Book Review: Grandbaby Cakes

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book for review. I was upfront that I only do honest reviews. All opinions stated here are mine and I have not been paid or compensated other than the free copy of the book.


The short version of this review is that Grandbaby Cakes is a really interesting book full of cake recipes, many of which are modernized versions of classic Southern US recipes. The two I tested were very tasty and on that basis alone I do recommend the book. However, I did find some editing issues that should give beginner bakers caution when proceeding with the instructions.

The book by blogger Jocelyn Delk Adams of is rich with recipes and delightful family stories drawn largely from the author’s grandmother, referred to lovingly throughout the book as Big Mama. Big Mama’s cakes were the highlight of family gatherings and Adams has filled the book with her memories of learning baking arts first-hand from such a master.

Adams gives a solid introduction to baking techniques, including thorough explanations of her preferences as well as giving readers latitude for their own preferences where applicable. She then takes readers on a journey through pound cakes, layer cakes, sheet cakes, baby cakes (aka cupcakes), celebration cakes, and finally seasonal/holiday cakes, all adorned with photos from her childhood.

There’s an atmosphere of being invited over to family gatherings to peruse photo albums, listen to beloved stories, and eat fabulous food. When you read Grandbaby Cakes, you feel warmly welcomed into a delicious world of homey delights.

My older daughter Peo wanted me to test the recipe for the S’more Lava Cakes and I probably should have while we were still in the US, since it looks like graham crackers will be impossible to find here in the UK. But I wanted to try the Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake and the Cornmeal Pound Cake, so those are the recipes I will specifically review. I’ve promised Peo we’ll make some version of the S’more Lava Cakes someday soon, possibly substituting digestives for the graham crackers.

While we were still in the US, I had access to our big Kitchenaid stand mixer, my bundt pan, and all of the ingredients as listed for the Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake recipe, so I made that first while also packing up the house to move to the UK. In fact, this cake was the last thing we used the Kitchenaid for before selling it to a friend, since we couldn’t bring it with us to the UK (the electrical plugs are different here and not all electronics can be easily, safely adapted).

The recipe is also available on Adams’ blog here, but there are some ingredient and instruction differences. In particular, the blog version calls for 3 teaspoons of baking powder while the book version calls for 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda – a significant chemistry difference. There’s also a lot less butter in the cinnamon swirl element in the book version.

I’m reprinting the recipe below in its entirety as written in the book, as given permission by Agate Publishing as part of the review process. Bolded elements in square brackets are my additional notes, sometimes for international readership with varying measurements, other times to point out elements I believe needed better explanation.

Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake

From Grandbaby Cakes, reprinted with permission.



  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature [341 g]
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour [This means you sift the flour into a bowl and then measure 3 cups of it, versus if Adams had written “3 cups cake flour, sifted” which would mean to measure 3 cups and then sift. But this is very confusing to new bakers, and Adams’ discussion of sifting under her “Baking Rules” doesn’t specify. She says she often skips sifting, but 3 cups sifted versus 3 cups not sifted can be a significant difference in total flour amount. I suspect she actually means “3 cups cake flour, sifted” because then the sifting is adding air but not changing the total flour amount. When I prepared the recipe, I sifted flour and measured out 3 cups of that. It worked, but this should be clarified in the book.]
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon Swirl

  • 1/3 cup (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) unsalted butter, melted [76 g]
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature [28 g]
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk (can be whole, 2%, or even refrigerated coconut)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For The Cake

Preheat your oven to 325°F [162°C]. Liberally prepare a 12-cup Bundt pan with the nonstick method of your choice.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on high speed. Slowly add the granulated sugar. Cream together for an additional 5 minutes, until very pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Turn your mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly add the flour in 2 batches. Add the salt and baking soda. Be careful not to overbeat. Add the sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix the batter until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. Set the batter aside.

For The Cinnamon Swirl

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until well combined. Set aside.

To Bake

Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan.

Drizzle 1/2 of the cinnamon swirl over the batter. Using a butter knife or skewer, swivel the mixture thorough the cake batter, creating a flourish pattern.

Repeat with the rest of the cake batter and cinnamon swirl. Top with the remaining batter. [This uses the remaining batter twice. I believe Adams meant to say use another third of the batter, then the rest of the cinnamon swirl, then top with the remaining third of the batter. This is why I advocate that newbie bakers thoroughly read recipes first, or else they might pour in the rest of the batter and end up with cinnamon swirl on the surface, not mixed into the interior of the cake.] Bake for 75 to 85 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Let cool to room temperature. Lightly cover the cake with foil or plastic wrap so it does not dry out.

For The Icing

Clean your stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Beat the cream cheese and butter for 2 minutes on medium-high speed.

Reduce your mixer speed and carefully add the confectioners’ sugar in 2 batches, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, turn your mixer back up to medium-high speed. Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until the icing is smooth and pourable. [Mine never went perfectly smooth, but looking at the photo in the book, neither did Adams’.]

Drizzle the icing over the cooled pound cake. Serve at room temperature. [And here is a serious omission: this recipe should end with storage instructions that include refrigeration. Icing made from cream cheese and milk should not sit out for more than four hours. While you’ll find a lot of bakers being very casual about this, in terms of regulatory bodies anyone with any kind of food licensing is required to refrigerate a cream cheese frosting. There are multiple national, state, and local regulations pertaining to this. This is why the Austin cake show’s tasting category prohibits such ingredients, because we can’t provide refrigeration and we’d fail an on-site health inspection if we allowed cream cheese frostings to sit out for more than four hours. For the safety of anyone eating your cake – particularly at-risk populations such as small children or the elderly – you should refrigerate leftovers. You can bring the cake back out to warm up before serving again. The book should at least make mention of this.]

