Thursday, 27 June 2013

Pistachio & Lime cake

 I don't really have much to say about this bake. It wasn't for any occasion, other than the fact that I had a baking itch that I really needed to scratch. I had a free day over the first May bank holiday weekend, so decided to make a cake FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON AT ALL. And my god did it feel GOOD!

This year has been mad busy so far and most of the things I've made have been for an event or an occasion. I love baking for any reason, but there's always an extra element of stress and panic when you know it's for something or someone special, and so I don't think I've had many opportunities this year to bake for pure pleasure.

In a brilliantly psychic moment, my Mum got me the Clandestine Cake Club book for my birthday - I'd entirely forgotten to drop any hints about it so was so pleased when I opened up that present! I just had to make the Pistachio and Lime cake that graced the front cover since pistachios had been on my mind ever since I got hooked on pistachio ice cream when on holiday in France last year.

This was a good cake. I omitted the lime curd because I don't like curd, so I don't know if that made a massive difference but the cake was light and moist and zingy enough for me without it! I particularly liked the pistachio studded shards. What a simple but stunning idea, and something I want to try with all kinds of different toppings as I think it makes for a great decoration. The recipe is online here.

I'd really recommend making this for an actual occasion, though. It was a LOT of cake to make for no reason...

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Hen Do baking

It seems that I've hit that period in my life where everyone is getting married, and I've gone from never having been on a hen do before, to going on several in quick succession! Obviously I had to bring along something baked, and I can now blog about them at last because I didn't want the second hen to see any pictures!

For the first hen do it was planned we would have some fizz in the hotel room and get the bride-to-be all kitted out in her cheesy hen do attire before going out for the evening, and so I decided to make some cupcakes to fit in with the theme. As the dress code for the night was black and pink the cupcakes had to match! I made chocolate cupcakes with strawberry buttercream which I thought would match the fizz nicely.

I ordered some cheeky cookie cutters and sprinkles online and was intending to make sugarpaste willies to top the cakes, but as the cutters were so big (!) I decided to just have one of those for the bride and the rest with just the sprinkles. I also made some toppers for the cakes with the help of Mike - I was really pleased with how they looked! As the bride's nickname is Vinnie (this was news to me but it seemed that all her family call her Vinnie due to her childhood obsession with Vinnie Jones...!) we put Vinnie on the other side of the toppers.

The hen enjoying her cupcake!
For the second hen do I was intending to vary the cupcakes but the chief bridesmaid thought the ones I'd done for the first hen would be spot on so they got another outing! We made toppers again, and this time we put contrasting nice/crazy pictures of the bride-to-be on either side. I decided against the buttercream swirls this time as it was easier to get the sprinkles on. I'm not sure which effect I preferred, the swirls looked prettier but the smooth ones were less stress to transport and it was nice to have a little puddle of willies on the top!

I was mildly stressed as the second batch of cupcakes were going to be the first thing I baked in the new kitchen we have had put in (so pleased with it - I finally have a cupboard that fits ALL of my baking ingredients and equipment - no more carrier bags on the floor woohoo - at least not in the kitchen at least...) so I thought a test bake was in order.

I decided to make some willie cookies as I thought I could bring them along too if they were successful. I used this Pink Whisk recipe for the cookies and this Pink Whisk glaze icing and flooding technique for the decoration, adding strawberry flavouring to the icing to match the cupcakes.

They were delicious, it was the first time I'd used vanilla bean paste and I liked the effect it produced on the cookies. I think Mike felt a bit uncomfortable taste testing them, but the spares I left in the tin mysteriously disappeared and so clearly he got over the embarrassment! They went down a storm, so I'm already planning to use the recipe again but perhaps with a different shape next time...

I really enjoyed baking for the hen do's, the things I'd made seemed to go down really well with all the hens and it was nice to be able to add the customised toppers for a personal touch. Hoping for some more hen do invites in the future so I can use my cutters again, as I'm not sure they are appropriate for general use!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Cakes Not From Kim: The Sugarplum Tea Room, North Wales

As a North Walian I'm probably biased, but I do think North Wales is just bloody brilliant. One of my favourite days out is blasting along the coast (well, usually - if the A55 and its persistent roadworks will allow) to Anglesey and hunting out a beach to wander along, or heading to South Stack to admire the view from the lighthouse. There's plenty of places to stop along the way, too - Talacre, Llandudno, Conwy, Beaumaris to name a few, with other places such as Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon, and the Snowdonia National Park not too far from the coast either. There are also some great 'driving roads' around North Wales too, the most famous being the 'Evo triangle' near Llyn Brenig, so-called because it is one of the locations Evo magazine use to test the cars. If you'd rather not do battle with hardcore petrol heads though, just head off on any random B road and you're pretty much guaranteed to love it!

Another lovely part of North Wales is Ruthin, a gorgeous little town that is also home to Ruthin Castle, now a hotel but some of the castle ruins are still there for you to explore. Mike and I stayed there over the Bank Holiday weekend which was a fab Christmas present from my Dad and step mum. We got to stay in the Lillie Langtree royal salon, which was beautiful, and I managed to scare myself silly by reading about how it is one of the most haunted hotels in the country...

Anyway, just outside Ruthin in a small village called Rhewl is the SugarPlum Tea Room. I've been 3 times now and have been meaning to blog about it every time, so as Mike and I went for lunch there on our way to Ruthin Castle, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to blog about it at last since Mike is always armed with his camera!

The SugarPlum Tea Room opened just over a year ago and can be found within Homewood Bound Collections, a beautiful interiors shop selling new and restored furniture, aswell as gifts and homewares from the likes of Cath Kidston and Emma Bridgewater and many more unique finds! I especially like some of the Welsh products they have!

The tearoom is in such a lovely rural setting with breathtaking views of the rolling Welsh hills. I worked in Ruthin a few years ago and loved my drive to work every day down into the Vale of Clwyd, there really are some amazing views and great 'driving roads' in the area. The tearoom is a lovely, light and open room with patio doors and an outside seating area. It's not your old fashioned tearoom with lacy tablecloths - I love the modern feel to the place with wooden floors and tabletops contrasted with brightly coloured chairs. There's a vintage twist though - the food is served on vintage or Cath Kidston china, and the room is filled with the lovely accessories and decorations that you can find in the shop. I think my favourite touch is the Scrabble 'reserved' signs!

The food is also pretty good too! I had a cheese and chutney sandwich, while Mike went for the Patchwork Platter - toast with a selection of chutneys and pates served on a pleasing board (somehow, stuff served on boards is always better to me!). We loved that the chutney and pates are from a local stockist and you can buy them in the shop too.

Of course, we followed this up with some sweet treats - Mike predictably going for the chocolate cake and me making a rather reserved choice - the caramel and nut slice. The past two times I've been I've gone for the strawberries and cream cake, which I can honestly say is the lightest, fluffiest sponge I have ever eaten and now I'm writing this I'm not sure what possessed me to bypass it at that visit...! Having said that, I demanded that my best friend pick me up another caramel & nut slice when she was there this week, so it looks like I have a new favourite.

I honestly can't recommend this place enough - there is such a friendly buzz in the tearoom and it's lovely to hear Welsh being spoken by the locals, too. It is such a popular place that you would be advised to book yourself a table in advance. You could combine a visit with a trip up the gorgeous afore-mentioned North Wales coast, or a walk up nearby Moel Famau, or around Loggerheads if you're after something less strenous. Check out the website here and if you want any North Wales tips get in touch, didn't realise quite how patriotic I was until I wrote this post!
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