Patriotic Red, White & Blue Battenburg

There are a number of reasons to be patriotic on both sides of the pond this week, as far as I’m concerned. Firstly and most obviously – quick look at the date – Happy 4th July to all my American friends and readers!
Secondly – the olympic torch proudly came through the tiny little Leicestershire village where I work on Tuesday. Our office is about a mile outside of the village of Hoton, in the North of Leicestershire, not far from the Nottinghamshire border. We were amazed that it even came through such a tiny place, let alone the amazing turnout and village spirit!

The whole village (of which there isn’t much – it doesn’t even have a shop, afternoon chocolate cravings are quickly stifled by the thought of an 8 mile drive to the nearest one!) was decked out in bunting, the school children were out in force, and it was a great experience to be part of.

So, this in mind, I wanted to make a red, white and blue cake – apparently even all the jubilee cakes and biscuits hadn’t got it out of my system!

I looked up a few different recipes and sites on battenburg, but decided quite early on that, because I’d be using white fondant instead of marzipan, I’d give the whole almond thing a miss altogether. Does this make it not an official battenburg? I’m not sure!

So the mix was a basic sponge – 175g each of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour, plus 3 eggs. Also a note here on the Daring Bakers June battenburg challenge, which didn’t leave me short of inspiration or tips on the rest of my cake. Expect to see more from this site coming soon, I’m always up for something to test and expand my baking skills, so have signed right up 🙂

Back to the battenburg… I didn’t have a specialist battenburg pan (and can’t really see it’s worth it unless you’re making them frequently), but used and ordinary square cake tin, divided in half with normal baking paper and a few careful folds – all that origami  has finally paid off!

The mix I also split into two and coloured. I can’t emphasise enough how brilliant paste colours are here. They give brilliant, vibrant colours with only a couple of drops (or, as it’s quite a thick paste, a good cocktail stick dab or two). The benefits are endless – no affecting your flavour, texture, or using up half a pot in one go… how many red velvet cakes have you seen that call for 10-20 ml or half a bottle of normal liquid food colouring? Surely that can’t be good for you!
The red one I think actually came from Asda, and the blue I picked up in Hobbycraft specially for this cake.

The mixture looked great all coloured up, and into the oven it went, 15 minutes later it reappeared, with the red having encroached on the blue slightly!

While they were cooling, I mixed up some white buttercream. This was achieved with some regular unsalted butter, whipped for several minutes with an electric mixer. The icing sugar was then beaten in, I used quite a lot for a thick consistency, and then a small splash of milk to thin it to a spreadable texture. By whipping it so much, you get a lot of air into the mixture which makes it very light and fluffy, and whitens up the colour

The two cakes were sandwiched together…

….then trimmed into an even, squarer shape.

A bit more trimming later, I had a shape I was happy with, and cut my square down the centre, ready to flip one side to get the checkerboard effect. There was rather a lot of cake cut off to make my square – did somebody say cake pops? – so I separated the colours back up, popped them in food bags and into the freezer – watch this space!

Another sandwiching with buttercream later, my cake was assembled and covered in rolled fondant, and trimmed again. I was done. Nearly…

Not one to shy away from decoration, I wanted to try my hand at a quilting effect on the fondant. It was easy and effective to do – just marking straight lines across using the straight edge of my cake scraper tool. Finally I finished the cake off with some tiny red & blue sugar balls, glued in place with a small dab of white icing – as I did on my union jack cake.

So – what do you think? Does it make you want Murray to win Wimbledon? The team to scoop lots of medals at the Olympics? Or shall we just be terribly British… and mull it over a cup of tea and slice of cake!

PS – a note. Nobody seems to know of battenburg or battenberg is correct. The spelling on safari doesn’t like either! So I’ve picked what comes naturally to me and stuck with that throughout. If you greatly object, well, buy me a dictionary for Christmas.

The last word in battenburg surely has to come in the form of this picture. How cute!

Guitar Superstar! Rock Hero Birthday Cake

Last week was Rob’s birthday – of course there was no way it could go by without a cake!

The choice was easy – he’d even asked weeks before – probably his biggest hobby (golf being a close second), is the band he plays bass guitar in.

