Biscuit Gun Tutorial (aka how not to make shortbread)

One of the things I love most about being back home is my kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, and know I am totally spoilt with it through work – in Hong Kong we went to one of the best restaurants and the highest bar in the world – but being back with my pots and pans, on a quiet evening (Rob is out gigging), is just lovely.

To add to my excitement, I wanted to try out my new biscuit gun:

It was another great free gift from my cake decorating magazine, and I was itching to try it out! It came with loads of different biscuit discs, not sure about the icing nozzles though – think I’ll stick with a piping bag!

Tomorrow I am heading to a local music festival with some friends, to watch Rob’s band play. Hopefully the sun will shine and we plan to have a great big picnic – complete with yummy baked goods! As it will be quite warm I didn’t want to make cupcakes, they’d get all squished and melted. Instead biscuits are on the menu today – and after a good search I found a lovely sounding whipped shortbread recipe that was nice and easy, and would be a good consistency to go through my biscuit gun. After some conversion to metric (this website is pretty good), I decided to make 1/2 of the recipe as I didn’t want to end up with hundreds of biscuits again!

I’m not sure if I was searching for the wrong thing – biscuit gun tutorial, cookie press tutorial… but youtube was not throwing up anything of use. In fact half the time it would recommend video game tutorials involving guns!
In the end I found a very sweet tutorial here. If you’re not following the recipe, fast forward to 4:00 to see some good cookie gun tips.

The process is actually pretty simple – fill the gun up, press the dough in well so there are no air bubbles, and, crucially, flatten off the end so it is just level with the disc:

Then, place the gun flat on your greaseproof paper/tray. I wasn’t keen on the tutorials suggestion to do them straight onto the tray (surely they’d stick), so taped the paper down to give a firm surface to press on.

You’ll note the gun has teeth running up its spine – so one, sharp press, one tooth goes through and an equal amount of dough comes out each time.
Keep it pressed firmly to the sheet whilst you squeeze the trigger, then relatively quickly, and straight, pull upwards and away.

It’s definitely worth practicing on a plate until you’ve got the hang of it, and you can easily scrape the mix off the plate and back into the bowl to reuse.

Like a child at Christmas, I wanted to use all the discs straight away to see what different shapes they’d make. I piped a few of each onto the baking sheets…

…then baked them for 10 minutes (our oven is fan-assisted so generally quicker than most recipes recommend).

They looked beautiful! Now I could understand how bakeries made row after row of perfectly shaped cookie, it is wonderfully simple.

But then… disaster struck!!

I tried to pick one of the biscuits up, and it just crumbled in my fingers…

I tried again with a spatula, but it was the same sad story 😦 The only way I can describe it was like picking trying to pick up sand!

There literally was nothing I could do. I toyed with the idea of sandwiching them together with some butter icing, but quickly realised there was no way they’d even hold up for this.

What could have gone wrong? I’d measured all the ingredients carefully (for once!), they looked good, tasted good, but just didn’t hold together at all.
I thought maybe the problem was them being too thin – so used some of the remaining mixture to try both some thick, round balls, and a shallow tray to be cut into slices. Both resulted in the same sand-like, crumbly mess.

So – the result of my evenings work – a bowl full of crumbs.

I toyed with the idea of making them into cake pops – the rich, buttery-ness would be great mixed with some creamy icing.

But no, I was too disappointed. And grumpy. And generally p***ed off. So into the bin it went.

Leaving me with an empty biscuit tin for tomorrow, and a doubtless hungry Rob due home in a couple of hours. Back to the mixing bowl for me… something different this time though!

I am very welcome to suggestion on shortbread – it’s one of my favourite biscuits to eat so I’d definitely like to conquer making them. After a good scout round online I’m none the wiser about why tonight was such a failure, so please HELP!

