Nothing like a hot pink two-tier cake covered in hot pink buttercream roses to kick me back into blogging action. This was my first attempt at the style and it's by no means perfect. But I love the overall effect and it's shot straight into my Top 5 Ways to Decorate a Cake. Expect several variations on the theme to pop up in the next few months. They do say practise makes perfect!
Pass the Teapot had a festive makeover at the recent Ashton Court Christmas Fayre. There were multicoloured baubles, plastic reindeers and gold-studded cakes galore. If you can't go garish at Christmas time, when can you? It was one of those sunny, frosty days that make everything look like the aftermath of a glitter war. That, along with mugs of mulled cider, carol singers and sold out cake made for the perfect market day!
Often when I start writing a new blog post it is because there has been an occasion; a celebration of some sort or perhaps a public holiday. But today's post is not about one occasion in particular, rather a general celebration of the baking I do day to day. Whether that's a chocolate and salted caramel tower of a birthday cake, a Toblerone traybake to take into work on a Friday, a tupperware full of vanilla cupcakes to take round to my Gran's house or a pile of Rolo cookies just because, well, I want to eat some Rolo cookies. A little reminder that behind all the weddings, the markets and the recipe testing my favourite baking times are the ones that involve relaxing, experimenting and filling up my friends and family with cake!
This time two years ago I donned my wellies and trudged across frosty Shropshire fields in search of a house selling pumpkins. The perfect pumpkin found and purchased, I lugged it back to my parents' house and turned it into a pie.
I blogged about said pie and Pass the Teapot was born.
What better way to celebrate this birthday than with these wonky, spotty, stripy, ginger teapot biscuits.
Happy birthday to meeeeeeeeee.
Recently my Uncle was given this book by a family friend who found it in a large house in Staffordshire. The history of the book is sketchy but the owner is believed to have been a cook in said house during Victorian times. The book is the kind of old that made me nervous to touch it, afraid that it would dissolve under my touch. Every page oozed the personality of its unknown keeper, with it's handwritten recipes in that now rare, brilliantly scrawly old-fashioned cursive. I was so enamoured by the book that I took far too many photos and decided to share them with you. With pages and pages full of recipes and household tips it was hard to wittle them down but here are my 'best bits'.
The book begins with a few pages of carefully cut-out sections from what I can only imagine was a regular column in a magazine written by 'Isobel' advising ladies with household tips. A few of my favourites included 'How to Make Pot Pourri', 'How to Cure Bunions' and a piece that advises 'When making apple tarts save the pips, bruise them and add to the boiled milk for custard', which apparently imparts a 'delicate taste'.
I love this. A 'Mysterious Pudding'. On further inspection of the recipe, it became clear that this was a pudding laced with marmalade and boiled for an hour and a half. Mysterious that it was edible by the end of that perhaps.
Amongst the recipes and household tit-bits were various comments written in brackets. This redcurrant jelly was, apparently, excellent.
A recipe for 'Cake' and Little Cakes'. In a world full of lamingtons, parkins and red velvets, this simplicity is refreshing. Sometimes all you want is a recipe for Little Cakes.
And finally, it was the crossing-outs of a frustrated cook updating her recipe book, the hasty scribbling over a spelling mistake or a brief loss of concentration resulting in a misplaced letter that really brought this book, and it's owner, to life.
Last week I made two cakes for a beautiful little wedding at The Lansdown in Bristol. Triple-layered, 10-inch cakes of Carrot and Ginger and Blackberry and Apple, smothered in cream cheese icing and buttercream respectively. I was asked for simple, white cakes decorated minimally with gypsophila and paper butterflies. And this was the result.
(I picked up the flowers from a gorgeous little flower shop in Bristol. I recommend you get all of your flowers from there from now on). http://www.flowersofstokescroft.co.uk/
These little sugary mounds were something of a mistake. I was supposed to making banana muffins but there was something distracting on TV and I got all confused. In my confusion I ended up producing little muffins with no banana in and not enough sugar. I was poised with the muffin tray over the bin when I spotted a jar of the bf's nan's homemade berry jam in the corner of my eye. A lightbulb appeared over my head like in the cartoons. And so I set about slicing them in half, spreading them with jammy deliciousness, soaking them in melted butter and rolling them in sugar.
And the jammy doughnutty muffiny mess was born.
I am a little bit obsessed with mixing sweet and salty at the moment. A recent craze of mine involved buying a bag of salted pretzels, pouring a bar of melted dark chocolate over the top of them and popping them in the freezer to set. I urge you to try it.
