Oops I did it again

I agreed to make another wedding cake. ‘Agree’ is putting it mildly. The agreement was infused with enthusiasm and love and excitement and the conversation culminated in me saying that I would be honoured to make Renzo and Elsa’s wedding cake.

And then I realised that the wedding was a day before Emma’s birthday (Emma without whom I could not have pulled off my previous cake effort). So I proposed the following: “Emma, why don’t we just cancel your birthday dinner, you instead spend your birthday helping me make this cake and then we’ll somehow transport it to Berkshire”. Obviously she agreed. LOVE HER.

Since then we’ve been sketching ideas and buying tins n cutters n cute things and we went to a decorating course – where we made this.

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No recipe attached as we didn’t actually bake, we spent the day at RockBakehouse learning new decorating techniques .

It was fun and tiring and so so rewarding to be creatively engaged.

Carrying the cake home on commuter trains was, um, interesting. And then I decided it would be an awesome idea to carry the cake all the way up to Leicester.

Time to get baking!

Owning my Contradictions

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I know. Slowing down, speeding up. Chocolate and cheese with raw superfood probiotic packed smoothies. Its all here and it all forms part of the glorious concoction of foods that comprise my diet. Just as my life;, a balance of seemingly opposing forces, contradictions and organised chaos. Have I got the balance right? Definitely not. Is there such a thing as “right”? Probably not. I share here whatever occurs in my life and on my plate, in the realest form in which it occurs.
I get so confused with so many conflicting voices that reason with my dietary needs, my lifestyle choices and my emotional mindset that sometimes its hard to sit and listen to the silence speak. Lately I have been tuning into it and feeding my body what it asks for. Lately it asks for this. A lot.
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Blueberry and Spinach Smoothie

In approximate quantities, throw the following into your blender:

1 frozen banana
a handful of fresh baby spinach
a handful of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp of almond butter
1 tsp of bee pollen
1 tsp of hemp seeds
1 tsp of chia seeds
1 cup milk of choice (I like rice milk)

Blend. Drink. Own your contradictions.

Let’s. Slow. Down.

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I feel like I’m in this race. And I always lose. In fact, the harder I try, the more I feel like I’m failing. And my opponent, it taunts me… like some sneering element watching me struggle.

Time.

My so-called race against the clock is incessant and exhausting.

I am demanding of myself, yes. And come what may, there are certain things that find space in my schedule: fitness, and food. There are other things that ought to have priority in my schedule and don’t. I work hard and don’t play hard enough

I hereby declare that I am not playing that futile game of racing against time any more. I am officially slowing down and breathing space into my schedule, my priorities and my life.

Here is a recipe for braised cabbage, which, takes a lovely while to cook :)

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Cream Braised Green Cabbage

(recipe very slightly adapted from Orangette)

1 small green cabbage
3 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
160ml double cream

Wash and prepare your cabbage by pulling away and bruised leaves and trim off the end. Cut into quarters, and again (so you have wedges).

In a large pan, melt the butter over a medium heat and layer the cabbage wedges down so that they each have contact with the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the bottom layer is nicely browned and starting to caramelize.

Turn each wedge over carefully. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and simmer gently for around 20 minutes.

Remove the lid, flip the wedges once more and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the cabbage is very tender. Shake the pan and simmer uncovered for a final 5minutes to thicken the cream to a glaze.

Keep the clock away. Serve immediately with salt to taste.

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Brunch. Yes.

No. I did not miss that annual food fest called Christmas. Believe me, I indulged in that fully. Everything from homemade cranberry sauce eaten straight from the warm pan to my aunt’s absolutely divine lamb curry; which feels a bit like the food is having a party in my mouth. I might even argue that the party hasn’t yet stopped; if I look at the chocolate boxes and mince pies strewn around my apartment as I sip the hot cocoa I’ve just made.

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Where was I? Oh yes, I had wanted to blog about all the wonderful things I made, and ate. I had wanted to post festive seasonal recipes and I had wanted to write about all the ongoings in my life post-India trip. The one thing I will successfully share with you is this sweet potato, spinach and bacon brunch with you: (there are far fewer things in life more important than food anyhow)….

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Ingredients:

Vegetable oil for cooking
Handful of cumin seeds
Pinch of salt
6 rashers of bacon, chopped into chunks
Handful of fresh spinach or kale
1 sweet potato, chopped and baked
2 eggs

As with other indulgent, delicious thrown-together brunch recipes, the quantities are really up to you. Just use the above as a rough guide to make enough to serve two.

