Getting Started – My top 10 cake decorating essentials…

Now I am a few months into my cake business journey, I’ve decided to put a little post together for you all about my top 10 cake decorating equipment essentials.

Starting out cake decorating can be really daunting, but it shouldn’t be and you really don’t need loads of fancy pieces of equipment to get going. That said, there are a few pieces of equipment that will make your life A LOT easier and will, hopefully, mean you’re less likely to have a Gordon Ramsay-esque rage resulting in your beloved cake being launched towards a window or set of doors with a parting profanity…

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We all have bad days.

Trust me.

You can read my post by clicking here.

I hope you find it useful and it inspires some of you to get in the kitchen and just have a go.

Go on, get your bake on!




Help make Mothers Day magical, with Debenhams

I’ve no idea where the year is going already.

It seems like it was only Christmas a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s (almost) March. Not that it feels like it thanks to the ‘Beast from the East’! Come on Spring, let’s be having you!

Easter is zooming it’s way towards us (I have to say, this is one of my favourite holidays of the year, purely due to the fact there are Crème Eggs in the shops (yes, I know they’ve got smaller – so now I eat two in one go #noshame – but I still love them) and it is acceptable to eat Chocolate for breakfast once again.

Mothers Day 2018, UK: Sunday 11th March

Now it’s nearly March, Mothers Day is just around the corner and in order to get ready for it, I have very kindly been given the chance to buy a couple of Mothers Day gifts for my lovely mum, courtesy of Debenhams. I was gifted an £80 voucher to use on their Mother Day gift selections – a legitimate excuse to shop, guilt free! What a treat!

I love buying gifts for other people – I genuinely get so much joy from watching friends and loved ones open them…

Gift voucher for debenhams

“Motherhood is Unselfishness”.

I feel so lucky to have my mum here still.

My family

Mothers Day can be a very tricky time of year for lots of people. Many people no longer have their mum, some people find the day hard because they long to be a mum but things haven’t worked out that way. Life, it’s safe to say, can be a bit of a jerk at times.

With that in mind, I am going to try and make Mothers Day a celebration of being thankful in our house, yep, even the annoying bits like the kids making a mess everywhere and my husband leaving his sweaty-bum cycling kit on the bathroom floor.

I said try…I’m not going to promise anything.

S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G – We’re shopping!

We have a Debenhams store local to us and I will normally pop in there every few weeks when the kids are being compliant and aren’t having a meltdown about having to go shopping. I have to admit that a lot of my shopping is done online these days because of that very fact, as well as often being too busy to go into town.

The Debenhams homepage currently has a convenient link on it that will whisk you off in the direction of some lovely Mothers Day gifts and ideas; I had a browse around it myself last week looking for some inspiration for my mum. There is something for everyone on there; perfume, beauty products, knitwear, food hampers, watches, jewellery; you name it they probably have it! And, if you can’t find something to buy them, you could always get them a Debenhams gift voucher so they can go out and treat themselves at their leisure.

I asked my mum a couple of weeks ago if there was anything she would like for Mothers Day and, in typical mum fashion, she said, “nope”. I could have bet £1000 that this is the response she would give. Like a lot of mums, my mum is completely and utterly selfless and her response when I said that no wasn’t an option was, “well why don’t you use half on yourself and half on me?”

Erm, still no mother, it’s for you!!

The lack of ideas given by mum meant I had free reign which is both brilliant and mind boggling in equal measure…

She isn’t really into handbags, she isn’t particularly into makeup but will dabble a little now and again, she likes to go out and enjoy herself with friends and family and I am glad to say she looks after herself a bit better now and will get her nails and hair done if something nice is coming up – and rightly so, she does so much for us all that she really deserves some self-care and pampering. With that in mind, I decided to get my mum a BareMinerals ‘Get Started’ complexion starter kit (she always says she looks tired and pale so hopefully she can make herself feel a little more happy and confident by using this) and I also got her a really nice room diffuser by Butterfly by Matthew Williamson, which will look great in her newly decorated living room…that the grandchildren are (thankfully) yet to destroy.

I am sure that my mum will love her gifts from Debenhams. I also plan to pop to the shops and get her a nice bottle of Fizz, which she can enjoy all to herself, and a spring flower planter – me and my mum love Spring flowers and my Nan’s favourite flowers were Daffodils. I love having them in the house this time of year to remind me of her.

