The Girls


If ever there was a cake with a back story its this one so let me take you back to 1999 when a whirlwind hit our family in the shape of the Alternative WI Calendar.

My husbands Aunty Trish was a member of her local Yorkshire Dales WI she has a great sense of humour and not always one to follow conventional rules! She had often joked that instead of their usual WI pictures of local scenery calendars that they should do a ‘naked’ one of the members instead, of course everyone laughed but no-one really took her seriously. She had a friend whose husband had very sadly died of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1998 and he indeed also thought the project would never happen. However finally she managed to muster support, and persuade an artist friend to take the pictures and they were off. They thought they might sell a couple of hundred copies but before they knew it the media had got hold of the story and the rest is history. The original girls travelled the world talking about the calendar, the film Calendar Girls was a huge box office hit, the stage play of the same name ran in the West End and toured the country. Tricia still hosts talks extensively about the experience and they have continued to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, raising over £3.5million in the first 10 years. You can read more about the whole story here 

Every year we all think that perhaps the furor will die down but it seems not as now Gary Barlow has teamed up with the writer of the original film and play, Tim Firth, to put on a new Comedy musical based on the story called The Girls.

I have been lucky to see be at some fabulous Calendar Girls events with Aunty Trish over the years and as a close family we see each other quite a bit. So last time we were together we chatted about me possibly doing a cake for the opening night for us all to enjoy. I then saw on that the original girls were going to be serving tea and cake as part of the promotional events around the ticket sale launches at the Phoenix Theatre. So I asked if I could make her a cake for that as well, and there was born a creative idea!

It obviously had to have sunflowers on as these are a prominent part of the whole story, the promotional material for the musical all had a blue background, but how on earth could I recreate that logo and make it look good?


I immediately thought of Tom at Iced Rainbow he has made customer acrylic toppers for me in the past and is always really helpful. I was short on time but within just a few hours Tom had mocked up the design for me, with a few tweaks we managed to get it just right and two days later it arrived. So that was it blue cake, sunflowers, topper design done!


I then of course decided that it would be a fitting tribute without some form of boobs on it too! But how to do it? Initial ideas were very complex with a naked figure behind a table holding iced buns, or much simpler with just the odd pair of breast peeping out from behind a sunflower! Helpful comments from my kids like ‘I find your figures a bit creepy mum’ and voices in my own head saying ‘don’t make it too time consuming’ were definitely putting me off but I couldn’t shake that feeling that it needed more than just the sunflowers, even with Toms fabulous topper. I was also having a few other design misgivings – a blue cake? Mary Berry herself dismissed a blue cake on Bake Off recently – people just don’t like eating blue things, and I had thought it should be a smooth professional fondant finish, but I really don’t enjoy working with fondant much.

Finally I settled on my design, all in my head as I really really can’t draw! I took a wired modelling class earlier this year and reckoned I could use that knowledge to make a lying down naked lady! She was to lay amongst the sunflowers as if in a field, with them strategically placed to save her modesty. The cake would be buttercream with a band of green and yellow at the base and yet more sunflowers to finish the whole thing off.

The sunflowers were fairly easy to make based on a gerbera/daisy design I have done a few times before and I even got my daughter involved showing her how to make these with me.


The naked lady presented lots of challenges, not least that I made her on the hottest September day in the UK in over 100 years. The models are made using modelling chocolate and fondant mix which is very soft in the heat and because she was to lie down it made it tricky not to squish her! She was popped in and out of the freezer and whilst she wouldn’t win any figure making competitions I was pleased with how she turned out.


Once nestled in her sunflowers and a few pertinent details were added she was looking great! I can honestly say that I have never studied the female form in quite so much detail before – I am no artist and to get the positioning of limbs and proportions so they looked right was harder than I expected.


The final cake as always had to taste good too so I went for two layers of chocolate sandwiching a layer of brown sugar cake. The buttercream was just vanilla but there were a couple of layers of salted caramel in the between the layers!

My recent courses on ganache cakes and ombre buttercream had great transferrable skills in terms of getting a good straight edge to the buttercream finish and getting great striped layers in the colours.


The final flourish was that a friend Birgit Mons, who I will be working with on some upcoming projects, offered to come and take some fabulous professional pictures for me making a huge difference to how I was able to show the cake off.

image imageimage1-73 the-girls-1344-2

Finally it was ready, in and out of the fridge to stop it all melting in the heat with the flowers on then off then on again. I had to travel to London by train and of course now it was pouring with rain, stations across London were flooded and public transport was generally in chaos!. Spurred on by seeing Aunty Trish on the Lorraine show before I left….


I made sure the cake had its own seat on the train – we weren’t going to fall at the final hurdle!


