Thursday, 24 January 2013

My first fondant fancies

Earlier this month, we went to visit some friends in their new house, and as they'd helped me out with some graphic design earlier in the year, I'd promised them some cake. I usually bake cupcakes, but this time I wanted to try something new. 

Earlier this year, I enjoyed watching the latest series of the Great British Bake Off, and one of the challenges in the final was fondant fancies. Even though the technique they used for the icing looked a bit faffy (slightly dissolving a block of fondant icing so it became runny), I decided I'd really like a go at making my own, and when the GBBO book came out, I just had to try the recipe for the fondant fancies.

The recipe is for a delicious orange and cardamom flavoured cake with a delicately flavoured orange icing. I'd never made a genoise cake before, and other than the time it takes to get the eggs nice and fluffy, it was pretty simple to do. I ended up with a few lumps of flour because I disobeyed one of the instructions, but they weren't noticeable to eat, and I've learnt my lesson to follow the recipe more closely!

The cake was made on a Friday evening, as I'd read a tip from Mary Berry on the BBC Food website to make the cake the night before so it was less crumbly. I then prepared the marzipan for the top in the morning, and iced on Saturday afternoon. The only trouble I had was I made the icing slightly too runny. This meant that once it had dripped off, it was quite thin and you could see the cake through it. Next time I will trust a thicker icing to spread over the cake more slowly.

My little fondant fancies iced and ready to go.
But, once they were in their paper cases, packed in to a box (12 of these fit perfectly into a 6 cupcake box without the holder in), they look really lovely.

All boxed up and ready to go!
The basic recipe seems like it would be easy to adapt to other flavours, and I'm already planning my next batch. Watch this space...

Sunday, 6 January 2013

5 things for 2013

I have borrowed the idea for this post from my friend Helen, who's blog you can read here. Helen has been writing some blogs recently about the 5 good things that have happened to her recently, and this format really inspired me. Rather than copy it directly, I thought I'd use it here to look forward to 2013 and log some of my *whisper it* "resolutions". 

I know some people are not really big fans of resolutions, or using the New Year to re-evaluate what's going on, so if this is you, you might not want to read on. Personally I think that any time of year is great to do this, but a new calendar year just feels like a good excuse to do it. It also gives you a fixed timeframe to look back on to see how you got on.

So. What do I intend to refresh or start this year? Well...

1. Get healthier.

Yeah, yeah, I know. This is pretty standard, and probably the one I will fail at the most. But hey, I felt I should give it a go at least. I have put weight on this year. Quite a bit of weight. This I realised when I saw this photo of myself taken at Andy's graduation. Not good. 

Me and Andy. Absolutely horrified by this pic so it's my inspiration shot for this weightloss attempt. 

Plan is: carry on cooking yummy things from BBC Good Food Magazine, cut out "little treats", and try new things from Nadia Sawalha's new book Greedy Girls Diet ; exercise more. (Oh and Andy's doing it too, so I have some moral support). Wish me luck.

2. Crafting

I love craft. In particular I love sewing, and more recently knitting and crochet. So my crafty resolution(s) is/are to carry on with more. I need to get back to sewing clothes (not done any since July); knit some more including learning how to knit cables, finish my knitted waistcoat, and knit a gorgeous jumper I found in this months Let's Knit! magazine. I also have some baby stuff to do for this years crop of new little people; and I need to carry on my crochet blanket. I've only got 10% done so far, and I need this to be more by the end of the year or I'll lose the will to finish it!

My knitted waistcoat so far! 

3. Baking

I have been running a small business doing cakes for the last 18 months or so. It's been fun, but it's not really bringing in enough money to make it worth my while. So, my business will close at the end of this month. I will still happily do cakes for people, but it just won't be through my business (if you know me and need a cake/cupcakes then please do ask!). One day when I have more time to spare at weekends, or if I'm ever lucky enough to be able to try it full time I will come back to it, so it's "au revoir" rather than goodbye!

