As of last week, my family has upped sticks to the land of flowing corn fields, twinkle bugs, future birth places and state fairs. Are they in Heaven? No. They're in Iowa.
With a new family home purchased and my sister's little one getting bigger by the minute, I'm day-dreamin about catching the first plane to a new home & new adventures - playin ball with ghosts in the corn, seein a young captain James T Kirk, and picklin prize-winning preserves with Margie's mama.
Over the next two weeks I'll be busy in the kitchen for two very different occasions! First: a cake fit for a four year old fairy princess (been working on a mood board as always!); Next: a cake for a coffee & terrier lover. Watch this space.
Far from the gritty novels that have been passing my bed as of late. I felt like a light & heart-warming (if not ultimately cheesy) read, and Cecelia has always done the trick.
After years of indecisively picking up & putting down Moon at the video store, I finally got the chance to sit down and watch it (thank you recordable telly). What a film! Nearing the end of a three-year mission astronaut Sam Bell, who's only companion is a computer named GERTY, is set to go home to his loved wife and little girl. Truly a fantastic film with a heartbreaking turn from Sam Rockwell. What the hell took me so long?
Over the weekend Earl's Court opened it's doors to the Cake & Bake show - a sort of Comic Con of the cake world (which coincidentally the last time I trekked to Earl's Court, I mingled with the likes of Chewbacca, a few Daleks, and mr bluebirdcage was met by an angry Eddie Furlong in the loo. But that's another story…).
I spent Sunday wandering an endless sea of baked goods & cookery stalls; cakes singing my name from every direction. My siren: a little slice of chocolate peanut butter and pretzel heaven from Tea with Tom.
In the Cake Kitchen, I was introduced to the baking world of Stacie Stewart - a cute as hell mod baker with a beehive to die for. In the Bakery, Eric Lanlard dropped the words 'pecan pie' 'sexy' and 'thanksgiving' - needless to say, I was in my element. And in Classroom 2, GBBO alumn Baking James showed us all that it is a-okay to be absolutely nerdish about baking some Brilliant Bread; mid-demo, we were sneakily joined by an assortment of team GBBO 2013 - half of the Baker's Dozen to be exact! (Fingers crossed some of their luck rubbed off on me in that little demo room).
Too overwhelming for words, I'll leave you with some of the sites from the day.
oh beehive: incorporating a little social media into the routine
Inspired by a little bagel shop I used to frequent with my mama on snowy North Dakota mornins. One of my ultimate guilty pleasures, this dreamy cream cheese topping takes two minutes to make. Side with a cuppa and enjoy!
2tbsp cream cheese
1/2 small pink-lady apple (pealed/un-pealed & cubed)
In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese and cubed apples until the apples are well coated. Next, fold the honey into the mixture - try not to over mix, or you won't get those tasty pockets of honey bursting every now & then.
Smother on top of a freshly toasted bagel.
*Alternatively, replace the honey with caramel sauce. If you do, go on and smother it onto a cinnamon raisin bagel. Sure, it's a bit naughty…but you've got to spoil yourself sometimes.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of the iced biscuit. The nostalgic messiness of the decor. Colour stained fingertips from cleaning the piping bag. Lines of brightly-coloured icing running down your apron. There will always be so much to learn about decorating these little fellas - and to me, that's the best bit!
Enter the Biscuiteers School of Icing! This little biscuit boutique first passed my sights one fateful valentine's day, when a supplier sent me this lovely little cookie-gram from the Biscuiteers's fashion range. It was love at first bite. Three years on, this biscuit e-tailer has opened a cute little boutique & icing cafe in Notting Hill where on any given day, tourists walk by flashing their lenses at the infamous window displays.
always a tourist
step inside the looking glass
For my birthday, mr bluebirdcage took the hint to an over exaggerated wink & nudge, and signed me up for today'sicing class.
Walking into the boutique, I was greeted by Lorena (window display baker extraordinaire!), who ushered me & two other girls downstairs to the Icing Cafe where tables had been prepped with un-iced cookies from the Woodland Collection, a rainbow of piping bags, cotton printed aprons (keepsakes for the day!), and a compliment of teas & coffees.
sweet nostalgia, here I come
Over two hours, we were taught basic techniques such as lining & flooding, and even had a mini icing-prep tutorial.
coffee & icing
badgers, foxes, bugs & bunnies...oh my!
obligatory oven shot
Along with our new-found biscuit icing knowledge, the Biscuiteers showered us with a goody bag filled with their Book of Iced Biscuits, a tin to put our goodies in, and a School of Icing Certificate of Brilliance. I'm a certified Biscuiteer ya'll!
goodies (plus a little extra buy - icing tools!)
my very own woodland collection
ready for their closeup
just me & my badger
If you're on the search for a fun & intimate baking class with friendly people, then this is your place! Thank you to Lorena, Becky & the Biscuiteers family! I'll be seeing you soon.xx
Last weekend brought me into the last year of my twenties -I'm the big two nine ya'll! Sunday was spent surrounded by a few of my nearest & dearest - where we had a beige southern feast (mmm cheese), followed by servings of ultra-boozey pecan pie (thanks to my southern counter part, Leza) & a little ole (two-tiered) lemon cake (topped with sunflowers & lemon halves) - cause after all, who wouldn't want to spoil themselves on their birthday?
