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My miniature three-tiered Wedding cake inspired by my favourite brand - GBBO Week 10

What an incredible 10 weeks it has been. We've loved watching the highs and lows of the bake off tent this year culminating in last nights final. I blubbed my way through the programme not really understanding why I felt SO emotional about it.

I think it was the point where they showed the footage from Nadiya's home life and I think it was her husband that pointed out this was the first thing she had done for herself since she had kids. And that's when the tears started to flow. It just resonated with me so much as I'm sure it did with many mums who make sacrifice after sacrifice for the sake of their families. I wouldn't have it any other way but just occasionally it's nice to do something for myself.

And baking has become that thing. Even when life is manic without a moment to spare, I know I have to make time to get in the kitchen and bake something in order to save my sanity!

More often than not, my baking would end in disaster and the fear of the baking disasters used to prevent me from stepping into the kitchen too often. But this has been the year that I have finally overcome my baking fears. Whatever the outcome, I've not been afraid to have a go and bake along each week.

Last week I had even decided before the show that I would attempt the bake that I considered most challenging and so I spent an entire day making white chocolate cardamom shortbread eggs and chocolate peacock feathers.

This week I knew that time would not be on my side as we've had 5 hospital and doctors appointments to fit in. And yet I was determined to get my GBBO bake done. Miss T was at preschool this morning so I seized my chance before her physio appointment in the afternoon.

I think all the bakes this week were challenging but again I was most inspired by Nadiya and her wedding cake. When I got married a whopping 16 years ago I had never even baked a cake, not even cupcakes, so I would never have even considered baking a wedding cake. We made do with those pre-iced cakes from M&S which we added a few ready made decorations to.

So I decided I wanted to make a wedding cake this week. To give our waistlines a chance to recover after 10 weeks of baking, I opted for a miniature version of a wedding cake.

And thinking of a theme was easy. After hearing the news that my favourite brand, Pink Lining won the Brand of the Year award at the #LittleLondonAwards2015, I decided to use their amazing prints as inspiration for my cake. You see, in the same way that baking has helped me gradually regain a little confidence and make a bit of time for myself, my Pink Lining bags have also been there every step of the way helping me on this journey called parenthood. You can hear more about that in our blogpost and video here.

Back to the baking. I decided to use a reliable chocolate cake recipe. Chocolate cake is a cake I think of as a classic British cake - it's what we choose whenever we visit a National Trust or English Heritage coffee shop. And I wanted to attempt three tiers. As I don't have the right number and size of baking tins to do big tiers, I made a large fairly thin cake that I then cut into circles of three sizes. Three circles of each of those three sizes. (The cake is a really easy mix of 140g self-raising flour, 1 egg, 40g cocoa powder, 200g caster sugar, 125ml groundnut oil, vanilla and 175 ml milk baked at 190C for 15-18 minutes)
I stacked them up into tiers with a white buttercream type filling. It is a recipe I found on Love and Macarons where it is described as a Fluffy vanilla bean buttercream filling. I love this recipe because it can be made with ingredients you'd generally have at home without having to make sure you have huge amounts of cream cheese (as you would with cream cheese frosting) or chocolate and cream (as you would with ganache).

I added a bit more of the 'buttercream' to the top and sides and then covered each tier with fondant icing. In my mind I envisioned a perfectly smooth cake like you see in the bridal magazines but bearing in mind I don't own any special equipment like cake smoothers, it still had a few lumps and bumps.

Then taking inspiration from the Pink Lining prints I set to work creating the little flowers - tiny sunflowers, tulips and forget-me-nots. I only had a flower-punch in the shape of the ones I've used as sunflowers, but by cutting the flowers or squeezing pairs of petals together in different combinations I was able to make the forget-me-nots, the tulips and the green leaves for the tulips all using that same flower cutter.

Then it was time to assemble!
The bottom tier is inspired by the Pink Lining 'Tulips and Forget-me-nots' print (forget-me-nots are my all time favourite flower so HAD to include them).

