January 31, 2010



I am brain dead.  I am way beyond brain dead . . . and I still have over two hundred pages of the copyedited PEGASUS to go.

            So let’s have another glimpse of the beast in question this evening, and I’m going to spend a pleasant hour or two cruising on-line plant catalogues* and then I am going to bed early. 

             In case you want to remind yourself where you are, the first two snippets of the beginning of PEGASUS are here:



             And while subsequent rewrites have done a bit of juggling and hey-prestoing**, I don’t think there’s anything that will prevent you from understanding What Happens Next.  PS:  Peter wrote the lullaby. 

* * *

              She looked back at the journal.  “Does my father know?  Does Danacor?”

              Ahathin nodded again.  “Certainly the king knows.  And the heir.  I asked your father if I might show this to you.”


              Ahathin said nothing.  This meant he wanted her to answer her own question.   But sometimes, if she said something unexpected, she got an unexpected response.  “Why can’t magicians explain what it is about the pegasi language that the rest of us can’t learn it?”

              Ahathin nodded as if this were an acceptable question.  “It is a curious skill, speaking to pegasi, and not even all magicians can do it—do you know this?”

              Fascinated, Sylvi shook her head.

              “We are well into our apprenticeship before it is taught at all, and many of us will already have been sent home to be carpenters or shepherds, for we will not make magicians.  And indeed there is little enough of teaching about it, to begin with:  Imagine learning to swim by being thrown into a lake in perfect darkness, never having seen water before.  Those who do not drown are then taught;  the best of them may then go on to become Speakers.  But that is the moment when as many as half of us are sent away, although by that time an apprentice has learnt enough that if he—or she—wishes he can set up as a village spell-caster somewhere.”

              Imagine learning to swim by being thrown into a lake in perfect darkness, never having seen water before.  “But the pegasi—they—they are so light.  They—they fly.   Drowning in a dark sea—I—it doesn’t sound like anything to do with pegasi.”

             “No, it doesn’t,” said Ahathin.  “It does not at all.”

              Sylvi knew the rest of the official story of the making of the treaty.  She was obliged to be able to parrot a brief accurate version of it as part of her training as daughter of the king.  She was obliged to be able to parrot a number of historical titbits on command (although why this was considered a necessary attribute in a princess she had no idea, her father sprang questions at her occasionally so that she did need to was not in doubt) but this was one of the few of her history lessons that were live pictures in her head instead of dry words in her memory.

              The first beginnings of the treaty had been almost insurmountably difficult;  not only was there the obstacle of their spoken languages, of which neither side could learn the other’s, but the pegasi did not have an alphabet as humans understood it, but instead had a complex and demanding art-form of which various kinds of marks on paper were only a part. . . .  The human magicians translated its name into human sounds as ssshasssha and said it meant ‘recollection’, and that it appeared to include or address all the senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, feeling;  although how this was accomplished the magicians were uncertain.  There were pegasi bards and story-tellers in some manner, presumably, as there were human bards and story-tellers;  there were also pegasi . . . they didn’t know.  This was the first time the humans heard about the Caves, and the sculptors;  but none of this assisted the drawing up of a document that humans understood as legal and binding.

              “Did we not both want this union very badly,” wrote the second commander, “such impedimenta as there manifestly are would have stopped us utterly and our company would be homeless again;  and I am grateful hourly that thee pegasi want us, for already I love this sweet green land, and would not willingly leave it.”

              This sweet green land was probably the most famous phrase of the second commander’s journal;  it was one of those phrases everyone used, like sick as a denwirl owl or mad as a mudge.  One of the first songs Sylvi had ever learnt to sing herself, when she was still so small she couldn’t say her rrrs yet, was an old folk ballad about a wandering tinker whose refrain was:  On the road to nowhere through this sweet green land.  The second commander seemed almost to be standing at her elbow as she read the old phrase as he had put it down the first time. 

              Both sides at last declared themselves satisfied with the final draft of the treaty.  “The pegasi ask for little,” wrote the second commander.  “They wish their lives—and their Caves, which appear to bee thee chief manifestation of their recollection.  But thee Caves lie many days’ journey farther into thee mountains that steeply rise from these lush and fruitful plateaus we humans desire;  Gandam says he is middling sure human feet could not take us there besides, and we have not wings.  Balsin laughs and says, Good:  that he wants all human forces to bend themselves to thee palace he already has in his mind’s eye to build upon thee greatest of these plateaus.  It is his own consort, Badilla, who has begun to measure thee landscape for this building;  she was trained for such work in thee old countrie, although Balsin says he married her for her beauty.  My own Sinsi says she wishes only to finish thee job of securing our new land from its enemies;  that what she most wants is to see her belly growing too large for its battle leathers, and a safe place where our babies may play.”

