Bloody Recipes In The UK


Since moving to the UK I’ve had to convert a lot of my own recipes on the fly to accommodate the available ingredients.

For the record, I’ve just made a batch of my tasty, chocolatey edible fake blood using ingredients I can buy in the UK, some of which are imports but weren’t hard to find. I bought some Americolor Super Red from a cake supply shop online. Some stores list it as “craft uses only” because some of the food dyes are not approved by the EU, although from what I’ve learned from the local cake decorating club, these rules change all the time. I will keep it for private use only but I have no qualms about putting it on cakes.

I also bought some Hershey’s syrup from Tesco as a bit of a pricey import, and my preferred Special Dark variety isn’t available, but that seems to be the only chocolate syrup around.

And of course instead of corn syrup I used golden syrup. It worked just fine, although I did add about a half tablespoon of water because the golden syrup was slightly thicker than the corn syrup.

fake blood on hand

It looks just as awesomely icky as the stuff I made in the US.

blood jar 1

This is a totally normal thing to have in your kitchen, right?

blood jar 2

I mean it’s not like I took actual blood and made it into a pudding. Now that’d be weird. (shifty eyes)

I’ll go update the original post to say that you can use golden syrup and regular Hershey’s just fine.

Incidentally, this is all for a demonstration I’ll be doing on my 3D Candy Filled Cookies at the Cambridge branch of the British Sugarcraft Guild on July 18, 7:30 pm, at St James C Of E Church, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge, CB1 8QJ. If you’re in the area, come by and watch me blow the minds of traditional cake decorators!

Although some if it is also for a class I’m developing for next year’s big show in Austin so I can hopefully make my airfare cost back in class fees. More on that as the wrongness is researched and recorded…

Posted in Cake Decorating, Classes, Sick and Twisted | Leave a comment

Bacon Pancakes, Makin’ Bacon Pancakes


Some of you may be aware by now that I have a slight fandom for Hugh Jackman and Wolverine.

Wolverine Fan Girl Ultra Cake

Rendering someone in three feet of modelling chocolate is totally not indicative of obsession, is it? Nor is carrying around the head afterwards for years and years. Much.

So it would not be that surprising that my friends would make sure I was aware of this:

Good morning….

A video posted by Hugh Jackman (@thehughjackman) on

I didn’t even realize at first – in part because I was giddy with the sheer amount of awesome going on there – that that’s not even Jackman’s voice. He’s lip syncing to a clip from Adventure Time:

Since my nine year old daughter Peo is really into Adventure Time comics but hasn’t gotten around to seeing the show yet, I showed her these clips.

And lo, the child became obsessed with the idea of bacon pancakes.

So after much begging, today I finally let her have some. I fried up two pieces of the awesome bacon we’ve been getting from the farm shop down the road, took them out long enough to drain the fat out of the pan, put them back in, and then put a dollop of my standard pancake batter with chocolate chips in it on top.

pancake batter over bacon

After a few minutes I flipped them over, although I probably should have waited a bit longer because the batter against the pancake hadn’t cooked through enough.

bacon pancakes flipped

So I turned them back over for a bit more cooking, and then put them on a plate.

bacon pancakes

And then Peo – still in her Batman jammies – ate them.

Peo eating pancakes

She asked, “Bacon and chocolate…is that even LEGAL?!” And then she shoved it in her face with glee.

You’d have thought it would have stopped there.

Nope.

I made the mistake of pointing out that Batman had eaten bacon pancakes. So Peo was compelled to make movies of her various toys covering this amazing news, and I don’t see why I should have to suffer alone in watching them, especially since halfway through watching them she confessed that mostly they’re excuses for her to keep singing the song. And she wanted them shared with the world with the titles as stated below, so here you go. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.

Minifig News Part 1

Minifig News Part 2

Websteria News Part 1

Websteria News Part 2

Negative News

Action Figure News

At least she exercised off the calories, I guess?

And lest you think that you can escape this songfest by not clicking the video links, she’s also rendered it in Stick Figure News.

comic panel

comic panel

comic panel

comic panel

comic panel

comic panel

It’s extra funny that her stick figure Batman looks like Finn from Adventure Time.

So be careful what you feed your kids or you too may suffer the fate of being sung the Bacon Pancake song for hours on end!

Posted in Breakfast, Head of Not Quite Hugh/Wolverine, My Recipes, Other Food, Severe Nerdery, Working With Kids | Leave a comment

Sugar Free Banana Custard Oatmeal


This is my best breakfast recipe yet. It’s ridiculously delicious, hearty and filling for hours, has no added sugar (or sweeteners), and is made entirely of basic, inexpensive ingredients that are easy to have on hand.

banana custard oatmeal with walnuts on top

I’ve long liked oatmeal for breakfast because it’s healthy and relatively easy. But despite the purported ability of oatmeal to keep one feeling full for a long time, I’ve always found that I’m really hungry a short time after eating it. My health situation makes this happen for a lot of foods and I know the key is to add more protein, but I’ve been struggling with ways to do that with oatmeal that aren’t so unhealthy as to render the entire dish pointless if the goal is to find a healthy breakfast.

But since being in the UK I’ve learned how to make custard, and it dawned on me that I could add some egg to the oatmeal and if I whisked it quickly enough in a hot milk base, it’d become custard. Further, if I used only super-ripe bananas for sweetening, I wouldn’t need to add any sugar. I find it really frustrating when I Google around for sugar-free recipes only to find recipes full of artificial sweeteners (which I’m not necessarily against and do use from time to time, but I don’t always want them because of the aftertaste or because I just don’t want something too sweet) or other substitutes that aren’t really bringing down the sugar load overall.

When we were recently on holiday in a National Trust cottage on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, I happened to have a large bag of bananas I’d brought for my toddler’s breakfasts (her daily oatmeal is whole milk and porridge oats/quick oats microwaved and then cooled with a bit more milk and a banana mashed into it, that’s it) that were getting really ripe really fast. I also didn’t have my usual pile of ingredients for making other common breakfasts like my healthy oat pancakes. But along with the bananas I had the porridge oats, milk, walnuts, and eggs, so I decided to throw caution to the fresh sea wind and give an oatmeal custard a go.

From the first bite of my first trial recipe, I knew I was onto something. Better yet, it was indeed filling for longer than standard oatmeal, so I could easily spend the day hiking trails along the coast with my family without looking for the next snack or meal the whole time.

The cottage kitchen didn’t have a nonstick pot, so I thought I should probably add a bit of fat to lube the stainless one. Since coming home and using my nonstick, I’ve decided a bit of fat is always in order just to make sure the bananas cook nicely without burning. But you don’t need much. I didn’t have butter at the holiday cottage, only margarine, so I used a small dollop of that there. At home now I use a spritz of sunflower oil. A small knob of butter would also work.

I cut up two super-ripe bananas into the pot with that bit of fat in the bottom and let them cook on medium-low heat until the slices were broken down. While it was cooking, I put one egg aside in a bowl. This is important, because when you’re making a custard you need to be able to get the egg into the liquid mixture fast before it starts to cook, and if you have to fuss with the eggshell you’ll wreck your custard.

bananas in pot

Two bananas cut up into a pot with a bit of margarine at the bottom, plus an egg ready to go at the side.

cooking bananas

Cooking the bananas until they’re really soft and mushy.

Once the bananas were turning into a paste in the pot, I added some semi-skimmed milk, about a cup. I didn’t measure. I know that I generally like about 1/3 cup of oatmeal which requires about 2/3 cup of milk, but I wanted extra milk in the pot to turn this banana into a creamy sauce. So I added about a cup. You can measure it out if you want to but once you’ve made this recipe a few times – and you will once you’ve tasted it! – you’ll get a good feel for the right amount relative to the size of the bananas and your appetite that day.

banana milk mixture bubbling

Let the milk-banana mix boil for a bit until it’s combined and creamy.

Then I added some porridge oats. If I’d been in the US, I’d have used quick oats, but not instant. You could probably use regular rolled oats too and add a bit extra liquid and/or cook them a bit longer. It really depends on your preferences in terms of oat type, relative chewiness versus softness, etc.

oats in the pot

Oats in the pot, just before being mixed it. It’s about 1/3 cup.

I mixed the oats in and let them cook, still on medium-low heat, until they looked softened to my preference level, which only took a minute or two.

Then I added the egg right into the middle of the pot and immediately stirred it vigorously into the whole mixture with a wire whisk. Back at home I don’t want to use a wire whisk in my nonstick pot, of course, so I use a silicone spatula. Either works, so go with what you’ve got. The point is to mix that egg into the whole mixture as quickly as you can before any part of it starts to set up. This fast combination is what makes it a custard as opposed to chunks of egg in your oatmeal (which is still edible, just not as creamy and delicious).

