Party Idea: Sweet Station

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I was holding back on this post until a certain baby Isabella made an appearance. Now that she got to exist as a human, I really wanted to show you how we prepared for her arrival with a baby shower some time back. As sweet as babies are, we all wanted to make the day even nicer so I prepared a sweet station. It was quite simple to put together and it was such a hit – so much so I really want to be throwing another party soon so I can repeat it! We went with pink but as you decorate it all yourself, you can really go all out on the theme, the options are endless. I reckon a rainbow theme would work really well too.

DSCN2020 DSCN2024 DSCN2035Here’s what you’ll need:

– A few large bowls in all sorts of shapes, the huge decorative martini or wine glasses would work well too
– Ribbon to decorate
– As many types of sweets as you’d like (one per bowl)
– Cellophane bags with ties for takeaways
– Cookies
– Mini cupcakes
– A cake
– A cupcake stand (I used a cardboard one found in the pound store)
– Any party decorations/props which would suit your theme
– A party!

Arrange it all as artistically as possible and don’t forget to stuff yourself with all sorts of marvelous sweet things.

Here’s a close-up of the cake with the cutesy tiny presents I picked out for Isabella too:

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Et voila!

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My GBBO challenge

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2016 so far has been a year of many changes. On a personal level, I started a new job, we moved to our own apartment (I have my dream kitchen, yay!) and adopted a new furry four-legged child (you can follow his adventures on his Instagram). On an international level, Britain decided to leave the EU and the US didn’t chose their next president too wisely. But probably the biggest change for those interested in baking was the news that The Great British Bake Off as we know it is over! As of next year, it will be broadcast on Channel 4 instead of BBC1. Mel and Sue will no longer be presenter. And wait for it… Mary Berry will no longer be a judge. Paul Holywood is staying – but I do wonder who they’d find to soften his blows constructive criticism.

Which is why I simply had to buy this year’s GBBO book (even though the last 2 have been quietly sitting on a shelf for a while) – it will be the last one with Mel and Sue on the cover after all! The idleness of said books however had me thinking I should use those books more. This is why I have decided to challenge myself and bake as many recipes until next year’s Great British Bake Off.  This will not be a standard challenge of 100 recipes in 100 days or similar – with an anyways very busy schedule I would never be able to stick to it. But I do want to try and go through as many bakes as possible and aim mainly for things I have never made before. Like puff pastry – ain’t nobody got time for that when you can buy it in the shops, right?

I am looking forward to putting my baking skills to the test – what are your goals for next year?

I will miss Mary, Sue and Mel!

I will miss Mary, Sue and Mel!

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Oh, hello spring!

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This winter has been very very long albeit not very cold. But I am ready for the sun and the beach. And I can finally see the end of it – so as we welcome Spring, I feel like this is the last chance to share a winter cake still. Even though we live in a warm climate with plenty of sunshine and beaches, my other half still enjoys winter sports and we are lucky to have a ski resort not too far away from Gibraltar. So when he said he wanted to go skiing for his birthday in January, it was obvious what cake I should make for him. Living together did prove to be a challenge for a surprise cake but where there is will, there is a way – special thanks to my friend Tracy for allowing me to invade her kitchen so I can bake the cake in secret still! So the unsuspecting birthday boy got not only the iPhone 6 he’d been dreaming of for a while, but a ski chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting too! I was lucky he saw the humor in it and wasn’t at all offended by being pictured as just feet sticking out of a pile of snow*!

Side view Top view*When we went to Germany for Christmas, I brought back almost half a suitcase of cake decorating stuff – sprinkles, cookie cutters etc, but my best buy by far was a set of edible felt tip pens (8 different colors too). How did I live without them before? I definitely recommend them to everyone – they’re great for writing on fondant or dry royal icing.

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The travelling baker

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Time for some catching up – this post is well overdue but since in baking chronology is not really that important, I follow the rule of better late than never. So since I moved away from my home country just under 8 years ago, it’s not always easy to spend the holidays with family. Bulgaria, turns out, is not the easiest or cheapest destination to reach from Gibraltar. So the last couple of years we have tried to meet about halfway. We spent NYE together in Vienna last year and this year we decided to all head to Germany for Christmas. Markets, mulled wine, cold – the whole package. And cake because, you know, I simply cannot travel without sampling the local cuisine.

But this is not the story I wanted to share. What I wanted to share is how I managed to make a birthday cake for my dear sister while travelling. So I had been planning to make her a cake as we were renting an AirBNB in the city my dad is currently living in. But! Because there is always a but. It was a holiday flat so yes, you guessed it. No oven. The horror!!!! We quickly made a plan to use my dad’s landlady’s oven. However, around this time it started daunting on me she may not have all the tools I need. Also, how was I going to fool my sister in order to disappear for a few hours?

