Our wedding paper goods: part 2

Following my blog post about our wedding Save the Date postcards, today I’ll be sharing the story behind our wedding invitations. With our wedding being a DIY-fest, we knew straight away that we had to design the invitations ourselves. But where to start? Dreaming up a design was a pretty overwhelming thought, until I spotted this book in the library where I work, and brought it home to show Jim.

It’s a delightful children’s book, with flaps that open out to reveal information on how a seed grows into a sunflower. With our wedding theme being, well, flowers, I was smitten with this book, and thought it would be a brilliant (if time-consuming) format for our invites. Without me saying anything Jim knew straight away what I was thinking, and his initial reaction was, “No! No way. You cray cray!” (or something along those lines)

But Jim likes a challenge, and sure enough the next day he showed me a sketch for how he thought we could make it work. The other big decision we made very quickly was that we would print the invitations ourselves, at home, rather than going to a printing company. This was mainly because we were so particular about how we wanted the invitations to look that we needed complete control over them. That, and they were going to be pretty fiddly to make. Sure, there was a lot of Photoshopping involved, a lot of writing and a hell of a lot of printing, cutting and sticking…but we did it!

And we are mega pleased with how they turned out. I love that our invites don’t represent either one of us too much – they’re just very, well, us. It was Jim’s idea to include a soppy picture of us in the middle, and that just put the cherry on top. They’ve gone down really well with our friends and family, too: we had a fair few excited messages and emails as people received their invites. The thought of all our flowers stuck on people’s fridges around the country still makes me giddy.

Below are a few photos of the invitations in production, including our all-important envelope liners (yes, I went there) and heart-shaped stickers in the floral Liberty print that I love so much. Enjoy!

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Our wedding paper goods: part 1

Ok, ok. I’ve been a bit neglectful on the blog of late. Well, make that a lot neglectful. I had plans to talk about how catastrophically I’ve failed to achieve the goals I set for myself last year. I had ideas of blogs posts for recipes, book reviews, and more resolutions for 2014. But alas, weddings kinda tend to get in the way, don’t they? I feel super lame for blaming our upcoming wedding on my lack of blogging, but SERIOUSLY! Someone please tell me where the time is going. With just over two months to go until our wedding day, things have been slowly building and now we’re approaching Crunch Time. So I’m sorry little blog, but regular weekly blog posts will most definitely be a thing of the past until probably something like June, once we’ve honeymooned and all the wedding madness is over.

In the meantime, I’ll try to post some fun wedding stuff on here. A lot of craft has been going down around these parts lately, and I’ll share some of that soon. First up, though, now most of our invites have been sent out I thought I’d share our stationery with you. We are super pleased with how our save the dates and invites turned out – and let me tell you, they were very much a labour of love.

First off, we decided that we needed to do them ourselves. Jim and I had a very particular vision about how we wanted our paper goods to look so we knew the only way we would be completely happy was if we had absolute control over making them. This, of course, meant many hours for me sitting and writing out the same words again and again, many hours for him in front of the computer, fiddling around with colours and layout. Then we printed out again and again, adjusting colours and sizing…we bought a new printer, and a lot of card. But we’re so happy with the end results.

Our idea for the save the dates began with an old-style photograph we took at Bodelwyddan Castle. That photo is framed and hanging on our bathroom wall. We love it, and Jim came up with a brilliant way of turning it into our save the date postcard. I added some watercolour flowers and cute touches to our faces, and hand-wrote the lettering for the back. We then printed them out double-sided onto card. The floral pattern is a Liberty fabric which I am thoroughly obsessed with, and which very quickly became the theme for our wedding colours.

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Later this week I’ll be sharing part 2 of our wedding stationery: invites! Stay tuned…

Happy chocolate tart

Happy 2014! I hope your Christmas was merry and bright, and your new year celebrations equally so. Our new year was a lovely, relaxed one, spent with friends in a cottage in Cumbria. We walked, ate, danced, played Pictionary, and revelled in the company of the newest little person we know.

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Our annual get-togethers have become something of a tradition, as has beginning the year on the blog with a new-to-me recipe. Last year was cheese straws, this year it’s a chocolate tart from The Hairy Biker’s Perfect Pies. When planning food for our trip, I was after a special sweet treat to feed ten people – something decadent, exciting and downright delicious.