The middle layer is inspired by the Pink Lining 'Sunflower' print.

And the top layer is the Pink Lining butterflies print which I love so much on my Henrietta tote bag (you can read more about how much I adore this bag here).
The moment of truth arrived when it was time to cut into the cake - thankfully all those layers could still be seen.

So that's it for this year. I've been so encouraged and inspired by both watching GBBO and seeing everyone's bakes on the #GBBOBloggers2015 linky.

Joining in for one last time with Mummy Mishaps #GBBOBloggers2015 linky, this week hosted at The Boy who cooked.

Mummy Mishaps

Just so that I have them all in one place for referring back to them myself, here are the GBBO bakes I have done this year:

Week 6 Pastry Week - Blackberry Bakewell Tart
Week 8 Patisserie Week - Choux Pastry Raspberry Profiteroles


'Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. It's what the sunflowers do.'*

Autumn. I love this time of year. For me nature in the autumn months is more full of life than any other time of year. Springtime demands lots of gentle nurturing to get little seedlings to successfully grow. The brightness of everything else in summer overshadows the brightness of nature. Winter is barren. But autumn is different. Autumn displays colour and change and fruitfulness in abundance.

The trees turn a myriad of colours unseen at other times of the year. The hedgerows sparkle with ruby red autumn berries. And my own garden displays the fruits of my labour with green tomatoes desperately soaking up every last ray of sunshine to ripen up before winter sets in. Green beans keep coming day by day appearing as if out of nowhere. Courgettes are pushing on to grow a few more centimetres before being picked. And the bright yellow heads of sunflowers proudly shine their faces towards the sun knowing it won't be long before they will be sadly drooping their heads allowing their seeds to fall like tears to the ground ready for next year.

And it was these autumn treasures from my garden that gave me the inspiration for my Denby Cake off afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea is a way of taking some precious time out of an otherwise busy day to relax with a cup of tea and by doing so tell yourself that you matter. That it is important to make time for yourself. It can also be a time to socialise with friends or loved ones and share the experience of tea and cake together. After all, as Julia Child once said 'A party without cake is just a meeting.'

I love the variety of a 'proper' afternoon tea - the selection of sandwiches, the variety of dainty cakes on a cake stand to choose from.

But the practicalities of re-creating all those different types of cake at home on a regular basis would turn afternoon tea from a pleasure to a chore. So I wanted to create the feeling of variety without the time consuming burden of making many different types of cakes or entrements.

So what I did was make a larger cake to slice along with mini ones on a tiered cake stand to enjoy.

The little edible 'accessories' of strawberry ladybirds and marzipan bees add to the variety with minimal effort.

As do having a couple of sandwich options available cut into fingers and hearts (without crusts of course!) Here we have cheese and cucumber fingers and ham hearts.

The big autumn inspiration for my afternoon tea came from this year's bounty of courgettes and sunflowers growing in my garden. What better way than to reduce a little of the cake-guilt associated with eating cake in the afternoon than to enjoy the goodness of courgette and sunflower seeds inside your cake.

I have made these dairy-free so that they can be enjoyed with friends who are dairy intolerant but simply substitute butter in place of the dairy-free spread if you wish to.

Sunflower Seed & Courgette Cake (Dairy-Free)
5 eggs
320g self-raising flour
300g caster sugar
300g dairy-free spread (I used 'Pure' sunflower spread)
400g courgette (so 1 large courgette or 2-3 small ones)
60g sunflower seeds
juice of a lemon
1tsp rice flour

for the buttercream:
200g Pure dairy-free sunflower spread
650g icing sugar
half tsp vanilla paste
a few drops of yellow food colouring

