The Sinfulness of Chocolate 

Chocolate is a veg, right?  I mean it starts as a plant so it should count as part of our five a day.  Just like wine is fruit because it comes from grapes.  Hands up from those that are with me on this.  Anyone?

Because I completely forgot to do a birthday cake for our daughter earlier in the year I decided to make up for it when we celebrated a bunch of family birthdays a few weeks ago.  You know, she never said a word.  Once the lightbulb went off I felt really guilty.  A familiar feeling, I’m sure, for many parents.  Our daughter is a massive fan of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate I decided to go for a chocolate cake with ganache and raspberries.  Unsurprisingly, she was on board with this idea.

After doing a bit of research online and realising the recipes are pretty basic, making me wonder why I haven’t made it before, I used this guide from Add a Pinch to create my dessert.  I also made a chocolate cake as a base for this.  The difference between the glaze and the filling are the ratio between the cream and chocolate.  This is not a low calorie treat!

I did the filling first.  In a saucepan, gently heat a 1 cup/8oz of heavy or double cream with 2 tablespoons/1oz of butter.  Don’t boil or scald but heat until the butter is melted.

In a large bowl add 2 cups/11oz of white chocolate.  Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and everything has blended together.  If you would like you can also add a couple of tablespoons of flavouring, I didn’t to this stage because of the other flavours that I was putting together.  

Chill until it has a thick spreadable consistency.  Spread on the first layer of the cake and add a layer of fresh raspberries.

For the glaze, redo the cream and butter.  Pour it over a cup/6oz of dark chocolate along with 2 tablespoons/1-2oz of spiced rum and a pinch of salt.  Mix well.  This will be very liquid so it will need to be chilled a bit so it doesn’t completely run off the cake when you pour it on.  

Top with more fresh raspberries and serve.  I have to say this was a hit.  This will definitely be made again!

Roasted Bananas With Caramel and Chocolate

We still have a crazy amount the salted spiced rum caramel that I used for the apple bars.  So I have to either freeze it or use it.  The kids would of course vote to use it up as quickly as possible then have me make more.  🙂

While watching an old season of Top Chef last week I saw that one of the chefs did a dessert that had roasted bananas.  I was sucked in with my iPad so I was playing games at the time and didn’t really get what they made but the roasted bananas stuck with me.

I don’t eat bananas because of the texture.  It makes me gag but I like the flavour of bananas in things such as banana bread.  My family likes bananas so I thought it would be fun to try something new.

This dessert was super easy because the caramel was already made.  Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

Slice the bananas and brush with peanut oil and top with brown sugar.

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While these are roasting heat up the caramel and melt some chocolate.  When the bananas have softened and the brown sugar has caramelised a bit remove from the oven.  Drizzle caramel on the dish and place the bananas on top.  Drizzle the chocolate and some more caramel over the bananas.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts and top with whipped cream.

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This was a huge hit with the kids.  And then I put them over the top by giving them some more caramel straight up.  I loved the flavour but I can’t get round the texture of the banana.  Sigh.

Raspberry Meringue Nests Ooh La La

Yesterday I was really in the mood to create in the kitchen.  Part of it was I’ve been watching cooking shows this week plus we went to see Hundred Foot Journey this past weekend.  What a great movie!  Our son really wanted to see it and I’m so glad he suggested it.  Aside from the fact Helen Mirren is a fabulous actress the scenery and food was just glorious.

I wanted to make a special dessert for my husband just because.  A get us through Wednesday treat.  This called for more than Bird’s custard, it was time for crème pâtissière. And because I love meringue this had to be the other main component.

I was faced with the whole hot dog/bun dilemma.  You know how they put 12 hot dogs in a package and 8 buns in a package so you are doomed to never match it up?  The meringue recipe calls for 3 egg whites and the crème pâtissière calls for 5 egg yolks.  Sigh.

Because I needed a smaller recipe for the meringue then I usually use for the pavlova I found this recipe to use.

For the meringue you will need:

3 egg whites

1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

1/4 tsp of cream of tartar

3/4 cup white sugar

In an electric mixer with a whisk start beating the egg whites.

