Food Bloggers Unplugged and The Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you so much to lauralovescakes for tagging me in the Food Bloggers Unplugged game and also to Sharyn from The Kale Chronicles for kindly nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award!

This means I get to share a little bit more about myself with you and then tag some of my other favourite bloggers to tell us a little more about themselves and their inspiration too.

So where to start? For the Versatile Blogger Award I am supposed to reveal 7 little known things about myself and tag 10 other bloggers, but I realised that I could answer the 10 questions from Food Bloggers Unplugged and thereby reveal more. (Hope that makes sense!)

1.   What, or who inspired you to start a blog?

I’m not entirely sure where it came from to be honest. I hadn’t even read a lot of blogs before I started blogging myself. I had however watched Julia and Julia and loved it. Then out of the blue one day the idea of baking my way around the world in eighty bakes hit me whilst on my way to work and I downloaded the wordpress app on my phone and that was that.

2.   Who is your foodie inspiration?

Oh so many! I just found out that my great grandma worked as a baker so I guess its been in the family for quite some time now, but I have always enjoyed baking. I baked with my mam as a child and have carried on since then. I do seem to have amassed rather a lot of cook books now too ranging from Marguerite Patten, Mary Berry, Delia, Nigella, The Hummingbird Bakery and a few more!

3.   Your greasiest, batter – splattered food/drink book is?

Most definitely my mam’s copy of Marguerite Patten’s Everyday Cooking, although I seem to spill something on every book as soon as they enter the kitchen. I quite like it when they have medals of honour on them, with a splash of batter here and a stripe of food colouring there. Each stain is a memory of baking something lovely.

4.   Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?

Dear me. This is tough. I’ve eaten lots of amazing meals in a few countries but one thing that stands out is Dim Sum in Hong Kong, or grilled eel in Japan, or the fresh fish we had in Fiji, so dense it was more like meat. (I have no idea what type of fish it was but the guys on the island had just caught it that day.)

5.   Another food bloggers table you’d like to eat at is?

I would love to dine at quite a few of my fellow food bloggers tables. I’m often disguising a rumbling tummy as I read their posts! I think Urvashi (The Botanical Baker) makes wonderful food, I’m still thinking about her chilli chocolate loaf and also Sharyn (The Kale Chronicles) cooks lots of healthy and wholesome things! I’d love to try her sour dough bread! or She Cooks and He Eats makes a mean full of meat lasagne! I would love to eat with my friend Julie in Australia who is baking up a storm at Sweetgum Bakery.

 6.   What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?

Santa has been and gone and I got a lovely Kenwood Food Processor 🙂

7.   Who taught you how to cook?

My mam definitely taught me a lot and then I’ve improvised my way through a few books since, especially now I’m baking so many different things. I’m suprised I’ve only set the kitchen on fire once so far to be honest…

8.   I’m coming to you for dinner what’s your signature dish?

If I’m making something savoury I will probably throw together what ever I put my hands on from the cupboard and make it up as I go along. Whenever I try to follow a recipe it goes horribly wrong (don’t ever mention the spicy lentil roasted butternut squash). So it would probably be a big bowl of miso ramen with chicken and chilli, lime and corriander. Or a chickpea curry with sweet potato and puy lentils. Or if all else fails turkey, mashed potato and baked beans 🙂 Then for the grand finale it would have to be something that is a little challenging that I’m still yet to attempt, perhaps a mousse cake or genoise sponge or profiteroles.

9.   What is your guilty food pleasure?

Ummm see above… turkey, mashed potato and baked beans! The best boxing day tradition EVER. Try it if you don’t believe me. It’s even better if you mash up some carrots and turnip too.

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

Hmmm I was thrown out of guitar lessons when I was 14 and told never to come back. Apparently I didn’t take it seriously enough, but then again I did arrive with a mini guitar, with only 1 string attached. I still cannot read music or play any musical instrument.

Finally…tag 5 other food bloggers with these questions…like a hot baked potato…pass it on!

I would like to tag some of my favourite bloggers who share amazing food and bakes. I lvoe reading their blogs and definitely recommend checking them out.