Eventually with the help of a London cabbie I made it to the theatre with the cake in one piece!


There were some amazing fans there enjoying the tea and cake, dressed to the nines with sunflowers on leggings, shoes and in their hair!

I got there before Aunty Trish and her fellow original girls, Angie and Christine, but still managed to get a big ‘woo’ from the waiting fans when I was introduced not just as the cake maker, but also as Tricia’s niece which was all highly amusing!

The ladies posed for lots of pictures with the fans and I became official photographer for Aunty Trish!


They were delighted with the cake!


Before I knew it I was whisked off for a champagne lunch with everyone. Sadly Gary Barlow didn’t make an appearance but I did have lunch with Tim Firth, and the producer David Pugh who were both really lovely. Tim even took a photo of my cake.


We cut it at the restaurant and it also got the thumbs up flavour-wise which is always a relief.


Thank you Aunty Trish for letting me play a little part in your exciting adventures and I can’t wait to see the musical next year.




Learning new skills with CakeyBake


I was delighted to be able to attend a course this week, I love learning new skills and improving upon old ones.

My cake style is very much naked or buttercream cakes, with fresh or sugarpaste flower decoration some recent examples:

I usually steer clear of fondant cakes as I really feel they don’t play to my strengths, but that said lots of people prefer fondant covered cakes and they can give so much more scope in terms of a highly personalised and decorated brief.

I have had some successes but always feel I could improve my finish, with strategically placed decoration hiding and slightly less than perfect covering.

So I decided I would try a course that has been calling my name for sometime on Facebook by CakeyBake.

The course promised to teach a ‘shabby chic’ wooden cakeboard cover, how to cover and fill a cake with ganache, how to then cover the cake with fondant to get really sharp edges, painting with metallic dusts and how to make a wafer paper flower. The resulting cake left little room to hide imperfections and it was a lot to cover in one day but I was up for the challenge.

My first quest was just to get there – the course was just over an hours journey but of course the M20 was closed and the A21 had a major accident so I had a lovely diverted route through the little woodland roads of Kent, all very pretty and I still made it in time!

The course was held in a lovely airy church hall and as I arrived there were 4 other ladies already in place with Kirsty from Cakey Bakey flying around getting everything ready that we needed for the day. I won’t go into detail on all the methods we were shown but want to give you a flavour of the course.

We soon got underway, the cake already and ganache already supplied, our first job was to cover the boards. We got to choose the colour we preferred and Kirsty showed us a really easy way to produce a wooden plank effect which we then white washed for that shabby chic feel.

We were then shown how to trim split and fill a cake to get a good height and even finish and finally made our wafer paper flowers


It was amazing to see with the same direction and instruction how personal our designs were becoming.

Kirsty then demonstrated how to trim and cover the cake with ganache to get perfectly upright edges and sharp toplines.


She made it look so easy and I was sure mine wouldn’t look anywhere near as good but actually with a bit of effort and some top tips we all achieved beautifully ganached cakes. I really felt at that point I should quit whilst I was ahead it was already the neatest cake I had ever made so I was happy.


We were shown how to make a good ganache with some excellent tips on how to achieve a good setting mixture without splitting, and what to do if it did split! Then time for the dreaded covering.

Kirsty yet again demoed a how to and off we went. My hands were shaking, literally! Everyone there was a hobby baker most of whom baked for others too and all of whom seemed to have much more fondant experience than me. The thought of ruining my lovely ganached cake with dodgey fondant absolutely terrified me but I followed Kirsty’s instructions and TaDah I did it! Special corner tools and smoothers help get that nice sharp topline. Although my fondant was a tiny bit cracked on the edge (I probably should have kneaded it a bit more) and i perhaps could have gone sharper – I really was over the moon with the result.


The final flourish was to semi dry brush on the metallic dusts and place on the board, with a finishing touch of some raffia ribbon, the flower placed and we were done.

Everyones cakes were amazing – lovely individual styles within the same brief.



The course ran really smoothly with Kirsty having time for everyone, we all took our own lunch but there were teas coffees and snacks available as well as plenty of cake cutoffs. She had lots of lovely tools for us to purchase at the end – us cakers do love a bit of kit!

I will definitely do another course with Kirsty, she is very approachable and knowledgable and I learned so much that maybe I will shake just a little less next time I have a fondant cake to do!


If you would like to see more of my cakes please visit my Facebook page – BecksBakes 

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A week in the life of …. my oven!


So maybe not the most exciting post but my oven is an essential part of my daily life without which I couldn’t run my little business.

