Eat Your Heart Out

Last Thursday I was thrilled to deliver some cookies and a cake which I’d been planning for months.

Eat Your Heart Out took place over the weekend in the Pathology Museum at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London (part of Queen Mary’s University). This most unusual pop-up cake shop brought together my two passions: baking and science. As an interested non-scientist I am drawn to projects which use unusual ways to engage and educate me about scientific concepts.

I knew that it was going to be amazing from reading Miss Cakehead’s blog in the run up to the event, and have to admit to being somewhat in awe of the talent shown by my fellow cake decorators: in particular the work of Miss Insomnia Tulip, Nevie Pie Cakes and the Conjurer’s Kitchen really stand out.

I was completely thrilled then at the reaction to my Necrotizing Fasciitis cake.    Ben Stansall (AFP/Getty Images) took the most fabulous photo of my cake which was named on the Guardian newspaper’s website as one of the “Best News Pictures”  from around the world that day! (Scroll down the page to 17:24pm for my cake.)  That was just the start of a whirlwind couple of days in which we saw the photo of my cake appear on news websites from Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Chicago USA, and various other European countries.  There was even some video footage of me finishing the cake by AFP (lots of shots of the other cakes too).

If you’ve never heard of Necrotizing  Fasciitis before (and many haven’t) then you can find out more about it here and on Wikipedia – but I would suggest only clicking the links if you’ve a strong stomach!

The cookies I made were inspired by the Wellcome Images competition.  I love the colours and shapes of individual cells and so the idea of producing some cookies based on deadly bacteria and viruses was bound to emerge.  I did some research on mortality statistics from across the world, then narrowed down my selection further based on what images were the most visually appealing.  Spanish ‘flu may have wiped out millions, but it wasn’t going to make a great looking cookie!

You can see more of the event on the Eat Your Heart Out  blog and Facebook page.   The following are just a few of my own pictures of the cake and cookies I made.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – we were working very late at night in order to get the cake and cookies finished, and so I didn’t have much time to set up the photos.

sponge carved and ready to cover

fondant cut away to form diseased section of the leg

Injured / Infected Leg Cake

The Finished Necrotizing Fasciitis cake

Infected Leg Cake

Necrotizing Fasciitis Cake Details

Petri Dish Cookies

Bacteria & Virus Cell Petri Dish Cookies

Top row left to right: Salmonella, Legionella, Smallpox.
Bottom row left to right: Bubonic Plague, MRSA, Ebola.

A huge thanks goes to Miss Cakehead and Carla Connolly at the Pathology Museum for organising such an inspiring event, and for asking me to contribute. This was definitely one of the highlights of my cake career so far.

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Science Grrl

Regular readers will know that we like nothing better than to spend as much time as possible in the Quirky Kitchen baking geeky treats and boy, have we been geek baking this month.

This week saw the launch of the Science Grrl Calendar- a fabulous idea that emerged from the backlash against THAT video from the European Commission. It was a really inspiring evening, listening to fabulously glamorous scientists enthusing about their subject.  WID & I were delighted to be there along with quirky junior Hannah who was particularly inspired by some of the younger women there.

The cookies I designed for the launch party at the Science Museum took direct inspiration from the calendar photo shoots. I’ve been working on and off at developing a way to make my cookies glow in the dark for a while now but as soon as I saw the first pictures from Lia Han and Ceri Banner’s photo shoot I knew I had to make it work for the launch party. Well, I’m happy to say we did it!

Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookie

Some of the cookies depicted individual inspiring scientists.  These included Jill Tarter (of SETI), Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered Pulsars), Rosalind Franklin (whose x-ray diffraction images helped Watson & Crick work out the double helix structure of DNA) and Hedy Lamarr (who along with being a famous Hollywood actress was a talented mathematician and inventor).

Jill Tarter & Jocelyn Bell Burnell Minifig Cookies

Rosalind Franklin & Hedy Lamarr Minifig Cookies

The other cookies were inspired by both the photo shoots themselves and the various scientific disciplines in which those featured work.

Earth, Sun, Stargazing & Exploding Supernova Cookies

Tsetse Fly & Neuron Cookies

PET Diagram & Magnet (with “Iron Filings” sprinkles) Cookies

Petri-dish & DNA Cookies

You might recognise the Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 and the circuit board cookie from my post about Ada Lovelace Day.

Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 & Circuit Board Cookies

What better than a glass of champagne to illustrate bubble physics?  I couldn’t resist adding popping candy to this one too.  The pump shown is the famous Broad Street Pump which had the handle removed when John Snow linked the water from the pump to an outbreak of cholera in 1854.

Broad Street Pump & Champagne Cookies

Of course, I had to make lots of the minifig scientists.

Minifig Scientist Cookies

We had so many lovely comments, but I think I was most thrilled with the reaction to the Glow-in-the-Dark Laser Cookies and my Rosalind Franklin Minifig Cookie.  It was also great to hear more from the scientists about how accurate I had (mostly) managed to be in icing them.  Thank you to all those who took the time to talk to me about the cookies and how I can improve them.
Do take some time to find out more about Science Grrl.  The calendar has already inspired both my girls.  You can buy yours here and help “inspire a generation” not just in sport but in science too.

