2012 in review

Goodbye 2012 and Hello 2013! It feels like I was just seeing the New Year 2012 when low and behold we're celebrating another one. Is it me or is time on fast forward right now? It seems like the 90's were just the other day...


UK Cake shows 2013

The baking boom of recent years has been great for us baking fans, the shops are filled to the brim with cooking and baking merchandise and the number of cake shows has increased from 2 per year to 6 per year...and counting!


Christmas gift guide

Mr Star Bakery and I have agreed on a 'no presents' rule this Christmas. When I say agreed I mean forced but hey ho, who am I to nitpick? So instead I have converted my wish list into some lovely baking related gifts you can buy the baking enthusiast in your life.

And you know, if any 'extras' happen to fall into your basket then I'll gratefully accept presents you wish to send to me ;)


Vanilla tablet recipe

Nothing says Christmas like homemade gifts. There's nothing like receiving a gift wrapped package stuffed with sweet treats or bottle filled with home brewed wine. Knowing that someone had taken the time out to make you a gift is what the festive season is all about.

As I get older I get more frugal at Christmas (much to my children's dismay no doubt). I no longer see the value of buying countless toys for under the tree as no sooner are they ripped open than they're forgotten as the next unopened package calls out to them. It's hard to be frugal with the kids but I'm trying to fill the run up to the big day with festive style activities and involve them in making our presents for other people.


My Mum, the lady that started it all

One of the many cakes my Mum made

Today's a strange day for me. Every year, just as I'm getting my festive spirit on...I hit a standstill. The reason? Today marks the anniversary of the day my Mum passed away.

This year is 'Year 9 post-Mum'. It's weird to think that so much has now happened in my life since my Mum passed, yet I know full well I wouldn't be the person I am today without her presence in my life. She never got to meet 3 of her 4 grandchildren, she never got to see me start my baking journey or watch her children become the people they are today.


Star Wars wreath

I found this little plastic style Christmas wreath at the pound shop last year and I had an idea about weaving sweets treats throughout the gaps to make it look bright and colourful but then I ran out of time.

Then I saw my eldest son's Stormtrooper toys on the floor whilst tidying up and had an idea...


Yule log 'Forever Nigella' style

When I was compiling my baking wishlist last week I completely forgot to add on a recipe for the classic Yule Log. The tradition of the Yule Log has been around since the early 1800's, and is more common in European countries, but it's a very simple and delicious cake to make so I thought I'd document my 1st attempt and show you all how easy it is.


Peanut butter and butterscotch chip cookies

My friend Trista (a fellow US expat) hosted a lovely Potter-themed-Thanksgiving-style get together which featured board games, great company and more importantly my 1st ever try of homemade butterbeer (which was AMAZING! Trista's husband Rob is like a real life Heston Blumenthal!).


My baking wishlist

At any given time I have at *least* 15 recipes I'm dying to try out and websites like Pinterest have done nothing but feed my recipe hoarding addiction. So I thought I'd share an few that I'm hoping to try throughout December - I might not make them all but I'll have fun trying:

1. Peanutella - My friend Kerry from Kerry Cooks recently made homemade nutella. It was like eating lqiuid heaven from a spoon. I've decided I couldn't possibly better her attempt but I might just try this peanutty version from Smitten Kitchen.

2. Oreo stuffed funfetti cookies - anything Oreo stuffed is gonna be a winner in my book but this recipe goes to the top of the list when it's paired with rainbow sprinkles. Did I mention they're stuffed with Oreos?

3. Peanut butter pie - this pie has been on my list a long time. It may be the yankie snob in me but I want to wait until I can get some proper American peanut butter to try it out so I've been putting it off. I love this version from Budget Gourmet Mom as the additional ganache topping would help even out the sweetness of the peanut butter (just don't tell my sweet tooth I said that).

4. Chocolate caramel tarts - since I started working at Sweet Success I've noticed in influx of regulars who buy Buttercsotch flavouring. I never knew what it was used for until we started to accompany it with a caramel tart recipe. The recipe makes a tart which harks back to the days when caramel tarts were served at school and My Baking Addiction has created a chocolate version which looks incredible.

