Mini Mincemeat Tarts

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Just before we get into mincemeat tarts, here is the result of the Decorate your own Christmas cake Workshop held last Friday. I had an intermediate group, so that’s students with some prior modelling/decorating experience. A Christmas wreath with sparkle -y roses and a festive robin.

Here are some of the gorgeous cakes produced by the students and the demonstration in progress…. As you can see there is always a unique element to each cake even if we are essentially producing the same thing.

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This design is fairly easy to achieve, sugarpaste can be bought from specialist cake shops in a variety of colours or purchased online and with the addition of a little Tylo powder, a food thickener, modelling paste can be produced. This is much easier to use when cutting out foliage such as holly and ivy as the paste is stiffer. Foliage plunge cutters are widely available.

Robins are very easy to produce: again using modelling paste form an egg shape and fashion a head and a tail. Add a red breast from a disc of red paste, eyes and  a beak and wings. Claws from black or brown complete the design. A robin would also look very good on a chocolate log.

IMG_0518So on with the mincemeat tarts. I am including a recipe for this as they are a Christmas staple, unfortunately widely overlooked as a culinary delight and easily relegated to shop bought status. However with a little bit of forethought, care and attention can provide a delicious dessert all on their own with a little cream or ice-cream and easy peasy to produce at a stressful time.

Firstly acquire some really good mincemeat (making your own is a bridge too far). Farm shops are very good for this or the best quality you can afford in the supermarket. The second trick is to have a go at making your own pastry. I know I know, the perceived wisdom is that making your own pastry is a waste of time but trust me, if you have food processor it takes seconds, and you get a MUCH better result. It also behaves itself a lot better too (much less shrinkage).

So the sweet shortcrust recipe: the one I use is Rachel Allen’s, but as these things are really a bit of a standard thing I’ll include the details here.

You will need for 6 tartlets: 110g cold butter, diced, 200g plain flour, 1 tbsp icing sugar, 1 egg yolk plus 1 egg beaten for glazing.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C. Grease your mini tart tins (loose bottomed for preference) with butter, pop the diced butter, sugar and flour in the food processor and whizz until you have coarse bread crumbs, add at least half the egg yolk and whizz again until it has more or less come together, then remove from the bowl to your work top and add a little more yolk if necessary and with a light touch bring together to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and fridge for 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll the pastry between two pieces of cling film to a thickness of 3mm or so and using a large pastry cutter (size will depend on tart tin size) cut out at least 4 discs and press into the tart tins. Repeat the rolling out process with the remainder of the pastry to produce the last two discs giving you six in total. Freeze the pastry lined tins for 15 minutes. Then bake blind for 10-15 minutes, remove from the oven, brush with a little left over beaten egg yolk or beaten egg if necessary and return to the oven for 2 minutes max. From any remaining pastry cut out stars, brush with beaten egg and bake, on a greased baking sheet, for 5-10 minutes with the pastry cases until lightly browned.

These can then be held in this state for as long as you like, or frozen…..

When you are more or less ready to eat them, dollop 4 or 5 heaped tsps of mincemeat in each tart tin, top with a star and bake at the same temperature as before for 10 minutes or so. We are trying to get the suet in the mincemeat melted but not overcook the mincemeat so that it becomes browned and chewy. If they are frozen defrost them before you start.

Once out of the oven remove from the tins and sprinkle copious amounts of icing sugar over. Delicious.

I’m going to give my favourite Christmas dessert recipe in a few days, a warm fruit salad, perfect after a rich meal….see you then

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Perfectly Iced Christmas Cakes

It’s getting busy here at Cutest Cakes HQ, funnily enough, not with Christmas Cakes primarily. However today has been individual iced Christmas cakes all the way.

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Some of these are my own designs, well most of them are, actually, but the sleeping polar bear is adapted from a Mich Turner design. Mich runs The Little Venice Cake Company and is a food hero of mine. It was watching her on some TV programme that got me into icing individual cakes in the first place.

Now icing cakes is one of those secrets, a bit like what it’s really like to give birth, that is rarely revealed. The question I am asked the most in this business is how I get the icing on the cake so smooth in the first place. I even run annual courses in this as it seems friends and clients will pay good money to be taught this technique.