When I visit my mums house her oven is ALWAYS immaculate – it looks like she never uses it and it has always been like this – I don’t know how she does it but it just doesn’t get dirty – or she is a magical cleaning wizardess – I suspect the latter! Well I can probably never live up to those dizzy heights. My oven on the other hand seems to get greasy and grimy even without using it, but admittedly its on most days not just with cakes but home cooked meals and the weekly roast adored by my family! As I bake for others it is essential I keep the oven clean and it regularly gets a total blitz – I like to use OvenPride its pretty toxic stuff but it does the job without too much scrubbing.

However, how to master the keeping it clean between cleans magic – Croylek asked me if I would like to trial their Tufflek teflon oven mats – so of course I said yes and here are the results.

Day1: My 13 year old oven looking very smart with its freshly trimmed mat


& chicken wrapped in bacon and new roast potatoes for supper


Day2: Just a few cakes to bake



Day3: More cake and a few marks on the mat easily removed with a damp cloth



Day 4: roasting chicken thighs for my poorly dog to eat!


Day 5: Beef and ale pie with wedges!


Day 6: Little lemon cakes and lasagne for supper



Day 7 : slow roast lamb and roast potatoes


and a quick wipe over and its like new!


Well I don’t think I’ve have ever kept my oven so clean – so perhaps I haven’t put the mat properly through its paces – how about a greasy bacony grill pan. My teens are bacon obsessed but not so clean the grill pan obsessed. So here it is pre and post cleaning



A few grease spots left but it literally took a rinse over with warm water and a squirt of washing up liquid.

Conclusions : yes there are lots of teflon mats out there and I’m not sure these are much different to most but they do work, they do the job perfectly and at £4.99 per mat on Amazon they are a competitive price. I have a spare mat for you to win too! Just follow my self @becksbake and @Croylekstore on twitter and retweet the link to this blog post and I will draw a name out of a hat on 1st September.

Croylek kindly sent me complimentary mats to try however the views here are completely my own.

Silicone Mats and new recipes!


I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to my baking equipment, I like my metal baking trays and am happy using non stick baking parchment, so when I was asked if I would like to try some silicone mats I must admit to being a little dubious.

Kitchenways kindly sent me this set of two to trial run and here is how I got on with them.


My first observation was that they have two sides – a smooth side and an imprinted side – the instructions on the back of the packet are rather generic to all of the silicone bakeware products I suspect and I wasn’t sure which side to use. As a silicone newby this would have been helpful information. Secondly do I need to grease or not? nothing helpful there either.

My first outing with the mats was when making meringue shards – unfortunately a complete disaster – I have heard that macarons don’t cook well on silicone mats either – The meringue didn’t dry out enough ( I feel the thick silicon changed the way the heat was conducted from the metal baking tray) and stuck terribly to the mat (I hadn’t greased it). So I would definitely not be using it for those again. I canvassed a bit of opinion from bakey pals who do use silicone and decided to try biscuits and greasing!

I was given Eric Lanlards new book, Afternoon Tea for my birthday and as there was a biscuit challenge over on twitter #GBBOTwitterBakeAlong run by Bakes4fun and @BakingNanna this was the ideal chance to try a new recipe.

Cardamom Biscuits

The full recipe for these biscuits can be found in Afternoon Tea by Eric Lanlard, but here is how I got on.

The basic biscuit is a shortbread style dough so rubbing in cold butter to flour and sugar, with just a small amount of ground cardamom.



I get mine from Steenbergs – it has a lovely flavour.

There is quite a high butter content which makes the ‘rubbing in’ a bit tricky – make sure to use the tips of your fingers so you don’t melt the butter to get to this ‘breadcrumb’ stage – it will make for a lighter biscuit.


You then add the vanilla bean paste, I like this Nielsen Massey one as I can get it in the supermarket and it has a lovely flavour, finally bring together into a dough.


It is key with biscuit making to allow the dough to rest in the fridge, the recipe says for 1 hour, so wrap well in cling film to be sure it doesn’t dry out.

The next step in the recipe was to roll out the dough. My tip here would be to split the dough in half so you don’t keep re-rolling the same dough over again, as this will cause the biscuits to go tough.

The recipe said to roll out to 1cm or 1/2inch, that seemed extraordinarily thick to me and certainly didn’t seem to match the picture in the book – I suppose shortbread is often quite thick but I felt that this wasn’t quite right so opted for 1/2cm instead. I have a fab rolling pin with guards on with measured thicknesses, this really helps get an even layer of dough for cutting.

You are then told to cut your desired shapes, transfer to a greased baking mat, I decided to grease my silicone ones this time, and press a blanched almond into each biscuit.


Chill once more for 20 minutes before baking.