              The first song Sylvi could ever remember hearing was about the pegasi.  Her nurse used to sing it to her when she was a baby, and would then ‘fly’ her around the room.   The tradition was that Viktur’s wife, Sinsi, had written it for their children, although no one knew for sure:

              Oh hush your crying

              Your friends come flying

              In the plumes of their wings

              The south wind sings

              The treaty was written by human scribes and depicted or portrayed by some makers and devisers among the pegasi, upon thick supple paper made by the pegasi:  “Balsin would have it bee parchment, but thee pegasi demurred, that they did not use thee skins of beasts for such or any purpose, and proffered their finest made paper instead, which is very beautiful, with a gloss to it not unlike thee flank of a pegasus, and faint glints of colour from thee petals of flowers.  Dorogin did not like this however, and said there was magic pressed into its fibres, but Gandam held his hands over it and said thee only magic was that of craftsmanship, and as Gandam was thee senior, Dorogin must needs give way;  and Balsin looked at Gandam and nodded, and Dorogin looked as if he had swallowed a toad.”

              Sylvi gave a little hiccup of laughter;  the toad wasn’t in the schoolroom copy of the annals either.  But reading of Gandam in the beginning always made her sad, because of what happened to him after.  She’d never liked Dorogin;  he was one of those people who always wanted everything his way. 

              The signing of the treaty was interrupted by an incursion of their enemies, taralians tearing at them from the ground, ladons, wyverns and norindours soaring overhead to dive and slash from above:  “It is a new sort of fighting we must learn,” wrote the second commander, “for we have but rarely known aerial enemies ere now.”  But learn it they did;  and drove off the attackers with arrows and spears, and any of the winged company who fell to the ground were dispatched with sword and brand.

              “Balsin is the worthiest commander of this and perhaps any age, so I do believe,” wrote Viktur.  “And it is my honour to serve him.  But it has seemed to me in this battle that he is something almost more than human, and that none and nothing can stand against thee Sword he carries, which he won from its dark guardian many years ago, when he was but a young man, as if for this day.”   

* * *

 * Accomplished, thank you very much.  My credit card is having a lie-down and a stiff drink.

**And in fact what I’m posting here is also slightly out of date.  The terminally anally retentive, if they have by then finished cataloguing Everything in the Universe^, can create a list of the alterations next autumn when the book comes out, as light relief from their labours.  Like I cruise plant catalogues.

 ^ with Footnotes

Guest blog by B-Twin

Making a Wedding Cake


Part 1B: The Cake – Covering

Continuing on from Part 1A – Baking we now move to covering the cake. The purpose of covering the cake in this case is to make the cake a suitable base for decorations.

There are several common ways to cover cakes. The term “icing” (as a noun) gets flung about very easily. It could mean ganache (chocolate + cream), basic icing (icing sugar + water), frosting (icing sugar + milk/water + butter etc), fondant (icing sugar + glucose syrup + other sugary stuff), royal icing (icing sugar + egg white) or even buttercream (whipped butter + other stuff)! Here in Australia we use more fondant as a covering for wedding cakes than, say, royal icing or buttercream. This is possibly due to weather influences. Fruit cakes covered with fondant become airtight and keep very well. This is one aspect I really like! The other is that fondant provides a beautiful surface to decorate with flowers and foliage. More on that later.

The brief for this Work In Progress was: oval cakes, 2-3 tiers, gold board, ribbon around the cake and jasmine^ as the flowers.  (The bride isn’t into fussy or “busy” decorations). There was also a request for a moon or star gate – to which I said “too hard!!!”

Step 1: Preparation

Remember how we finished up with the baked cakes in Part 1A? Here’s a pic of the top tier still sitting in the tin to refresh your memory…


The decision was to do three tiers of cake – two just didn’t seem like it would be enough height to really drape jasmine on.