And boy, those bikers really don’t mess around when it comes to chocolate. This tart is rich, dark and very powerful – perfect as a dessert with cream, or a mid-afternoon treat with coffee. What’s more, you can easily adapt it with gluten-free flour, like I did. The recipe involves white and dark chocolate, but you could add a third layer of milk chocolate in there too if you really wanted to wow your friends. And wowed they will be! What’s more, it’s incredibly easy to make. It does require a bit of preparation time to let the chocolate layers set, but it really is a doddle. The perfect dessert! Minimum effort for maximum impact. Chocolate tart, I salute you!

(The recipe below is a slightly modified one, as I used a larger flan dish than suggested. To make a smaller version (WHY!?) then simply halve the pastry ingredient quantities.)

Chocolate tart
from The Hairy Biker’s Perfect Pies

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Ingredients:
white chocolate filling
200g white chocolate, broken into squares
100ml double cream

dark chocolate filling
200g dark chocolate, broken into squares
150ml double cream

topping
50g white chocolate, broken into squares

sweet shortcrust pastry
350g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
230g cold butter, cut into cubes
4 tbsp caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten

Large loose-based tart tin, greased

- To make the pastry, put the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add the beaten egg and blend until the mixture begins to form a ball. Transfer to a floured work surface or large chopping board and roll the pastry out so it is about 4cm larger than your tart tin. Carefully roll the pastry over onto a rolling pin and use it to lift the pastry up and onto your tin.

- Press the pastry gently into the base and sides of the tin, leaving the excess overhanging the edge. Press any tears in the pastry together. Prick the base lightly with a fork and chill for one hour.

- Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas mark 6. Bake the pastry case blind for 20 minutes, then take it out of the oven and remove the paper and baking beans. Return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until the pastry is cooked and very lightly browned. Trim away the excess pastry with a sharp knife.

- To make the white chocolate filling, melt the white chocolate with 50ml of the cream in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Remove from the heat while there are still some lumps remaining and stir until smooth. Stir in the rest of the cream and pour onto the pastry base. Smooth the surface and chill for one hour until set. Make the dark chocolate filling in the same way and pour it onto the white chocolate filling. Smooth the surface and chill for one hour until set.

- Very carefully remove the tart from the tin and slide it onto a serving plate. To make the topping, melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl as before and, while it is still warm, drizzle all over the tart with a teaspoon. Leave to set before serving.

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An engagement shoot

A few weeks ago, me and Jim spent a morning in Erddig, Wrexham’s beautiful National Trust property, with our wedding photographer – and lovely friend – Llinos. And we shot an engagement photo session! We didn’t originally intend to do one of these, as I’m aware that sometimes they can be a bit, erm, cheesy, but we thought it was a good chance to get used to being photographed ahead of our wedding day.

As photoshoots go, we wanted something informal and outdoorsy. We’re extremely lucky to live so close to the beautiful house and grounds at Erddig, and knew it would be the perfect place for a pretty outdoor shoot, with all the lovely Autumnal colours. We had a great morning wandering through the woods, climbing across tree trunks and strolling through the crunchy leaves. Llinos is a lovely pal, but also a really fun, relaxed photographer, and she put us at ease all the way through.

I love Llinos’ photos and am now all the more excited for that bit of our wedding day (five months and counting!). Here are some shots from the shoot. Enjoy!

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A Very Special Cake

An exciting post today! My lovely friend Vickie got married just over a month ago and I was honoured to make her wedding cake. I’ve been itching to share photos of this very special baking project but wanted to wait until Vickie and her new husband Bryn got back from gallivanting around America on their honeymoon. Now they’re back, here we go!

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It was about a year ago when I (half-jokingly) offered to bake Vickie and Bryn’s wedding cake, but when Vickie took me seriously, I thought, why not! This was my first proper wedding cake commission and paid job, so obviously there was a bit of pressure involved. But the wedding seemed eons away (an illusion which I now know to be false, with my own wedding rushing towards me) so we set about discussing flavours and style. Being in October, Vickie and Bryn’s wedding had an Autumn theme, so the couple wanted cake flavours that echoed the season. In the end we went for a top tier of fruit cake, middle tier of carrot cake and the huge 14-inch bottom tier was chocolate. After doing some research, I used Mary Berry’s carrot cake recipe and the delicious chocolate buttermilk cake recipe from the Bea’s of Bloomsbury cookbook. The fruit cake ended up being made by Jim, who is a pro in that area and makes ours for Christmas every year.