As well as being sent an £80 voucher to spend on my mum, I was also very kindly gifted a Smartbox Afternoon tea gift experience box for two. The Smartbox contains a voucher, which is redeemable at lots of different venues across the country, and entitles the recipient to a wonderful Afternoon tea experience, along with a friend. I plan to take my mum up to London for the day once the weather is a bit nicer (there are lots of super venues you can redeem your voucher at there, as well as all over the UK) and we can both enjoy our Afternoon tea together and, hopefully, do a spot of retail therapy, just the two of us – which rarely happens these days. She doesn’t know about this yet so I will present her with the voucher on Mothers Day along side all her other lovely gifts – I can hazard a guess this will be the highlight present for her, she really loves going for afternoon tea!

These gift experience vouchers are a brilliant idea for loved ones who don’t want ‘stuff’ and would rather have a nice day out or an experience instead.

“Things come and go, but memories can last a lifetime”.

Whatever you’re up to this Mothers Day, and whoever you’re spending it with, I hope you all have a lovely day and I am sending all my love to those who aren’t looking forward to it quite so much. May your day be filled with love…and hopefully a bit of booze too!

Disclosure: I was gifted an £80 Debenhams voucher and an Afternoon Tea gift experience in return for this review. All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

 




“But it’s only cake…”

Back at the end of last year, I started out on my journey to beginning my own cake making business, Little Gem Bakes.

It’s something I’d wanted to do for a while but either the timing was never right, I had a crisis of confidence or something else would crop up meaning I didn’t have the time and energy to put into it.

After much learning, studying, sleepless nights, planning and preparing, my little business is now fully fledged (hello 5 star food hygiene rating!) and my shiny new website is now up and running.

It’s hard keeping your confidence when you become a mum, well it was for me anyway. I’ve never been very confident in myself or my abilities and I always seem to focus on what could go wrong rather than what could go right. I’m definitely a pessimist…

Over the last few months I’ve worked really hard on telling myself I can do things, like I do with my children, and I’ve now been brave and taken the plunge.

I’ve started a little blog over on my baking website and this is one of the posts I’ve recently written for it. It’s called,

“But it’s only cake…” 

I was prompted into writing it because, after building myself up confidence wise, I have had a bit of a dip again in the last couple of weeks because I’ve had so many enquiries that don’t come to fruition, mainly because of the price I quote. So, as I always feel better for it, I’ve had a ramble about it and the reasons why bespoke cakes cost what they do.

If you’re a cake maker, have a read and nod in agreement and if you’re not, sorry if it sounds a bit ‘ranty’ but sometimes these things just need verbalising.

You can read the post by clicking here.

Thanks to all my family and friends who have encouraged me to start this new little venture. I’ll pay you all in cake…




Learning to cook Italian – with Bookings for you & Giovannini Enterprises

I love Italy.  The people, the scenery, the culture and also, the food!

If I was asked to choose one type of cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, without a doubt, Italian is what I would choose.

Sadly I’ve only been to Italy twice. Once to Sicily (Zak our middle one was 1.5 years old at the time and he screamed for the ENTIRE time we were queuing at for our flight at the airport. It was hideous. People looked like they wanted to exterminate us and we haven’t managed to get back on an aeroplane with him since) and once to Venice when I took Mr Knutts for his ‘milestone’ birthday. (Note to husband – when it is my ‘milestone birthday’, I would quite like to go back. Hint, hint). It’s such an enormous country, varied in landscape and cuisine as you travel, and there is so much to explore but, as yet, it is a country relatively unexplored for me which I definitely need to remedy over the coming years.

Before Christmas, I was approached by the truly lovely Jo Mackay, owner of Bookings for You. Jo asked if I would like to attend an Italian cooking masterclass which would be hosted by herself and led by the Giovannini family who hail from Volterra, Italy. I couldn’t say yes quick enough. The thought of gorging myself on pasta and cheese all day was as exciting as being told the news that Tom Hardy was to be reading CBeebies bedtime stories (such a hardship having to watch that with Ben…ahem). I digress. In summary, I was very excited.

via GIPHY


About Bookings for You

Bookings for You was started in 2011 by Jo Mackay. Not only is Jo a savvy superstar business woman, and she is honestly lovely with it, she is also a mum. I’m in awe of what Jo has achieved with her company in a short space of time whilst juggling being a parent. After studying History at the University of Edinburgh, Jo Mackay joined the sales and marketing team at Procter & Gamble. In 2006, Jo and her family purchased a holiday home on Lake Maggiore in Italy. Jo quickly developed a passion for all things Italian and a few years later, Bookings For You was founded. The company initially focused on offering holiday villas and apartments in the Italian Lakes but Bookings For You quickly spread their travel wings and in 2011 expanded their portfolio to include villas and apartments in Tuscany and Umbria. Further expansion followed soon after, with villas now available to rent in Lazio, Florence, Le Marche and Puglia. In 2017, the company crossed the border and launched a range of villas to rent in France and Monaco.