I used regular non-stick spray with a flour coating in my non-stick pan, but wherever the cinnamon swirl baked through, it stuck a bit:

top of cake stuck in pan

The top was very sticky to the touch as well, so it’s no wonder it stuck to the pan. It wasn’t baked on so much as wet-glooped on.

I was able to peel the top out and loosely put it back on the cake, and then pour the glaze so that it helped anchor the top down.

finished cake

The glaze came out a bit lumpy despite lots of mixing, but it tasted good anyway.

Overall despite some typos in the recipe, this cake was delicious. Everyone in our household loved it. The texture is very fine and it has a good flavour without being overly sweet. I will definitely make this recipe again.

The second recipe I chose to review was the Cornmeal Pound Cake, which I decided would be a good fit for when we first got back to Cambridge because even though the recipe called for using an electric mixer – something I still don’t have in Cambridge but hope to acquire in the next few weeks! – I was reasonably certain I could hand-beat the recipe well enough based on the ingredients. Further, we have a 10-inch cast iron skillet in Cambridge whereas the one in Austin (currently on the shipping container) is a 12-inch.

I also had found cornmeal in the UK already, and noted that it’s often sold as “polenta”. It comes in different coarseness levels and the stuff I had on hand was fairly fine, so I thought it’d be a good test of the recipe to see if it’s flexible enough to handle various types since no doubt the regular cornmeal called for would be more coarse.

I didn’t feel like buying a large container of buttermilk just to use 1/3 cup, so I substituted about 1/3 of a tablespoon of vinegar mixed into 1/3 cup of whole milk instead. This is a standard substitution for buttermilk, and works with lemon juice instead of vinegar as well.

Knowing that I was tampering with the recipe and thus ensuring to evaluate it fairly on that basis, I proceeded. Again, the book version of the recipe differs from the blog version, especially in terms of leavening. The book version also has a honey-butter glaze, which I made as directed.

As above, my notes appear bolded and in square parentheses.

Cornmeal Pound Cake with Honey-Butter Glaze

From Grandbaby Cakes, reprinted with permission.



  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks [170 g]) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour [as above, this means you should sift the flour first and then measure one cup of it, although in this case I didn’t have a sifter so I just measured one cup, meaning I inevitably had more flour in the recipe than if I sifted]
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Honey-Butter Glaze

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter [28 g], melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey

For the Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F [177°C]. Liberally prepare a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or round pan with the nonstick method of your choice.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 2 minutes on high speed. Slowly add the sugar. Cream together for an additional 5 minutes, until very pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Turn your mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly add the flour and cornmeal in 2 batches. [I assume this meant to mix the flour and cornmeal together and then add half of that, mix, and then add the other half and mix again. But it might mean that I was supposed to add the flour first and then the cornmeal, mixing in between. I’m not sure if there’s an end result difference or not anyway, but it wasn’t fully clear. The blog version is vague as well about whether you should be pre-mixing your dry ingredients, which is a fairly standard thing to do, but it doesn’t make mention of two batches.] Add the salt. Be careful not to overbeat. Pour in the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mxi the batter until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. [Given that she’s warned against overmixing twice, it’d make more sense to have the dry ingredients pre-mixed.]

Pour the batter into the prepared skillet or pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Set aside to slightly cool. Lightly cover the cake with foil or plastic wrap so it does not dry out.

For The Honey-Butter Glaze

Whisk the butter and honey together until well blended. Serve the cake with the glaze spooned over each portion.

Unsurprisingly, the cake looks like cornbread when it comes out of the oven, especially being in the cast-iron pan:

cornbread cake in pan

Very nice browning all over for an impressive-looking cake.

This time the non-stick method of my choice was Goop, because Goop is awesome. This was a sticky batter and look how gorgeously and perfectly it popped out of the cast iron pan:

underside of cake

That’s a variance in browning on the bottom…it didn’t stick to the pan AT ALL. My husband and I were incredibly impressed that I could just flop a cake out of the cast iron like that. Goop rules!

I made this in the late afternoon and then served it for dessert after dinner, and everyone in the family really liked it.

cake with glaze

A slice of the cornbread pound cake with the honey-butter glaze on top.

My husband and I agreed that it didn’t have as fine a crumb as the cinnamon roll pound cake, and we further agreed that if I made this again with a mixer and a sifter, it probably would. But even without those things, it was quite nice. The finer corn meal does not seem to have made it dry, but I’m going to try to get some coarser polenta for the next time I try it to see what it’s like that way as well.

It’s a really nice dessert version of cornbread. My toddler is currently obsessed with cornbread and cake, so when we gave her some and told her it was both, she made baby-woot type noises, and then shoved it in her face.

It would make a fantastic dessert after a barbecue.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a really charming, homey, friendly cake recipe book full of interesting Southern-inspired recipes, Grandbaby Cakes is a good buy. Even though it comes from a blog, the recipes have been altered for the book so you can’t just get them all for free on the blog. Inexperienced bakers should be cautious as some instructions are not written as clearly as they could be, but with some common sense, Googling, and careful checking as you go, you should be fine.

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Goop Part 2 – The Shortening Strikes Back

When I shared my excitement about realizing just how well Goop (equal parts by volume of flour, vegetable oil, and shortening mixed together) works to release baked goods from pans in the previous post, some friends on social media were understandably dubious about my claims that it worked better than more traditional grease-and-flour methods.

