Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Spa Hotel Wedding Fayre

Tomorrow, Victoria's Cake Boutique will be back at The Spa Hotel for their Spring wedding fayre. There will be plenty of exhibitors from florists and photographers to dresses and DJs and ebtry is absolutely free. The Spa Hotel is a stunning venue with gorgeous grounds, so if you're planning on tying the knot and happen to be in Tunbridge Wells tomorrow, do come down and say hello.  I will be in The Royal Suite from 11 - 3 handing out samples of delicious cake!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A pint of the black stuff - Chocolate and Guinness cake

It's St Patrick's Day tomorrow and what better way to celebrate than with a pint of the black stuff? I won't be drinking my festive tipple from a glass though. I'd much rather sink mine into a steak pie or, even better still, a chocolate cake.

Chocolate and Guinness cake is deliciously black. I've made it with other stouts but none work quite as well. The taste of the Guinness, although not overt, adds an almost smoky, spicy depth to its flavour. This cake is packed with cocoa-rich chocolate. The iron-rich smoothness of the stout manages to make the chocolate taste even more chocolate-y, whilst adding a sumptuous, squidgy dampness to the texture - plonking this firmly in the cake-fork-required category. Although rich, it is in no way sickly. It is not a particularly sweet cake, which is why the vanilla mascarpone topping compliments its dark tanginess so perfectly, as well as helping it to more pleasingly resemble a pint of the black stuff. I often like to use individual, "half pint" cake rings which, although more faffy, are playful and fun. The recipe below will easily provide enough batter for 16 half pints. Slainté!

Chocolate and Guinness Cake
Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C Fan and grease and line a deep 9" round tin.

For the cake

8 oz/ 200 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids +)
9 oz/225 g soft unsalted butter
14 oz/ 350 g dark muscovado sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
9 oz/ 225 g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 x 440ml (15.5 fl. oz) can of Guinness
4 oz/ 100 g cocoa
A pinch of salt

For the topping

1.5 lbs/ 600 g full fat mascarpone
12 oz/ 300 g icing sugar
Vanilla extract to taste (about 1 tbsp) 

For the cake
  •  Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of barely simmering water and allow to cool slightly.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar and then gradually add the beaten eggs.
  • Whisk the Guinness into the melted chocolate (you might want to decant this into a large jug for ease later on).
  • Sift together the dry ingredients and fold in about 1/3 to the creamed butter and sugar.
  • Mix in about 1/3 of the chocolate Guinness and mix thoroughly.
  • Alternate between adding the dry and then wet ingredients until everything is thoroughly combined.
  • Spoon the cake batter into your prepared tin and bake for about an hour on the centre shelf or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top of the cake is cooked before the middle, place a sheet of greaseproof, baking parchment or foil over the top for the remaining cooking time, to prevent the crust from burning.
  • Leave the cake in its tin to cool on a wire rack.
 For the topping
  • Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the mascarpone and vanilla extract. 
  • Mix together with a wooden spoon or fork until thoroughly combined, silky and billowy. Don't be tempted to speed up the process with an electric whisk as it's almost impossible not to overbeat it and you will be left with a runny goo that will drip down the sides of your cake.
  • Turn your cold cake out of its tin on to a serving plate and spoon the topping on to resemble the head on a pint of Guinness.
  • The cake will keep for up to a week in a tin.

Monday, 8 March 2010


Spring is fast approaching (according to the vernal equinox, if not the weather. Yet.), marking the time of year when heightened wedding mania hits the country (and my email inbox), as planning and preparing big days and big dresses becomes the order of the season. For some, planning a wedding is a straightforward process with limited stress and upset, but for others less fortunate, wedding admin (or "wedmin" as some of my clients refer to it) creates a surge of flapping-armed panic, sleepless nights and virtual meltdown. So easily, the planning of a wedding becomes a pile of messy lists of "ways not to offend" and "things which are expected of us". It is probably one of the only times in people's lives where their style and taste are laid bare and open to the scrutiny of ALL friends and ALL family, ALL at the same time. This may well be the reason why playing it safe feels a marginally less terrifying proposition and there is certainly a strong argument for following the model that has worked for thousands of others before you. BUT, I want it to be made absolutely clear, it isn't the law to follow suit.

I have had so many clients come through my door over the years who have professed to loathe fruit cake (before actually sampling how delicious mine is, of course), but ordered it anyway, because if they hadn't, their mother/father/grandmother/Great Aunt Maud would never have forgiven them and they'd never have heard the end of it. You can always make a nod in the direction of familial expectation (by having your top tier as fruit cake and different flavours for the other tiers) just don't turn that nod into a backwards bend. Often, stress and offense-avoidance can leave couples so exhausted that they find themselves bulldozed into making compromises that leave them feeling deflated, but that they feel powerless to change. And this is especially true if they are not the ones picking up the tab. My advice is always, be gracious and grateful if parents and/or parents-in-law are helping out with costs, but it is the money and not the decision-making that they are agreeing to provide. The only tears on your wedding day should be the tiers of your wedding cake.

It's important not to lose sight of what the day actually means - the joining of two people in love. That's TWO people. Start by pleasing yourselves first and everyone else can like it or lump it. I'm not suggesting you should ignore the comfort and needs of your guests entirely. If you want to get married on a beach in a bikini, by all means get married on a beach in a bikini, just don't expect it not to go down like a bucket of cold sick, if you try to make swimwear obligatory for your guests as well. This really is where you have to think of Great Aunt Maud. But when it comes to colour schemes, flowers, what's on the menu, and your wedding cake, it's your call, not their's. Aunt Maud can put up with her hatred of raspberry red for one day if it's a colour that fills your heart with joy and birdsong. If you want love quotes, girly pinks, hearts and teddies (and amazingly enough your other half agrees to it), go for it. It's your wedding. But don't be angry or upset if people judge you on it. Of course they're going to judge you! But not necessarily negatively so, and why on earth should you care either way? They're not going to stop loving you or being your friends because you want to make your wedding day look like a 10 year old girl's bedroom. Judge you they will, but forget your wedding day, they certainly won't. And you can judge them right back on their wedding days when they choose tasteful creams with subtle injections of green, for being less memorable. The important thing to remember is, when it comes to style and taste, there are no rights and wrongs, there are only rights and wrongs for you.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with staying traditional, classic and elegant with a sit down 3 course meal, a beautiful ivory satin gown and a beautiful ivory and satin-ribboned cake. But if you want to wear black lace, give vampire teeth chewy sweets as favours and re-enact a Kate Bush video on a bouncy castle, don't let the fear of anyone else's raised eyebrows stop you. Weddings are expensive occasions - however DIY, however many helping hands and however many favours you can wangle. So, if you're going to cough up all that money, you might as well really enjoy yourselves doing it. Just remember to start out with a realistic idea of how much things cost; don't simply get a pad and pencil, write a list of things you want and then invent numbers next to pound signs to go alongside them. Do a bit of research first to avoid disappointment and/or shock. This way, you are less likely to spend all your budget on horse-drawn carriages or aerial dancers, before you've accounted for venue hire charges, food, drink, photography and, most importantly of course, cake.