Friday, 31 December 2010

My greetings cards

I thought it would be nice to put a link on my blog to my greeting cards website Snowball Card Designs. Each of the cards I have made is either a one off or one of a very limited number. I love it when I get inspiration from something I have seen or when I revisit my "stash" and suddenly know how to use the thing I bought some time ago; and the feeling of satisfaction when the creation is complete is great.

I have been making cards for family and friends for a few years now and also sold some in a local shop in Twickenham (until the arrival of Justin cut short the time I had to spend making cards). I am beginning to get a little bit more time again and I hope to make a selection of Valentine's and Mother's Day cards in the New Year.

I have put a couple of pictures of my favourite cards below. Hope you like them ...


© 2010 Nicola Noble

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Santa got stuck

Sophie was given a chocolate biscuit house kit for Christmas and we made it today. It is such a cute gift - a complete kit of (loosely) interlocking chocolate biscuits and a selection of sweets and icing flowers/stars/holly leaves to decorate it, plus the finishing touch of Santa's feet on a cocktail stick to put on the roof.

The construction of the biscuit house was moderately tricky and so I did most of this for Sophie but then she was in charge of the artistic bit and I was impressed by her confidence in going off plan. I iced and she placed and the end result was a success.

We just have to wait to show Nana tomorrow (the gift came from her) and then we can eat it - yummm.

If you are interested the kit came from The Village Workshop and you can order a variety of biscuit house kits from their website

Friday, 3 December 2010

Decorating my Christmas cake - 2010

Monday was the last day of my cake decorating course (boo) and we finished by decorating a Christmas cake. I opted to buy a ready-made undecorated Christmas cake from M&S and to concentrate on the decorating, at least ensuring that the cake was edible!

My design was very simple and comprised a dark blue sky with a snowy landscape, Christmas trees and a few sparkling stars. I had planned to add some snowflakes but once the rest was put together there wasn't space for them.

A few days before the Monday session I covered a round cake board with white fondant icing and put a blue ribbon around the edge. This was done in advance to let the fondant harden so that it was less likely to mark when putting the cake onto the board.

During the session I covered the cake with marzipan fixed on with apricot glaze then added the blue fondant cover. I rolled the icing out to perfection but while I was covering the marzipan with a coating of vodka (to help the fondant stick) the blue fondant stuck to the table and from then on it was less than perfect. As always the room we do the course in was far too hot and the icing kept sticking and then it cracked when I put it on the cake. The marzipan and blue fondant were put onto the cake on a spare cake board and then the cake was transferred (with care) to the covered board. This helped prevent the covered cake board becoming messy/damaged with apricot glaze or while trimming the marzipan or blue fondant.

Thankfully my design included a layer of white fondant icing as a snowy landscape so I was able to cover the worst cracks in the the blue fondant. The tutor had a fabric patterned rolling pin which added some nice texture to the snowy landscape.

I cut white Christmas trees out (thanks to my daughter for letting me borrow her Playdoh cutter for the small trees!) and decorated them with a scroll type embosser. I placed one large tree onto the snowy landscape and padded the very top out by cutting out another tip of the tree and placing this underneath to keep the whole tree level. I then placed small trees along the "skyline" on the top and down the sides.

I then took a few different size stars that I had made previously, brushed with sparkle powder and allowed to harden, and pressed them into the blue fondant on the top of the cake and the sides. To finish I sprinkled some edible disco glitter over the cake.

Overall I am quite pleased with the finished cake but think I need to add Merry Christmas somewhere. I may opt for "plastic" wording or may try and pipe the words in dark blue icing onto a white fondant scroll. I guess it depends on how well my piping of letters turns out ...

© 2010 Nicola Noble

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Christmas flowers

This week on my cake decorating course we made a selection of christmas flowers and leaves in fondant icing. We were shown how to make winter flowering jasmine, variegated ivy, holly leaves and berries, mistletoe and berries, poinsettia and christmas roses. I had a go at making the first three.

The jasmine was made by using a pulled flower technique. A ball of yellow icing is pushed and rolled onto a pointed stick and five slits are cut up from the bottom edge. Then the icing is removed from the pointed stick and the five petals are pulled apart. The petals are left square shaped and the middle of the flowers is marked with a star pointed modelling tool.

The ivy was made using cream icing and an ivy plunger cutter which cuts the shape and also adds veining to the leaf. The leaf was then draped across crumpled silver foil to give it some shape (so it's not flat) and once dry it was then painted with diluted food colouring (the gel type colouring diluted with water or alcohol). Firstly a lighter shade of green was painted almost to the edges, then a darker shade was painted up the middle of each part of the leaf.