So to be thorough for my own benefit as well as theirs, yours, and SCIENCE, I decided to rotate my owl do some experimentation using my breakfast muffins which had been previously sticking quite badly to my pan.

In the photo below, from left to right, I did the following more standard methodologies of grease-and-flour: vegetable (sunflower) oil spray plus flour dusted on (the UK does not appear to have flour-in-the-spray available for purchase), shortening wiped generously and then floured, and butter wiped generously and floured.

preparing muffin tin

L-R: vegetable oil and flour, shortening and flour, butter and flour.

I then coated all other cups with Goop. The batch I made for the previous post using a 1/2 cup each of flour, shortening, and oil still has tons left.

I baked my muffins as usual, and here were the results:

used pan

The Goop-lined cups are on the top row, the oil, shortening, and butter are on the bottom.

The cups using Goop released their muffins with barely a nudge. Crumbs left behind fell off but are not stuck on.

The vegetable oil spray plus flour was terrible, which I expected since it’s what I’d been doing before I found the Goop. The muffin stuck, had to be carefully chiseled out with a plastic knife, and tore at the bottom as it came out.

The shortening plus flour worked very well, though, pretty much just like the Goop. So if you don’t want to make Goop, use shortening plus a flour dusting.

The butter plus flour was better than the vegetable oil spray but not as good as the shortening or the Goop. The muffin did come out with little left behind, but it took a lot of gentle cajoling with the plastic knife, and it did almost tear in the bottom middle. You can see that it left a thin film stuck there.

So the results are that Goop works better than vegetable oil and flour by a lot, beats butter and flour by a bit, but is tied with shortening and flour.

Use this data as you will. I like Goop because it’s fast and easy once you have a batch in the fridge, saving me precious time to write the next blog post…

Update: Check out Mat Brown’s test of Goop! And friends on G+ keep reporting other successes. Haven’t heard anybody not love it yet!

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I Am On Team Goop/Back In The UK

For those who didn’t already know, I spent the last 8 weeks back in Austin. We got our stuff out of storage and promptly re-packed it for an international move. We sold the car, we’re in the process of selling the house, our stuff is (hopefully) on a boat on its way to Cambridge, and we arrived back in Cambridge on Wednesday.

While in the US I agreed to do several product and book reviews, so I’ll be posting those over the next week or so, all well in time for your Black Friday shopping needs while I relax in the UK and instead of coping with Black Friday or Thanksgiving will get to have an actual birthday dinner without being run over by crazed shoppers or holiday goers. Yay!

When back in Austin, we ate a lot of Trader Joe’s stuff including their cornbread mix, plus a lot of Hebrew National All Beef hot dogs, because neither of those brands are available here in the UK. Robin in particular has become a major fan of both hot dogs and, as she calls it, “CORN BLEH!”

So today for the girls’ lunch I tried this Hip2Save recipe for pseudo corn dogs in the form of hot dogs stuck into corn muffins. My mini muffin tin is on the boat, but I have two regular muffin pans here in my UK kitchen; one is old, inherited from the folks we bought our furniture from when we first got over here, and the other is newer but has already been used many times for high-heat applications like the Yorkshire puddings my husband will be making again for dinner tonight.

Because he needed that muffin tin tonight and because my breakfast muffins have already been sticking to both pans something awful, and because the UK does not seem to have the flour-in-the-spray type cans, I decided I needed to do something to make these cornbread muffins today without having them stick in a jackhammer-required mess.

I googled for homemade flour spray and found this I Am Baker post about Goop. It’s basically equal parts flour, shortening, and vegetable oil. The shortening we have in the UK is called Trex which is slightly different than US shortening (and sadly not at all like a T-Rex which would be awesome), but I gave it a go anyway. I made up a batch of a half cup of each ingredient and used my rapidly-disintegrating pastry brush to spread it around the muffin tin (I meant to bring some of my good ones back on the plane, as I did with some spatulas and a ladle, but the guy packing my kitchen got to the pastry brushes before I did so now I have to wait for the boat).

Here is the short form review of Goop:


This is life changing stuff, people.

The slightly longer review is as follows:

With something as sticky as cornbread, I expected at the very least to have to use a silicone spatula to scrape them out and leave a layer in the pan.


Check this out…here’s the pan of cornbread muffins (some with hot dogs stuck in for Peo, some with hot dogs cut up for Robin):

cornbread muffins with hot dogs

Recipe from Hip2Save here, cooked a bit longer for the larger pans. Pretty tasty although I think the sugar can be cut in half next time. I didn’t have buttermilk so I used a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in semi-skimmed (1%) milk. I used basic Aldi frankfurters which are okay, but not as good as Hebrew National All Beefs, sigh.

And here’s what happened when I merely nudged one of the muffins with my fingers:


THAT SUCKER JUST ROTATED AND FLIPPED. No sticking, no tearing, nothing.


Better still, when I went to wash the pan the Goop remnants washed off easily, not all tarry like flour/canola spray.

If I was still in the US, I would never buy flour spray again. Goop blows all sprays out of the water, off the field, and straight into outer space never to be seen again. It’s a fraction of the cost, it only takes a short time more to spread it around (it’s faster than greasing and flouring), and it works so much better than anything else other than perhaps parchment paper. I’ll probably still use parchment paper for larger cakes for stability when removing from the pans, but for all muffins, smaller loaves, etc, I will now only use Goop.

Try it. You’ll be amazed.