I kept cooking it until the whole mass started to get that cooked-egg-jiggle when poked with the whisk/spatula. That’s how I knew the egg was fully cooked. It takes a minute or two and you don’t want to overdo it, but if you’re worried about undercooked egg you can always turn off the heat and let it sit for an extra minute just to be sure.

I served it with some walnuts sprinkled on top, but you could put berries, other nuts, or whatever you like on there. You could add your favourite spices, dried fruits, or whatever makes you happy at breakfast time.

Of course since I was in a picturesque holiday cottage, I had to pose my oatmeal for some beauty shots before I could eat it.

oatmeal on windowsill

This is what proper food bloggers do, right? Take pretty pictures with props and things?

again on the windowsill

What if I zoom out a bit more? Does this photo make me a real food blogger yet?

Aw, that’s so pretty. You could almost pretend that the rest of the kitchen was tidy and that there weren’t overexcited children smashing their own breakfasts into their faces in the next room.

Almost…until I show you what the rest of this window sill actually looked like (and this was after I tidied it for photos):

full window scene with labels

Truth in blogging.

Anyway, if you’re a busy parent like me and you want to eat something really tasty for breakfast that’s quick and easy to prepare with ingredients you can afford that won’t spike your blood sugar, give this a go. It’s hands-down the best oatmeal I’ve ever had, and ever since I discovered it I am constantly waiting for more bananas to get super-ripe (and not be consumed by the children first) so I can have it again and again.

Here’s the recipe with approximated measurements, but tailor it to your needs and preferences.

 

Sugar Free Banana Custard Oatmeal
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A creamy, healthy, easy, filling start to your day.
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 1 bowl
Ingredients
  • small knob of butter or margarine, or spritz of sunflower or canola oil
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 1 cup milk
  • ⅓ cup porridge oats or quick oats
  • 1 egg
  • Optional: nuts, berries, or toppings of choice
Method
  1. Put the butter or margarine in the bottom of a pot, or spritz the pot with oil. Crack the egg into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Cut the bananas into the pot and heat on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until they are all breaking apart and turning into a pasty sauce.
  3. Add milk and combine. Bring to a low boil until thickened slightly.
  4. Add oats and stir thoroughly. Continue to cook until oats are softened.
  5. Add the egg and stir immediately and thoroughly to make the custard. Keep stirring for one or two minutes until the custard has set. The whole recipe will take on a slightly jiggly quality when the egg is cooked.
  6. Serve hot with whatever toppings are desired.

 

Posted in Breakfast, My Recipes, Other Food | Leave a comment

Big Win at My First BSG Show


I went to the Sugarcraft Southwest event hosted by Region 6 of the British Sugarcraft Guild on April 18, 2015. This was my first BSG show so I wasn’t sure what to expect and had to pester one of the organizers repeatedly with rules questions – Corran says I’m a disruptor in cake space – but it all paid off because I won not only a Gold but the category trophy!

Jack and Jill cupcakes

My entered piece, six cupcakes representing Jack and Jill on a fondant-covered foil base. The ticket in front says Gold and Trophy.

I didn’t actually bring the trophy home because it belongs to their division and I’d have to return it by sometime in the fall, but I gather that this was very prestigious to win it at all, especially as a newcomer.

trophy presentation

Presentation of the certificate and trophy by British Sugarcraft Guild Honorary President Steven Kirkby.

The category I chose was Nursery Rhyme Cupcakes, which required six cupcakes that clearly demonstrated a single nursery rhyme with each cupcake being different. I figured small items would be easily transportable on the 4.5 hour drive to Taunton from Cambridge. We’d also decided to use the show as an excuse for a family holiday the week after to go down to the Dorset coast and rent a National Trust cottage, so I didn’t want to take a piece that would have to come with us afterwards.

I decided early to do Jack and Jill if the rules could accommodate a display base shaped upwards as a hill. The rules specified no artificial decoration on the cupcakes themselves, but a show organizer confirmed that a built up foil base covered with fondant would be fine.

I thus shaped some foil so that I could position six cupcakes in green wrappers at various levels in a dynamic fashion. I started with the foil loosely crumpled and then gradually squished it tighter as I formed the piece, even banging out very flat platforms for the cupcakes using the blunt, heavy handle of a screwdriver.

foil lump with cupcake holders

Checking the position of cupcakes on the foil hill as it was built.

Once I liked the shape, I used a glue gun to affix it to a green foil board and decorated it, starting with some brown patches where I wanted an exposed-cliff effect.

brown fondant on foil

Adding chocolate fondant to the exposed sides of the hilltop.

After that I covered the rest in patches of green blended together, with cut edges to look like grass hanging. I didn’t make hatch grass marks all over because that always looks amateurish, like hack-mark hair. You want to suggest fine detail, not enslave your piece to it.

When I talked to a judge, she said she had to think to come up with criticisms because they’d all liked my piece so much, so she suggested that perhaps I should’ve used a thicker drum and covered the whole board. I heard the same about my Birmingham NEC show piece, so I think I should probably start doing that.

Since I don’t have my airbrush here, I tried to fake it with a sort of sponge-painting-type look with green food colouring (the stuff I bought here is terrible and I can’t wait to get my Americolor back!) on the green fondant, and then dusting the whole thing with green and yellow to take off the shine. The judge said they weren’t keen on the effect and suggested marbling multiple shades of green instead, in lieu of an airbrush which we agreed would have been much better overall.

I also made many tiny flowers (more on those below) and stuck them all over, trying to replicate the spring look of the fields around England in early April with spots of colours everywhere from wildflowers in every meadow.

fondant and flowers

Completed base from the back.

fondant and flowers

Completed base from the front.

For the cupcakes themselves, I needed to build the figures in my limited child-free time on weekends or occasional late evenings, in part because in order to make them with no internal foil or wire supports I had to let them dry between building stages. So I made six fondant circles sized to the top of the cupcake wrappers, cut with a fluted cutter to replicate the edges of the wrappers. I dried these and sponge-painted/dusted them in the same manner as the grass on the base.

With two characters and six cupcakes, it at first seemed natural to do three versions of each. But since I wanted both Jack and Jill on the top of the hill with the well, that meant I either had to do a fourth version of one of them or find something else to do on one of the cupcakes. I decided if Jack carried a bucket up the hill and filled it at the top, it was within the story to have the bucket on its own tumbling down the hill. I then realized that this would allow me to do some really cool effects with suspending the bucket up in a very dynamic pose with gelatin/piping gel water pouring out.

So I drew some rough sketches and set to work, building the figures up bit by bit. I knew I’d need to lean characters on the well, so I started it first by making various shades of red bricks using my sugar shaper tool and the square die.

red fondant drying as bricks

Making and drying tiny bricks.

I let them dry for about 48 hours and then used very softened bits of white fondant over a few evenings to mortar the bricks together around a red base. Royal icing would have been faster but I don’t have a mixer at the moment so I decided fondant would be better than trying to hand-whip a tiny amount of royal icing.

building the well

The white fondant here is wet to the point of being goopy so it can be easily smoothed together with my fingertips.

I put a blue base inside the well so that the later piping gel would show that tint instead of appearing very dark against the red. After an initial layer of lightly blue-tinted piping gel was put in and allowed to set up for a couple of days, I put a second layer of gel in along with the pre-dried bucket. This way the lower, firmer gel would keep the bucket from just sinking in, but I still had softer stuff to carefully push up into the bucket to give a dynamic, scooping effect to the water.

putting the bucket in the well

Note that Jack’s arms and the handle aren’t on yet. That’s because the piping gel and the bucket will actually be used to support those other elements. This meant the bucket had to dry firmly in place first. This is the sort of deep planning required to pull off a highly detailed piece without internal supports.

For Jack I started with teeny tiny feet mounted onto legs and let those dry in place with supports where necessary.

setting feet and legs to dry.

For this Jack, the only points of attachment would be one flat foot and then a partial foot behind. That meant it had to dry on firmly or risk the whole piece breaking. Being able to use toothpicks or a wire armature helps, but since that was forbidden for this contest, I had to make extra-sure to get these feet on right.

I decided right away that I wanted Jill to be very little, almost a toddler, and to give her pudgy legs and dimpled knees like my daughter Robin has. I shaped some little torsos in white, more or less like little sleeveless onesies, with leg holes in the bottom and a spaghetti-sized hole at the top for a later neck support. I let these dry solid for many days.

interior of kneeling Jill

One of the three Jill torsos dried and in place with little kneeling legs. Most of these legs are not seen in the final piece, but it’s important for competition to assume that something but be seen by a keen-eyed judge! So I always fully sculpt interior portions that might show under the ruffle of a dress. You don’t want to get to the point of adding a dress just to find out that your misshapen uni-leg actually shows.

supporting jill's legs as they dry

The “tumbling after” Jill’s lower half, with the pre-dried torso supporting legs in the air and a flowerpaste skirt. The other supports were temporary so the legs didn’t slump as they dried into place.

