My Top 10 Cake Decorating Essentials to put on your Christmas List!

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Christmas is coming – Yay!! My favourite bits of the festive season are not gift related, I love having friends and family together, lots of good food, tasty treats and the beautiful scents of the season. However when it comes to gifts, I really do love choosing things for my loved ones. For those of you who love baking or if you know someone who is getting into cake decorating, take a look at my Top 10 Cake Decorating Essentials that I just can’t do without. To be honest, this list could have been at least another 10 more with cranked palette knives, various cutters and tools…but we’d be here forever!

And so to start with…I couldn’t live without….

  1. A Decent Spatula

I really like the Joseph Joseph Elevate spatulas which have a little stand built into the handle which stops mess getting on your worksurface. I have the green spoon spatula and the smaller pink one too which is great for icing.

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2. A good set of measuring spoons

I have had several sets of measuring spoons but one of the most frustrating things about them can be when they don’t fit into the narrow neck of a spice jar. In most areas of cooking I rarely use a recipe and I tend go by the chuck-a-bit-of-that-in method.  However when it comes to baking cakes, this is a well-practiced science and accurate measurements are essential. The majority of my cake recipes are in my head and I love to experiment with flavour combinations however there are certain cakes that do require me to open up a recipe book and this is often where I reach for a decent measuring spoon. When my last spoons finally broke I began the search for some new ones and  happened upon a brilliant set of Levoons from the unique gifts and eclectic homeware site: Imanique. The spoons are great, narrow enough to fit into jars and they feature a built in scraper to get the measurements totally level.

 

I had to give them a little test.

Buy your set from the lovely Lucy at Imanique and in doing so, you will be buying from an independent small business, which is always nice 🙂

As a bit of a subheading to this one, occasionally I use the odd American recipe which calls for cup measurements. My favourite cup set was a Christmas gift from my lovely sister in law Jenni and they are in the shape of nesting Russian dolls. A quick Google search has revealed that they are still available and can be bought from House of Fraser and currently at the time of writing, they have 20% off at Debenhams.

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  1. A Stand Mixer

Due to the huge popularity of The Great British Bake Off, there are now there are lots of stand mixers available to suit a range of budgets. When I got my first mixer there wasn’t a huge choice and the brand leaders were (and still are) the Kenwood Kmix and the Kitchenaid Artisan. Both were crazy expensive for a hobby baker with the Kmix being the most affordable option of the two.

However for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted a Kitchenaid. The classic design looks like it has stepped straight out of the fifties and has the smooth curves of a beautiful vintage car that I know I will never get to own!

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This is me at a vintage swing dance weekender with my dream car.

I finally took the plunge and asked for money towards a mixer for my birthday one year. That, combined with some savings led me be able to purchase my beautiful buttery yellow Kitchenaid mixer.

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I love my mixer so much and it has definitely proved worthwhile for the quantity of time that I use it. Since baking is now my full time job, I had to invest in a larger mixer to cope with mixing up the batter for many cake tiers at once. The colour choice for the big ones is more limited than the rainbow array of Artisans but I do love my sparkly cherry red pro mixer.

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You can buy stand mixers anywhere from Lidl to Lakeland now but mine both came from Harts of Stur as when I was looking, they offered the best value as well as some awesome free gifts.

4. Artist’s palette knife

One of my absolutely essential items in my baking kit comes from the artist section of Hobbycraft. There are lots of different artists’ palette knives which work so well for sliding underneath delicate fondant work to lift and move.

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5. Scalpel

Ever since I started at Art College when I was 16 I have always used a scalpel instead of a craft knife. It works perfectly to cut out delicate fondant shapes. One memorable moment of stupidity was when I was about 17 and was using a scalpel to strip the copper wire out of some covered flex. I was doing this balanced on my lap while sitting on my bed, I slipped with the scalpel and stuck it straight into my thigh! Thankfully I escaped with just a small scar but it did teach me to actually work on a board. I’ll admit that I still occasionally cut out intricate fondant shapes on my lap while working in the evening, but I’m always very careful and I use a sturdy board to work on.

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  1. A good set of Artists Paintbrushes

I don’t buy special cake paintbrushes to use on my painted cakes, I always head for the artists section in Hobbycraft. I tend to go through brushes quite quickly so I don’t spend a huge amount of money on them. My brush of choice for the majority of my paintings is a Number 8 nylon brush with a nice pointed tip. I also love a flat wide brush for covering large areas, or a rounder fluffy one for dusting with lustres.

I don’t use a palette, I prefer to use a plate for mixing my colours.

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7. Ice Cream Scoop

I always use an ice-cream scoop to measure out my cupcake mixture. You get perfect even cakes every time. You can get the lever operated scoops in several sizes to make mini cupcakes, standard fairy cakes and big muffins.