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On medium speed add the vanilla and cream of tartar.  Beat until soft peaks form.  Then gradually add the sugar while beating on high until the meringue forms and is stiff.

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Because I was making nests I spooned in the meringue into a pastry bag with a star tip and piped it onto parchment paper in the shape of nests.  I do recommend working quickly so the meringue stays firm.

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Bake at 275F/135C for 45 minutes then turn off the oven.  Leave the meringue in the oven with the door closed for an hour before removing.

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I turned to Julia Child for the crème pâtissière and you will need:

1 cup granulated sugar

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup flour

2 cups boiling milk (careful you don’t scald it)

1T butter

1 1/2 T vanilla extract

Place the yolks into the mixer with the whisk and beat on medium.

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Gradually add the sugar as you beat the yolks.  The colour will be pale yellow and once the sugar is added continue to beat 2-3 minutes.  What you are looking for is it to “form the ribbon”  This happens when the eggs lose the granular texture. This bit is tricky as if you beat to long it will turn back to being granular.

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Then beat in the flour.

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Once the flour is incorporated carefully and slowly add the boiling milk in a thin stream to the egg mixture while you are beating at medium speed.

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Add the mixture to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  This is where the the elbow grease comes in. You need to keep whisking as it comes to a boil.  It will get lumpy then it smooths out as it boils.  It will be really thick.

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Once it comes to a boil cook it for 2-3 minutes so the flour is cooked.  Then remove from the heat and add the butter.

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Blend it in and then cover the pot until ready to use.  You can refrigerate it or freeze it if you aren’t using it right away.

I found some Ghirardelli semi-dark chocolate that I thought would be a nice flavour for this dessert.

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I melted it and added a few pinches of sea salt. To assemble fill the nests with the crème pâtissière and top with fresh raspberries. Drizzle with the melted chocolate and add fresh mint leaves.

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I was very pleased with how this came out.  It was a great way to get through a Wednesday!

Gooseberry Shortcake

Gooseberry season is too short!  So we have to make the best of it when we can.  We do the usual crumbles which my son loves because he gets to make the topping.  🙂

For our last batch of gooseberries I thought I’d do something different.  I’m a fan of the good old strawberry shortcake but I thought I’d mix it up and do a gooseberry shortcake. The tartness would be perfect with the whipped cream. 

I got lucky with the shortcake as I didn’t follow the steps in this shortcake recipe.  I was rushing about and just threw the ingredients in.  Oops.  It came out a bit denser than usual but still tasted good. 

What I did was mix 2 1/4 cup of flour, 4 tsp of baking powder, 2 T of sugar, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/3 cup of vegetable shortening, 1 beaten egg, 2/3 cup of milk in a bowl. 

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You are supposed to cut in the shortening into the dry ingredients then add the milk and egg.  Which I know to do!  You would have thought this was my first rodeo.  Bake the dough in an 8″ greased and floured pan for 15-20 minutes in a 425F/220C oven. Meanwhile make the gooseberry jam sauce.

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Add about a 1/4 cup of water to the gooseberries and bring to a simmer.  As the gooseberries start to burst add a 1/4-1/2 cup of brown sugar, stir well, and simmer until it thickens.

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When you are ready to serve slice the shortcake and layer the gooseberry and whipped cream.

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A super easy dessert to make when you want a delicious treat.  🙂 The plates were cleaned pretty quickly!

Bringing the Fruit Cake to a Winter Wonderland

Hard to believe Christmas has come and gone.  So much preparation that goes on then you blink and it’s gone.  It was an absolute whirlwind.  This year it was our turn to have the kids for the day rather than Christmas Eve and morning.   Once they had done the presents at their mother’s they arrived to our round of presents and sticky buns.  Then a dash to my parents where the whole family gets together.  In the years past we usually pass a present out to everyone then we all open and see what each other gets, say thank you , that sort of thing.  I have no idea what happened this year.  It was chaos.  Paper flying, screams, excitement, confusion.  When it was done the adults just sat back and wondered what just happened.  Fortunately it quieted down and all the kids went off to play with their new toys, the adults fortified themselves with wine and beer and we had a breather.   My mum cooked the Christmas dinner and it was a lovely turkey with the sides.  It’s a lot of work but she pulled it off beautifully.  We both made Christmas cakes and she made a trifle.  That was delicious.