for the centre of the sunflowers:
dark chocolate chips (use dairy-free if you need it to be dairy-free)
chocolate vermicelli (again check it is dairy-free - some brands are and some aren't)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease an 8 inch silicone 'tin' with sunflower oil spray. Grease a 12 hole non-stick muffin tray with sunflower oil spray.
2. Cream together the Pure dairy-free spread with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and a little flour at a time after each egg is added.
3. Add the remaining flour and mix.
4. Grate the courgette and squeeze out some of the liquid using your hands. Add the grated courgette and mix.
5. Add the sunflower seeds and the lemon juice and mix. As my mixture looked quite wet, I added a teaspoon of rice flour to stop it being such a wet mixture.
6. Pour the mixture into the silicone cake 'tin' and into the muffin tray.
7. Bake in the oven until cooked through. This is around 30-35 minutes for the larger cake and around 20 minutes for the smaller ones in the muffin tray.

To make the buttercream, cream together the icing sugar with 200g of Pure and a drop of vanilla paste. I added a very light yellow food colouring to mine as the buttercream looked very pale without it so you can add as much colour as you wish to make your sunflowers very yellow or a more mellow yellow as I have done.

Pipe using a 'wide ribbon' icing nozzle attachment to make your sunflower petals and then sprinkle some chocolate vermicelli in the centre.

For the large cake I also used some dark chocolate chips in the centre.

For the smaller cakes, I wanted to leave them 'naked' around their sides to show off some of those flecks of green from the courgette and the goodness of the sunflower seeds. So the buttercream is sandwiched between two cakes and then the flower piped on top.

Now for those simple little extras to make this autumn afternoon tea extra special and pretty.

Maple, Lemon & Rose Marzipan Bees
I had seen some gorgeous little marzipan bees on Frances Quinn's website with a video of how to make them. Frances uses honey & orange blossom to flavour the bees. I wanted to create our own flavoured bees so these are the ingredients I used to make 8 bees:

10g maple syrup
15g icing sugar
25g ground almonds
flaked almonds - 16 pieces
edible gold paint
melted dark chocolate - to pipe on stripes and eyes
a few drops of lemon juice
a few drops of rose water

I think they look rather cute!

Strawberry and chocolate Ladybirds
What else would look pretty alongside bees? Why ladybirds of course! So these are just strawberries cut in half with dark chocolate piped on as spots and a head to look like a little ladybird.

So simple and yet they look so lovely alongside the bees and the cake.

And then we were ready. It was time to enjoy afternoon tea. Not just any afternoon tea but one that really utilised nature's bounty and the treasures of autumn found in my garden.

This is my entry to the 2015 Great Denby Cake Off - more details here! 

'Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. It's what the sunflowers do.'  * Helen Keller quote


Exciting Pink Lining news! #LittleLondonAwards2015

Pink Lining founders Rufus and Charlotte Pearl collecting the Little London 'Brand of the Year' category (image courtesy of Pink Lining)
As Pink Lining Ambassadors we were extremely pleased to hear of a well deserved award for Pink Lining.

They are the winners of  the ‘Brand of the Year’ category in the #LittleLondonAwards2015 announced at the awards event last night!  Not only that, but they were also awarded Runner Up of the Best Changing Bag Category (In my eyes they are THE BEST changing bag as I couldn't live without my Pink Lining bags).

Congratulations Pink Lining - You are awesome!


'I'd had enough of Chocolate' - Now there's a sentence I never expected to hear myself say

So this week was chocolate week on Bake Off and before the show I made a rather silly decision. I decided that I was going to try the trickiest bake out of the 3 challenges. Chocolate tarts I've made before - albeit not ones that look as amazing or flavoursome as the ones the contestants made. Souffle I've never made and although it certainly looked technical for the technical challenge, the finished product just didn't have the wow factor for me, so I have gone for the 'showstopper' challenge - but on a smaller scale.

