pirates

Setting Sail!



‘Tis done! Construction on the birthday boy’s pirate ship is now complete, on schedule and on budget (and is possibly the only piece of construction ever done in our house which can make these claims).  Nobody would ever be bold enough to certify this seafaring vessel as watertight or fit to conquer the seven seas, but our fondant pirates don’t seem to mind.  It does at least creak authentically, due to the weight of the chocolate ganache, and lists atmospherically to one side, though this is more attributable to my lopsided baking than to the ocean wave.

Thank you for all the helpful comments and tips; I now feel like a fully-fledged member of the birthday-cake-baking community, at least for the next 10yrs until Harry officially declares homemade party cakes to be a bit lame and embarrassing, at which point I will hang up my spatula with a mixture of profound relief and dismay.  For those who are interested, allow me to take you on a tour of our galleon…



Our cheery-looking skipper is brandishing an unlit sparkler, ready to fire the canon; we’ll light this at the moment critique in lieu of candles.  The canon and canon balls are sculpted from fondant, rubbed lightly with edible silver dust and accessorised with silver balls.  A hidden cocktail stick secures the canon ball in the mouth of the canon; I’ve instructed my husband to try to rescue all the cocktail sticks before the eating begins.  He’s an ex-surgeon after all; he’s used to counting instruments in and out of cavities).  The steering wheel is the only inedible component, borrowed from Harry’s toy pirate ship when he protested that his cake must have a steering wheel; how right he is.

I made the sails by printing onto sheets of regular printer paper and then rubbing them with used teabags, and setting light to the edges.  It was a useful, if unintentional, way of checking that our smoke alarms are working well. (In my defence; yesterday was a VERY cold day to be faffing around outside with such things).  The bunting is not especially pirate-like, but makes our cake jolly rather than fierce, which is important when you’re staring down the barrel of only your third birthday.  I glued scraps of gift wrap onto sparkly thread and trimmed them into flag shapes.  The flags themselves are winched onto disposable BBQ kebab sticks.

My pirates are not afraid of their feminine side; they sport rose-gold earrings and suffer from rather womanly physiques; I left them looking perky and muscled and then came down this morning to find they had wilted into a sort of pear-shaped, who-ate-all-the-pies type slump. Pirate 2 looks like he is accessorising his outfit with a carefully chosen Chorizo sausage; it’s actually supposed to be a blingtastic gold trophy belt..

An equally heavyweight crow sits in his nest, surveying the seas; he wisely decided not to chance his luck on top of the mast and has taken up station at the rear of the ship instead, where a life ring is within easy reach if necessary.

So that’s all for now; we have a busy weekend ahead with Harry’s party, a grandmotherly visit, and also – excitingly – an away day for me and my mum to try a taster day of willow sculpting. Each year we try a course in some new skill which we are convinced will change our lives; industrial blacksmithing was one, flower painting another (we tend to extremes, as you see).  Mostly we drink a lot of coffee (or wine), gossip and plan projects way beyond our talent.  Tomorrow, for example, we have been led to believe we may create one of these;

Whereas I am secretly hoping I might knock up a herd of these, ready to strap to the roof of the car…

We shall see; I’ll let you know how I get on.  I’ll be back next week with 3 different kinds of stars to make for Christmas; have a wonderful weekend in the meantime, and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my lovely readers across the pond!

Willow image credits; 1)  Tir Grug Willow, Wales,  2) Cove Garden Nurseries, Devon

Sweet Treats and other Projects…



We’ve been busy in the kitchen this week, making edible gifts designed to stimulate the appetite of Harry’s fairy Godmother who is currently recovering from surgery.  I’m the first to admit that my kitchen skills leave something to be desired; my husband was mildly astonished by my culinary incompetence when we married – my party trick was to peel off the film from a microwave meal with one hand whilst programming it with the other – and things have improved only slightly since then.  As such, Harry and I look for recipes which produce stunning results but require very little skill.  Often, we make them up as we go, as we did with these White Chocolate and Strawberry Pastilles (above); a perfect Christmas gift for a foodie, and startlingly simple to make.  Our Edible Gold-leaf Florentines are a cheat’s version of the classic florentine, as we simply sprinkled the chopped fruit and nuts on the top of ours, before daubing with edible gold leaf…



To make these, you’ll need…

  • white and milk chocolate (chips, chunks; you choose. We used 200g of each and produced a LOT of sweets!),
  • freeze-dried strawberries – try the home-baking section of the supermarket, and if that fails you can of course use sprinkles, balls or cake decorations instead, as shown below
  • for the Florentines; a selection of chopped nuts and fruit.  We had candied peel, raisins, glade cherries and flaked almonds in the cupboard already so used those, but chopped mixed nuts would be great.
  • I used a silicone macaroon sheet from here to get perfect shallow discs, but if you don’t have one lying around (and who does, frankly?), just drop small dollops of the melted chocolate on a baking sheet and flatten and shape into rounds with the back of a teaspoon.