I offered to make the cake and mum said that we should each make one as we seem to be the only family stateside that never has enough fruit cake!  Our husbands would be happy to each have one.  🙂  This year I wanted to create a winter wonderland for the kids.  I bought way too much candy for this cake so we have a large bag left over.  What was in my head was much bigger than the cake!  I had to downsize a bit.  Ah well.

The recipe I used was our family’s recipe for the Christmas Cake.

I had seen on pinterest a few times people using sugar cones to make trees so I thought I would give that a try.  To cut down to size just use a bread knife.  Very easy.

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I set this aside and work on the other elements.  Once I start using the Royal Icing I have to work quickly.  I wanted to do a snowman so I used marzipan as the base and stacked them with two toothpicks.

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I then iced the cake and placed the candy where I wanted it.  I used sugar plums as little ponds. Had some gummy bears frolicking in the “snow”.   I iced the snowman.  At first I was obsessed on getting it all smooth but then I realised that real snowmans aren’t always smooth either.  Once I was done with the white I added the green and iced the sugar cone to make a tree and added some sugar pearls to dress it up a bit.

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To paint the snowman I used food colouring gel to draw the face and buttons.  To finish the cake I dusted it with white glitter dust to add a bit of sparkle.

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I was pleased with it and I couldn’t wait to bring it. When we were waiting for the kids to show I made the mistake of putting the dome over it and left it in the sun.  When I got in the car I noticed red puddles on top of the cake.  The peppermint candy canes had melted the red off!  It was a massacre.  Good thing I had taken the photos!  We had a good laugh about it and it didn’t change the flavour of the cake.  🙂

The “OMG I want the recipe!” Apple Cider Caramels

I work with a woman that brings in treats whenever we have a tax class.  Which is fabulous as she can bake!  Once she brought in these little apple cider caramels for us.  I kid you not, the reaction around the room as each person tried them was OMG!  So I asked her for the recipe and she said she found it on the blog Smitten Kitchen so off I went and did the search and found the recipe for apple cider caramels.  I finally had a chance to make them recently and not surprisingly they were a big hit.  These caramels have a wonderful burst of apple cider flavour.

As her recipe recommends, it is important to prep all the ingredients by the time the cider is ready as once the cider is reduced you need to get it all done at once.  This is not a hard recipe to do but you just need to pay attention.

Line a 13×9 inch pan with parchment paper.  It needs to go up all four sides.

In a 3-4 quart pan pour in 4 cups of apple cider (not the alcoholic kind!) and bring to a boil.

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This needs to be reduced down to about 1/2 a cup.  No less than 1/3 a cup.  This took me about 45 minutes or so.  In the meantime I gathered the rest of my ingredients.  In a small dish I mixed 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon and 2 tsp of sea salt.  Her recipe calls for flaky sea salt which I didn’t have so I ground mine a bit.

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In a larger bowl mix together a cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.  I also set aside the 8 tablespoons of butter cut up into small chunks.

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Once the cider is reduced it should look like this.

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Stir in the butter, the sugars and 1/3 cup heavy cream.

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Once it is thoroughly mixed put it back onto the heat and bring it to 252F/122C.  This will take about 5 minutes.

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Remove immediately from the heat and stir in the cinnamon mixture.

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Pour into the pan and spread out evenly.

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I let it cool down a bit before putting it into the fridge to set completely as that is a lot of heat to throw into the fridge.  This part takes a couple of hours for it to fully set.  Once it is set remove from the fridge and pan and place on a cutting board.  Her recipe says to use neutral oil on the knife.  I didn’t have any so I used a very sharp knife to press down.  I also put some wax paper over the top so I could hold it down with my hand.  If the caramel got to soft I popped it back in the fridge for a few minutes to harden.  That way it didn’t stick to the knife so much.