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


This is going to be a quick little post because we’re in the middle of an international move. But while we’re temporarily back in the US to get our stuff packed up and sent to England, we’ve been eating US foods we can’t get over there, such as Shake’n’Bake for pork chops.

The other day my ten year old daughter Peo had a genius moment, I don’t even mean the whole string theory thing this time. She asked, “Can you shake’n’bake bacon?”

I thought about it for a moment and realized bacon is just another pork product, so I said I didn’t know but that we could give it a try.

So tonight alongside a pork chop dinner, I took five strips of regular grocery store bacon (supposedly “thick cut” but it’s been years since I’ve seen actual thick slices of bacon from a US supplier) and put them in the Shake’n’Bake baggie the same as I’d done with the pork chops moments before. I used the Original Pork flavour. It took a few extra shakes because they’re long and fold up on themselves, but otherwise no special handling was required.

Then I put them on their own tray and baked them along with the pork chops in a 400F oven for 20 minutes.

It turned out that 20 minutes was a bit long. I should’ve removed them at 15 minutes because they got a bit overdone. But other than that, it actually worked!

bacon on tray

You can see the right side is too dark and a bit too much fat has rendered out. Five minutes earlier would’ve been perfect.

It comes out as breaded, crispy bacon. Peo liked them too.

Peo eating bacon

Peo: “Oh my god these are SO GOOD!”

So there you have it. You can totally use Shake’n’Bake directly on strips of bacon. Just don’t overcook it. 15 minutes at 400F/200C for “thick” strips, less time for thin strips, or possibly drop the oven down to 375F/190C.

They’d probably make good dipping snacks for those into that sort of thing.

Be back soon with some other posts since I’ve been given some products to try and books to review while in the US. I also just did a demo for the Austin cake club on a bleeding skull cake, so I’ll post that soon too. Getting to those as fast as I can!

Posted in Experimental Techniques, Lunch, Main Dishes, My Recipes, Other Food | Leave a comment

3D Candy Filled Discworld Cookie (Not Onna Stick)

I recently did a demo for my local British Sugarcraft Guild chapter about the 3D Candy Filled Cookies I’ve been making, and someone suggested that one could make a turtle cookie. I told her that was a great idea.

And then I went home, made one, and stuck four elephants and a flat planet on it because Terry Pratchett rules.

cookie shaped like a turtle flying through space with elephants on its back

Technically that’s three cookies: the base round cookie, the dome cookie on it to make the pocket for the candy, and then another round cookie on top for the Discworld itself.

This project was particularly poignant for me not just because of Pterry’s recent passing, but because the first cake tutorial I ever posted online was for a Discworld cake made so long ago that the photos were taken on film and had to be scanned into a computer. Some of you are young enough to not even understand half of what I just said. Just pretend I’m a dinosaur. Rawr.

Anyway, here’s a tutorial on how to make your very own Discworld cookie!

Start by making the base cookie pre-filled with candies of your choice as shown here in the Baseball Cap Cookies Tutorial and have one round cookie the same size as your bottom cookie on the side. In the photos below I happen to have used a completed base that was covered in chocolate on the outside too because I had that leftover from my demo. That’s entirely optional and doesn’t affect the construction of the Discworld cookie.

starting cookies

You’ll need one completed base cookie (comprised of a round bottom and a domed top assembled as per the base cookie instructions here) and an additional round cookie.

To make the underside of the shell, mix some yellow food gel into some Caucasian flesh toned fondant. If you don’t have pre-tinted Caucasian flesh tone, you can mix from white with some yellow, a tiny bit of red or dark pink, and a touch of light brown. The colour doesn’t have to be precise as long as it’s differentiated from the upper shell.

yellow being added to flesh fondant

How much yellow you’ll need depends on the strength of the colour you’re using. This brand is pretty weak so I had to use a lot. Go a little at a time until you get the shade you want.

When you have a shade you like for the underside, roll it thin and cut a circle wider than your base cookie as shown below.

base cookie on bottom layer

You want a good 1 to 1.5 cm all around, or about a half inch.

When you’ve got the right size, brush that fondant with water all over, mount the cookie in place in the centre, and then gently fold up sections around where the flippers, tail, and head will be, as shown below.

diagram of fixing the underbelly to the cookie

The tail hole should be small with the largest hole for the head directly opposite so it’s easier to start with those to help you divide the rest into sections. The fin holes should all be about the same size and equally spaced around.

The moistened fondant should stick in place on the cookie if you give it a little push at each of the folded up points.

Carefully flip your cookie over into your non-dominant hand so you can use a sculpting tool, a toothpick, or the dull back end of a butter knife to make width-wise indentations along the shell bottom like this:


These don’t have to be perfect and may not even be seen. In fact they’re probably optional depending on how detailed you want to be.

If you are in a very dry environment or have to pause at this point, place the cookie in a plastic bag or tub while you work on the next bit, but on a corn starch dusted surface so it doesn’t stick. When it comes time to insert the fins, tail, and head, you want that underbelly to still be pliable but not to be glued to whatever it’s sitting on.

Take any spare of the underbelly colour you’ve got, add more of the Caucasian flesh tone if needed, and add a bit of brown/chocolate fondant. This will make A’Tuin’s head, fins, and tail, so you need enough make those lumps. Again, this colour doesn’t have to be perfect but by using some of the same colours you already were, it creates a unified palette. OMG I think I almost qualified for an art degree by using those words in a sentence.

flesh and brown

Blending the turtle’s flesh tone.

