How to craft a “Minecraft” Birthday cake

Minecraft birthday cake

For those of you unfamiliar with “Minecraft” and by that read well past their teenage years, Minecraft is a computer game in which you design your own houses and land whilst being attacked by “creepers”. Yes, I know, it sounds riveting doesn’t it? As I said I think you have to be under the legal drinking age to appreciate it.

Maybe it is all to do with how the immature brain perceives things. Let me explain what I mean. I am of the generation that saw the rise of computer age from the cassette driven Atari games through Sonic and the early PlayStation resulting in todays amazing graphics on the X-box and Playstation 3 and the instant accessibility of the internet. So forgive me for being unable to fathom the appeal of a game with graphics that look like boxes.

Imagine my joy then when I discovered that I wasn’t the only mother who failed to understand her son’s Minecraft obsession. That joy turned to despair, however, when Rachel asked me to make her son a Minecraft Birthday cake. I might add at this point that Rachel is my vet and since she had a thermometer inserted into my poorly whippet’s bottom when she asked I thought it would be a tad unfair to Hector to say “No”.

My son, bless him, got all excited and designed a scene for me to copy (shown in the photograph above).  I have used elements of his design in the cake I made. It was his suggestion that I photographed it and included a “how to” guide in my blog. So here goes:

Equipment:

8 inch cake with jam and buttercream

12 inch cake drum

3lb sugarpaste

edible food colouring gels and dusting powders

cake smoother

rolling-pin

ruler

paint brushes

dipping solution or vodka

gum tragacanth or CMC

Edible glue

Pizza cutter

 

Method:

  1. Roll out approximately 10oz white sugarpaste and use this to cover the cake drum. Trim the edges with a sharp knife. Then smooth the board.
  2. Use the edge of a ruler to mark a grid into the soft sugarpaste. Allow the board to dry out,  ideally overnight.
  3. Cover the cake with a layer of buttercream ensuring you cover the sides completely. Put the cake  in the fridge to 5-10 minutes to allow the buttercream to firm up a bit.
  4. Knead 2lb of sugarpaste until soft, smooth and pliable. Roll the paste out and use to cover the cake. Trim any excess sugarpaste using a pizza cutter as this gives a clean straight edge, tight to the cake and will not tear the icing.
  5. Place the cake onto the prepared board then using the grid on the board as a guide, continue to mark the cake using the edge of a ruler.
  6. Dissolve a little citrus green dusting powder in dipping solution or vodka. (Never be tempted to use water as this will make the sugarpaste become very sticky and difficult to work with) Sponge a base coat of the citrus green all over the cake.
  7. Repeat this process with darker shades of green. I used apple green then a light to coat of forest green. If some of the grid lines are lost, simply use the edge of the ruler to redefine them. Set aside and allow to dry.
  8. Whilst the cake is drying you can make the figures and decorations. Firstly knead into some sugarpaste a little CMC or gum tragacanth to create a modelling paste.
  9. I coloured some of the paste pink and used this to create a pig. This is simply four cubes for the feet, a larger block for the body and a medium-sized block for the head. It was held together using dried spaghetti and edible glue. You may need to prop something under the head until the glue sets. I added character to the pig by painting on toe nails, a tail and a very simplistic face.
  10. The creeper was made from two blocks of paste for the feet, a long flattened block for the body and a large block for the head. I found it necessary to insert a dowel into the body of the creeper to prevent it from leaning or collapsing. To colour the creeper I coloured the sugarpaste pale grey before modelling it then sponged the whole model with a spring green colour and then a light beige. Painting the face and feet completed it.
  11. Red sugarpaste was used to make the TNT block. I marked 9 sticks using a ruler, added small grey square to represent the top of each stick then wrapped a strip of white paste around the block. Painting TNT in black completed it.
  12. The railcar carrying the birthday cake was simply a small block of grey paste with black circles added for wheels. The cake was a block a brown paste with a thin layer of white paste on top with a shaped edge. I then finished it off with hand painted pink squares on the top.
  13. I added a simple track to the edge of the board and the Happy Birthday, Josh to the top of the cake. Adding a red ribbon to the edge of the cake drum completed the cake.

 

My son assures me that any fan of Minecraft will “get it”. This game has so  many items in it that I was spoilt for choice as to what to include on the cake. This is my first attempt at a Minecraft cake and I’m sure if I do another one that I might alter how I do it and what I include but for a first attempt it is not too bad.

Let me know how you get on if you have a go at making it.

