I know I know it’s been a while, two months to be exact, and for that I apologise but the positivity of that last post didn’t last, and I didn’t want to lower the mood!
So I’ve left it a while, but now feel able to catch you up on what’s been happening.
If you’ve been following for a while, you know that I have a spinal cord stimulator that helps mask the pain caused by OPLL. The spinal cord stimulator was fitted in 2014 and the battery powered leads were placed according to where my pain was worse at the time.
Recently however, the pain has spread, most embarrassingly to my buttocks. Any pressure in that area has become unbearable, meaning that I can’t sit down for any length of time. Because of pain in my legs, I also can’t stand or walk for long either! A no win situation 😔
I had hoped that the device could be reprogrammed to cover the new areas, but my neuro appointment turned out to be a dis-appointment! They tried their very best, but it wasn’t to be. So I’ve been left having a review of my pain meds instead, which has so far been unsuccessful.
And I’m spending more time in bed lying flat or on my side, which isn’t ideal from a social perspective! Although I am usually joined by the dog so I do have some company 😆
Then about 6 weeks ago, I started getting very acute pain in my neck whenever I tried to turn it from side to side. I’ve been referred to MSK as I’ve had trouble with a disc in that area in the past, but because of Covid, NHS appointments have long waiting lists at the moment.
I won’t lie, it’s really been getting me down, and I haven’t felt like doing much at all.
Then, my daughter’s hen party plans began which lifted my spirits a lot. We also had a ‘zoom’ wedding fitting session which was exciting, and I began to feel better, emotionally at least!
My family keep reminding me how strong I am, even when I don’t always feel it. Surprise visits from my niece and nephew, followed by my brother and sister in law helped enormously too. And I couldn’t do anything without my lovely hubby who bears the brunt of my ups and downs on a daily basis 💗
My Sugar and Crumbs family have kept me distracted with Facebook lives and classes, and a few cake requests have got me up off my backside and actually putting some of my cakey skills into practice. And of course, recent events in Afghanistan have reminded me that there are a lot of people going through much worse.
So, I have lots to think about, to look forward to, and to be grateful for, and I’m now in the right frame of mind to appreciate that.
I’ll end by showing you some photos of cake, because it wouldn’t be a Baking for Therapy post without them would it? And if my friends didn’t keep trusting me with their requests, I wouldn’t have the therapeutic value that creating them gives me!
As of last Monday, I have joined the ranks of the fully vaccinated 😁
My 2nd dose of Astra Zeneca caused me no problems other than a slightly sore arm, and I feel so much safer for it. I know it doesn’t 100 percent mean I can’t catch the virus, or pass it on if I do, but it’s a step in the right direction towards getting back to ‘normality’
We have to wait until tomorrow to find out if all restrictions will be lifted on 21st June here in the UK, but if we have to wait a few more weeks to make things safer for everyone, then so be it.
Last time I posted, I told you that my furbaby Charlie was awaiting major surgery. I’m very pleased and relieved to say, the operation seems to have been a success! Charlie is no longer struggling to get up or walk, and doesn’t seem to be in any pain.
He had a ‘blown’ disc removed, and the misaligned bones at L7 and sacrum were put back in place and pinned and cemented to keep them there. The biggest problem we have at the moment is keeping him still! He wasn’t allowed walks for 4 weeks (11/2 to go!) then he will be allowed 5 minutes, building up slowly to the 6 week mark, when he will have another CT scan to make sure his pins are still in the right place. As long as everything is ok, by 8 weeks we should be able to go back to his normal exercise routine. As you can see he’s quite happy 😃
Meanwhile, I’ve been continuing to learn new cake decorating skills in virtual online classes, and made a couple of cakes for friends this week.
I know I shouldn’t have taken on 2 cakes in one week, and believe me, my body knows it as I’ve practically slept for 2 days! But, as ever, the sense of satisfaction I get is a great boost to my mental health, and I know to block out at least 2 days of doing nothing to recover afterwards. My hubby is my carer and always gets the brunt of this, but is also incredibly supportive.
The first cake I knew would be tricky, as it involved 2 techniques that I’ve never done before. One is a ‘starburst’ or ‘explosion’ effect, and the other involves covering half the cake in one colour sugarpaste, and the other in a different colour! Who knew covering half a cake would be more difficult than a whole one?
