17.09.2014- Adventures in Baking: Naked Victoria Sponge Wedding Cake

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

If you're a regular reader of these pages, you'll know that things started way back in 2009, the bits and pieces which I post about have evolved as time has progressed and I've grown up. However, posts about my adventures in baking have proven to be something of a regular fixture around these parts- and I'm relieved to say that since my first foray into making cupcakes back in the day, my skills in the kitchen have improved quite considerably. Whilst cupcakes are still a firm favourite in my baking repertoire, I've picked up some new recipes which have proved just as enjoyable to experiment with in the kitchen- including macarons and lots of festive bakes which have become real perennial favourites. However, for a fair few months or so now, I've been working on my biggest baking challenge to date- a wedding cake!!!

When my lovely college friend Katy told me she was getting married, it seemed like making her wedding cake would be the perfect present. We settled on something quite simple rather early on- a vintage inspired Victoria Sponge cake with tiered layers. Not only was this something which we were sure would be a guaranteed crowd pleaser, it was also a bake which would be easy to whip up in a comparatively short space of time- and which would be pretty hassle free to transport to Cambridge, where the ceremony was taking place. Whilst this was definitely one of my scariest (and biggest!) baking challenges to date, it was one which I enjoyed- so I thought it made sense to share the recipe and some top tips in case you're thinking of doing something similar, whether for a wedding or for another celebration. 

First thing is first- the recipe. I stuck to a Mary Berry classic as it is so straightforward and had worked really well when I practiced it. Obviously depending on how many separate layers you want to have, then the quantities are subject to change- I've listed the total ingredients I used for this three tier version in brackets: 

225g soft unsalted butter (675g total) , 225g caster sugar (675g total) , 225g self raising flour (675g total), 2 teaspoons baking powder (6 total) , 4 large eggs (12 total)

For the filling 
Apricot jam, buttercream and icing sugar to decorate.

1) Set the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/gas mark 4.
2) Prepare the tins by cutting out greaseproof paper circles, and placing inside each greased tin. Make sure to grease the sides of each tin well to avoid sticking.
3) Place the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and eggs into a large mixing bowl, and beat using an electric mixer on slow speed. Mix until smooth and the mixture falls easily away from the whisk. (I made each layered sponge individually as it was so much easier to make sure the ingredients were well mixed. And I didn't have a bowl big enough to fit in everything all at once!)
4) Pour the mixture equally into each of the baking tins, ensuring that the surfaces are level for an even bake.
5) Bake for 20-30 minutes, until each sponge is golden brown and risen. It's a good idea to check the sponges about halfway through the baking process, just to make sure they are getting an even distribution of heat, moving around the oven if necessary.
6) Once cooked, carefully remove from the oven and cool in the baking tins. Once cool enough to handle with ease, remove from the tins and allow to cool on a rack.
7) Whilst the sponges are cooling down, begin to prepare the ingredients for the filling. Measure out the jam, and mix gently to smooth.
8) Next, prepare the buttercream. This can be quite a messy process, but is much easier if you fully soften the butter in a large mixing bowl to start. Then gradually sift in the icing sugar, mixing together with the butter as you go and adding a little drop of water if needed. In terms of quantities, I usually tend to this recipe as a guide, substituting the vanilla extract for water.
9) Once the sponges are completely cold, turn the bottom layer of each tier upside down and place onto a plate. Spread generously with jam and buttercream before placing the other layer on top (the right way up).
10) Repeat with each sponge, and then begin to build the tiered structure.
11) Sprinkle with icing sugar and decorate as you choose.
12) Serve and enjoy!

Top Tips
- Leave yourself plenty of time. There's nothing worse than rushing through a bake, and this is a challenge which requires optimum levels of baking zen. 
- Make sure you use good quality ingredients- you really can tell the difference when it comes to cooking the sponges.
- Invest in some good tins- I used the Silverwood Sandwich Pans and they really stood up to the task. 
- Do your maths- if you're making several tiers, it's worth sitting down with a pencil and paper and crunching some numbers- particularly in terms of the different diameters which you will be working with. 
- I stuck to the basic recipe for a standard sized sponge, which became the middle layer. I then made the smallest (top) layer, but as the pans were smaller I had some excess mixture, which I then used to bulk out the largest (bottom) layer.
- Get plenty of inspiration- check out my Baking board on Pinterest for a look at some of my research!
- Think about logistics- if you're transporting the cake to a venue, it's an idea to suss out how it's going to get there. I did the final assembly and decoration at the Reception to make sure it looked perfect on the day. 
- Make sure each sponge is stone cold before you attempt to move things- they are pretty fragile. Also it's well worth popping each individual layer in the fridge to help things set properly. 
- If you're decorating with fresh flowers, give them a good wash and dry beforehand!

Have you ever taken on a baking challenge like this?