But I am also super good at solving problems. I quickly delegated to G to save the day. I pretended to be super tired after dinner on our second last night and had previously asked G to take my sister out for a drink on their own. We expected this to be the biggest challenge as she’s not a massive drinker neither does she like going out so much. But miraculously she agreed with no questions asked. I managed to get to my dad’s place, bake a cake and do the icing and be tucked in bed back at the AirBNB before the sister and the boyfriend came back from drinking the wine reserves of Speyer dry.

I was pretty sure she doesn’t suspect anything yet but had yet another hurdle to overcome. The cake was not iced or decorated yet – So my plan was to wake up early in the morning, go over, finish the cake and come back before the sister wakes up. But guess what – she had woken up earlier that day. G kept it cool: ‘I don’t know where she is’. Good that I do tend to go for runs in the morning that my sister thought I’d gone for a run. So we walked in with the cake and she was still very surprised! Admittedly, not my best bake (untested German ingredients, new oven, different tools) and not the best looking cake ever but made from the heart. So here is Vanina’s surprise red velvet birthday cake:

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One step closer

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I have some very exciting news to share! This week we got one (huge) step closer to me having a brand new kitchen, just as I want it, with a freestanding range cooker in bright red. We got the keys to our first owned flat! Soon I will be able to bake 8 cakes, or 8 trays of cupcakes or cookies, no biggie. You want rainbow cake? Yours in 2 hours. You want 95 cupcakes? Be ready in an hour.

This may not sound like a big deal to most people, however I have spent the last 4 years in a rental flat which is admittedly decent, but the oven is way older than me by the looks of it. It cannot retain it’s temperature throughout the bake, it’s so stained that I cannot see through the glass (despite my best cleaning efforts) and it doesn’t seem to work at all on lower temperatures. Plus, it isn’t fan so I can only bake one thing at a time. We’re talking a lot of burned cheesecake here or cakes taking forever to bake. SO CAN YOU TELL I’M SUPER EXCITED?

This may well mean less baking and consecutively less blogging but I will let you admire my future oven for a bit. Then you will know yourself it’s totally worth it in the long run.

oven

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Foreign eats

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In December I spent a considerable time out of town visiting foreign, German speaking countries. And as a true baker, I was on a mission to sample local sweet delicacies in order to be able to report on them here, and no other reason. Honest.

So here we go, in order of appearance:

1. Chimney cake in Vienna, Austria
Although the Austrians have no claim over this cake, also known as Kürtőskalács, I am forever grateful that it features in their traditional Christmas Markets. It originates from Hungarian-speaking regions of Romania apparently and is a sweet yeast dough which they roll around a spit, dip in cinnamon sugar (but there are variations to the dips – they can contain nuts e.g.)  and bake in a rotisserie. For me, there are only a few things better than digging into some of this chimney cake while it’s still hot. It is divine – soft and fluffy on the inside and crunchy and caramelized on the outside. We discovered it early on and kept coming back. Tip: We decided to save some for breakfast one evening but I recommend you didn’t. It had gone hard so best eaten while still hot!

chimney cake

The dough is being rolled around the spit – rotisserie in the background

2. Kaiserschmarrn in Vienna, Austria
G insisted we had some Sachetorte in Vienna. I however, refuse to give any more attention to this plain chocolate cake as it is already getting way more than deserved. Anyways, the queue at the original Sacher Hotel was about 3 miles long and it was freezing cold outside, so we settled for Cafe Mozart just around the corner from it. We ordered some Sacher cake but I wanted him to try Kaiserschmarrn – this is a shredded thick pancake which can be served directly in the skillet, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar and accompanied by plum jam or apple sauce (we were lucky, or should I say paid enough to get both). But to best describe it – imagine an incredibly light and fluffy sponge cake prepared in a pan on the hob rather than in the oven. And the best part about it? It can be legitimately eaten as a main course in Austria, not just dessert. Win!

The Kaiserschmarrn in Cafe Mozart

The Kaiserschmarrn in Cafe Mozart

3. Bavarian Snowball in Speyer, Germany
We didn’t actually go to Bavaria but they had Rothenburger Schneeballen (or Snowballs from Rothenburg) in Speyer, where we were spending Christmas. I just had to have one – it looked too good to miss out on. Turned out it’s nothing special – shortcrust pastry scrunched up in a ball, deep fried and sprinkled either with icing sugar or drizzled with glaze. I opted for a pistachio one and there seemed to be some green-ish looking paste in it but it didn’t taste to pistachios too much. I still recommend to try it but don’t expect to be wow-ed by it quite the same was by the chimney cake. It also makes a decent souvenir since it has a very long shelf life and looks better than a fridge magnet.

