialCut the pairs of twists to the length you want, then lay the off-cuts alongside. Cut a hat-shape out of the twists.

8-hat-tutorial

Take some white fondant icing and form it into a fat sausage, which will become the brim, and a round ball, which will become the pompom. Cut the ball in half so that you have a nice flat surface to stick to the cake.

Brush the top of your cake lightly with some cooled, boiled water. Then carefully, using a fish slice or spatula, slide the hat onto your cake. Gently pat it to shape. Put the brim at the base, covering the ends of the hat, and place the pompom half at the top. Make sure the flat side was well-moistened with water to help it stick. Either leave the white icing as it is, or mark it in some kind of texture – I pricked mine all over with a toothpick to make a vaguely furry texture because I’d no other bright ideas. (Please add a comment with your ideas so I can do a better job next year!)

9-hat-tutorialFinally, I added a little fondant icing snowflake I’d stamped out. Do this at the last minute so that it’s pliable – if you leave the snowflakes to dry out, they’ll crumble when you press them into the hat.

Leave the icing to harden for a few days before you try to post the cake.

2. Tutorial to Make a Christmas Tree Cake

The Pink Whisk's Stars and Sparkle Christmas cake

The Pink Whisk’s Stars and Sparkle Christmas cake

I was inspired by this beautifully-decorated cake from The Pink Whisk. I’ve linked to their very comprehensive instructions on how to ice and decorate a cake. If you’ve got the time, please go there – if not, then here’s how I did a much-less perfect variation:

Again, start with a fruit cake that’s already iced. I used a layer of marzipan and a layer of white ready-to-roll icing, the same as the knitted hat cake above.

Take a good chunk of coloured fondant icing and knead it until it’s very pliable and soft. Roll it out till it’s around 5mm thick. Cut it to size and shape. Lightly moisten the white icing with some cooled, boiled water, then place the coloured icing on top  (My blue icing was originally a beautiful square, but I have to tell you that I was a bit slapdash about taking it off the rolling mat and putting it on the cake – it stretched. I’d no more blue icing and it stuck a bit too well to the white icing, so I just left it and covered up the wonky edges with snowflakes).

2-xmas-cake-treeNow gently scatter whatever decorations you want on top. Get them into the places you like, using cold clean fingers (!) or the end of a paintbrush or even tweezers, then gently press them into the coloured icing. When they’re pretty well secured, use a rolling pin to gently roll over the top into a more level layer and press the decorations in even more. I used tiny white chocolate stars and some sugar stars in my Christmas tree.

Cover the edges of the coloured icing with whatever you have to hand – I stamped out some snowflakes from more of the white fondant icing. If I’d had more time, some silver balls would have looked great, or best of all, some piped swirls. Aye, maybe next year!

3. Tutorial to Ice a Present Cake

sorry, I don't know whose cake this is - I found it at www.dorafashionspace.com

sorry, I don’t know whose cake this is – I found it at http://www.dorafashionspace.com

I think the present cake is easiest of all. There are so many beautiful pictures all over Pinterest, and this one inspired me.

I covered a fruit cake with a layer of marzipan and let it dry. Then I rolled out some white fondant ready to roll icing, brushed the marzipan with cooled, boiled water and placed the icing on top. I smoothed the top and bottom edges in tightly to the cake. Then I folded the side edges in like I would with wrapping paper. What an easy way to finish off the icing – no smoothing or cutting!

Christmas cake iced like a present side viewI gently pressed in lots of little sugar balls. In hindsight I think it would have looked better with a random pattern, and making a pattern took a lot of time. But hey-ho!

I took a big chunk of pink fondant icing and kneaded it till it was soft and pliable. I rolled it out, then used a pastry cutter to cut it into strips. I brushed each strip with water, then stuck them to the top of the cake in a cross shape. I made a bow out of some strips and stuck that to the top.

Christmas cake iced like a present front viewAgain, I left the icing to harden for a few days before trusting the cake to the Royal Mail.

…………………………………………….

I’ve yet to ice our own family Christmas cake. I think I’ll leave that one for the minxes to do!

Nutty Mincepies

nutty-mincepie-close-upThis weekend we were in Edinburgh and had a really delicious meal at Jamie’s Italian. At the end of the meal we were all given a little mince-pie that had a crumble topping. Whilst we all enjoyed it, I reckoned I could recreate and maybe even make it a little better (oh! The arrogance!)

Well, I don’t know if it’s better, but the version I’ve come up with is certainly very easy and tastes even better the day after it’s made – bonus!

If you adapt this yourself, why not comment below and share your top tips with us all? I’m ready to take notes.