After using flour vermicelli straight from the bag for my NEC entry, I wanted to try working with it boiled enough that I could bend it into shape and also experiment with dyeing it. I decided to give Jill braids to allow for experimentation in this regard. I broke some strands and put them in a shallow dish with a bit of water and yellow food colouring, and then microwaved that for 30 seconds. It came to a boil and the noodles softened. I then laid them out three at a time on a little modelling silpat I bought from Ruth Rickey and braided them.

braiding vermicelli

This was ridiculously difficult!

I used the mini PME hook-shaped tool to scoop up each end as I went down the braid, but the noodles were very slippery with more and more starchy goo developing with every touch. I couldn’t cinch the braid snug at all as one does with yarn or hair because if I tugged at all, that noodle would slip out from the other two entirely. I also couldn’t pin down the ends because they were too fragile and would just squish and break.

But after some practice I finally got several braids, all much longer than I needed. I made sure I had allowance for breakage and for part to be embedded in the hair for strength, especially on the ones that would need to stick up into the air for Jill’s falling scene. I made sure those ones were long and curved so they could come out from underneath her head to stick up as if she’s just landed on her back.

curved vermicelli braids

The key is to do longer than you need because you can’t maintain tension on the ends. Position the braids how you want them to dry.

tiny braid

The vermicelli shrinks a lot when it dries. Here is one of the braids compared to a US penny and a UK 5p coin. It appears to be a smiley face because it is mocking the fact that I keep thinking those 5p coins are dimes, because I haven’t mastered UK change yet. It’s also trying to lure you into trying this technique with the pretense that it’s easy and fun. It is neither.

drying vermicelli

Braids and stems drying along with extra bits just in case.

Later, I carefully broke extra ends off to get them to the right size (although the curved ones technically are longer than the straight ones, so Jill has a bit of a Dorothy’s Braids Blooper going on), and added tiny blue fondant loops on the ends.

I also did the same small-boil method with a bit of black food colouring to make grey noodles I could then bend into pail handles. I made many in case I lost some to breakage, and thought if I made them angled enough I could trim them as necessary to fit the pails I’d already moulded and were dry.

grey vermicelli

The original pail handles, still wet.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize just how much the vermicelli would shrink when it dried. For the braids this was great because it made them even more tiny and delicate-looking (even though they’re actually reasonably strong, especially when compared to any similar-sized string of icing), but for the pails it meant all of my angles were off and none of my original handles were big enough for the buckets. So I had to make a bigger second set with some seemingly far too big just to ensure I’d definitely have some since time was getting critical. Luckily some within this second set worked. I put tiny balls of very wet grey fondant on the sides of the pails and stuck the handles in place, then let the whole thing dry up.

I also made many little tiny green stems with vermicelli, but didn’t boil it in that case. For those I just dabbed them with some green food colouring gel. Then when I had some mini flowers ready and dried, I used a tiny bit of very wet green fondant shaped into a cone, pinch-smushed onto the backs of some flowers, and then poked the green stems in and set them to dry.

various pieces drying

Jill’s surprised head firming up beside some of the mini flowers mounted on vermicelli stems. I hung the flower edges over the carved edge of this wooden cutting board so they’d dry straight with no pressure on any side.

While most of the little flowers on the base and scenes are simply stuck on directly, the ones Jill would be holding needed to have stems showing, so I thought it might make more sense if the first Jill was kneeling beside a particularly thick patch of grass and flowers. I made grass using one of the multi-hole openings on my sugar shaper gun and created an initial central tuft, pinching the tuft inwards at the bottom to tighten it up and give a good seat to the first few stemmed flowers poked into it.

One of the important things to consider when carrying a story element through multiple pieces is to make sure the element matches all the way along. This meant I had to ensure that there were flowers in that first patch that would match the ones in her hand by the well and then match the ones being dropped as she falls. So to start I selected mini flowers in matched sets. For the first scene, I then added extra to imply that Jill was choosing a few from a set.

Jill picking flowers.

The finished version of the first Jill where she’s picking flowers. Three of them are duplicates carried through the story.

A recurring problem in modelling is that if you poke something rigid into something soft and move the rigid thing at all, the hole in the soft medium widens very easily and no longer supports whatever you poked in there. Thus it is vital to poke once with confidence and not move it. In this particular case, the stems were so delicate that moving them around would risk breakage as well.

So once I had those first few flowers in, I started building up the grass with more little tufts, each one pressed gently inward to help mush the hidden interior into a tighter mass around the stems.

positioning flowers

Securing the flowers with tufts of grass part 1: I’ve just poked in several of these. Note that I have only put one of her arms on at this point. This gave me a guideline for positioning the flowers within her reach but kept one arm out of the way so I didn’t accidentally break it off while putting the flowers in place.

securing flowers

Part 2: here I’ve added a tuft of grass and pushed it in and downward to secure those flowers.

By doing this repeatedly around and carefully checking every part after each insertion for movement and alignment, I was able to create an outward-looking delicate arrangement with a fairly solid interior.

For the flowers in Jill’s hands at the well scene – where I wanted her casually holding them behind her while she smiles up adoringly at her big brother – I totally cheated by using multiple stems instead of actually having contiguous stems poke through hands. It’s hard enough to model hands on this scale; having to then insert stems through or fold fingers around or any other manipulation pretty much guarantees mushed fingers. So instead I made the hands, let them firm up a bit but not dry completely, and then inserted two of the flowers coming out of the top and two other stems coming out of the bottom. This wouldn’t have worked if the stems had been required to appear straight – as in if she’d been holding a baseball bat or a rolling pin – but since it stands to reason that a toddler would tightly grip and thus mash any flower stems they manage to collect, bent stems not only made my life easier but fit the story well.

Or at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to!

finished well, jill back

The finished well piece looking at Jill from the back so you can see how I cheated with the stems.

For the third scene I wanted it to look as if poor Jill is losing her flowers into the air as she tumbles, because for a toddler it’s always a greater tragedy to lose one’s treasure than to sustain a bit of an injury. However, as good as I am at cake decorating, I still haven’t figured out how to suspend things in the air without supports. Confined as I am to the laws of physics and the gravitational pull of the Earth, I was thus forced to find other ways to suggest this motion of flying flowers.

I decided having one on the ground already but stem up as if it’s still in the act of landing would work. For the other, I affixed it to Jill’s open palm as far up as I could (it kept sliding back down) to suggest that the thud of her landing has finally made her lose her grip on that last precious flower.

Also in this scene, I used the aforementioned curled braids along with elevated legs kicking out from a flying-up skirt all to indicate motion. The braids were stuck down underneath the head to hold them in place.

mounting Jill's falling braids

Mounting the vermicelli braids for Jill’s tumbling scene. They were pinned down with fondant and then the head I’d pre-dried was put in place, with more hair stuck all around as necessary.

Jill letting go of flower

Side view of the completed piece with Jill letting go of her flower as she falls.

Jill's flowers falling

Another view showing the flower leaving the hand and the other landing on the ground.

Jill tumbling

I tried to put as much in the air as possible on this piece: the braids, flowers, her arms and legs, and her skirt, all to suggest that she’s in the middle of a tumble.

As for the mini flowers, I would’ve liked to have used a mini plunger cutter because I have one back in the US but didn’t have one here, so I took it as an opportunity to go smaller and smaller with a simple technique as follows.

First, I made a little ball of the main petal colour and pinched it into a disc on my fingertip, making the edges thinner than the centre.

tiny disc of fondant

I put the disc down on my work surface and gave it a pat to flatten it a bit more and thin the edges further. Next I used one of my mini poking tools to make five indentations evenly spaced around, or sometimes more, depending on how bored I was getting with one type or the other.

making indentations

more indentations

Then I picked it up, put it in my palm, and used the mini ball tool to gently indent the middle.

ball tool on mini flower

mini flower on palm

Then I set them to dry and later put in whatever centres I wanted, sometimes a simple contrasting dot of fondant, sometimes a dot with a hole poked in the centre, and sometimes other various tiny pieces. Again, my goal was to make it look varied and to not get bored doing it.

I also made some tiny cup flowers, some tapered, marbled-paste flowers with indentations on the sides, and a few teeny tiny rolled-rose type ones, but those were so fiddly that despite liking how they looked, I just didn’t have time to keep making them. The ones I’ve demonstrated above are really quick by comparison.

