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Anyone for Strawberries?

It’s June, the sun is shining (sometimes) and Wimbledon is about to start. Royal Ascot has just finished and no doubt vast amounts of strawberries and strawberry jam on scones were consumed. We’re no different in the Betty Bee House. Betty is a 5-year-old Strawberry fiend. Every year for her birthday I ask her what cake she wants, and she always says strawberry! What’s her favourite Ice cream? Strawberry – preferably with Strawberry sauce too! What does she want on her porridge? Yep, you guessed it, strawberries (or strawberry jam, she’s not fussy)!
This year we seem to have our own homegrown strawberries coming out of our ears (that June rain is good for something). There are too many for us to possibly eat them all, as much as we try! So I thought I would share with you a few things that we like making with our fresh strawberries. Give them a go and let me know how you get in on the comments.

Betty Bee’s Strawberry cupcakes
These were a “whip them up after school” recipe – they’re that easy! You’ll notice there are no accurate measurements – I made them up on the hoof (I was a bad mummy and forgot that it was Cake Sale day at school pickup, so we made our own!)

Makes 12 cupcakes.
• 3 free-range eggs (medium or large, whatever you have)
• Same weight of eggs in shells of:
• Caster sugar
• Butter or baking spread, at room temperature
• Self-raising flour
• As many strawberries as you fancy, chopped small
• 5 or 6 strawberries, either whizzed up or mushed in a bowl
• Icing sugar

Turn on the oven to 160C fan and line a 12-cup tin with paper cases.
Weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the same weight of the sugar and butter into a mixing bowl. Beat them together until they are soft and fluffy. I used my stand mixer, but a handheld electric mixer, or a good old wooden spoon will do.
Beat the eggs then add in gradually to the mix.
Gradually add in the self-raising flour (weighed to the same as the eggs)
Stir in a couple of spoons of the whizzed-up strawberries (and add in a splash of milk if the mix still looks a bit thick. It needs to be drop off the soon when you lift it up)
Mix in the chopped strawberries by hand
Distribute between the 12 cupcake cases and bake for 25-30 mins until springy to the touch. If you aren’t confident with the spring-touch-test, insert a skewer and see if it comes out clean.

Once cool, mix the remaining mushed-up strawberries with enough icing sugar to make a spreadable consistency, and dollop on the top.
Delicious!
As the icing has uncooked strawberries in, they are best stored in the fridge. Ours didn’t last that long …

Strawberry Ice Cream
This is another easy one, and when we made this on Sunday morning, we cheated a bit with the custard.

You will need:
A 400g tin of custard (or make your own if you’re being fancy)
A 500g tub of yogurt (we used Skyr, because that’s what we had, but any plain yogurt will do)
Honey
Chopped strawberries
Sugar
Water

I used the ice cream making attachment on my food mixer, but if you don’t have an ice cream maker, then blitz the ice cream ingredients in a food processor and freeze in a big tub, stirring every hour or so until set.
Mix together the custard and yogurt in a bowl and add in 3 or 4 teaspoons of honey. Pour into the ice cream maker and churn until almost setting consistency (about 20 minutes but refer to your manufacturers instructions). For the last couple of minutes add in the chopped strawberries and carry on churning. Pour into a large plastic tub and freeze. After 2 hours take it out and stir. The edge will probably be frozen, but the middle still soft. Put back in the freezer and leave for another 2 hours.

In the meantime, make the strawberry sauce. Now, I just made this up this morning, but the ratios are so easy you could make it in whatever quantity you wanted.
In a saucepan put equal quantities of sugar and water (I used 50g of sugar, 50ml of water). Add in double (of the sugar or water) the amount of chopped strawberries (I used 100g). If it’s easier to remember, the strawberries weigh the same as the water and sugar combined. Slowly dissolve the sugar and stir in the strawberries, mushing with the spoon as you go. When the sugar is dissolved let it come to the boil and simmer until you have a nice saucy consistency and the strawberries have almost disintegrated. This isn’t jam, so don’t worry about boiling points, just make sure to stir so the sugar doesn’t stick and burn.
Turn off the heat and leave to sit for about 5 minutes. Carefully pour through a sieve into a bowl and mush through any remaining lumps of strawberry. Discard the seeds. Pour into a squirty bottle thing and sore int eh fridge for up to 5 days. Great on pancakes too!
When your ice cream is frozen scoop into bowls or cones and drizzle on the sauce. Betty has given me a thumb’s up for this one!