1. Sweetgum Bakery 

2. The Botanical Baker

3. The Kale Chronicles

4. Kenyerek kalácsok és gyönyörű állatok A Hungarian lady who bakes beautiful bread!

5. I am Simpy Tia who has been making some fantastic cocktails recently!

6. She Cooks and He Eats

Now feel free to copy and paste the questions into your blog and answer the questions too. Looking forward to reading more about you!

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The Caribbean Christmas Cake Collection Continued…

Caribbean Christmas Cake Collection

This post has been a long time in the making. About a month ago I began the Caribbean Christmas Cakes after an extreme test of my patience in greasing and lining 14 assorted mini cake tins and baking the little blighters for a couple of hours. I don’t mind this of course as I know the fruits of my labours are worth the effort and the wonderous rum, raisin, cinnamon and coconut smell that permeated the entire house let me know just how wonderful it will be.

The baked cakes

I’ve tended to my little cakes every week, topping them up with a bit more rum, until they could take no more. They still required a little house of marzipan and another week to dry out all in their specially purchased enormous Tupperware box.

Roll out a lot of marzipan... this has got to fit round 14 cakes

I decided one Saturday night, before heading out for a party to attempt to coat them all in a quick blanket of marzipan. I managed to finish 9 of them before I decided enough was enough and I would very much like to go to have a dance instead.

Firstly they needed to be glazed with apricot jam to make the marzipan stick…

Warming Apricot Jam

Then as all the cakes are very different shapes and sizes, they each needed to be fitted individually for their marzipan house. In an attempt to minimise rolling out marzipan, as it is frankly infuriating with its tendency to stick to the work surface just as you get it to the right thickness and it’s perfectly smooth so you have to start again, I squeezed as many on to one sheet as possible and trimmed it so there was very little excess to remove on the cake itself.

cutting each cake its own marzipan house

Once it was face down on the marzipan I had to simply lift the marzipan up and force it to stick to the sides of the cake, achieving a (relatively) smooth finish. I’m not too bothered about getting it perfect at this stage as the fondant should cover any major flaws…

Off with its head! (far too wonky)

Occasionally I got too frustrated with the cake being all oddly shaped and cut a lump off it. This didn’t really help matters as the cake was no straighter after being hacked into. I just made a big mess and dropped cake everywhere… but it did mean that I had a midnight snack when I got back in later on. 🙂

Then for the fondant

After a week the marzipan was settled enough to add the final icing layer. I was greeted by a fantastic whiff of almond and rum when I came back to the little cakes. The white fondant icing needed to be kneaded until it was pliable and then rolled out in the same way as the marzipan, however a bit more carefully and precisely (if I can ever be precise?!) as this is the layer that everyone sees. Cue more irritated rolling pin action.

I didn’t have any vodka to brush onto the marzipan so I used the rum in the cupboard. I’m sure that will do the same job and perhaps enhance the rumness of the cake while it’s at it?

Trim its skirt

The cakes needed a little trim to tidy the edges and I ended up rolling the cakes themselves around like a rolling pin (as they’re so small) on the worksurface to smooth them out and flatten the icing down. It’s impossible, even with my childrens sized rolling pin to roll the icing smooth on the cakes. Then they needed a quick polish with the palm of my hand to bring the icing to life.

I love the film Elf. It always makes me think of candy canes so as an homage to Elf I wanted to make Candy stripe cakes. I was very kindly donated a block of red fondant which is amazing!! (Thanks Lucy!) I rolled it out and using many handy palette knife/ruler cut strips of red icing.

Lines and lines and lines and lines

Then I glued them on to the cakes using a dab of water.

Chunky Candy Stripes

Not bad for my first attempt even if I do say so myself (and as I was completely making it up as I went along). Not content with just one design, I had ordered some daisy flower cutters from Ebay and thought I could perhaps christen them and pass them off as Poinsettia?

The daisy/poinsettia flower cutters

Poinsettia Flowers

I added some silver edible ball things (can’t remember their real name) by mixing a tiny bit of icing sugar with water to make a paste then squishing them into the cakes. There’s still 5 more cakes that require some attention and I have some holly leaf cutters and green food colouring to play with 🙂

All shapes and sizes welcome in this collection of cakes

4 hours of icing later... 9 down, 5 more to go.