I'm doing cakes for my lovely friends Linzi and Steve for their wedding in May, and very much looking forward to these as there'll be several different batches with more natural decorations than usual.

I'm also hoping to continue with my cake decorating classes at Trafford College in April to develop my skills further. I'm looking forward to learning to make flowers and frills and lots of other things which I can use in the future.

And I'd like to make more bread. Tying in with resolution 1, I'd like to make a good rye or pumpernickel bread, and there is a lovely looking recipe in the latest Great British Bake Off book which I'm going to try, and after I'm happy with the results from resolution 1, then maybe the doughnuts too!

4. Read more

Since I got (addicted to) my iPhone a few years ago, I have gained the habit of reading facebook, twitter, pinterest, and BBC news before I go to bed. Which has totally taken over my traditional reading time. So this year, the book is going to claim back this half hour. I've got a few books I'd like to read to begin with so I'm going to read/reread:

  • The Hobbit (started already)
  • A book about how sewing helped the war effort in World War II I've borrowed off Mum (can't remember the title right now)
  • Something Poirot or other Agatha Christie
  • Some more Philippa Gregory. Not sure where I'm up to in her chronological series' but I'll work it out. 

5. Professional development

I need to get my revalidation for Chartered status done. This is a particularly dull one I know, but I need it to be here. I've started it, but too much of resolution 2, 3, and 4 always get in the way. So I think this is a good one to end my resolution list with. 

So there it is. My plan for 2013. Oh, apart from a sneaky 5a) blog more! I have really enjoyed my blogging so far, so will carry on as much as possible this year. Hope to see you along the way!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Camelia blanket - part 1: The beginning

Now Christmas is out of the way for another year, and 2013 has arrived, I've started planning some craft projects just for me (I know, I know - crazy!). As well as finishing a sleeveless cardigan/waistcoat I started knitting back in September, and a lovely jumper I've seen to make use of some wool I fell in love with on holiday, I also plan on getting back to a big project I started earlier this year.

Knowing we were going on the canal for our holiday this year, I decided I'd take some crochet to keep me occupied (when I wasn't doing locks or bridges). Rather than take a teeny little project, I decided to tackle my very favourite project from my crochet book (Cute and Easy Crochet, by Nikki Trench), which is... a blanket!!! It's the Camelia Blanket, and will be a gorgeous snug blanket for my bed or snuggling on the sofa.

I started it in August, a few weeks before the holiday, and I'm sure I'll still be going this time next year (and probably even longer), as I moved on to Christmas projects in October!

The blanket has a mixture of 'plain' Granny squares and squares with a three dimensional camelia. I've done about 17 squares now, and as there's 142 squares on the blanket there's still some way to go...

Felted slippers

When you think of knitting, slippers are probably not the first things you think of. But that's exactly what I ended up making for two people this Christmas (although one pair was actually a December birthday present to be fair).

As with a lot of my knitted items so far, I searched Ravelry for slipper patterns, and found this fabulous pattern by DROPS Design. 

I have never (deliberately) tried felting. (I did once manage to half felt a cashmere jumper by putting it in a normal wash cycle in the machine, but I don't think that counts!). Usually with a pattern I would try and find a yarn similar to the suggested one not necessarily the exact one, but because this was a new technique, I decided to try and find the suggested yarn. I went to Purl City Yarns in Manchester, but unfortunately they no longer stock DROPS, but the lady in the shop helpfully pointed me in the direction of an online stockist, The Crochet Chain, which many of their customers have used in the past. 

The Crochet Chain specialises in DROPS wool, and the best thing about their website is that it tells you which yarns are good for what type of knitting. In particular it told me which yarns were good for felting, and this was very useful as the exact brand was out of stock in the colours I had decided on! In the end I chose Andes, a gorgeously soft wool/alpaca mix. 

The slippers were knit flat in one piece, using 10mm needles and double thickness of yarn. This meant that it knit in super quick time. This is the largest needle I've used so far, but it wasn't any more difficult. 