As you mix, you can ensure you have enough by testing out the next step as you go. Make an elongated, thick patty of the flesh tone and cut it into sections with a large lump at one end for the head, four roughly equal sections in the middle for the fins, and a small lump at the other end for the tail. If you do this and it looks like you haven’t mixed enough, add more and remix until it looks right.

dividing fondant

Dividing up the flesh tone for the head, fins, and tail. Pre-cutting like this helps ensure you have what you need and won’t run out of your custom colour mid-fin. It also helps ensure the fins all have about the same amount of fondant which will make sculpting the same size easier later.

Next, shape the body pieces. Roll the head into a ball for now. Roll the tail into a short, tapered snake. Roll all of the fins into long tapered snakes, and then pinch out one side to form the fins. Be sure to make two right handed fins and two left handed ones. See the diagram below for how to shape the fins.

making fins

Starting from the lower right corner and working clockwise: make a long tapered snake, pinch out one side, flatten the whole thing slightly, then smooth it out and curve the tip towards the back of the turtle.

Place the fins and tail into position on the gaps you left in the underbelly, moistening the body end of each part as you go to help them stick to the underbelly and the cookie. You may need to gently widen the gaps to accommodate the body pieces and then pinch them back closed.

placing fins and tail

Make sure the underbelly is firmly against the pieces to help hold them on.

Press some of the fondant from the tail and each firmly against the cookie, slightly smushing it in and upwards as you go to really anchor those pieces on.

smushing fins into place

Work that moistened fondant right up hard against the cookie to make sure it sticks. That’s a lot of weight hanging off to the sides so you need to maximize surface area contact where you have it.

Gently roll the head ball between your palms to give it a bit of a tapered, tear-drop shape.

forming the head

This forms a bit of a neck but also gives you material to smush onto the cookie because again, you need this connection to be strong.

Use a ball tool to make gentle indentations for the eyes and a sculpting tool, toothpick, or blunt back of a knife to indent a mouth line.

making the mouth

You can make him smiling or not as you prefer. The gap will close a bit as you handle the head to mount in on, and you can also smooth it with your fingertips if necessary.

As with the body pieces before, place the head into position, press the neck end firmly onto the cookie so you’re actually smushing some of the fondant over the cookie itself, and bend the underbelly up around the neck as required.

mounting the head.

See how the neck is really pushed and spread onto the cookie to help hold the whole head in place.

Test lift the cookie carefully at this point. If any of the pieces look like they’re going to break off, pinch-smush them more tightly up against the cookie. You will be putting the shell over these smushed sections so don’t worry about how they look, just that they’re a good, tight, strong fit. Because you won’t convert nearly as many people to your new space turtle religion if the turtle’s head keeps falling off. I mean you’ll convert some, sure, but only in a very small god sort of way.

Once you’re sure the parts are on firmly, set the cookie aside on a corn starch dusted surface so it doesn’t stick. Alternatively, if you’re unable to get the pieces to stay on and want to serve the cookie mounted on a plate or board, set it on that plate or board now. This is a good choice for kids or beginners who would be heartbroken if it fell apart when lifted, or if the piece will need to be transported before it can sit overnight to dry (ie if you’re making these at a Discworld-themed cookie craft party, which would be an AWESOME PARTY and please invite me because if you’re the sort of person who would host such an event I want to be your friend).

Next: on with the shell!

You can go with straight green, brown, or whatever colour you think is best. A’Tuin is supposed to have a well-scarred shell from eons of meteorites, but that’s a bit complicated at this scale. I like the look of a marbled shell so I’ll show you how I made this one with various shades of green and brown, but if that’s too complicated go with a single colour.

To mix the marbled colour, start with balls of two shades of green, brown, and yellow. For the green here, I used the pre-coloured Renshaw green but added some green food colouring to one ball to deepen and darken it.


Adjust the relative sizes as desired. Just make sure you have enough that when you roll it out flat, there’s enough to cover the whole cookie.

Roll each colour into several long snakes and line them all up randomly in a row, pressed together, like this:

lining up colours

Some curving will happen naturally since the ends of your snakes are thinner than the middles. Go with it; this will just help add to the curves in the final result.

Use a rolling pin to roll the snakes flat together, rolling lengthwise along the snakes. Fold the rolled fondant back on itself and roll it out again. Do this one or two more times until you have a stripey bit of fondant with the colours starting to blend together.

Gather the piece into a ball but taking care not to overmix. Roll that ball out very thin over corn starch so it doesn’t stick to your rolling surface. Look at both sides and decide which marbled surface you like better and turn that one upwards.

marbled fondant

I liked this side because it had some strong brown bits but also a lot of nicely blended yellows and greens.

If you happen to have hexagonal mini cutters, that will make the next step easy. If not, you can just cut hexagons roughly with a sharp knife. Either way, chances are your cookie is not enough of a perfect sphere for hexagons to line up precisely, so you’ll be patching in various shapes as you go. Remember that A’Tuin is a giant space turtle, so nobody’s going to judge you for imprecise shell placement!

Start with a hexagon in the top at the middle (attached with a bit of water or if necessary, a bit of water with corn syrup/golden syrup), and then make six more of the same size and place them around the edges of the first. Gently press them out to fit together as well as you can and where necessary, take a spare bit of your marbled colours and press into place to cover any gaps.

Make more hexagons and work the next row, adding extra bits as needed, and trimming the hexagons as you bump up against the underbody. Pinch the underbody and top shell bits together as you go around to firmly connect them; this will also help hold the fins, tail, and head in.

placing the top shell

Start with a top central hexagon and then work your way down to meet the underbody, smoothing the pieces and filling any gaps as you go.

Once the shell is done, you can add final details.