Getting back to the figures, I continued to build them up with supports as needed. I considered a few different hair styles for Jack but eventually decided that his hair should be fairly simple and short in the first two scenes, but messy in the third where he’s taken a tumble. I also mentally went back and forth on the literalism of his broken crown, since obviously that means he’s cracked his head. But since many portrayals show a figurative crown and since I couldn’t exactly show him with a broken skull without getting really gory, I decided the figurative crown would help emphasize the iconic line of the rhyme.

I tried some different methodologies for making the crown but most turned out too chunky and goofy-looking, so eventually I went for a simple thin circlet, indented along the top, dabbed with a tiny bit of red food gel to simulate gems. I pre-dried the broken one so it could sit askew on his head with the other bit on the ground. The judge I spoke to said it was too bad that piece had been damaged, but I said it’s part of the rhyme so she replied, “Oh, right! It’s the broken crown!” Hopefully I didn’t lose points for that misunderstanding!

Jack crying

Detail of Jack’s messy hair, piping gel tears coming out over his hands, and his broken crown partially on his head and partially on the ground behind him. Note that underneath those hands is a fully sculpted crying face because again, you can’t tell in advance what bits might show through so for a competition piece, always sculpt stuff even it it might be partially hidden later!

For the water scene, I wanted to really emphasize the tumbling motion of Jack’s dropped bucket spilling out all over the place. To achieve this, it was important that the bucket appear to be in the air, but once again I had that slave-to-actual-physics problem. So I came up with a design where the bucket would actually be held up by hardened gelatin that was then covered in piping gel rivulets.

I started with a curved bit of dried gelatin saved from an earlier piece. I painted it with piping gel enough to give it the start of a poured texture, but not so much as to completely soften it. I positioned it and put some supports in place and then let it dry for several days.

building the water scene

The early stage of the water scene with a dried piece of gelatin coated in fresh piping gel and held in place to dry there.

Once it was firm, I added the pre-dried fondant bucket on top and painted on more piping gel, including making sure there was lots up inside the bucket to really stick the whole thing together. I supported the bucket in place while it dried, also for several days.

bucket in water scene

Adding the bucket and more splash detail to the water scene.

I added another very small piece of hardened gelatin to the back on an angle just to be sure that the whole thing wouldn’t slowly sink down, and I added more painted layers of piping gel all over, including pulling out droplets at the end of the splash points.

When it was all solid, I added the vermicelli handle to the pail as described above and put some of the mini flowers all around.

bucket from side

Finished bucket scene from the side, showing the back-angled bit.

The amount of water is probably more than would technically have fit into the bucket, but I didn’t know what the lighting would be in the competition room and I knew from past experience that poor lighting can make gelatin/piping gel sort of disappear into the background, so I decided it was better to have extra water splashing all over and assume the judges were probably not adept at calculating the volume of fluids in apparent motion.

Here then are views of each of the six toppers fully completed:

Jack going up the hill.

Jack going up the hill.

rear view of Jack

Jack going up the hill, rear view.

detail of bucket

Detail of Jack carrying his bucket up the hill.

Jill kneeling

Jill going up the hill, pausing to pick some flowers.

Jill detail

Detail of Jill’s braids and kneeling feet. I wish I could’ve got the fondant hair colour to exactly match the vermicelli hair, but boiling the vermicelli made it slightly translucent, a quality that can’t be copied in fondant, so I had to go with “close enough”.

well scene, Jill smiling

Jack and Jill at the top of the hill, fetching their pail of water. Jill is looking up adoringly at her big brother.

Jack smiling

Jack smiles back at Jill up at the well.

well water

Detail using a flash to show the piping gel water in the well with waves sculpted on to make it look as if the water is being scooped into the bucket. You can see here what a difference the hidden blue base inside the well makes. Without that, any lit view of the well would’ve looked muddy.

Jack crying

Jack fell down and broke his crown. He also lost his bucket.

Jill falling

And Jill came tumbling after.

bucket front

The bucket falling behind Jack and Jill, shown from the front.

bucket flash

The bucket from the front-side taken with a flash to show the piping gel “water” inside.

bucket side

Full bucket scene from the side.

bucket back

Detail of the bucket from the back.

Then I packed up all of these delicate structures into a box, ready to go to the show! Yay! Well mostly yay. There was that whole part where a few hours after packing these up, I was in the hospital thinking my baby was dead. She wasn’t. More on that in a separate blog post over here.

But once everyone was back to relative health, I carried this box on my lap for the drive out to Taunton.

packed pieces

All of the pieces separated by ruffles of packing foam. You’d be amazed how many people make fantastic cakes but completely fail to think about how they’re going to get them to a show!

I also had two full trays of cupcakes made from my new favourite BBC recipe for chocolate cake, plus a ziplocked baggie of ganache to pipe on so I could put the toppers on the cupcakes at the show. And it would’ve worked too if it hadn’t been for that pesky frigid weather! I had a terrible time getting the ganache to go smoothly onto the cupcakes, and even with warming it with my very hot hands, it sat in a lump on top of each cupcake. Time was running short so I had to give up and go with the toppers higher up on the cupcakes than I would have liked, and the judges noticed and remarked on it.

Further, I’d originally planned to put an extra cupcake liner around the baked cupcake so make it a brighter green without that greased-through look, but because the cupcakes had come out fairly compact compared to the un-filled papers, putting the papers on looked very sloppy, so I didn’t do that. That meant the cupcake bottoms were darker and messier than I originally planned. The judges didn’t remark on that, though, and given that the cupcake papers had to show (ie you weren’t allowed to put any die-cut or other wrappers around), they were probably anticipating some amount of cupcakes actually showing.

This was also a tasted entry; the judges took one of the cupcakes, cut into it, and actually ate some. That’s why I went with the nice chocolate recipe instead of a bog-standard box mix, and why I went with nice ganache. Actually, if I’d had access to a stand mixer I might’ve made my dark chocolate buttercream instead because that would have been softer than the ganache. But as it was, the judges said my cake and icing flavour were wonderful and that they liked that it wasn’t overly sweet. That was a nice change, since I’d otherwise given up on entering tasting competitions since I made dark, rich stuff and experience has taught me that most judges want super-sweet stuff.

So here are photos of the whole thing assembled at the show:

back

The entire display from the back.

front

The entire display from the front.

side 1

Side 1.

side 2

Side 2.

top view

From the top.

Here are my award and judging comment sheet:

gold and trophy certificate

judging comments

My judging comment sheet. I agree with 100% of it and was glad they liked the dark flavours.

Because we were about to go on holiday after the show and the toppers had been placed on actual ganache that would go off after a few days, I didn’t want to take the entry with me and was going to throw it out. But the lovely folks from the Torbay BSG branch adopted it instead to take to their next meeting a few days later. I hope they enjoyed it!

Peo also entered a cake into the Down on the Farm Cake Topper competition for kids. Here’s her entry:

Peo's farm cake

The farmer in the back is scolding a goat and the one in the front got his head stuck in a pumpkin.

Rear view of Peo's entry.

Rear view of Peo’s entry.

Peo's certificate

Peo showing off her Certificate of Merit.

Peo's judging sheet.

Peo’s judging sheet. It’s probably my fault about the foil since I suggested Peo do that for the barn because she wouldn’t have had time to let anything solid dry and her skill set/patience isn’t up to building dried walls of fondant to assemble. As the judges correctly remark, she has good narrative structure but doesn’t take time on details. But she’s only 9 and working out that she has to put in effort if she wants commendation. I think it’s great that BSG judges leave honest but encouraging comments for kids!

Here was the second place entry in my category:

ABC cupcakes

By Indika Jayasena, who received Silver. I love the monkeys!

And here are some photos of other items of note, identified with credit where I was able to discern the creators.

Alice in Wonderland cake

Yeovil branch entry table, main Alice in Wonderland cake. This won the popular vote and it is very nicely done, but I personally prefer not to see use of printed images on competition cakes. Still, this is a nice application of the images.

Alice in Wonderland detail

Detail of the printed images from the above cake. Hand-painting them would be very hard, but also very impressive, so if these had been hand-painted I really would have been wowed.

frog man

Peo loved this figure from the above Alice in Wonderland table.

Jack and The Beanstalk - full display

I voted for this Jack and the Beanstalk display by the Tamar branch because I thought it told the best overall story of the three voting tables. I am a sucker for a cake display that has dynamic figures and a unified depiction of something going on over and above a collection of objects, and this display is definitely a detailed depiction of this classic fairy tale!