So onto my next bone of contention with the recipe – the instructions say to bake at 170C or 140 fan oven, 30C is an awful lot to reduce a temperature by for a domestic fan oven and as the baking time was only 12  minutes I guessed 140C fan would be too low (even more so had I stuck to the original 1cm depth).

So 12 minutes in, the biscuits weren’t golden brown at all, in fact they barely had changed colour, so I added on 3 minutes, then maybe 2 more minutes? Still no better, so I turned the oven up by 10C and gave them another 3 minutes. By this point I was worried they would be drying out but they still hadn’t achieved the lovely golden colour in the book.

The next step was to leave them to cool enough to handle, remove from the baking sheets (which they did perfectly) then dip the corners in golden caster sugar, which I duly did but you couldn’t see it at all, the whole thing looked really insipid.


These were to be a gift so tasting good alone wasn’t enough I needed them to look tasty too. I ended up resorting to my blowtorch to caramelise the sugar and the almonds and finally they looked the part


If I make them again, and I probably will as they were delicious, I think I will sprinkle the biscuits with the golden caster sugar before I add the almonds and bake at a higher temperature. The ones in the book have a light sheen to them under the almond and the dipped sugar which I reckon was achieved this way. Its such a shame when recipes seem not to have been tested properly in books, but I will try some others before I condemn this particular book to the charity pile.

As for the mats – yes they bake biscuits very nicely, they save the need to use baking parchment which then gets thrown away and are easy enough to clean, my only request is some more detailed instructions on using them on the packet.




imageOne of my biggest passions in encouraging kids into the kitchen. I firmly believe that if you get kids involved in cooking food they learn to enjoy a much wider variety of flavours, they become more adventurous in their food choices and grow up with a healthy relationship with food. Thats how, a number of years ago, I started my after school kids club Funkilicious Food, we have covered numerous topics from creating simple suppers to learning how to bake and I have taught a wide variety of ages too – with even some requests from my grown up friends that we have cooking workshops at my house run by me or guest chefs. It’s all great fun.

Most of my cooking is learning about doing it from scratch but anything that entices children into the kitchen is good in my book, so I was delighted to be asked to try out a couple of Junior Bake boxes by My Bakes . The idea behind the boxes is that at the start of each month you are sent a box through the post (it fits through your letterbox).

Inside is and instruction sheet, some ingredients – although you do need to add fresh ingredients – and some additional items that you need to make your bake.

You can just get a one off box or subscribe for a period of 3, 6 or 12 months.

My kids are a bit grown up for this now so I ‘borrowed’ a couple of neighbours children Daisy 9 and Olive 7 to test run the boxes.

This months box was to cook some cupcakes with a coloured buttercream topping and sprinkles. We needed to provide the eggs and butter and you also needed a bun tin to put the cases in.

Daisy did a great job at reading the instructions for us, we made the cupcakes by hand and the girls had fun creaming in the ingredients.

imageBut breaking in the eggs was definitely the fun part and folding in the flour brought a few more smiles.


With Olive passing a critical eye over her big sisters technique!

They filled the cases very carefully….


But we definitely found that the mixture made far more than the 10 cases provided could hold, so luckily I had a few spare to hand.


And it left plenty for licking out the bowl at the end!

The cakes baked really quickly but left just about the right time to make the buttercream.

We used the power tools this time – more excitement using the icing sugar provided and our own butter. We added the colouring from the little bag which was quite tricky but made it a lovely vibrant pink.

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We scraped the mixture into the provided bags, but I let the girls choose a nozzle each from my kit so they could make pretty shapes – this would have been a nice keepsake to be included in the kit so the kids could have built up their own baking equipment store.

We draped the bags over a plastic cup to make it easier to fill them, my own tip, again little tips like this make baking easier for kids and maybe it could have been included on the instructions. We also put a plastic bag clip on the top of the piping bags to stop the mixture squeezing out of the wrong end of the bag – a top tip for kids and adults alike.


We piped swirls and stars on then added the little hearts and glitter which went down really well with Daisy and Olive


The girls were rightly super proud of their cakes



Both girls said said they had a fun time and that receding a box through the post like this would be a great thing to look forward to. My thoughts are that it would certainly encourage kids into the kitchen and especially suitable for families that don’t bake much themselves already. The instructions were clear and easy to follow and the packaging attractive. I do think it would be nice to provide something that was a keepsake or a baking tool that could be used again, once you have made everything, other than the recipe the box is finished with once you have made the cakes.

However I do think the boxes are a great way of getting kids baking, a subscription would make a wonderful Christmas or birthday present that give a skill to last a lifetime.