For both the pastilles and the florentines, melt your chocolate in your usual way (experts whizz it in the microwave; I am not very vigilant here so prefer to melt it over boiling water on the stove, using the double-bowl method).  When melted, drop small spoonfuls into your mould or onto your baking sheet, and smooth the tops with the back of a teaspoon.  Leave to set for about 10-15 minutes; you don’t want them to harden, but simply to lose some of their runniness so that the topping doesn’t cause them to spread and spill.  Now you can add your topping; for both recipes, just sprinkle your chosen topping over the chocolate discs.  For the florentines, I placed a flaked almond on each then sprinkled the chopped fruit on top.  Don’t worry if they scatter everywhere; once the chocolate is fully set you can retrieve stray fruit, nuts and sprinkles.

Now pop in the fridge for an hour to harden. Once hard, you can gild your florentines (and then remember to tell your friends later; ‘what did I do today? Well, y’know, gilded my florentines…’.  Take a clean paintbrush and use it to dab a little edible gold leaf on to the top of each one.

Once you’ve done this, you can taste-test them with any small kitchen helpers, before wrestling the remaining few precious sweets away so that you have at least a handful to package up as a gift..

I packaged our white chocolate and strawberry pastilles in a little gift box, layering with white baking parchment.  For the florentines, I used the cracker templates from the last post to make a pretty cracker using sturdy gift wrap (birdcage wrap from here), and carefully stacked the florentines in there.

A word of advice; store these beauties in the fridge until you’re ready to use them, and encourage your recipients to do the same; like all chocolate which has been previously cooked, it will take on a slightly dusty greyish appearance if you just store it in a cupboard – the taste won’t change, but they’ll be at their most shiny and gorgeous if you keep them chilled.

Other things….

Crackers!  Thank you to everyone who shouted ‘Yes PLEASE!’ last week in the cracker snap giveaway; Harry made the draw last night and later this week crackers will be winging their way to 10 readers across 3 continents.  A number of you asked where to buy snaps from so that you could source them yourselves, so I’ve done a bit of research and here’s a start point for you…

  • In the UK, try here for different sizes packs of snaps or here for cracker kits – or ebay.co.uk which always has a few sellers
  • In the US/Canada, try here for online ordering, or US friends tell me that Michaels often stocks them near the gift wrap in store at this time of year
  • For Australia and New Zealand, try here (they also shop to certain other countries)

The next big DIY; I’ve just sourced this slightly mouldy and very cheap bookcase on ebay to make Harry’s Christmas present; a play hardware store and garage (I know, I know; go with me on this one….).  He loves his kitchen and shop, so this is the last piece of play furniture that we have room for; I’m thinking petrol pump, pretend car wash – I’ll keep you posted!

The Impossible Pirate Cake: and finally, my birthday cake pirates are taking shape!  I’ve found it’s actually quite therapeutic rolling fondant in front of the TV of an evening, glass of red wine in hand – kind of like the grown-up version of Play-doh.  I’m still trying not to think about how I make the actual cake/ship itself..

Self-Assembly with Harry the Friendly Pirate

It’s been a chaotic week here chez nous, with builders in residence, my husband travelling, and flat-pack-tastic furniture from IKEA covering every surface awaiting my amateur attempts at self-assembly.  Harry has been angelic throughout, only occasionally becoming stuck in near-dry cement, chewing on innapropriate pieces of hardware (‘these nails taste spicy Mummy’), or dragging still-warm power tools into his den.  As a reward for his forbearance, I decided to use all the leftover cardboard packaging to make a pirate ship.  It’s been a darn sight easier than assembling a LeftvigKlemtangerArkleHeinig filing cabinet, that’s for sure….


I used a square cardboard box as the base, then stapled long pieces of cardboard either side to form a boat-shape.  I covered these in leftover wood-effect wallpaper for a nautical touch, though paint would do just as well.  The sails are made from sheets of standard A3 paper, printed with a skull and crossbones, then lashed to bamboo poles with an old washing line, before being tucked into a silver-sprayed cardboard tube.  I punched holes in the paper first and reinforced them with eyelets.

I threaded spare curtain rings on string through the cardboard to simulate life-rings (not very pirate-esque, but let’s call it artistic license…)

Harry’s telescope is 3 empty toilet rolls, wrapped in black paper and edged with glued-on ribbon.  I tucked them one inside the other and used a glue gun to secure them.  Apparently you can use it either way around to spot ships and bounty…

I made the treasure map by printing out the text on a sheet of paper, scribbling on a rough ‘map’, then daubing with used teabags.  Here comes the exciting bit; stand far away from smoke detectors (outside, preferably), and singe the edges, blowing out quickly each time.

The ‘anchor’ is the doorstop from my office, threaded through with a length of chain we rescued from a neighbour’s skip.  It threatens Harry with juvenile hernia every time he gamely attempts to toss it overboard; I may replace it with a cardboard model before social services arrive.

Even pirates need to eat once in a while, so I constructed this fishing line from a slotted wooden spoon, ribbon and fish shapes cut from coloured card stock.  I used buttons for the eyes and reinforced the holes with eyelets, in the hope that these wee fishes manage more than a single outing from ocean to boat.

And so, as the sun sets we will sail off in our cardboard ship to seek our fortune on the ocean wave, and turn a blind eye to the 648 pieces of pre-drilled swedish hardwood which are scattered throughout the house.  Let’s hope we spot my husband and his screwdriver on the horizon sometime soon…