Lightly fry the cumin seeds in oil. Add the chopped bacon until cooked. Add in the chopped, cooked sweet potato, and finally the spinach/kale until wilted. Serve the whole lot onto a plate, and use the same pan to fry the eggs. Perch the eggs on top and sprinkle with salt. Delicious.

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So I went to India…. Again.

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So I went to India. Again. I didn’t mean to. It just kind of, happened. Quite spontaneously a friend of mine mentioned that he was going home to Pune, for Diwali festivities and asked whether I would like to join (I assumed it was a rhetorical question and my flight was booked a few days later).

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Whilst this may not have been my first trip to the ‘motherland’ in many ways it was my first. It was the first time that I loved it instantly and ongoingly and let myself be taken by its breathtaking beauty, it’s the first time I stayed with an Indian family and travelled with a local, it’s the first time I allowed myself to indulge in guilt free feasting all fortnight, it’s the first time I engaged my linguistic capabilities to learn the national language and really it’s the first time I let go. For that is what there is to do in India; is to “leave life alone”, as a wise friend had put it. I didn’t interfere with the quiet chaos of the roads, or the deafening silence of the trees, or the sweet stinging of mosquito bites, or the intoxicating air of the mountains or the eye watering burn of spices, or the smell of the vast contrast between rich and poor, or the tangible romance embedded in the Indian air. I let it all be, and the result was astounding. My entire being was saturated with the Indian experience of myself. Having an Indian heritage and experiencing the full weight of that heritage are two very different things, I discovered on this trip. Perhaps during my previous visits I was not mature enough to see that or experience it, or perhaps I became ready to see what life had to show me. Either way, I am infinitely grateful.

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It’s difficult to pinpoint experiences and I wish I could describe them in chronological journal style as I have done before but it’s difficult to encompass the entirety of the experience with a day to day breakdown since each day was drenched in substances like fresh sugar cane juice, or hot Indian wind sweeping through my hair whilst riding on a bike, or the taste of poetic Hindi dropping like honey into my ears, or love, curiosity and carefreeness in the eyes of strangers.

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That said, there are some special occasions that are worthy of mention:

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My 31st birthday: which did not go amiss, with a cake, some candles and a small party of people to share the wishes that I blew into the candles.

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Diwali: the Hindu festival of light. It has been a longstanding dream to experience the full technicolour vivacity of that celebration in India and this year I got my chance; the divas lit outside and around the home made the place truly magical. The evening ended with standing on the rooftop terrace being showered with fireworks, all of them cascading light in a cadenza of colour and noise, it was an experience that mere words cannot do justice to.

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Sinhagad: to say that the mountains at Sinhagad were majestic is an understatement of mammoth proportions. I recall one moment of solitude when I stood atop the mountain, drinking in it’s majesty, it’s energy and thrill of beauty. To expand into such a wide open space whilst measuring one’s infinitesimal position against the backdrop is a glorious feeling. The road trip itself was fun too, singing to old Bollywood songs.

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Alandi: There was nothing special about Alandi; which is why I loved it. A village, with the slow paced intricacies of village life. The gentle swaying of trees in the hot breeze or the dust swept up by a passing truck, or the soft laughter of children outside a home. These are the simplicities that make Alundi, and all other villages special. We sat, under the cool shade of an empty temple for some time, talking, lazing, sharing that special moment. For all the fast paced materialism of my London lifestyle – that moment was priceless.

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Family: If I said that I stayed with one of the most loving and welcoming families in all India, I would say it with conviction. My friend’s parents stretched out their arms, their hearts and their home so far that I practically fell with a hard thud of love upside my stressed out head. It took me no more than a nanosecond to surrender to that love. Speaking of which, in true customary fashion, I was overfed. A lot. I was called a ‘sparrow’ for my Western dietary tendency of eating small amounts of food (nuts and grains as preference). Well that soon changed. My friend’s mother ensured a consistent supply of amazing food, not least sweet delicacies to satisfy my inner sugar monster. I am surprised that my teeth did not dissolve in sugar to be honest. My dentist would be horrified. My post vacation tummy is furious. Just this morning it was screaming ‘what? Where is my hot chapatti with fresh homemade butter and sugar? What do you mean we are having a banana today?’.

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Food family and friends. That composition is enough to make a magical life anywhere but India really is something special. Experiences to highlight, remember and replicate: The food market at Pimpry, the mountains at Sinhagad, Things I would not recommend: walking around in the evening dusk without mosquito repellent, continuing to eat on an upset stomach, or losing a visa; I would most definitely not recommend that.

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Travel Food

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I don’t know how I have managed to blog this far without saying it but….

I AM GOING TO INDIA.