As far as royally iced cakes go, find a recipe, Delia or Mary are good here, but add about 1 teaspoon of glycerine (sold by Silverspoon, amongst others, in supermarkets). The glycerine softens the dried royal icing, so that when it is cut into, it doesn’t shatter everywhere. One can achieve a smooth finish with royal icing but unless your name is Eddie Spence (royally iced wedding cakes for Royalty are his speciality) or you were taught this skill in domestic science about 50 years ago, I wouldn’t design a cake with this in mind.

Sugarpaste on the other hand is a total delight to work with and achieving a smooth finish requires 2 or 3 simple steps and some practice. Sugarpaste was in fact developed in Australia as royal icing doesn’t always set in potentially such a hot climate. It wasn’t introduced into the UK until the 1970’s in the modern era although a quick search about would suggest that making sugarpaste was something that might have been going on as far back as the Eighteenth Century.

So the rules:-

1) Always level the top of the cake (i.e. cut off the dome-y top) and then invert the cake so that the bottom becomes the top. Professional cake makers will get out spirit levels and the like to ensure the new top is flat, but this is probably unnecessary unless you are planning to charge for the cake or stack more that one layer.

2) Use plenty of sugarpaste and do not roll out too thinly. The rolled out icing should be 5-6 mm minimum thickness and you will need to allow 1 kg for a 6 ” cake and 1.5 kg for an 8″ cake. Knead the sugar paste so that it is warm and pliable before attempting to roll it out. Left overs will keep for months if not years.

3) Keep the paste moving. As you roll out use plenty of icing sugar, turn the paste very regularly and ensure that the paste does not become stuck to the work surface at any stage. Before attempting to cover the cake check the icing is still loose.

4) To help achieve a professional finish, coat with an undercoat of marzipan, a thinner undercoat layer of sugarpaste or a smooth coating of buttercream. Cakes should be brushed with cooled, boiled sieved apricot jam before under coating with marzipan or sugarpaste.

5) Brush the undercoat with brandy or cooled boiled water before applying the top coat. (For buttercream and sugarpaste coatings you won’t need apricot jam or the brandy, just ensure the buttercream is smoothly applied just before you roll out the sugarpaste. Work fairly quickly or the buttercream dries out and the sugarpaste will not stick)

6) Apply the top coat to the cake by picking it up with hands and forearms to make the transfer NOT draping it over a rolling-pin. Carefully smooth the paste starting with the top of the cake and working down the sides, if folds and pleat start to form, pull the paste out and smooth flat against the cake, if it is thick enough the paste will literally mould to the cake with a little coaxing and pressing. Then:

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These are the secret to success, they cost less than a fiver and just allow you to smooth out any finger marks and other dings and divets, once you have the paste hugging the cake, to achieve that perfect finish.

Angled pallet knives also help with moving the cake about without leaving marks in the icing.

If you can, leave the cake for 24 hours before you decorate it.

Simple huh, it does take a bit of practice, but once you have got the hang of it, you’ll find yourself in a relatively exclusive club.

Tagine Inspired Shepherd’s Pie and Word about a Christmas Workshop

Just before we get into the nuts and bolts of a Moroccan style Shepherd’s Pie, I am going to make a little announcement:

For those who are resident in Wiltshire (realistically,) although anyone is welcome I am running my second ‘Decorate your own Christmas Cake Workshop‘ on the 14th December 2012. We won’t be tackling anything quite like this ‘Night before Christmas’ Cake just yet, but you will have something to wow your family.

It will begin at 9.45am and run through until around 3pm. Bring your own cake, un-iced, and your lunch. It will cost £25 plus the cost of the decorating ingredients, contact me via the messaging service in Facebook (see the side bar and click through).

Last year we managed this↓ (not sure why the background is so dark, perhaps it was about to snow!)

Anyway, on with the latest recipe. This is something concocted some years ago for Bonfire Night, the sweet heat seemed appropriate for such an event. I have always been a fan of Tagine, but find the soupy, stew-y nature of it a little unsatisfying in the depths of winter, so I came up with the following (serves 4):

You will need for the meat sauce:

800g Lamb Mince, 1 large Onion, 2 cloves of Garlic, crushed, Olive Oil, 2cm piece of fresh Ginger, grated, a pinch of Chilli Flakes, 2 tsp Paprika, 2 tsp Cumin, ½ Cinnamon stick or ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon, ½ Red Pepper, ½ Yellow Pepper (or a whole Pepper of one colour instead), 100g Ready to eat Apricots, roughly chopped, 1 tbsp Runny Honey, 2 tbsp Fresh Coriander or Flat Leaf Parsley Chopped, 2 tsp Tomato Puree, a slug of Red Wine (optional), Salt, Pepper.