The holly was created using a holly plunger cutter which cuts and veins the leaf. I think this would be good if you wanted to do a flat wreath on top of a cake but for a flower display it just wan't right. The colour of the green icing wasn't dark enough and I think my icing wasn't rolled thin enough. If the icing had been thinner then the leaf would have taken on a more 3D look when draped onto the crumpled silver foil. Using a simple holly cutter and a separate veiner might have also made it more realistic.

I didn't have a cake board small enough to put the display together so I improvised and used the bottom of a cardboard box. I covered the bottom with white fondant and pricked around the edge with a fork for a border then stuck the arrangement together using royal icing in a piping bag and number 2 nozzle. The holly berries were a bit too dark (I added too much black when I tried to tone the red down) and it would have been nice to have had a bit more colour to it (perhaps arranging it on a darker background although I'm not sure what colour would have worked) but overall I am quite pleased with the finished look.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Christening cake decoration

Last week on my cake decorating course we had a go at using moulds and garrett frills to create a christening cake decoration.

Firstly we coloured some fondant flesh coloured. Creating the baby from the mould was quite fiddly and it didn't help that the tutor's mould was very old and cracked but by the third or fourth attempt I had a baby I was relatively happy with. The baby was made of a front and a back and the excess fondant was cut first with scissors to the baby shape then trimmed vertically so that the front and back fitted together cleanly. The join then had to be worked which was the tricky bit as it was hard not to squish the baby's face and to get a good shape on the head. Sadly my baby had no ear but I like to think the hair covered it! The join on the body was left as this was covered with a fondant blanket.

The baby's features were then highlighted with watered-down food colouring painted on to create the eye lids/lashes, mouth and hair. The colours we used weren't quite right but it turned out okay.

We then used a garrett frill cutter to create the blanket. It's so hot in the room we do the course on that it is hard to work the fondant as it gets too soft and I managed to tear a frill I'd created so I cut it off and put the straight edge at the top of the baby and placed the other better frills onto the cake board. Using a cocktail stick the blanket was decorated with patterns of three little dots which was very simple but very effective.

Once the baby was placed on the pre-covered cake board I then added more decoration. Another skill we are learning is piping with royal icing and I had a go at bows and lily of the valley flowers. I then added pink fondant flowers with white royal icing centres.

The moulding, garrett frills and piping are all something that definitely need more practice but I was quite pleased with my first attempt. I now need to find occasion to use the skills learned. 

Monday, 1 November 2010

Halloween success

Well, my earlier concerns about making too many skeleton biscuits were unfounded as I managed to shift over 50 biscuits in about 30 minutes!! And all my hard work was worth it when I heard a number of the trick or treaters say "oooh cookies, cool!"

Mind you, Justin managed to get through a few of them - he just couldn't understand why we were giving the biscuits to people at the door and yet he wasn't allowed them. He did manage to sneak a few in when the bowl got low enough for him to reach in ...

Friday, 29 October 2010

Too many projects?

To be honest, this morning I thought there was no chance I was going to finish the projects planned for this week but tonight I am quietly proud of myself!

The puppet theatre is finished, with curtains (courtesy of my mum and her sewing machine) and interchangeable scenery backdrops drawn by Sophie. I had a few issues on how to attach the backdrops and initially tried punching holes along the top and hooking the backdrops onto unfolded paperclips. Unfortunately, every time Sophie moved her hand into place in the theatre the backdrop lifted up and fell off the hooks. So I had to rethink it and today I put loops of paper along the back of the backdrops, cut a piece of garden cane to size and attached two loops of string to either side at the back to hang it through. Sophie hasn't tried it yet but I am pretty confident that this will hold the scenery in place.

Next on our list of projects was completing the Halloween treats. These turned out really well and Sophie even had a go at piping some of the skeletons onto the biscuits (top left of the photo). For a four and a half year old's first attempt at icing I was really impressed - I guess she must have inherited my creative genes. She also helped me flood the heads with icing and once this was dry I piped the eyes and mouths on. So our army of skeletons are ready for the trick or treaters and if 50+ kids don't descend on our house on Sunday night I will take some biscuits along to my cake decorating course on Monday night and feed my children the rest.