Last weekend I took my obsession one step further by pouring a bowl of brownie mixture over the top of a bag of pretzels. The result - these salted pretzel brownie delights.
I used a brownie recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook and increased all of the ingredients by half again in order to make a deeper, thicker, denser brownie. That does mean there is almost a whole bag of sugar in these. They should really come with a health warning.
They were inhaled so quickly by myself and my friends that I didn't have time to get a photo of the finished product. You will have to make them to see them. You can find out how on the Recipes page.
I made lavender shortbread this week. It's a combination I've been intrigued about for a while now so when I spied a lavender bush in my parents' garden on a quiet afternoon I made a batch. I was slightly nervous that they they might taste a little bit like those little purple violet sweets you had when you were a kid. But they didn't. They were actually delicious. I added rice flour which gives them that crunch that you need from a good shortbread biscuit.
Click on the picture below to find the recipe.
Things have gone a little quiet on the blogging front of late. This is not due to lack of enthusiasm or want to share my baking endeavours. Quite the contrary in fact. Pass the Teapot has been experiencing some of its busiest and most exciting few months, mainly down to making its second appearance at the festival Secret Garden Party (remember last year?) It's just that whereas last year my working hours were a little more flexible, this year I took on the challenge of the four day festival alongside teaching full-time. Oh, and then decided to throw moving house into the mix and busy did not even come close. Ridiculous seems somewhat of a more approriate adjective to describe the last few months. Hence the luxury of sitting down at my laptop with a mug of tea has become a distant memory. Until now that is. As the school holidays stretch ahead of me begin I am finally able to sit back and take stock of recent events.
Secret Garden Party 2012 began as a rather soggy affair. Remember when it rained non-stop for weeks and weeks? Well we arrived in a field in the middle of Cambridgeshire during one of those delightful downpours. In an attempt to save the field from becoming too water-logged before the festival even began, the organisers had taken the decision to limit the amount of cars allowed to drive up to the stall pitches. Fair enough, but this inevitably resulted in huge queues and tirelessly lugging everything from the car park by hand. It was a logistical nightmare and in complete contrast to last year, when we arrived on a balmy evening and were sat admiring the completed stall, drink in hand, by sunset.
There were moments on that first Wednesday night, as I wrestled with the gazebo cover, in a frantic attempt to get it to resemble something of a protective roof whilst watching the torrential rain seep into the electrics, that I wanted to pack up, go home and gorge on cake.
But it's amazing what a fantastic Pass the Teapot team, steely determination and perhaps a touch of lunacy can achieve. Sure, it was way past midnight, we were head to toe in mud and hadn't even begun to decorate the stall but we were there and we had unpacked. We collapsed into our tent and set the alarms for a 6am start. Which brought with it more rain, shock at seeing our muddy pitch in stark daylight and a further desire to go home. Mud doesn't make for the best backdrop for Pass the Teapot. Flowers, teapots and a muddy field just aren't really a great match. But hey, it's a British festival and a spot of rain never stopped us before.
I won't bore you with the rest of the details of our first full day. Except to say that you know that song 'Things Can Only Get Better'? Well that could have been our anthem for the weekend. Things really did start to brighten up. People flooded in, all in typical festival joviality, looking for tea to warm them and cake to, well, do the British public ever need an excuse to eat cake? The clouds parted, the mud dried and eventually, finally, the sun came out. Not just hints of sunshine through grey clouds but blazing, hot, requiring-suncream kind of sun. Suddenly my biggest concern wasn't soggy cakes but melted cakes. For the entire weekend, the sun shone and still people needed no excuse to treat themselves to a slice of cake.
The whole experience was gruelling and, at times, extremely frustrating (the long walk to the nearest water supply being one of the main causes!) The overriding feeling of the whole experience though was one of fun and excitement. I could not have done it without such amazing friends helping me out and by Monday the whole team was exhausted. However, by the time we had packed up and were on the long journey back to Bristol the pain of that first night had been long forgotten and replaced by a feeling of pride at what we had accomplished.
Would I do it again next year? Absolutely, albeit a little better equipped to cope with a British summer. And hopefully with a van. Not only to haul the load with but, even better, to sell tea and cakes from. It's all part of my Pass the Teapot plan. And now I have time once again to begin making that plan a reality.
Decorating the stall
Receiving our 'green card' after an inspection