Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Markets and magazines

I've had a busy few weeks, so apologies for not sharing with you all of my adventures!

I have had a stall at my first ever fair, a feature in a national weekly magazine, had a donation of a glut of apples and had an order for a rugby club's 20th anniversary. I've also had more than my fair share of sleepless and sleep-deprived evenings and forgotten what a number of my friends look like!

Overall, the last few weeks have been extremely valuable and I have learned a number of lessons. My fair was disappointing in that not as many people turned up as I hoped would. I baked my little socks off, but it did teach me I need to think about what will sell and not what I like making! It also showed me that jams are popular, and my traffic jam (raspberry, apricot and gooseberry) was my best seller.

With no time to celebrate my achievements at the fair (I am incredibly proud of my stall and what I sold that day), I appeared in a feature in Woman's Own on 5-9ers. I am one of a rising phenomenon - women (though men do this as well!) who work full time and yet run a business in their spare time. Claire's Handmade Cakes will be celebrating its first anniversary next month and I'm very proud of everything that it - and I - have achieved in this time.

The magazine article was extremely positive and I'm incredibly proud of it. I will add, for those who have read it, that I don't spend all evening, every evening and all weekend, every weekend in my kitchen! I love my kitchen and I love baking, but just occasionally, I do get out!

Just to disprove this, my neighbour gave me a bag of apples from the apple tree in our garden. I couldn't let them go to waste, and I now have 4 apple pies, a huge batch of apple sauce, apple and blackberry jam and apple chutney to get me through the winter. I didn't have paprika (as stated in the recipe) and I used cayenne pepper instead. I suspect if I have a cold this winter, this chutney will clear it in no time at all!!!

I have spent some time at my desk, designing cakes as I have some exciting cakes coming up - a 40th birthday, an anniversary and a family sharing a number of milestones. I love the design process, even though I occasionally suffer from 'cake designer's block' and I'll go through the whole process in an upcoming blog; from the initial contact to the final cake. It's not a 5 minute process, but it's one I enjoy immensely and you can gain an insight into what really happens - or at least what I do!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Markets and underground tea parties!

The last couple of weeks at Cake Towers have seen me experimenting for my fair in a couple of weeks' time. This weekend, I decided it was time to venture out of my kitchen and away from my laptop!

I've lived in London for over 10 years now and there's still so much of this wonderful city which I have yet to see; so many cake shops to visit (and sample!), so many markets to discover.

I thought I'd put that right this weekend and yesterday (Saturday) I went to Northcote Road Market in Clapham. As I discovered on my way home, it's a mere 1 1/2 miles from my front door, which is eminently walkable. The market itself isn't the biggest in the world, but it's friendly and there's a nice selection of fresh food. If the market doesn't grab you, there are a number of bars and coffee shops in which you can while away a few hours.

I had two reasons to visit the market (or three, if you include my desire to visit the local area!) - I wanted to get some ideas of how to sell my cakes at the fair and I wanted to meet Laura Amos. Laura owns the Dessert Deli.
I've been following her for a while on Twitter and wanted to say hello as I only live down the road. Laura very generously allows people to sample all of her goodies on sale and her cakes are really rather tasty. If I ever need a dinner party dessert and can't be bothered to make one myself, I'll definitely be ordering something from Laura!

Today (Sunday) saw me venture further afield - all the way to West Croydon. I'd be honest in saying that it wouldn't be my number one destination of choice of a Sunday afternoon, but after today, I'll be going back. Through the power of Twitter, I stumbled across the Underground Tea Party and I'm very glad I did! Two friends host an informal gathering of tea and homemade cakes (one of which is featured above) and it's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There was delightful company, interesting tea (I'd never tried peony and rose tea before today, but I'm so very glad I did) and very tasty cake. (It's always nice if someone else makes it!) Underground tea parties and supper clubs are springing up all over the place and it's a terrific opportunity to spend time with lovely people who enjoy good food and good company!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Quiet Week in Cake Towers

I don't bake all of the time. I would dearly love to (actually, even I would need a break!) but right now it's confined to evenings and weekends. I've just been granted my first ever stall at The Spitalfields Show and Green Fair on 13th September, so I'm currently spending all of my spare time thinking about this.

It's amazing the planning that is involved. I want to make some bunting for my stall (I have managed to purchase some fantastic material from the lovely Zoe from but the sewing machine has still to be switched on. Or even moved onto the table); I want to buy a banner; I've been planning on having some aprons made for a while, the list is endless and that's before I think of things like a cash-box, table cloth (do I go for cotton or one I can wipe?), cake stands...

