Day 17 is Eggstra Special

We were out visiting relatives all of Saturday night, so I had 30 seconds flat to come up with an Elf prank while the kids were being strapped into their car seats. I went for an oldie and goldie: hide Edbie and a Sharpie marker in the fridge, write rude stuff on the eggs with my left hand, leave his hat on the floor outside the fridge, run away bravely. Done! I think we’ve done variations of this every single year, and it always raises a huge laugh from the kids reading what the elf has written about each sister (I hid those 3 eggs in the photo 🙂 )day-17

Day 16 Beauty School

Okay, okay, okay, there’s no obvious film reference to Friday night’s elf shenanigans, but (a) it caused fury and outrage amongst the minxes, and (b) it was very, very loosely based on Star Wars III:

Me and The Boss were watching Dawn French on the Graham Norton show, and there were stills from one of her parodies. At minute 0:39 in the link is the bit where me and The Boss fell apart – the spoof of Queen Amidala, Mini Minx’s favourite character. It nailed *precisely* how me and The Boss see Amidala’s makeup and Mini’s desire to wear such face paint to school. Anyway, it inspired Beauty School –elf on the shelf with makeup

Day 15

Elsa got her own back for having her head chopped off on Day 14 of Edbie’s visit and other assorted indignities in the way that only Elsa can.

elf on the shelf and elsa from frozen

Elsa, just let it go, girl!

Actually this was the original, but we thought it might give Midi and Maxi ideas of how to torment their sister:

day-15a

day-15d

Day 14 – There Can Be Only One

Day 14 was another time when me and The Boss chortled over Edbie the Elf’s antics over a wee nighttime dram, then bottled it and made it less gory for the kids in the morning. Can’t afford the therapist fees.

elf on the shelf in doll massacre

Barbie’s head and Anna’s hand were already severed, ok? No actual doll-violence took place. Ish

Highlander - there can be only one

Highlander – there can be only one

The final version - Anna's winning

The final version – Anna’s winning

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!

Day 9 – 11: the film reference

So did you get it? Here’s some big clues

Joan of Arc's Jazzercise Class

Joan of Arc’s Jazzercise Class

Beethoven in San Diemas

Beethoven in San Diemas

Genghis Khan running amok in San Diemas mall with a spurtle. Honest, it's a spurtle.

Genghis Khan running amok in San Diemas mall with a spurtle. Honest, it’s a spurtle.

Yep, they were all from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Party on, dudes! And be excellent to each other xxx

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.