5. Chocolate peanut butter fudge - Ok, so I've just discovered I have a peanutty theme going on with this post but who cares? I bloomin love 'em! This recipe from one of my fave bakers Brown Eyed Baker is probably going to be a staple for my homemade gifts this year. I mean, who doesn't love fudge?? If you answered yes, please take yourself to the back of the baking class.

What recipes are you dying to try? Does anyone have any I could add to my list?


Double chocolate cake mix cookies

If, like me, you spend anytime online looking through recipe websites then you'll notice one thing - Americans seem to be obsessed with boxed cake mix. I'm not making a judgement on this fact as I think the UK has a very small selection of boxed mixes, and as none of them are especially 'wow' they're frowned upon as a cheap and easy option for non bakers.


The Star Bakery Christmas range 2012

I lurrrrve this time of the year. Christmas seems to inspire a 'marmite' like effect in people but I for one can't wait to put my tree up and get the Christmas tunes on full blast. I do have a cut off though - 1 December. I refuse to eat a mince pie, buy an eggnog latte or watch a Christmas movie until at least the 1st or else I'm liable to combust from too much Christmas cheer before the big day.

I have however allowed myself a sneak peek into Christmas this weekend by launching our new Christmas range. This is the most exciting festive range we've ever done and if the popularity of the products online are anything to go by then I fully expected we'll be booked up in no time!


Angry Birds at Sundown Adventureland

Happy 8th Birthday Finley!
My eldest son turned 8 recently and for once I knew exactly where we were going to take him for his birthday - Sundown Adventureland!

Earlier this year we'd heard about a new section of the park that'd been built and from the moment Finley overheard me talking about it he knew he wanted to go. The Angry Birds activity park opened in September and luckily his birthday is at the end of September so off we went!


[Mr Star Bakery] Being a baker's husband

Hello, my name is Phil and I am a bakers husband. In light of the recent baking boom we are an ever growing breed; we don’t ask for a lot of recognition and we take little credit for the fabulous baking that takes place. Our contributions to the business are often unseen, but can be very important. Let me tell you a bit more about my role...


Cake International 2012

Last weekend saw the return of Cake International. The event used to be yearly in Birmingham at the NEC but the recent baking boom has seen it expand to 2 new locations in Manchester and London so you can get your cakey fill 3 times a year. Yessss!

There are a few new cake events that have popped up this year but Cake International has been around the longest and attracts competitors and demonstrators from around the world so the range of cakes on display in the competition is always fascinating.


Star Bakery website gets a facelift!

In 2008, Star Bakery was a dream. A little hobby that took up some time and filled me with endless hours of baking pleasure.

In 2009, one of my lovely friend's offered to create a website for me which would showcase my work and get me established as a serious cake business in Notts.


Halloween at the Great Central Railway

My youngest son is train mad. He lives, breathes, eats and sleeps trains. We live next to a train/tram line and even though they pass every 10mins or so, it's so endearing to see him rush to the window and point them out to me like I've never seen them before.


Apple Crumble recipe

Apple crumble destined for the oven
The winter months turn my attention towards comfort food and when it comes to desserts, it's gotta be something cinnamony for me. I had a few apples left in the fridge and this apple crumble is so quick and easy to make that I managed to get it ready whilst cooking the dinner.


Piping nozzle collection

"I don't know what you mean, it's not like I have an EXCESSIVE amount of cake decorating tools or anything. Oh wait..."

Working at Sweet Success is killing my bank balance...


Nacho cheese dip recipe

In anticipation for Thanksgiving later this month I'm immersing myself in US culture by doing what I do best: watching repeats of Buffy and making tasty snacks to share with my family.

And who doesn't like cheese dip? Except for my friend Sarah who avoids cheese like the plague, but then she makes up for it by eating copious amounts of cake so balance is restored.


Having fun with homemade Playdough

Tri colour playdough!
It was half term in our neck of the woods last week and the weather was ABYSMAL! Recent transatlantic hurricanes have made me appreciate our relatively mundane weather but even my boys were getting sick of the grey skies that seemed to blight every attempt at an escape from the house.

My eldest son also took it upon himself to start to compile his Christmas list and this was paired with the annual "panic, we're not gonna be able to afford Christmas presents" mental anguish that I'm sure most parents experience this time of the year.