Ali xx 

 

 

 

 

 

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Good Old Fashioned Scones

For me the word scone conjures up an image of a hot summer afternoon with Victorian ladies sipping tea from china teacups and nibbling on homemade scones with clotted cream and lashings of strawberry jam.  

 Well, today it is mid-April and we seem to be experiencing four seasons in one day! But hey ho, I’ve made a batch of scones anyway!

Baking is something that has come naturally to me. I don’t come from a long line of good cooks. In fact my Mum has been known to burn boiled eggs and my Nan seems to think that everything has to be cooked in 2 inches of lard! My Nan actually phoned me the other day to find out why her rice pudding was inedible. It turned out that she hadn’t put enough milk in it, hadn’t covered the dish with foil and then had put the oven on full blast. Even the birds refused to eat it! It is no wonder then that my late Grandad used to give me a long list of baking he wanted me to take home with me on my next visit.  

Scones, however,  have always been my nemesis! It didn’t matter what recipe I used, how carefully I measured the ingredients or whether it was a friends “guaranteed to work” family recipe, I could never make decent scones. They always came out of the oven like ice hockey pucks!

That is until I discovered the following recipe.  It really does work every time! Promise!

The trick it seems is to sifted the dry ingredients together, to keep everything cool and to handle the dough as little as possible. But enough of my prattle! Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

500g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp sea salt

125g unsalted butter or margarine

25g caster sugar

1 egg

275ml buttermilk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200°C fan oven / 425°F
  2. Sift the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl
  3. Mix the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles breadcrumbs. I use my Kenwood mixer with the K beater for this. If you do it by hand, I would recommend putting all the ingredients in the fridge for at leat 30 min before you start to mix them.
  4. Swap to a dough hook if you are using a mixer
  5. Slowly add enough beaten egg and buttermilk to form a soft dough. You might not need all the liquid so don’t throw it all in at once!
  6. Turn onto a lightly floured board and gently bring together.
  7. Gently roll the dough out until it is approximately 1.5cm deep or the thickness of your index finger.
  8. Cut out rounds using a 2.5 inch cutter. You should have enough dough to make 12-14 scones. Try not to reroll the dough more than once as it will become very tough. You can egg wash the top of the scones if you want to but I don’t bother. 
  9. Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the scones are well risen and golden brown.A well-baked scone should have pale sides and a golden top with a natural crack running around the middle. You should never have to cut a scone in half, it should pull apart easily.

10. Allow the scones to cool completely on a cooling rack. Serve them with jam and cream. Clotted cream is the traditional cream to use but as you can see whipped cream works just as well.

Variations:

  • Fruit scones : add 100g of sultanas or raisins to the dry ingredients
  • Cherry scones:add 100g of washed, dried and halved glace cherries to the dry ingredients
  • Herby scones: Omit the sugar and add 1 tsp of dried mixed herbs to the dry ingredients. Top the uncooked scones with a little grated cheese
  • Cheese scones: Omit the sugar and add 100g finely grated hard cheese (e.g. cheddar or red Leicester) and 0.5 tsp cayenne pepper to the dry ingredients. Top the uncooked scones with a little grated cheese. These are absolutely gorgeous!!!

 

Enjoy

Love

Ali xx

 

 

 

Traditional English Shortbread

Some women have a weakness for shoes whilst others are self-confessed chocoholics. I have a bit of a problem with biscuits (for my American readers read that as cookies!). They call to me from the kitchen! It has got so bad that I can’t even have them in the house because I know that I will eat them.

I openly admit that I am a culinary snob when it comes to cakes. I just don’t see the point in buying ready-made cakes or even worse a cake mix! Not when you can make them so easily! But when it comes to biscuits, I couldn’t care less. I just love them!

When I was little, I guess about 5 or 6; Mum and I lived in a top floor flat in my home town of Worcester. Yes, where the sauce is made and Royal Worcester Porcelain. Mum was training to be a nurse and often worked nights so slept during the day. I remember walking home from school on my own, opening the door with a key that hung on a string behind the letter box and having to wake my Mum up just as the Blue Peter theme tune started on our old black and white portable television.  You can tell how young I was because I still couldn’t tell the time! Can you imagine kids of 5 or 6 today being allowed to do the same thing? But hey, that was the 70s!

Mum always put in the fridge for me a glass of milk and plate with a sandwich and two biscuits.  I blame my Mum for my biscuit addiction because all the way home I would be thinking, “Will it be a Bourbon biscuit? Or a custard cream? May be it had been payday and we had chocolate digestives or even Jaffa Cakes!” And for all of those of you out there that think Jaffa cakes are cakes – they are biscuits! Alright! Anyway, I looked forward to finding out what was waiting for me all the way home.