Check out Bake boxes for adults and kids by My Bakes here 

A Royal Bake #fitforaqueen


I was encouraged recently to enter a competition I saw over on Twitter to bake a cake #fitforaqueen being run by Kitchenways, details of the competition are in the link. Earlier in the year I baked a cake that I named my Elizabeth cake but felt I could improve it and make it more refined for the royal birthday so here it is:

English Country Garden Coronet Cake


The cake is a featherlight lemon sponge filled with a fresh lemon curd cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries. It is surrounded by a coronet of meringue shards that have been decorated with dried cornflowers and freeze dried strawberry pieces. The whole cake is topped with fresh edible red, white and blue British grown organic flowers from Maddocks Farm with a tiny gold coronet nestled in the centre of the garden. I have chosen these flavours as they say fresh British produce and flavours to me with a hint of Eton Mess combined with a WI feel lemon curd. The flowers are reminiscent of a typical English country garden in spring and come from an enterprising British company.

Its quite a technical bake in several aspects but in case you wanted to make this cake here comes the recipe. Alternatively bake your own #fitforaqueen cake and enter the competition yourself.

Meringue shards

2 egg whites

150g caster sugar

Dried cornflower petals

Freeze dried strawberries (6g tube)

Lemon curd cream

4 egg yolks

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

100g caster sugar

250ml double cream


4 eggs

100g caster sugar

100g plain flour

1 lemon

extra 60g sugar

To finish

Fresh edible organic flowers

150g strawberries

100g blueberries

Gold sugar paste / crown cutter

Firstly make the shards

Prepare two large baking trays with silicon sheets or parchment paper at least 30 cm x 20 in size.

Preheat the oven to 100C fan

Then make sure the stand mixer is super squeaky clean, I rinse the bowl and whisk in a little white wine vinegar, then dry with a paper towel.

Add the egg whites to the bowl and switch on the mixer really low.

Put the sugar in a glass bowl and warm in the microwave for 1 – 2 minutes.

Once the sugar is slightly warm it will stick just a little to the edges of the glass bowl and feel just warm to the touch.

Once the egg whites are nice and loose and the sugar is warm , turn the mixer up and whisk to a soft peak


Once this stage is reached turn the mixer to a medium speed and slowly spoon by spoon add the sugar. Whisk really well between each addition.

Once all the sugar has been added continue to whisk on a highish speed until the meringue is stiff and glossy and if you rub a little between your fingers you cannot feel the sugar granules.


Dollop half of the mixture on each sheet and spread out flat and rectangular shapes with a palette knife – about 20 x 30cm . they should be as even as possible and only a few mm thick.


Sprinkle with the dried cornflowers but not the strawberries yet!

Bake for 40/45 mins until dry all the way through and lifting easily from the parchment.

Remove, sprinkle with the strawberry pieces and spray very lightly with water to fix.


Allow to cool

To make the curd cream

Put the egg yolks, grated rind  and juice with the sugar into a bain marie ( or a heatprrof bowl). Place over a pan of barely simmering water and stir constantly until the curd thickens.


Once thickened sufficiently it will come away from the edges of the pan, be glossy and settle in position.


Transfer to another dish and cover with cling film, allowing the film to connect with the mixture. Leave to cool completely – you will finish the cream later.


To make the sponge

Grease and line the base and sides of 4 shallow 6 inch tins, (or as I did 2 shallow and 1 deep tin as I don’t have 4 shallow ones!).

Preheat the oven to 160C fan.

Put the flour and the rind of one lemon in a bowl, whisk with a small hand whisk.

Put the 4 eggs and 100g caster sugar into a separate heatproof bowl.

Place over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk until tripled in volume and leaves a trail in the mixture. It will start looking like this:


and end up like this


leaving a trail looks like this!


Carefully fold in the flour and lemon rind mixture, take great care not to deflate the mixture too much.

Share evenly between the tins, each layer should have about 100g of mixture.

Bake for about 20 minutes  (maybe 25 if you are using deep pans)

Whilst it is baking mix the remaining 60g sugar with the lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of water in a small heavy bottomed pan. Warm through to dissolve the sugar.

Once baked the sponges will be firm but springy to the tough and golden brown on top.

Remove and pierce several times with a cocktail stick, brush each layer of sponge with the syrup.

Allow to cool.

Once cold you may need to split the sponge if you used a deep pan. Pop in the freezer for 5 minutes. the carefully with a very sharp knife or electric knife split the sponge in two.

You are almost ready to construct!

To make the shards carefully move the meringue to a chopping board. use a very sharp knife and score lines 2.5cm apart along the short length to separate each shard. Be warned they are very fragile and will break but don’t panic you will have enough to work with and can always patch them back together on the cake.


Finish the lemon cream by whipping the double cream to soft peaks.