Cinnamon swirl cupcakes

Cinnamon swirl cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting
As an co-organiser for Cake Eaters Anonymous the pressure's always on to create something yummy to take along to our monthly meetings. I try and rotate my bakes so it's cupcakes one month, cookies another etc. This month was our Halloween themed event and I was really excited to see the cakes and bakes as everyone had such fun with the theme last year.


Game City 7 hits Nottingham!

Gamecity 7 is definitely this!
It's that time of the year again where Mum's lose their sons and wives lose their husbands all thanks to...Game City. No really, thank you Game City! Now pass that white wine and Pride & Prejudice DVD...

This videogame festival showcases games and game culture and we're lucky enough to have it happen right on our doorstep in Nottingham. Over the years I've done a few cakey things for Game City and I get so excited as the October half term approaches as my husband is a real retro games enthusiast and my 8yr old is slowly becoming attached to any games console he can find...


Sunday brunch pancakes

Pancakes are, hands down, my favourite brunch food. I love 'em. Preferably served with lashings of real butter and maple syrup (Aunt Jemima syrup optional).

The kids love them dotted with chocolate chips and whilst I can still appreciate the more traditional English pancakes with lemon and sugar, these fluffy delights will always have a special place in my heart.


Quick and easy marshmallow pops

My eldest boy (8 going on 18...) had a friend over for tea recently and it seems my dear son has been spreading knowledge of my love for baking far and wide as his little friend turned to me and in between eating mouthfuls of dinner and excitedly said "I can't wait to see what cake you made for pudding!" Uh oh...

Dear readers, I hadn't even made tea (they had a fish and chip supper) so the idea of preparing a freshly baked anything was not even remotely possible.


Oreo cookies meet chocolate chip!

Cookies with crushed oreo mixed in - delicious!
Yesterday I celebrated 25yrs of living in the UK. I moved here from the USA when I was 8 and though I no longer have a trace of an accent (indeed most people are shocked when they learn I'm not a fully fledged Brit!) I still miss home and I console myself by baking and eating the food from my homeland.

What could be more American than a chocolate chip cookie? I've mentioned before that I've found a cookie recipe I really like and it adapts well to any sort of mix-in whether it be chocolate chips, cookies, raisins, nuts etc. The key to making these cookies is to chill the dough or else your cookies will spread too much whilst baking and the cookie will become too thin and crisp.


Review Douwe Egberts flavoured coffees

New flavoured coffees at Tesco
There's a revolution happening in our supermarkets. With every aisle comes the introduction of a new product that seems to have a hint of 'America' about it. As a US expat, this thrills me to bits! I mean, it's easy enough to get hold of real American products nowadays but the price tag is usually high and I normally reserve my orders for special occasions.

One of my biggest cravings is for flavoured coffees. Anyone that knows me knows I'm not a big fan of hot drinks, indeed I love my cold coffee! But NOTHING beats a good Dunkin Donuts vanilla or hazelnut coffee - this is the drink of my people (by people read 'family'...)


Dough! It's time to try my hand at bread

My baking portfolio falls short. There is one aspect of baking that I have never been able to turn my hand to...making bread. Dear blog reader, please believe me when I say I HAVE tried; but it seems I am seriously lacking the patience that it requires to make a decent loaf.

But, I'm not one to walk away from a challenge. I came across a great artisan cooking school which is tantalisingly close to me in Nottinghamshire and all of their courses look soooo good so I hope to save some funds and attend a course next year (it'll take me that long to save up AND choose a course!).


Dinner time cowboy style

Oh yes, I made this picture big to taunt you with their deliciousness!!
I love the internet. Seriously, if you ever need a recipe you can guarantee you'll find something within minutes of Googling it. I mean, nothing beats sitting with a stack of cake books and pouring over the pages for the 'perfect' vanilla cupcake recipe but when it comes to dinner - I offer myself to the internet dinner gods.


Coconut cake recipe and photos

Coconut cake with chocolate buttercream
I'm a little under the weather at the moment but I wanted to share a recipe and some photos with you from a cake I made last week. The photos are working their magic is making me feel better as the cake itself was sooo good and definitely worth remembering!