You can bring out the mouth line by painting in a very watered-down bit of brown food gel, and then immediately wiping off the outside area around the mouth. This isn’t required, but can help the mouth stand out a bit.

Make eyes by forming two small balls of white and pressing them into place with a tiny bit of water in the indentations on the head. Then make two very small blue dots, pinch them flat between your fingers, and apply them to the whites with a bit of water. Repeat this with even smaller dots of black, centred on the blue. Then add a single white sprinkle or a tiny dot of white fondant as a highlight to the eye.

adding details

Be sure to position the eyes so they’re looking in the same direction or else A’Tuin will look like Cookie Monster. Which is a whole different religion, I’m sure.

For the spots on the head and fins, first put a drop of yellow food gel on a food-safe palette (an old margarine tub lid is perfect for this!). Add a drop of water and mix it a bit, but not completely. Use a brush to dab this rough yellow mix randomly over the head and fins.

Next add a drop of brown food gel and repeat the steps with the water. Using the same brush you had in the yellow without rinsing it, dip it in the brown and dab that on top of the wet yellow spots you just painted. Don’t worry about perfect overlapping: the idea is to have them slightly off-centre so there’s a visible yellow bit and brown bit to each spot.

head detail

Note how the spots vary in size and relative amounts of the two colours. This makes them look more natural. It also makes it easy for you to plonk ’em on quickly without worry.

That completes the turtle portion, so next we can move on to the Discworld itself and the elephants!

For the water on Discworld, take some light and dark blue fondant and marble them roughly together.

mixing blues

Use much more light blue than dark so the dark is just giving a hint of waves and not dominating the piece.

Roll out the blue mixture thinly. Lightly place the cutter you used dull-side down on the blue to estimate where the edges of the cookie will be, and then cut a wobbly, wide edge so that there will be “drips” of water flowing over the side of the cookie.

making water

Follow wave lines where they naturally exist to enhance the watery look.

Affix the water onto the cookie using a bit of water and corn syrup/golden syrup.

Position the cookie on an elevated surface that is smaller but still stable so the “drips” can hang down over the edge to firm up. I used a little ramekin. You could also use a bowl, a cup measure, etc. As long as it’s not going to fall over and still gives room for the “drips” to hang freely.

positioning cookie on ramekin

It’s okay to leave bits of the cookie edge exposed and other bits over-covered. That enhances the look of water flowing over the edge.

Refer to a Discworld map to make an approximation in miniature on the cookie. I actually went by my old cake because that was already reduced down in complexity while retaining some of the key features such as the central mountains and the main continents.

For the continents, shape flattened little blobs of leftover green/brown turtle shell mix and affix them into place with some water. Then dab-paint them a bit of red and/or brown gel colour to add some highlights. For the mountains, make white tear drop shapes and press-smush them into place with a tiny bit of water. Drizzle thinned out green and/or brown over them and then wipe the tops clean back to white.

making the Discworld

This doesn’t have to be perfect at this scale. Only the worst pedants would criticize an awesome 3D candy-stuffed Discworld cookie, and my rule is PEDANTS DON’T GET COOKIES.

Set the Discworld aside to dry as you start work on the elephants.

The elephants actually need to bear some weight and not fall off of the cookie. Further, given that this is a cookie, you really want to avoid internal structure, especially inedible structure. On a cake you could have the elephants hiding dowels, but here I recommend against trying to use toothpicks or even dried spaghetti as supports because you’re going to have to embed those in the cookie and that’s going to be very difficult to do without cracking it.

What’s better is to make the elephants strong themselves, and that means being made out of a single piece of fondant instead of making bodies, legs, and heads all separately. Think about it: if you’ve got to dry a body on top of legs so it doesn’t slide off, you’ll need many more days for this project, each point of contact is a potential point of failure, and you’ll have to do a lot more work.

I realized as I was typing up the instructions for how to make the elephants that it’d make more sense in a video. If you want to skip the long video, follow the photos below instead.

Mix up some grey fondant, divide it into four equal chunks, and roll them each into a ball about one inch or two to three cm big. Pinch the bottom of the ball lightly to make a sort of mushroom shape as shown in the photo below. Pinch out the ears at the sides and then a trunk in front.

modeling an elephant

First steps of making a one-piece mini elephant.

Continue pinching out and smoothing the shapes until you have rounded ears, a smooth trunk, and a pulled-out body ending in a tail. Use a blunt knife tool (or the back of a regular knife) to indent around the base to make legs, but do not cut through.

elephant from side

Shaping the elephant.

Put your thumbs in the ears and gently round them, pinching out the edges very thin. Roll the trunk gently in your fingers to round it and stretch it. Use a mini sculpting tool with a blunt end (or a toothpick if you don’t have the tool) to gently poke a hole in the trunk.

basic elephant

The elephant before details are added.

Use a small ball tool (or the rounded end of a paintbrush) to indent for the eyes, and then the same tool you used on the trunk to make indentations on either side of the trunk for the tusks. Let the elephants firm up for a few minutes but not dry thoroughly, as you need them to remain flexible for assembling the final cookie.

four elephants being made

I should totally make some kind of horror movie with these. THE DAY OF THE FACELESS ELEPHANT ZOMBIES.

Next, make tiny white eyeballs and insert them into the indentations with a bit of water. Make tusks by shaping tiny bits of white fondant into elongated snakes and gently put them in place in the openings on either side of the trunk. If you’re having trouble shaping them, use a damp (not wet) paintbrush to help you push them where you want them to go.