I'm making endless lists at the moment and the one list which I've just about finished is the 'what am I going to bake?' list. As this fair is a one-off, I have to guess what I think will sell and how much to make. I've decided to opt for some big cakes (lemon drizzle, orange drizzle, carrot, victoria sponge, tea bread (like the one pictured above), coffee & walnut), some cupcakes (vanilla, chocolate, lemon meringue, coconut & lime) and a selection of biscuits & cookies, brownies, jams and meringues.

The next step is working out how much of each ingredient I need. I'm fortunate to have a farmer's market just down the road from me, so on Saturday, I'll go along, see how the cake seller displays their wares and find a farmer who can sell me a lot of eggs!

In the meantime, I'm planning on perfecting a few recipes, including one for millionaire's shortbread, my favourite childhood treat. I'm keen to sell it on my stall, so my friends are going to be guineapigs this week when I make it and try a few cookie recipes out as well.

I love all types of cakes, not just decorated ones and that's why this stall is so important to me - it's an opportunity for me to bake an assortment of treats and then to mingle with people who hopefully like what they see.

Monday, 9 August 2010


I thought I’d tackle a serious subject this week – copyrights. I don’t make copyrighted cakes. Despite being desperate to make myself a Snoopy cake (he’s been my favourite thing ever from when I was a very young child!), I’m afraid it’s something that I won’t do.

The reason for this is because if I recreate any part of a copyrighted work, I am in breach of copyright (unless I have a license to reproduce the work). By being in breach of copyright, I am breaking the law and I could, potentially, be fined a lot of money. As I don’t want to break the law or pay a big fine, I have decided the best way to avoid this is not to make copyrighted characters or cakes at all.

This led me to a dilemma this weekend. It was my niece’s 5th birthday and my niece is a HUGE ‘High School Musical’ fan. When I asked my brother what kind of cake I should do, I was told ‘HSM and pink’. That got me thinking. If I adapted an ‘HSM’ themed-cake, would I still be in breach of copyright?

I don’t actually know the answer to this, but obviously I hope the answer is no. I made pink curtains for a stage, made a microphone, some stars and some musical notes and a starburst which was pink, black and silver.

My niece loved her cake (it was pink!) and it went down very well, but I am still not 100% sure I’ve answered my copyright question. I think I’m going to look into copyrights in more detail and come back to this is at a later date.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Local produce and lavender shortbread

I've probably mentioned that I don't just make cakes. Cakes are great, but there are so many tasty treats out there, waiting to be created, sampled and adored.

I don't think I have yet mentioned my love of cookery books, magazines, cookery programmes and recipes in general. I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge and I have stacks of recipes that I want to try and make my own.

There are programmes that I always make sure I tune in for, or failing that, watch on my laptop at a later date. I am a huge fan of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. I love my River Cottage Year. I think it's so important to eat seasonally and locally, after all, that's when the food is at its best. (I went to the supermarket recently and I noticed the cherries on the shelves. I love cherries and picked some up. They were from Spain. Right now is peak English cherry season. I know that as I've picked a number over the last few weeks. I was so angry that I couldn't get fruit from my own country when it's actually in season! Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now!)

I'm also a big fan of Rachel Allen, the River Cafe, Sky Gyngell, the list goes on and on! I'm forever looking for 'excuses' to try out new recipes (mine as well as other peoples'. I'm always looking out for inspiration!) - friends' birthdays or spare weekends seem to be good opportunities. Or times when I know I'll be out with friends and I won't have to eat everything myself!

I've been fruit-picking a lot recently. This has been followed by me making jars and jars of jam. I still have some chutney to make, which will be matured and ready for Christmas, but I'm holding out for plum chutney and the plums aren't quite in season yet. (See rant above!) I've a plum tree where I live and I can't get any more local than that!

I also have a lavender plant where I live. I've been meaning to dry the flowers to keep me going through the winter, but I think I'm too late and I'll have to wait until next summer.

When I went fruit picking recently, I decided to tie this in with some baking, so I opened up my Hugh River Cottage Year and his lavender shortbread was calling me. I probably didn't use enough lavender, but it was delicious and it offered an opportunity for experimentation and a pick-me-up in the blackcurrant bushes! It's already gone down as one of my favourite recipes of the year and I'm thinking, just maybe I will salvage the lavender from outside as at least I know it's not made a long journey to my kitchen!