Ada Lovelace Day

I’m continually inspired by science in producing the cookie designs for Quirky Cookies & Cakes.  So in honour of today being Ada Lovelace Day here’s a sneak preview of two of the cookie designs I’m making for the launch of the Science Grrl calendar at the Science Museum this Thursday.  Can you guess what the cookies are?

Do have a read about Ada and what she accomplished in her lifetime,  She really was an inspirational woman.  You can find out more about her on her Wikipedia page or there’s a Radio 4 programme about her here.  Why not join in with the celebrations and share a story about a woman scientist who has inspired you.

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.

HotCan Cake

Every now and again I get a commission which I really, really enjoy making. Recently, I was approached by Amber Locke of Derbyshire Life magazine and Bear PR who asked if I could make a replica of a HotCan tin.

HotCan are a locally based company who make self-heating cans. The geek in me absolutely loves how these cans work, and so I was thrilled to be asked to make the cake.

There’s some more great photos on the HotCan Facebook page. I especially love the “Angry Chef” photo with the cake instead of the original can.

Thanks to HotCan and Amber for a really fun commission.

Tardis Cake

Another year has passed more quickly than I care to admit, and so last week included the task of baking Hannah’s 15th birthday cake.

I had planned a wonderful surprise for her of a cake complete with electronics and lots of other fun cakey stuff, but all hell broke loose at the beginning of the week, and so there I was on the morning of her birthday with only the base icing done. Best laid plans eh?

Matt Smith was the obvious choice for the Doctor, as he is her favourite incarnation. The assistant is Hannah in typical teenage slouched-against-something-with-her-arms-folded fashion.  One light for the top of the Tardis was all I could manage in the end, but we did at least get that.  The sombrero is a family in-joke from a fabulous storyline idea Hannah had months ago. (She was gutted to be too old to enter the recent script writing competition.) I’m biased of course, but if perchance any Dr Who peeps may read this post (in my dreams!) then seriously, Hannah is bursting to tell someone her idea.

I’m the first to say it’s not the best Tardis cake I’ve ever done: we tried a few different techniques which were less than successful, but given the time I had to make it I was pretty chuffed.  Onwards to Emily’s 7th birthday.  At the moment she wants a street scene from the Great Fire of London.  I’m already thinking about smoke!

Tardis Cake
Photograph Copyright Wendy Staples

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

Love is in the Kitchen!

It’s been a fun Valentines Day here at Quirky Towers.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been baking lots of these.

So this morning, I had a lovely surprise when I came downstairs to the kitchen to see that Mr Quirky (WID to our twitter friends) had been there before me.

Now, much as hubs loves my cookies, I decided that this year I wanted to make something different for him, so this afternoon, I’ve been relaxing in the kitchen making chocolate bars and hearts with Emily. 

Hmmm……..chocolate……..!

It was lovely to get a break from baking cookies for everyone else and to make something fabulous for my hubs, and as Emily says, because “I love you Daddy”.

Whatever you get from your special person today, I hope you have a lovely time.

Christmas at Quirky Towers

Here at Quirky Cookies & Cakes  the last few days before Christmas are a really busy time.  We’ve been busy baking Christmas goodies, and now there’s just a couple of days left to get your last minute orders in.  We’ve had a lot of fun designing the cookies and developing some new recipes to tempt you all during the holiday season.  Here’s just a selection of some of the things on offer.

Large Cookie Christmas Tree Table Centrepiece

 

Christmas Design Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

 

Christmas Design Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

Some more Christmas Designs

Placename Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

Biscotti

If you’re tempted, you can get an electronic order form by e-mailing us.   We can post UK wide, but hurry as our last order date is 12 noon on the 20th December.

If you can’t see what you’re looking for here, then why not get in touch, we’d love to help!

Quirky Cookies on the TV!

So….did you see it!? 

 

Leslie Jordan, (Will & Grace) with one of my cookies.

Photo Courtesy of Claire Sutton of Things We Make

We were thrilled be asked to appear on Good Food’s Market Kitchen: Big Adventures” which aired last night, and is repeated again today at 3pm and on Sunday at 8am (Sky 249, Sky  HD 283 and Virgin 260).  The programme has spent all this week featuring the very best of Derbyshire Food and Drink, and I was to be seen at home here at Quirky Towers, baking my now famous cookies and telling the story of how I set up the business, Quirky Cookies & Cakes, 18 months ago.

I had such fun doing the filming.  It was really interesting to see the care and attention that goes into such a short piece of film.  After the VT insert was filmed I had to send some cookies down to the studio for a “taste test”.  This was the most nerve-wracking part of the show for me.  Even though I know my cookies have always got a fabulous reception, I was still nervous of how my baking (which is all self-taught) would stand up to tasting by professional chefs and food critics. 

Well, I needn’t have worried as they all LOVED them! 

It felt like a bit of a Duffield special episode, as I was pleased to see Steve Croot from Croots Farm Shop also appearing on the same episode.  You can see more of Steve, and my friend Claire who writes the simply marvellous “Things We Make” blog in tonight’s programme, which airs at 7pm.

And the best bit?  Well, two really. Firstly, the approval of fabulous food critic Tim Haywood , and secondly, Mr Quirky, watching with me last night, and telling me I reminded him of Delia!!!!!