Take a spoonful or two of the cream and add to the lemon curd to loosen it, then transfer that back into the cream and fold in together. Give it all one last short whip to a smooth consistency

Chop the strawberries in to small pieces.

Make up the cake with a thick layer of cream topped with the strawberries and blueberries between each layer.


Finally cover the whole cake in the cream sides and top!

Stick the shards all around the cake breaking them off to the length you require.


Finish off with your fresh flowers and crown made from gold paste using a crown cutter.


Allow to firm up in the fridge for an hour or so before you cut is as its a super soft cake





Chequerboard Cakes



My poor husband almost didn’t get a birthday cake this year! I was totally lacking inspiration and didn’t want to make him a cake just for the sake of it. He loves all things custard and I had planned just to do him a custard tart, in fact I still might, but no cake. However this week I received my order of new and replacement Foodie Flavours and they had kindly included a complimentary bottle of rhubarb flavour. Inspiration finally struck – he loves rhubarb and I hate it so I never cook it!


He also loves rhubarb and custard sweets – the kind you used to buy by the quarter as a kid. So there it was a rhubarb and custard cake was formulating in my mind, but what to do inside? My first thought was a marbled cake but I thought the flavours might get lost, so different layers maybe? Then I finally settled on a chequered board style cake and this is it!

I won’t bore you with my recipe as it’s just a simple Madeira style sponge, the custard layers were made by replacing 25g of the flour with custard powder and adding egg yolk yellow Sugarflair paste. The rhubarb flavour simply had some drops of rhubarb natural flavouring added and pink Sugarflair colouring. I felt it needed quite a lot of the drops to get any flavour and you’ll have to ask my husband if it tasted of rhubarb, but it was certainly fruity! I made a deep 6 inch sponge of each colour, also important is that I made it the day before, if you plan to cut cakes for construction its best that they rest overnight first as very fresh cake is too crumbly.

The chequerboard is really easy to achieve – here’s how to do it.

Firstly you needed flat even layers of cake. I always bake my cakes in deep straight sided tins then split them, it gives you a much more evenly sided cake to work with. For this cake the layers need to be the same height and level so you need to get a ruler out. I find the best way to get a level top is to measure up the side of the cake and mark the upper level with a cocktail stick. For this cake I went 4cm as it was the highest point I could achieve a level at for both cakes.


Once you have marked all round the cake with the cocktail sticks get a large sharp serrated knife and start to cut just above each cocktail stick moving around the cake as you go,


don’t try to cut all he way through the cake in one go, but instead cut and turn.


I have a short video here that shows you how to do it ( with some rather hilarious sped up music in the background!)

You then need to split the cakes into two layers using the same method as before.


Next step is to use circular cookie cutters to cut out evenly sized rings in each cake, it’s a good idea to use a ruler to centralise the rings checking that you have the same distance all the way around the ring to the edge of the cake.


Mine had a couple of centimetres between the ring and the cake, then for the middle circle again a couple of centimetres.


They need to be even to get the full chequered board effect. Once you have cut the circles in each layer it’s time to switch them around.

Hopefully the pictures explain how to do it better than the written instructions!

Wipe a thin layer of buttercream around each circle and swap the cake colours to alternate the rings.


The final result will be four layers looking a bit like targets!


Next step is to construct the layers on top of each other, once again a thin scraping of buttercream, just enough to stick the layers together.


Alternate the outer edge colours as you go


You will need to cover the cake to hide the layers so that its a surprise when its cut, also there isn’t much buttercream on the cake yet so a good layer on the outside stops the cake being too dry.

Firstly rough coat the whole cake with a thin layer to stop the crumbs showing through the final layer, and pop it in the fridge to set for half and hour or so.


I used swiss meringue buttercream for the first time on this cake which has a lovely creamy texture to work with. I wont give you huge detail on how to buttercream a cake but just incase you want to know roughly how I achieved the final finish – the yellow was flavoured with a creme patissiere and coloured again wth egg yolk yellow Sugarflair paste, the pink was just coloured and flavoured as I did for the sponge, with rhubarb natural flavouring and pink paste. To get the marbled effect dollop the colours of buttercream randomly over the sides and top of the cake and smooth as usual.


I finished my cake off with Rhubarb and Custard sweets round the top and lemon & sour cherry sherbet around the base.


I love to hear your comments especially if you try any of my recipes and instructions so please feel free to leave me a message.
Little footnote update – he got his custard tart too!

Link up your recipe of the week

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Gravity Defying Cakes


Gravity defying cakes are very ‘in’ at the moment and my most popular pin on Pinterest by far is and M&M cake made by one of my kids for her friends birthday.

This Easter I thought I would do something a little different and combine my favourite bundt tin with a chocolate chicken from Lidl and a gravity defying design! I thought it was an original take however I have now seen two other similar ones already on various forums!