After carefully measuring the height of the cakes the top of each cake is removed so that they are all the same height. The cake is then turned upside down, which provides a nice level surface, and any little holes due to fruit shrinkage are filled in with a little fondant. Personally, I use 2 layers to cover my cakes. The first layer would be marzipan — in an ideal world — or “almond” paste. The second layer is the white or coloured fondant. The two layers enable a beautifully smooth finish.


(sorry it is a little blurry..)

Step 2: Almond Fondant / Marzipan

Rule 1: Cleanliness. All surfaces, including your hands, must be spotless. I can guarantee that fondant will collect every grain of dirt otherwise.

The marzipan/almond paste is kneaded like plasticine until pliable (just how pliable is a judgement that comes with practice) and then rolled out to a thickness of about ¼ inch. The cake is brushed with either sugar syrup or warmed apricot jam^^ to assist the sticking of the marzipan. The rolled marzipan is then carefully placed over the cake and smoothed down, cutting away the excess until you are left with this:


In this case it is “almond-flavoured” fondant as the first layer. (An average 8” square cake uses about $12 worth of real marzipan …)

Step 3: Fondant

The process outlined above in Step 2 is now repeated with the top coat of fondant (either white or coloured) except I tend to use sugar syrup or just plain water to dampen the surface slightly before the next layer goes on rather than jam. You can wait a few days in between the layers or, if you are careful, you can do it all on the same day. (Sometimes the lower layer shifts when you are putting the top layer on. Not good.)

Decoration that involves scoring or marking patterns on the fondant needs to be done before the fondant dries too much (within half an hour would be best). Once that has been done I leave the fondant to set before much more handling.


Rule 2: Water – be very careful with water when around fondant or royal icing! Sugar dissolves rather easily…

Step 4: Assembling the cakes

This is a weighty issue – don’t underestimate how heavy fruit or mud cakes are!

This is easiest done when the icing on all the cake tiers is set and therefore can be handled without leaving indents all over them.

First, each cake tier is secured to its own board with either a dollop of royal icing or a thin little “pancake” of fondant that has been dampened to make it sticky on both sides. This provides a solid base for each cake when they are assembled.

Then, preparations need to be made for the support of each tier in the assembled cake. This is done by using skewers. “Skewers?!” you say, “Like a satay stick? But they’re used on the BBQ! They couldn’t possibly hold a cake up!” You’re right. A satay stick wouldn’t hold a cake up! Which is why we use something a little sturdier. Something about the thickness of a pencil; made of hardwood, not bamboo.


Top: Cake Skewer; Bottom: Satay Stick

The skewers are measured to the height of the cake tier so that they will sit flush with the top of the fondant. Then cut to size before insertion into the cake tier.

Each cake tier that will be supporting another needs 3-4 skewers inserted – depending on the size of the cake/s. The skewers are inserted point first. For this project I used 3 skewers into the bottom cake to support the middle tier and then another 3 in the middle tier to support the top tier. (If you only use 2 skewers per level you run the risk of it being unbalanced and have a cake-tastrophy. Not a fun prospect for a wedding day!)

Once all the appropriate levels have their skewers in place it is time to carefully (and with much trepidation) position each tier on top of the other as designed. If the cake is to be transported assembled then it may be very wise to place a dab of royal icing between the tiers to cement^^^ them together. The boards under each level mean that the skewers can’t press up into the cake above and the load is distributed evenly.

The 3 tiers assembled

The 3 tiers assembled

Once all the tiers are all in place then royal icing is piped around the base of each cake to cover the join and provide that extra adhesive effect to the ensemble.


Stay tuned for Part 2: Decorations!




^  I have never done jasmine before*. I am a sucker.

* in icing, well sugar modelling paste to be exact. More on that later too. ;)

^^ “Why??” was Robin’s question in regard to apricot jam. I don’t really know. But it is possibly because it goes very well with almond flavours as well as not having sharp tastes or little berry seeds.

^^^ Yes. Exactly.

^^^^  Never, EVER insert pins or wires into a cake!!!



             I was late giving hellhounds their final hurtle this evening and was therefore streaking around town because I was going to go bell ringing, I don’t care if PEGASUS is 6,723,598 pages long.*  As we were bolting uphill on Market Street, which is one of those extra-wide streets from the days of farmers’ markets that involved entire flocks of sheep, a woman came out of her front door on the opposite side of the street.  This happens.  People live here, and they do things like go in and out of their front doors.  I do it myself.