Make pupils out of small bits of black fondant, dark sprinkles, or poppy seeds and stick them on with a tiny bit of water. I used poppy seeds for these ones and it gave them somewhat startled expressions, which amused me.

Finally, make super teeny tiny white balls and affix them to the front of the feet as toes. Since the fronts of the back legs aren’t seen, you can just do the front feet, or perhaps one toe to the side on the back feet if you wish.

Say hello to your four little elephants!

completed elephants

Berilia, Great T’Phon, Jerakeen, and Tubul. Did you know the Discworld elephants have names? I did…because I just Googled and found a wiki. Yay interwebz!

Now you should have your turtle, your Discworld, and your elephants all ready. It’s time to assemble everything together.

Paint the top of the turtle’s shell with a bit of water to make it nice and sticky. Position the elephants so each is facing a quarter turn differently than the one before it, as shown below:

positioning the elephants

Remember, they’re walking around in a constant circle so the position doesn’t have to be perfect so long as it’s fairly even.

Brush a bit of water between where the tail of one elephant touches the side of another. Gently press the elephants in towards each other so the tails stick to the sides. Smear a bit of the tops of the tails onto the sides as shown in the photo below. That sticks them all together which helps strengthen the whole unit.

sticking tails to sides

Sticking the elephants together in a way that won’t be seen once the Discworld is on top.

Lift the Discworld cookie over the elephants but don’t set it down just yet. Give it a look over and decide which way you want it oriented, taking into account where the “drips” are relative to the elephants’ faces that you want seen. Hold it right over the elephants and look underneath to get an idea of where the ears are going to touch the underside of the cookie.

Move the cookie back to the side and make some small snakes of very moistened fondant. Smush those on the underside of the cookie about where the ears will touch. These should be sticky, gummy lumps on the underside.

Gently push the cookie down onto the elephants so the sticky lumps mush onto the tops of the ears. Give it a gentle twist back and forth a few millimetres as you push it down to help it really stick. Take care to look all around the cookie as you go and make sure nothing’s falling apart, leaning to the side, cracking, etc.

Once the cookie is in place, leave it to dry and you’re done!

finished cookie

All of the cookie parts assembled and drying together.

If you let it dry overnight, it should be solid enough to move around the next day. Because as we all know, the turtle moves.

right side

Right side view.

rear view

Rear view. I particularly like how freaked out this elephant looks with his tiny poppy seed eyes.

Delight your family and friends with your epic creation!

Robin looking at Discworld cookie

“I have no idea what this is, but I want to stick it in my face.”

And don’t forget to EAT IT.

panicked elephant

“Hey now, why is that kid coming at us with a knife?”

Peo cutting cookie

Peo did approach the dissection with a slightly disturbing amount of glee.

cutting cookie

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something delicious has happened.”

insides of cookie

Who knew space turtles have mini Smarties for guts?

Peo eating cookie

(I’m now having eerie memories of playing Violent Venable in a high school production of Suddenly Last Summer.)

Robin holding elephant

We gave one of the elephants to Robin.

Robin hugging elephant

She hugged it. D’awwww.

Robin still hugging elephant

She ate the Smarties but kept hugging the elephant, completely not interested in eating it.

Robin eating trunk

But then eventually she gave in and ripped its face off.

elephant remains

And then decided sugar elephants are not tasty, so she threw the rest on the floor. Poor elephant!

Now go forth and make your own Discworld cookie! Then rip it apart and eat it! BOOYEAH.

Posted in 3D Cookies, Cake Decorating, Cookies, Severe Nerdery | Leave a comment

Cubed Bacon With Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Noodles

That’s right, I said cubed bacon. Not sliced or crumbled, but cubed.

Because I’ve been getting this wonderful smokey, salty bacon from Radmore Farm Shop down the street, and sometimes it comes super-thick cut like this:

bacon slice

Nearly 1/4″ thick, this tasty bacon cooks up super-crispy on the outside with a tender, juicy interior.

It occurred to me that if only I could get an uncut lump of the bacon, I could cut it into thicker cubes in order maximize this crispy-juicy relationship. So I asked at the store and they’re more than happy to take orders for custom cuts of meat. I asked for a large chunk about a few inches thick, and boy did they deliver!

slab of bacon from side

What 728g or just over a pound and a half of uncut bacon looks like.

slab of uncut bacon

That’s a huge slab of meat! It even still has the skin on it which I could have made into crackling but nobody in this house likes it enough for the effort.

Here’s the label for anyone who wants the precise details:

Smoked Streaky Bacon label

That’s about US$7.65 by today’s exchange rate, so a really good price for that much small-family-farmed pork!

I wanted to make a dinner dish that would highlight the smokey, salty flavour of this bacon but not be too heavy, so I decided to put it together with some noodles, some of the nice asparagus that was in peak season that week, and some mushrooms which always go nicely with bacon and don’t add many calories themselves. I didn’t want a sauce that’d destroy the crispy bacon, so I opted to just put a bit of cheese in to liven up the noodles.

So to start, I removed the skin from the bacon and then cut the slab as follows:

cutting in half

First I cut the whole thing in half lengthwise.


Then I cut each half in half for thick quarters.

I should have drawn a picture so I could say I had it drawn and quartered, heh heh heh.



Then I cut each quarter strip into three segments of as equal thickness as possible, given the sloping ends from the curve of the meat.


Then I cut those strips into evenly-sized pieces, which yielded pretty good three-quarter-inch cubes.