Jack and the Beanstalk display - garden detail

Look at this garden full of tiny veggies!

Jack and the Beanstalk - hosue detail

And this house! It’s adorable! Plus it gives a starting point for the story that then literally carries across to other elements.

goose and gold eggs

They even made a little goose with little golden eggs!

sign post 1

The sign was a clever way to also highlight the progression of the story, and in the background is an adorable hen house.

sign post 2

Detail of the other side of the sign post.

giant

There’s even a giant peeking over the background board. What a great way to bring the whole story into one piece! I thought this was very creative, an excellent use of the foreground and background space, and a great way to communicate the scale differences without having to build in the whole giant. Bravo Tamar club!

lizard

I forget which branch table this was from, but I just loved this little lizard, camouflaged against the bark. It looked real.

pink flowers.

This was also from another branch table, some pretty, tiny, delicate flowers.

A stopwatch piece with a gelatin front cover by Peter Morgan.  Very nicely done with the gelatin, without any bubbles to be seen!  This won Gold and Trophy in "Freestyle - What's the Time?" category.

A stopwatch piece with a gelatin front cover by Peter Morgan. Very nicely done with the gelatin, without any bubbles to be seen! This won Gold and Trophy in “Freestyle – What’s the Time?” category.

royal icing wedding topper

I think this is also by Peter Morgan and got a bronze in the Fairy Tale Wedding category.

goth wedding 1

Peo said she thought this goth wedding cake was spooky but I really liked it, especially the airbrushed overlapping skull motif at the bottom. This was at a vendor table for Donna Jake Cakes.

goth wedding 2

Detail of the skull airbrushing from above.

snowdrops

Some lovely snowdrops from one of the branch tables.

church 1

I believe this was the Gold and Trophy winner for “Sugarpaste cake – For The Man In Your Life”, as well as Best in Show, by Tessa Whitehouse.

Other view of above cake.

Other view of above cake.

vegetable barrow

A wonderfully done wheelbarrow full of veggies on one of the branch tables.

witch figure

This witch in the figures section amused me. I thought it had a lot of character and was well done. I’m not sure if it placed or not, nor am I certain of the creator.

fruit cake

This is what a table full of fruitcake looks like. I kept thinking, “OMG that’s going to dry out!” because I kept forgetting that this is alcohol-soaked fruit cake. This wouldn’t dry out for ages! They take their fruit cake very seriously here!

bride's flowers

A bride’s circlet in sugar flowers. Not sure if this placed or who made it. This reminded me of the one I wore when I had my own ren-style wedding.

faberge egg

Faberge egg on the demonstrator’s table by Steven Kirkby.

And lastly, here was my personal favourite entry for the whole show, the branch table by the Torbay branch illustrating the same backyard in four different seasons. It was while describing to Peo just how amazing this was in terms of its carried-through story and detail that I ended up talking to some of the branch members, which is how they ended up adopting my piece for their meeting. I was so thrilled when they won the Gold and Trophy for the branch tables because while many other tables were filled with lovely flowers and other items, this was superb not only in detail but again in that all-important story aspect.

full display

The full Torbay display.

spring

Spring, where a shed is being built, a tree is flowering, a garden planted, and a table is being painted.

painting table

Detail of the table being painted, down to the tiny paint brush and pot.

summer

Summer with a barbecue, the shed all built, and the tree producing fruit.

barbecue

Those hand-painted sugar coals almost look like they’re glowing! The creators pointed out that the sausages accidentally fell in the fire, but they decided to leave it like that since that happens if you’re not careful with a real barbecue too.

shed detail

Check out the detail on that shed!

inside shed

Now check out the detail INSIDE the shed! Wow!

apple detail

Someone hand-dusted every one of those leaves and apples. Seriously. That’s AMAZING.

autumn

Autumn, with the leaves falling and the garden ready for harvest.

bird feeder

Look at this teeny tiny bird feeder in the autumn tree! There are apparently dozens of hidden animals and other tiny features like this all over the piece. Peo and I couldn’t even find them all because there was so much detail everywhere.

garden

The autumn garden.

winter

Winter. One of the ladies told me that they were upset that they’d had some splitting of the snow on the front end, but with this much detail everyone was willing to overlook that. They clearly still won in spite of it!

winter garden

Detail of the winter garden, with the remnants of the harvest. This is great.

sheds

Side view showing the story progression of the sheds.

veggie letters

Even the title has amazing detail as every letter is constructed from vegetables.

All in all it was a lovely cake event. Thank you to the organizers and volunteers, congratulations to all of the other winners, and I look forward to participating in other BSG shows in the future!

If you think you’d like to take a crack at designing more dynamic figures for your next cake, check out my ebook Dynamic Fondant Figure Modelling. It’s filled with loads of tips on how to make armatures and use your own body to help guide you towards making realistic poses for your figures.

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cupcakes and Mini Cakes, Experimental Techniques, Figures, Praise from others, Prize Winners, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Thick’n’Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Bars


I was skimming through granola bar recipes online and rejecting most for having ingredients I didn’t want (mostly too much sugar) or can’t easily get here in the UK (if you want sugar-free applesauce here you have to make it yourself and I didn’t feel like it today), when I finally found one that was close to what I was looking for: Fannetastic Food’s Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Granola Bars.

But since I still didn’t want everything there and wanted to add other nuts and seeds, plus only had a 9×13 inch pan, I ended up changing a lot of the recipe. I’m going to post what I actually made here so I have it for reference later, because the result is a chewy, oaty bar with a good amount of chocolate, nuts, and seeds. These will do very nicely for busy days out to prevent low blood sugar between meals.

oaty chocolate bars in a stack

As I understand it, we food bloggers are now supposed to stack foods for photos.

Thick'n'Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Bars
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A relatively low-sugar, thick, moist, oaty bar-cookie with chunks of chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Swap out ingredients for what you like or have on hand.
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Serves: 28 bars
Ingredients
  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ⅓ cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • about 75 g chopped dark chocolate
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • additional few handfuls of oats for optional topping
  • additional 25 g dark chocolate for optional topping
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F, 190 C (180 Fan).
  2. Prepare a 9x13 pan with parchment non-stick baking paper. Tip: tear off about 18 inches of paper, turn your pan upside down, and fold the edges of the paper against the underside of your pan so it matches that bottom rectangle. Put the pan upright and drop the folded paper in. Unfold the edges of the paper against the edges of the pan, folding the corner triangles against the sides.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, walnuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chopped chocolate, sugar, nutmeg, and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs into the milk. Add the vanilla and mix.
  5. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and combine thoroughly. The milk will look very wet around the oats.
  6. Pour the entire mixture into the prepared pan and smooth out with a spatula, then give a little shake to ensure the liquid is evenly distributed.
  7. Sprinkle on the additional oats, if using.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until it feels firm with a crusty top in the middle and the outer edges are turning brown. If your oven doesn't cook evenly, be sure to rotate the pan around halfway through cooking.
  9. Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.
  10. Remove from the pan and place on a large cutting board.
  11. Melt the additional chocolate (if using) in the microwave using very short bursts until it is partially melted with lumps remaining. Mix gently with a silicone spatula for a few minutes until lumps melt. Use the spatula to drizzle the chocolate over the whole thing.
  12. Cool until the chocolate on top solidifies (which might take a long time, so you may need to pop it in the fridge). Cut into bars of desired size.

I plan to freeze most of what I made today for upcoming days out in the lovely English spring weather!

Posted in Bar Cookies, Links, My Recipes, Other People's Recipes | 1 Comment

Mushroom Poutine Grilled Cheese Sandwich


WARNING WARNING WARNING!

This post is going to involve a lot of unhealthy but delicious food. Think diner food. Yum, but probably lethal.

WARNING WARNING WARNING PART 2!

This post does not include a recipe. It includes mention of ingredients and how I made something, but I didn’t measure anything. Because really, you’re all going to substitute your own preferences anyway. Think of this as an inspirational bit of food bloggery rather than a specific how-to.

WARNING WARNING WARNING PART 3: RETURN OF THE JEDI-KING OF SANDWICH!

This post is using “poutine” in a very loose sense, in that cheese curds are not something I regularly keep in my fridge. I know that proper poutine involves curds. I am Canadian, after all. And it’s not really a grilled cheese sandwich, but more the elements of such a thing arranged in a different way. But we’re all going to pretend that my chunks of cheddar are good enough and that it’s grilled-cheese-ish because pedants get no sandwich.

Right then, is everyone ready to salivate?