Little Mama's Lemon & Pistachio Cake
A little Mississippi favourite adapted from mama's old recipes. A moist, fluffy lemon sponge, layered with lashings of buttercream and smothered in roughly chopped pistachios.
Garnished with fresh sunflowers & a sliced lemon - perfect for a warm summer's eve.
For the Lemon Sponge:-
Ingredients (makes one small & one large sponge):
8 Egg Whites
2 1/4c Caster Sugar
1 1/4c Butter
1 1/4c Milk
3tsp Baking Powder
1 Lemon (Zested & Juiced)
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until dry and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream together the sugar & butter, then add the vanilla, milk, lemon juice & zest and blend until smooth.
Next, sift in your flour, baking powder & salt - mixing until all is well incorporated. Fold in egg whites.
Pour into paper-lined tins & pop into the oven at 180C for approx 40min - your cake should be a lovely golden brown & cooked throughout.
Once baked, remove from the oven & leave on a rack to cool. Your kitchen should smell glorious!
For the Buttercream:-
1 large box Confectioner's Sugar
175g Unsalted Butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2tsp Vanilla Extract
Use a mixing paddle to cream the butter, then slowly add the confectioner's sugar - alternate with splashes of milk & vanilla to keep the mixture creamy.
Once completely cooled, slice both your sponges in half. Re-assemble the sponge layers by adding a thick layer of buttercream between them. Place the smaller sponge layer on top of the larger sponge layer. Tada!
Pistachios (roughly chopped)
On the bottom larger layer, lightly press the pistachios into the buttercream. Top off the smaller layer with fresh sunflowers and a sliced lemon.
Without fail, the first plan of action when I fly home is to hop in my papa's truck and drive to Sonic Drive In. Nothin settles my jet-lagged tummy quite like a grilled cheese, a side of tater tots & a fudge milkshake.
Nearly a year ago, after months of well-orchestrated planning with papa bluebirdcage, I hopped on plane to surprise my mama for her 50th birthday.
After a nine hour flight to Chicago and a mini internal flight to Memphis (including an intermittent six hour layover, which I spent instant messaging mama bluebirdcage, telling her tales of weekend boredom and back to back movie watching - feeling a bit like Carrie in Sex & the City, hiding from my computer's built in camera…"can she see me?!?" - my subconscious nervously asked), I met my sister and her family - who also secretly drove eleven hours from Iowa - at the airport.
We then set off on the last leg of our journey to the only place - the perfect place - we could think of:
Sometimes nothing can beat a sticky bun. Whether it's a midnight snack (which it was), or your breakfast (which it was, too). Here's my take on the cinnabon - cinnamon swirls with a pecan crunch, bathed in a sticky smokey caramel sauce.
Boozy Pecan Sticky Buns
I've died and gone to southern-style sticky bun heaven.
For the boozy goo:
1 1/2c brown sugar
2/3c heavy cream (you can use soya cream too)
1 heaping tsp mannuka honey
3tbsp kentucky bourbon (Jim Beam was my man)
In a small pan, heat the butter until it is melted. Use a wooden spoon to slowly stir in the brown sugar until it's dissolved, then remove from heat.
Stir in the cream, honey, salt & bourbon until the mixture is well blended and leave to cool.
Your boozy goo should be a dark caramel colour and have the texture of a thick liquid.
For the buns:
500g bread flour
10g fast action yeast
30g butter (at room temperature)
250ml tepid water
sunflower oil (for kneading, and lining the proofing bowl)
For the filler:
1/4c brown sugar
1/4c granulated sugar
1c chopped pecan halves (half for the filler, half for the goo topping)
In a large glass bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar, yeast*, butter and eggs. Use your hand as a mixer to crumble these ingredients together.
*Remember to add the yeast and salt to opposite ends of the bowl - salt kills yeast; this will help to tame the beast.
Next, slowly add in the water while continually using your hand to blend the mixture. Your dough will be extremely wet & you may find it hard to work with - this is normal!