I’m also entering this in Vanessa Kimbells’ fantastic Let’s Make Christmas Competition as I will be packing up these mini cakes in cellophane with lashings of ribbon and giving them to my friends and family very soon! Have a look at her blog and competition below…
 

12. Carribean Christmas Cake – Jamaicing me crazy and setting the kitchen on fire

My battered Delia Recipe

I LOVE Christmas and Christmas Cake! A few years ago I decided, the week before Christmas, to make my first ever independent Christmas Cake. I now know that this is breaking all of the Christmas Cake rules. It needs time to mature, to be fed Brandy and then the icing needs to be spaced out, one layer at a time over a week, so the marzipan has time to dry out and to achieve a much smoother finish. But in true Lauren style, I dove straight in and was sitting up til 1am waiting for the cake to bake. Then a spot of slap dash icing (which I had never EVER done before) til ridiculous o’clock on Christmas Eve.

My first ever Christmas Cake and decoration attempt. I went a bit overboard with the fondant icing! The marzipan snowman lost his head on the way too!

I didn’t want to make the same mistake(s) again this time. My Mam has a fantastic recipe, but I ended up adapting a Delia Recipe as it was a very spur of the moment decision when I first baked it and I have used it ever since. Even the same print out to be exact!

As per usual I didn’t have the correct ingredients in the cupboard so I had to substitute a the vast majority of Delia’s recipe. Ending up with dried mango, dates and raisins instead of cherries, candied peel and currants. Although I did splash out on a big bottle of brandy.

As the rules of Around the World in Eighty Bakes states, I have to bake something that I haven’t baked before. I pondered over this for a while and decided to modify my Christmas Cake and put a Caribbean twist on it. Also I wanted to make mini Christmas Cakes so I can give them as presents this year too,  inspired by a wonderful little short story by Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory.

Rum Soaked Fruit

In order to put a different slant on the classic Christmas Cake I replaced the Brandy with Rum. There’s always some in my cupboard and having tried to drink the leftover Brandy following reading  Gone with The Wind (Scarlett was a Brandy advocate) I realised I’m not a huge fan, perhaps Tesco Value Brandy is not the best to start with….

After soaking all the dried fruit in rum for a day. Opting for cranberries (very Christmassy), raisins and apricots, it was time to start mixing everything together. The butter was a bit hard so I decided to soften it slightly in the microwave, after ensuring the butter packet was paper only I popped the whole block in the microwave for 30 seconds.

The microwave went up in a loud bang and a massive white flash. I created fireworks in the kitchen! A little girly squeal from me and I ripped open the microwave door, to discover actual flames coming from the cleverly disguised tin foil sandwiched inbetween the paper of the packet.

I’ve never set the kitchen on fire before, so I got a bit of a shock.  But I managed to think quick and decided to blow the flames out, whilst balanced precariously on my tip toes. The microwave is on top of the fridge and I’m only 5 foot 2 (ish) so it’s a bit of a stretch at the best of times… Thankfully it worked and I rescued the butter and the kitchen.

The Offending Article

I persevered following the slight disaster and finished mixing the ingredients, with the addition of coconut too. Let’s hope this tastes nice!

Lovely Mixing. (Make a wish)

Then to grease and line 14 small tins of various sizes! This was a bit of test of my patience. I made the next mistake of popping another pack of butter directly on the oven shelf, ‘just for a minute’ to soften. I forgot about it and returned about 20 minutes later to an empty pack of butter and an oven swimming in grease. Eugh!

Oh dear

I got a bit bored of making lids for my mini cakes and decided to wrap the entire tray in baking paper to protect it from the heat. As the cakes are much smaller than the norm I reduced the cooking time slightly
too, so no 1am cake vigils for me!

Mini Cakes. Individually greased and lined.

Patience wearing thin... I'll wrap the entire tray!

They look lovely and smell beautiful too. These cakes are most definitely a labour of love. Now to feed them rum on a regular basis. I’ll store them for a few weeks then attempt some sort of creative decoration. I predict some sort of gold lustre making an appearance. I will keep you posted on my progress!

Phew! 14 mini Christmas Cakes baked

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