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I then individually wrapped each piece in wax paper.  3-4″ square should do the trick.

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They did not last long!  🙂

Pavlova with Cardamom

The other night I made Coq au Vin and to finish the meal I decided to try my hand at pavlova.  My husband has made it a few times over the years and it is a really delicious dessert.  It is a simple recipe that just takes a bit of time.  I also had pinned this pavlova from Bangers & Mash awhile ago so I thought I would try out my new spice grinder and take her inspiration of cardamom and add it to my recipe which is from Joy of Baking.  🙂

To start I prepped the baking sheet by placing parchment paper on it and drawing a circle around the plate.  This is your guide when spreading the mixture out.  Then turn the parchment paper over so the food doesn’t touch the ink or pencil.  Pre-heat the oven to 250F/130C

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I guestimated what a teaspoon of ground cardamom would be as I was starting with whole pods.  I ground them up very fine for this dish.

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The recipe called for 4 egg whites so the dogs were really happy to get the yolks!  🙂

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With the mixer I whipped the whites until they formed soft peaks.

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Then I gradually add a tablespoon at a time of castor sugar until 1 cup has been incorporated.  You want to do your best to get the sugar fully dissolved.  Mine was almost there but the dish came out really well so it was ok for me.  Once the sugar was incorporated I added 1/2 tsp of vanilla and the cardamom.

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Then I had to gently fold in 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch (corn flour) and a teaspoon of white vinegar.  Hopefully when you do this your dog doesn’t decide to go berserk and start barking as you are trying to sprinkle the vinegar over the mixture.  Instead my vinegar went flying.  So after cleaning that up I tried again!  Geez.

Spread out the meringue onto the parchment paper so the thickness is somewhat uniform.

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This needs to be baked about 60-75 minutes.  The outside needs to be dry and set.  Once it is baked turn off the oven leaving the meringue in the oven with the door ajar.  Let it cool completely before moving it.  Pavlova 7 2013

For the first layer I used Bird’s custard again.  🙂  I could just eat a whole bowl of that!

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Then a layer of freshly whipped cream is spread over the custard then topped with fresh berries.

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It is such a decadent dessert and disappears fast.

Easter Cake

Over the years I had wondered about the Easter Bunny and eggs.  I mean, bunnies don’t have eggs.  And having gone to church until I was about 8 or 9 I had a pretty good grasp on what Christians thought Easter was about.  No mention of bunnies or eggs.  Strange.  Recently I’ve discovered the history and it makes sense now.  Original Easter was all about the bunnies and eggs.  Way back when you had Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex.  Woman would put out red eggs about the time we celebrate Easter. There there is the Goddess Eostre and people also celebrated with eggs and also bunnies because bunnies breed like, well you know.  🙂

My Grandma was a huge fan of Cadbury Creme Eggs and she passed that addiction on to me.  Cadbury licensed the eggs to Hershey.  Sigh, not the same at all.  They are smaller and not as creamy.  Fortunately I have a source for the real stuff.  I love the mini eggs as well and as far as I can tell there isn’t any difference.  Yay!

Easter happened to be the day where the whole family could get together to celebrate my birthday and my mum’s so I decided to make an Easter cake as we’d have all the kids together.  I was going to do gum paste eggs but my daughter had a better idea of using the mini eggs.  Smart cookie.  😉

I made the fruit cake ahead of time for this.  And I did the marzipan and royal icing the same as I did it at Christmas.

I wanted spring flowers for this cake so I used gum paste for this step.  I mixed in the colour I wanted and rolled it out thinly and used the cutters to cut out the shapes.  You need to work somewhat quickly with gum paste as it starts to dry out.

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I then shaped the flowers and decorate the centers.  I used sugar and sugar pearls for the flowers.  I also shaped an Easter basket.

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Once all the gum paste decorations are done I prepped the cake with jam and the marzipan.  I whipped up a batch of royal icing and spread it on the cake.  I wasn’t worried too much about how smooth it was as it was representing grass.  I placed mini eggs around the base and in the basket.  I then placed the flowers on the top of the cake.  My son picked out the Easter bunny.  🙂

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As a finishing touch I dusted the flowers with pearl dust.

