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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A love letter to a cake

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Recently I have been experimenting a little more with gluten free baking. I have done loads of gluten free cupcakes before but had my first go at GF pastry which turned out to be a success. But then I saw this recipe on Jemma’s YouTube channel and it really made me curious – no xanthan gum needed (a powder which acts like gluten to bind the ingredients together), no flour – just polenta and ground almonds. So I decided to make it. Admittedly, it didn’t turn out quite as fluffy as Jemma’s (it was nice and moist though) so it does need tweaking – maybe play a bit with temperature or baking time (after all, my current oven isn’t the best to say the least). But it still tasted good and I shared with some friends, not omitting  to mention the shortcomings of it. And then something unexpected happened. I got this:

Needless to say, I was happy to hear that the cake was liked so much but I was also a little disappointed. The actual creator of the cake has to this date never received such a letter. At least it’s good to know that the things I create provoke such deep feelings, isn’t it? Have a look at the cake yourself:

Whole

Before we cut it

The inside

The inside

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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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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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Minion pinata cake or else

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A friend of mine wanted a cake with a wow factor for her son’s 7th birthday who is currently very much into the Minions. She gave me cart blanche provided the cake has chocolate in it so my imagination went wild. Rainbow cake was out of the question since it’s quite hard to colour chocolate sponge but I reckoned a combination of the Minion yellow and chocolate will go down well. But this wasn’t wow enough – so I decided to make an otherwise unsuspecting Minion pinata cake!

ready cake

Looks like any other cake…

Here’s how to: You’d need 4 layers to achieve the pinata effect. I baked 2 yellow layers and 2 chocolate ones so the cake can be stripey. You then cut a round hole in the middle 2 layers. When assembling the cake, make sure you only put frosting around the edges of the first layer. Then put one cut layer on top, more frosting and the second layer with a hole. Then fill the hole with small candy of your choice – I like M&Ms as they’re colourful but you can use Maltesers, Skittles etc. Then put the top layer on top and ice the cake as usual. When you cut into it, the candy will spill out making it a pinata! And pinatas make any party amazing, don’t they?

before frosting

…until you cut it open!

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A horse stable cake

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YouTube is full of video tutorials for more or less anything you ever need to learn doing. Regardless if you’re looking for a hair style, how to change a car tire or how to pack a suitcase – it’s got it all. One thing it does lack though is decent tutorials on making horses out of florist paste or fondant. So when I was asked to make a horse riding themed cake, I had all these magnificent ideas how to make a horse jumping over a hurdle. However, after hours of trying and tons of florist paste wasted (and a million videos watched), I had no other choice but to settle for cartoonish looking horses, made a few jumps and the birthday boy out of fondant and decorated the cake as a horse stable. I was still happy with the result but if you are a good cake decorator, you know how to make horses and have free time, please make a video tutorial. I will be eternally grateful.

Horse_riding_cake

The end result

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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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Winter is coming! [GoT cake inside]

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Last week we celebrated a dear friend’s 30th birthday. As it was quite the milestone, we went all out! Beach barbeque on the actual day, a weekend away in Tarifa with a Game of Thrones theme, all the works! This meant a few busy weeks – sorting out outfits, cakes, presents but in the end it all came up beautifully and we had one very happy birthday girl.

We put together a pretty presents display for her on the beach and were lucky to have a clear day so Africa acted as a natural backdrop. Magical!

displayFor the weekend celebrations, I had to make a themed cake. As it turns out, a Game of Thrones cake is not a easy thing. I initially wanted to make Joffrey’s crown out of chocolate and paint it gold for the cake topper. The weather was really not accomodating though – too hot for the chocolate to set, yet if you put in the fridge to set, it will sweat when it comes out so you cannot paint it. Then I tried royal icing, failed again. After 2 weeks of trying, I finally gave up on the crown idea and focused elsewhere. An iron throne should be easier to make, right? And easy enough it was, but little did I realise it will take so long!!! I used 2 YouTube tutorials combining making the actual throne from styrofoam and covering it in tiny swords made of sugar florist paste (I find the Squires Kitchen one the best). Note to self: do not use super glue for styrofoam. It somehow doesn’t agree and the glue eats through the styrofoam. Yikes!

Once I had the throne ready, I baked a simple chocolate cake and made a Nutella buttercream as per the request from the birthday girl. Then covered the cake in white fondant and blood made of red royal icing. On top I placed the throne and added 3 plastic dragon toys. I was pretty proud of the end result, what do you think?

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MotoGP themed birthday cake

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When a friend asked me to make a MotoGP or Formula 1 themed cake for her dear boyfriend, I quickly did a Pinterest search to get ideas. I knew my time for this cake would be limited and almost had a heart attack when I saw all the extremely elaborate designs on the Internet. So I had to get really creative in order to fit the cake in my already very busy schedule but still be able to deliver a cool cake. Which is when the local supermarket came to the rescue. I was stocking up on the usual: flour, butter, sugar when I spotted a tiny red motorcycle toy with MotoGP written on it hang off a random food isle. SCORE!

The actual cake had this Guinness base (I simply doubled the recipe to be able to cut the cake in 2 layers) but I needed a slightly stiffer frosting than cream cheese in order to avoid covering the cake in fondant (I don’t like the taste of it) so I used another favorite – Kahlua mascarpone. I cut the MotoGP logo by hand (other than the letters) from fondant and drew the shape of a nearby MotoGP circuit (the one in Jerez de la Frontera) in black royal icing. The birthday boy loved it! And here’s a few pictures:

MotoGP cake 2 MotoGP cake

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