It was only when I went to Grammar school that my love of biscuits became a problem. Back in those days young ladies were taught home economics lessons and needlework alongside their English and Maths and of course, Latin. Yes, I can amo, amas, amat with the best of them! Run up a curtain or two on the sewing machine? Not a problem! It was home economics (cookery) that was my undoing, however, because that was where I learnt how easy it is to bake biscuits!

One of the first things we were ever taught to cook was shortbread. It is so simple! 3 ingredients rubbed together and shoved in the oven. And Bob’s your uncle, you have shortbread! I can still remember the teacher drilling into us that perfect shortbread required a 2:4:6 ratio! Here is my version of that very traditional English recipe.

Ingredients:

4 oz (140g) caster sugar

8 oz (250g) softened butter (proper butter NOT margarine)

12oz (375g) plain flour (or 11oz plain flour and 1oz semolina or polenta)

 

Methods:

  • Line an 8 inch square tin and preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F
  • Rub the butter into the flour
  • Add the sugar and bring together to form a soft dough
  • Or put it all in a food mixer and mix until a soft dough is formed (That is how I do it!)
  • Push the dough into the prepared tin and flatten it with the back of a spoon
  • Score the dough into 16 pieces and mark all over with a fork.
  • Bake in the oven for 30-35 min or until pale golden brown.
  • Dredge with extra caster sugar whilst the biscuits are still warm then allow to cool completely.

 

 

Enjoy!!

Love

Ali xx 

Pint of this, pint of that Tea loaf.

We English are an eccentric bunch and quite proud of it. We, as a nation, underwent decimalisation on 15 February 1971 yet many of us still ask the butcher for half a pound of sausages and pop to the shops to buy a pint of milk. Well, it doesn’t sound quite the same asking for 227g of sausages and 473 ml of milk does it?

And it is the same when it comes to cooking. I originally trained as a clinical biochemist so I worked day in-day out with microlitres and millilitres and solids were weight to 2 decimal places in grammes. Yet in my own kitchen I more often than not work in pounds, ounces and pints! I am slowly getting the hang of using cup measurements but it really goes against the grain to do it!

This recipe is a doddle! It , as the name suggests, literally uses a pint of this and a pint of that. So simple! The beauty of this recipe is its adaptability. As long as you have a total volume of 1 pint of dried fruit, it doesn’t matter what you use. I love cherries so always include them but you can just as easily include dates or raisins. Similarly, you can vary the flavour by changing your choice of tea or including a spirit such as whisky or rum but in each case you must use a dark tea or spirit. I make a pot of good old-fashioned builders tea to soak my fruit in. Nothing fancy I assure you!  I quite often throw in a teaspoon of mixed spice too! See, I told you it was adaptable!

There is nothing better than a slice of this with a bit of butter on it and a steaming hot cuppa!

Ingredients:

1 pint dried fruit

0.5 pint soft dark brown sugar

0.5 pint of strong cold tea

1 egg

1 pint self-raising flour

Method:

  1. Soak the fruit and sugar in the tea overnight.
  2. Mix in the egg and flour until you a smooth batter.
  3. Pour into greased loaf tins. I split this mixture between two smaller tins but you can just use 1 large one.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven (160 degrees C. 325 F) for 40-60 mins depending upon the size of the loaf tin.
  5. Turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool.

This tea loaf keeps really well in a cake tin but will freeze well too. I love it toasted and dripping in butter! Is it any wonder I struggle to keep my weight down?

 Hope you enjoy it!

Love

Ali x

Lemon and Ginger Thirst Quencher

I have never been an OJ drinker or into fizzy drinks but if the truth be told I am a caffeine addict. My son, if he has a sleepover, even warns his friends not to approach me in the mornings until I have had at least two cups of coffee! Charming isn’t it? Kids! You have to admire their self-preservation skills!

I know it is bad for me but what can I say? I’m single, don’t drink, don’t smoke and I don’t do drugs! Surely I’m allowed one vice!

My lemon and ginger thirst quencher is, however, an attempt by me to reduce my caffeine intake by replacing it with something really special.  This recipe is easily adapted to suit your own tastes. I personally like my drink to have a bit of a ginger zing to it but you might prefer it to be a bit tamer.

 Ingredients:

2 cup of sugar

2 cups of water

200g root ginger

4 lemons –zest and juice.

