cake

The brief flirtation with Spring is over

spring tableau

Another smörgåsbord post tonight, of the best bits of the past week and a few passing obsessions.  The amazing and short-lived days of Spring last week encouraged the garden to burst into premature glory; I did a sweep at dawn this morning of all the branches and blooms brought down in the gusts of overnight wind and hailstones, and rescued a few of the most beautiful buds to play with and create a spring tableau on a sheet of watercolour paper (above and below).

Paintbox flower

The weather held off long enough for us to go car-booting this morning at a local flea market; the first of the season.  Pickings were slim, but I came across a huge box of vintage British walking maps, all heavily loved and worn, and printed on beautiful linen paper…

Old maps

I scooped up all of the coastal ones (I have an abiding love affair with Cornwall and Dorset), and some of the Lake District, and am just pondering how to use them; regular readers will know that maps are something of a passion of mine, so expect to see them popping up in projects in due course.  Fellow Cartophiles (did you know that’s what we’re called?  Thank you, google..) should try typing ‘maps’ into the Boards search on Pinterest to find some lovely curated collections like this one, and this. Just beautiful.

Vintage maps

I also found an old Polaroid camera for £2 which seemed a small enough price to pay for the risk of seeing whether it worked (and whether I could source film).  I was playing with it in Starbucks afterwards and clicked the shutter only to find an old roll of film still loaded inside; it produced a ghostly black and white image which Harry thought was very cool…

polaroid

We’re keeping up the Cake in the House weekend tradition, this time with a birthday cake for visiting friends.  A four-layer fudge cake no less, with ombré sponges graduating from vanilla through to caramel and chocolate.  Sounds highly technical but proved astonishingly easy (and forgiving of this distracted and cavalier cook).  It was devoured before I could show you the inside, but the recipe and ombré picture here; I’d definitely recommend it for when you need to produce a show-stopper and impress friends who are more used to you secretly roughing-up a supermarket cake until it looks passably homemade.

4 layer fudge cake

In other news, hurrah; I’m on my travels again, albeit briefly – I have a lovely weekend planned in Amsterdam with my mum next month.  I can’t wait!  We’re staying in the Museum Quarter but beyond that have no plans as yet (other than to talk, and walk, and repeat ad infinitum). Any insider knowledge or tips would be wonderful; my only prep so far has been to track down a copy of this lovely little book which lists all the craft workshops and small ateliers where you can find a myriad of handmade things which you don’t need but you want oh-so-much.

Amsterdam map by Evelyn Henson

Map above by Evelyn Henson.

And finally something that made me smile, albeit through gritted teeth as I pulled my soaking laundry from the line whilst blinded and drenched by a storm of hailstones; isn’t this so very true?  Serves me right for being all smug and sunshiny last week ;-)

seasons-winter-comic-funny-cartoon-

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich, via acupofjo.

Have a wonderful week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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The Easter Hatchery

So there we were, surveying the garden and trying to decide where to locate the various bits of hideous plastic play equipment we’ve acquired since H was born, when I decided to seize the moment. ‘Where are we going to put the chicken run?’ I asked, casually, when my husband appeared to be distracted and only half-listening.  Immediately he sprung to attention and fixed me with a steady stare; ‘Chickens???’.  Sigh.  I have long maintained a mild obsession with acquiring some chickens and creating a pseudo-rural idyll where they can peck contentedly around the yard.  The trouble is that whilst I am imagining ambling down the lawn daily to collect a handful of gorgeous, still-warm eggs, my husband is quite rightly imagining that the clearing out of hen poo and the collecting of various tragic hen body parts tossed around by the local foxes will fall to him, and is thus far from keen.

Until the day that our visions collide, therefore, I will stick to making chicks the easy way, predominantly with fondant icing.  With the holiday weekend almost upon us and lots of family to visit, Harry and I set about making these freshly hatched cupcakes today, and are mightily chuffed with the result, despite the jaunty angles and tendency to wobble. Recipe and tips below for those with the time and inclination for a bit of sculpture; anyone who has ever mastered Play-Doh will find this a doodle…

Baking and Making:

  • Set the oven to 170 degrees and make your cakes; I use the Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcake recipe which we adore and manages to compensate for my culinary inadequacies every time, producing scrummy cakes… but any one will do.
  • Begin work on the chicks… start by rolling out balls of yellow fondant (either pre-bought or home-coloured)

  • Decorate the heads with stars of white royal icing (for shells), and more for eyes.  I added a dab of red colouring for that newborn glow, and snipped tiny candy hearts in half for the beaks

  • Whilst the chick heads are drying out a little and the cakes are in the oven, have a general clear up; enlist help to ensure all the residual cake mixture is scraped cleanly out of the bowl….

  • Place a disk of your yellow fondant on each cupcake, flattening the edges to avoid ridges.
  • Add a larger white fondant disk to cover the cake, having first cut out a star shape in the middle
  • Secure your chick head in the middle of each cake using edible glue, apricot jam or glaze. Don’t do what I once did and use a cocktail stick, unless a visit to the hospital emergency room is on your schedule.

  • Tada!! Job done.  Eat all of the leftover cake bits and icing. Feel a bit sick and have a lie down.

For any that survive the initial family tasting session, they also look good as gifts…I used a bit of fusilli to imitate straw (below) and Harry will be giving this one to his Granddad tomorrow…