Baking meets Disney: A Little Mermaid Hen Do

Little Mermaid DecorationsI’m nervously tracking my parents on a flight to Greece; I hate flying and so does my mother, but family reasons have forced her onto a plane. The plane tracker has lost sight of the aircraft because they don’t pick up data over the sea (they must be between Italy and Athens right now) which is making me uncomfortable.

Usually I’d distract myself baking but I can’t fill the house with yummy smells because Ash will return from shul soon to begin his Yom Kippur fast. So it would be a bit mean. Instead, I’ll finally catch up on a post I meant to write an age ago.

Yesterday was the wedding of my oldest and closest friend in the world. The girl I used to make forts under the duvet with, whose shoulder I cried on when lesser men than my husband broke my heart, who celebrated the good times with me (and cake). She looked beautiful and the day went without a hitch; we took some photos in a gloriously dry and sunny Hyde Park which I really look forward to seeing. But some weeks ago, before all this matrimonial celebration, was her hen do. Following on from mine, for which I requested an old-fashioned tea party, my friend Lizzie took the helm to create a themed party for the then bride-to-be, Em.

The theme chosen was suitably Disney (we’re friends for a reason); as you might have guessed from the photos, it was The Little Mermaid

The Theme and Decorations

Little Mermaid Hen Do

Lizzie worked relentlessly and tirelessly for around two months before the day. I won’t give away exactly how she did everything as it’s not my work, but the photos in the post should give you a great idea of the fantastic attention to detail she demonstrates. Every inch of the party area was lovingly converted into an under sea grotto, with characters from the film, sandcastles, seaweed, balloons, bubbles, shells and even a treasure chest helping to set the scene. The walls were hung with underwater and sandy bottom cloths, which made for a particularly fun treasure hunt, for which Lizzie wrote a pirate-themed set of clues. To complete the beside-the-seaside feel, the entertainment was a classic Punch and Judy show!

The Baking

Red Velvet Mini Wedding Cakes

The only part of all this wonderment I asked – and was allowed – to get in on was the baking action, and I was duly granted this task. Knowing Em loves chocolate, I dipped into Nigella’s classic How to be a Domestic Goddess and fished out the recipe for the supremely rich, muscovado-sugar packed Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. I then personalised it by whacking on some chocolate ganache and crushed pistachios (picture and recipe for ganache below as it’s one of my own / my mum’s). Alongside this was the more exciting part, using my brand new Wilton tin in the shape of cross-sections of mini wedding cakes!

Given that they really ought to have white frosting, I revisiting Rachel Allen’s red velvet cake, and then festooned the finished and iced cakes with red rose petals. I did have a shot at sugar-frosting another set of petals myself, but it went horribly wrong so I resorted a sprinkle of the fresh sort at the last minute. I also wanted to get a lot fancier with the frosting, piping finer details on and making it look sharper and more elaborate, but those plans fell by the wayside. In fairness to myself, I’d never done it before and was baking both these cakes, cooling and frosting them and knocking off a set of cookies all on the same evening after work…

Kosher vegan cookiesThe cookies, by the way, were Levana Kirschenbaum’s kosher chocolate chip cookies – recipe online -, which were made vegan by substituting a heaped dessert-spoonful of vanilla (plain will do) soya yogurt per egg at Lizzie’s suggestion. It makes the dough much more crumbly, but if you persevere they will come out beautifully light, moist and chewy. Ash isn’t prone to exaggeration for all his love for me and he said he’d “pay for them”, so they must have been nice… Oh, and it goes without saying that the chocolate chips should all be plain and lactose free for vegan chums. Excuse the slightly fuzzy photo; I was shattered by then!

The Ganache Recipe

Nigella Chocolate Cake and toppingsThis is – perhaps frustratingly – a very imprecise recipe, for which I apologise. Growing up with a Greek mother I got taught to make a lot of things “with the eye” and this is one of them. It’s annoying, I know. You need:

A block of butter

Caster sugar



Melt some butter in a reasonably thick-bottomed pan. For the loaf cake I used about a quarter to a third of a 250g block. To this I added two heaped tablespoons of cocoa plus the same amount of sugar. Stir constantly and swiftly and then start dribbling in a little milk at a time until the chocolate reaches a shiny, almost oily texture that drips from the spoon but isn’t runny. Taste a little (hot butter can burn, though, so be careful) and balance out the flavours as you prefer; the cake being very sweet I wanted a little cocoa bitterness to come through. While it’s still warm, pour over a completely cooled cake. It’s a little uncontrollable which is why it particularly suited this cake which tends to sink in the middle.