Because I made something awesome for lunch a couple of days ago and as proof of how much I love you all and hate your arteries, I want to share it with you. Well, the photos and how-to, not the actual sandwich. THE SANDWICH WAS MINE ALL MINE. In fact as I described what I was going to make, my husband said to our eldest daughter, “Peo, it’s time to leave Mum alone in the kitchen for awhile so she can have some very special private time. Ignore any strange sounds you may hear.” Because we have real family values.

BEHOLD THE MUSHROOM POUTINE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH:

sliced sandwich

Ohhhhhhhh yeahhhhhhh. Whoops, those are the strange sounds everyone’s supposed to ignore….

So here’s what happened…I stumbled across this video by the great Alton Brown about grilled cheese made on an actual outdoor grill. But I didn’t have access to one of those immediately so I went a’Googlin’ to see what else the world had to suggest for varieties of grilled cheese. I found a post about bacon grilled cheese by my good friend Terry McNeil wherein someone mentioned poutine grilled cheese. I Googled for recipes on that and found dozens, but being familiar enough with poutine since I went to university in Ottawa where it is consumed regularly as student fare, I figured I could make my own version from what I had around the house.

I also wanted some mushrooms in it because mushrooms are delicious. And onions because if you have mushrooms you need onions. That’s the law. And I happened to have both in frozen, prepared form in the freezer, so I knew this would be a fast route to Yum Land.

I grabbed a potato (specifically, a Wilja from the farm store down the street because these are the best potatoes I’ve ever had for making fries) and scrubbed it under a cold tap, but didn’t peel it. I then put it on a plate with some water and microwaved it for three minutes, then turned it over and microwaved it for three minutes more.

Meanwhile, I put some frozen onions in a pan lightly spritzed with oil and started browning them.

When the potato was microwaved enough to be slightly softened, I carefully cut it into wedges.

steaming potato

There is a reason for those songs and games about hot potatoes. Be careful!

I put the wedges in a cast iron pan with a thin layer of canola/rapeseed oil and began frying them.

When the onion was brown enough, I added some frozen, pre-sliced mushrooms. Obviously you could use fresh ones if you have some, but I really like having these frozen ones on hand for random and sudden need of mushrooms such as this.

browned onions in pan

When I say I browned the onions, I mean it. I really like the flavour of darkened onions. And the mushrooms will release their water and bring up all of that delicious fond from the pan.

While the mushrooms started cooking and while also keeping an eye on the chips in the other pan, I mixed up some easy beef gravy with about a half cup of boiling water and a couple of scoops of these Tesco beef gravy granules.

Tesco gravy granules

I told you this was like diner food!

And as you can see in the background of that photo, I also chopped up a chunk of sharp cheddar into cubes.

Once the mushrooms were getting tender, I added the gravy to that pan and mixed it all around.

gravy in pan

Onions, mushrooms, and gravy. So much yum, so not photogenic.

While those came together, I flipped the chips over in the cast iron pan.

chips in pan

Mmm, sizzly.

Then I added the cheese chunks to the gravy mixture:

cheese on gravy mixture

This is the part inspired by Alton Brown insofar as making a pre-griddled cheese mixture to put on the sandwich.

This made the cheese gooey in some places and frizzled in others.

melted cheese in pan

Uh oh, here come some more of those noises everyone should ignore…mmmmmm….ohhhhhhh….

Meanwhile I used yet another pan to fry up some bread that had been buttered on both sides. I then set the first slice on a plate.

fried bread

It’s whole wheat bread with seeds in it so there’s your health-washed content for this blog post. Also: delicious.

Then I stacked the chips upon the bread and salted them lightly:

chips on bread

Oh dear deity would you look at those golden, hot, crispy rods of drooltastic deliciousness?!

I put all of the mushroom-gravy-onion-cheese mixture on top, then put a second both-sides-fried slice of bread on top.

hot sandwich

As a writer of romance novels I’m very familiar with steamy scenes, but this is the first one I’ve written that included mushrooms and gravy.

That was about when I realized this wasn’t going to be a pick-up sort of sandwich, and a fork would be required.

fork with gravy and mushrooms

Are you drooling yet?

This whole thing was delicious. I highly recommend it. But there was a slight downside in that putting the chips on the sandwich did sacrifice their crispy edges.

So I made the whole thing again for breakfast today and left the chips on the side:

chips on the side

Ohhhhh another one of those amber-glowing hot chips fresh out of the pan…mmmmmm…ahhhhhhhh…

And then I discovered that not only does this give you the bonus of keeping the chips crispy, but you can use them as utensils to scoop up the mushroom-cheese-onion-gravy spillage from the sides of the sandwich.

scooping with chips

All this yum plus catching up on John Oliver’s show in the background. Happy happy day!

Not a bad Easter Sunday morning! Happy Easter to everyone out there, and enjoy your own tasty treats today. I recommend making adorable and/or killer bunny cookies with your family.

Posted in Breakfast, Links, Lunch, Other Food, Other People's Recipes | Leave a comment

That’s No Ordinary Rabbit Cookie!


Would you like to make some easy, adorable, candy-filled bunny cookies for Easter? Of course you would!

bunny cookie

It’s hiding candy inside itself! Sneaky Easter Bunny!

These basic bunnies are a kid-friendly craft to share with the whole family. Start by making the base cookie pre-filled with candies of your choice as shown here in the Baseball Cap Cookies Tutorial.

Roll out some white fondant, brush the cookie with some water-thinned corn syrup (or golden syrup), and apply the fondant, trimming at the bottom. If you have graduated circle cutters you can cut circles in advance to minimize trimming, just be sure to cut circles large enough to drape down the height of the cookie.

Use a smaller circle cutter (or freehand) to start the legs. Cut a circle in half, then trim out a foot shape with a knife as shown below:

cut an angle out to form a foot

Cut on the opposite side on the other half of the circle for the other leg, and affix them in place with a bit of water as shown on the cookie below:

completed bunny cookie

For the ears, I used some graduated pointy petal cutters I have in a big set, but you could use any long oval cutters or just cut by hand. Cut larger shapes in white and then smaller in pink and put the pink on top of the white. Affix them to the body in any style you choose using a bit of water. Try different positions and see how that affects the mood of your bunny! Here I gave them a bit of a bend as I put them on.

For the front paws, roll a little fat oval of white fondant and cut it in half lengthwise. The flat cut line is the bottom of the paw. Use whatever tool is handy to make two indentations to suggest toes and stick them in place with a bit of water.

The face is simply two tiny dots of black fondant (or you could draw them on with an edible ink marker, or use mini chocolate chips, or use candy eyes, or whatever you’ve got!) and a long pink dot for the nose.

The tail is a roughly made ball of white fondant stuck on with a bit of water and then poked a bit to make it look more fluffy. If you’ve got cotton candy on hand you could use that for tails too.

That’s it! Super easy and adorable for your Easter, right?

But I hear you all crying out, “WAIT! It’s NO FAIR baiting us in here with a Python reference unless you have a Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog cookie too!”

You’re right.

So I do.

BUT BEWARE!!! Because as Tim will tell you himself:

Tim the Enchanter

“If you brave knights do doubt your strength or your courage, come no further for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth!”

No, realli!

You must be very, very certain you wish to see this next cookie!

It is not for the faint-hearted or the easily offended!

Oh wait…nobody faint-hearted or easily offended reads this blog. Right. Carry on.

RAWR!

RAWR!

See?!

bunny cookies

“Rawr!”
“Why hello there, neighbour!”
“Rawr!”
“Erm, yes. Anyway, what say we hide some delicious and exciting treats for the youngsters to find?”
“Rawr!”
“Right-ho. Perhaps you haven’t had your morning cuppa yet?”
“Rawr!”
“Yes. Well then. I’ll just be over here celebrating a rather inexplicable merging of Pagan and Christian traditions in the form of leporid trickery upon the young primates, shall I?”
“Rawr!”
“Indeed.”

The Killer Rabbit is like the basic bunny above, only with little skinny, angled eyes to suggest anger and of course the nasty, pointed teeth, which are just shaped in white fondant. Make a rough, bloody mouth out of a bit of red and put the teeth on top.

And that’s it!

Because it would, of course, be wholly inappropriate to a spring festival celebrating goodness and rebirth to make a Killer Rabbit cookie filled with something other than candy. Something like, oh, I don’t know…fake chocolate-flavoured blood. Like I did with this eyeball cookie for Halloween.

Um.

Yeah I totally filled it with fake choco blood:

fake blood oozing out of cut cookie

Muahahahahahaha!

Cream-filled eggs, eat your hearts out. Your gory, choco-blood-filled hearts.

OMG I should make an anatomically-correct 3D heart cookie filled with blood. Right after I make the 3D Candy Filled Death Star cookie I promised back here and the Wolverine one I promised/threatened here.