Caps-lock totally intended. Am I excited? Oh, just a little.

That I shall be absent from the blog space for a couple of weeks won’t be that much of an irregularity given my recent neglect in this area however I’m sure I’ll be back with pictures and food ideas. In fact, if that’s the only thing I’m back with it’ll be a worthwhile trip.

Delicious travel recipe (for which I must thank Sara at Sprouted Kitchen). I apologise for the brevity of the recipe instructions as I am a mass of last minute packing, malaria pills, and spare batteries for my flash gun…..

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Rice Paper Rolls

(recipe adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

6 rice paper wraps
Handful of coriander
3 carrots, grated
2 beets, grated
1 cucumber, grated
1 large avocado, sliced
1 cup lentils, cooked
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
dressing (2 tbsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tsp tamari)

Set up:

A large bowl of warm water and a clean dish cloth to roll your rice paper on.

Set out your ingredients: coriander, carrots, beetroot, cucumber and avocado, combine the cooked lentils with the ingredients of the dressing. Taste and adjust as desired.

One at a time, put a rice paper wrap flat into the large bowl of warm water, for approx. 20 seconds til soft. Carefully lay the wrap down on the dish cloth. Down the centre, layer small amounts of coriander, carrots and beetroot, a few slices of avocado and some lentils. Fold over the sides of the wrap, then the top and bottom of the wrap, tucking in at the ends (more skillfully and neatly than I managed to, hopefully). Repeat with remaining wraps. Yum.

I will try to add some more healthy travel ideas for future posts (I have packed some raw food energy balls, sesame and goji berry squares, hummus and salad). Let’s cause some in-flight envy!

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Breakfast: Bacon Granola and Butternut Pancakes

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Yes I know. This is a ‘weekend breakfast’ kind of post. These days I am both leaving the house and returning to it with the moon and stars, the weekends and the weekdays are becoming indistinguishable; as my propensity to combine hours of work-time and play-time is becoming ever more distinguishable.

Hold up. Play-time? Amidst the hectic schedule of my daily life the extent of my play-time resides in the pleasure of messing around in the kitchen with ingredients: dustings of flour, spices and sugar, smears of butter and oil, shards of grated cocoa and nuts. This isn’t a bad way to spend play-time and admittedly it’s become something of a sacred space; my kitchen, the place to which I retreat when I’m not at the gym (my other sacred space).

This week I found myself experimenting with a recipe for pumpkin pancakes at 6am on Saturday when it was so dark outdoors that it felt more like a midnight snack than a pre-work breakfast. Admittedly the bacon granola was made on a Sunday, not least because Nigel Slater wrote that it’s a Sunday kind of breakfast. It really is.

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I decided to post both of these recipes not because they were life-changingly amazing nor because I’ve added either of them to my regular repertoire of weekend breakfasts but because they were unusual and because they characterise the joy of playing with ingredients. Oh, and because I promised my fabulous foodie-friend Paraskevi that I would. I can’t wait to hear how your own version goes Skevi! :)

And with these good morning recipes, I bid you goodnight. Happy playing.

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BACON GRANOLA

Recipe from Nigel Slater

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
40g butter
100g rolled oats
50g whole or flaked almonds
50 pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp hemp seeds
handful of dried cranberries
4 tbsp crème fraiche

Cut the bacon into small chunks and fry. Add butter to a shallow pan and tip in all ingredients except crème fraiche and bacon. Leave to warm over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally. When the oats are golden and smell warm and sweet, add in the bacon. Tip the whole lot into a bowl and stir the crème fraiche lightly through.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH BREAKFAST PANCAKES W PECANS

135g butternut squash puree*
2 eggs
½ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground ginger
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ cup wholewheat flour
coconut oil for frying

Greek yogurt, maple syrup and pecan nuts to serve

Stir all the pancake ingredients together. Heat a tbsp of coconut oil in a pan and add a heaped tbsp. of batter. I found that in order to cook through I spread the mix out thinly. Once golden brown underneath, flip and cook the other side.

*cut in half and roast a whole butternut squash. Once cooked through til soft, wait for the squash to cool and peel off the skin. Scrape the flesh into a food processor and add 2 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp lemon, 2 tbsp brown sugar. Blend. Add contents to a pan and simmer gently for 20mins until the sauce thickens. Cool and store in a jar (for pancakes, or spreading on toast, or simply spooning straight into one’s mouth)!

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3 ways with apples

Lets continue with the three-ways theme shall we?

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This week I have been harvesting (and by harvesting I mean picking up the fallen apples from the tree as I come home from work) all the apples from the tree in my garden (yes I’m lucky enough to have a garden, for now). So many apples and only so many apple pies one can eat (ahem).