Bookings For You now have over 300 holiday villas and apartments for guests to choose from, catering for a variety of budgets, tastes and party size. The Bookings For You team have personally visited every property on the site and can advise you on everything, from travel arrangements to where to eat in the evening.
Bookings For You is not a typical ‘9 to 5’ business. Recognising that planning a holiday doesn’t fit within normal office hours, Jo personally aims to be contactable every day of the week, both during the day and in the evening. She will do her best to answer any question you might have about any aspect of your holiday. If she doesn’t know the answer, rest assured she will do the research to find it out!
If you have time to have a peek on the Bookings for You website, I defy anyone to not want to immediately book a holiday there and then.  The properties are utterly stunning…
 Villa Le Capanne, Volterra. Image from Giovannini Enterprises.


About Giovannini Enterprises and Villa le Capanne

Giovannini Enterprises is a family run business based in Volterra, Italy.  Founded by Giancarlo and his wife, Fabiola, and now run by his son Dario and daughter in law, Vera. This family have a real passion for Italy, their village of Volterra, tradition and authenticity.

Italian cooking

Giancarlo started out in the industry by working in the family pastry shop, Dolceria Del Corso. Many years later, the Giovannini family have expanded from these humble beginnings to what they are today, a successful and busy Enterprise business. They still own the pastry shop which you can visit should you be lucky enough to visit Volterra, and they also have a holiday complex, Villa del Corso, which is used for holidays and weddings. Finally, they also have a catering company. The Giovannini family really were entrepreneurs from the off.

The pastry shop, and Giancarlo himself, are famous for their signature Italian Cake, Millefoglie. Their customers say it is unique, fragrant, crisp and delicate in flavour. For weddings, the cake itself is created and brought to life on scene, directly in front of the guests. They get to see first hand, how the cake is assembled, watching the mastermind Giancarlo create a cake unique to the beautiful couple. The biggest wow factor is the cake itself, unlike anything you have tried before, it is truly melt in your mouth delicious. Honestly, I got to sample this cake and I can honestly tell you it’s like nothing I’ve had before. Ever. I just wish I lived closer so I could have some every week…

Giancarlo at work at a wedding. Image from Giovianni Enterprises.


I set off for the Italian cooking masterclass, on a crisp winters morning, to Haslemere, deep in the Surrey Countryside. It’s a beautiful part of the country – full of sleepy little villages and rolling hills.

Upon arriving at the most incredible house I’ve ever set foot in, I was greeted by Jo from Bookings for You (have I mentioned how lovely she is?) and offered coffee and cake. Yep, cake for breakfast – from that point onwards I knew it was going to be a good day. I have to just mention, the cakes were baked by Miranda Gore-Browne who was a finalist in the first ever series of the Great British Bake Off – she was also at the Masterclass for the day. I’m really not ashamed to say I was a little starstruck and I left at the end of the day very cross with myself that I didn’t get a cheeky little selfie with her. She was so lovely, bubbly and really down to earth – it made an already wonderful day even more wonderful! If you’re interested, Miranda has a kitchen school and does seasonal cooking classes as well as other workshops. You can find out more about this by visiting her website, here.

The Giovannini family were already busy prepping for the workshop and the smells coming from the kitchen were already amazing. Fresh herbs and garlic. Utterly delicious.

The menu for the day was;

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta

Chicken liver Crostini

Slow roasted Wild Boar with black olives

Homemade Ravioli with spinach and ricotta filling and a homemade cherry tomato sauce

(Vegetarian option was Aubergine with Mozzarella and Tomatoes)

Pici pasta with herbs and pecorino

Tiramisu

…and finally…

The show-stopping Millefoglie cake by Giancarlo himself.

Wow. What a menu!

