Death by chocolate, dancing dogs and chainsaw fun on tonight’s blog. It was my birthday this week so I was on the receiving end of a cake for a change. I’ve been really spoilt by my family and also had a fab weekend lumberjacking thanks to the team at STIHL.
Like parents up and down the country, the beginning of March means only one thing – sorting costumes for World Book Day. It’s the sort of thing I wish we had when we were young. With Halloween too, kids have far more fancy dress opportunities these days. We were lucky that our eldest daughter has been so taken with Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl series since meeting him last October that she was able to recycle her Halloween costume for the occasion. The book she chose, Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death, has a Bake Off theme so it’s a particular favourite of Daughter #1. It’s also a really beautiful book, with a mini book in a pocket in the back cover and packed full of all of Chris Riddell’s amazing illustrations. Chris is the Children’s Laureate and I’m hooked on his Instagram account – completely inspiring.
Daughter #2 chose one of our family favourites: Dogs Don’t Do Ballet. We love this book in our house as our dog always tries to join in when we dance (even down to the outfits – as pictured above!) If you’re a fan of the book too, a puppet version of it is on at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington between April and July this year and tickets are available here.
I’ve been really inspired by The Big Painting Challenge on BBC1 at the moment and have been trying to make time to sketch a bit more. My wife Sarah got me loads of drawing supplies for my birthday this week and my parents and Sarah’s mum have contributed towards a 12-week art course I’m going to start next month. My sisters are both going to come to the evening classes too and the three of us are really looking forward to spending the time together and getting creative, as none of us have had lessons since school, but Art was a favourite subject for all of us. Watching the Great British Bake Off on TV played a big part in getting me more into baking and I’m reminded of that when I watch the Big Painting Challenge. I really think the BBC does educational entertainment so well.
In a week of lots of presents, I also got a fantastic delivery from my very favourite food store – Wing Yip (baby not included). I’m lucky to live near their Cricklewood store in North-West London and a visit there is a great way to lose yourself for an afternoon. I have a deal with Daughter #1 that she can have whatever she likes from Wing Yip as long as it’s a food she’s never tried before. She has a really mature palate and will eat anything so this is always a fun challenge for her. One of the goodies in my box from Wing Yip was this vegan coconut caramel sauce, so after how well-received my vegan carrot cake recipe was, I’m going to experiment with making some vegan caramel doughnuts this week – watch this space!
Sarah and daughter #2 made me the lovely cake above for my birthday this week. It was the chocolate cake recipe from my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself (currently available for only £8.94 here) but scaled up to a six-egg mix and baked for longer, as they used my Nordicware bundt tin. My coconut cake recipe here gives a good guide to how much longer you’ll need to bake for in a bundt tin. After making the cake this week, Sarah wanted to share some of her tips for baking cakes if you’re a less-experienced baker…
- If you don’t think you’ll be able to coat a cake smoothly / prettily with buttercream, icing or ganache, bake it in a bundt tin as it’ll always look a bit more attractive. Nordicware ones are really lovely but Amazon do loads of cheaper alternatives too. Just remember to brush the insides well with melted butter and then dust with flour
- If you’re no good at piping, buy loads of nibbed pistachios and rose petals to scatter over your cake. I got mine from here and they’ll last for loads more cakes in the future
- Distract from the cake with tall candles. We have loads like these and these in the cupboard, which are a bit fancier looking than ordinary candles
- Get a nice cake stand to put it on as it’ll always look better than on a board covered in tin foil. Since Richard was on Bake Off, we’ve collected quite a few including this one that he got for Christmas, but also this one, which is much cheaper
- Follow Richard’s recipes as they’re very easy to understand (and I’m not at all biased!)
Finally, yesterday was an incredible way to spend my birthday weekend. I went along to STIHL‘s HQ in Surrey for a Timbersports Trial. I’m going to write a proper, detailed blog for STIHL about the experience and the great people I met, as it was such a fantastic day’s training, but the clip above gives a little taster of what we got up to. I first heard about Timbersports when I saw it at Countryfile Live last year and as I’ve been working with STIHL a fair bit since then, I’ve been really keen to have a go. Of course, as quite a few people rumbled on Instagram, it’s just been an elaborate ruse to get more cake boards! But if you want to see the proper lumberjacks in action, check out the video below. Until next week, Happy Baking!