Skull Cake and Cookies

I had a really fun commission recently for a young man’s 11th birthday – just make it gruesome! After a brief chat about designs, the theme of skulls quickly emerged as the way forward.  We had a really, really tight deadline for this commission – just a few days instead of our usual 4 week plus lead time.  Luckily, Quirky Towers is full of books about science.  We even had a model skull!

I love making marshmallow, and have thought for a while that it would be great for brains.

Skull cookies with Marshmallow Brains

I’m not done with marshmallow brains yet though – there’ll be more to reveal later this month for Eat Your Heart Out.

The cake was really fun to make.  If you don’t have a skull shaped cake tin (and let’s face it, who does?) then don’t despair – you can carve the skull from a couple of square cakes.

From this start

I covered it roughly in fondant, allowing it to crack and dry out in places to make the texture more like a really ancient skull.

I then made a start on adding fondant muscle groups, as though the cake was a partially completed forensic facial reconstruction. The finished cake looked like this.

Skull Cake

October is officially science month at Quirky Towers. Keep your eye on the blog for more science and baking fun during the next few weeks.

Wonderful Wales

I have so many happy memories of holidaying in Wales in the ’70s and ’80s and most of them feature my Nan and Grandpa.  Most of these childhood holidays were spent in the area around Porthmadog and Harlech, but we also holidayed in Pembrokeshire which I instantly fell in love with.  This year, we managed to return to St Bride’s Bay  – a place which I first visited 30 years ago.

Earlier this summer I was lucky enough to win a photography course with the wonderful Lyndsey James.  A heavy work schedule had left little time to practice what I’d learned, so I was determined to spend time on holiday trying to get better. I know I’ve got a long way to go yet, but here’s some of the photos I was most proud of.  Constructive comments welcome!

I love the way Em is looking at the splashes she is making.

The view across the beach.

Part way through the week I discovered the black and white setting on the camera.

Someone call me Makka Pakka!

This one’s a candidate for framing.

You wouldn’t believe how many shots it took before I got one of the waves that I was happy with.

Using the “sunset” setting for the first time.

This was actually mid-afternoon!

And finally….. really, really special memories.


ER Hospital Cake

Although I’ve always baked traditional cakes, it wasn’t until I became a mum that I started making the carved novelty type cakes that are now my favourite to create.   So far Hannah has had everything from the Teletubbies, the Tweenies, and Groovy Chick in her early childhood, through lots of Harry Potter cakes to last year’s Twilight cake.

Twilight Cake

This year she wanted a medical theme.  ER has long been a favourite of hers; we just had to decide which bit of the set to recreate.  Hannah eventually decided on the green trauma room with her as the patient and, after several hours of watching DVDs, we found some clips which showed the whole room.

I had originally thought that in order to make the cake as detailed as we wanted to that I would have to take a whole week to make it.  However, the best laid plans etc… and after two poorly girls at the beginning of the week, and an order for Brown & Green, I found myself starting to decorate the cake on Thursday afternoon for the party straight after school on Friday. Not ideal to say the least.

Hannah was really keen to make the cake with me, but a heavy homework schedule meant that she only managed to make herself.  She did a great job for her first sugar figure don’t you think?

One of my favourite elements was the X-ray screen.  Hannah has had problems with her joints since being very young, and regularly ends up in A&E herself, so it was an obvious choice to depict her most frequently x-rayed limbs etc on the cake.

The walls were made of gum paste.  I was really nervous about these.  Normally I would allow at least 3 or 4 days for them to dry before attaching to the cake but this time they had less than 24 hours.

This wall had a blind on it, and this was made by overlapping rice paper strips,  and dusting with silver food colouring powder.

The cupboards were made by drawing onto rice paper with food colouring pens.  The rice paper simply adheres to the damp gum paste.

The coloured rice paper then had a further layer added, to make the cupboard doors and to give an overall impression of opaque glass.  At Emily’s suggestion, one of the cupboard doors was left open.

ER Hospital Cake

Given all the time constraints, I was really pleased with the finished cake.  Hannah and her friends were certainly impressed.

I really enjoyed making this cake for Hannah.  Happy Birthday to you! x

Fresh from the Oven December 2009

This is my first blog, so as I type I’m really hoping I’ve got this right as I had such fun tinkering with the stollen. I have to admit to being initially disappointed with the idea of stollen for my first blog with the group as I really can’t stand marzipan. However my enthusiasm was quickly regained as I decided to try to develop my own recipe with a substitute. It took a while to think my way around the problem but I eventually decided to try substituting hazelnuts for the almonds and see what happened.

Jules’ recipe, based on a Simon Rimmer stollen is an easy one to make.
One of the remaining problems I have from the accident is that I can’t knead dough for anything longer than a couple of minutes, and so I almost exclusively rely on my kitchenaid. Normally this isn’t a problem, but I did notice that with the stollen the fruit became quite chopped up by the dough hook. This is easily rectified (I discovered) by adding the fruit towards the end of the kneading time if using the machine.
I hunted around for a marzipan recipe and settled on the one from Delia’s Christmas. I’m not sure whether the oil content is generally different between hazelnuts and almonds or whether it was more to do with grinding my own hazelnuts against using the ready ground almonds, but I needed to vary the recipe quite a lot before I was happy with my hazelnut version.
Hazelnut Marzipan
6oz hazelnuts
2oz caster sugar
2oz icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp brandy
1 egg
First grind the hazelnuts. I use a slow speed in the coffee grinder attachment for my food processor which seems to work well. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until they form a fairly stiff dough. If the mixture seems a little too sticky add some more icing sugar.
The hazelnut marzipan works much better if you use the non-blanched ones, for some reason the skins on the hazelnuts make for a much better texture.  I also found that the amount of icing sugar needed varied quite a lot, which I put down to the variation in oil content in the different batches of nuts.
Once I’d got the marzipan substitute sorted I’m afraid I got a bit over excited and added some apricots to the centre of the stollen. Not very authentic I know, but neither is hazelnut marzipan, and once I’d started…

The one major difference I did find was that where the recipe states to cook for 40 minutes, my stollen was slightly overdone at 24 minutes. I did make a couple more and tried a number of different temperatures before settling on 180 degrees for about 20 minutes for my oven.

All in all I was very pleased with this version, but decided to try some with apricot compote as though I really like the addition of the apricots the centre was a little dry for my taste.

Apricot Compote
12oz dried apricots
a good slug of brandy
Place the apricots in a saucepan with the brandy and enough water to almost cover. Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered for 30 minutes by which time all the liquid will have disappeared (be careful and watch this so it doesn’t catch). Add another slug of brandy and leave overnight to cool. All the brandy should be absorbed once cool.
I used about a half of the compote initially, which was a little too much, so next time I’ll use a third (I would have continued to experiment, but frankly was running out of time!)
My last note is one of encouragement for those moments when you realise you’ve messed up your baking. I was weighing out the ingredients for another version of my hazelnut stollen one night when I was particularly tired, and instead of adding 2oz caster sugar to the hazelnut marzipan bowl I added it to the stollen mix in the kitchenaid. I decided to bake this (I thought, ruined) version in a 6″ round tin, just to see what happened, and ended up with a pleasant, although perhaps slightly sweet fruitbread which was delicious when spread with unsalted butter!
So all in all I’ve really enjoyed my first Fresh from the Oven challenge, and learned a little along with way. Roll on January!

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