             However she started across the street toward us saying, Excuse me.  Oh gods, I thought.  If someone is leaving dog crap on your doorstep It isn’t me.  I miss on footpath margins sometimes when the landscape all looks like dog crap, but I never ever leave dog crap on pavement.**

             I braced myself as she approached.  She looked at me earnestly and said, Do you have strong hands?

             Uh. . . .

             I should have strong hands, she said.  I’m a pianist.

             I almost said, And I’m a bell ringer.  Playing the piano and ringing bells go together really well.  You should learn to ring.  You’re right down the street from the tower.

             But, she went on, I can’t get the handle of my central heating to turn and it’s so cold.***

            Not to mention 7:20 on a Friday evening.  Yes.  So hellhounds and I followed her across the street and into one of the tiny, terrifyingly bijou residences that this old part of town specialises in:  the exposed beams and One Exquisite Piece of Furniture per room system. †

            She ushered all three of us into her sitting room.††  I turned her central heating on with my strong bell-ringer’s hand.†††  We left her settling down for a quiet evening in front of the TV.  Lady!  You could be learning to ring bells!

            We then blasted home where I shoved hellhounds through the door and took off again for tower practise. 

            I am barely upright and/or breathing.  I had a Very Bad Night last night, worrying about Fedex and PEGASUS‡ and when the alarm went off at the appalling hour of eight a.m. I was like, kill it!  I don’t care, just kill it!    

            But the Fedex man did arrive.‡‡   In fact he arrived at ten o’clock.‡‡‡  Peter and I did not have to spend the day passing the claustrophobia baton back and forth—ordinarily I like being shut up in my tiny cottage so long as there’s plenty of books, tea, hellhounds and broadband, but when I’m waiting for something suddenly the cottage is as small as everybody else thinks it is.§  Peter starts breathing a little harder as soon as he crosses the threshold here and the whites of his eyes show more. 

            I sent him home again. §§  And went off to hurtle hellhounds.  And then put my head down over PEGASUS.  Yes, I did break for a short cup of tea§§§ with Oisin and I went to bell practise.  But especially when you are holding your brain in place with green garden twine, you can barely get hellhound leads clipped onto their d-rings because your hands are shaking so badly from all the caffeine, and you’re hallucinating# pegasi in the corners##, you need breaks. 

            Bell ringing was not going to be good.  And Niall Our Gallant Ringing Master called for a touch of Grandsire Triples and Penelope the ratbag nailed the treble.  You didn’t move fast enough, she said, smirking.  Which left me to ring inside.  I’ve never rung a touch of Grandsire Triples inside.  I can barely get through a plain course.  Oh, it’s just like Grandsire doubles, they all said, the way frelling ringing people do.  Oh it’s just like . . . except.  Yeah.  Except it’s on seven bells instead of five and you’ve got two more dodges to keep track of.  And if you’re used to counting to five, counting to seven is a lot.  Especially if your conductor calls something and blows you off course.

            It was not a thing of beauty, my first proper touch of Grandsire Triples, but it was recognisable, and I had at least a third of a clue most of the time what was happening, and was sometimes already looking in the right direction before someone shouted at me—and, crucially, we got through to the end.  This counts as victory.

            And I can maybe manage another few pages of PEGASUS tonight before I fall irrevocably face down in my keyboard. . . . 

* * *

 * Which it isn’t.  Quite. 

** Which is to say pedestrian sidewalk.  And while it’s legal to let your dog crap in the street, I pick it up there too.  I mean . . . ewwww

*** It is too.  It’s gone below freezing again, the sneak.  Somebody tell me why all my hardy fuchsias have croaked.  

† My kitchen has both exposed beams and one exquisite piece of furniture, but no one would mistake the cottage for bijou.  Even if hellhounds didn’t disqualify me, the hellhound crate would.^  And the poor old tallboy badly needs restoring.  And then there’s the two foot pile of magazines.  And the kitchen magnets which say things like ‘Housework is evil.  It must be stopped’ and ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste on housework.’  And the fact that the cobwebs are dense enough to cast shadows.  

^ There are beautiful wooden crates in an assortment of fine finishes available for those with taste and a bank account the size of Lake Superior. 

†† Saying, please excuse my sitting room, it is the smallest sitting room in the world.  No it isn’t, I said, mine is smaller.  It can’t be, she said.  It occurred to me later that mine in fact had been bigger, before I put bookshelves on all the walls that don’t have either a window or a fireplace in them. 

