Month: November 2011

Best for baking #1

Baking equipment on test

When it comes to baking equipment you can easily spend a fortune getting the right stuff. I’ve been decorating cakes for a few years now and my baking armoire (yes I bought a huge French cupboard just to house my baking stuff in!) is packed to the brim with cutters, rolling pins, baking papers and the all important tins and trays. If you’re into baking you’ll know what I’m talking about. You can never have enough!

Pink Heart Roaster, £8,Available in Sainsburys at Easter 2012

Well, yesterday I went to the Sainsburys Spring / Summer 2012 press launch – we work far ahead in the magazine world! I was talking to the Head homewares  about bakeware. They’ve got a gorgeous new range of baking products coming out which I will be sharing with you when they hit the shelves next year. Here’s a sneak preview to whet your appetite!

We were discussing what keen bakers look for in their baking equipment and what Sainsburys should be stocking for us decorators of cupcakes, biscuits and cakes alike and it got me thinking about how you can easily buy tons of stuff that you will hardly ever use or that you don’t really need. Also, is it always worth buying the expensive stuff or will a less expensive version do?

So, I am going to share with all you readers what I rate and what I use in my ‘Best for baking’ posts. I get to test out new gadgets and equipment all the time as well as new foods for features when I write for magazines so watch this space for up and coming products. But for now……

Mermaid bakeware – On Test!

Ten years ago, when asked by my mother-in-law what I would like for my birthday,  I said some  Mermaid baking tins. M-I-L wasn’t keen as  this wasn’t the glamorous gift she had in mind. But I had it on good authority (albeit from a PR who was slightly biased) that these were the tins to have. It was said that the tins out last many marriages! Once I saw them I had to have them. Those original tins are still going strong today. And I still use them all the time. I was recently  sent a set of their new range to test for a feature I was writing and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the box  arrived.

The baking sheet

I blame ‘The Great British Bake Off’ for my latest obsession with using a baking sheet over a baking tray!  I had never had one before and now I can’t do without it. All the Mermaid tins are hard anodized . This means that the heat is distributed really evenly, so whether you are using a tin for a cake or sheet for biscuits there are no hotspots and everything is baked to perfection, AND you can get loads more cookies on a sheet than on a tray!

Square tins  or round tins?

I was really impressed with not only how well the loose bottomed cake tins performed but how easy they are to clean. I’m a bit of a clean freak with my tins. I like them to always look like new – and these do. There’s something very satisfying about a really cold, hard baking tin that you can scrub clean easily.  There are lots of sizes to choose from in the loose bottom collection-in both the square and round shapes. I’ve nearly got all the sizes now. They’re an investment but I know I’ll never have to replace them!

It’s also worth mentioning the pudding basin, perfect for your Christmas pudding.  I haven’t baked any puddings in mine yet but it’s a great shape for so many decorative cakes. It’s a really handy shape to have in your stores.

Mermaid don’t just do baking sheets and tins, they do Roasting tins too (although I have been using their mini roaster to bake cakes in for ages as it is such a great rectangular size for a football shirt cake!)

So, If you are looking to buy some new bakeware I can definitely recommend Mermaid Cookware. Check out the range at or call them for your nearest stockist on 0121 569 7906. They are also available at John Lewis and Lakeland.

Beau’s sleepover cake

How to make a simple sleepover cake

Beau was eight years old on Monday. Her birthday cakes have got more and more detailed and adventurous  as I have got more experienced and she has got older. When asked what cake she wanted this year she said

“ I want a two tier cake like a wedding cake with me sleeping on the top and my friends sleeping on the bottom of the cake” !!!!!!!

She was obviously having her first sleepover party.So we compromised. Beau’s main cake which we cut at her party, had her sleeping on a big bed and each of her friends had a separate mini ‘bed’ cake of their own, in which they were sleeping and could take home with them the next day.
The idea was to make all the cakes sit alongside each other so that it felt like one big cake.I used my favourite chocolate cake recipe (below) which is really chocolatey, super quick to make and super light and fluffy.

Two bowl chocolate cake recipe


3 tbsp hot water
3 tbsp cocoa powder
100g soft butter
100g caster sugar
100g Self Raising Flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla essence

To make the chocolate cake

Grease two 18cm sandwich tins (I used 3 x the ingredients and 3  loaf tins for this cake). Line the bottoms with baking paper. Heat your oven to 180C, gas mark 4.

Sieve the cocoa powder into a bowl, then add the hot water and blend really well until there is  no dry powder left. Set to one side to cool.

In another bowl mix all rest of the ingredients together until well blended and then add the cocoa mixture and blend again.

Spoon the mixture into the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out dry. This cake rises a little so you can also test that it’s baked by pressing down on the top of the cake. If it springs back it’s ready. If it leaves a finger print or takes a while to rise up again it will need a little longer in the oven.