Before it had completely set I bashed the life out of some pistachios in a plastic bag with my rolling pin and sprinkled them on top.

Of gallbladders and film reviews

Well, I’m better. Stones have been whipped out (and man were there a LOT of them… as you can see from this grim picture tweeted from my hospital bed), stitches healed and removed and I am once again fit for human company. I checked with the doctor and exercise is fine so I’m back in the gym trying not to kill my admittedly pathetic but at least existing daily half hour workout habit.

It’s half an hour because I’m too unfit to do more than thirty minutes of cardio in one go, not because I don’t have time. But at least I’m going before work and being all virtuous. And then eating my bodyweight in chocolate and butter.

Anyway, other things that are not health-related have happened, and they were more fun. Here are three fun things:

– We saw Sam Mendes’ new film, Away We Go, for free, and it was ace. I have zipped a review over to Cate at BitchBuzz and will post when it’s actually on the site, with some extra thoughts that I had that were too waffly for the review.

– We went to a Susie Perring exhibition. I own one of her goldfish prints and would happily snaffle up her entire back catalogue. It’s on the When I Win The Lottery list, right after getting myself a green card and having a holiday at the Grand Floridian.

– I started baking again! Rachel Allen’s Sweet Potato and Pecan Loaf (except I used walnuts, not pecans) and it’s the richest, moistest, most wonderful use for a vegetable ever. And it was thrifty – I had three sweet potatoes that had seen slightly better days but that were still usable that went into it. I finished off the loaf experimentation with Nigella Lawson’s Banana Bread, full of sticky, rum-soaked raisins that are just gorgeous. The alcohol burns off, so they’re safe for kids. I’ve frozen most of that as Ash doesn’t do bananas and even I can’t finish it all alone.

To follow: posts about The Hen Do, with pictures, jam tarts, with recipe and stuff. Just as soon as I get round to it. Promise.

First rule of baking: remember the camera!

And I forgot it! So I’ll have to ask you to please just picture to goodies I shall describe, and I will do my best to paint pretty little word pictures.

Today was Mother’s Day in the UK, and accordingly I had my mother and mother-in-law round to tea. Well, the fathers came along as well, of course. Apparently my father-in-law was talking about the cats all the way home; he adores them, but my mother-in-law is a little nervous after an unfortunate run in with some sharp claws as a child which has left lasting memories. To her credit, she did let Casper snooze alongside her, provided we promised not to let him climb on her lap.

Anyway, tea time. Ashley got his best old English butler impression out, and made delicate crustless sandwiches with home made tuna and egg mayo mixes and smoked salmon and cream cheese (well, he IS Jewish). I rolled up my sleeves, tried to ignore my burgeoning grim cold and stuck on my “Mrs Goldstein” apron (a hen do gift); this is what I made, all courtesy of recipes from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess:

1. Scones

A sugar-free recipe was a must given that Dad and M-i-L are both diabetic. These are lovely, light, fluffy concoctions, made with cream of tartar. The dough was as perfect as I’ve ever managed it, which made it all the more irritating when I left them in two minutes too long. They were still very nice, but somewhat more golden than I’d planned. No added sugar jam – raspberry and mirabelle plum Dalfour – and clotted cream (not so diabetic friendly, but it is a treat day) were on hand too.

2. Cupcakes

Plain vanilla fairy cakes, these, with icing-sugar-and-water icing dyed yellow, green and blue or just left plain white. I had some sugared flowers left, plus I’d bought some hundreds and thousands, silver balls and chocolate stars so I got busily creative. They came out a little more lurid than I’d intended, but they tasted good. I had swapped butter for Trex as even though we weren’t having meat I’m experimenting with parev cake mix. They were springy, light, nicely golden and satisfying, with just a light slick of super sweet icing.

3. Rosewater Madeleines

These delicate, springy, pale cake-biscuits with their distinctive fan shape were surprisingly easy to make, though there was no chance of butter substitution here. My mother, who grew up in Egypt on Greek food and understands unusual flavours like rose, loved them. As did I. They were not so popular with the rest of the family because of the ‘weird’ floral fragrance and flavour, so I’ll try a substitute flavour like orange blossom water next time, I think. The texture was liked all round. Dusted with a little icing sugar they looked really beautiful, and with very little effort on my part.

I packed up the leftovers and sent them home with mum so that a family friend who’s staying with them can help himself. Just as well – my birthday Wii Fit was definitely none too encouraging about my fitness! Time to get back into the gym habit; I figure I can keep baking as long as I keep giving the results away.