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)

14.09.2013- What I Wore Today #201

Sunday, 14 September 2014

As I mentioned in my post from Monday, sometimes you can't beat going back to basics and investing in some classic black pieces. It's a shade which is an undoubted wardrobe staple, and a truly timeless hue which is ultra versatile in terms of how it can be styled. A few weekends ago, I caught up with Lily for a good old fashioned natter over a Byron burger and some courgette fries before heading back to The Old Vic to see The Crucible for a second time- and it will probably come as no great surprise that my choice of outfit was suitably monochrome:

Top- ASOS 
Jeans- Noisy May (via ASOS) 
Sandals- Birkenstock (via ASOS) 
Sunglasses- Vintage 
Bag- Vintage 

This type of outfit has become something of a uniform for me over recent weeks, as simple styles are proving to be a real fuss free, easy to wear option at the moment- as well as being ideal for attempting to navigate this changeable climate of ours. I'd had this top in my saved items on ASOS for a little while, so when payday came around (and in the midst of a wardrobe sort out), I took the plunge and treated myself. It's a piece which has already proved to be a sound spend as I've worn it quite constantly since it arrived. You might also remember these jeans from my transitional round up- and again I've been getting plenty of wear out of them too. The relaxed, boyfriend inspired fit is ideal for lazy days, and they win serious comfort points too. Accessory wise, I topped things off with some vintage favourites, as well as my trusty Birkenstocks- which are rapidly becoming surgically attached to my feet! 

What are your favourite basic pieces?

(Image credit: Lily Safavi, please do not reproduce without permission.)

12.09.2014- Talking Technology: London Fashion Week Essentials

Friday, 12 September 2014

Up until I was introduced to the iPad, I'd never really considered myself to be particularly tech savvy. However, with an endless array of apps at my disposal, I've become well and truly clued up, and now find myself veering into nerd (or should that be nerdier..!) territory, particularly when it comes to looking at innovative, time and labour saving gadgets which fit into my lifestyle. With London Fashion Week kicking off imminently, I've been focusing on getting a little bit more technically minded, and am lucky enough to have been introduced to some amazing, ultra-innovative products, all designed to make life just that little bit easier:

Clockwise, from left: Misfit Shine, Eye-Fi Wireless Memory Card, QDOS Q-Pic, Bamboo Stylus Duo, Misfit Bloom & Oyama Power Bank.

Misfit Shine- The Misfit Shine is an activity tracker which can be used to monitor exercise, walking or even the quality of your sleep cycle. It's waterproof too, which also makes or ideal for swimming. Ultra durable and with a battery life of four months, it's perfect for keeping track of how physically active you are on a day to day basis- and it syncs perfectly with the Misfit app via Bluetooth so you can measure your progress. Regular readers will know that I've been looking in to picking up something similar to monitor my running, and the Misfit Shine has already made a real difference to my routine, allowing me to set myself achievable goals and keep track of how much activity I've been doing. With lots of walking on the cards during London Fashion Week, this is going to prove an absolute essential- and is the dream gadget for justifying those oh-so essential snack stops. 

Misfit Bloom-Although the Misfit Shine comes with a bracelet and magnetic clasp, the designers behind the technology have recently launched a more fashion savvy alternative- the Misfit Bloom necklace. Featuring a flower design, it's a piece which is super stylish and which still allows the Misfit Shine to get to work and monitor what you've been up to. Definitely a multi-purpose accessory worth checking out. 

Bamboo Stylus Duo- I don't know about you, but the notes section of my phone is completely full- whether it's with shopping lists, drafts of blog posts or easily accessible addresses. However, tapping away on your phone all the time can result in some serious finger fatigue, and it's nowhere near as instinctive as putting pen to paper. Thankfully, that's where the Bamboo Stylus Duo is the perfect middle ground. With a carbon fibre tip, it's ideal for pairing with apps such as Penultimate and Notability, as well as making navigating your smartphone and tablet a whole lot easier. 

Oyama Power Bank- One of the most frustrating things about long days at Fashion Week (or anywhere really!) is running out of charge on your phone- particularly when capturing something in the moment is crucial. The Oyama Power Bank portable charger is a real lifesaver, and ultra easy to use. Simply plug into a computer using the attached USB cable, wait for it to fully charge and pop into your handbag for those 3% battery life emergencies!

Eye-Fi Wireless Memory Card- Speaking of capturing the moment, one of the most enjoyable things about London Fashion Week is the fact that so much of it is accessible online. Whether it's live streaming of shows, or Instagram snaps from the front row, today it's easier than ever to feel like you're a part of the fashion week party, and I've been lucky enough to snap some amazing shots from catwalk presentations in the past. Although capturing snaps on your phone is great, there's nothing which can compare with the crystal clear picture quality of images taken on a DSLR. Now, thanks to the Eye-Fi wireless memory card, you can seamlessly share high quality images from your camera- no need to wait to upload them to a computer. Not only does this make it easier than ever to instantly capture and share shots across social media, but it's also a fantastic idea to make sure you've got plenty of storage space on your camera as events unfold. 

QDOS Q-Pic- For me, one of the best things about fashion week is taking the time to catch up with some friends. Last year, one of my favourite fashion week memories was queuing up with Michelle and Elodie for the Kilian Kerner presentation- taking some much needed shelter from the rain and enjoying a good old fashioned catch up. For moments like this, the QDOS Q-Pic is a definite handbag essential- a remote control device which allows you to take hands free selfies with bluetooth- perfect for a group shots and capturing those amazing LFW memories! 