Photo Friday

1) Is it a hotdog? Not on this blog! Look closely at the sign and you can see it’s actually a chocolate custard.  Delightful Japanese bakery Bo-Lo’GNE have just opened a new branch in Elements Mall, which was attached to our hotel (the W) in Hong Kong

2) Cake with a view! We were fed very well at the W – this was just one of the many treats in the coffee breaks. In the background you can see spectacular views of Hong Kong harbour.

3) Home Made Ricotta Bomboloni from 208 Duecento Otto: sweet Italian fritters with raspberry marmellata and mascarpone zabaglione. Dessert at a delightful Italian on Hong Kong Island.

4) Blossom Globeamaranth Tea (also known as Flowering Globe Amaranth). A traditional chinese tea, and gift given to all the guests in HK this week. The idea is that once you add water, the flower blooms and steeps into a sweet tea. Unfortunately not as picturesque as I’d expected (more like something out of Day of the Triffids), but more tasty – sweet, and slightly floral.

5) Chocolate cupcake candles from dotcomgiftshop. For a while now I’ve wanted something to show off my glass domed cake stand (Ikea) when I’ve not got anything freshly-baked to go in there. These were in the sale and look perfect – and yes it’s the second week this website has featured as I am truly addicted 🙂

I do feel a little sad that I didn’t get time for any bakeware shopping while out in Hong Kong – there must be worlds of cute little things! But  everything went well, we saw and ate some amazing things, and it’s an excuse to go back again soon….

HK Breakfast Cakes

Hello from Hong Kong!

More to follow later – but just a quick snapshot from my week at the funky W Hong Kong.

Aside from the continual disco music (really – it even plays in the bathrooms!), amazingly helpful staff and brilliant harbour views, I had to share BREAKFAST with you.

Served in The Kitchen every morning it is like no hotel breakfast I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a fair few on my travels). An amazing array of cereals, fruits, yoghurts, breads, meats, cheeses, noodles, fresh omelettes, juices, sweets (gummy bears for breakfast…?), pastries and of course cakes!

Every  morning there was an amazing selection of freshly baked muffins – in my 3 days here are just some of the different types served up:


And as if that wasn’t enough cake to start the day, how about some doughnuts…?

In the end I don’t actually think I had any cake for breakfast all week – pre-9am sugar rush is not a great setup for the day. Don’t know if breakfast cakes have quite the same appeal as afternoon tea?

That’s all for today – and from this time zone! Flying back late tonight, and jet-lag permitting, will upload some more Asian yumminess tomorrow 🙂

Photo Friday!

Blogging is unbelievably addictive. You write things, people comment. You read things, you comment. Every comment opens up another link to look at what someone else is posting about. Travelling photos. Restaurants. Pubs. Animals. Current affairs. CAKE.

On one of my many digressions reading blogs, I stumbled across the very cute rumpydog.com. This post is inspired by his most recent wordless wednesday (how cute are those cats!)

Going forwards, I’m going to make it my aim to post some photos every Friday, of everything bake-y, cake-y, or otherwise exciting that’s happened in my week. Cunningly enough this also gives me a great excuse to do more of 3 things I love: great creative with my camera, write wonders with my blog, and of course capture anything cake-related!

Without further ado, here are this weeks photos (with descriptions following):

1) last of the amazing double chocolate guinness cupcakes I made at the weekend, served with some fresh, juicy British strawberries. How they’ve managed to ripen at all in this horrid weather is beyond me though!

2) teeny tiny vintage print cake stand from dotcomgiftshop, as recommended by the lovely KerryCooks (displayed on my trusty ikea “arv brollop” cake stand)

3) a brilliant surprise of a parcel picked up from the post office on wednesday – 4 new issues of my cake decorating magazine, each with a free gift! Watch this space for some of their inspired ideas coming up soon….

4) kitty cats and cupcake case. Enough said 🙂

So that’s all for now, next week I’m lucky enough to be working in Hong Kong, but will be back on Friday with photos – albeit probably some rather jet-lagged posts…

Happy Friday everyone!!