††† Which was bogus.  It was one of those situations as where you can’t get the lid of the jar off, and you can’t and you can’t and you can’t, so you pass it to someone else who takes it off easily, because you’d actually just done it and had given up too fast. 

‡ Aggravated by this book I’m reading.  It’s one of these, yes!  This is the best!  Best bestbestbestbestbest!, and you are a FOOL if you don’t read it!  Occasionally I fall for these things.  I fell for this one.  And something totally horrible happens to the female lead—why?  It’s grotesque and gratuitous and why?  Well, so she can exact grotesque and gratuitous revenge, which I think we’re supposed to applaud.  I have the nasty feeling that this whole show is supposed to demonstrate feminism and how women Don’t Have to Take It.  Uh.  No.  That’s not what’s being demonstrated.  Not least because the grotesque and gratuitous revenge is also totally implausible and pretty damn silly.  The episode did, however, serve to raise my blood pressure and make it that much harder for me to get to sleep. 

‡‡ And it was PEGASUS he brought.  At 5 a.m. you can imagine all sorts of hazards. 

‡‡‡ I tweeted this at the time.  See what you’re missing? 

§ Colin, Niall and I are plotting trying to entrap a fourth person—my old ringing master, in fact—into handbell ringing with us.  We usually ring at my cottage.  We have occasional one-offs but we’re wondering if we could fit a fourth person in on a regular basis. 

§§ He tried really hard not to look tremendously relieved. 

§§§ Caffeine!  Yes!  Caffeine is your friend! 

# Well . . . I think I’m hallucinating. . . . 

## This is also bogus.  I’m always hallucinating^ characters and landscapes and monsters and things by this point of finishing a novel.  The characters and landscapes tend to be from the novel.  Some of the monsters are new and original. 

^ I think it’s hallucinating. . . .

Look at what arrived in the post today:

 IMG_0126 crop


Another writer friend—let’s call her Rosalind—sent it, saying that I could take notes on PEG II in it, and included a bookmark with a teeny weeny pegasus on it.*  And if you want such a notebook, you can get it here:  http://longbarnbooks.com/ , where indeed it appears in a number of guises.  Oooh.  I may have to have the tea mug too.**

This is the same friend who gave me a tote bag*** with Erasmus’ deathless remark on it: ‘When I get a little money, I buy books.  And if there is any left over, I buy food.’ †  It’s good to have friends.  After the previous few days and the immediate few days to come in the world of publishing††, friends are even more necessary than usual.†††

And I have to go to bed early so that I can be not merely awake but functional by 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.  Sunday service ring isn’t till eight forty five.‡  Fedex’s delivery hours are any time from 8:30 to 6.  Isn’t that lovely?  Isn’t that charming?  I don’t understand why we are swamped in terrible delivery services—there must be a dozen of the wretched things, all of them with oversized logo-besmirched vehicles clogging up our roads and polluting our atmosphere—when there is obviously a gigantic market niche for a good one.  Eight thirty a.m. to six p.m.:  this means, for example, that if you’re a private individual who maybe needs a pee occasionally, let alone has hellhounds with a high hurtling requirement, you can’t even get your friendly local health food store to take delivery for you‡‡ because ordinary shops are open something like 9 to 5:30.  I may or may not get a cup of tea and a rant with Oisin tomorrow‡‡‡ at the end of the day—but if Fedex doesn’t arrive till 6:05 I’ll be hanging from the ceiling and eating the wallpaper.§  If it arrives at all, of course.  Fedex:  Sure We’ll Guarantee It.  Ptttht. We Don’t Give A Damn, and We Don’t Care Who Knows It. 

* * *

* I have, however, got the wind up badly about pegasus merchandise.  I hadn’t thought about this—not that thinking has ever got me much of anywhere about the books I write—till Tasmin sent me about a dozen pegasus-decorated refrigerator magnets, each one more terrifyingly ugly than the last.  Zowie.  I was afraid to put them up because they might give the hellhounds nightmares.^  I disengaged with unicorns decades ago as a result of unicorn merchandise. ^^  Maybe I could write a novel about warthogs.  Or threadworms.  I think it would be hard to attract many corporate investors with threadworm kitchen magnets. 

