Sunday, November 6, 2011

Out with the old.....

We have a new website!!!

Curiositea has evolved so much over the last 18 months, and the Curiositea Shop blog has been such an enormous part of that evolution.

I'm so grateful to everyone who has followed me, and would like to invite you to now continue the Curiositea ramblings via our new website!
Though this is the last post on this page, the blogging will continue via the new website, and you can keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter too.  You can also contact us and order directly through the website.

We'd love to hear what you think about the new look Curiositea Shop!

Thank you for reading and do join us in our new swanky looking blog!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Autumn Apple Traybake

If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake!  Well, that was what should have happened, but the idea to bake a half-term cake for my parents who visited this week only occurred to me hours before they were due to set off!

Undeterred, I decided to make a quick traybake - but decided to give it an Autumnal twist.

My parents had brought some apples, among various other produce, so I decided to use some of them in this bake.  The apples were smallish eating apples, with beautiful red skin.

I greased a roasting tin (and in hindsight should have lined it too but was in a lazy mood this afternoon!)

I sliced the apples and laid them on the bottom of the pan.  I then sprinkled brown sugar over them, hoping to create a bit of a toffee apple taste once baked.

I made up my usual traybake recipe and added about a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of nutmeg to the mix, before pouring it over the sliced apples.

 I baked it in the oven for approximately 35 minutes at 160*C until golden brown on top and smelling delicious!!

Wanting the apple juice to soak into the cooling sponge (and also concerned they might weld themselves to the tin once cool) I turned the tin upside-down and let the cake fall out.

My thoughts about the greaseproof paper lining were accurate as had I lined it first the apples would have stayed put.  As it happened some did stick but it was fairly easy to replace them.  A quick sprinkling of more brown sugar and it was done!  We had to eat it warm, but no one complained!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Lazy Sunday Pudding Experiment

This pudding was most certainly an experiment, but I was so pleased with the outcome (taste-wise at least!) that I had to share it.  I had some sponge cake trimmings left over from making some mini victoria sponges, and never wanting to throw anything away (especially cake!) I'd kept it in a bowl covered in cling film.

We also had a couple of raspberry doughnuts left in the cupboard which had gone stale (rock solid to be precise!) so again my "waste not want not" ethics came into play.  Rather than waffle on I'll write this as a recipe:
You will need:

Sponge cake trimmings (or the ends of a loaf of bread
2 stale jam doughnuts (or you could used pain au chocolat - improvise!)
Handful of fruit (raspberrys, apple, banana, chocolate - that's a fruit right?)
3/4 pint cheap instant custard
1 egg


  • Break the cake trimmings into pieces and cover the base of an oven-proof dish. 
  • Slice the doughnuts and lay across the top of the cake.  
  • Tuck the raspberries into any gaps between the cake and doughnut pieces.
  • Make up the custard according the the packet's instructions, but err on the side of 'runny' in terms of consistency.  Allow to cool slightly.
  • Beat the egg in a separate cup, before beating a little of the cooled custard in to the egg.
  • Pour the beaten egg into the the rest of the custard - adding a little custard to the egg beforehand helps to stop the egg cooking before stirred in.
  • Pour the custard mixture over the cake pieces ensuring all of the cake is covered.  Push the cake pieces down into the custard if necessary.
  • Bake at 160*C for an hour.
  • Remove and allow to cool slightly before serving. 

This was such a lucky experiment.  Loosely based on Nigella Lawson's Pain Au Chocolate recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess, but I opted for an incredibly lazy alternative, but loved how it turned out.  We had ours with icecream, but cream or more custard would have been just as good.  Might try it again with apples and syrup... or chocolate chunks and croissants..... or bananas and toffee... or.....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hares, tortoises, skylines and favours....

Oh my bloggness how I've neglected you!!!

Things have been plodding on at a somewhat steadier pace of late, though not entirely through choice.  I've been feeling a bit under the weather of late so have had to cut back on a few of the plans I'd had, while keeping up with the essentials.  I'm delighted to be continuing my relationship with York Theatre Royal with my cupcakes continuing to be stocked in the cafe there.  They currently feature The Hare & The Tortoise for the production by Tutti Fruitti Productions.