I tried to stay true to the key elements for this week which were to use white chocolate, biscuit and make it 3D. (I did attempt 3D but my 'nest' wasn't having any of it and collapsed - but at least I tried).
my nest did start out 3-dimensional
And I have learnt some very important lessons about working with chocolate...here are a few...
  • it cannot be rushed - you need oodles of patience
  • clear out plenty of space in your fridge and freezer - you'll need it
  • chocolate melts oh so easily all over your hands so take care
  • plan ahead so you know what you need to do once you have melted your chocolate
  • try not to eat too much of the leftover chocolate or you will regret it!   
My kitchen resembled something out of a sci-fi movie!
Inspired by Nadya's peacock, I wanted to attempt some chocolate feathers I had seen on How to Cook that. So I decided to make them into peacock feathers. I used a blob of white chocolate and a smaller blob of white chocolate to make the 'eye' in the peacock feathers. After the chocolate was set I coloured the larger blob green using sugar flair paste on a brush and the smaller blob blue. Then it was just a case of assembling the feather. The feathers are SO SO fragile. I made 6 and ended up with only 4 successful ones. Keep them in the fridge or freezer until you are ready or they will melt upon touch as they are so thin and chocolate melts at body temperature.

If I had more patience or had planned ahead properly, I would have liked to attempt the ice sugar-water nest method that Nadya used. That can also be found on How to Cook that. But even with Miss T at pre-school today, I couldn't spare the 2-3 hours needed for the glucose water to cool in the freezer. 

So I used the foil-wrapped bowl technique to try to get a nest-ish shape. Because my biscuit 'eggs' were so heavy, the nest wasn't strong enough to hold them properly but I think it still had a nesty-feel to it. 

I'd had a go at making chocolate leaves a few weeks ago without much success but lessons learnt from that attempt meant that they turned out pretty well this time. I made some milk chocolate leaves and some white chocolate leaves. I used washed mint leaves from the garden as I think it is important to use edible leaves in case any leaf residue transfers to the chocolate. 

The lesson I learnt from last time is to use a really thick layer of chocolate on the back of the leaf (where the leaf veins are more pronounced so will leave a better imprint on the chocolate). Forget painting on with a brush - I just used my finger to smear on the chocolate. Chill well to set the chocolate and then carefully peel off the mint leaf. 

I popped them back in the fridge until everything else was ready. As I mentioned the chocolate melts too easily otherwise! 

Now for my 'biscuit' element. I decided to use one of my favourite types of biscuit, Shortbread, along with one of my favourite flavours, cardamom. They were then dipped in white chocolate and have had gold lustre dust brushed on. Here's the recipe:

Cardamom and Orange Blossom Shortbread 'eggs'
85g plain flour
55g butter
25g caster sugar
ground cardamom (grind up seeds of 2-3 cardamom pods)
a couple of drops of orange blossom water

Coating is tempered white chocolate, brushed with gold lustre dust once set. 
Making shortbread 'eggs' 
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Add the ground cardamom to the flour then rub together the flour and butter to resemble breadcrumbs.
3. Add in the sugar and mix. 
4. Add the orange blossom water and press into a dough. 
5. Shape the dough into 'egg' shapes. 
6. To maintain the egg shape whilst cooking, I wrapped each 'egg' in tinfoil like a sweetie with both ends twisted. I also made a couple of 'control' versions without the foil and they didn't fare too badly and held their shape better than I expected - so the foil step isn't essential. In fact, although the non-foil versions had flatter bases, the top was smoother and rounder rather than taking on the crinkle pattern from the foil so either method would work. 
7. Bake for 20 minutes at 180C. This is longer than I would normally cook shortbread biscuits for because they are egg shaped, I wanted to make sure they are cooked through. 
8. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Once cool enough to remove the foil, I placed mine in the freezer for a while.
9. Dip into melted, tempered white chocolate and leave on baking paper to set. Ideally you should double-dip them to make them look smoother and have thicker chocolate on them but by this stage I'd had enough of chocolate and couldn't face melting more chocolate to double-dip them (Now there's a sentence I never expected to say - ever!)
10. Once set, I brushed with gold lustre dust and then assembled them as part of my nest/feathers/leaves chocolate creation. 