2 tsp cream of tartar (I have left this out and it has been fine)

 

Method

  1. Grate the ginger.
  2. Remove the zest from the lemons. I use a potato peeler and take it off in thin slices. It doesn’t need to be pretty because you will remove it later.
  3. Place the water and sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the lemon and ginger.
  4. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring occasionally to ensure all the sugar has dissolved.
  5. Simmer the mixture for 10 mins then add the cream of tartar and the lemon juice.
  6. Bring back to the boil for 2 mins.
  7. Carefully filter the mixture to remove the ginger and lemon.  I tend to use a fine sieve when making it just for myself but if I make it to give as a gift I would pass it through a muslin cloth.
  8. Pour into sterilised bottles or jam jars whilst still hot and seal immediately.
  9. Allow to cool completely before use.

This makes a very strong cordial so needs to be diluted before being consumed. I top mine up with ice-cold sparkling water to make an absolutely gorgeous drink. As a teetotaler these days, I am more that happy to have a glass of this at meal times or a family get together. It would be absolutely brilliant to serve at a summer barbecue!

For a non-alcoholic cocktail, try equal parts cordial and pomegranate juice topped up with fizzy water! Trust me it is good! Again, fiddle around with the quantities to suit your palate.

 Enjoy!

 Love from

Ali x

Peanut Butter Crispies

As a child in Great Britain,  one of the first cakes that you ever learn to make are chocolate rice crispie cakes. I distinctly remember making them with my Mum when I was little and in turn I have very fond memories of my son standing on a chair in the kitchen up to his elbows in chocolate. I swear he had more chocolate on his face than he managed to get into the cupcake cases!

Marshmallow based crispie cakes are a relatively new concept over here but one that has been embraced wholeheartedly. We love the sweet, sticky treat. My recipe for peanut butter crispies takes that humble treat and transforms it into something that is positively dangerous to have in the house! They call to you from the kitchen, you know! “Eat me!” they say!

Ingredients:

50g butter

180g marshmallows

100g peanut butter

75g rice crispie cereal

Method:

  1. Place the butter and marshmallows into a heavy bottomed saucepan and melt gently over a low heat.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter.
  3. Add the rice crispies and stir until evenly coated.
  4. Pour into a lined 8 inch tin and chill. I find using either a silicone spatula or wearing latex gloves and using my fingers the easiest way to level this sticky concoction.
  5. Once set cut into 16 pieces with a sharp knife.

(I’m sure you could just as easily put this mixture into cupcake cases if you wanted to. )

This is a decidedly more-ish cake but I’m sure you could make it even more so with the addition of glace cherries or salted peanuts. What about a top coat of melted dark chocolate? I quite fancy turning them into peanut butter & jelly treats by sandwiching a layer of jam between two peanut butter crispie layers. How yummy would that be?

Instant chocolate fondue

This recipe came about due to my lovely teenage son inviting friends for tea but neglecting to inform me. The first I would know about it, would be when I opened the front door to greeted by “Hiya! What are we having for tea? Ooh, what’s for pudding?” Yes, Macca, I mean you! So after the initial panic of what  main course to feed them ( let’s face it they have bottomless pits for stomachs so beans on toast was not an option!) I then have to provide a suitable pudding. My instant chocolate fondue was a winner from day one.

Following a rummage through my cupboards and hidey-holes (am I the only person who has to hide things so their teenage offspring doesn’t devour it on sight?) I came up with lots of bits of things, plenty of chocolate and a pot of cream. A pudding was born!

The beauty of this recipe is that it is brilliant at using up left overs. You don’t need to be picky about the type of chocolate you use and you can alter the recipe to taste and to suit your requirement. The fondue shown above was made with a 2:1 ratio of milk to dark chocolate but I have made it with just milk chocolate. For a more sophisticated dessert or for adults try upping the amount of dark chocolate. I would be reluctant to use all dark chocolate because it might be a tad bitter.

Ingredients:

300g chocolate – anything goes!

10 fl oz single cream

Method:

  • Break up your chocolate into a heat-proof bowl then pour in the cream.
  • Suspend the bowl over a saucepan of hot water
  • Stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted.
  • Use a balloon whisk to beat the mixture into smooth, glossy gorgeousness.
  • Pour into bowls and serve with a variety of dippable things

You might want to try:

  • marshmallows
  • fruit – strawberries, apples, pineapple , cherries all work very well.
  • salted pretzels
  • mini doughnuts
  • left over cake
  • Biscuits
  • sponge fingers

Hope you enjoy this!

Ali xx