For the Mashed Potato topping:

800g to 1kg of potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed with butter, a tiny slug of milk, salt and pepper in the usual way.

Quite an ingredients list for this! But it is well worth it. Peel the potatoes and set them on the hob to boil and then simmer in salted water as usual. Keep and eye on them as you start the meat sauce, once tender, drain, add the butter, milk and seasoning and mash. You want quite a dry mixture, not too sloppy here as the meat sauce is quite saucy!

Meanwhile, fry off the lamb in a frying pan to remove the excess fat and heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the onion until transparent and soft, then add the garlic and stir round for a minute or two along with the ginger and chilli flakes. Transfer the lamb with a draining spoon to the onion mixture and then add all the other sauce ingredients apart from the fresh coriander or parsley. Add around 300ml boiling water until you have a sauce type consistency. Allow the whole lot to come to the boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes whilst the potatoes are cooking. Stir the meat sauce from time to time and add a little more water as necessary so that the mixture does not dry out and towards the end of the cooking time add the fresh herbs, you want to maintain some liquid at all times.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C, decant the meat sauce into an ovenproof dish and top with the potato, spread the topping around with the back of a fork to completely cover the sauce. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping has crispy tinges and you can hear or see the sauce bubbling underneath…..

This one in the picture was made with part regular, part sweet potato as the topping which is very good too.

One of the Greatest Love Stories Ever Told

Romeo and Juliet would be another good cake idea, but here is Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy on this occasion. An 8″ square chocolate swirl cake, trimmed to create a book shape and covered in sugarpaste accordingly.

The figures are made in advance to allow for drying time.

The tricky thing here is to resist embellishing the scene with additional props. As the great designer Laura Ashley used to say,’ stop before you think you are finished!’

Happy Birthday G. X

Harvest-Time

Harvest-Time

2-tier Sponge with Jam and Cream for a 1st Birthday.
Blogging is a bit tricky this week for a mixture of reasons so there will be a cake picture or two to make up for it. Look out for more at the end of the week. I will hopefully get back to the recipes next week.

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Rubbing Shoulders with Mary Berry

So I have had clearance to use some images of my exciting meeting with Mary Berry recently, and therefore whilst everyone is really distracted with all things Jubilee, I will pop up a few pictures.

The event: Age UK (formerly Age Concern) rebranding launch.

The Place: Brasserie Blanc, Bath (very lovely and very very lovely staff)

The Photographer: kerrywho, fellow blogger (thanks for the gorgeous pics)

The Supplier: Waitrose who kindly donated all the ingredients I needed. Many thanks to them.

The Logo cake was a 12″ vanilla sponge, split and filled with jam and buttercream. The Logo was achieved using run outs. The cupcakes were the old favourite Hummingbird Bakery vanilla recipe and the toppings were vanilla buttercream with sugarpaste details and a small amount of royal icing piping. The colour scheme was carried through from the Age UK Logo. The designs were designed to show a range of skills.

Mary was very intriguing to meet and it was hard to resist pumping her for endless advice (the new Great British Bake Off series begins in July). She appeared to approve of the work however. A very memorable morning and as Kerry (the photographer) pointed out, possibly the pinicle of one’s career. This could be very true.

 The Bath Chronicle picked up the story and also the social events magazine, Bath Life. Excellent publicity. Thank you to Age UK for arranging that.

Finally, these lovely ladies from the local Waitrose Branch allowed me to take a picture for the blog and asked me to pass on a message: the store is currently undergoing a major refit and they ask all the customers to bear with, the pain will be worth the gain. Can’t wait.

The Cutest Cakes bake for Age UK and Mary Berry judges

Reblogging this whilst I check the copyright, The Cutest Cakes provided 100 cupcakes and the Logo cake for Age UK rebranding launch in Bath yesterday. The cake guru Mary Berry came, can you spot the familiar face? And well done Kerry, fabulous photos including the gorgeous one here.

Click on the ‘reblogged from’ link above for the pictures.