Since Christmas is just around the corner (don’t worry you too can bury your sweet ostrich head back in the sand as soon as you’ve read this post), I figured some apple chutney stored in jars and ready to give away as gifts wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Next I made a paleo vegan gluten free sugar free apple pie, and then some sugary buttery apple cookies. My diet, as my life, may be full of apparent conflicts and contradictions but in the end it always boils down to the maximisation of pleasure…

Roasted garlic and apple chutney

(recipe adaptation from Abel and Cole)

1.5kg apples, peeled cored and roughly chopped
1 whole bulb garlic
3 large onions, peeled, chopped into chunks
2 handfuls raisins
1 mug organic apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
1/2 mug brown sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 190C.  Slice the top off the garlic bulb so that you can just see the flesh of the garlic cloves through the skin. Put into the oven and leave to roast for 40mins.

In the meantime put all of the remaining ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir and bring down to a simmer.

Once the garlic is roasted, squeeze the bulbs out of the skin and into the saucepan.  Continue to let the chutney simmer for about 1.5 hours until it reaches a thick porridge-like consistency.

Cool and spoon into sterilised jars, saving for Christmas!

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Apple pie (paleo-vegan)

For the crust:
300g raw cashews
200g pitted dates
140g brown rice flour
40g gluten free oats
2-8 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of malden salt

For the filling
4 apples
200g pitted dates
juice from ½ lemon
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cloves
Pre-heat oven to 200C.

Make crust: place all the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a fine flour. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Place the dates, vanilla nd 2 tbsp of water in the processor and run until you have a complete smooth a creamy mixture. Scrape down the sides and add more water if necessary. Scoop this into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mx together using your hands. The dough should eventually be firm enough to form into a ball.

Split the dough ball into two. Roll one half out and press it down into a pie pan lined with parchment paper. Prick the crust and place in the oven to pre-bake for ten minutes.

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Make filling: slice apples into wedges. Blend dates, lemon, vanilla and spices in the processor. Mix in with the apples. Press the mixture into the pre-baked crust.

Roll out the other half of the dough and place over the pie dish. Press the edges down and cut four slits in the centre of the pie.

Bake for 30-40mins until the crust has browned a deep golden.

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Apple Cookies

40g softened butter
130g light brown sugar
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
125g wholewheat organic flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
handful of nuts (walnuts or pecans)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Yields 10 cookies, if you don’t eat the mixture.

Set the oven to 350F.

Cream the sugar and butter. Next mix in the egg and then the grated apple and the vanilla. Don’t eat the raw mixture.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, cinnamon, salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and mix together. Fold in the nuts. Don’t eat the raw mixture.

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Dollop about a tablespoon of cookie batter onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper leaving at least an inch of space in between the cookies. Cook for 15-20 mins until the cookies are golden across the top.

As soon as they emerge from the oven, sprinkle some more brown sugar and cinnamon mix across the top.

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3 ways with courgettes

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I have lots of cousins and lots courgettes in my refrigerator. The cousins aren’t in my refrigerator of course, the courgettes are. Both are equally vocal. The cousins communicating all manner of things from encouraging and engaging to teasing and tantrums. The courgettes are calling for me to cook them. I guess that so many of my courgettes have been eaten thinly sliced and tossed raw into salads that it’s a fair request. When I didn’t know what to do with the amount of courgette amassing in my fridge I turned to Deb Perelmen’s plethora of recipes for I knew she would have some fun things to do with the vegetable. And fun things she did have. So I hereby give you three of my favourite things to do with courgettes: The aforementioned courgette salad that I have been eating all too frequently through summer, courgette fritters and courgette bread (which we all know is actually cake but I’m sticking with calling it bread. It sounds healthier).

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Speaking of healthy (and cousins); my cousin Daksha having taken a renewed approach to health and fitness (and how very proud of her I am for doing so) had been asking me for the recipe for courgette fritters. I had promised her a recipe post, oh I don’t know, about… a month ago. Every week since I have been thinking “yep, I’ll do that at the weekend”, and then Sunday comes and goes and suddenly Monday is upon me and I’m in the middle of this chaos called daily life yearning for the weekend again. What, how?! As my aunt pointed out this could have something to do with the hours I while away experimenting with recipes in the kitchen but I’m sticking with the story of my own personal time warp. Kind of like right now. Sunday night. Tick tock…

Courgette salad

Ingredients
1 medium sized courgette
1 tbsp  olive oil
handful of pine nuts
1 tbsp pesto
squeeze of fresh lemon

Using a vegetable peeler (or a mandolin if you are lucky enough to have one of those), top and tail the courgette and thinly slice until you have ribbons of it on the plate. Squeeze over some fresh lemon, and spoon through the olive oil, pesto and pine nuts. Simples.

