Friday, 21 November 2014

Gingerbread Nativity {Tutorial}


I made this Gingerbread Nativity Scene last Christmas and have had a few requests for a tutorial, so here it is! If you have never made anything like this before, please be sure to read through the WHOLE tutorial before you start making it yourself.

The Pattern Pieces
Click on the image or link to download the PDF for each page of the pattern. Each page is one A4 page - the Nativity Scene I made last year was bigger than the pattern given (I scaled it down so that the biggest piece fit the A4 page), so feel free to scale it up a bit. Cut all the pieces out along the thick lines.







The Dough
Use my Gingerbread dough recipe, found HERE. I believe I made double the recipe, but please forgive me if I'm wrong - it was a year ago! Add a little bit extra flour to the dough so that it makes a sturdier dough. Roll out the dough to 1/4" or 6mm and carefully cut out all the pieces - following the thick lines on the pattern pieces (the ones you cut the pieces out on).


Space the dough pieces onto baking trays lined with baking paper/silpat/teflon sheets, leaving about an inch space between pieces. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Bake according to the recipe, one tray at a time, until they are nicely browned - you want crunchy gingerbread, not chewy (but also not burned)!

As each tray of gingerbread pieces comes out of the oven, transfer them onto a chopping board, lay the pattern pieces over the corresponding gingerbread pieces and trim all the straight edges with a sharp non-serrated knife so that they once again match the pattern pieces (for Mary & Joseph, the manger, sheep and trees, that would just be the bottom edge; don't worry about trying to trim around the star). At this point you can trace the details from the pattern pieces onto the still hot gingerbread - just place the pattern piece on top of the gingerbread and trace over with a toothpick, leaving light grooves in the gingerbread, which you can then follow, later, when icing.

Leave the pieces on a flat surface to cool (not a cooling rack), until they are completely cool to the touch, then move to cooling racks and leave overnight. If the pieces still feel a bit soft the next day, return to the oven at a low temperature for a while to dry them out until they are nice and firm. If you try to assemble the Nativity Scene with 'chewy' gingerbread, it will sag and break.


Decorate
Make up a batch of white royal icing - I love Sweetopia's Recipe! Decorate each piece of gingerbread, using the details on the pattern pieces, and my Nativity Scene as guidance. Have fun, try out different patterns and textures :) The whole thing could be iced in full colour too!

For the Background piece (the piece with the doves and donkey on it), first ice the arch, let it dry, then add the animal's  silhouettes and rafter. Finally, go over the rafter again, outline the arch and add details to the animals.


On many of my pieces, I iced a base of white first, then added detail once the base had dried.


Assembly
Using royal icing, attach 'Stand' pieces to the back of the Background piece and the trees. Prop them up at 90ยบ and make sure they are flush with the bottoms of the pieces. Leave to set.


Once set, attach the Background piece to the oval Base piece, using royal icing - set it as far back on the Base as possible, and slightly to the left of centre. Leave to set.


Next, attach the Star piece, gluing it onto the background with royal icing. Leave to set.
Add the Roof and Mary & Joseph. The roof will need holding in place for a while, until the royal icing has set enough to support it. Attach Baby Jesus to Mary & Joseph.
Attach the trees to the Base, so that they are in the foreground. Leave to set.
Attach the sheep to the base and the trees.


Your Nativity Scene is now done. I hope you had fun!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Modelling Chocolate {Recipe & Tutorial}

I used Modelling Chocolate for the very first time for my Medieval Dragon Cake and instantly fell in love. It is a wonderful medium to work with! I couldn't figure out how to buy it at a reasonable price in the UK, so I decided to make it myself.



Since I have been asked so many times how to make Modelling Chocolate, and since I am currently unable to bake because of my Bad Arm (I am still awaiting surgery, due any day now), I thought I would write a blog post about it.

Modelling Chocolate sets really quickly so that you don't have to wait ages between stages of modelling - it can all be done in one sitting! And if you aren't happy with something you've modelled, it's easily changed. Pieces can also be added on completely seamlessly, or you can cut bits off and smooth it over so that you'd never know. It also doesn't require much in the way of supports such as cocktail sticks (which I wouldn't recommend using anyway).