And that's it my day has gone and it's time for the afternoon school / preschool run. It was fun playing with chocolate although I do wonder how long this is going to last once the kids come through the front door! 

One last little update to add - pic from instagram - this is what I made just by piping leftover chocolate onto acetate and it has now set:
A photo posted by Rebecca Beesley (@rebeccabeesley) on
Linking up with Mummy's Mishaps #GBBOBloggers2015 which is being hosted at Baking Queen74 this week.

Mummy Mishaps

And Silver Mushroom's Bake with Bake Off challenge (#BWBO): 


A bag fit for a princess: The Henrietta Tote from Pink Lining

This is the bag I never knew I needed but now can't live without. As the proud owner of an existing Yummy Mummy Pink Lining bag and a Notting Hill tote from Pink Lining, which are both such perfect bags, I wasn't sure exactly what would be different about the new Henrietta tote from Pink Lining.

Pink Lining know what they are doing when it comes to changing bags as they seem to have thought through every little detail that mums need and then add oodles of style in the form of desirable 'must-have' prints et voila, perfect changing bags that everyone wants!

And the Henrietta Tote is just the absolute pinnacle of perfection when it comes to changing bags (or bags generally for that matter!) This video we've made 'unboxing' the Henrietta Tote gives a quick run through of the main features:

The features that have proved most useful to me personally are:
  • The insulated hidden bottle pockets accessible from the outside of the bag
  • The large zipped pocket on the front of the bag with a perfect little phone-sized pocket, a key ring hoop, a mirror and a pen clip proving handy. This pocket makes a great mummy's zone for the bag and would easily fit a purse and keys etc.
  • The magnetic clip large pocket on the back of the bag - This has been ideal for slipping little snacks for Miss T into with ease of access for getting them out again quickly when she is hungry
  • The buggy clips enabling the Henrietta to hang on the handles or bars of a buggy - Invaluable for being able to use with Miss T's wheelchair - Couldn't live without this feature!
  • The HUGE volume of space inside the main compartment of the bag meaning that I can take so much more out and about with me - including things like popping my own cardigan in there and there's space for Miss T's precious Hoppy and Patch cuddly toys
  • The georgeous stunning 'Cream butterflies on Navy' print which seems to match any outfit and makes the bag far more than simply a changing bag. 

Yes Pink Lining should be extremely proud of this bag design. It really does tick all the boxes. It has a 'wow' factor. Miss T's reaction when she first saw it was adorable - She literally stopped in her tracks, gasped and said 'Mummy, I like your new bag' - Then she went up to it looking at it in awe and said 'It's got buff-lies (butterflies) on it'.

The most common reaction from others admiring my new bag is utter amazement when I point out that it is technically a changing bag. How can something that looks SO good be a changing bag? That is Pink Lining's secret - All their bags look amazing with their unique prints and the Tote bags can easily pass as regular super-stylish bags but have the added bonus of being mega-useful as changing bags too.

The Henrietta Tote fitted everything we needed for a day in London
We headed off to London to really put the Henrietta through it's paces with Afternoon Tea at The Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.

Afternoon tea is served in the Park Terrace restaurant. For somewhere oozing such high quality and luxury, they were extremely child-friendly. Whilst I sipped champagne, they rustled up a mocktail for D.

There was an entire menu of speciality teas to choose from. We were also served strawberries which were dusted in icing sugar with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. 

Following our strawberries and champagne, came a plateful of sandwiches for each of us.

Then the best bit, the cakes!

There were warm scones with home-made apricot jam, strawberry jam and cream, a selection of tea cakes in the middle plate, and at the top were some gorgeous patisserie-style cakes.

After all that cake, it was time for a stroll in Hyde Park right next door to the Royal Garden Hotel.

Miss T had fun exploring and finding fallen leaves.

And of course we had to take the obligatory photo by the Palace gates...