Strawberry Jam
A classic, and something I love making. My mum used to make vats of the stuff because we always had a glut of strawberries. My recipe is how my mum makes jam and is pretty basic. There are loads of other recipes out there, but this is so easy to remember. You just need to make sure you trust your instinct and don’t let it over-cook.

Equal weight of chopped strawberries and granulated sugar (jam sugar is great to use if you can get hold of it)
A squirt of lemon juice
Water (for 1kg of strawberries you will need about 80ml of water)
A jam thermometer

Put a couple of saucers or small plates in the freezer (trust me, I haven’t gone barmy).

Put the strawberries and sugar in the bottom of a large, heavy-based pan (use the biggest one you have – you don’t want it boiling over). Mush them up together a bit so the sugar starts dissolving in the juices. Add in a squirt of lemon juice and the water.

Put your jam thermometer in the pan. Put the pan on a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. This is really important; you don’t want to feel grainy bits under your spoon. Once dissolved turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, but trying not to splash too much up the sides. Don’t let it catch on the bottom, your jam will taste of burnt sugar.

After 20 mins switch the heat off, let the boil settle for a moment then take a teaspoon of jam and put it on one of your frozen saucers. Let it cool for a few minutes (you’re going to stick your finger in it, so you don’t want to do that in boiling jam!), then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles your jam is set, if not, boil it for a couple more minutes and test again. Repeat until it’s ready – or you get bored, whichever comes first. Some days you just have to accept that your jam is going to be more of a pouring than a spreading consistency!

Leave it to stand for 10-15 minutes, scrape any scummy bits off the top and stir to distribute the fruit. CAREFULLY pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal tight.

Leave them to cool (wait for the popping sounds as the lids seal airtight – so satisfying), label them up, then store in a cool dark place. Enjoy on your toast, scones, porridge (a la Betty) or however you want to eat your jam.

I hope you give these a go, I’m off to rescue some more ripe strawberries from the woodlice (they love them as much as Betty!).

Getting the most from a Wedding Fayre

I love a wedding fayre. The chance to wander around, browse all manner of things that you didn’t even realise you needed for your wedding. Ogling the beautiful dresses, sampling some cake, having a makeover, admiring the beautiful vintage car your fiancé/fiancée REALLY must have as your transport on the day. It’s all rather lovely. But it can also be a tad overwhelming.

 

So what do you do to get the most out of the day (and out of us exhibitors)?

 

*** At this point I suggest you grab a cuppa and a slice of cake, this is a longer than usual blog post ***

 

Pre-registration for a fayre always comes with perks. Most provide a show guide or list of exhibitors before the show. Use this to plan who you might want to talk to and cross off suppliers you already have in place. Check out the websites and social media of exhibitors to see if they appeal to you. Be savvy and you will come home with more than if you randomly browsed.

 

Here is what you should be asking your exhibitors:

 