When I made the Medieval Dragon Cake (the dragon is entirely modelling chocolate over a body of cake and head and tail structure of RKT) the only non-edible parts were:
• a dowel to hold the head in position
• a few skewers to pin the tail in place around the castle, and
• a short skewer in each wing, purely used to firmly attach them to the body - the wings themselves are 100% modelling chocolate and support themselves.
Modelling chocolate is surprisingly strong and has an elastic quality that allows it to withstand a certain amount of knocks and bumps without breaking.

Medieval Dragon Cake - stands 26" tall

To make Modelling Chocolate, you will need the following:


500g White Chocolate
100g Corn Syrup (clear)
One large and one small microwave safe bowl
A silicone spatula
Plastic wrap
A hard surface to work on

Amounts of chocolate and syrup can be adjusted to however much Modelling Chocolate you wish to make, just keep the ratio of White Chocolate to Corn Syrup at 5 : 1 (in the photos I have actually used 125g chocolate and 25g syrup, but I do find the 500g as given above a better volume to work with).

I usually use cheap, store brand white chocolate and have had brilliant results, getting an affordable end product that tastes great and works well. In this tutorial I have used buttons - because they were left over from another bake. I believe candy melts can be used too, but I haven't tried them yet. They would be a great way to get pure white Modelling Chocolate, which would have been useful for the Christmas Nativity Tree I made last year, where I used fondant for all the white bits.

Before I figured out where to buy corn syrup (at my local Chinese Market), I used golden syrup, which worked fine. I find I have more success with Corn Syrup though (every now and then a batch of Modelling Chocolate flops for no apparent reason, I find that this has happened less since I have been using corn syrup, but that could just be because I have got better at making it).

Break the chocolate up into the large bowl, and melt in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring each time.


Keep going until most, but not all, of the chocolate has melted, then keep stirring, letting the heat in the chocolate melt the last few lumps, until it is all melted and is smooth.


Be very careful not to overheat the chocolate. The chocolate should now be warm to the touch, if it feels very hot, then let it cool a little.

Warm the syrup to just above body temperature, if it is too hot it will 'burn' the chocolate and your modelling chocolate will fail, rather let it cool a bit before using. If you want coloured modelling chocolate, add food colouring gel to the syrup and mix thoroughly. Colour can be added to the modelling chocolate after it is made, but it is difficult and very messy. Because modelling chocolate keeps so well and does not dry out the way fondant does, I usually make large batches of the colours I use often, as well as a set of basic colours which can then be mixed to get more colours. When a colour runs out, I just make a new big batch. This way I usually only end up making up one or two new batches of modelling chocolate for each new cake, rather than having to make up all the different colours I need every time.


Pour the warm syrup into the warm chocolate and mix through quickly until combined and starting to thicken up.

Stop mixing immediately if it starts looking as though it is going to split.


Wrap in cling film, flattened out, and leave to cool thoroughly (not in fridge) for about an hour.


Once completely cool and set it should not be sticky, if it is, leave to cool a bit longer. Knead it until it is smooth in texture and has no lumps, it may become a little bit oily feeling at this point. Don't overwork it, just make sure you get all the lumps worked out. If you find you have some persistent lumps, warm it in the microwave for a few seconds, and knead them out.


Sometimes it can be a bit crumbly, just keep working it and it will eventually come together. If it is excessively crumbly, then you may need to adjust your recipe to include a bit more syrup - not all chocolates are the same, and may need an adjustment to the ratios of chocolate to syrup. Likewise, if the Modelling Chocolate is too sticky at this stage, the amount of syrup may need to be reduced.

Now wrap in a fresh piece of cling film and leave for a few hours / overnight to set.


Your Modelling Chocolate is now ready to use!

You will find that when cool, it goes completely solid. All you have to do is knead it until it becomes soft enough to work with. If it is really hard, you can heat it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it just slightly, then knead it. But be careful not to overheat it, just a few seconds too long can melt and burn it.

When working with the modelling chocolate, don't let it become too warm, try to touch it directly with your hands / fingers as little as possible, using tools as much as you can. If a piece you are working on begins to feel oily, stop working on it (or it may develop little tears), let it cool down completely before working on it again.