Monday, 19 July 2010

A cake fit for a celebration

I've re-written this blog several times this week. Not sure I should be admitting this, after all, you're probably reading it and asking 'really?', but yes, this week has seen several re-writes. Although I've been really busy lately, I haven't put many cakey posts on here and after all, I am all about cake (though cake comes in many guises and with many fillings, so all posts written to date are valid and I'm not rubbishing everything I've written!). I thought I might change that as I have two cakes this week.

I had a request on Friday for a cake: I talked through the brief, what was required, to feed how many, ideas for design... Then the all important question 'when would you like it?'. Tuesday morning came the reply. With a 'you've got 4 days to do it'!!!

Sometimes it's possible to provide a fabulous cake in 4 days, sometimes it isn't. Cakes don't just appear after waving a magic wand! Ingredients need to be bought (whilst I usually have most ingredients, I don't always have everything as I always make my cakes fresh), along with cake boards and boxes and ribbons to make them look pretty. Again, I usually have all of those, but sometimes a quick trip to the cake decorating shop is required.

Then, there's the time it takes to weigh and measure everything out, mix it all together, grease and line the tin, bake, wash up, allow the cake to cool, make the buttercream.... and that's all before you've started thinking about the design, or creating it!

For the design above, I covered the board the day before I placed the cake on top to give it time to dry. I made all of the stars the day before I needed them too for the same reason. These were covered in edible glitter (green, black and silver), though as they were also on wires, they would not be fit for consumption. The design came about as the lady whose birthday was being celebrated was a WI member and the WI's logo was adapted to reflect this. This was painted onto a small plaque of white sugarpaste, in two different shades of green.

I kept the green theme throughout the cake, with the letters coloured in 'Disco Green Kelly' and the ribbons were also green. I placed a single burgundy rose bud on the board to add a little interest and to break the green-ness of the cake up and a cake was born!

There is no such thing to the cake decorator as 'just a sponge' - cakes are an important part of a celebration and if one has been ordered, it has to look the part. Thankfully on this occasion, it did!

Speak to you all soon and happy baking!

Sunday, 11 July 2010


I don't just make cakes and other treats. I also make the fillings to go in them, anything from buttercream and ganache to jams and curds.

As this is summertime and the fruit is ripe, I've started making jam. I have two cherry trees where I live (one is a sweet cherry tree, the other, a rather tart one), so on Tuesday, I went cherry picking. A neighbour had been given some dark red cherries from a friend's tree and he very kindly added them to my bounty, so off I went into my kitchen, with a pound and a half of cherries. (I know I ought to be using metric now and sometimes I do, but I still work in pounds and ounces!)

I have yet to invest in a cherry stoner, so armed with my trusty kitchen knife, I de-stoned all my cherries. It took me an hour. It was quite therapeutic to begin with, but I must admit, I did get bored towards the end. I hoped it would be worth it...

This year I've decided to be more experimental with jams. To date I've made lemon curd, marmalade (which I didn't leave long enough before I bottled it so the rind was only in the top half of my jars!), strawberry jam and harlequin jam, which is a mixture of strawberries, redcurrants, raspberries and gooseberries. I've acquired a few books, trawled the internet, and sought inspiration in fairs to come up with some unusual, or less mainstream perserves.

The only problem with this, is that there are hundreds of recipes for the same thing! For my cherry jam, I could add pectin (I didn't), lemon juice (I did) and sugar ranged from half the amount of fruit to 100%. I put about half a pound of sugar in and when I tasted it, it wasn't too sweet, it was probably just sweet enough.

Disappointingly, my cherries only yielded just over 2 jars of jam. They've been labelled (so I know what was made and when) and are now sitting on a shelf in my kitchen, waiting to be joined by other jars. I'm going fruit picking this weekend and will not only make jam, but chutneys as well, to sell at Christmas fairs (yes, I'm sorry, I am already thinking about Christmas!). I made some rather tasty gooseberry chutney last year, so will be repeating that this year. I have ideas of what other jams and chutneys I want to make, but I'll have to wait and see what fruit I end up with, before I get too carried away with my plans!

I already know that when the plums in my garden are ripe, I'll be making plum chutney and hopefully a plum and vanilla jam. I have an apple tree as well, so I'm thinking possibly mint jelly with that, but I've a few months to decide!

It is a shame to be in my kitchen when the sun is out, but I know that come the autumn, when the weather is miserable, I can curl up with a hunk of bread (that I will have learned how to make by then) and smother it with some home made jam. What could be better?