  • Where are you based? If the exhibitor is happy to travel (and you are happy to pay the cost) this isn’t so important. But for things such as flowers, cake, cars, choosing a local supplier is a good move. Do you want your cake to travel for a couple of hours to reach you? Think of the speed bumps, think of the time sat in the boot of a car in unregulated temperatures. Think of the potential for disaster. I have done it before. I once delivered my friend’s wedding cake from Windsor to Cardiff. In 32C heat. On a Friday afternoon on the M4. It was nerve wracking for me, for my husband who was driving, and for my friend. The cake survived, and everyone loved it, but it had started to wilt a bit in the heat. It wasn’t as perfect as I would have hoped.
  • What are the trends for the upcoming season/next year? Test the exhibitor’s knowledge. Do they sound like they are confident on their subject matter? Not just on trends but their own ideas too. Do you share similar tastes? Can you feel a rapport with them? Planning a wedding can take months, even years. You will be communicating with these people regularly. If you don’t get on with them, will you want to approach them to ask questions?
  • Pricing – don’t be afraid to talk money (after all, weddings can cost a lot!). It is a waste of time for you and the exhibitor to be having a lovely old chat if you are then not within each other’s budget expectations. Ask starting price, ask special show offers. Feel free to say to them, politely, that you expected to pay less (or more). A good supplier will offer suggestions to meet your budget, or alternative suppliers you might wish to talk to. They won’t judge you, we all know everything runs to a budget – hey, us exhibitors are running a business! But also, bear that in mind. You wouldn’t work for less than minimum wage, so don’t expect us to …
  • How far in advance would we need to book? Always a good question and worth asking, especially if your wedding is six months or less away (it can be done – my own wedding to Mr Betty Bee was four months from setting the date to W-Day). It will also give you some idea of how to apply your budget and when to expect to pay out for certain things.
  • Do you offer samples? I’m not just talking cake here – stationery, fabrics, flowers even. Ask for samples. Can’t get a sample, ask for a brochure. Can you take photos (some exhibitors will say no, but some will be more than happy for you to take a record of their work). Don’t be THAT couple who are like scavengers on a junk yard reality TV show, helping themselves to all the freebies they can lay their hands on. But a bit of careful collecting of items to take home and consider at your leisure is always a good plan.
  • Where can we view your work? Social media, websites, magazines, customer testimonials. If the supplier isn’t happy to share, politely make your excuses and move on. We have created a product for you and paid good money to stand at the Wedding Fayre, we should be shouting it from the rooftops.
  • How many weddings do you work on per week? This depends on the product and the size of the company you are talking to. With cakes, for example, I would aim to only have one wedding cake to deliver and set up per day. This is a s much for my own sanity as anything else. Depending on design and timings I can theoretically accommodate up to four cakes per week in high season. But I will probably choose not to do that. Feel free to ask a supplier if they will be exclusively supplying your wedding that day. If not, ask about logistics. You are paying a lot of money for a service, you are allowed to satisfy yourself you will receive that service.
  • Do you have a mailing list / business card? Take the exhibitors contact details and sign up to their mailing lists. This is the best way of keeping them in mind for when you are ready to commit to that all-important booking!

 

So that’s quite a big list, but this is a two-way conversation. Remember I said be prepared. Well, here’s your pre-show homework:

 

  • Have you set a date yet? If the answer is Yes – brilliant! We know you are serious and on the hunt for suppliers. Let’s talk date and availability. If the answer is No, that isn’t the end of the world. Give us some encouragement! Tell us the season/month and year you are hoping to marry in. But if you are just browsing with no specific timeframe, be aware that suppliers want to pin down the couples who have potential to book with them imminently. I’m happy to chat to everyone, but I know some suppliers who won’t even bother speaking to couples who are just browsing with no specific date in mind.
  • Have you got a venue in mind? This influences everything: date, budget, style, ease of set-up for a vendor, potential cost. The weather can have an impact too. Remember the cake I took from Windsor to Wales on the hottest weekend of the year so far? It survived that, but then had to sit in a marquee with no air con all afternoon. Luckily the design stood up to the conditions, but a buttercream-covered cake, or a semi-naked one, may not have fared so well.
  • Have you got a style/theme in mind? I like to mix up my designs, I don’t necessarily have a specific style. Other suppliers might have very definite design influences. Does it fit your ideas? Can we make it work? If I don’t think I can do justice to your theme I won’t waste your time. So share your inspiration and I’ll see if our ideas match.
  • How long have you been planning the wedding? This isn’t necessarily an important question, but I’m nosey. It can also help me understand where you are in the process. You may have been planning for a couple of years, devoting every free moment to your mood boards and supplier search (and sneaking in some planning at work too!). If you have mission fatigue then I know I need to take decisive action to get your order. Alternatively, if you are new to the planning game, then I can help you mould your idea over a longer period. Although be warned, I once met a couple at a wedding fayre who had only been engaged for a week! The poor man looked like a rabbit in the headlights. I suspect they didn’t make it much further down the planning route, let alone all the way to the vows!

