Circus Party

January 9, 2012

Martha turned 5 inbetween christmas and new year, but we held her birthday party before christmas to maximise the chances of some of her friends being available to come to it. It was a circus theme and I organised all of it, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I think it was pretty sucessful, even though I did get a bit carried away with the theme.

I booked our local village hall and I made the invites above on photoshop with a little help with some lovely retro circus images from the graphics fairy and some free fonts from here; http://www.i-do-it-yourself.com/2009/01/fonts-circuscarnivalwild-west-type. I also attached a child’s ticket to each invite, as well as some info for parents.

I think all parties should be fancy dress, so asked my girls what they wanted to be for the circus party, Martha wanted to be a circus ballerina, and Alice decided she wanted to be a monkey – can’t argue with that. I made Martha’s costume with a leotard from ebay a tutu pattern from (my new favorite book) ‘Oliver + s – little things to sew’ by Liesl Gibson, and some sequin butterfly sew on embellishents (I picked these up in a recent trip to New York). Alice’s monkey costume I bought from ebay, it was alot cheaper than making one, and up until the last minute was doubtful she would actually wear it! I made myself a ringmaster’s tailcoat from a red velour blouse I found in the charity shop, cut the front short and added the off cut to the back for the tails and added covered shoulder pads as epaullettes with lots of fringing and the spare gold fabric I bought I covered the open front to make faux lapels. I was incredibly camp, just what you would expect at a kids circus! I did have a top hat too but mostly forgot to wear it!

The entertainments were circus sideshows, Hook a duck was assembled with some cheapo rubber ducks from ebay with modelling wire loops inserted in their heads and 3 bamboo sticks covered with red tape with cup hooks glued into one end. I marked a duck pond out onto the floor with coloured masking tape. Elephant Hoopla, was a large piece of cardboard with an elephant’s face painted on with a trunk made out of packaging tube, jointed at the end so there was a hook to it and hoops cut out of card too and painted. Coconut shy was 3 more cardboard packaing tubes painted with 3 coconuts balanced on the top (the easiest coconut shy in the world but at least the 4-5 year olds had a chance of winning), my mum and auntie manufactured some excellent stripey beanbags filled with dried pearl barley for the kids to knock the coconut off with. And pin the nose on the clown, another face painted onto cardboard with a few numbered red circles for noses with blutak on the back and my mum’s scarf as a blindfold. (On the day I had forgotten to pick up the handy sleep mask from the flight to NYC to use for this purpose!). My very talented middle sister provided face painting, and my little sister and her boyfriend were photographers. With a ‘pass the parcel’ game included in the fun and packets of haribo offered as prizes for the games we had enough to keep all 30 kids happy until the birthday tea.

We did hotdogs and popcorn and apple wedges (as a suggestion for toffee apples – without all the sugar), for the circus themed food, which went down really well with the kids. I pre-bagged the popcorn into individual bags before the party – also bought from ebay. These were in each table setting along with a drink and a helium balloon, I bought a kit with the gas tank and 50 balloons again from ebay, most of these sadly ended up in the rafters of the hall to high to retrieve!

The cake was a ‘big top’ made with 3 layers of cake mix cake 2 x chocolate and one vanilla made in a square tin, and stacked with chocolate buttercream in between each layer. I trimmed the sides of the squares to neaten up the shape and then used these offcuts to construct a pyramid shape for the top, sticking the bits together with buttercream and carving it to make the shape. I covered it in white fondant icing, there was two layers on the top to smooth out my slightly lumpy pyramid. I used coloured icing to make the stripes down the sides of the tent the bunting along the top edge and green for some grass at the bottom (to hide the messy bottom edge). I made some paper flags one with a happy birthday message written on it, by gluing triangle shapes to bamboo skewers, these went into each corner and the middle and provided stability for the cake too. I put a couple of circus animal toys through the dishwasher to sterilise them and when dry I dressed them up in icing circus outfits for the elephant got a fancy panel over its back and both him and the lion got party hats. I think these were the touch that made the cake look really circusy.

The children all went home with a party bag (a plain brown paper carrier bag with a name sticker made from an address label printed with the graphics from the invite), which included glow stick bracelets (poundland), a chinese purse for the girls (ebay) a couple of small circus animals (from a 2 collections of african animals from amazon), a small pot of candy floss (ebay) and of course a piece of cake.

It was loads of fun, lots of Martha’s friends came in excellent outfits too, special mention for the tattooed lady and strongman, the lovely trapeze  artist, some excellent and inventive clowns and all the princesses, batman, superman and mr bump!

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Christmas Cake Pops

December 23, 2011

A couple of my lovely friends have mastered the art of the cake pop and I have looked upon their creations with envy, so with festive treats in mind I thought I would give them a go. My (limited) understanding of the methods of cake poppery has been gleaned from these friends and I may have completely misunderstood them or completly invented the shortfalls in my experience so I apologise to them and any other cake poppers who come across this post, this is probably not the correct or easiest method, but I am very pleased with the results.