Age UK previously Age Concern, launched their new branding today at the Francis Hotel Bath. I was asked to come along to photograph the event. This is the first editorial event that I have covered so it was a learning curve. All went well but I think I need to be a bit more assertive with the human beings. I found myself holding back as I didn’t want to come across as a stalker.

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Help for Heroes Cake Sale – Many Thanks – £430 raised!!

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First off I would like to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone who baked all these delicious cakes you can see above. The degree of assistance Running Buddy 2 and myself had in this area far exceeded our expectations. The official Help for Heroes posters billed the event as a ‘Colossal Cake Sale’ and I had been pondering to what the colossal referred. In our case it was quantity it seemed.

Generosity was in colossal supply as well. We have raised a fantastic sum and to all those who helped set up, clear up, wash up, fetch and carry, donate and ultimately consume we could not have done it without you, a truly collective effort. Thanks again.

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A little bit of festive bunting

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Expectant outdoor seating!

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Gorgeous and delicious: cards and cakes to go

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Martha’s Closet Vintage Clothing

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and last but not least beautiful potted violas for sale.

And Finally,

I think if I have judged this right this post will also coincide with 1000 hits to the blog, a double celebration and what a post for such a significant hit. Here’s to all the readers who have stuck with me.

Can I offer you a slice of celebration cake. x

Quacking Easter Beaver Biscuits

The Cutest Cakes spent some time down at the local Beaver Colony recently decorating Easter themed biscuits. The trick here was to find an activity which would engage all concerned and only take ½ hour or so. Simplicity was definitely the key. This particular activity would work well with children of all ages and different animals can obviously be tackled, pigs, bunnies, sheep for example. Aardman-esque designs might look good!

The Beavers seemed very excited at the prospect of a bit of modelling, perhaps it was the thought of all that sugar but enthusiasm was not in short supply. As with many of these types of workshop, we began with a demonstration:

and then the Beavers ‘hatched’ a few ducklings of their own.

You will need: Some rich tea biscuits, some boiled sieved apricot jam, a pastry brush, a pastry cutter (slightly smaller than the biscuits), some white, yellow, orange and black sugarpaste, a rolling-pin and a cup with a small amount of water in it.

To make the ducks:

  • roll around 25g of yellow sugarpaste into an egg/oval shape and then flatten to some degree on the work surface you are using.
  • take around 5g of orange paste, break off a pea sized piece and set aside and roll the rest into a jelly bean shape. Again flatten on the work surface and then fold in half lengthways. Shape into the beak and stick on the head.
  • 2 petit pois sized pieces of white paste, roll into balls and flatten onto the head as eyes. Flatten the balls as part of the attachment process to the head.
  • 2 even smaller pieces of black paste can be rolled into balls and again flatten onto the white eyes as pupils.
  • finally the remaining pea sized piece of orange paste can be attached on top of the head as a quiffy bit.

To finish the biscuit:

  • using the pastry brush paint the jam onto the centre of the biscuit.
  • roll out and cut out a circle of sugarpaste and stick onto the biscuit over the jam.
  • attach the duck head

The water can be used to provide ‘damp fingers ‘ which can help the sugarpaste elements stick to each other if required. You do not want ‘wet’ fingers as this will essentially make a right mess, a little moistening of the paste can however aid the sticking process.

Well done Beavers! How very egg-citing!

Help for Heroes Colossal Cake Sale – One week to go….

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Preparations are going full steam ahead regarding our cake and coffee morning next week. I have had lots of support from friends who are prepared to bake so well done and thank you to them.

I tweeted the above picture to H4H yesterday as they use this cute little mascot on their promotional posters. I made him out of sugar-paste and surprisingly he didn’t take too long!

I also made this:

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to jazz up a cake to raffle off but promptly sold it so I was back to square one and therefore made these instead:

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which are peonies for anyone who is wondering. 2 cakes will therefore go into a raffle, a flowery and mascot decorated. Today I am collecting tea, coffee, sugar and next week milk from our local Co-op which have kindly donated these essentials. I have bunting coming out of my ears, and posters and flyers littering the place and a house to clean as the parents are coming for the weekend. (But that’s nothing to do with the cake sale – Happy Birthday Mother).

Previous Older Entries

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at www.cutestcakes.co.uk or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.