Saturday, 30 August 2014


The sun is peeping over the horizon and the sky is streaked as if lit by a night fire. Time moves on....
Now the soft glow becomes a harsh demanding eye.

A few nights ago I spent hours slicing up a christening cake; that and the arrival on our screens of the Great British Bake Off made me think.
Celebrations are a minefield and the choice of type of cake is a small but significant part of the celebration. I remember my dad talking about his mother baking fruit cakes then putting them in a biscuit tin with fruit like apples and burying them in the garden to store them only lifting them and opening them over the months in order to swop the wizened apples for fresh ones and reburying the tin until the celebration day arrives.

I am such a Northerner- I love moist fruit cake preferably with a chunk of cheese.

We went to a wedding recently where the layers consisted of different cheeses surrounded by mountains of butter and piles of savoury biscuits, providing yet another course after dessert.
Our latest wedding presented a (colour coordinated) mauve shaded 7 layer confection of which the mother of the bride confided the bottom 3 layers were polystyrene!

At weddings now it is popular to have layers made up of different types of cake; eg lower layer of fruit then above this balances a plain cake like a Madeira (which I dislike) and a chocolate cake. The difficulties are that nothing keeps as well as a fruit cake- so chocolate and plain cakes tend to be dry. The cakes' compiler also has to have a sturdy enough lower cake to support the upper layers so nonfruit cakes (even with columns inserted) can be dryer in order to be firm enough to hold up the weight above.
I wonder how they do it in the USA where I believe they often have cakes composed of ice cream?

It is traditional in England to keep the top layer of the stacked cake, to be used in years to come as the christening cake of the first baby! Certainly we followed tradition but I baked another celebration fruit cake as back up- just in case!

I invariably had marzipan stored in my cupboards for a forthcoming celebration cake eg Christmas- only to find my youngest sister had raided the cupboards while babysitting and the cupboard was bare of marzipan. I brush apricot jam on to the cake before covering it in rolled out almond paste; the timing is crucial as it has to be left long enough for the marzipan to dry out so as not to discolour the white icing. After undertaking a 3 year icing course, my mother's creations in Royal icing were spectacular. My Christmas cakes' snow scenes leave a lot to be desired!
These days one has to be so careful- I suppose because of the age of our offspring we have had the pleasure of a lot of weddings and christenings and all the cakes have been different and cautious! It is traditional to put nuts in celebration fruit cakes but we don't because so many guests these days have nut allergies- and because H1 doesn't like nuts in food! Similarly due to egg allergies and pregnant guests' , we have not iced with royal icing which contains raw egg white. Royal icing goes rock hard too. Sometimes we have left off the layer of marzipan due to the nut content- but at least that can be peeled off not ingested. Rolled out icing is the way to do it!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Finished at last

A Peace rose we inherited with the house; so old and gnarled, folk say we should cut it down- but it is too beautiful and flowers abundantly year after year so why would I get rid of it?
I am pleased to announce that at last I have finished 'Bring up the bodies' by Hilary Mantel after 8? months of attempting to read it- or rather after months of attempting to find the time to read it or anything else. I will Bookcross it if no one among friends and relatives wants it; get in touch if you want possession of this novel about the life of Thomas Cromwell at the time of Anne Boleyn; this book sequels Mantel's first Thomas Cromwell tale called 'Wolf Hall'; I had not realised Wolf Hall was the home of the Seymours; when I was advised to read her next book I did wonder where the title 'Bring up the Bodies' had come from not realising it was the call from the Tower when...... but I will leave you to discover that for yourself.

I am moving on to 'Philomena'; I saw the film quite a while since but weeks ago a friend offered the novel to me as the last reader among The Ladies, suggesting that the book was very different to the film so here we go!

hydrangea head