^ For those of you not over-acquainted with the floor plan at the cottage, I have a kitchen the size of a Smart Car.  It contains a table, a tallboy, an Aga+, and a hellhound crate.  With difficulty.  And an assortment of dwarf appliances crammed under the stairs.  The refrigerator is immediately opposite the hellhound crate.  The crate door has just enough clearance to open past the refrigerator.  Just.  Sometimes it hooks a magnet or two in its sweep. 

http://www.johnwraycountrystoves.co.uk/image20.html  Theirs is a lot cleaner.  Also you don’t get the same effect when it’s not WEDGED among its environs.

            Mine came with the cottage.  I like green, it’s okay.  But I didn’t know they came in pink.  http://www.aveccookers.co.uk/aga-cookers-choosing.htm   Never mind.  Pink would be really hard to keep clean. 

^^ I have elsewhere mentioned my rage and despair when unicorns insisted on invading ROSE DAUGHTER.  I keep telling you what happens in my stories is not up to me. 

** I’d love to know the context;  a hasty Google^ isn’t bringing up anything useful.  But Louisa was a character—a single, income-earning, family-supporting woman who worked for women’s rights in an era when all of this was frowned on—she could be saying it in a story or out of it, and with almost any level of irony.  Is anyone still reading her thrillers?  BEHIND A MASK and so on?  They’re dreadful.  Really, really, really dreadful . . . but with a kind of intoxicating, page-turning, gothic fascination.  They make Wilkie Collins’ THE WOMAN IN WHITE, say, seem positively inhibited. 

^ I have to go back to work here in a minute.  —Sleep?  That would be what? 

*** Or I’d probably be looking at the Alcott tote bag as well.  I may be anyway.  A woman can never have too many tote bags.  The Erasmus is full of plant catalogues at the moment.  I was ordering snowdrops yesterday to cheer myself up.  And I’ve only just discovered that magnolia stellata comes in pink. http://www.hort.net/gallery/view/mag/magksjp/  Speaking of pink.  As I often am. 

† I’d give you a photo of it too only it and my camera flash don’t get along.  I can’t find it on the web, although other editions of it exist.  http://www.zazzle.co.uk/when_i_get_a_little_money_i_buy_books_bag-149606564280811630

            Or how about this incarnation:  http://www.cafepress.co.uk/brownbagdesigns.79598963 

†† Mmmmngghthrmmph.  Professional prudence—and a judicious fear of Merrilee’s wrath—keep me silent.  Unfortunately.  Mmmmmngghthrmmph. 

††† I also made a dog’s dinner of ringing last night.  Siiiiigh.  Niall, who occasionally has pity on the feckless, did not mention my diabolical new status at our home tower to the assemblage at our usual Wednesday practise in Ditherington.  He exercised no such restraint tonight at handbells with Colin:  feh.  And Colin is on the list of Top Ten Worst Teases in the Universe.  Feh.  However we were all going radically wrong tonight.  That was you!  No, that was you!  No, that was all of us, plus hellhounds and the ghost. 

‡ And I don’t have to sign my name Sunday mornings.  Although with the new electronic berserker screens all the delivery services have now that you scrabble at with a plastic sylus, neither legible nor identifiable is an issue any more. 

‡‡Our friendly local health food shop is happy to take delivery occasionally for good customers.  Peter orders my Green & Black’s mint chocolate from them.  By the box.  You don’t need to know any more, do you? 

‡‡‡ I’ve done a little work on my choral masterpiece A Pox Upon Their Heads this week, but not really enough to be worth showing. 

§ The cottage doesn’t have wallpaper.

Guest blog by B-Twin

How to make a wedding cake.

It is well established, I suspect, that I like making cakes. I dabble a little in the decorating side of things as well. Consequently all of my siblings have had wedding cakes that were made by me.

For some reason I was aware that Robin would be on the lookout for more Guest Blogs. (!) This topic will take more than one entry but here is a little insight as to what goes into making a fairly simple wedding cake (in case you wondered why they are so highly priced…)

Part 1A: The Cake – Baking

For a really successful cake (and lower stress levels) preparation is everything. So before you start to actually mix the cake you need to have a few things ready. I measure out all ingredients and have them ready to be mixed prior to starting the mixing^.

Then I line the cake tins (pans) with baking paper. The observant ones will notice that I have in fact greased the tins first. This is because I hate it when the paper moves everywhere when I am putting the mix in. I’m funny like that.