If you find you are unhappy with a piece you have modelled, you can:
  • warm it up a bit with your fingers and rework it
  • cut a bit off then smooth it over
  • add a bit on and smooth over the seams to make them disappear.
Modelling chocolate sets very quickly, meaning you can complete an entire figurine in one sitting. It is also strong and can support itself to a certain extent, for example in the making of limbs, without the need for supports like cocktail sticks or spaghetti (as long as you get a secure join). Pieces can be joined by warming the areas to be joined slightly, then working / rubbing one piece into the other with tools; or by using a bit of melted chocolate. For small details, just warming the bit to be added, with your finger, can make it sticky enough to join. Edible glue can be used, but because the chocolate doesn't absorb the glue, the pieces will only stick once the glue has dried fully.

Modelling Chocolate Recipe


500g White Chocolate                     )
100g Corn Syrup (clear)                  ) or              5 parts White Chocolate : 1 part Corn Syrup

Break the chocolate up and melt in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring each time. Keep going until most, but not all, of the chocolate has melted, then keep stirring, letting the heat in the chocolate melt the last few lumps, until it is all melted and is smooth. Be very careful not to overheat the chocolate. The chocolate should now be warm to the touch, if it feels very hot, then let it cool a little.

Warm the syrup to just above body temperature, if it is too hot it will 'burn' the chocolate and your modelling chocolate will fail, rather let it cool a bit before using. If you want coloured modelling chocolate, add food colouring gel to the syrup and  mix thoroughly.

Pour the warm syrup into the warm chocolate and mix through quickly until combined and starting to thicken up. Stop mixing immediately if it starts looking as though it is going to split. Wrap in cling film, flattened out, and leave to cool thoroughly (not in fridge) for about an hour.

Once completely cool and set it should not be sticky, if it is, leave to cool a bit longer. Knead it until it is smooth in texture and has no lumps, it may become a little bit oily feeling at this point. Don't overwork it, just make sure you get all the lumps worked out. If you find you have some persistent lumps, warm it in the microwave for a few seconds, and knead them out. Now wrap in a fresh piece of cling film and leave for a few hours / overnight to set. It is now ready to use.


I hope you enjoy making and using modelling chocolate as much as I do!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Even kids can bake Fraisier Cake!

Frasier Cakes are impressive to look at, and the recipe can look quite daunting, but don't be afraid of them - they are not actually that hard to make! Last week my son used my Fraisier Cake tutorial to bake a cake of his own for his college Bake Off.


Here he is with his magnificent award winning cake. It came second in the Bake Off!

Granted, he did have me on hand to tell him when he'd beat the eggs enough and help him hold the piping bag correctly (he's not quite there yet), but he did actually make the entire cake, from start to finish, with his own two hands. He took two afternoons to make the cake, and it was a wonderful mother-son  bonding experience. His determination to do really well for the Bake Off was an excellent motivator. Following instructions is extremely difficult for him due to Aspergers, so he will often give up part-way on a project of this magnitude. Splitting it over two days, with a specific set of goals for day 1, helped; and I also gave him the instructions verbally as he worked, rather than having him read them.

This is how he did it:
Beat the eggs and sugar to ribbon consistency.

Gently folded in the flour and butter.

Poured the batter into the prepared cake tin,

and placed it in the oven.

Got the ingredients ready and made the creme patisserie.



Coloured and rolled out the marzipan.

Sponge is ready.

After splitting the sponge and brushing the syrup on, he placed the halved strawberries up against the plastic collar.

Then piped the creme pat between the strawberries and over the sponge.



The recipe says that you should assemble the cake in the ring of your spring form tin. I did that the first couple of times that I made the cake, but then I found that I got much better results using a sturdy clear plastic collar, taped closed.

Piped the second layer of creme pat, on top of the strawberries,

and placed the top half of sponge.

After brushing the sponge with more syrup, he added the marzipan on top.

He really enjoyed piping the chocolate decorations!




Well done my boy, I am so proud of you!


Friday, 24 October 2014

Dr Seuss Themed Dummy Cake


I mage this cake as a prop for our Ward's Roadshow this year. It is a dummy cake made with 12", 10" and 8" polystyrene drums, covered in left over fondant from previous cakes. The candles I made by wrapping fondant around cardboard tubes, leaving a space in the top for battery powered led tea lights to fit. 


I wanted the cake to have a Dr. Seuss or Cat in the Hat feel, without being too specific, but I couldn't resist putting a few fish on to it :) They are hand cut and detailed with a Sharpie (well, it's not going to be eaten!) 


I really wanted this post to be all about our Roadshow, but sadly the evening has been postponed (possibly until February). So I thought I would just share my cake for now, without giving anything away about our play - it is a competition after all!