My pistachio Snowball

My pistachio Snowball

4. Black Forest Gâteau in the Black Forest, Germany
You must have heard of this cake before, also known as a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, which is pretty much chocolate sponge, whipped cream and cherries. It sound simple enough but it’s pretty delicious, especially if you soak the sponge in Kirschwasser, a clear cherry liqueur. So when I was told we were going to spend a few days in the Black Forest mountains, you can imagine what was on my mind – I need to try me some cherry cake from the place it actually comes from (or is at least named after – the history of this bake seems to be a little vague). But guess what – I didn’t actually have any for one reason or another. So I am unable to report on it – I did, however, think it important to mention I have at least been there. I did bring some vanilla Kirschwasser so may just make a Black Forest gâteau myself soon.

Do you also first think of trying the local desserts when you travel or do you have different priorities? I’d be curious to hear of any interesting desserts you have tried!

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Pink or blue, that is the question

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When the lovely Polly from Polly Mixtures / Mum on the Rock told me she is expecting baby number 2, I was very excited and happy for her. When a few weeks later she asked me if I would make a gender reveal cake for her, I was very happy and excited for myself! I had seen it on Cake boss but as it is more of an American tradition, I really did not expect to ever have to make one myself! So, of course, I jumped at the opportunity. Here’s how we made it happen:

Polly gave me a folded note from the doctor after her appointment (kudos for not looking!) and I made her a cake which was plain white on the outside. But she knew she’d know the gender of the baby when they cut it open – my task was to make the sponge either pink or blue! It was so hard not to go: ‘It’s a boy, Polly, a boy!’ when delivering the cake but I am glad I didn’t so the expecting parents could share this moment with friends and family :)

And here a few photos from before and after:

before 1 before 2 afer 1

Would you find out the gender of your baby with a cake? I personally think it’s very sweet (in more than one way). Only problem is I won’t be able to make my own cake, and isn’t this a shame?

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Cookie making

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I admire cooking and baking blogs which have beautiful photographs but often struggle with photographing my own creations or the process of making them. The kitchen is normally a mess so finding a good spot is a struggle, the natural light at my current home is pretty awful, I often bake late at night, the camera isn’t charged. And often not even the fanciest filter on Instagram (long live iPhone photography) cannot help. So it is a rare treat when someone is willing to take photos of me or my baking. These photos are well overdue – my wonderfully talented sister took them of me a year ago and I’ve been dying to share them but one thing led to another… Anyways, I am a strong believer in ‘Better late than never’ so here we go. Thank you, Vanina, I  love those shots almost as much as I love you!

Cookies & hands Tools Baked Cookies Decorated cookies

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Gift idea: Cookie jar

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No matter whether it is for a birthday, Christmas, Mother’s day etc. – you cannot go wrong with giving someone a cookie jar. And no, I don’t mean an empty one – to achieve maximum points, you’d need to actually bake the cookies to fill the jar. Home baked love is the best, I’m telling you. And the best part is you can customize the actual jar and the label so it makes a totally personal and awesome gift, especially if you are on a budget.

I had some ribbon which is covered in cupcakes (Coincidence? I think not 😉 ) and made the label using Canva which worked like a charm, and their free designs are really neat. Best part is that it saves your old designs once you register an account so you can reuse them. I filled the jar with these beauties but you can, of course, fill it with cookies of your choice. A spicy gingerbread will go nicely for Christmas. Would you give cookies as a present?

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Your chance to be a Cake King / Queen!

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For the last 9 Wednesdays I have tried to be firmly sat on the sofa to watch the Great British Bake Off which of course has made me think of my own TV debut 2 years ago (and the 5 minutes of fame which followed). I had the chance to participate in a local, small scale (Christmas) version of the Bake off and let me tell you – it was the best!!! You can read more here and see some snaps on my original blog post about it. It seemed as if it would be a one-off thing though so imagine my surprise when I found out it is happening again this year. Not only this but they also used my cake for the poster. Needless to say, I have already shared it all over the Internet and how could I miss my blog?

As the winner of the previous cake off, I will actually be participating as a judge this year (how exciting!!!!) and I do recommend it to all bakers in and around Gibraltar. I had a blast and it is definitely a story I will be telling my grandchildren one day. Now go and email them quick, you only have time until October 15th to secure your place. You won’t regret it, I promise. And I will not be as harsh as Mary Berry or Paul Holywood. Just sayin’.

gbc poster cake off

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