“GELATO!” Nope… chocolate cake. The Neph turns 5

I’m genuinely not sure what’s happened to the last five years, but somehow, my adorable nephew is now five entire years old. Which meant my biggest birthday cake challenge to date! Old enough to be very much the star of his own birthday show, complete with artistic input on the menu. By which I mean, he knew around a year ago that he’d like a “minion cake please, Auntie Sez!”

The good news being of course that the phonetically exuberant, banana-obsessed creatures are basically everywhere. I did not expect to be short of creative inspiration. Name any object available for purchase and it’s very feasible that you can buy a minionised version of it somewhere. I am also now, thanks to James, on first name terms with your four central minion characters: Bob, Dave, Kevin and Stuart. (I regularly confuse the last two – one is tall and the other squat and for some reason my brain refuses to associate this distinction with the relevant names.) Bob is my favourite because he has two eyes, goggles and is bald. Dave is basically Bob but with hair. ANYhoo, I digress.

Cake-wise, I decided to bring Dave to life in all his cakey, follicle-filled glory. Having researched my quantities relative to my chosen tin size (8 eggs, ladies and gentleman), I sourced the image below from Google to use as a guide. And I was pretty pleased with the results! (Though, in what is fast becoming a theme for Maison Hart bakes, he did end up limbless. Well, he has legs. Who needs feet, eh?)

Minion Dave sponge cake before and after photos
Before and after…

Dave is one of my proudest moments. Genuinely. He actually looks like Dave, for a start. Most importantly, my nephew absolutely loved him. Plus he was relatively easy to create, and I spent a nice few therapeutic hours in the kitchen last Saturday – a great way to decompress after my first week in a new job. (Yes, I took leftovers in, in a shameless attempt to ingratiate myself with new colleagues. Ahem.)

Techniques

Once the cake had cooled I was able to, initially, just lightly score the main outlines directly onto the sponge, and then to cut out the shape of his head at the top and his legs at the bottom. I then lathered the shaped sponge in chocolate buttercream – both as a filling and all over the top and sides – and rolled out a sizeable hunk of yellow icing.

I’m including photos from various icing stages below because, well, because a seemingly ‘naked’ minion is fairly chucklesome, let’s be honest.

Minion Dave sponge before icing is added

Minion Dave cake yellow icing
If he had a face he’d be blushing right now

This last photo is also worth laughing at because you can make out my giant hand print, caused by my inelegant attempts to persuade the cake onto an icing surface. I was able to smooth away most of the marks, and/or cover them with other body parts. (Cake smoothing tools are widely available online; I use one very similar to the Easyflow Smoother/Polisher.)

Cue the rest of Dave’s costume…

Minion Dave cake before face is added
Dungarees! He’s so on trend

All the coloured icing you see in this cake is ready-to-roll pre-coloured icing (I bought these particular colours in Sainsbury’s). The buttons are simply small balls of black icing pushed down and then stuck on with a dab of buttercream. And now for the face…

Minion Dave cake with dungarees and goggles
Goggles and brown eyes added

That’s better! I can confirm that Dave definitely has brown eyes. Google said so. Fortunately I had some brown icing leftover from various reindeer escapades in the past. To make the goggles silver, I cut out the black circular rims separately, and put them on kitchen towel to spray with edible silver glitter.
For the finishing touches, I lightly sliced in a mouth (smiling), and forced some liquorice twists onto cocktail sticks to insert in the top of the head as hair (three on either side of the parting). Et voilà!

Minion Dave cake

He tasted pretty good too 🙂

Sx

The Christmas Cake, 2015 Edition: Winter Wonderland

Snowpeople Christmas Cake
Winter Wonderland, 2015.

Soooo I tried to get slightly more creative this year… and though the finished effort wasn’t exactly perfectly polished, I did manage three separate ‘constructions’ of which I remain reasonably proud!

Snowman design, sketchbook
Hastily sketched design ideas

The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that the original sketch design featured male and female hats. But I mean, really, sugarpaste snowmen’s heads are simply not built for hatwear. I say ‘snowmen’ though the original design was for a loved-up snowboy and snowgirl. It’s surprisingly tricky to convey gender through the medium of inanimate, icing-based facial expressions. Or hats. I did wonder about making little heart shapes for her buttons (belonging to that essential snowperson item: an invisible coat) but I reasoned that this was perhaps taking gender stereotyping Too Far, and left them as they are to be freely interpreted. They’re both smiling anyhow, despite not having any arms. I fully intended to fashion said limbs from vanilla pod casings but this particular detail became lost (basically once the glitter came out, the design flew out of the window).

Techniques… (I use the term loosely)

The scarves are strawberry laces plaited together, and the eyes and mouth simply dotted on using black writing icing (available from supermarkets with a decent-sized baking aisle). The noses are chocolate carrots, also from the supermarket – the sort of thing you might usually lob on a carrot cake. These were my nephew’s favourite bit; indeed the only part he ate, what with 4 year-olds not being too hot on alcoholic fruit as a general rule.