Cake-Pop-Aloola

I don’t really think this one needs much introduction; after my previous dalliance with cake pops, it was pretty clear I was to continue my quest into teeny balls of cake!

These were actually made a while back – before I’d been able to source some proper Wilton candy melts and lollipop sticks on my shopping trip. Making cake pops on cocktail sticks adds to the already challenging process, but if it’s all you’ve got, then they do work!

My finally excuse for some slightly dodgy photos – I am literally begging Rob to make me a proper cake stand, but it still has yet to appear. Short of picking up a drill myself (I’m really not allowed near power tools!), I have to make do with what boxes etc I have around for the meantime. And threaten not to make any more cakes until he pulls his weight 😉

My inspiration for finally getting round to this post, is this these stunning little beauties that one of our suppliers bought in last week (we have a lot of suppliers who bring in a lot of treats. I do like my job):

A quick google of the label led me to pop bakery, a lovely looking little shop down in London.  Mental note firmly made to pay a visit next time i’m in the capital, if I don’t cave in and order a batch beforehand! Needless to say they were super yummy and didn’t last long in the office!

Back to my baking – hopefully the reason you’re all here reading.

For these cake pops, I baked up a batch of chocolate cake, just in a flat tin so it was easier to crumble. It always seems a shame to crumb up such nice cake, but at least it’s a good excuse for a taste test!

The crumbed cake was mixed with some vanilla buttercream, and rolled into pop-sized balls (I tried all kinds of editing to make this photo look less like…well…and more like chocolate, but still seem to have failed, very sorry! Just look at it and think of a big bar of dairy milk….)

Next step – more chocolate – this time white, melted, and also taste-tested:

The end of the sticks were well-swirled into the chocolate before being firmly pushed into the cake balls. I think this yep is probably my favourite,easy and aesthetically pleasing!

After a good 10 minutes in the freezer (it helps keep everything ball-shaped at this stage), I covered the cake pops one at a time in more white chocolate, before embarking on my decoration experiments.

Number one: polka dots. Starting off easy; the coloured sugar discs were simply pressed into the chocolate coating, or stuck on with a dab of extra chocolate where it had started to set.

Number two: honeycomb. I crushed up a bar of honeycomb to crumbs, then rolled the pop in it as soon as it had had its chocolate coating. The plus side: crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, yummy. The down side: they look like chicken nuggets!

Number three: graffiti glitter icing. Quite simply, I took two of my favourite colours of writing icing and freestyled designs over the white chocolate cost. Very pretty, but writing icing does not dry quickly, so very difficult to eat/store/have in the vicinity of anything else!

Number four, five, and six. Pink glitter, blue food colouring, yellow insanity.

Let’s start with the pink. How could I make any kind of cake without using some edible glitter! It looked amazing, bit messy to eat (glitter all over your face is not a great look), and probably not that great for you – if you haven’t seen the recent hoo-ha on edible glitter then don’t worry your pretty little self. There’s plenty more to be read if you google it, mostly from bakers like me saying they don’t actually know what the fuss is about, it’s all a bit political-correctness gone too far in my opinion. I certainly will keep using it, although am quite sadden that my beloved Hobbycraft have decided this will stop them stocking it.
Rant over. Number five. I wasn’t sure how food colouring would mix with white chocolate, but this blue actually came up quite well. Just an experiment really.
Number six was my last and a complete free for all. The inner cake layer was covered in white chocolate, then yellow fondant (I found a spare piece while I was rooting through my decorating equipment for inspiration), finished off with some matching mini yellow chocolate beans. Looks like something out an alien movie but impressively funky!

So my second batch of cake pops, and I’d chalk it up as another success. Need to brush up on my neatness and roundness (a proper cake pop stand would really help, hint hint!), but there is definitely scope for a lot of fun with these balls of yumminess.
Rob couldn’t believe how much mess I’d made in the kitchen for 12 little pops – still he ate them without complaining so it can’t have been too bad 😉
Which is your favourite…?