When I will be covering the cake with fondant I also custom fit the paper as much as possible to avoid wrinkles that will transfer to the baked cake. I want my cakes smooth for decorating.

Once the tins are prepared, the oven is pre-heating and all my ingredients are measured and laid out then I begin to melt and mix as appropriate to the recipe.


Isn’t it pretty? Shame my camera was too blown away by the brilliant red!

This particular cake is a fruitcake^^ and I am making quite a large quantity^^^ so to ensure my sanity I mix in a large tub.

Here’s a tip – life is a lot easier when you have a bigger spoon.


On the right is an ordinary wooden spoon. On the left is one I found and only use for fruitcakes^^^^.  It’s absolutely brilliant.

Once you have the mixture thoroughly mixed (fruitcakes are stirred, not beaten – they don’t need a lot of air) then it is time to fill the cake tins. This I do carefully to try and reduce the number of holes and gaps – the presence of which make the whole task of icing more work. If there is more than one tier of a cake then measurements need to be taken (even if a little crudely) to try and have all the tins at the same level. If you were to watch me do this you would observe that I not only spoon (with a dessert spoon) the mix into the tin in batches, smoothing it into the corners, but I also do dreadful rough things like whack the base of the tin firmly onto the bench a few times to help force the mix to settle. (Actually, I do that with all my cakes.)

Try not to eat too much of the mix before you start filling the tin*. Below are a couple of examples (not wedding cake) that show the process I use to fill the tin.

Filling the cake tin - layer by layer

Example 1: Filling a cake tin - layer by layer

A cake tin ready to be put in the oven, filled to the correct height and smoothed off.

Example 2: A cake tin ready to be put in the oven, filled to the correct height and smoothed off.

Important rule for fruitcakes – slow cooking is better! I protect my cakes by having them sit on cardboard and wrap foil or brown paper around the outside of the tins. (This is one reason why I can get away with only having one layer of baking paper lining the tin – most recipes say to line with 2-3 layers.) If necessary I will cover the cake with foil part way through cooking. Make sure that if your oven has a fan that it is turned off. If you can’t turn it off then have it on slow or you will have to cover your cake with foil. And turn the temperature down some more.

After the requisite number of hours the cake is removed from the oven and wrapped in a towel**. Not only should fruitcakes cook slowly you want them to cool down slowly – in the tin. (And the towels smell nice and cakey afterwards. Hehehe)

Cooked cake ready to be wrapped in towel

Cooked cake ready to be wrapped in towel

Once the cakes are cool they can either be wrapped and stored until you are ready to decorate them or you can decorate straight away.

In this instance fruitcake was used due to the fact that it creates a slightly more flexible timeline for the decorating – other cakes such as chocolate mudcake*** need to be decorated all in one go and just prior to the event.

Part 1B: The Cake – covering will follow shortly… :-)


^ I’m not quite so pedantic about this every time but when I am making cakes for other people I am very methodical. It’s also less likely I will forget an ingredient when I do it this way. Like when I was cooking a chocolate cake for the Show last year and forgot the eggs….

^^ The range of recipes out there is amazing when it comes to fruitcake. Please note that there can be a vast difference in what is called a fruitcake in the UK/Australia compared to USA. Here in Australia a fruitcake is a cake (flour, eggs, sugar, spices etc) with a lot of dried fruit added. I’ve noticed the USA tends to have recipes that involve more candied fruit and less cake.

^^^ This recipe uses 2lbs of fruit per mix (20cm/8” tin). I was doing a double mix. That’s 4lbs of dried fruit plus about 4lbs of everything else.

^^^^ Let’s just say I was not happy when I discovered my sister-in-law using it to stir soup that was liberally seasoned with turmeric. My spoon hides in my cake decorating cupboard now (and is labelled FRUITCAKE ONLY!)

* Did you know that a lot of fruit cake recipes, especially the ones with brandy or sherry added, keep very well as raw mixture in the fridge? Usually they don’t last long in my house… haha  You can freeze the mixture as well.

** Robin asked at this point “Why don’t they get SOGGY????”  My answer is “The towel breathes.”  If I was to wrap them in foil I suspect it could be a different story…

*** Dense chocolate cake traditionally covered in either melted chocolate or ganache.


Chocolate mudcake covered in ganache and fresh flowers.

Chocolate mudcake covered in ganache and fresh flowers.

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