George the Cake – An Adventure

A few months ago with Rian’s first birthday approaching I decided to start planning a little party for him (ie us!) to celebrate it. Given that he doesn’t even know he has a nose, I couldn’t exactly ask him what sort of theme he might like, so off to Pinterest I went to find some inspiration. I stumbled across a very cute Friendly Monster theme which I loved, and from there the plans got underway.

In rare wave of determined ambition I decided that I was going to become the next Mary Berry and make my own cake, based on a picture I had seen on Pinterest. Enter my baking expert good friend Will, who was appointed as my chief baking consultant whether he liked it or not! Of course, him being as lovely as he is seemed glad to help. Maybe not on the day of baking after panicked phone call number 264, but being the legend that he is he never once complained.

Why 264 panicked calls you might wonder? Well let me explain the baking adventures of that Saturday!

Firstly, here is the picture of the monster cake I had seen on Pinterest and this was what I was basing mine on.

OriginalMonster

I hadn’t a notion of what tools I might need – my extensive list of baking paraphernalia include a rolling pin (not needed), a square cake tin (not needed) and a sieve with no handle, but I did buy a mixer I had seen in Aldi a few months ago during one of my rare baking moods, which was still in the box…

Will to the rescue. He very kindly gave me a lend of his 8inch round cake tin, and also provided me with a fool proof recipe for a chocolate fudge cake and expertly directed me to what other utensils I would need for the cake and icing, and off I went.

The first hurdle I encountered was my oven. It’s an old oven we inherited when we moved into our house, with no manual. The recipe called for the oven to be set to 180 for fan. The problem was that I had 7 different fan options, all pictures of fans but they each had random lines around them, or circles around them. What the hell. I figured once there’s a fan on somewhere we can’t go wrong. So I picked the one we know definitely works for when we cook the Christmas turkey cos this is pretty much our only need for the fan oven. That’s how experienced I am at baking! So I set the oven to preheat and off I went.

Will had advised me to make sure I take the butter out of the fridge long before I actually started the baking so that it would be nice and soft. I helpfully only remembered this piece of advice at the very second I needed to add the butter. Oops. Be grand, I thought, I’ll stick it in the microwave. Then I thought, wait, Will made a point of saying this to me so maybe I’ll check with him. So I sent him a message, but as he is a normal person with an actual life, he didn’t reply within the first 5 seconds. Such a crap chief consultant!! So I thought ah feck it what harm would the microwave do. Just as the microwave dinged after 30 seconds of melting the butter, Will replied and said to use the microwave but stressed ‘ONLY FOR 5 SECONDS’!

OOoops.

Oh well. I ended up pouring the butter into the mix, but sure what harm could that possibly do at the end of the day. Instructions Shminstructions. Anyway, I’m the new Mary Berry and Mary knows what she’s doing. Proceed!

The recipe said to mix the cocoa with water and then to add the rest of the ingredients. I just basically threw things into the mixing bowl. It did strike me that maybe I should mix them or add things gradually, but in my defence, this is what the instructions said and I’m a stickler for instructions. (Except for when taking butter out of the fridge in advance). Despite this, things were looking good and my confidence grew a bit. I left it mixing for a few minutes while I battled with the cake tin and the baking parchment trying to line the tin. That was fun. Eventually the tin got lined and in went the mix, I gave the cake a little blessing to send it on its way to the oven and prayed I would see it on the other side. In it went.

Meanwhile back at Baking Headquarters, I needed to wash all the stuff to make up a mix for cupcakes. I just googled ‘cupcake recipe’ and happened to find Donal Skehan’s basic cupcake recipe so I used that. It seemed easy enough, so I repeated my expert method of putting everything into a bowl at once and mixing it. Just as I was getting smug about how good I was turning out to be at baking and wondering how I might go about applying for next year’s Bake Off, I detected a whiff of something burning.

When I opened the oven and pulled out the cake – it was not a good sight. The top of the cake had sort of set and was starting to burn, and underneath that bit was still basically chocolate goo. Panicked, I rang my chief consultant. I had to explain about the random fan buttons on the oven and I ended up sending him photos of each one of them! Obviously as he is not an oven technician he basically had to tell me what he thought each one probably was, we picked a new one, covered my poor cake with tinfoil and I stuck it back in. The smell of burning went away and was replaced with the smell of chocolate cake so all was well with the world again. For a while.

Cupcake mix complete, I stuck them in the cases and put them in with the cake. 20 minutes or so later and they were done – Mary Berry was back. Shortly afterwards (and many openings of the oven door to check which I now know is not a good thing to do) I took my cake out and stuck a knife in it. I vaguely remembered from my Home Economics days that if it comes out dry the cake is done. It was dry, yay! I managed to get the cake out of the tin (I now also know you’re supposed to leave it to cool a bit first), and I stuck it on a wire rack to let it cool. As my monster cake needed to be quite tall, I was planning to make a second cake and put them on top of eachother. As I only had Will’s trusty cake tin this meant doing all of the above again. But now I was an expert so I figured it would all be grand.