I put them all into my 12″ nonstick pan. It was a bit crowded and I considered only putting half in and freezing the rest but wasn’t sure how much it’d shrink up. But given that we ended up with some leftovers and frankly this dish doesn’t reheat too well, next time I’d halve the recipe (at least until Robin’s old enough to partake) and freeze half of the cubed bacon.

bacon in pan

iPhoto decided one of these cubes needed a name, so I decided to call it Wilbur because I am a horrible person.

I set that to cook on medium-low setting so the browning would happen slowly enough to still allow the insides of the cubes to cook.

Meanwhile, I cut up a bunch of asparagus (about 250g or 8.8oz worth) into medium-sized chunks.


I weighed it because blog recipes require measurements but really, put in as much as you like of whatever you like.

And I diced up about 280g of white mushrooms.


iPhoto is obviously feeling lonely, so I’ll name this mushroom chunk Mycroft.

I also boiled up 150 g (three nests) of medium-wide Chinese egg noodles, as per the package’s directions for al dente/stir-fry, but about the same amount of any pasta would do.

As the bacon browned, I turned it regularly with a spatula, ensuring as I went that every side of every cubed touched the pan at least a little bit for maximum browning.

bacon frying

Oh hai, Wilbur!

Once it was thoroughly browned on all sides, I took it out with a slotted spoon and set it aside.

bacon in bowl

That’s some pig!

I cut one of the cubes in half to check that it was cooked through, and it was bubbling hot inside so I felt reasonably sure that it was. But it was still super juicy in there too, so my experiment had turned out as hoped!

cut bacon cube

Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside (it’s pink but not raw, it’s more like salty ham)…this is bacon on a whole new level of awesome!

I drained most of the fat out of the pan into a reserved bowl for another time but was sure to leave all of the brown bits in the pan. Then I tossed in the mushrooms on the bottom to start cooking first, with the asparagus on top so it’d steam a bit from the mushrooms releasing their water.

veggies in pan

Mycroft is hiding in this picture.

Once there was visible water in the pan from the mushrooms, I added a cup of chicken stock, let that heat to boiling, and then mixed the veggies occasionally until the asparagus looked bright green and enough liquid had cooked away that there was just a thin layer of it in the pan.

cooking veggies

Oh hai, Mycroft!

Then I turned the heat down to low, put the noodles in the pan, and tossed them around to mix up the flavours and let the noodles absorb what little liquid remained.

noodles in the pan

The noodles wanted to stick together a lot, probably to avoid being named by iPhoto. Or it could be that I really need my kitchen stuff from our Austin storage unit so I can have a proper pasta server again!

Next I added about a cup of grated Parmesan (the good and proper Parmigiano Reggiano stuff, don’t waste your time with shelf-stable fake cheese!) and tossed again on low heat just enough to let the cheese melt and mix in.

cheese in the pan

This amount of cheese gives the noodles a rich flavour without overwhelming the dish.

Once the cheese was incorporated, I turned off the heat and put the bacon back in the pan.

bacon back in pan

Wilbur, Mycroft. Mycroft, Wilbur. I hope you’ll be the best of friends for the short time you have remaining.

Another quick mix and voila, cubed bacon dinner!

meal on a plate

This combination of flavours was awesome, but feel free to add or substitute your own preferred ingredients!

Even Robin approved, especially of the long noodles.

Robin eating dinner

“Can’t talk, Mummy…eating Wilbur and having the beloved childhood stories of my future destroyed in advance.”


Cubed Bacon With Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Noodles
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
If you can't get uncut bacon to cube, regular or thick-cut will also do but won't be quite as special. This recipe serves four generous portions and doesn't reheat well so halve it if it's too much for one sitting. Feel free to change any of the veggies by season or preference.
Recipe type: dinner
Cuisine: Bacon
Serves: 4 large servings
  • One large lump of uncut bacon (about 0.72kg or 1.6lbs) or equivalent in regular or thick-cut bacon.
  • 250g or 8.8oz asparagus
  • 280g or 9.8oz white mushrooms
  • 150g (3 nests) medium wide egg noodles (I used Blue Dragon)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  1. Remove the skin/rind from the bacon if it's there. Use for another recipe or discard.
  2. Cut the slab in half lengthwise, and then each half in half so you have quartered it.
  3. Turn each quarter on its side and cut into three equal-width strips.
  4. Cut each strip into equal-width pieces to yield approximate cubes.
  5. Place bacon in a pan on medium-low heat and brown on all sides, turning as needed to ensure complete browning.
  6. While bacon cooks, trim any dried ends from asparagus and cut into chunks, approximately thirds for each stalk. Also chop the mushrooms into large chunks.
  7. Boil the noodles as per package directions for al dente or stir-fry. Drain and set aside.
  8. When the bacon is fully cooked, remove into a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain most of the fat and reserve for other recipes in the future. Leave a little bit of fat and the brown fond bits to flavour the vegetables.
  9. Place the mushrooms in the pan and the asparagus on top. Cook for 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat until mushrooms start to give up their water.
  10. Add chicken stock to pan and increase heat to medium so the stock boils. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until asparagus is bright green and most of the liquid has boiled off.
  11. Add the cooked pasta to the vegetables and reduce the heat to low. Toss to coat the noodles in the remaining liquid and fond.
  12. Add the cheese and toss again to mix thoroughly. Cook for about a minute, just until cheese is melting into the pasta.
  13. Turn off heat, add bacon to the pan, and mix.
  14. Serve immediately.


Posted in Dinner, Other Food | 1 Comment

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 | 1 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.


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.
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 1 bowl
  • 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
  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:


The entire display from the back.


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.


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!


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.


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


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, 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.


The autumn garden.


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.


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.

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