Nutty Mince-pies – makes about 18

nutty-mincepiesIngredients

  • 180g + 60g plain flour
  • 90g + 40g butter
  • teaspoon of demerara sugar
  • few tablespoons of icy cold water and a few drops of lemon juice added
  • (optional): handful of nuts of your choice: I used a tablespoon of flaked almonds and a small handful of hazelnuts because it’s all I had to hand
  • half a small jar of mincemeat (I used about 200g total)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 210degC (gas 7) and take out your mince-pie tins. Clear space in your fridge to precariously balance the tins on.
  2. Make the shortcrust pastry:
    • In a food processor (with the whirly double blade), whizz up 180g plain flour with 90g cold butter.
    • When it’s the consistency of breadcrumbs, add icy cold water and lemon juice a tablespoon at a time, pulsing the processor. You’ll only need 2-3 tablespoons.
    • Stop just as the dough is coming together.
    • Roll and cut out the base of the mince-pies (ie make pie cases). I managed 18 with this amount of dough, but it depends how thinly you roll it – you might make more or fewer.
    • Line the mince-pie tins with the pie cases and put in the fridge.
  3. Make the crumble:
    This is about as dusty as you want to get the nutty crumble - still lumps of butter visible

    This is about as dusty as you want to get the nutty crumble – still lumps of butter visible

    in the same food processor (don’t wash it; no need) add 60g plain flour, 40g butter, teaspoon of demerara sugar and a handful of nuts. Whizz it up until it’s the consistency you like. Stop before it’s dust, though, or it’ll be dry and cloying! (And if it does that, serve your pies with cream or custard – sorted)

  4. When the oven’s at temperature, take the mince-pies out the fridge and add a teaspoon of mincemeat into each pie-case.
  5. Spoon the crumble over the top. For me, it worked out about a tablespoon of crumble mix per pie, but it all depends on how many nuts you added.
  6. Bake for 15 – 20 mins.
  7. Remove to a wire rack immediately because any spilled mince-pie mix will cool to concrete, cementing your pies to the tin forever.
  8. Eat alone, with a cuppa, slathered in custard, or drowned in cream.

Battle of the Prinsesstartas

Ah. It seems I never got around to finishing a post last year about the cake I baked for The Boss’s birthday. Well, I did the same one this year: a Prinsesstarta. It was one of the technical challenges on Great British Bake Off a couple of years ago and made a big impression on The Boss. Every year we bake each other a birthday cake; every year I ask for super-lemony drizzle cake and every year he goes for Dundee cake. Till last year. Cackling a little too loudly, he asked for a Prinsesstarta.

Well, I’d seen it made on GBBO and had a detailed recipe. How hard could it be…?

Chuffing hard when you’ve never made a whisked genoise sponge cake or creme patisserie before… After spending all day on the bloody thing, my 2015 attempt virtually ran out the fridge (and out of the kitchen and down the street). The Boss chortled at the mess I managed to hold together with lots of marzipan, which made it lumpy and a bit like Yoda’s face, but declared the taste delicious.

A week later I was away teaching, so he got the minxes together and made another one, as a Yoda cake, to show me how it was done. And of course they were great. Harrumph! So the battle was on…

This year he asked for another Prinsesstarta. I told him to take a running jump: he was going to get a Dundee cake as usual. Secretly, though, I spent 2 whole days trying hard not to cough over it, doing a bit, lying down for a rest, then doing some more. Sod the 2 and half hours limit of GBBO! I’m strictly amateur. I made the creme pat extremely thick by cooking it for waaaaay longer than the recipe said, over a lower heat. I didn’t overwhip the cream this year. The sponge rose beautifully like a souffle because… well, I’ve no idea. Just luck this time. And because I made it in a narrower tin (8″), it was thick enough to cut into decent layers. Finally, I had leftover jam from when we foraged all those wild raspberries last year.

It was an overly-tall cake, but oh my stars, it was delicious! Worth the effort for the taste alone, never mind the happy look on The Boss’s wee face when he saw it. Still, life is too short to make another ever, ever again, that IS for sure!

The Untold Tale

The Untold Tale

… behind a photograph.

Rainy day baking. 7 yo Midi made these buns all by herself #homemade #baking #currantbuns #clevergirl #delicious

A post shared by Grumpy Old Trout (@grumpyoldtrout) on

I posted this snapshot of Midi on my Instagram feed this afternoon, and attached the usual proud mum strapline:

Rainy day baking. 7 yo Midi made these buns all by herself #homemade #baking #currantbuns #clevergirl #delicious

So far so nauseatingly cute, yes? Well, you know me and the minxes very well by now, and you’re not taken in at all – you know fine that there’s a background, unspoken story:

The kids have been driving each other up the wall all day. All. Day. Long. I’m a bit short on tolerance because I’ve had maybe 4 hours sleep, one of those completely unbroken (go me!) thanks to a tickly cough I picked up from Germ Vector 2, who’s been kissing boys again. Boys with coughs. So now the whole family is hacking away at night. Hey, I have no dignity, here’s how bad it is: I’m drinking hot liquid all day long to quell the tickle, so have to pee constantly because if I cough more than 10 times in any one long hacking bout, even if I have a totally empty bladder, then I end up with wet pants; my head throbs from my little brain rattling against my skull all day and all night; my stomach hurts (ripped a muscle again – I can see it doming when I cough); my chest hurts; my throat feels raw; I croak; I can’t breathe deeply or talk or laugh or else I cough. And then I can’t breathe at all. Joy…

So. I’m really not in the mood for any nonsense, or much of anything at all. They won’t watch tv or DVDs without bickering over the channel or the volume. They won’t read their enormous stack of library books. They won’t play together, whether nicely or not. All they want to do is scatter Lego over every square inch of carpet or floor, and torment each other in a competition to see who can make Maxi howl or Mini screech the loudest.

I tried distracting them with a bit of compost, some seeds and baby spider plants that need potted. But that involved going out to the garage for 28 seconds. After about 23 seconds, Mini raced out the house screaming about Maxi, Maxi was trying to drown her out with her own complaints, and Midi was just chanting something incoherent, just for the sheer hell of it.

Eventually I needed cake. Either that, or my bleeding ears were going to make me abandon them to a feral life of eating cat kibble from Killer Cat’s bowl and making a living selling popping candy and sherbet dip-dabs. I had a cunning plan: Midi loves baking. I think it’s because she gets to use sharp knives. That child will choose the huge meat cleaver to delicately slice off a bit of butter to mix with sugar. Anyway, I dragged her (literally) off her elder sister to come and ‘bake with Mummy’. Silence reigned briefly until Mini and Maxi happily agreed on some music for the CD player (Justin Bieber. Dear God, have my ears not suffered enough?!). It didn’t take much persuading for Midi to merrily take over the baking – The Glasgow Cookery Book’s coffee buns, so-called because you eat them with coffee, not because there’s any coffee in them – and give me time to actually have a coffee while she made them entirely herself.

There was a 10 minute period of total silence while the girls troughed the buns, then it was back to the shrieking and whooping onslaught. Last time I checked on them they were jumping off tables and setting up rope ladders in the pitch dark, screaming about air ambulances rescuing injured rich skiers in a power cut. Surrounded by aliens.

With imaginations like theirs, I think tomorrow will have to be spent outdoors, bad cough or not. I’ll just have to break out the massive night-time maternity pads I found the other day. Meh. Pass the linctus

Moonshine

Ah, summer! When you’re woken early by the dawn chorus, or the morning sunshine streaming through your window. Or your 5 year old sneaking into your bed and singing, “What Does The Fox Say?” loudly in your ear till your eyes open… Oh, I will have my revenge when she’s a hungover teen with a pot, a metal spoon, and a clear exit route!

Mini Minx was just excited because my sister, her partner and kids are visiting. Like the other big kids the minxes have been terrorising this summer so far, my niece and nephew were superstars with the noisy, boisterous trio – indulging them, listening to their enthusiastic witterings and patiently playing with them.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

How did I reward them all? Well, with food! I made my favourite pudding (lemon meringue pie) and showed my niece how to cut salad leaves from the garden for dinner. The next day I taught her how to make 20 minute fruit scones in the food processor, then sent them all on their way home with homemade red grapefruit marmalade and foraged elderflower cordial.

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it's drain cleaner

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it’s drain cleaner

They were going to try the elderflower champagne, but I like my relatives too much to send them blind. Y’see, I made it using the River Cottage Elderflower Champagne recipe and left it 4 days (see photo, right). By then, the cork in the old caorunn gin bottle kept blowing out, so me and The Boss tried it tentatively. It was lovely! Gentle fizz, sweet lemon flavour, strong elderflower aroma. We had a couple of glasses each and agreed that it was only mildly alcoholic. Perfect! So we kept the stuff in the plastic bottle (left of photo) for a further week, just releasing the bubbles every day.

We tried it on Thursday night, excitedly. It smelled eggy, was too fizzy and had a woody taste to it. Not nice at all. I chucked my glass down the sink, where it fizzed and frothed like a mad scientist’s concoction. That gave me a brilliant idea – I poured some big generous glugs of it down the slow-draining bath plughole. The Boss is now terrified that it’s festering away near a blockage somewhere, about to explode. So either I’ve wrecked the pipes, or I’ve invented some frugal, superstrength drain cleaner. Excellent!

The Trouble With Theme Days

Day 10 of the school summer holidays and the total injuries tally is growing: by Monday the minxes had used 4 plasters, 5 steri-strips and half a bottle of calpol.