Utensils and mixers all washed again and off we went. This time I had taken the butter out already so no microwaving was needed. I even remembered to take out the butter that I’d need for the buttercream icing. Such a pro.

Second cake made, cake tin lined again, and off we went. This time seeing as I was still unsure about the fan options, I decided to try a different one. What’s the worst that could happen? After 5 minutes I checked the cake and there was no burnt bits forming on the top so I left it in and went off to decorate my cupcakes. For these I had just bought pre made orange and green buttercream icing in Aldi that they had in for Halloween. I had an old icing gun from years back so I just spooned the buttercream into it and squirted it out onto the cupcakes. I then used my monster cupcake kit that I had bought and decorated each one, and job done!

Cupcakes

Back I went to check on cake no 2. I opened the oven and peeked in and it looked absolutely perfect! The knife test confirmed it was done, however, this time when I tried to remove it from the tin it was a lot harder to get out. Eventually I got it off but only to discover that the entire base of cake no 2 was actually cremated! Stupid stupid multiple fan buttons! Don’t panic, I thought, I’ll just let it cool down and then I’ll cut the burnt bits off, nobody will even notice.

I must admit I was getting pretty tired now, frazzled if you will, but I thought the worst bit was probably over now and I could get on with the fun bit of icing the cake. Off I went to get my special nozzle and the cheapo piping bag I had bought in the Euro shop the week before. It hadn’t dawned on me to check the nozzle fitted the bag until approximately 10 minutes before I needed to use it. And naturally enough – it didn’t fit. The hole in the bag was too big. Of course it was. So, I thought, what would Mary Berry do? Naturally, Mary would fashion herself a new piping bag out of some Ikea ziplock freezer bags, what else?? So that’s what I did. I felt like I had evolved into some sort of Mary Berry/Bear Grylls baker survivor extraordinaire. Just call me Bear Berry. Or Mary Grylls sounds a bit more baker-y.

While the cakes were still cooling I needed to make the filling for in between them. It said to melt some chocolate and mix it with double cream, and when it has almost set, spread it on the cake. But before that I had to warm up some Apricot jam and spread them on either side. BUT before I did all this I had to cut off the burnt bits from poor cake no 2. Halfway through that job and disaster struck – the cake started to fall apart and so I had to abandon that and I used my apricot jam to sort of glue it back together. Nobody would notice a thing…..!

Meanwhile my filling was not setting as it should and was still very runny. I had no idea how to thicken it up but I had about 500 bags of icing sugar in stock (6) so I thought I’ll add some of that to it. After about half an hour it was still the same and the cakes were cold by now so I just slathered it on and stuck cake no 1 on top. Gradually the chocolate sauce was oozing out and onto the cake stand – disaster – so I ended up coating the sides and the top with chocolate sauce too and that seemed to do the job.

FINALLY it was time to make the buttercream to ice the cake – the fun bit! Off I went to get my butter which I had taken out of the fridge hours ago, only to discover that being the genius that I am, I left it right beside the hob where it had melted while I had been melting chocolate over a saucepan of hot water, and had basically melted into a huge puddle all over the top of the gas hob. Husband was dispatched in a panic to the shop just before it closed to buy more butter. At this stage stress levels were quite high so I was quite surprised he actually chose to come home instead of hopping on the first train out of there!

Will had given me very simple instructions for the butter cream: 1kg of butter (2 blocks) to 2kg of icing sugar. He said to cut the butter into smallish chunks and gradually add the icing sugar to the mixer. Easy. So off we went.

By the time all of the butter and icing sugar were added my poor mixer was under a lot of pressure and eventually came to a standstill. Panicked, I rang my chief consultant again who advised to split the mixture and if it was too stiff to add a drop of milk to make it easier. I split the mixture, and kept half in the mixer and decided to use my parent’s old electric whisk from the 80’s on the other half. Because I had no free hands by now, I recruited Hubby to come over and pour a drop of milk to mixture two for me. However – I crucially forgot that his idea of a drop of milk usually equates to half a pint. Over he came and despite my clear instructions of ONLY A DROP he proceeded to glug half the feckin pint of milk in. Not gonna lie, there was almost killings. Hubs was sacked. Add in 2 more 50g bags of sugar and a bit more butter and I reckoned I had rescued the situation as well as I could have. I added some mint green food colouring to each portion of icing sugar and FINALLY I could get going on my favourite bit!

First I spread some of the buttercream around the outside and on top of the cake cos I thought the chocolate sauce might not help the icing stick to it. That resulted in an interesting mix of butter cream and chocolate which kind of looked like a melted mint Aero. Be grand, I thought, sure who is going to see that bit anyway.

Off we went with my home made Ikea ziplock piping bags. It worked! I started to pipe the monster ‘hair’ onto the cake, starting at the bottom along the edge all the way around. Just as I finished the first row of piping my trusty Ikea bag burst and I had to cut out my nozzle and make a new one, this time I sellotaped the bag to the outside of the nozzle. By the time I had half of the cake done, I was on my 5th Ikea bag. Getting a bit worried, I counted I had 7 bags left and prayed to God I could get the cake done before they all burst on me! The pressure was on.