The Henrietta Tote is a truly perfect bag from Pink Lining for the perfect day out. It is equally brilliant for popping to the local toddler group or for having a royal day out in London. It ticks all the boxes for the ideal changing bag when I'm with Miss T, and  makes the ideal handbag for me when I am off out on my own.

On the Pink Lining website it says about the Henrietta, 'you can sling it over your shoulder and look like a lady who lunches', or has afternoon tea it turns out.

A very big thank you to Pink Lining for sending us the Henrietta Tote to review as Pink Lining Ambassadors. We'd also like to say a thank you to The Royal Garden Hotel for making our afternoon tea feel so welcoming and special. Our blog post about unique things to do in London was a runner up earlier in the year with the Tots100 and Royal Garden Hotel's blogger contest so we received a voucher towards the cost of our afternoon tea. So thank you RGH and Tots100 too!


The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep - Book review for Mumsnet

At the end of a busy tiring day, all most parents want is a swift happy bedtime and see their child settle into bed and fall asleep quickly. Sadly for many it becomes a hugely stressful part of the day that ends in tears and tantrums (for parents and kids alike!)

I know what its like to have a child who doesn't sleep. I really know what its like. When J was a baby, he dropped his daytime nap completely at 15 months old whilst all his playmates continued to nap for several hours in the afternoons for many more years.

Nighttimes were no better as he would hop out of bed multiple times in the evening and then through the night if he woke up (he went from a cot to a bed early as he was such a climber it became dangerous to keep him in the cot as he could climb and fall out).

We read the parenting books, tried all the advice and nothing seemed to work.

Thankfully, our second child, D, was somewhat better. Although once the dummy went, so did the ease of falling asleep.

Miss T, our third child who is now 3 years old (you'd think we'd have this sleep thing sussed by now wouldn't you?), has been better still as she's a thumb sucker so we don't have the dummy problem. But at the moment, she still sleeps in a Gro-bag sleeping bag and is rapidly outgrowing it. Her cot is now transformed into 'cot-bed' rather than cot with bars and so I am dreading the day she no longer has the gro-bag and realises that she could hop out of bed herself.

Her usual routine does include a book at bedtime anyway and so I was very intrigued to find out exactly how this book works.

Written by behavioural scientist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin who is also a Swedish teacher of communications, a life coach and a leadership trainer, what exactly were these techniques that have proved so successful to have made this book a Number 1 best-seller elsewhere?

Reading the book, it soon becomes clear that the writing is very intentional and has been designed to help the child feel sleepy. With lots of actual yawning required and key parts to mention your child's name specifically.

The book is easy to use as it is very straightforward which words you need to emphasize, which you need to read calmly and where to yawn and use your child's name.

If it was posing as a regular story - it would be weird as some of the sentence structures don't work as a normal story. But as a type of guided relaxation, which I think is what the book tries to do, it does seem to work.

Although she didn't fall asleep during the story (some children do apparently), her body language started to show signs of tiredness and she started to yawn too.

One of the issues we had is that our normal storytime is an interactive time for chatting and bonding and so Miss T wanted to chat about the pictures, point things out and turn the pages herself. All those things kept her more alert and awake.

I think with practice though, that may change. It may be that in future we have a more interactive story first where she can chat and get more involved and follow it up with this one as a calm story to relax to.

This book seems to be aimed at children aged between 1 and 6 but my feeling is that toddler aged children may not fully 'get it'. Miss T got a little restless at one point as it is a longer story than she is used to and a child aged 1 or 2 may not really understand what it means to 'relax'.

However, I think from age 4 or 5 upwards, it could prove to be a very useful tool. When 9 year old D was restless last night, I read him the whole book and before it had finished he HAD fallen asleep! I couldn't quite believe my eyes!

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is available now in eBook and will be available in paperback and audio on 2nd October. The audio version will allow you to choose between a male and female narrator. Find out more and buy here.

As part of the Mumsnet Blogger Network we were sent this book for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own.