I watched the following YouTube video for the starburst
I probably should have looked at a few tutorials on half and half cakes too……..but I winged it 😆
Luckily I had a good base for the cake, having used my Brigids cake room ganache kit. Oh those straight sides and flat top! Absolute game changer for me, as it cuts out the application of the ganache, and the constant scraping round the cake trying to get the perfect finish! Much easier on my painful hands. I’ve now got 3 of them in my most popular cake sizes.
I’m very proud of the cake I achieved, which was Spider-Man/Hulk themed. Although working with dark coloured sugarpaste on a hot day is yet another challenge!
The 2nd cake request I accepted was for twin girls who were 2. I mentioned to Mum that I could make a simple cake (as I had the tricky one also) and chose buttercream for the finish in a watercolour effect. Again, the hot weather was a bit of an issue, and at one point it was in the garage in a box as that was the coolest place (I really need a cake fridge!)
A rainbow and unicorns finished it off nicely 🥰
Recipes for the cakes can be found here. In both cases I used Sugar and Crumbs chocolate milkshake flavoured icing sugar in place of caster sugar in the batter.
See the full range of flavoured icing sugars here and a list of other products used below 😀
The last couple of months have flown by, with a mixed bag of events contributing to my lack of posting.
My health has been up and down, with several episodes of ‘fainting’ or inability to respond while still being aware of what is going on around me.
I have history of low blood pressure and of partial complex epilepsy, and it could be either or both! However it seems to have settled down for now 🤞
My gorgeous furbaby Charlie whippet has also been struggling 😢 In October last year, he had an accident and fractured his neck and displaced three discs. He was in ‘hospital’ for five days, but slowly recovered, albeit on a medication regime that seemed to be mirroring mine!
So when he started crying with pain when trying to stand we assumed he had exacerbated this prior injury. But on taking him back to the Small Animal Hospital, a CT scan revealed sacral lumbar stenosis which is so bad, his bones have been pushed out of alignment.
So today, we are taking him back so that they can prep him for surgery tomorrow. It’s very scary, but I know it’s the right option if he stands any chance of a pain free future. We won’t be allowed to visit because of Covid regulations, so it’s going to be a long week!
In amongst all this, I have of course had some welcome distraction by baking for some friends and family members ☺️
First up, I practiced with my new Brigids Cake Room ganaching kit. Instead of using ganache though I used buttercream with confetti sprinkles. Look at those straight sides and neat top! After a tidy up of the bottom edge, I was very impressed with the result, and gave it to my son and daughter in law for their wedding anniversary ❤️
This one was for my lovely mother in law’s birthday. A lemon sponge made by substituting Sugar and Crumbs lemon drizzle icing sugar for caster sugar in a basic Victoria sponge recipe. It was then filled with lemon buttercream and decorated with fresh fruit.
Then I made a Sticky Toffee pudding flavour birthday cake for hubby, using the same method, and topping with chocolate pearls 😋
For my son’s birthday, I decided to revisit a cake I made for him five years ago, before I began learning cake decorating! Looking at the photos, I think it’s safe to say I’ve improved! In case you’re wondering, it’s a Pokemon character called Bulbasaur. Again, I made chocolate cake using S&C chocolate milkshake flavour icing sugar in the batter. It was then baked in Molly Robbins laying style Creature Creator mould. His head needed to be wider so I used cake dough to do this before covering with milk chocolate ganache made with Callebaut Belgian chocolate Callets and double cream. Once that was smooth (ish!) and set, I covered the whole thing in Select Ireland Platinum sugarpaste that I’d coloured blue with Coloursplash gel colour.
I made his ‘bulb’ out of Rice Krispie treats, then covered in Renshaw’s emerald green sugarpaste.
To add the ‘splotches’ I mixed a bit of the green into the blue sugarpaste, and for the other details I used Renshaw poppy red, and black. My son James provided the plush toy for comparison 😂
The next request, from my niece for her partner, really made me giggle 🤭 I mean, do we ever grow up really? For your information……it’s a guitar pedal 😆 Chocolate cake again, ganached and covered with Select Ireland Platinum and Renshaw Poppy red and black.