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Originally I was going to ice the carrot cake with a traditional cream cheese frosting, but after realising that the cake would be sitting out for hours, I had to re-think that plan. After some digging around online, I eventually found a cream cheese flavouring oil on ebay. I added a few drops of this to a normal buttercream mixture and it worked really well. The chocolate cake was iced with the same buttercream, minus the flavouring, and the fruit cake had the usual royal icing topping, but with a few drops of yellow colouring added to make it a cream-colour, fitting in with the other two tiers.

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My other issue, having never before actually baking a “commerical” type wedding cake before, was sizing. The internet helped enormously with advising on how big the tiers needed to be to feed the number of guests present at the wedding. I was also hugely helped by the lovely staff at Sugar and Spice, my local baking shop, who were tremendously knowledgeable, sold me cake boards and dowelling rods, and rented me the larger cake tins for £1 a day. Absolute bargain!

Once these details were worked out, it was time to actually bake the suckers. It was frightening how quickly October came around (although I’m sure even more so for Vickie and Bryn!) and suddenly the week before the wedding was looming. At this point I had to stop and be thankful for a few things:
1. That fruit cake has to be baked weeks before the event, so was already done and out of the way
2. That I have a great fiancé who was willing to bake this for me
3. That said fiancé was also on hand at all times to help
4. That Vickie wanted a “rustic” wedding cake, not too polished, with swirled icing (just my cup of tea)
5. That I work part-time

Although I love baking, I am now and again partial to a small meltdown when tasked with something challenging. I was determined to avoid meltdowns of any kind with this project, and told myself that I would not be staying up until 2am the night before the wedding, icing like a mad woman. Happily, I worked out my timings well, and was able to set aside time between shifts at work to bake both the chocolate and carrot cakes, and ice them all, without rushing. I finished at 11pm the night before, with time to spare to sit down with a celebratory glass of wine. Hooray!

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When the day of the wedding came, I still had a few jobs to do. With Jim’s help, I put the cake dowels into the bottom and middle tiers – crucial for stopping the cakes from collapsing into each other. We then carefully carried the cakes to our car – two in the boot and one on my knee – and Jim drove us to Eccleston village hall at about 30mph. With all the cakes at the venue intact, it was time to stack them.

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I had put together a kit for this part of the process, containing a couple of palette knives and extra amounts of each kind of icing in their own little bags. This all came in very useful when stacking the cakes, as inevitably they didn’t sit flush on top of each other due to the dowling rods. The entire cake sat on a large circular piece of wood, which we took with us – a cross-section of a tree trunk. It really fitted in with the Autumn theme of the village hall, which was decorated beautifully with all manner of Autumn foliage, berries and pine cones. There were hops hanging from the ceiling and hessian bows on all the chairs. So pretty! We set to work creating a rustic masterpiece using the foliage and adorable bunting cake topper Vickie had left for us, along with some blackberries we had brought.

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This was probably my favourite part of the whole process, as I love faffing about and arranging things. The excitement of the day, and being at the reception venue knowing that just a few miles away Vickie and Bryn were about to get hitched, also made me rather giddy. We worked for about an hour setting up, until Jim persuaded me to stop fussing with everything. I was really proud of our creation and reluctantly left it at the hall to head home for a nap.

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That evening, we headed back for the evening reception. It was a wonderful feeling seeing our cake sitting proudly in the hall, amidst all the chatting guests and music and happiness, part of Vickie and Bryn’s day. I was slightly dismayed to find a rogue trickle of blackberry juice running down the back of the cake, but no-one seemed to mind. Note to self: dry blackberries properly before putting on cake! The evening was great fun, but I kept one eye on the cake at all times. A few worries: the cakes wouldn’t be cooked all the way through. The cakes would be burnt. The cakes would taste horrible. There wouldn’t be enough cake for everyone.The cakes would fall over when cut. Thankfully, none of these things happened, and as I watched the guests going backwards and forwards to the cake table, I relaxed a bit. The two little girls sitting at my table didn’t even seem to mind me staring at them while they ate their pieces of chocolate cake (sorry, girls).