Finally, late this afternoon I set to and carved a jack o'lantern from our pumpkin. I found a great template online and created a happy chappy to cheer us up on Halloween. It's the first time I have used a template and I am really pleased with the end result. I remembered from previous years that it is too difficult to cut enough pumpkin flesh out of the small pumpkin for any sort of cooking so the pumpkin soup idea has been abandoned. But I have saved the pumpkin seeds and I need to decide what to do with them - roast them or leave them to dry for Sophie to glue onto pictures. 

Half term almost over and I am starting to think about the next few projects coming up. But perhaps I'll just have a few days off and enjoy the rest with Sophie back at school!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

More half term fun

Determined to achieve success in at least one of my two planned activities this week, last night I set to with a cardboard box, craft knife, glue and blue paper and created a small puppet theatre. Sophie was sadly unimpressed with my effort but seemed much happier once she was let loose with the stickers.

Still to do are some scenery panels to go on the angled bits and some curtains to pull across the front. We also finished the remaining two hand puppets and they are really cute.

Also today we made an army of gingerbread men and later this week I hope to transform them into skeletons. Obviously there were a few casualties and both children were more than happy to test them!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Half term fun

So it's half term and I have two craft activities planned to do with Sophie this week.

The first one is to help Sophie make some glove puppets that she has, and to create a mini theatre for her so that she can put on a show for us at the end of the week. We have managed to make two of the four puppets today and will hopefully do the other two tomorrow. That leaves us Thursday and Friday to make the theatre. I have a small box and am planning to cover it inside and out and make some sort of curtains that can be drawn across the front.

The second activity is to prepare a few things for Halloween. I have a pumpkin that I would like to carve and hopefully make something edible from the flesh (Sophie has been reading a book called Pumpkin Soup at school and has been asking me when she will get to have it so maybe that's what I'll make). I have also decided to make my own treats for the trick or treaters - I am thinking of green/red marbled mini cupcakes with gruesome icing and jelly worms coming out the top or skeleton biscuits (idea "borrowed" from a shop near us) - I have some royal icing left from last week so could use that up.

Let's see what we manage to achieve in a week ...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Lego stormtrooper cake

Last night I went to my cake decorating course and started creating my lego stormtrooper cake. I had previously cut out the shape of the cake from the nice gluten free sponge (the horrid cornflour one got fed to the ducks yesterday!) and thankfully it didn't matter that the head had fallen off the body as I just stuck it all back together and hid it under the fondant.

I opted for a 2D approach rather than trying to make the stormtrooper. I managed to cut out and position a lot of the black fondant and the tutor introduced me to the art of "extruding" to get thin rope like pieces (another thing added to my Christmas list!) At the end of the session the cake did look a bit like an odd person with a black belt wearing a rucksack and hoodie and sporting a rather grand moustache ...

Luckily I had a free morning this morning, so while Sophie was at school I set to and finished it. I added some more black and created the lego hands, then finished off with some dark grey royal icing and a little bit of white royal icing on the face.

I am really pleased with the finished cake, although the head seems a bit too small and the belt went wrong. If this had been for a proper occasion I would have covered the old cake board too - not sure what colour I would have chosen though, maybe orange? As it was, I didn't have enough fondant (or time during the session) to cover it.  I'm sure that with a star wars mad husband and an almost two years old boy I will be making this cake again in the future so all things to learn for next time!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Gluten free cakes - and how not to make them

I have been doing a cake decorating course at my local adult community college and this coming week we are going to create a mini novelty cake. So, in a brief moment of madness I decided that mine was going to be a lego stormtrooper. Okay so that's not too bad ... but this is for my husband who, being gluten and dairy intolerant, feels really left out whenever I do some baking for the kids. So I found a new cake recipe in a birthday cake book that is made from cornflour, eggs and sugar.

Somehow I don't think I did it right because the resulting cake was disgusting. The top crust totally broke into bits and the bottom of the cake was an eggy disaster. I think that I mixed the eggs at too high a speed in the mixer and it really didn't taste good at all.

I did cut it into a rough stormtrooper shape but yesterday decided I was going to abandon it and try a more conventional cake. Through trial and error, I have discovered that my husband can eat processed milk products so this time I used butter, eggs and gluten free flour as per a normal victoria sponge. The resulting cake was soooo much better.

I am going to try the cornflour cake again, mixing the eggs at a very low speed this time and see whether that makes a difference. I'll post the results when I've done.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Getting started

I am very new to the whole blogging thing. I love reading other people's blogs and can happily while away the hours finding new and exciting things to make and do, courtesy of others. I decided to give my own blog a go and over the coming weeks I hope to add some of my creations and ideas.