To celebrate the launches of Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport we decided to make a terraced house (to represent DCLG) and a bus (for DFT).

Frankly I was really worried about this one as it involved a lot more detail work than I’d ever had to do before. I was hugely grateful to Ali (and her much steadier hands!) for help doing the doors and windows and basically all of the finer work on it.

The approach was pretty similar to my previous cakes — I hauled out the trusty vanilla buttermilk cake again and made four rectangular cakes (in roasting pans once more) and then cut them appropriately:

Two cakes roughly shaped into a house and an oblong and half covered in buttercream icing

I used a glass to cut out half circles for the wheels of the bus and then iced over the entire thing, using plenty of buttercream to hold it all together:

Oblong with semi circles on the bottom, vaguely resembling a bus at this stage

After covering both cakes in fondant and then using more fondant cut into shapes to decorate, they slowly took shape. Ali completed them with some fine writing icing touches, from the windows to the numbers on the doors.

Terraced house cake and London bus cake, side by side

And though sadly I was on a train home to Newcastle when the cake was cut, it seems our departmental colleagues did enjoy them πŸ™‚

Colleagues from DCLG and DFT cutting the house and bus cakes

For the public release of GOV.UK, I was asked to make the celebratory cake for the team. With all the folks at GDS and a number of visitors on the celebration day, we needed cake for 250-300 people. Definitely the largest I had ever undertaken!

So first I made 6 large roasting pans worth of my favourite vanilla buttermilk cake — including one which I made gluten free by substituting in Dove’s gluten free plain flour (which for the record is absolutely brilliant!).

Six large cakes laid out in a rectangle

Then covered them with a thick layer of buttercream icing:

Cake with piles of buttercream icing on top waiting to be spread

Once it was all smoothed out…

Cake covered in buttercream icing, smoothed out in 1m x 0.5m rectangle

We covered it in a layer of black fondant icing (which you should DEFINITELY buy ready-made rather than trying to colour it yourself — trust me…):

Ali and Ben both kindly helped out rolling out the white fondant and cutting the letters (in the correct font, of course!):

Letters cut out of white fondant, alongside a craft knife

Culminating in the final product — which looked pretty good alongside the existing 100 days, 50 days and GOV.UK road signs:

Large cake on table with pretend road signs alongside

And just one final shot so you can see the scale:

GOV.UK cake being cut up and distributed

My friend and colleague Neil asked me to make his son’s 5th birthday cake, in the shape of his favourite lego piece. The boy has excellent taste — his favourite piece is a lego computer. I thought I’d document how I went about it in case it’s of use to anyone else πŸ™‚

First of all I made a vanilla buttermilk cakeΒ in a large roasting tin so it was about 38cm long, 24 cm wide and 6cm deep and a bunch of vanilla buttercream icing.

Then I took the photo of the lego computer piece and measured it to make sure I got the proportions of the slope etc right. I multiplied out the ratios and matched it to the available cake:

Picture of lego computer piece and calculations of the ratios of the various parts

I cut the oblong cake into a 2/3rd and 1/3rd piece and placed one on top of the other. I then carved a triangle out from the bottom to make the correct slope. With the remaining couple of pieces I made the lego studs (apparently that’s the correct term for the bumps on top of lego) for the top.

Cake carved so it is like a cube, but with a side cut away in a slope

Next I covered this in a thin layer of buttercream icing — not worrying too much if any crumbs got into the icing. The key thing was to get a smooth layer, both for the fondant to stick to and to even out the total shape. Important to get this right as the fondant is very unforgiving — any bumps will show through!

Basic shape of lego computer cake iced in buttercream

Next I rolled out a couple of packets of white fondant icing and draped it across the entire shape, using a polisher to get sharp edges. I also used the back of a sharp knife to trace around the base of the bumps to make them stand out right.

Lego cake covered in white fondant layer

And then finished it off with coloured fondant to create the screen and buttons πŸ™‚

Lego computer cake with green screen and "Dylan = 5" written in blue fondant

This is a nice easy buttercream that can be used for under icing if you are using royal icing, or as a stand alone icing too. This is enough to ice the size of cake the vanilla buttermilk cake recipe is for — but generally, you always want twice as much icing sugar as butter and it works.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Ingredients

  • 500 gramme soft unsalted butter
  • 1 kilogram icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 4 tablespoons milk

Instructions

  • Beat the butter until white & fluffy
  • Slowly beat in the icing sugar, half a cup at a time
  • Add the vanilla and milk and beat in — make sure it’s really fluffy*

* One way to test is if when you take a small amount and roll it between your fingers, it should smear and NOT be possible to form into a ball. If you can form it into a ball, beat for longer!

This was the largest ever batch of buttercream icing I ever made — 2kg of butter and 4kg of icing sugar. It was such a big pile it had to be transported in bin bags!

Bin bag filled with vanilla buttercream icing

This Nigella birthday cake recipe is my go-to when I need something that will stay moist, be pretty plain but still delicious and not crumble or fall apart when carved.

Four vanilla buttermilk cakes in the roasting tins they baked in

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

Ingredients

  • 250 gramme soft unsalted butter
  • 400 gramme caster sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 400 ml buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 500 gramme plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt
  • One 38 x 25 x 8cm H (15″ x 10″ x 3″) large roasting pan*, greased & lined with baking parchment

Instructions

  • Preheat a convection oven to 160 degrees C (180 C if using a non-convection oven)
  • Mix the vanilla bean paste into the buttermilk
  • Sift together all the dry ingredients
  • Cream the butter and sugar together (ideally using a mixer — will take forever by hand!)
  • Reduce the mixer speed and beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing for at least a minute in between additions
  • Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk vanilla, alternating each
  • Bake in the oven for 50 mins — you may need to cover it with tinfoil after the first 30 mins to keep the top from burning
  • Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then ice with vanilla buttercream icing

* I like this roasting pan from Lakeland.

Elly discovered about a year ago that she is wheat intolerant and so I’ve been adapting various of my recipes to be gluten free or at least wheat free. She’s a particular fan of ginger biscuits and so this was a priority!

Shows piles of ginger biscuits cooling on a baking rack

I took inspiration from this recipe but prefer to document what I’ve baked on my own site too so I can return and reuse πŸ™‚

Gluten Free Ginger Biscuits

Ingredients

225g caster sugar
125g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup (45ml)
1 egg
300g (2 cups) gluten free flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Crystallised ginger to taste – chopped into v small pieces

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade (assuming you have a fan oven like me; if not, go a little hotter).
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt powdered ginger and bicarbonate of soda together.
  3. Cream butter, sugar and syrup together until fluffy, then beat in egg.
  4. Add the flour mix and fold gently in.
  5. Roll teaspoon size amounts into small balls.
  6. Place on greaseproof paper on baking tray.
  7. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on baking tray for 10 minutes.
  9. Move to a wire cooking tray and leave until totally cooled.
  10. Store in an airtight container, if they last long enough.

We’re in Cork this week, celebrating our anniversary and looking forward to both the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals and a close friend’s wedding at the weekend. We’ve never visited here before so it’s been nice to explore the city … and to eat our way round it!

Food so far has not disappointed, with an excellent pancakes with bacon & banana breakfast at Liberty Grill and a gorgeous ribeye steak at Strasbourg Goose particular highlights. Intending to keep up the gastronomic exploration over the coming days…