Chrismas this year is a gluten free one as Martha and Alice’s cousins are coeliacs, so these are made with sainsburys free from ginger cake slices. If I was making these for gluten glutons like myself I think I would have liked to use a Mcvities Jamaican Ginger Cake, (I think of ginger and gingerbread as a festive flavor  along with mincemeat, tangerines, cranberry, peppermint and booze). I made a small batch of cream cheese icing, (25g butter, 60g cream cheese and 150g icing sugar) and mixed 3 packs of the ginger cakes in all crumbled up. This makes a kind of dough that you can shape into balls and pop in the fridge to set a bit. I bought the lolly sticks from Hobbycraft and when the balls were quite firm I inserted the sticks, melted some dark chocolate cake covering (unlike real choc you can melt it easily in the microwave as its less likely to burn) and dipped each pop into the chocolate, Learning on the job I realised that you need to have worked out a lolly stick holding device before dipping, I had planned to insert each pop into a hole cut in a small box, but this kept tipping over so in desperation I ended up using a potato cut in half, I also learned it’s easier to re-melt the chocolate then try to work with it as its solidifying – so one of the pops is a bit lumpy looking! After dipping they were returned to the fridge. The planned design for the pops were christmas puddings, so for decoration I melted some more chocolate cake covering this time white chocolate flavor and dribbled this onto the top of the pop to look like brandy custard and with coloured fondant icing left over from Martha’s birthday party cake (I promise to post about this soon!) I made two small green leaves and a couple of red berries to suggest holly, (which Martha helped me with along with sampling the various icings and chocolates). I stuck these onto the cake pops with a small blob of the melted white chocolate. I popped them still on their potatoes back in the fridge to set and have since transfered them into freezer bags to continue keeping them cool without the potatoes or the risk of them developing ‘fridge’ flavor.

I am quite pleased with the results, I have no idea how they taste, we will have to wait for teatime on christmas day to get the verdict from the kiddies, but they look good enough to eat anyway. If I do them again I will make sure I have some recycled polystyrene blocks to hold my pops for me  as the potatoes were a bit off putting, but are, at least, gluten free!

Peppa Pig Cake

August 31, 2011

This was the cake I made for Alice’s birthday (almost a month ago!), I wasn’t sure it was a particularly interesting post, but as I have posted about all the other birthday cakes I have made I thought I would write it up in the spirit of consistency.

The cake itself was  a double ‘Betty Croker devils food cake’ mix, one mix for the top layer and one for the bottom with pink buttercream in between. I made the Peppa figure out of coloured packet fondant icing the big pack of the dr oetker stuff. I coloured all the required colours first, pink for her head, arms and legs, red for her dress/body and black for her shoes. The large blob of dark pink I coloured up for the number 2 for the cake at the same time and used it for the detail on her face, her smile and her cheeks. I actually covered the top bit of an icecream cone for her body as this icing is not ideal for modeling it is a bit soft until you pop it in the fridge it has a tendency to slump a bit. Basically I made all the pieces got them nice and cold then assembled them. I coloured some more icing blue and green and covered the cake in the blue (the blue ribbon round the edge hides the pigs ear – see what i did there! – I made of the sides of the cake). I cut a wobbly shape out of the green (in the style of peppa’s logo) then popped her on top, with a few bought icing flowers (sainsbury’s own – in the cake stuff isle) that Martha helped me to stick on with leftover buttercream.

I think it came out ok, if my cake covering had been better it would have almost looked bakery made. Anyway it tasted good and got eaten up by her friends and family at her party with leftovers going to her nursery.

I always seem to have past their best bananas in the house, they seem to be green and crunchy for ages then suddenly as soon as your back is turned they go black! So I am always on the look out for banana recipes to use them up in. I am also getting a bit bored of our breakfast rut, Martha will only eat toast at the moment either with homemade strawberry jam (I made another batch a few weeks ago -see previous post) or peanut butter. Alice is still pretty much happy with anything as long as it happens quickly in the morning, so she usually gets what Martha wants.  I hoped that this reciepe would provide us with a quick breakfast alternative and help to reduce the pile of black bananas currently turning all the fruit in the fruit bowl (yes I know I shouldn’t keep my banana in there!)

The recipe is a tweaked hummingbird bakery one, I use 200g of plain flour and 150g of wholegrain spelt (this is to add some fibre to the breakfast procedings) 3/4 tsp salt, 1and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb, 2 tsp ground cinnamon and 160g caster sugar. Pop all this into a bowl and apply the hand mixer until its all the same colour. Then in a seperate mixing jug measure out 375ml of whole milk and add an egg and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract, whizz this up a bit too then add it to the dry mix. Melt 70g of butter in the microwave (I use the dirty measuring jug for this!) and add to the mixture and then add 400g (roughly 4 medium sizede bananas) mashed up with a fork. whiz it all up till its an even consistency and then fill your muffin cases 3/4 full with the mixture. I usually end up with 18 or 20 muffins but they are not monster huge ones, you could fill them higher and get starbucks sized ones if you like. Mix 2 tsps of sugar with a pinch on cinnamon and sprinke on the top before popping them into a pre-heated over at 170 degrees C. They should cook in 20-30 mins but my antique oven takes more like 45, they are cooked when they spring back when you press on the tops. If in doubt sacrifice one by opening it up and seeing if its still mush in the middle – this is usually my taster one anyway.