The tree is star-shaped layers of green ready-to-roll icing cut using two different sizes of cookie cutter, topped with a jelly bean and liberally sprinkled with edible green glitter. I secured the jelly bean and various other extremities (see snowpeople) using edible glue (I got mine in hobbycraft but Lakeland also do this).

Handmade Christmas tree, close-up
Handmade Christmas tree, close-up

Finally, the icy lake is merely ready-to-roll dark blue icing cut into a vague lake shape and dusted with edible glitter (I’ve bought plenty from cakecraftshop.co.uk). Ridiculously simple but god I love some liberal glitterage. I then just ice-wrote a black line around the edge. (Yes, I’m taking ‘writing icing’ and making a simple past tense construction out of it; don’t fight it.)

I’m already considering snow animals for next year…

Sx

My First ‘Proper’ Cake… or: Saving Christmas with a Cookie Cutter and a Shit Ton of Fruit

Picture the scene: it’s the end of October, 2011. I’m living between parents and on sofas, out of suitcases, boxes and assorted IKEA bags. Commuting to my job in London, which somehow seems to have become the only constant in a fractured, post-break-up world.

Mind state: raw.
Baking skills: average.
Cake decorating skills: non-existent.
So… Christmas cake?

Earlier that year I had received my first issue of the excellent BBC Good Food magazine, having pleaded with various relatives for a subscription-shaped birthday gift. I ADORE leafing through the glossy pages of all the glorious seasonal recipes and foodie facts, hints and tips. It was truly a happy day for me when the latest edition hit the doormat and the next day’s train commute would be that little bit more exciting for all the foodie daydreaming I could indulge in. (Note: this is still very much the case today.)

Good Food magazines
A sprinkling of Good Food mags

Up to this point however, I had never truly taken advantage of the monthly recipe compendium and, you know, actually cooked much. Ahem. I had tinkered with cupcake concoctions over the last few months, frolicked with edible glitter, luxuriated in buttercream – that sort of thing. I’d always considered myself more of a baker (a provider of desserts, an exuder of sweetness) – largely as my Mum, Dad and sister are all such brilliant cooks that frankly the other courses were basically taken care of.
And then, the pre-Christmas issue landed. And it was a Thing of Loveliness. It was just cheese and canapés and fizz and mince pies and meat just falling off bones on every page AND MARY BERRY. The many-splendoured-cardigan wearer herself, smiling kindly above a Victorian Christmas cake recipe. Because, if you’re going to really crack on with this Actual Baking Malarkey, it’s totally wise and sensible to start with the British Behemoth of Baking, to make what is essentially the festive centrepiece of the Christmas dinner table. Oh, and the time between actually baking it and eating it is literally WEEKS, so gawd only knows what could have happened to it in the interval. This is before you wrap it all up in marzipan and royal icing and wait anxiously to see whether the first slice induces brandy poisoning in anyone within inhaling distance. Despite all this, I just knew I HAD to do it. Now, trying to put my finger on exactly how I made that decision, I believe it was a small revolutionary cry, though it seemed deafening at the time. A sort of smash and grasp urge to regain a sliver of independence, choice, and control. Coming up against practical difficulties, e.g. the inability to roll the fricking icing any thinner, and deciding to just try harder: roll it up into a ball again, knead it a bit, start over. I must have done this five times that first year. And I also shouted a lot. Quite possibly poured myself some mulled wine. But I did it! I covered the darn cake, and covered up the – ahem – knobbly bits with some bright, festive tinsel. Behold, a crisp, clean white slate! (Metaphor Alert.) Now what? Quick rummage through topmost boxes and AHA – 101 cookie cutters. Keep it simple – red and green royal icing. DONE!

Holly Christmas Cake
My First Proper Cake! Holly & Tinsel, 2011.

Crucially, tinsel does not mend broken relationships. This undeniable fact can lead to feelings of General Helplessness following a break-up. So I guess instead of turning inward and running through all the things I wasn’t able to do, I made a subconscious decision to ruddy well make something completely new, totally from scratch, and to do it properly. I say ‘subconscious’ as this by no means marked the start of a clear linear trajectory in which I baked myself happily ever after; it sort of doesn’t work like that. But I’d inadvertently kick-started something within myself: a bit of faith, a sprinkling of motivation to improve a skill. Not to mention an annual promise to produce a cake.

I already happened to love Christmas, although the sheer joy I glean from designing festive accoutrements came as a bit of a surprise. I certainly don’t practice my sugarpasting skills all year round, but give it a whirl and you can actually knock out a not-half-bad-looking Santa (albeit faceless and somewhat tipsy). And the happy faces and contented munching sounds of anyone you serve it to is its own rather lovely – and wholly satisfying – reward.

You can see all my festive offerings to date in the Christmas cake gallery – enjoy!

Sx