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It was a hit with the kids.  🙂  It was hard not to eat the royal icing as I did this cake.  I love royal icing!  But the sugar rush is a bit much.  🙂



Birthday cake!

Our daughter just turned 12 and one of the things she asked for was to have family for lunch. How lucky are we?  Oh and cake of course.  🙂

As her favourite colour is purple I knew I had to use that colour.  A month or so ago I found some purple sugar and white sugar pearls.  I wanted to do a kid cake that was elegant given her age.  That was as far as I got until the morning of the day everyone was coming.  Talk about a decorating block!  I just couldn’t think of anything.  Fortunately on the walk with the dogs I got an idea.  And it had to be done quickly as I had an hour to do this.  Yikes!

Not only does she like purple, she likes butterflies so I decided to go with that.  I whipped up some buttercream icing like I did for these cupcakes.  Before I added the purple I scooped some white into a decorating bag.

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I put a ring of frosting to hold in the filling around the first layer of the cake.  My blueberry jam was requested but turns out we had nothing left!  Time to make more.  So I used my apple jam.  Which my son loved so I’ll have to do that for his cake.  🙂

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Carefully place the top layer on and brush any loose crumbs off.

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Ice the whole cake smoothing as best you can.  Isn’t this a great purple?

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Next I used the white frosting to outline the flowers and butterfly.  Finally I got the consistency right and it flowed like it should.  In the past I was squeezing with all my might.  Too much work.   I used the white pearls for the centers and the purple sugar for the petals and wings.  I really need to problem solve getting the sugar where I want it to go.  There was a bit of colouring outside the lines with this bit.

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To finish it off I added some icing dots on the sides.

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She really enjoyed so I was pleased.  🙂

Christmas Cake part 2

Brrr.  This morning was 7 degrees F (-14 C).  Had to drag out the snow pants to walk the dogs.  Winter is definitely upon us as we’ve had 2 snow storms since Christmas.  We were spoiled last winter with little snow and reasonable temps.  I think we would be pushing our luck to get that again this year!

Once you’ve baked the Christmas cake it is time to prepare it for decoration.  For the next few weeks the cake has to be “soaked” prior to decoration.  To start cut slits in the top of the cake.

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What I did was alternate between orange juice and spiced rum.  I did make a rookie mistake in how I did the slit and ended up doing this.

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So I learned to take a dinner knife, insert it, and hold it open a bit to pour the liquid down the slits.  Just a bit at a time.  I did it every few days for 3 weeks.  One day with juice then the next time with rum.

A couple of days prior to eating I start the decoration.  I do the marzipan holly leaves and berries the day before.  I cut out the shapes and form them and put them on forms or a cookie sheet. For the berries I just round into balls.  Then I dusted the pieces with pearl dust.

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The next day (and last!) I start putting it all together.  I spread apricot preserves on the top and sides of the cake.

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Then I roll out marzipan to cover the cake.  I made the mistake of using a less expensive marzipan to roll out vs what I used for decoration.  Next time I’ll get the good stuff as the cheaper stuff didn’t roll out very well so it looks like a patchwork quilt.

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Now is the time for the Royal frosting.  Take 3 egg whites and a tablespoon of lemon juice, blend together in the mixing bowl.  Gradually add 1lb 4oz of icing sugar.

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Blend until smooth.  It needs to be spreadable.  It does call for a bit of glycerine but for the life of me I couldn’t find any.  It came out ok though so I didn’t have any issues.  Pour onto cake.  It won’t pour quickly as it is thick.  A trick my mum taught me is to dip your knife into hot water as you go to help smooth the icing.

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Place the holly leaves and berries as you wish around the cake.  I spread a bit of icing on the back to act as a bit of glue.

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I then had to hold the cake in for a 2 1/2 hour drive over mountains and windy roads.  We got to my sister’s in one piece!

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I think the trickiest bit is not knowing how moist you are making the cake.  I think that will take practice.  My family enjoyed it though I may have made it too moist.  Just a smidge over the line.  🙂  But I will definitely make this again.