Father’s Day Double Chocolate & Guinness Cake

A good friend mentioned a Guinness chocolate cake recipe to me a few weeks back, and father’s day seemed like the perfect excuse to try it out!

The recipe she’d used was Nigella’s Guinness chocolate cake, and, not having cooked with beer before, I was happy to stick with the pro’s. So – here is my take!

The recipe itself is amazingly easy, basically stick everything in a big saucepan and set the electric mixer loose. I did substitute the sour cream for some fat-free vanilla yoghurt, as the sheer volume of sugar seemed like more than enough unhealthiness for one cake! It also makes an awful lot of the gorgeous gooey mixture; when I’d suggested making a half batch poor Rob’s face had fallen, so cupcakes it was too.

The mixture cooked beautifully and came out a lovely rich, dark chocolate colour, almost like a mini glass of Guinness itself.

For the icing I also went against Nigella’s advice. A whole pot of real cream? I wanted to give my dad a treat, not a heart attack! My icing was white chocolate cream cheese frosting – a tub of extra-light cream cheese, a bar of white chocolate, melted, and enough icing sugar to whip it up to a pipe-able consistency.

The cake I piped with a narrow, slanted nozzle, going in lines across and up and down the cake, to give a ribbon like effect. I love the way it looks like foam around the edge, like the head on a pint of the black stuff.

The cupcakes had the same frosting – smoothed across the top then piped into a swirl to finish:

I finished the cupcakes off with a small abstract swirl of dark chocolate; piped onto greaseproof paper, chilled, then gently place on top of each cake – all the same yet beautifully individual.

For my dad’s cake, I wanted to add a father’s day message. When it comes to letters, my piping skills really aren’t so hot. Plus, I didn’t really think this one needed any extra chocolate!

I took my letter stencils and pressed them lightly into the icing…

…before carefully filling in each letter with some silver lustre, to make them really stand out!

Boxed up, it was ready to go with the rest of my gifts (some yummy fresh cheeses from lovely local deli Delilah).

It looked fab and hopefully tasted so too – Happy Father’s Day dad!

 

— Edit—

In preparation for my first Photo Friday, I took some extra photos of the cupcakes with some fresh strawberries. There were too many to put on the other post, but too good to go to waste!

Fire! Fire! Theme Party Cupcakes

Another one from the archives of my iPhone! As this was BB (before blog) it is sadly lacking in work-in-progress photos, but the end result is still pretty impressive, if I do say so myself 🙂

Back in January 2012, a friend of mine held a uniform-themed party for his birthday. As his costume was a fireman, I decided to theme the cupcakes on this!

A quick google led me to this lovely blog from marythekay (others are available but I liked this one!)

The concept was quite simple: chocolate cupcakes in red and orange wrappers, piped with red, orange and yellow icing.

The piping was incredibly messy, but a lot of fun! Split your buttercream into 3, colour red, orange and yellow. With a star nozzle on your piping bag, spoon in some of each colour, and away you go!

A quick squeeze on the piping bag before pulling away sharply will give the short spiky effect of fire, and the colours mix together brilliantly to give the streaked colours.

In a change from edible glitter, I topped these cupcakes with matching fire-coloured sprinkles. I think it really adds to the crackling fire look.

The final touch came from some quick printing. I found firemen and fire engine images online, and set them up in a document so they’d print in a mirror effect – when I cut them out I could fold over and they’d be double-sided. They were stuck together / onto a cocktail stick with a small blob of blu tac. Very Blue Peter -esque, but I love them!

From what I remember (memory slightly blurred through alcohol on the night & time passed since…), it was a great party. The hosts had done a great job in theming their house too! Including a fireman’s car:

Gigantic fire engine complete with lights – you could even get inside and have your photo taken with Fireman Sam!