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8. Acrylic Ganache Plates

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These acrylic discs each measure .25” extra in diameter to allow space for adding ganache or buttercream and removes the need for trimming your cakes too much. I have them in a range of sizes and since buying them they’ve made ganaching and buttercream-smoothing so much easier. As a small business owner myself, I like to buy from fellow independent traders and there are many who run their businesses through Facebook. One of whom is Denise G’s Cake Bitz, which is where I buy my acrylic plates from. Denise sells a variety of different products including the next item on my list…

9. A Large Side Scraper

A large side scraper  is essential for getting that all important super smooth buttercream or ganache finish. I use a large metal scraper but I’m thinking of getting the new acrylic ones from Denise above.

10. The Sugar Buttons Universal Mixer Guard!

This wonderful invention solves the problem of an icing sugar covered kitchen! If like me, you bake a lot and use a stand mixer, you’ll probably be all too aware of the problem of icing sugar and flour clouds billowing out of every gap. Yes the Kitchenaid* does come with a plastic guard but it is not effective when using dry ingredients like icing sugar. What you need is a Sugar Buttons Universal Mixer Guard!

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This clever little thing is my own invention! You can see more about how it works, on this short video:

I was inspired to make this mixer guard not only after having to relentlessly hug a tea towel on my own mixer but from watching the likes of the queen of baking, Mary Berry getting covered in icing sugar.

In Celebrity GBBO I watched as many more celebrities were clouded in sugary dust, including Kimberly Walsh and Samantha Cameron.

I sent a mixer guard to Mary Berry and Sam Cam and got replies from both. Samantha Cameron’s reply came from a representative but it was still quite cool to get a letter from 10 Downing Street. The truly lovely Mary Berry wrote me a hand written letter back which I will always treasure.

*The Sugar Buttons Universal Mixer Guard fits most standard sized mixers including The Kenwood KMix, Sage by Heston Blumenthal and the Smeg stand mixer.

If you want to protect your kitchen from sugary clouds;

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Type TOP10BLOG in the notes box and I’ll pop in a little festive treat with your order.

“I think this is a great product and would definitely recommend buying it. It goes on my “must have” list! ” Suzi, Pretty Witty Cakes

So there we have it, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas for baking related Christmas gifts. Where possible I like to buy from fellow small businesses and on this subject, head on over to my own small business online shop where you will find a variety of products designed and produced by me 🙂

Happy Nearly Christmas!

 

 

Once a teacher… always a teacher! Halloween Classes

I’ve recently left my job as Head of Art at a high school on the coast in Norfolk. I have taught Art and Design to hundreds of children and teenagers and my most treasured memories will be of all the times I saw my students develop their own creative talents beyond what they originally thought they were capable of.

Although I’ve now moved on to a different stage of my life, I couldn’t leave teaching behind completely. I have planned a variety of different creative classes to teach to a range of different age groups from very small children to adults of any age.

My good friend Phoebe runs a company called vegucation which specialises in engaging, hands-on workshops for children & young adults, using a variety of activities to explore food seasonality, preparation and origin.

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Since we both enjoy teaching children how to cook, bake and decorate their food, it was only natural that we team up to provide seasonal school holiday events. Phoebe and I are both keen on creating themed parties and events so we always try to design interesting workshops for children.

Last Halloween we ran a workshop with where the children baked 2 autumnal flavoured cupcakes and then spent time creating creepy decorations.

We had toyed with the idea of getting the children to dress up but didn’t want to give the parents another thing to think about!

As it was, we had a very cute witch and her zombie brother in our class and they were both marvellous at both the baking and the decorating.

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All of the children proved to be marvellous bakers and super cake decorators too.   childrens class halloween 5childrens class halloween 1

We had a fantastic morning and the children all enjoyed themselves as well as learning new skills. The feedback forms said it all.

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So that was last year and fast approaching is this years Halloween Creative Kitchen Class.

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Keep a look out for photos from this event.

Steampunk Embossing Mini Tutorial – Tour of Britain inspired!

I was a bit late in coming up with a plan for my cupcake workshop at the Norwich Food and Drink Festival. It needed to be bike related to link to the Tour of Britain.

Whenever I’m asked to make a cake or cupcakes with a theme, my first step is to search for it on Google images or Pinterest. Not to copy the designs, quite the opposite in fact, I would rather do something more original so I aim to do something that hasn’t really been done before. It is not easy to be completely original as many clients desire a particular item on their cake but wherever possible I like to create something different.

My search for “bike cupcakes” (and various other key word searches) threw up lots of mini bikes on top of cupcakes, most were non edible and would be removed before eating.

Such as these cool acrylic toppers. They look awesome but were not something I could teach to children; “Here you go, stick this into a cupcake, done!”

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Some had meticulously piped little bikes out of royal icing or chocolate but again, not easy to teach to a 5 year old and would take too long to set, so not workshop suitable.