Each dish was prepared whilst we watched and I truly wish computers could portray smell because it really did smell incredible.

Here are some interesting tips and points I took away from the day…

When making Tomato Brushetta, brush the toasted ciabatta with a cut garlic clove. Just a couple of strokes downwards to flavour the bread. It really makes so much difference.

When slow roasting a tough piece of meat, Wild Boar leg is one of these cuts of meat, pierce holes in it and stuff lard into the cuts. The lard melts when cooking and it helps tenderise the meat.

When Giancarlo was making the Wild Boar, he chopped all the fresh herbs and garlic by hand (you can use a processor but he prefers to do it by hand). Once they were finely chopped he seasoned them all REALLY well. Lots of salt and lots of black pepper. I was quite shocked at how much he put on them but when I tasted the roast boar at the end, it was to die for. I can’t describe it to you but trust me, it was amazing. The herb/garlic mixture was mixed with pork fat and then pushed into the cuts made in the meat. This is what helped give it it’s flavour.

The Giovannini family’s Tiramisu contained, shock horror, no alcohol, but it tasted divine. They just quickly dipped the lady finger sponges in espresso and layered them up. No Tia Maria in sight.

Fresh herbs will always taste better than dried ones. Fact. Fresh anything for that matter. The Giovannini family are passionate believers in having fresh, authentic ingredients. Each dish was really simple to make and there weren’t any complicated processes to follow. You really can recreate them in your own home (if you can find Wild Boar that is).

When making the cherry tomato sauce, leave the tomatoes to cook down and don’t blitz the sauce until it resembles Dolmio (I’m pretty sure the Giovannini family would consider Dolmio a swear word). All that was put in the pan to make this sauce was a load of cherry tomatoes, garlic, Basil, salt and pepper. That’s it. That said, the family bought their own tomatoes over from Italy with them and I have to agree that their taste superior to British grown ones. I should hazard a guess the lack of sunshine in good old Blighty is to blame for that one.

Food made with love and passion and care, always tastes delicious. I will remind my children of this when they are telling me what I’ve given them for dinner is disgusting…

I can’t tell you how much fun I had at the Masterclass. I met some lovely people and bloggers, I ate myself into a food coma and I learnt some really useful skills and tips to take away with me.

If you’re looking for a bit of sun and a holiday to remember, do check out Bookings for You. Jo is truly a lovely lady who cares so much about her customers and her business. You will get a service that is second to none and a holiday to remember for all the right reasons.

Thanks again Jo, I had a wonderful time.

Ciao.x

Disclosure: I was offered a place at an Italian Cooking masterclass in return for this review. All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.



Get your Bake On: Homemade Smarties Cookies – soft, squidgy and delicious!

Crikey, well, it’s been a while hasn’t it!

Happy new Year to you all and I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. By wonderful, I mean alcohol and food filled.

I don’t know about you guys, but our kitchen cupboards currently resemble the snack aisle of a supermarket on Black Friday. Smarties, Toblerone’s, Chocolate Oranges, Chocolate truffles, Ferrero Rocher, Pringles, Doritos…and a fridge full of random pieces of cheese.

In a futile attempt to cull a load of chocolate in one go, the other day I made some Smarties Cookies. The kids LOVED them and they taste even more delicious than the ones you spend a load of dosh on at the supermarket bakery, trust me, I ate 3.

I suggest using Smarties in my recipe because we had enough to make me morbidly obese in a week, but any chocolates in a sugar shell will work for this recipe, M&M’s, Minstrels, etc, will do the same job.

This is also a super recipe to get the kids involved with too. My littlest mainly just taste tested the Smarties and the cookie dough, but he tried.

Homemade Smarties Cookies Recipe

*BAKING TIPS*

Don’t skip chilling your cookie dough. Chilling it ensures you end up with gooey, squidgy, delicious cookies and not crumbly ones. You know, like the ones you get at Millie’s cookies *drool*.

Make sure you leave a lot of room between the cookies as they spread a lot when you cook them. I also like to bash the top of the cookies down gently as they come out of the oven to flatten them a bit.

Leave the cookies to cool down on the baking tray for 8-10 minutes once they’re out of the oven. This allows them to firm up enough to put on a cooling rack without risk of them falling apart.

Don’t over-bake the cookies, 10 minutes in the oven is really enough. They should be very pale and slightly golden around the edge.

Homemade Smarties Cookies recipe

Happy Baking!