The cakes are vanilla sponge with chocolate buttercream.  The Hare features chocolate flavoured ears and fudge nose, and the Tortoise has a multicoloured buttercream and sugar shell!  I had such fun designing these, in collaboration with the catering team at the theatre.  The cakes can be bought individually or as part of the children's lunch bags.

The other activity undertaken over the last few weeks were the creation of mini cupcakes which were given away as part of the York Food Festival last week.  They were given away with purchases of the York Evening Press.

It was strange to be doing promotional items for myself!  The favours were individually packaged in clear boxes, and featured a 10% discount voucher packed in the base of the box, and decorated with branded stickers.  These favours start at £1.50 each depending on the amount of packaging or decoration required.

The other activity is slightly less cakey, but no less exciting.  I'm due to launch my new website in the next few weeks and cannot wait!  As soon as it goes live you will be the first to know!!

Finally, and returning to the theatre connection for a moment, I wanted to share with you a cake which I loved making.  This three tier cake was for the young cast party of Peter Pan at York Theatre Royal.  We wanted to create a magical Pan-themed cake, but avoiding anything too Disney-esque, as the cast were aged between 10 and 19 years old.  The programme design instantly sprang to mind, and so we decided to use this to create the cake.  Having the three tiers meant that the flying silhouettes would be perfectly placed.  I used a mixture of blue fondant icing to create a marbled covering for the cake.  I then used various lustres to create light and shimmer across the sky.  The silhouettes were traced using greaseproof paper and painted using black food colouring.  The design went all around the cake, with me inventing the London skyline slightly around the back!

I loved creating this cake.  It was great to approach things in a different way, and painting cakes was a revelation!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Second star to the right....

This week I've been thinking a lot about choices; particularly in light of the A-Level results coming out last week and the flurry for prospective students and their parents visiting York over the weekend and this week.  It's made me reflect on my own choices and how I've come to be doing the things I am currently doing.

To be honest I would probably put it all down to fate.  I remember nervously choosing my A-Level choices (French, English Literature, English Language and Theatre Studies).  Dropping out of French in the first term, I was surprised to find myself confidently having a considerable go at conversing in French while on holiday recently.  I particularly learned how to say "I've been stung by a wasp" as I was!

My love of theatre and literature saw me through a degree in Theatre, Film, Television and Literature and MA in Creative Writing.  Initially planning to write and direct theatre, I graduated intending to work in the arts administration field.  I am now a Creative Business Development Officer and I bake cakes!

The building blocks of my career and associations I have made along the way are on one hand entirely fortunate and unplanned.  I have made choices as opportunities have presented themselves and I am thankful that I am where I am now.

On the other hand however, it could be said that it was inevitable that I have arrived here.  The foundations are laid deep within my upbringing - a quiet undercurrent of enterprise, with both parents and two uncles running their own businesses to some degree.

My studies and subsequent employment has given me the skills to start my own business.  One way or another I draw on those A-Level choices made (quite a few!) years ago; I write; creative writing used for my blogs among other written communication, French; deciphering patisserie labels in French shop windows to learn more about their marvellous creations, and theatre studies; I am proud to be providing cupcakes to accompany the fabulous production of Peter Pan at York Theatre Royal.

Was it planned?  No.  Could I have known what I'd be doing now?  No.  Am I happy?  Oh yes.  To all those who are making choices this week regarding their futures; there are countless choices yet to make, and you never know where those choices will lead.  Just be confident in your decisions, and know that in the long term, you won't get it wrong.

Friday, July 22, 2011

An Eclair to Remember...

I was asked by my partner in Afternoon Tea crime, (Yorkshire Teas), if I could make mini chocolate eclairs.  "Yes!" was my immediate response, hastily followed but lots of reference to books and the internet to work out whether I actually could!  I've been keen to develop my skills further, and there's nothing like a deadline to get you working!  I opted for a traditional recipe from the Be-Ro which has straightforward instructions and I always tend to opt for the more traditional recipes.
You make the pastry batter in a completely different way - so if you're pastry - adverse it's a great one to try!