 

 

 

The main thing about a wedding fayre is to enjoy it. As an exhibitor I certainly do. I love chatting to couples and hearing about their plans, I love sharing my knowledge with them. I also love chatting to my fellow exhibitors (some who have become friends), networking and sharing experiences with them. It’s hard work for the exhibitors and for the visitors, but it can be so worthwhile. So, plan who you want to see and what you want to learn about, go prepared with a pen and paper and lots of questions. Wear comfy shoes! But above all, come back home with a bag full of leaflets and a head full of ideas.

 

 

Happy Wedding Fayre,

Clare

 

If you want to see where I am next exhibiting, then check out the welcome page for updates.

 

Trend setter or dedicated follower of fashion?

In the world of weddings there is always huge anticipation at the beginning of December to see what Pantone will announce as their next colour of the year. There is a flurry of posts on social media from across the industry announcing the colour and Pinterest is suddenly awash with co-ordinating mood boards. Brides and Grooms (and wedding professionals) across the nation suddenly rethink their colour schemes for their upcoming nuptials.
For 2019 it is an interesting shade of pink called Living Coral (shade 16-1546 to be precise).
But here’s the thing. When Pantone announced 2019’s colour it was met with, well, indifference, by a lot of people across the industry, but especially in the world of Wedding Cakes. There are an awful lot of us cake artists who don’t really like it (me included – sorry)! It’s a bit of a funny colour. Not really pink, not really orange. I grew up in the 80s, it gives me memories of coral shell suits, rara skirts and spending my pocket money on some shockingly awful pink shades of eyeshadow in the local chemist on a Saturday afternoon.
In moderation, I can see a few coral flowers here or there, maybe a coral lustre on one tier. I have seen some beautiful examples of cakes using coral pink, navy, ivory and gold. But I’m still not feeling the love for it. In contrast, Bride magazine have just published their colour trends for Autumn/Winter 2019/2020 and I love the combinations they are suggesting. There are shades of rich blue, flashes of antique gold and mustard. Mossy greens and rich browns are autumnal and cosy and there is that autumn classic of plumy red wines and deep oranges.

So here is the thing: as a couple designing your wedding, should you follow the trends, or should you set them?
There are pros and cons to both.
If a colour or trend is, well, on trend, it will be everywhere. You will easily find items for your wedding in your chosen hues. It will be easy to find matching or coordinating accessories. This could save you time and money. Items will be easily sourced and readily available on the high street. Mood boards on that theme will be everywhere, from Pinterest, to bridal magazines and across social media.
But do you want to have a wedding that looks the same as everyone else?

 

One summer I attended six weddings in the space of five months. All of them friends from either university or work. We were in our early 20s, and in a lot of cases, a bit short of cash too. With the exception of one Hindi wedding (amazing experience, I loved it) and one where my incredibly talented crafter friend only invited 20 people and made a lot of the accessories, the others were very “on trend”. But not very individual. Don’t misunderstand me, I had a fabulous time at all of them. But looking back now with a designer’s eye, they were all the same colours (pastels were in). It’s something to bear in mind if you have friends getting married in the same season as you.
And as for your cake artist, wedding planner etc. not enjoying your theme? My job is to bring your vision to life, and I will do my utmost to do that in a spectacular fashion. Whatever your theme. So pick your tribe – leader of the pack or fashion follower. Or somewhere in between. It’s your wedding, do what makes you happy (that’s a whole other blog post)!