You can even buy a anti-gravity kit from Lakeland UK which gives a very stable design, but all you actually need is a balloon stick and chocolate!

Here is my quick how to!

Equipment: a ballon stick and a board! you can get these easily online from various market sites, or from party shops.


I covered my board in chocolate but this isn’t essential.

Fix the stick holder to the board with a blob of chocolate below.


cover with chocolate to secure and leave to harden. I use dark chocolate as it sets harder than milk.image

For this cake I used a bundt so it had a hole in the middle, but if you are using a layer cake just put the stick in first and thread the layers over the stick.


Paint the stick with melted chocolate, it covers the colour of the stick and makes sticking things to it much easier.

Cut the stick to size by holding your ‘vessel’ over it remember to allow enough stick to go inside and to the top of your final vessel.

You need to form a good base for the chocolates to build up from, so I filled my bundt hole with eggs. I also suggest you add any toppings to the cake at this point as it is easier than after you have covered the stick.


Gradually build up the chocolates from the bottom by brushing them with some chocolate and sticking them to the stick.Using a brush helps keep your fingers clean and minimises chocolate on the outside of the construction.


It helps if the chocolate is fairly cool. Be patient and make sure each chocolate has set in place before you add the next one or you will get an avalanche!


Make sure you keep turning the cake to build up the stick evenly.


When you are near the top test your ‘vessel’ to see if you have enough chocolates attached to the stick. If you are using a bag then go higher so they look like they are pouring from the bag. If like me you have a solid item then you may need to put the last few chocolates once in position.

Put a blob of chocolate on the top of the sick to help hold the vessel in place


If you are using a bag fill it with loosely scrumpled cling film to make the bag look full and it will help hold it in position too. I made a hole in the chickens base with a hot bbq kebab skewer just big enough for the straw to help keep it stable.Finish off which more chocolates around the base and if you want to have the chocolates pouring off the cake use chocolate to stick these to the side too.


These cakes are really much easier than they look my teenagers made both of these for their friends. We used coloured royal icing for the skittles instead of choclate.




Macaron mysteries



I have grown to love making macarons and if you’ve read my blogs in the past you will know that my eureka moment was when I did a course with InlovewithMacs. I learned the key stages of the art of macaron making and with practice I believe I have mastered the art of getting a good mac most times. I wouldn’t dare say perfect, nor would I say everytime as they are still super tricky and prone to all sorts of hiccups at many stages, but in this post I will try to share with you the key things to look out for.

Firstly the stages are the same whether you choose to make them using the french meringue method with cold sugar or the italian method with hot sugar syrup. You need a stable meringue to be able to mix it with the almonds and still get a good rise on the final macaron. I now use the italian method as I find it makes for the most stable meringue which withstands mixing better – but it does mean you need to make a sugar syrup and the best way to make sure its at the right temperature is with a sugar thermometer.

Talking of equipment I don’t use silicon macaron mats, I just use a good quality baking sheets and thin silicon baking sheets, with an A4 template underneath of pre marked 3cm circles, you should be able to fit 20 on one page nicely spaced out. Finally a couple of piping bags fitted with 1cm plain open ended nozzles.

Tip one

Make sure the bowls you use are scrupulously clean. I give the bowl and whisk on my stand mixer a go over with some white wine vinegar to make sure it is completely grease free.

Tip two

Weigh everything out first ‘Blue Peter’ style! You will need lots of bowls! Two for the almond mixtures, two more small ones for the egg white and a final bowl in a stand mixer for the meringue. Finally you will also need a small heavy bottomed saucepan for the sugar syrup.


Tip three

Blend and sift the almonds. I give mine a whizz in the food processor then sieve them into the bowl and make sure I have the exact measurement at that point. Sieve the icing sugar into the same bowl then use a small hand whisk to mix it altogether.


Tip four

Colouring & flavouring the macarons. I like a lovely brightly coloured macaron but to achieve this you need good quality colouring pastes as they don’t interfere too much with the consistency of the macaron. I usually tend to leave the macaron shell plain in flavour and just add natural flavours to the filling. I use Sugarflair pastes and add the colour to the 35g of egg white that is add after the meringue is made with the almond mixture. for this really strong colour I used a good 1/4 tsp. Mix it well with the loose egg white until completely dissolved.

Tip five

Weigh the egg whites. I use TwoChicks pasteurised egg white, couple of reasons for this, I don’t always have time to make things with the yolks and unlike the whites yolks don’t freeze as easily, also they weigh out more readily than fresh whites and weighing the egg whites is absolutely essential for macarons. I also let the egg whites come to room temperature before I use them

Tip six

Lay out the silicon sheets on baking sheets ready and prepare the piping bags with the nozzles, stand them in tall cups with the top of the bag pulled over the cup ready for filling.