 And of course you get to smother the finished puffs of choux pastry with chocolate and fill them with cream!  I loved making these.  I'm always amazed that from the most basic ingredients you can create something incredible!  Perfect for a dainty (and delicious) Afternoon Tea!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cyber Cupcakes!

Picture courtesy of @TomFaller
Today my cupcakes really did take a step towards being cyber-cupcakes as they were the focus for the afternoon coffee break at the TEDxYork Conference at York University today.

I'd been listening to the event online via the web streaming which took place throughout the day, so when I arrived with the cupcakes in the afternoon I'd felt as though I'd been a part of it all.

I tried to make cupcakes fit with the technical tone of the event, so avoided swirly piped frosting, opting instead for a clean circle of buttercream and a printed logo topper.

We narrowly managed to snap a few official photos of the display before the afternoon break commenced.  I suddenly realised that while posing for a photo next to the cakes, I was suddenly holding up the queue!

Picture courtesy of @YorkConferences
 Suddenly over 200 delegates descended on the display and filed passed in an orderly fashion, collecting their cake as they went.  I loved how many delegates took photos before picking up their cake!  Within minute they were viral, being posted on Twitter and shared.  The photos featured here are those taken by delegates and shared as part of the #TEDxYork Twitter feed.

Picture courtesy of @bristoljames
I was so glad I stayed to see how quickly the cakes disappeared from the stand.  I thoroughly enjoyed my virtual conference attendence today, and I hope the conference delegates enjoyed the reality of my cyber cupcakes.

Curiositea's Cyber Cupcakes in the Press

Monday, July 4, 2011

Diamonds are Forever (in Blue Jeans!)

A slightly self indulgent post today, though justified as it's also in honour of American Independence Day!  I wanted to do something as tonight I'm off to see Neil Diamond in Manchester!  So that's a double celebration of one of America's finest!  Some people have Take That, but you've not lived until you've been to a Neil Diamond concert!

I spotted these edible diamonds from Squires and needed little excuse to try them out!  So I came up with these 4th July Diamond cupcakes!  If you've ever been to see Neil Diamond live, you'll appreciate the need for glitter on these cakes.  And the diamonds give them that extra little something!

These were the first cakes I've baked just for fun, for a while.  Think of us with glittery faces, sitting in the queue to get out of the car park later on tonight!  Sweet Caroline.... woah woah woah!!!!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to make a Lego Cake - Tutorial

Right, due to popular demand; here is the tutorial for the Lego cake.  Now I have to admit, there were some issues with this cake in terms of it's construction, and I think future versions would require quite considerable engineering work to ensure it remains stable (and survives a car journey, unlike my original attempt!)  I would recommend using dowels and base boards for the individual cakes as you would with any stacked cake.  Why this didn't occur to me initially, I'll never know!

Start by making a tray bake sized cake (or whatever sized cake you require).  This was a 3 egg recipe.  Once cooled, cut the edges to give you nice corners and straight sides, then split horizontally into two halves.

Put raspberry jam on one half, and buttercream on the other half, before sandwiching them together.

Next comes the mathematical bit!  You have to use your judgement, and try out a few circular cutters to make sure you get the most 'bricks' out of your cake as possible.  I used a 1.5 cm diameter cutter to help me mark out the bricks in the top of the cake, scoring where I'd need to cut.

Next the cakes are cut into individual bricks.  I found it helpful to have some Lego bricks with me to use as a guide, so that they would look proportionally accurate.

As the cake had risen slightly more in the middle than on the edges I used some of the cake trimmings to try to build up the slightly slanting edges of some of the bricks, by placing slivers into the filled section of the cake.  I'm not sure if this made a great deal of difference I though it best to make things level from the start.

Once you're happy with your cake shapes it's time to cover with buttercream.  I used quite runny buttercream and applied it with a pallet knife to try to get a smooth covering.  It's inevitable that crumbs will mix into the buttercream, but try not to manipulate it too much as bits of the cake (i.e. corners) might come away from the cake.

Next came the detail on top of the bricks.  I opted to create this by cutting out circles using my chosen cutter, from fondant icing rolled to around 8mm thick.  I initially rolled my icing out too thinly so doubled up on my 'dots'.