Afternoon tea at Stapleford Park

Stapleford Park
This might be hard to believe but I have never been to a 'true' afternoon tea *shock horror*. Last week, this wrong was righted by taking tea at Stapleford Park after a particularly spiffing day out.

The grounds at Stapleford are lovely and the hall itself greeted us with a warm roaring fire which was amazing! The hall is kept rotted in olden day charm and I really felt at least 3 grades posher than I did upon entry.


Airbrushing with DinkyDoodle

DinkyDoodle Airbrush box featuring Dawn's cakes
I'm like a kid at Christmas - today is the day I get to break open my new airbrush and learn how to make cakey magic with it! Ok so that *might* be an over exaggeration but I'm still darn excited to be adding another cake skill to my portfolio.

A few months back the lovely Dawn at Dinkydoodle Designs very generously gifted me a brand new airbrush hot off the press. Any Nottingham based baker will tell you how generous is with her time and skills and I was so chuffed to be the new owner of one of her branded products.


My boys

“Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” 
― A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)


Brownie experiments

My dreams are slowly coming true and after my latest trip to Asda, I'm happy to report that they are continuing to stock more American classics! Today's find include mini peanut butter cups and tootsie rolls which are both welcome additions to their already expanding Hershey's range.


Nottingham Contemporary family visit review

Family fun pack
This summer, money and time constraints have resulted in a family 'stay-cation' for me and the boys but I am determined to try and do as many things as possible to make this summer memorable before my eldest starts Junior school in September. So Notts - here we come!

One place that I love to visit is the Nottingham Contemporary, a contemporary arts centre in the city centre. I don't drive and luckily it's positioned right near the Lace Market tram stop so it's nice and easy to access for me coming from Hucknall.


Chocolate glazed biscuits

I've been baking from my Be-Ro recipe book again and this time I found a recipe that reminded me of some biscuits we used to have in our school canteen. We had the yummiest cakes at school, isn't it funny how we can always remember the food we used to eat at school? I'm sure I still crave them...


Classic flapjack recipe

If you've been reading my recent posts you'll note that I'm going against my natural grain over the summer holidays and attempting to bake more 'classic' family treats.

Think; less frosting, more golden syrup.


Back to basics: baking the classics

Vanilla shortbread

Last year my Mother-in-Law very kindly gave me some awesome old school recipe books - within the pile was this old Be-Ro book which contains the simplest and most classic bakes I've ever seen!

Now, like most bakers I have a TON of baking books that I rarely glance at. This doesn't mean I love them any less (Nigella has her own shelf) but once you have mastered certain recipes, your baking books tend to become cake porn which only gets glanced at when you're in the mood.


Zero baking fudge recipe

Zero-Baking-RequiredEDIT: I wrote this blog post a few weeks ago and then saw that Maison Cupcake was running a zero baking event so am republishing with the recipe listed below.

So this week I decided I need to try something a little bit different and expand my baking skills to incorporate a new sweet treat. But what to bake? I have ZERO time in the day and most of the items in my baking cupboard are reserved for cakes this week...and then I spotted a can lurking at the back of my baking shelf...

Condensed milk. The key yummy ingredient in my favourite recipe, Millionaire's shortbread. I decided to have a bit of a scout around Pinterest and see where the evening took me and I low and behold I stumbled across a recipe to make 'fudge' the easy way utilising my can of milk. Huzzah!


PHOTO: Red Velvet cake batter

Loving the red hue of this cake batter pre-baking - can't wait to cut into it after it's baked!!


1st time blondie lover

I am a chocolate addict. There, that wasn't too hard was it? It's not exactly a big reveal from me but I do find that whenever I'm looking for a new recipe to try at home it normally involves copious amounts of the brown stuff in any of it's forms; dark, milk or white.

But one recipe that has bypassed me so far has been the great chocolate-less brownie - the blondie. Now I thought blondies were just white chocolate versions of brownies but it seems the addition of brown sugar gives them a caramelly taste that makes them quite distinct. They appear to be a cross between a brownie in texture and a cookie in flavour and they couldn't be simpler to make.