Tip the wet dough onto a well greased surface. Knead and work the dough until it becomes stretchy & slightly holds it's shape - this will take 10 to 15 minutes. Your resulting dough will still be sticky.
Tip the dough into a well-greased, clean glass bowl. Cover with cling film & a damp tea towel, and leave to prove until it doubles in size (1 to 2 hours).
Prep the filling in a small bowl by mixing together the two sugars, cinnamon & half the pecans. Set aside
Once risen, tip the dough onto a floured surface. Work the dough for another 8-10min - this will knock the air out of it & help it to keep a better shape.
Use a flour-coated rolling pin to roll the dough into a long rectangle, keeping the long side towards you.
Evenly sprinkle the filling over the entire surface of the dough. Then starting from the long side farthest from you and working your way down, tightly roll up the rectangle like a swiss roll.
Use a sharp knife to trim the edges (this will ensure your buns are equal in size - unless, like me, you like a few monster buns in your batch!), then equally cut your roll into 12 portions.
Add your boozy goo to a well greased baking tray, and evenly sprinkle the remaining pecans onto the goo. Evenly space your cut swirls into the tray. Cover and leave to prove for approx 40min - the edges of your swirls should now be touching.
Pop into a pre-heated 220C oven for 20-30min. Take care to rotate the buns while they are baking so that they turn a lovely golden brown.
To serve, flip the buns upside down onto a plate & spoon any remaining boozy goo onto the top.
I started heavily baking several years ago due to the fact that mr. bluebirdcage was vegan. Aside from the odd trip to Brighton for beautiful (albeit expensive) vegan fayre, we found it hard to find vegan treats that weren't stodgy & chalky. I decided to nib that in the bud quickly.
Calling on help from the Post Punk Kitchen , I honed my skills as a vegan baking domestic goddess. Often bringing vegan goodies to my asos co-workers, reducing them to moans of foodie-delight (to my surprise, moans I hadn't until then heard outside of the bedroom).
As the years have gone by, and with the absence of a vegan diet in the house, I've shy'd away from specialist baking out of convenience.
Yesterday I went back to my roots, baking a monstrous vegan gluten/wheat free cake for my birthday boy of a father-in-law who in recent years has grown intolerant to almost anything you put in front of him (except for chocolate). For extra cake-induced amusement, my sister-in-law (who is also dairy intolerant) did a plie-filled dance of joy when she found out she could eat the cake too.
In a large bowl, blend together the soy milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle for a couple minutes.
Next add the sugar, oil and vanilla to the milk mixture until everything is well blended.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and blend until smooth.
Evenly pour the mixture into two greased round cake tins & pop into the oven at 180C for aprox 25-30min.
Cool thoroughly on a baking rack before icing.
Ganache it Up:
It's best to make the ganache when the cakes are almost completely cooled.* In a small pan, heat the cream (do not let it boil!). While the cream is warmin' up, break the chocolate into small pieces and place it into a heat proof bowl. Pour the warm cream over the chocolate and use a wooden spoon to slowly stir the mixture together until all is blended.
Leave the ganache to cool before decorating.
*I find there is limited time between the time it takes for ganache to completely cool & harden, and the time it takes to decorate your cake. It's best to plan how you want to decorate your cake before using ganache, or you might end up with frustrated with hard-to-spread topping & a half crumbled cake.
before the stack - add a knob of vegan butter & some icing sugar to the ganache for a thicker consistency
T for Tel - a hand-drawn stencil and cocoa powder can be your best friend
Last night I dreamt of Mississippi roadtrips and pitstops for buttery, fluffy american biscuits. Naturally, I didn't want to let my subconscious down, so I baked some for breakfast.
Little Mama's Road Stop Biscuits
5c self raising flour
1/2tbsp caster sugar
1/2c butter (cold)
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Then use your fingers to crumble the cold butter into the mixture until delicate pebbles are formed. Next, using your hand as a mixer, add the milk to the dry mix one small splash at a time* until all is incorporated. (*Tip from Captain Obvious: adding milk in small doses helps prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers)
Tip the mixture out onto a clean surface and continue to fold the stiff, floury dough until it hold it's shape - you will only need to fold the dough approx 10-15 times. (Do not knead this dough as if you were bakin' bread! Biscuits get their lovely fluffy texture from not being over-worked!)
Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until is it aprox 2cm thick, then use a round cookie cutter to form the biscuits.
Place onto a lightly floured baking sheet & pop into a pre-heated 200C oven for 10-15minutes, or until golden brown.
Smoother in butter & jam and eat 'em alongside a hot cuppa in your favourite nostalgia inducing mug.