Wednesday 30 March 2011

How to: bake a cake

It's spring! (honestly. even if it is raining). & that means that it was my mum's birthday! (& also my sister's birthday and my lovely niece's birthday... although I wasn't on cake duty for them). So, to celebrate, I made my mum a surprise cake. She's an amazing baker & has taught me all I know... and I am slowly but surely getting better at doing bigger cakes, but it means that the pressure is on to make it look good.

I'm afraid I didn't take photos of the actual baking process (as I wasn't even thinking about starting a blog when I made it!), but here's how I did it.

First - bake the cake. I went for a simple vanilla sponge.

Preheat your oven to about 180 degrees whilst you are getting the ingredients ready.
  • 200g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
Bung it all together. Start by mixing the butter & sugar until it's nicely smooth, then add flour, baking powder, & eggs. Start to mix this, pause to add in the milk, then keep going until most of the lumps are out. Be careful! It's better to have a mixture that is very slightly under-mixed and still has lots of air in it, rather than something that is super smooth, but won't rise at all.

Grease & line your cake pan or pans and slop the mixture in. This recipe is great, cause you can play about with it however you want and it takes the rough handling well. I've used it to make cakes in sandwich pans and deep cake tins and both turned out great - just remember and adjust the baking time accordingly! Assuming you are going for a 7 inch deep cake pan - put it in the oven and set your timer for about 30 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DURING THIS TIME. RESIST THE TEMPTATION.

After 30 minutes, have a look through your oven door. If it still looks pale on top then it's not even worth opening the door, just set your timer for another 10 minutes and come back. If it looks like it's colouring nicely then grab the sharpest knife you can, very quickly open the door & do the skewer test. Do not bring the cake out of the oven! Keep it on the shelf whilst doing this, and try and be as quick as possible. If the cake isn't ready & is suddenly cooled then it will sink, you will be sad, and nothing will save it. Protect it from the big, bad cold world.

If the skewer/knife comes out clean and it bounces back nicely when (gently) pressed, then great! Get it out and leave it to cool for ages. If the skewer comes back with cake mixture on it, stick it back in, leave for ten minutes and then repeat.

When the cake is nice and cool to the touch, start getting your decorations ready. For this cake, I made a big batch of buttercream (which was 500g icing sugar with 250g butter aka the best icing in the world). Cut the cake in half (again, assuming it was from a deep cake tin) and put a nice layer of buttercream and jam in the middle (use raspberry! it's the best!). Cover the whole thing in buttercream, starting on the sides, and finally smoothing over the top. I'll take photos of how to do this another time.

Now, the fun bit! Roll out whatever fondant you want to use (I mixed dark blue and white to create the "sky") & gently cover the cake. I can't do this very well, but a bit of speed helps. I smooshed it down too much, and you can see the little cracks in the above picture (oh, the shame). Anyway, it's fine. Practice helps.

Roll out a green strip, cut out triangles to make it spikey, and you have your "grass" which brilliantly is then glued (with buttercream) round the bottom of the cake, hiding the edge of the blue fondant. Stick on mini eggs to hide the edge of the green! Stick on wafer flowers (again, with a wee dab of buttercream) and try to place them evenly around the cake. This is another good opportunity to hide any cracks/marks on the blue fondant. Ice little stems with writing icing & give it a little dash of edible glitter to sparkle. Tada, a spring cake!

Everything (including the cake board) was bought in sainsburys cause I couldn't be bother walking to the cake shop in Edinburgh, so you don't even need to stress about buying fancy cake supplies. This would work pretty well for mother's day too, which is THIS SUNDAY (heads up).

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Philip K. Dick is really brilliant

Last night Craig & I went to see the Adjustment Bureau, the film (loosely) based on Philip K. Dick's short story the Adjustment Team. The film was good, but it made me realise how long it has been since I last read anything by him (& as he is one of my favourite authors, this is a massive crime!).

My dad got me into PKD when I was in high school by giving me loads of his short stories. I got a bit obsessed & when I was in fifth year, I wrote my RPR (which is a review of personal reading, don'tcha know, & the scariest essay you have to do in high school) on PKD's story 'Of Withered Apples' & his search for god. It's a ridiculously good short story & only twelve pages - if you can find it then you should read it.

At uni, I kept it going and wrote my dissertation on PKD & Edgar Allan Poe (I think the official title was the breakdown of reality? Or something). Anyway. It was a bit of a panicked decision - we were meant to work on our dissertations for TWO YEARS and I didn't, realistically writing the whole thing within three weeks. But looking back (& now happy in the knowledge that I got my highest grade in fourth year uni from said dissertation) I think it was the best decision as it allowed me to just fall completely into his life, changing it from a boring attempt at critically dissecting his work, & I got to just gush about him.

One of the best books that I found while researching (aka, staying in the library until 3am) was "Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words" by Gregg Rickman. It was brilliant. The intro basically read - 'I had planned to write a biography of PKD & interviewed him for the project. But when it came to it, nothing I could say would beat the way he worded it.' & so, the book is essentially a massive transcript of their many interviews.

He's just incredible. & moving. & what touched me most was just how much he needed his characters. Quite often he would finish a full novel within two months, as he took amphetamines, & so got SO wrapped up in his characters that he would be practically destroyed when it was over.
See, these people are no longer freaks to me, I mean in the sense of being incompetent and fucking up their lives. Because I had completely fucked up my life, I was completely incompetent, and I loved my characters for their incompetence...I could never write down to my character.

What matters to me is the writing, the act of manufacturing the novel, because while I am doing it, at that particular moment, I am in the world I’m writing about. It is real to me, completely and utterly. Then, when I’m finished and have to stop, withdraw from that world forever – that destroys me. The men and women have ceased talking. They no longer move. I’m alone (qtd. in Williams).
He was rejected by the mainstream literary world for writing sci-fi (when no one was writing sci-fi) & struggled for money throughout his life. Now look at it. Disney's making another of his short stories into their Christmas 2012 film. It's mad!

Read anything you can find by him, if you can. He's incredible.

Monday 28 March 2011



I'm going to write about the following things:

* cakes! baking & decorating, and trying to get as good as Ace of Cakes.
* roller derby. Learning how to skate and hopefully this year (soon! hopefully soon!) pass my minimums and actually be allowed to bout.
* crafting - or at least attempts to craft.
* & lots of photos taken with my lovely camera, that I can't quite use yet.

I also stalk my cat, a little, & take photos of him practically every day. But you would too, if you had a cat like him.

I think this will be fun.