And a fabulous war room – for all those in miiltary themed costume:

This certainly won’t be the last you see of theme / fancy dress parties… my wardrobe is heaving with all kinds of costumes, and of course any excuse to make a cake to match!

I don’t just MAKE cakes… Thea Caffea Nottingham Review

You may be surprised to know I also eat them. A lot. Not to the point that I almost too big to fit through the door of my local bakers, but to the extent that if I was filling in one of those forms which asked for my hobbies, afternoon tea would come pretty near the top. And it doesn’t just have to be in the afternoon. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve eaten cake for breakfast before, and damn right I’d do it again!

So, with the 4th and final day of a great jubilee bank holiday weekend, I went into Nottingham city centre to meet some friends to partake it said afternoon tea hobby. At 10.30 in the morning. We were sat out the front of an Italian, having a drink and a cake, and people watching. About an hour in I noticed something behind my friends head that I’d not seen before. My excited squawk was so high pitched that probably only dogs could understand it. A. TEA. ROOM. About 5 metres from where we were sat!

What you have to realise is that tea rooms in Nottingham are 1) few and far between, 2) normally very busy and difficult to get a seat, 3) mostly closed on bank holidays, and 4) end up selling out or shutting down just when it becomes your new favourite place.

Finishing at the Italian we gave into our urges and went to explore the intriguingly named Thea Caffea – from the street you really could have no idea what would be inside – just a couple of simple wall signs and an a-frame to tell it was “now open”, flanked by a newsagent to the left, and a cobbler to the right:

But my how we weren’t disappointed! Even before we’d walked through the front door we were in awe! How could this amazing space exist at the back of such a busy street, with hundreds of shoppers walking past every hour completely unawares??

Inside it was like a fantastic retro tardis – tables, chairs, cakes and chandeliers stretching as far back as we could see.

The furniture was simple but elegant, interspersed with wide ferns, vintage photographs of Nottingham, and an amazing piano in the back corner.

When we finally quelled our excitement enough to take a seat, the menus were no less delightful. A fantastic selection of fresh leaf teas, breakfasts, sandwiches, daily specials and of course the homemade cakes we’d already eyed up on the way in.

The tea was served in beautiful bone china pots, cups and saucers, and even the table centres were in matching little china tea cups!

My choice of a cream tea (scone with jam & cream plus pot of tea) was certainly a good one – it looked and tasted delicious! Made the ‘proper’ way of course… jam first and then cream, although certain friends would disagree…

We got chatting to the owner, and quickly established they’d only been open a week! Up until about 6 months ago, the very space where we were sat had been a derelict outside space, behind the back of some offices and flats. She and her builder husband had seen the potential of the space in such a prime location, and built the back section with the fantastic glass skylights to let daylight streaming in.

So my review – a hearty recommendation! The place looked great, staff were brilliant, tea tasty and cakes yummy! It will definitely become one of our new favourites – and hopefully will stick around for a while, as only a week in and it already had a good stream of customers through the door.

Their website is advertised on their menus but at the time of writing this it doesn’t seem to be up and running yet – www.theacaffea.co.uk – here’s hoping it will be soon so you can all have a peek at our fantastic find!

They do have a Thea Caffea facebook page setup with a few photos and you can send them a message about their yummy cakes too!

For those of you lucky enough to be near Nottingham and fancy a visit, it’s on Low Pavement, just down from Jamie’s Italian and Paul Smith – if you get to Paperchase you’ve gone too far. Let me know what you think!

A bank holiday well spent- I hope you’d agree. Not the best of photos (the humidity has played utter havoc with my hair) – but nevertheless – my best friend Matt and I very much enjoying our tea 🙂

Jubil-icious – Red, White, and Brilliantly British!

What a fantastic weekend it’s been – lots of celebrating the Queen’s amazing diamond jubilee. Of course I couldn’t let it go past without occasion, so this afternoon we had a barbecue in our garden for a few of our friends.