The dots are then placed in position on top of the covered bricks.  They should stick nicely to the buttercream.  I used a cake smoother to press them flat into the buttercream, and again to try to make them level, but this is optional.

Once I was ready to roll out my chosen icing to cover the bricks, I painted each of the disks with boiled water to create a 'glue' between the two layers of icing.  I chose primary colours for my bricks.

I ended up covering bricks in two different ways, so feel free to try whichever works best for you.  The first way was rolling the fondant flat, quite thinly (around 3-4mm), draping this over the brick, then guiding it over the dots and down the sides and corners.

 This did create a puckered corner, which needed to be smoothed with a tool and patched up using boiled water and icing sugar.

My next attempt was to roll the icing equally thinly, but this time cutting into the shape to create slightly overlapping sides, which avoided the bulk of icing at the corners.

I measured the top of the brick, then allowing an edge of around 5mm, cut darts into the corners.

These pieces of fondant draped nicely over the bricks, and I found that it was easier to smooth the cut corner seam, rather than patch up the corners where the fondant had folded.

Once the bricks were covered it was time to prepare the board.  I cut out various shapes and colours for the tops of bricks, and stuck cut outs of the dots on to the top.  This actually looked really effective, and I think I would consider using this method for the bricks if I was to do this again, as it gave more definition.

The bricks were then places on the board.  I mentioned at the beginning that there were structural issues with this cake.  The final version involved a separate 2-dot brick being provided in it's own box, which was then placed on top at the last minute.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Spot the cupcake!

Had a fantastic night at two Ladies Pamper Evenings in the last week.  One at the Royal York Hotel and the other a JCT900 Volkswagen in aid of St Leonards Hospice in York.

A film of the latter has just been released, and my cupcakes feature!  I didn't even notice them filming!

Both were really fantastic evenings, even with a fire alarm at the hotel!  I'm hoping to be involved with a major charity event in the near future, and you'll be the first to know the details as soon as they emerge!

I'll leave you to play spot the cupcake!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Make a wish....

Guess who's got a birthday this week?  Me!  

Obviously, that leads me on to the idea of cake!  Though to be honest it doesn't take much!  It is certainly party season as now rarely a weekend goes by without one or other of the children having an invitation to respond to!  Naturally I'm always interested in the cake, though always for the purposes of research!  Purely to find out the most popular themes.

This weekend, has had it's fill of birthdays, each very different but equally blissful!  Those are the occasions which form the memories of children, no matter how young they are.  I love seeing photos from my early birthday parties, with the jelly spilling from the paper dishes, sandwiches and cake.

I was very lucky growing up as my Mum, as any Mum would do, always ensured my brother and I had the perfect birthday cake to accompany our ever changing fascinations and interests!  Fairy toadstools and princesses when I was younger, and pigs in my 20s!  My brother had tanks, trains and even Stay Puft from Ghostbusters.

Looking back, it never mattered to us whether these were homemade, shop-bought or made to order.  All that mattered was that initial thrill of "that's my birthday cake!"

When I had my first son I wanted to make sure I gave him those memories, even if they were relived through photos as he got older.  He doesn't remember his Bob the Builder cake from his 2nd birthday now, but I love that I can show him what I made for him for the party. 
When I mention to people that I make cakes, people sometimes say that they wish they were skilled / confident / creative / brave enough to attempt a birthday cake, and I always want to say that they are!  They are all of those things!  I'd never profess to have any particular talent; just determination, a little bit of eccentricity helps I suppose and lots of practice!

The first birthday cake I made for my son was a chocolate traybake, covered in chocolate icing and plastic toppers.  And he loved it!  Children don't care whether you stayed up to 3am to finish it, or whether you've planned it for months, asked someone to create it for you, or bought it from a supermarket on your way home.  As long as it's theirs, and there are the correct number of candles in it, they will be thrilled!  This goes for grown-ups too! (Hint to other half to take note!)

I know I make cakes to order, but I would never in a million years suggest that that's what people should always do.  My 30th birthday cake was a shop bought Dr Who cake - an edible David Tennant!  What's not lot love about that?!  Make it, buy it, order it; however that cake gets to the "Happy Birthday" moment, everyone will love it!