Ok we can get started now! This recipe makes two batches so you can colour / flavour in two lots


For the dry mix you need to weigh two lots of the ingredients below – weighed out in two separate bowls for the dry ingredients and two small bowls for the egg whites & colouring in each bowl weigh out the following:

100g ground almonds

100g icing sugar

35g egg white


Meringue Ingredients – just one lot of this  – it gets split in half later 

75g egg white – in stand mixer bowl

200g sugar

60ml water


Place the 200g of sugar and water in a heavy bottomed, give it a gentle swirl to make sure the sugar is all wet before you start. Over a gentle heat warm up to dissolve the sugar. At the same time tune on the stand mixer to a gentle pace starting to whisk the 75g of egg white. Once the sugar starts to dissolve, turn up the heat and bring to the boil, once boiling also turn up the mixer. The sugar syrup needs to reach 112C – 116C (soft ball) and the egg white needs to reach soft peaking stage



Once the required temperature and consistency has been reached remove the sugar syrup from the heat, check the egg whites are at soft peaks and allow the bubbling to calm down on the syrup.


Then the fun begins!

With the mixer on a high speed SLOWLY add the sugar syrup by drizzling in a very thin stream down the side of the bowl. This is one of the potential hiccup points – add the syrup too fast and the meringue is likely to collapse, too slowly and the syrup starts to set and wont incorporate fully causing lumpy crystals


Once all the syrup has been added – and this can take a good few minutes – keep whisking for a good 5/10 minutes until the bowl feels cool to the touch again. At this point the meringue should be really stiff, stable and glossy.


This meringue now needs to be halved and added to the whisked almond & icing sugar. Finally add the coloured final 35g of egg white and fold in. This is called the macaronage stage. You are aiming to incorporate all the ingredients and achieve a ‘ribbon’ consistency. This is when the mixture falls from the spatula in a continuous ribbon into the bowl and settles after a few seconds into a flat surface. The mixture should be neither too thick or too runny (Hiccup point two).


You can mix one batch and pipe it then do the next batch afterwards.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe 3 cm blobs from directly above the centre of each circle using all the mixture you will get about 60 circles.

To get rid of any excess bubbles or central peaks on the mixture you can either rap the baking sheet on the table sharply or I wiggle the circle template under the silicon sheet – mine is laminated!


Repeat with the second batch of mixture.

Turn the oven on to 140C – if you have an oven thermometer to check the temperature is correct – all the better. I have 3 shelves ready, evenly spaced, in my oven too.

The macarons now need to dry and form a skin. This usually takes around half an hour but is really dependent on the air humidity. They need to be dry enough that when you touch them they don’t stick to your finger. (Hiccup point three!)


So the ones above aren’t ready!


But these ones are as when lightly pressed my finger came away clean.

Put the first tray on the middle shelf and time for 8 minutes.

After 8 minutes take them out turn the tray my 180 degrees and put on a lower shelf. Put the next tray on the top shelf and time for a further 8 minutes.


After 16 minutes the bottom tray should be ready. Test this by seeing if the macarons will lift from the tray cleanly. (Hiccup point four – last one!)


If they don’t return to the bottom of the oven for a minute or two longer.

Meanwhile continue to rotate the trays of macarons every 8 minutes until they are all done. For the final tray when it moves to the bottom shelf place an empty tray on the top shelf – this helps the macarons retain their colour.

Leave to cool on the trays then carefully transfer to a cooling tray.


Macaron shells can now be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.

When you are ready to fill them you can use a number of fillings, creme patissiere, jam, curd, buttercream or ganache are all great. I prefer ganache – it can be coloured and flavoured really easily and keeps best in the fridge without sinking into the shell. You can fill and freeze ganache filled macarons too.


200g white chocolate

100ml double cream

natural flavouring drops ( I use Foodie Flavours)


Warm the cream, almost to boiling point in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. remove from the heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir well until all the chocolate has melted and is incorporated. Split into two bowls and colour and flavour to taste. Transfer to piping bags and leave to cool to room temperature.

When you are ready to pipe pair up the macarons. Mine are never all exactly the same size but strangely I always seem to find enough to make evenly match pairs! Line up the pairs with one side upside down, it makes piping and pairing so much easier. Pipe circles of ganache on each  upturned shell and fill in the middles once you have piped them all if you have any mixture left.


Gently wiggle the pairs together using the edges of the shell , don’t try to press the middles as you will end up breaking the shells, pop them in the fridge for the filling to harden up and then they are ready to serve!