Who wants to come over and babysit so I can get more inappropriate cookies made? I pay in cookies!

Posted in 3D Cookies, Cake Decorating, Cookies, Severe Nerdery, Sick and Twisted, Working With Kids | 2 Comments

Souper Easy Cream of Mushroom


I couldn’t resist the pun, but I’m about to give you a really easy, tasty soup recipe, so that makes up for it, right?

Um.

Anyway.

So let’s be honest: I love Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. That is, I love it in Canada and the US. I even love it in Australia, because although it tastes slightly different there, it’s still a pile of salty, comforting, delicious goop.

But here in the UK it tastes really different, to the point of being barely edible. It’s just…not good. It’s flat somehow, like it’s missing something. I don’t want to eat it here despite it being a staple comfort food back in North America.

I have tried to kick the habit before for health reasons because let’s face it, even though it’s tasty it’s a mega-sodium-bomb. I’ve tried a few homemade recipes that were really nice, but each took a lot of work and turned out much differently than the canned stuff (which I’m pretty sure was the point but sometimes you want that familiar taste).

Last fall I found this very useful webpage on how to make various “cream of something” soups, and I highly recommend it, especially if you have dietary desires where you need to swap out ingredients. It features a well-organized chart of how to substitute various items as needed.

I’ve been making the basic mushroom soup but tweaking it to ingredients here in the UK, which isn’t always easy since chicken stock is harder to come by. Folks here must prefer to use the cubes or the condensed stocks – many of which contain a lot of sugar – because that’s what’s most prevalent when searching the grocery stores for ordering.

So we bought a mega-pack of Kirkland chicken stock at Costco (which is non-trivial for us since the closest Costco is a two-hour drive away and we have no car), and I’ve been tailoring the recipe to fit one 500 ml container of that stock.

I’ve also cut a few steps out of the original recipe which I’d like to pretend was done out of a drive for efficiency, but it’s actually because I’ve been so tired that I messed it up once but it turned out just fine.

Thus, here’s how I’ve been making triple batches of cream of mushroom soup which I can then use as a tasty lunch and still store several 280-ml-ish containers of to have in reserve for recipes, since that is more or less the volume of a can.

Note that this recipe makes a lot of fairly thick soup with more of a garlic note than the standard canned stuff. I often add more mushrooms than listed here because I honestly don’t really measure them most of the time so much as dump “about that much” in. If you aren’t keen on the ingredients here, go back to the link above and use that resource to swap out in smaller quantities until you find the version that works for you.

cream of mushroom soup

A tub of delicious soup on its way to chill in the fridge so I can freeze it in can-sized portions.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Easy, fast, delicious substitution for the canned stuff. This recipe makes a lot and is designed to be portioned out and frozen for use in recipes later.
Author:
Recipe type: soup
Serves: approx 6-8 cans' worth
Ingredients
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen diced onions
  • 3 cups frozen sliced mushrooms
  • 170 g butter (3/4 cup, 1.5 sticks)
  • 2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 500 ml chicken broth
Method
  1. Put garlic, onions, mushrooms, butter, and sea salt in a large pot. Cook until vegetables are thawed and the entire mixture is bubbly.
  2. Add flour and stir to combine thoroughly, being sure to work out any lumps. Cook for one minute.
  3. Add milk one cup at a time, mixing thoroughly each time.
  4. Add broth and mix.
  5. Cook for 10-15 minutes until it reaches desired consistency.
  6. Eat fresh or store as needed.
Posted in General Cooking Tips, Links, Lunch, My Recipes, Other Food, Other People's Recipes | 1 Comment

Easy 3D Candy-Filled Valentine’s Day Cookies


If you do any amount of cake decorating, chances are you have a variety of heart-shaped cutters, molds, impression mats, etc. Heck, I’ve got so many that I don’t even know where they all came from, since some were in event goody bags or somehow just wandered into my kitchen and made themselves at home. The heart shape is probably the single most common shape in the cake and cookie fields.

Make use of your heart-shaped tools for this Valentine’s Day by making a bunch of 3D Candy-Filled cookies topped with whatever design suits what you have on hand.

Start with the base cookie directions on the 3D Baseball Caps post to make as many candy-filled cookies as desired, or if you’re twisted like me (because I’m the sort of mom who brought this to a classroom full of six year olds) make heart cookies filled with chocolate-flavoured, disturbingly realistic fake blood like these eyeball cookies.

Either way once you’ve got your base cookies ready, cover them with white, red, or pink fondant, then add heart-shaped embellishments as desired.

For the cookie below, I used the CelShapes Lattice maker with pink Satin Ice in the heart-shaped portion, draped onto a white background over the cookie. Then I used the smallest of a set of 3 plastic heart plunger cutters to make a bunch of little pink hearts and stuck them around the base.

heart cookie from above

The Lattice Maker lets you pretend you have skills!

If some of your cookies come off the pan slightly dented on one side, simply turn that dent to your advantage by putting it at the top of the heart as I did with this one.

heart cookie from side

But pay no attention to the dent in the fondant that’s showing the dark cookie underneath. I guarantee you that the recipient of this tasty treat paid it no heed!

The lattice maker takes some practice to work without tearing and may not be something everyone has, but you can just as easily use graduated heart cutters to make concentric heart cut outs, or a fancy floral heart mold, or any other tool you have on hand.

heart cookie mini hearts detail

Mini plunger cutters make your decorating life so much easier. They’re worth the price above a non-plunger cutter for mini shapes because you can work super-fast without having to poke out shapes, which can distort them.

Another great use for those plunger cutters – and a fun way to make very personalized candies to go inside your cookie – is to make homemade conversation hearts and use edible ink markers to write whatever suits your needs on them. The plunger cutter lets you stamp out tons of little candies super fast, then just let them dry overnight and write on them the next day. When I’ve done this for my daughter’s school Valentine’s Day parties, they’ve been a huge hit.

I may have also once made some with a Wolverine theme

Wolverine conversation hearts

Mmm, Wolvie angst represented in wee sweetie form.

I should probably make some kind of 3D candy-filled Wolverine cookies. I’ll get right on that as soon as I have time to do the Death Star cookies I promised from the R2D2 cookie post. The problem with making anything Wolverine and edible is keeping it family friendly for this blog. Ahem. Double ahem. * innocent eyes *

Posted in 3D Cookies, Cookies, Head of Not Quite Hugh/Wolverine, Sick and Twisted | 3 Comments

Sugar, Splenda, and Stevia Bakeoff


I get a lot of weird PR requests that I ignore, mostly because even though they all say they love my blog they then offer me spicy or alcoholic stuff – both of which indicate they do not read this blog since I frequently mention being allergic to hot spices and being a teetotaller.

But a PR firm recently asked if I’d be willing to taste test some Pyure Organic Stevia, both in individual 1g packet form and a 454g bag. I said I’d be happy to since I’m diabetic and had never tried Stevia before, though I’d been meaning to, but that I was in the UK for a year. So I was surprised when they replied that they’d be happy to mail me some all the way over here.

Pyure Organic Stevia packs

I received these products free from a PR firm but no other payment or consideration, nor was I obligated to give a positive review. All other ingredients used in this post were fully purchased by me with no other corporate sponsorship or involvement.

I have been using Splenda (the Granulated kind that is puffed up so it measures like sugar) for years. I know that it’s not good in cookies where the hygroscopic nature of sugar is required. Frankly, Splenda cookies are like hockey pucks or dwarf bread, depending on how nerdy you are. But I use it all the time as a complete sugar replacement in my regular oatmeal pancakes, and I routinely sprinkle it on puffed wheat cereal that has no other ingredients. I also use it for hot chocolate by mixing it with cocoa powder and milk and really enjoy that as a warming treat on a cold day.

When I received the Stevia, I tried sprinkling some from a packet on the puffed wheat cereal and was not keen on it. I found that it had a metallic aftertaste that I did not like. Splenda often has an aftertaste as well, but not so much on the puffed wheat because I use so little of it (the milk in the bottom of the bowl definitely has the aftertaste). With the Stevia, if I used enough to get the same level of mild sweet, the aftertaste was a bit too strong.

I decided I should put Stevia to a baking test, especially since Splenda can be hit-or-miss in baked goods. I had recently made a lemon cake using this recipe from Food.com, but as usual with other people’s recipes I’d cut the sugar substantially. In that case I left the sugar amount for the glaze but cut the 1 cup in the cake itself down to 1/2 cup.