Eventually, after making no less than 10 piping bags, the icing was done! By this stage the room was so warm after all that baking that bits of monster hair were starting to fall off, so I quickly cut out the shape of his mouth from some black ready to roll icing with a pizza cutter, along with three small triangles from the white block of ready to roll icing for the teeth. I had edible icing glue so I used that to stick the teeth to the mouth, then I stuck the whole mouth onto the side of the cake and hoped it would stick. Then I emptied half the fridge out (much giving out from Hubs – from a safe distance – about how his beer would get warm) and stuck the whole cake in, cake stand and all, then I left it to set for the night. The last thing I had to do for the cake was to roll out 3 balls of white ready to roll icing, with three black dots to make the eyeballs and I left them overnight ready to add to the cake for the party the next day.

My last job of what is now known as Epic Baking Day 2015 was to make little Rice Krispie bar monsters. Again, advice from Will was to melt some white chocolate, add some food colouring, and dip the bars in. I just used the Kellogg’s marshmallow Rice Krispie bars, dipped them into the dyed melted chocolate, then stuck little monster eyes on them made by ready to roll icing. Done!

Krispie

Next morning I was very relieved to find that the buttercream had hardened a bit and the cake was still intact! I stuck my three eyeballs on some baking wire and stuck them into the cake – and my masterpiece was born! I was as proud as if I had given birth to the damn cake. So much so that I felt a strong emotional attachment to him and I named him George. I was so proud I almost shed a tear. When the guests arrived and saw George I was like a proud parent basking in all the praise. I knew people would want to eat him, and when the time came, I have to say I cried on the inside. Poor George! He was dead and all that remained were his three beautiful eyeballs.

RIP George, you’ll live on in my heart forever.

 

George

 

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10,000 Kisses

When Rian was born, we got loads of practical and thoughtful gifts for him. One of the gifts we got was a memory box – well actually we got two beautiful ones – and I love them.

However, there are some things you can’t put into the memory boxes or the baby books.

I’m one of those people who likes to record life as it goes along. This started at a young age with what is known as The Suitcase. It’s an old fashioned vintagey cardboard type suitcase that my parents used to own. When I was about 12 I started keeping my ‘stuff’ in it, all the important things I wanted to keep and cherish. I still have my suitcase, much to the amusement of my Dad – and it’s a long time since I looked in there but always amusing to see the things that mattered so much to my 12 year old self. But I also have cards from each of my grandmothers, letters my Dad had written to me when he was at sea… things to cherish.
So it came as no surprise that when the biggest thing to ever happen to me came along that I would want to keep a record of things. But the things I can’t put into the memory boxes or put onto my phone are perhaps the most precious of all. When I think of my time on leave with Rian I think of those things you can’t put into a box – the sweet smell of him, the feel of him snuggled into me, the sound of his baby snores when the only place I could get him to nap was on my shoulder. The first time I heard him laugh his beautiful big belly laugh. His little fists grabbing onto my finger, his little hands rubbing my cheek when I fed him his bottle.
Of course I do also remember the seemingly endless crying for hours when he had colic, the sheer exhaustion like I’ve never known it before, the explosive nappies… it’s not all sweetness and light let me tell you!
But you forget those things, at least they’re not at the forefront of my mind when I think about him. Every morning I used to go in to pick him up for the day. We’d wake up properly together and we’d look out the window and see the trees and the sky and the birds and have a grand old chat. I’d ask him for a kiss, then I’d give him one… but one day I asked for a kiss and he leaned over and planted his little face on mine and gave me one himself! It was amazing and one of the best things ever, that little moment. That memory is something I wish I could pull out of my head and turn into a tangible thing so I could put it in The Suitcase and carry it forever.

Now that I’m back at work those things seem even more precious. When I was on leave there were days that used to feel sort of never ending… I would sometimes be waiting at the window by 6pm waiting to see Gavin’s car come around the corner just so I could have half an hour to myself. And not even so that I could lie down and watch tv or read a book, it would be a precious half an hour so that I could do essential things like wash my hair! But the good days far outweighed the bad. I was very lucky to be able to take extended leave so I was two weeks short of a full year at home with him. And it was worth every penny.

The work guilts. At first it was almost fun being back – the novelty of having a lunch break! Having a coffee and getting to finish it whenever I wanted. But that novelty soon wore off. We are so lucky to have Rian with amazing childcare so that’s not a worry at all. But that fear of missing out… what if he walks and I don’t see it? What if he says a new word? What if he forgets that I’m his Mam?? Yes I know the last one seems a bit over the top but in fairness to him, he spends 12 hours a day with someone else and he’s only awake for about 14 hours a day. I question constantly is this the right thing? This precious time which I know now goes by so fast, he changes so fast. I keep telling myself that I’m doing it for him, to be able to give him our best. But it does feel like a huge price to pay.

The nice thing is how much more precious the weekends are now. Those sleepy nap times which even now at almost 15 months, he will still only take in someone’s arms. I love them. I know that some day it will be the last time he will sleep in my arms and I savour it, the snuggles and the kisses. 10,000 per nap I reckon. At least. And not one I can put in The Suitcase.