Summer holiday dreaming

So here they are, the summer holidays are upon us! I can't believe it's already the end of another school year and as my eldest starts Junior school in September, I'm feeling particularly nostalgic this week.

What are everyone's plans for this holiday season? I wish I could say our time was full of anticipation for our family holiday to *insert suitable location here* but alas one of the downsides of being self employed is the lack of savings for such fun holiday jaunts in the sun.


Making cake pops - a photographic guide!

I've been swamped with work over the last few weeks so my blog posts have been few and far between but I did manage to 'pap' a few photos when I was making some vanilla bean cake pops last week. I thought you might like to see them at their humble beginnings before they become the cake pops that we all know and love...


Buttercream piped rose cupcake

Buttercream piped rose - I will NEVER tire of making these! 

(Made using a Wilton 104 nozzle and lots of creamy buttercream)


Zero baking sprinkled fudge

Sprinkles make me happy
EDIT: I wrote this blog post a few weeks ago and then saw that Maison Cupcake was running a zero baking event so am republishing with the recipe listed below.


Before and after - chocolate chip cookies

Before: ultra dark chocolate chip cookie batter straight from the fridge

After: 7" giant cookie straight from the oven.

It were reet nice. You can make it too using the recipe here.


Working girl

The 'wall of ribbon' at Sweet Success. A true sight to behold.
Happy Friday readers! How are we all today? I can't believe July is just around the corner, when did THAT happen?? You know what this means don't you? My baby boy will be 2 this month, I literally have no idea where the time has gone...

So these past few months have been full of change and seen the start of lots of new adventures for me. I've started my new bakery venture - Swirls Bakery - which is going from strength to strength and we're busy booking into wedding fairs as we speak so that's very exciting!


Strawberries, pastry and whipped cream. YES.

Yummy dessert! So quick and easy to make.
Whilst walking through Nottingham the other day I spotted some fabulous looking strawberries on a stall in Nottingham city centre. Now, I have a real soft spot for a yummy strawberry and as my plants aren't quite bearing fruit yet I couldn't help but indulge and buy a big punnet to snack on. Luckily my boys are also strawberry lovers so we shared them all whilst continuing our jaunt around town.



What 'we' love about Britain - Happy Egg competition entry

Our 'Bake the Nation' competition entry via our new bakery - Swirls Bakery
Happy Jubilee weekend everyone! Now, this might seem odd coming from a very patriotic US expat but I LOVE the monarchy. This comment might inspire grumbles of displeasure from some of you but I am really enjoying the party like atmosphere that seems to be descending upon us all and my daily walk to school is now lined with union flags hanging from houses up and down the street - I'll be gutted when all this bunting goes away!


Worklife balance - does it even exist for Mums??

I absolutely refuse to believe that it's been over 2 weeks since I last posted. Hold on, what's that you're saying? What do you mean there's a date in the corner of each blog post?? Oh, oh I see..

Well, they say time flies and this past fortnight has gone in a BLUR. The cake business side of me is now focussing on my new joint cakey venture - Swirls Bakery - and the Mummy side of me has been concentrating on helping my eldest son through his Year 2 SAT's. I've also recently started my dream job in a local cake supplies store (more about that another time) and I feel like I'm finally starting to make a start with getting my worklife balance back in check! Woohoo!

Highlights - getting a new amazingly gorgeous Dinky Doodle airbush which I hope to review soon, finally getting a much needed hair cut, becoming fully booked for all cake orders in June and hitting a target of over 500 likes on the new Facebook page for Swirls. Hooray!

Lowlights - realising that summer is just around the corner and you know what that means...BARE LEGS. Ahhhhhhh!

I hope to be back asap with a lovely little blog post featuring the cake buffet table me and my Cake Eaters Anoynmous ladies made for one of our member's recent wedding. Needless to say it was cake-tastic...


My eggs are always happy

Edible food markers - a great way to graffiti food
Earlier this year new EU legislation came into effect which prohibits battery cage eggs and egg products - I for one am overjoyed about this new law as I've always been an advocate for free range eggs but as a baker you sometimes get caught short and on the odd occasion when my supermarket ran out of free range I had to buy standard eggs which would always succeed in making me feel awful.