Chocolate buttercream

Ingredients to fill and cover a two bowl chocolate cake

75g soft butter
100g icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp cocoa powder

How to make the buttercream

Put all of the ingredients into a bowl then blend until really light and fluffy. This makes enough to fill an 18cm cake and cover the top (and sides if you don’t use it too thick)

To make the sleepover cake

Cover your cake boards with sugarpaste. Use a patchwork cutter to create a pattern in the ‘carpet’. Leave to dry for at least a week. If you use it straight away it may dent when you touch it!

Cut the cake to size and add buttercream

I used three times the recipe to make three loaf sized chocolate cakes. One cake was used for the main bed and the other two were cut into rectangles for the smaller beds. Each cake was cut in half and had buttercream added to the centre.

 Cover each cake with chocoalte buttercream

It’s a good idea to bake the cakes in advance to decorating them. If it’s really, really fresh this cake will just crumble when you apply the buttercream.  24 hours after baking is a good time to decorate. Once the cake is iced it’s sealed so it will stay moist and fresh.
Add buttercream to the top and sides.

cover each 'bed' cake with white icingCover each cake with white sugarpaste then secure the cake in place on it’s cake board with a little royal icing. This creates the ‘sheet’ over the bed.

 Add the detailed trim to the bed

Use edgers to make strips of decorative sugarpaste and secure them along the bottom of the bed. Use Royal icing as glue.

Add details on the trim

Use a sugar craft tool, or the end of a paintbrush to give the valance more detail.

Add a pillow and a headMould a piece of white sugarpaste into a rectangular shape for the pillow. The heads are made from marzipan which has been coloured with a tiny bit of  food colour (paprika  is perfect for a skin tone). Use a very thin paintbrush to add the colouring of the eyes, eye brows mouth and cheeks. A tiny ball of marzipan is used to create a nose.

 Fake a body

Roll a sausage shaped piece of marzipan for the body. Taper it in at the end where the feet would be. Secure it to the bed.

Roll out a piece of coloured sugarpaste for the blanket. Leave it long enough that it will drape over the edges of the bed. Make sure each little lady is well tucked in up to her neck.

 Paint on the face and ice the hair

Colour royal icing to add the hair. Then all that’s left to do is add the names on each cake board and the ‘Happy Birthday’ on the largest cake board.

While I was finishing this cake Beau and Darcey made some accessories that you would find in their bedroom. They made books, hats and a dolls house that opens up. Beau even made a train complete with track which they positioned all over the cakes.

In all the cake was a big success. I think all the guests liked it that they could take home their own Mini Me! Beau obviously had a great time as you can see below.


The easy way to make Viennese biscuits

The easiest way to make Viennese biscuits

I was given one of these fab cookie press gadgets to test for a feature I was writing for ‘Feel Good Food’ magazine last year. It was around New Year so I made some biscuits to take to a party. I put them on a plate and made them look all lovely and my friend asked me where I bought them from! I laughed and when she said “was it M&S?”  She was serious. They tasted and looked so good that she thought they were shop bought! I don’t think compliments come much better than that.

Cookie pressPumpkin and bat shapes

In truth, these are the easiest biscuits to make whether you have a cookie press or not. If you don’t you can always use a piping bag with little zig zag cuts at the bottom or use a buttercream  piping nozzle (as seen below)

I made these with my girls when we were going to a play date during the last half term. The weather wasn’t good so baking was a great distraction. They loved it as there are gadgets involved.


100g soft butter

25 icing sugar

100g plain flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

50g good quality plain chocolate ( 70% cocoa solids tastes best)

To make the Viennese biscuits

  1. Heat your oven to 190.C (170.c fan ovens) Gas mark 5. Grease your baking trays then pop them in the fridge – this is the trick to making the dough stick, cold trays. There’s no need for baking paper.
  2. Beat the butter and the sugar to form a pale and fluffy texture.stir it well
  3. Use a sieve to add the flour and baking powder so there are no lumps. Mix until well blended.Sieve the icing sugar onto the butter
  4. Assemble your cookie press or nozzle and icing bag and fill it with the soft and squidgy dough.Fill the press
  5. Position your cookie press at a 90 degree angle to the backing tray. Squeeze once then lift up. The cookie should stick to the tray. It’s great childs play as Beau and Darcey demonstrate.

Darcey making batsBeau and her pumpkins

6.If using an icing bag, position the nozzle in the bag and fill it with the dough.

Icing bag and nozzle7. Squeeze the icing bag so that it is at a 90 degree angle to the baking tray (as was the cookie press) and lift off. Make sure you leave space between each one as they spread out a little.

Viennese kisses. Squeeze and lift

8. Pop the baking tray of cookies in the oven for 10 minutes or till the edges start to brown. These biscuits are very fragile so leave them to cool on the tray for a good five minutes before transferring them to a wire racklittle kisses9.Melt the chocolate in a microwave friendly bowl for 30 seconds at a time until completely melted. Stir between each heating. Dip each cookie in the chocolate and let the excess drip off. Leave to cool and harden on the wire rack.

Dipping in chocolate

These really are melt in the mouth biscuits so share them if you can!!


Enjoy !

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