I’d made too much chocolate sheet cake for the guitar pedal cake, so I decided to join the caterpillar cake club using the offcuts!
I cut them into circles and sandwiched them together with leftover Sticky Toffee pudding buttercream that I’d saved in the fridge from hubby’s cake. The whole thing was then covered in chocolate buttercream and melted white chocolate, drizzled with Callebaut strawberry flavoured chocolate, and decorated with smarties. I added a sugarpaste face and used marshmallows for the feet. The whole cake was made from leftovers and things I had in the kitchen already 😋 I named her Konnie and she was shared out via doorstep deliveries to family members ❤️
My friend then asked me to make a gluten free chocolate overload cake for her son’s 21st birthday. I’ve never made one before, so I was very cautious! I removed all my wheat based products from my work area (they were banished to the conservatory for a few days) and thoroughly cleaned my surfaces, Kitchenaid and any tools I needed…….twice!
The cake itself was relatively easy. My usual batter made with Doves farm gluten free self raising flour, and all three layers came out great. All S&C icing sugars are allergen free so the buttercream wasn’t a problem, and the sugarpaste used on the board was also gluten free.
For the decorations, I chose products based on a list provided by my friend Sam, or double checked the packaging to make sure! I gave Sam the packaging when she collected the cake too 😀 I made the chocolate shards myself from Callebaut chocolate.
I was so pleased with the feedback from Sam, who said it was the best gluten-free cake she’d ever had!
Last but not least, was this Silver wedding cake for Janet and Ken, who count as family as Janet is my niece’s grandma and a lovely lady she is too 🥰 The frog Prince was an unusual request, but apparently that’s what my nieces, Amy and Lucy used to call Ken!
The cake is vanilla, made with S&C velvet vanilla icing sugar, filled with raspberry jam and velvet vanilla buttercream. I then used white chocolate ganache (Callebaut white Belgian chocolate and double cream) to coat, before covering with Select Ireland Platinum white sugarpaste. I made the froggy with Renshaw emerald green mixed with some white and added tylo to make it firmer. For decoration, I used Karen Davies plaited border mould, a rose mould I’ve had for ages, and hand made the little church. I also used a Sugarflair silver sparkle lustre dust, and finishing sparkle pump spray.
And that’s about it! March to May cakes cover a lot of family birthdays including mine which was made for me by my lovely daughter in law Abigail and is pictured below ❤️
Well, back to reality now, please keep Charlie in your thoughts tomorrow 🤞
Hi! Hope you are all doing well 😊 I have to admit that during these past 10 months ‘Baking for Therapy’ has never been more of a therapeutic tool for me!
In between taking online courses run by Sugar and Crumbs, and the odd cake request, it’s been a lifeline for my mental and physical health. I’m still struggling I have to admit, some days I find it really hard to motivate myself and end up spending the day in pjs. In the online class groups, we’ve nicknamed them ‘baking scrubs’ 😆
I know there’s lots to do round the house, but some of it I can’t physically do, so I just look at it and get frustrated! Other things I could do if I tackle it in bite size chunks but even the slightest exertion at the moment brings me out in a sweat. I think being confined to the house for so long has weakened my already admittedly poor physical health. I find myself in ‘CBA’ (can’t be arsed) mode because I know whatever I do is going to tire me out and, going off past experience, will lead to a couple of ‘recovery days’ when I will mostly sleep!
So I’m very thankful to my friends who have asked me to make cakes, as it means I have to plan my days, and once I start, I do enjoy the process. My lovely hubby makes sure I rest in between each process, to minimise the after effects, and when I hand over the finished cake, I feel a brilliant sense of achievement, which is a great boost to my mental health too ❤️
This pretty Minnie Mouse inspired 1st birthday cake was for my friend’s granddaughter and the last cake before Christmas, Christmas Eve in fact!