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I also found this cute little design but again not suitable for a drop in workshop.

So after a fruitless internet search I started to think a little more abstractly and thought about the cogs and gears on a bike. I didn’t have access to any cogs but I do have a 9 year old boy with boxes of Lego and Knex. I had a rummage through the Knex box and found a few useful cog type objects, some Lego wheels with rubber tyres and the final joyous discovery was two tiny BMX bike wheels.

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All items were sterilised to make them food safe and I set about using them to emboss fondant to create toppers for the cupcakes.

It was such a simple technique but looked really impressive and I had so many comments about them during the weekend The best bit about the technique was despite looking really intricate with the metallic textures, anyone, of any ability could access it and create their own effective designs. Throughout the event I taught children from age 3 to a group of students around 19 years of age and they all produced iced cupcakes with beautiful fondant toppers.

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I’ve put together a simple little tutorial to show how easy it is to create these stunning toppers.

You will need:

White fondant, a non stick board, non stick rolling pin, paint brush, metallic edible dusts, circle cutters, edible glitter, selection of toy wheels and cogs.

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Method:

  1. Roll out the fondant to a thickness of about 3mm              steampunk bike cogs 2
  2. Press the cogs and wheels into the fondant to create a range of interesting textures and patterns.                               steampunk bike cogs 3
  3. You can use the tyres to give tracks across your fondant. steampunk bike cogs 4
  4. Use a selection of metallic dusts to brush onto your textured fondant. steampunk bike cogs 5  steampunk bike cogs dusts
  5. I blended the three metallic colours so they merged into one another.steampunk bike cogs 6a
  6. Use different sized circle cutters to select the most interesting areas.steampunk bike cogs 7
  7. Peel away the excess fondant leaving the detailed metallic discs. steampunk bike cogs 8
  8. Use the discs to decorate some freshly iced cupcakes. steampunk bike cogs cupcakes

Sugar Buttons and Vegucation at the Norwich Food and Drink Festival 2015

I have been particularly terrible at blogging, I never seem to have any time. It was my New Year’s Resolution to keep up to date with social media for my business and to write a blog post every 2 weeks. Hmmm….it’s been months since I started this blog so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

I plan on doing several posts looking back at various Sugar Buttons events but for now I will start with something far more recent.

On Saturday and Sunday the 12th and 13th of September, Sugar Buttons collaborated with Vegucation once more to bring foodie workshops for children visiting the Norwich Food and Drink Festival.

On Saturday morning the Tour of Britain cyclists whizzed by Chapelfield Gardens and with this in mind, Phoebe and I decided to theme our workshops to match. Phoebe was offering a “Wheelie” good pasta salad and I decided to go a bit abstract choosing to create a metallic embossed cog and wheel cupcake design

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Our weekend started on Friday when we set up the event tent ready for the next day. The sun was shining as we decorated the tent with bunting, sadly this sun did not last for the weekend.

On Saturday we arrived bright and early and began setting out our tables with leaflets, equipment and ingredients. It had rained all night and our sweet tent had survived the worst of it but much of our day was spent wiping up puddles and wringing out the wet bunting!

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My new banner made its first appearance and stood up to the random changes in weather.

Despite the slightly dreary weather we still had a range of visitors to our take part in our workshops.

We had some really young children taking part and they showed excellent concentration becoming really engrossed in their tasks.

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Sunday was still a bit rainy but thanks to the Battle of the Bangers competition we had lots more visitors across an age range from 3 to 19!

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I have to admit that I only planned my cupcake decorations the night before the event, but the last minute pressure obviously worked as I was really pleased with the embossing technique* I came up with. They had a kind of steampunk feel to them. The technique worked a treat with all ages and I loved seeing everyone becoming completely engrossed in creating their decorations.

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It was a crazy busy weekend and after taking down the tent in the rain, Phoebe and I were exhausted and ready for our beds!

*See my next post for a mini tutorial for my steampunk inspired bike cog cupcake toppers*

Taking the plunge!

I’m about to take the plunge and leave my job as Head of Art at a high school to develop Sugar Buttons further.

I’ve had a varied career before becoming a teacher; from gallery work to designing and making props and sets for TV. I always knew I’d end up working for myself sometime in the future and that future starts very soon! I have loved teaching Art for the last 13 years but its time for me to move on and really focus on Sugar Buttons.

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I don’t plan on leaving teaching altogether as I intend to increase the cake decorating classes I already offer, as well as introducing a range non food based creative workshops.

Sugar Buttons Cakes will still exist; offering beautiful bespoke wedding cakes, wow factor celebration cakes and delicious cupcakes.

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Sugar Buttons Creative will be the place to go for creative workshops, classes and parties.

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I am currently giving my website an overhaul ready for the new stage of my business so until it is re-launched in June, keep a look out on my Facebook pages, Instagram and Twitter feeds.

 

First post, done!