Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thinking Ahead

Xmas Boxes.

This picture shows five empty boxes, four of these having been covered with Christmas wrapping, the one in the middle at the back has not been covered. All boxes originally contained things like J.Cloths, tea-bags, biscuits and other such packaged kitchen 'stuff'.

It doesn't matter if there is any printing on the outside of a box, as long as it is plain inside. Carefully prise the glued part of the box open and press it out flat. Lay the printed side face down on the paper and draw a line round the box about a quarter inch beyond each edge, then remove box and cut the paper where marked. Place the box back on the paper and brush paste or glue on the outside edge of the box )or on the paper that is visible) and fold the paper over so that it is firmly (AND NEATLY) fixed to the card. When the glue is dry, re-assemble the box, in the shape it was before, glue the sides back in place as necessary.

A really good gift can be made by 'exploding' a box that once held paper hankies or tissues. The plan is to cover this with fabric, and then re-assemble to make a slightly larger 'box' that can be slipped over a full box of tissues.

As the fabric covered box has to be slightly larger to enable it to fit over a similar box, this - once laid flat -needs to be cut along the folds (sides and ends) and then the pieces placed on the back-side of the fabric, very slightly apart before being glued glued down . Snip the material where it covers the hole (where the tissues are pulled through) and fold this back underneath and also glue down. To make it look really neat, the inside of the box can also be covered with material.

When folding the box back together, glue the ends to the internal flaps, or stitch the corners together, and then the box is ready to give as a gift (with - of course - a full box of hankies inside).

The next photo today is not just for Christmas (but the idea could work when decorating any anniversary cake, even a Christmas Cake) mainly to show how much cheaper it is to cook/decorate our own than have it done professionally.

The cake shown was made for our daughter's wedding - she made the cakes, I did the icing - and although the photo is in black and white, the main part of the cake was a very pale apricot/peach coloured royal icing, with the decoration in plain white icing.

Nowadays, most cakes are covered in fondant icing, very easy to work, but in my opinion yucky (aka sickly)to eat, and have heard that royal icing is about to make a come-back, so worth practicing as you may wish to use it in the years to come.

When a cake is covered in royal icing, it is easy enough to get the top and sides smooth as long as you remember to put thin layers of icing over the marzipan and let each dry before adding another. Adding a new layer each day can take up to a week to get a really smooth effect. But always, ALWAYS, I found that where the top and sides meet it was never very tidy. Also there were what I called 'pock marks' towards the edges (often where air bubbles had been in the icing). Some cake-makers use sandpaper to smooth rough bits off the icing, I used the flat side of a knife slid across the cake.

To disguise these marks and neaten the edges, with the above cake, I filled a syringe (with a nozzle having a small round hole) with icing, and then piped a continuous 'squiggly' line over any damage to the icing and also carrying this over the rim. Then finishing off with tiny stars around each 'curve''. The bits hanging down between the curves that were bought cake decoration flower buds (white) that came fastened to white stems.

The rough base of the cake - also difficult to ice cleanly - was neatly covered with a ribbon of silver trimming - also bought - with a few roses made of icing stuck here and there. I may have made the icing roses, as was quite good at making these.

Now - when you consider how expensive it is to buy a wedding cake (or any decorated cake for that matter), if our children are still young, we then have ample time to practice before they flee the nest. For starters, It is practice icing tecniques using firm mashed potato instead of sugar icing, and pipe onto baking parchment or a box or something, but never on a cake. From there you can progress to using butter icing and decorate fairy cakes and Victoria sponges etc.

Fragile decorations made with royal icing need a firmer icing than that used when covering a cake. A little gum tragacanth added helps to prevent the icing breaking if piping out lace patterns etc. But only use this for decorating, not add to the main icing, as it would then become too hard to eat.

For the main body of the cake, add a few drops of glycerine to the icing when beating the egg white and icing sugar together. No noticeable difference in the icing when using, but this does make the icing easier to cut with a knife without the icing breaking up shattering. The first wedding cake I made (for a friend) I did not use glycerine, and the icing was so hard it bent the silver knife used to cut the cake. My cry of "I knew I shouldn't have used Polyfilla" made everyone laugh, and hopefully saved the day.

Before icing, always allow marzipan to dry out (uncovered) at room temperature for at least a week before icing, or the marzipan will discolour the royal icing.

Always make enough icing to cover all the cakes when there are several tiers, especially if the icing is to be coloured, for it is impossible to get a perfect colour-match if a new batch has to be made. Royal icing, once made, keeps very well in a bowl if it is first covered with a wet towel (well wrung out), and this then covered with a plate or something to prevent the air getting in. The damp towel keeps the air in the bowl moist, and this prevents the surface of the icing drying out.