It’s a simple Vanilla cake, made using Velvet Vanilla icing sugar instead of caster sugar in the batter. Covered mostly in buttercream with sugarpaste elements like the ears, spots, bow and frill. I added CMC/Tylo powder to the sugarpaste for the ears and bow, so that they would stand up on their own! (See tutorial below) I then set it on a marbled sugarpaste 12” drum board, and used PME fun fonts and Faye Cahill signature gold lustre for the lettering. A pretty cerise pink ribbon finished it off nicely 😁
And this is how it turned out! What do you think? Check out below for the recipe. I’ll also leave links to the products and tools I used.
Tools and Ingredients:
Preheat oven to 150C Fan
Prepare 3×6” round cake pans. I grease mine and use a parchment circle in the base.
You will need:
250g baking margerine
250g Sugar and Crumbs Velvet Vanilla icing sugar
4 large free range eggs
250g sifted Self Raising Flour
Whip the margarine in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment until light, pale and creamy.
Add the Velvet Vanilla icing sugar and chop it in by hand until mostly incorporated, then beat on medium speed until fully mixed. Scrape down the bowl to make sure.
Add the eggs one at a time. If the mixture curdles slightly, add a tablespoon of flour with each egg.
Mix the flour into the batter by hand, then beat for about 20 seconds on med – high speed.
Transfer the batter to the 3 x 6” prepared round cake pans.
Bake at 150 C fan for approximately 30 minutes. Every oven is different so keep an eye on it and check with a skewer in the middle of the cake if you’re unsure. If it comes out clean, it’s ready!
Allow to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool fully
250 g butter, softened
500g Velvet Vanilla icing sugar
Coloursplash pink gel
Warm pre boiled water – optional
Whip the butter in stand mixer with paddle attachment until increased in volume, very pale and creamy – about 6 minutes
Add the icing sugar and mix or ‘chop in’ with spatula before beating until it comes together. Add colouring if using. Scrape down, then beat on med-high speed for 20 seconds. Add water a tablespoon at a time if consistency needs loosening up.
I used 2 x 8” round 4” deep PME pans and cut each cake in half to make 4 layers (double recipe) While the cakes were cooling, I took the remaining liquid from the cherry pie filling and thinned it out with a little boiling water. I brushed this over each cake layer to add flavour and keep it lovely and moist.
For the filling I made buttercream with more Black Forest icing sugar, but to crumb coat the cake I used Black Cherry icing sugar as this remains white in colour.
Once the crumb coat had set in the fridge for 20 minutes, I added Coloursplash pink to a small amount of the white buttercream and set it aside.
I then covered the cake with the remaining white (Black Cherry) buttercream and smoothed it out with my tall metal bench scraper. I wasn’t too bothered about it being perfect at this stage!
I then added random ‘blobs’ (technical term 😆) all around the cake, and kept going round it with my smoother to achieve a sort of watercolour blended finish. For the final few swipes I heated the metal smoother by dipping it in hot water. I find this really helps get a nicer finish 😃 Check out the video below for an in depth tutorial on getting smooth buttercream!
I lightly blended the rest of the buttercream (pink and white) and transferred it into a piping bag with a Wilton 1M star tip that I bought in this set of three but you can also buy it separately It’s easily my most used piping tip for cupcakes so I have several!
Whipping it up was developed by Sugar and Crumbs as a sister product to its flavoured icing sugars and has pasteurised dried egg white added. It is a multi use product that you can use to make meringue, Swiss Meringue buttercream, pavlova, marshmallow fluff, roulade, macarons, shortbread, mousse and……. oh there’s so much I’ll just leave you a link to all the yummy recipes!
Back to the cake! I made a white chocolate water ganache drip and applied that before popping on my kisses and macarons whilst it was still wet. This helped everything to stick nicely!
I had covered a 12” round drum board with Renshaw Premium Coverpaste white marbled with pink, and after transferring the cake to this, I took the piping bag and made a border at the bottom. Waste not want not, I used the rest of the buttercream to add more detail to the top and sides still using the 1M tip.
To finish it off I made white chocolate number lollipops with Callebaut Belgian chocolate in a 3 and an 0!
I was very pleased with the result, what do you think? It also gave my baking mojo a boost as I’d been feeling a bit down with all this Covid-19 rubbish! Feeling useful is something I’ve been missing lately, and being cooped up doesn’t do much for anyone’s mental health does it? 😞
I hope you are all keeping well….. and reasonably sane!