Keep your eyes peeled on these pages next week for details of a very special LFW gadget giveaway! 

Have you tried any of these products? 

*Disclaimer: The products pictured above were all provided c/o for me to review. As always, my opinions and impressions are 100% honest.* 

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)

09.09.2014- Beauty Buys: Ren Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

My skincare favourites have been rather well documented on these pages over the last few months, particularly as I try to settle into a routine which my suits my 'grown up' complexion and keeps my face feeling as fresh as possible. Although my day to day go to favourites are ideal for cleansing, general lifestyle of late has left my skin looking a little bit tired, with a few odd breakouts here and there all giving things a distinctly more teenage feel than usual. Since I started working in central London, I've really noticed a difference in the way that my skin tends to behave, with lots of environmental factors tending seeping into my pores, resulting in excess oil production, blackheads and the odd zit thrown in for good measure. In short, recently I've needed a pick me up just to inject a bit off energy into my usual routine, and REN's latest innovative release is something which has arrived at the perfect time: 

Ren Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial, £32, Space NK

I'd read a fair bit of hype about REN's Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial online, and after spying that it had received the thumbs up from beauty goddess Lisa Eldridge on Instagram, I wasted no time in adding it to a cheeky weekend splurge from Space NK. This is a product which promises a lot- brighter, more radiant, photo ready skin in one minute- and boy, does it deliver! The premise is easy- rub a pea sized amount over your face, wetting your fingers to activate the super savvy, energising Vitamin C complex. After sixty seconds, rinse, and you're ready- it really is that simple. I've been using this little tube of magic every three days or so for a little over a week and have already noticed a real difference- it's definitely one of the best skincare investments I've made, and, in terms of noticeable results, packs a punch which nothing else has really come close to in my book. 

Have you tried the Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial? What did you think? 

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)

08.09.2014- Back to Black

Monday, 8 September 2014

If you believe what you watch on Netflix, then you might be forgiven for thing that Orange is the New Black. Whilst I'm still seriously behind on the show (always late to the party!), I'm convinced that, in the fashion stakes at least, black is well and truly here to stay. For the coming season, things are definitely shifting towards a more gothic aesthetic, with moody hues and lace effect details all evoking a Victoriana vibe which taps in perfectly to a darker sentiment. Whilst I'm trying to steer myself away from making more impulsive, trend-led purchases, there's no denying that black is a true wardrobe failsafe- and a chic classic which will never go out of vogue:

 photo backtoblack_zps6be03fe4.jpg
Isha Rope Necklace, £29, Z for Accessorize/Bambino Knitted Roll Neck Jumper, £55, French Connection/Etched Plate Bracelet, £38, Free People/Cedar Street Mandy Bag, $228, Kate Spade/Cheap Monday Very Stretch Jeans, £49, Urban Outfitters/Wonderland Black and Gold Watch, £65, Olivia Burton/Leather Loafers, £39.95, Gap/Combined Top, £25.99, Zara/Flat Elastic Chelsea Boot, £49.99, Zara/Star Hoop and Stud Earring Set, £8, Urban Outfitters.

I've already waxed lyrical about how much I adore the Z for Accessorize range, and this season I'm definitely tempted to embrace some of the more bohemian styling which is popping up in the shops. The gold detailing of this longer line necklace is perfect for punctuating blocks of solid black, and is a piece which adds an instant burst of glamour to any outfit. With winter just visible on the horizon, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been thinking about knitwear- and this roll neck from French Connection is a real new season investment which I'm sure I'll be making before too long. It's an instant, high quality classic which is brilliantly versatile and perfect for styling in so many different ways. With jewellery on the brain again, this statement bracelet from Free People is perfect for hinting at a tougher, moodier approach- and in lieu of black lipstick is a great way to channel 'modern goth'. 

We all know I can't resist a good bag, and this beauty from Kate Spade really caught my eye as it's the perfect staple. The cross body design is ultra practical too, and I think this is a real classic which would stand the test of time in any handbag collection. Speaking of classics, they don't come more essential than a good pair of jeans, and amid my research to find some replacement pairs for my wardrobe, this Cheap Monday offering from Urban Outfitters caught my eye. With a high waist and added stretch- I'm sold! Although my shoe collection is probably large enough to be housed in a separate building, one thing which it is really lacking is a good pair of black flats. These loafers from Gap are well and truly on my shopping list, particularly as they look pretty comfortable too. 

Back to accessories, and things don't really get more stylish than an Olivia Burton watch. This black design is synonymous with a timeless chic, and it's a real investment buy. On the high street, I've noticed that Zara are once again streaks ahead in terms of their new season collections hitting the shops, and this lace insert blouse is perfect for giving the gothic look a more subtle nod. These Chelsea Boots are again perfect for winter, and just add a splash more style thanks to the patent detailing. Finally, these earrings from Urban Outfitters are a lovely, subtle way to tip your hat to one of the new season's biggest fashion stories. 

 Have you picked up any new season pieces?

 (Image credit: Accessorize, French Connection, Free People, Kate Spade, Urban Outfitters, Olivia Burton, Gap & Zara.)
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