It occurred to me that a cake like that would be a good comparison with sugar substitutes for several reasons:

  1. The light colour of the cake would highlight any browning differences really well.
  2. The cake forms a nice crust with sugar, so I’d be able to compare if the substitutes were softer, soggier, etc.
  3. Because the cake itself has sugar in it but then also relies on the glaze, I’d be able to tell if the substitutes had any aftertaste in the glaze compared to what’s more disguised in the rest of the cake.
  4. Baking the cake in a loaf pan would make it easier to tell at a glance if there was any appreciable difference in rise.

Thus I set out to make three cakes today, carefully controlling all other ingredients and factors as much as possible for a true comparison. I used eggs from the same container, butter all from the same source and freshness, all cooked in the same pan in the same oven in sequence, and I was careful to not let any batters sit longer than any others. I even made sure they all had exactly 10 minutes in the pan after coming out of the oven with the glaze on to see if there was any difference in absorption.

Knowing that many recipes fail entirely if all sugar is replaced and that sugar substitute makers often recommend only replacing part of the sugar, I made the first cake with full sugar, the second with half sugar and half Splenda Granulated (including the glaze), and the third with half sugar and half Pyure Organic Stevia (including the glaze). I noted that although the Splenda Granulated is made to measure like sugar, the Pyure Organic Stevia is twice as sweet, so I adjusted the measurements accordingly.

Here are the actual ingredients used for each:

Cake 1 Ingredients

Cake:
1⁄2 cup butter, melted (113 g)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
225 g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 cup semi-skimmed (1%) milk

Glaze:
1⁄3 cup lemon juice
1⁄4 cup sugar

Cake 2 Ingredients

Cake:
1⁄2 cup butter, melted (113 g)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Splenda Granulated
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
225 g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 cup semi-skimmed (1%) milk

Glaze:
1⁄3 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup sugar (30 ml)
1/8 cup Splenda Granulated (30 ml)

Cake 3 Ingredients

Cake:
1⁄2 cup butter, melted (113 g)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup Pyure Organic Stevia (30 ml)
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
225 g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 cup semi-skimmed (1%) milk

Glaze:
1⁄3 cup lemon juice
1⁄8 cup sugar (30 ml)
1/16 cup Pyure Organic Stevia (15 ml)

For each I lined a loaf pan with parchment baking paper and followed this procedure (all by hand with a spatula and glass bowl since I don’t have a mixer here):

1) Preheat oven to 325°F/162°C (although because my UK kitchen only has a fan-forced (aka convection) oven I lowered this to 150°C).

2) Mix the sugar (and sugar substitute if applicable) with the butter until as smooth as possible.

3) Add the eggs and tablespoon of butter, beat together until completely mixed.

4) Add salt, flower, and baking powder. Mix well, breaking up any lumps, until it forms a smooth, thick putty-like dough.

5) Add milk and fold in until combined, then beat lightly until smooth.

6) Bake in parchment-lined pan for 1 hour.

For the Glaze:

1) Mix 1/3 cup lemon juice and sugar (plus substitute if applicable).

2) When the cake comes out of the oven, leave it in the pan and poke holes all over the top with a toothpick. Drizzle the glaze all over and allow to sit for ten minutes in the pan. Then remove using the parchment paper to lift the whole thing out and set it on a plate to cool and continue to absorb the glaze.

You can serve this cake warm, but since it took hours to bake all three, I wanted to ensure they were all at room temperature for the taste test. I took several photos as shown below and then cut interior sticks out of slices for my husband and older daughter to test.

For the record the toddler got some too and demanded more but I didn’t make her evaluate anything since a) she doesn’t comprehensibly talk yet and b) she’d also happily eat dirt, paint off of the radiator, and what I call “baby croutons” (bits of bread I haven’t swept up yet from under her high chair) if I let her. O.o

Anyway, I put those slices on a paper towel on a plate labelled as 1, 2, and 3 in order as above, because they didn’t know what order I’d used for baking. This way it was as close to a blind taste test as possible.

I also taste-tested but since I knew which was which, my results may be skewed by that knowledge.

Here were the results:

As the cakes came out of the oven I took photos of the tops before putting on the glaze. Or at least I meant to, and forgot with 3 until after I’d just put the glaze on. Either way, it’s pretty clear that the sugar and Stevia both produced a nice browned top but the Splenda came out kind of pasty. Splenda’s own website acknowledges this and suggests spritzing the tops of batter with oil to promote browning but I didn’t do that here since I was doing a straight comparison.

cake 1 top

Cake 1 was nicely browned.

splenda cake top

Cake 2, the Splenda cake, had a very pale top.

stevia cake top

Cake 3, the Pyure Organic Stevia cake, was almost as brown as the full sugar cake although the edges weren’t quite as crisp.

In mixing the glaze, I had hoped the sugar substitutes would dissolve more in the lemon juice than the regular sugar since they have less heft to them. No matter how much I mixed the sugar, the end of the glaze came out in a sludgy lump that sat unevenly on the top of the cake. The Splenda foamed (which always happens when you add it to liquid because it’s aerated) and got surprisingly sludgy as well, but then it was absorbed into the cake more evenly. The Pyure Organic Stevia didn’t foam but it also got surprisingly sludgy and lumped onto the top as much as the sugar.

glazed lemon cakes

Cakes 1, 2, and 3 left to right with glaze on.

In terms of lift, the full sugar cake clearly rose higher than the other two:

cake height comparison

Cakes 1, 2, and 3 left to right. Cake 1 – the full sugar cake – is noticeably higher than the two with sugar substitutes.

For the taste test, I cut off the ends – which is when I noticed that the full sugar cake was noticeably crispier on the brown edges than the other two, even including the Stevia’s equally browned edges – and then cut the same size slice off of each.

sliced cakes

The interiors look mostly the same except for a bit of a doughy or wet streak through Cake 1. It’s hard to tell if that’s an underdone bit or if the glaze seeped through a crack more thickly in that spot.

I then cut each of those slices from top to bottom into fifths so I could present two more-or-less equivalent interior slices to my husband and daughter.

Here are their results:

Corran's notes

My husband preferred the Pyure Organic Stevia cake overall because he detected an aftertaste with the Splenda cake and found the full sugar cake to be doughy.

Peo's notes

My nine-year-old preferred the Splenda cake overall because she also detected an aftertaste but liked it. She said she detected one in the Stevia cake too but wasn’t as keen on its texture.

Peo evaluating

Peo evaluating the cakes in her awesome new Storm Trooper jammies. As always, she has a very rough life.

I sampled each as well and at first could not honestly tell the difference, which surprised me since I was expecting an aftertaste from the sugar substitutes. Upon further sampling I could sort of taste a bit of an aftertaste with the Splenda, but nothing overt. I detected no aftertaste at all with the Stevia.

Texture-wise I liked the full sugar cake best because it was moist but had a good crumb, whereas I found the Splenda cake slightly spongey and the Stevia cake very spongey. And as mentioned above, the full sugar had a better overall browning and crispness to that browning, but having made this cake with just sugar before, I know that crispness will be gone tomorrow because of sealing it in a plastic tub, so that really only counts if the cake is going to be served fresh out of the oven.

Thus my overall conclusion is that if you need to reduce sugar intake, both Splenda Granulated and Pyure Organic Stevia work very well to replace half of the sugar in a strongly-flavoured lemon cake such as this. Expect a bit less browning and a slight aftertaste from Splenda, plus slight texture differences from both substitutes, but if you’re only substituting part of the sugar the result should still be pretty good.

The Pyure Stevia is organic so if you prefer to purchase organic products, it has that edge, and it does brown more than the Splenda. Applications in other recipes may vary, so I encourage those seeking to reduce sugar to try both of these and see what works best for you. I’m not in the US right now to be able to price-compare, but if you’re doing so remember that the Pyure is twice as sweet per volume as the Splenda, so it will go twice as far in recipes and you’ll need to calculate price comparisons accordingly.

I know some folks don’t like sugar substitutes in part because of a lot of misinformation online about supposed links to cancer due to the saccharin scare in the 1970s. But as recently posted by the Mayo Clinic – international leaders in cancer research – modern sugar substitutes are not linked to cancer and while they shouldn’t be consumed by the bucket load in a faux healthwashing scheme, they are of benefit to diabetics when they are used to reduce overall actual sugar.

So while you should probably let your recipients know if you use a sugar substitute because it’s always best to make everyone aware of all of your ingredients in a general sense to avoid allergies and other issues, both Splenda Granulated and Pyure Organic Stevia are entirely safe to eat. If your friends decide they don’t want to eat it because they’re misinformed, that’s more lemon cake for you!

And I must say that I’m tempted to do some more recipe experimentation to see how the Stevia does in cookies, where I know Splenda to do poorly. Perhaps I should try some shortbread experiments soon…

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Posted in Links, Other People's Recipes, Products | 3 Comments