The cake which launched Curiositea was the 'Gromit' cake I did for my son's 4th birthday.  I loved how thrilled he was when he saw it and I loved the idea that I could help contribute to those moments; create the magic in their eyes and a memory to look back on when they are older.

I forgot to mention an essential ingredient that always goes into birthday cakes, whether homemade, chosen in a supermarket, or made to order; and that is an enormous amount of love.  And the best things about that particular ingredient is, it contains very few calories!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tiers of joy!

My spare time of late has bee consumed by the planning and design of my first ever tiered wedding cake.  Many evenings were spent researching the best ways to construct and support the tiers.  Then followed much consultation with the bride to make sure we were heading towards the perfect design.

Inspired by Peggy Porschen's 'Simply White' cake, we opted for individually made flowers and leaves on piped 'vines'.  The piped dots on the ribbons were requested, along with ivory rather than white fondant.

For the top and third tier we were searching for something along the lines of an embossed or relief pattern, but didn't want anything which clashed with the raised and free flowing flower detail of the other two tiers.  Having searched everywhere for the perfect design, I stumbled upon a technique new to me, which involved using stencils to create a relief pattern on the fondant.  This gave us more choice of designs as well as more options to create the pattern.  We were wanted a vintage lace look, which complimented, but didn't conflict with the floral detail.  Using Royal Icing, I was able to create the look we were after.  Another option would have been to use a colour or lustre to pick out the detail but this may have been lost against the other detail.

The wedding florist ( created a topper to sit on the top tier which was a 4" fruit cake.  The bouquet contained white roses and thistles to compliment theme of the wedding.  The finished cake appeared to float above the classic glass cake stand to elevate the cake further, with no cake board visible.  Though this make manoeuvring the cake treacherous, I'm really pleased with the finished effect.

The groom's reaction on seeing the cake ("That's my cake!" made my day, I just can't wait to hear from the bride to see what she thought!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How to make Cookie Monster Cupcakes - Tutorial

Having received a fantastic request to create some Cookie Monster cupcakes I set about researching ways to create the iconic Sesame Street character.  Despite searching through a number of alternatives, I didn't find any which I felt I could confidently rely on.  As the cakes were for a toddler's birthday party I didn't want to resort to an enormous pile of blue buttercream on top, creating the dome head shape, so had to come up with another idea.

My plan was to bake a batch of large cupcakes, which I make using muffin sized cases, in this case sturdy silver foil ones.

I also made a batch of shallow cakes, which I made using a bun tin (the really shallow ones which you'd use for fairy cakes).  I only used one teaspoon of mixture per cake and the results looked like upturned Jaffa Cakes.  Make sure you grease the tins well to ensure they top out nicely!

Next, I created some bright blue buttercream and spread this on top of the large cupcakes.  Dollop a bit of the buttercream in the centre - this will be for the mouth to rest on.

 Then place the smaller cake slightly towards the back of the cake, so that it tips back creating an opening.

Cover this smaller cake in buttercream, filling in the sides of the 'mouth' with a little too.

Next dip the cake into some coconut which has been dyed blue. Be careful not to squash the top too much as the smaller cake will move.  Sprinkle coconut into the mouth and stand to one side.

Ta-da!  One Monster ready for his cookie.

Next take a chocolate chip cookie and using a sharp knife (and being very careful!) slice about 1cm off the edge of the cookie, then slide this flat edge into the mouth opening.  By cutting the edge off the cookie can go further in giving a better effect.  Leaving it on means the mouth opens too much.

Finally roll two balls using white fondant icing, each approximately 1.5 cm.  Then, using a small circular cutter (I used the insides of a number "8"!) cut out pupils from black fondant icing, rolled out really thinly.  Stick the pupils on using a dab of edible or a tiny amount of royal icing.  Place these on top of the cake, positioned so he's looking a bit boggle-eyed!  And that's it!

Let me know how you get on.  I'd love to see your creations so feel free to post here, or on the Facebook page.  I'm now obsessed with the idea of coloured coconut, AND Sesame Street characters.  I can see that Elmo and Big Bird might be next!