My baking of course had to be jubilee themed – and my fab cake decorating magazine had published a great special edition for the occasion, with some great free gifts including a crown cookie cutter, edible jewels and of course cute little flags!

To be truly British I wanted my biscuits to be either red, white or blue – one is nearly impossible, the other had the potential to look like some truly inedible alien food, so I happily settled on some red velvet biscuits. There are plenty of recipes out there, and mine was adapted from this one – omitting the chocolate chips and sour cream so I’d have a nice firm dough to roll out.

A word of warning – this recipe makes a LOT of biscuits – I was cutting and baking for well over an hour!

Next step was to ice them all a crisp white. I stuck with my tried and rested method of infill icing. Pipe a stiff line carefully around the edges, then water down the icing and ‘flood’ the middle. It gives a perfect smooth finish and no drips of icing running down the side of your biscuits.

For the decoration I just had one colour left! Royal blue is sadly not very easy to make from basic food colours, and I’d not had the foresight to get some in specially. Nonetheless, I mixed a few colours to get a rich blue with a hint of silver shimmer, and set to work with a paintbrush, making spots, swirls and of course sixty’s all over the biscuits.For a final touch I also dusted the edges with some red edible glitter, to bring out the colour of the velvet recipe.

It’s at this point that I feel I should admit that I think I have some form of baking OCD. Do you have any idea how long it took to ice and decorate all these biscuits? No, neither do I, I completely lost track! A normal person would have probably stopped halfway through, happy with a decent sized batch of biscuits. Not I….

Our cats, Chilli and Pepper, came for a visit at this point. They thought all their Christmas’s had come at once, all these biscuits laid out on a red carpet!

The jewel decorations weren’t quite as amazing as I’d hoped – they are basically just boiled sweets, and didn’t really sparkle or add much to the biscuits. I coated them in some silver lustre for a bit of extra shimmer, but have to say I don’t think I’ll be using these again.

Nevertheless, I was really happy with all the biscuits. The decorating really paid off, they looked (and tasted), great!

Next stop – I wanted CAKE! Again, red was easier to get into the base, but this time I went for strawberries and white chocolate. I used both some tinned strawberries (drained and mashed a little), for colour and flavour, and some chopped dried strawberries for a nice chunky texture and sweet chew to the cake. Chocolate needs no explanation! It’s much cheaper buying in a bar and breaking into chunks (bashing with a rolling pin) is oddly therapeutic 😉 If I’d had the time (and maybe the money) to buy endless ingredients, blueberries would have been nice to complete the theme. Maybe next time. Do you think she’ll make it to 70 years…?

I added the strawberries and chocolate to a basic muffin mix, and decided to stick with the heart shape for the cakes as well. A special occasion calls for something special!

The butter icing is difficult to get bright white unless you use pure vegetable fat (like Trex), which I hate the taste of, yuk, or you can buy some tippex-looking colouring from Wilton – this may be next on my shopping list… For today I just beat my butter to high heaven – this makes it super light in both taste and colour, and also took on a tip I’d found online of adding a few pin pricks of purple food colouring, to get that ‘ultra-violet’ kind of whiteness.

The decorations were red and blue to stick with the theme – a mix of red rolled fondant, piped blue butter cream, and various matching red and blue sprinkles.

I tried for about half an hour to decide on one design, but there were so many things I wanted to use and techniques to try, that I decided to go for the whole lot! The results were great – 14 themed but individual cakes, all brilliantly British colours!

Baking done, we were all set to barbecue! The brilliant British tradition that is bank holiday weather meant that I spent the whole morning looking gloomily out the window at the rain, but about half an hour before our guests arrived the clouds parted and we rushed outside to set up the garden – including decorations in the form of homemade union jack bunting:

A couple of good hours of beer, burgers, cider, crisps, salad and snacks later, and we were very quickly rained off by some more of the wet stuff. A perfect opportunity to dash in for tea and cake!

Happy Jubilee weekend!