We managed 2 wonderful days in Legoland without real incident: a plaster, bit of insect bite relief and poor Maxi’s tonsillitis kept in check with Strepsils and distraction. Pirate Falls fear was a pretty big distraction (she tried to climb out before the big drop. Luckily Grandma was ready and prevented catastrophe with a timely ‘tight hug’). For the rest of the visit to their grandparents’, Mini seemed hell-bent on gouging out most of the skin of her knees falling off bikes. I watched her: she tripped over fresh air!

Then yesterday (Monday) it was rainy, so I went for our usual favourite school holiday at-home day standby: a theme day. I decided on Pirate Day, inspired by the mountain of pirate dressing up clothes the kids had strewn over every vaguely flat surface in the living room on Sunday night.

They had a hoot! I made them seagull eggs and hacked-up pig (bacon and eggs), scunnered Midi by doing skull and crossbones for lunch (a plate with a face on it; baked beans at the head bit that I called brains; 2 fish fingers in a cross at the bottom; then a round bread roll that I said was the skull the brains came from), and let them craft daggers and swords and pirate bandannas with paper, card, tape and scissors. They called me Captain Mummy, I addressed them as Pirate, and we play-acted our way about the house and to the library. Midi swept the kitchen floor unbidden because I’d called her a scurvy swab. So she replied, “I’ll swab the decks then, Captain Mummy. Aye-aye!” What a girl! I started up batches of elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial with Maxi that we’d foraged for the day before, using the explanation that pirates made their own food and drink. Especially drink.

All 3 girls had been happily turning a huge cardboard box into a Viking longship (they think Vikings = cool pirates) and got distracted by something. I bet you can imagine the sheer level of mess in the living room. Well, little Mini trampled over that mess and trod on the sharp serrated edge of a sellotape dispenser and cut herself a deep flapper in the base of her big toe.

I don’t know who was more upset: Mini or a very distraught and guilty Midi who had left the tape dispenser out in the first place. They both needed one-armed Mummy Hugs and kisses while I pressed hard for maybe 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. Gosh, that child is a bleeder, just like her mammy and her grandad! Poor Maxi was very upset but kept away from the commotion and puddle of blood on the kitchen floor and instead whipped Mini up a beautiful, huge card with a cut-out loveheart and a very heartfelt get better soon message – the little love! I love how she’ll express her emotions in written words so quickly and lovingly when she feels she can’t say the right things aloud. Those girls don’t half needle each other, but they also adore one another with such a depth of love that it’s sometimes breathtaking.

Mini’s cut was maybe 5mm deep flap, and the entire way across below her toe pad. I swished with water, applied steri-strips and plasters, and we all snuggled and hugged for an hour on the settee over Back to the Future 2 for comfort.

I tried to rally them with a Pirate Dinner: rum (honey, water and a teeny bit of red food colouring in a washed-out Caorunn Gin bottle) – they hated it; raspberry jelly with chopped up dog (jelly made with fizzy water, and with leftover chopped up strawberry and apricots in it) – they hated that, too. I made cannons (tortilla wraps), cannon-balls (lamb mince kebabs), and cannon-shot (frozen peas, broccoli and yogurt and mint dressing) and that went down fairly ok. They were still a bit upset about their little sister.

Today (Tuesday), though, they definitely perked up when my own mood lightened: I soaked off Mini’s failing steri-strips, put 2 decent ones on and took her to see lovely Nurse Lynne for reassurance. She declared my cack-handed first aid job as very good (it wasn’t – she’s just very kind), she applied a ton more steri-strips and taught me some nifty techniques in plaster origami around toes. So Total Days In The Garrison Without Accident = 1, and the tallies are plasters 6, steri-strips 15, gauze bandage 1, calpol bottles 1 (Maxi’s tonsillitis is very painful, poor girl).

Distracting Mini while her steri strips soak off - true sisterly love

Distracting Mini while her steri strips soak off – true sisterly love

Today’s theme was France because (a) I had bought croissants as a huge treat in the online shop, and (b) it’s Bastille Day. So we had fruit, cheese, croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast; I taught the minxes some dodgy French in a Glaswegian accent; they decided to dress in red white and blue; they made girl figures and fashionable clothes (snigger!) out of Playdo, and they happily drew a thousand tricoleurs. Tonight’s dinner was my very first quiche lorraine made entirely from scratch, a french baton (not so great: I had to stop it proving in the fridge while we went to the nurse, then stick it in a warm oven to hurry it up) and some greenery. I think I’ll be making it again! Maxi complained that it was ‘quite eggy’. Ah…

My first quiche lorraine - easy, tasty and popular. And from the Glasgow Cookery Book..!

My first quiche lorraine – easy, tasty and popular. And from the Glasgow Cookery Book..!

And tomorrow’s theme? Oh me, I’m out of ideas. We’ll see. Staying Alive?