I’d had a good scout round online for guitar-shaped tins, Wilton make a great one, but the cheapest I could get it for in the UK was about £15-£20 including postage, and I couldn’t justify it to use for just one cake. Scouting around I found quite a few guides on how to make one using ordinary cake pans, and decided the way forward was a bar made in a loaf tin, with the main body of the guitar from a round.

As there was going to be so much decoration on top, I decided to just do one thick layer of cake (rather than two thin ones filled with buttercream), so it wouldn’t slide around all over the place.

Cakes baked, I put them onto my board and started to shape away with my knife. A lot of my guidance came from this great Betty Crocker page. There’s even a template you can print out to cut the cake to the right shape, but handily I’d managed to leave this on my desk at work! Nevertheless, I was pretty impressed with my freehand carving 🙂

So that the different icings didn’t get mixed together, I left the neck on the board, and took the body onto my cake turntable to cover in buttercream and fondant. I was umming and aahing for a quite a while over what colour the guitar would be, when suddenly my eyes fell on his favourite colour – a brilliant bright orange!

Because the curve of the body was quite gentle, it was no more difficult than a normal round to cover in the orange fondant, and I used a pair of scissors to cut a smaller, matching shape out of white – keeping it rolled quite thick made it much easier to handle while still keeping its shape.

The neck was covered in a dark grey buttercream; I added a bit of royal icing sugar in with the standard kind, to give it the extra glossy finish, and smoothed out as best I could!

The cakes pushed together easily where I’d shaped them before, and I painted a little more of the dark grey buttercream onto the body to finish off the neck.

Then it was onto the details – the strings were red liquorice laces, which I’d painted before hand with some black food colouring. Next time I’ll spend a little longer shopping and get some black ones, but they still looked pretty good for what I could get from my local supermarket!

With Betty Crocker’s page and Rob’s acoustic for reference (he was out at a gig with his electric), I started on the details: black writing for the frets; small circles of fondant for the tops and sides of the tuning pegs…

….more black writing icing painted into a rectangle for the pickup, marbled grey fondant for the bridge, and finally some more small round pieces of fondant to fix the strings onto the bridge:

And that was it – overall actually quite simple! It looked great, I was really happy with the result…

…and so was the birthday boy! I love how happy he looks 🙂

Baby’s Toy Box Cake

Recently some friends of ours had a beautiful little baby girl. What better way to welcome her than with a tasty toy box cake!

Rob, a painter and decorator by trade, wanted to try out his painting skills and make a wood-effect cake, so the choice was made – baby + wood + cake = one giant toy box…

The cake itself was a vanilla sponge with vanilla butter cream. I used a standard square tin, cut this in half for the main cake, and made a second, thinner cake to be sliced and stacked for the rim of the toy box.

With the basic shape of the cake made, we covered it in a layer of yellow fondant, and Rob got to work with his wood effect. Using normal food colouring, he layered up the colour to get the grained look, before adding a few dark lines to make the plank details.

Whilst Rob was hard at work, I made the toys and the blocks for the top. They are all made out of fondant, again simply coloured with food colouring. There is a great tutorial on making fondant teddy bears here, and I modified this ever so slightly for the rabbit.

For a personal touch I wanted to put the baby’s name on the cake, and what better way than pretty pastel building blocks. I used a couple of square edges to shape the fondant into cubes, before imprinting with a letter stencil, and drawing over with some glitter writing icing.
To put them on the cake I used some cocktail sticks to get them on different levels, and made sure to warn the recipients before they tucked in!

The finishing touch was a little chocolate fondant to spell out “TOYS” on the front of the box, a sprinkling of glitter later and we were all done!

I think Rob has decided as much as he likes the look (and taste!) of fondant, it’s definitely not the same to work with as walls! That might be the last I see of him in the kitchen for a while…

What a Beauty! Strawberry Victoria Sponge

The first out of my archives – my trusty iPhone informs me the photo was taken back in August 2010. Explains the giant fresh fruits!

A simple victoria sponge, filled with cream and generously adorned with fresh strawberries. Divine!