I often eat this on it’s own although I have on occasion mixed it through some pasta and melted feta. That’s pretty awesome too.

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Courgette fritters

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients
1 large courgette
1 egg
½ cup buckwheat (or normal flour)
half an onion, sautéed (optional)
seasoning
oil for cooking (I prefer coconut oil here)

Grate the courgette and season with salt. Leave to sit for ten minutes.

Squeeze the water from the vegetable either by wringing it through a cloth, or pressing it hard into a sieve until all the liquid has been drained. It’s the less-fun part of the process but you’ll be thankful you did it otherwise you’ll end up with soggy courgette fritters and no-one wants that.

Put the grated, squeezed courgette into a bowl and add the egg and half cup of flour plus some salt and pepper. Mix it all together.

If using onions (they do add texture and flavour to the fritters), sauté them in a little oil until translucent and soft. Add them to the mix.

Dollop a little of the mixture into a pan of hot oil and fry until the underside of the fritters are brown. Flip and cook the other side.

I love these served with home made mayonnaise.

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Courgette Bread (Cake)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients (yields two loaves)
3 eggs
200ml olive oil
220g sugar
350g grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla extract
420g wholegrain flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp teaspoon nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp salt
Optional extras: handful of chopped walnuts or pecans or raisins or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 6x11inch loaf pan, liberally.

Beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil, sugar, courgette and vanilla.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, as well as any optional extras (nuts, chocolate chips raisins, if using). Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into the loaf tin.

Bake loaves for about an hour or until golden on top and an inserted knife comes out clean.

Share with cousins :)

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Project Wedding Cake – success!

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I am posting this amidst the Sunday morning soporific effect of post-wedding success. Accomplishments so far today: hauled self out of bed. Picked blackberries and apples from the garden and eaten copious amounts of both.

I don’t suppose you want to hear about yet more buttercream; lord knows I don’t. I have recently made enough of it to fuel an entire village of people for a month. Yet, having been elbow deep in vast quantities of butter and sugar for what seems like an eternity, the keyboard is a welcome respite from the perils of kitchen spoon-licking. So, you’re going to hear about the project. Again. Lucky you.

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Did I mention that I had roped Emma (and her wonderful kitchenaid) into project wedding cake? I had. So Thursday evening at the office we were both itching to get going. Part excitement because we are the kind of people who get excited about fooling around with ingredients and kitchen tools, and part nervousness about the magnitude of the cake task that lay ahead – the making of it and the transporting of it to the wedding venue. I was already somewhat wary following Emma’s stern warnings “there will be no licking of the buttercream bowls”. I’ll say no more about that.

The entire evening, we weighed, measured, sieved, levelled, softened, heated, whisked, whipped, dowelled, chilled, coated, piped, and panicked (only slightly… okay a lot, but wouldn’t you if the cake suddenly started sliding en-route and was about to fall into the driver’s lap?!). In all honesty the transportation of 10kgs of decorated wedding cake was the most stressful part of the evening. The rest was a lot of fun. My personal favourite was the 2kgs of icing sugar forming a haze of sweet white cloud across the kitchen surfaces and in the air such that we were at one point inhaling sugar. I may as well have been in heaven.

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From the heights of sugar heaven into the depths of the venue’s beer cellars is where we ended up; covering up the hand-prints in the side of the cake (a result of my having saved it from splattered oblivion whilst driving along the A214 towards Chelsea). At 10:30pm we left the cake sitting comfortably in the coolness of the cellars at the wedding venue exhausted but fuelled by the thrill of feeling proud, surprised and relieved.

The penultimate part of the project was excusing myself from bridesmaid duties to run to the venue to add the fresh flowers onto the cake. The flowers were an exact match of the bride’s bouquet. Great. The flowers were arranged in a manner that I did not know how to decorate a cake with them. Not so great. (Heck I have never decorated a cake with flowers, what am I talking about?). I ended up dismantling the arrangement (sorry, dear florist) and doing what I do best: making it up. It worked. I think.

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The real judges were the wedding guests. And so came the final part of the project: the cutting and serving of the cake. It was a success. When people began asking me whether cake making was my profession, I knew my job was one well done. Thank you Pauline for trusting me with your wedding cake. Thank you Emma for helping me with the project whilst allowing me to take full credit.

For now I think I’ll stick with writing….

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