Red slippers knitted flat in one piece per slipper.
Once the slippers were knitted, the sides were folded inwards and the seam knitted up the middle, and the toe seam. The back edge was also folded in and sewn tightly.

Red Slippers seamed and ready for felting.
Once they were sewn up, they were ready to go in the washing machine to be felted. I washed each pair on their own, with a towel to give something to help the felting along (friction), using non-bio washing powder on a 30 degree wash. I then left them to dry in front of the radiator to help them dry quicker. (Partly because I left both pairs to the last minute! This is typical of me.)

As a final flourish, I added a pom pom to each which I made by wrapping wool around three of the fingers on my left hand, tying in the middle and trimming until it was perfectly round. These were then sewn on to the top of each slipper. 

I was really pleased with the end result, and may even make some more in the future.

Pink slippers, ready to be given away!

Bedsocks for granny

I hadn't planned to knit for my Granny this year, but at the same time I couldn't think of what I could give her. Then my Uncle suggested she might like a pair of bedsocks, and after having a quick look on Ravelry, I found a really cute pair of bedsocks which were like large booties. 

The pattern I used can be found here. Because I wanted a size smaller, I decided to use double knitting rather than the worsted/aran weight suggested in the pattern. As the designer said that the pattern was forgiving and would stretch, I decided this would be OK.

The wool for these came from Purl City Yarns in Manchester, and I chose a lovely purple double knit wool by Adriafil. This is a standard wool/acrylic mix and so can be machine washed without any special instruction. 

The "booties" were knit up flat in one piece, and seamed using kitchener stitch for the sole and mattress stitch up the back. It was my first time using kitchener stitch but it turned out well. The design also called for making eyelets as you knit, which were made by using k2tog and yo (knit two together, and yarn over the needle if you're not a knitter!).

I was very pleased with the results, and after adding a ribbon to tie them snugly round the ankle they were ready to go. Hopefully they will keep Granny's toes snug!

Granny's knitted bedsocks

Wristlets for Christmas

I've said it before but I'll say it again - one of the best bits of Christmas is making home made presents for everyone. Since knitting is my new "thing", I decided to make a lot of knitted presents this year, and these lovely wristlets were my favourite, and the easiest too!

I found a very simple pattern on Ravelry on which to base my wristlets, and decided early on that I would combine the simple plain design with the heart motif from another project (the heart Christmas bauble I made with a pattern from Let's Knit! magazine). I wanted to make these for three friends, mum, and a pair for myself.

I took a trip to one of my favourite wool shops - baa ram ewe in Headingley, Leeds - and chose three shades of gorgeous Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (purple, gold, and a petrol blue), and added a ball in cream for the contrasting hearts. While I was there I spotted some beautiful Debbie Bliss Donegal Tweed Aran which I knew my Mum, who is also a crafter, would appreciate and chose a lovely blue shade.

The Cashmerino is a treat both to knit with and to wear. Beautifully silky soft, it is lovely to hold whilst knitting, and the items made out of it are lovely and warm. The Donegal Tweed Aran is less evenly spun than other yarn I've used, but still knitted the wristlets into a nice even-enough piece. The tweed effect is very pretty, and I like it so much that when we got given our Secret Santa people in work I decided to do another in a different colour for my recipient (they don't read my blog so the secret is still safe!). 

I only made one tiny change to the pattern to accommodate the pattern - the pattern fitted above the thumb hole, but needed an extra row before the ribbing to make sure that the top of the hearts had good definition. I found this out by making a practice version from some spare Aran I already had at home for another project. 

I also made a striped pair out of the remaining cashmerino (gold, blue, purple and cream), but I didn't get a photo of these or of my own which have been worn every day for 2 months now. They are so warm even though they are fingerless, and I think I'll be wearing these for some months to come too.

Gold wristlets in Cashmerino Aran being modelled by their recipient!

Blue wristlets in Donegal Tweed Aran, and petrol blue wristlets in Cashmerino Aran.