They are quite tasty, but unfortunatly have not been the breakfast changer I was hoping for as Martha decided that she didn’t like them on seeing them appear from the oven, so is still sticking with toast! Now if I could only remember to bake a loaf for the morning in the breadmaker…

Butterfly Cakes

January 20, 2011

Martha saw Mr Tumble had a butterfly cake on cbeebies this morning and I was asked if we could make them, here they are. Complete cheat, of course. I had a pack of sainsbury’s basics sponge mix, in the cupboard (22p!) we followed the instructions on the packet, adding the water and the egg, then we put them into my new silicone cake cases (thank- you Father Christmas) and baked them for 15mins.

When they were cool, we mixed some cream cheese icing – New Year healthy lifestyle means I didn’t have any butter for buttercream, but did have a tub of light Philadelphia. We mixed this with icing sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla and  some pink food colouring (my other colours are starting to get a bit dusty!). The we cut small discs out of the top of the cakes and filled the hole with the cream cheese icing, cut the cake disc in half and put the 2 pieces back in as butterfly wings and then sprinkled the icing with some pink glitter sugar. Much more girly than Mr Tumble’s, but properly tasty!

Princess Birthday Cake

January 12, 2011

It was Martha’s birthday at the end of last year, 4 years old, its unbelievable how quick its gone! So it was birthday cake time – just what we needed 3 days after christmas. The doll came from a charity shop for the purpose of becoming a cake decoration so I didn’t feel too bad about snapping her legs off and giving her a good wash. I made a good old ‘Betty Crocker’ Devils Food Cake in two different size cake tins, one was 15cm cake tin and the other 23cm, when cool I sandwiched them onto of one another, with vanilla buttercream and carved it into a dome/crinoline skirt shape (although to get the skirt shape you could always use the flower pot trick from my ‘sandcastle cake’ post and trim off the sharp edges). I covered this in more buttercream then cut a small hole to sit my doll torso into the cake. I rolled out some sainsbury’s ‘ready to roll’ icing, dyed pink (of course) with some pink food colouring, into a large circle and cut a hole in the middle and sliced the icing from the hole to the edge to allow me to wrap the icing round the skirt with the hole for the doll to stick out and neatened up the seam of the skirt at the back. I trimmed the icing from the hem of her skirt, and with the trimmings covered the dolls chest to make a little strapless bodice for her dress. Then using a piping bag an nozzle decorated the dress with the buttercream coloured slightly darker pink. I gave her a bracelet and necklace with the buttercream too, and 4 blobs of icing on the cake plate stuck the candles down.

Martha was very pleased with her pink princess cake and even though we ate loads of it we still had so much food left over from Christmas that the leftovers were given to the staff at her nursery for a teatime treat.

Gingerbread Family

November 29, 2010

This week we made gingerbread. We have quite a collection of cutters these days, some came in baking kits, some were hand-me-downs and I think I bought the classic ‘man’ shape, anyways we now have enough that Martha can choose what she wants to make and this week she decided to make ‘daddys’, ‘mummys’, ‘little girls’ and ‘babies’, just like her family. I use a tweaked Delia Smith reciepe for the dough, as it is very tasty, easy to make and work with and fluffs up enough in the oven to hide all the little finger dents.

Put 75g Dark Brown Sugar, 3 tbsp golden syrup, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 or 2tsp ground ginger into a saucepan. (I like them quite spicy so I use 2tsp ginger.) Bring all this to boiling point stirring all the time so that all the sugar has melted and its a smooth ‘sauce’. Add 95g butter cut up into cubes, this should melt easily into the hot sugar mix. Then add half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda and 225g plain flour. Mix it all up until in comes together as a dough, this is easy enough to do by hand as its all hot and sticky. Spread out a piece of clingfilm on a surface and tip the very soft dough mix onto it and wrap it up, then put this in the freezer for  15 mins. Chilling it down stiffens up the sugar and syrup again making a manageable dough. I have also made up large quantities of this dough and frozen it at this stage taking out lumps of it as required.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Roll out the dough to about 5mm thick, adding more flour if its still a bit soft making sure you have plenty of flour on the surface and the rolling pin. Then cut them out and place them on a lined baking sheet, I use ‘bake o glide’ re-useable non-stick sheets. We decorated our gingerbread family with some raisins and cut up glace cherries, but you can use whatever you want/have in the cupboard dried fruits, smarties etc, or decorate them with icing when they are cooked. Bake them for 10-15 mins or until they start to colour slightly at the edges, you don’t want them to brown too much as they are best when still slightly soft in the middle. Let them cool on the trays and stiffen up to proper biscuits before taking them off to cool completely. Make a cup of tea/cup of milk and enjoy!