So all in all, a success! Vickie told me that there was plenty of chocolate cake left the next day, and they are keeping the fruit cake for Christmas. How lovely! I feel rather proud of mine and Jim’s creation, and am thrilled we were able to contribute to Vickie and Bryn’s gorgeous wedding. I’ll leave you with a couple of photographs of the newlyweds (taken by their awesome photographer Jade Langton-Evans), because really, what a handsome pair. Congratulations Mr and Mrs Jones!

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France on film

I’m a big fan of film photography, and although I don’t take use my film camera as often as I’d like to, I adore looking through the pictures. Film photographs have that wonderful nostalgia, hazy quality that is so popular now with modern camera apps – but I always prefer the real thing. We usually just get the negatives developed, then scan them in ourselves. It’s more time-consuming, but means we can choose which ones to print out and immortalise on our walls.

We recently got the film from our Summer jaunt to France developed, and with the weather round these parts turning gradually colder, I’ve loved looking through pictures from warmer climes. To sum up, we drove to the Loire Valley to buy wine for our wedding next year: via Paris, down to Batilly-en-Puisaye, where we stayed in a treehouse; through the lovely town of Gien, then through miles and miles of wine country in Blois, Tours and Saumur; then to Nantes, where we visited Les Machines de l’île. We then drove up through Rennes, along the north coast and spent our last night and morning in France looking out across the channel, towards home. It was a busy trip, but a really fun one too, and I’m sure these photos from our last holiday together as “single” people will bring us joy for years to come. I hope you enjoy this bit of Summer in your Autumn.

(You can see more of my film adventures right here.)

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Treacle toffee

Continuing with the Autumn recipes, this week is all about treacle toffee. With bonfire night coming up tomorrow, I wanted to tackle treacle toffee as a treat for friends and family. I’d never made it before, and thought it was the perfect thing to bust out my never-before-used sugar thermometer. Treacle toffee might sound very daunting, but I found this great recipe over on The Pink Whisk. Ruth’s instructions were so clear and easy to follow that I actually found it enjoyable, not stressful!

And this treacle toffee is the real deal. Dark, powerful and really chewy. It’s up to you how hard or chewy you make your treacle, it all depends on the temperature you boil it to. Ruth recommends 120°C for a soft set, and 130°C for a firm set, i.e. you need to smash it up with a hammer. I was aiming for somewhere it between, but mine ended up more towards the hard, smashy kind. Still delicious, but you need some muscles to break it up once it’s stuck together.

It did the trick, though, and was the perfect pairing for our bonfire trip with friends last night. We wrapped up warm, oohed and aahed at fireworks, went on silly fairground rides, and made ourselves feel just a little bit sick with too much treacle toffee. Well worth busting out the sugar thermometer, I think. Plus, we bagged ourselves what is probably my new favourite tin. Winners all round.

Treacle Toffee
recipe courtesy of The Pink Whisk blog

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Ingredients:
450g dark brown sugar
450g treacle
150g butter

- Line a 20cm/8in square tray with baking parchment. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and melt over a gentle heat until everything is melted together, stirring occasionally.

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- If you have a sugar thermometer now is the time to put it in the mixture. Stop stirring, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Remember, soft set is 120°C and firm set is 130°C. If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, the mixture should reach 120°C in four minutes and 130°C in five.

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- Take the mixture off the heat and pour it into your baking tray, being very careful not to burn yourself! Let the mixture set. After about one hour test the toffee by poking it carefully with a finger, if the imprint remains indented your toffee is done! It may take a little longer and a couple more hours for the softer toffee to set.

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- When you’re ready, lift the paper out of the tin. Grease the blade of a long knife with sunflower or vegetable oil and mark the slab into strips, pressing right down to the paper at the base. You’ll need to grease the blade after each strip. Then mark the slab into strips widthways.

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- Now you can start to break off the square pieces of toffee – although, like me, you may be best using a combination of your knife and scissors to snip the pieces off. It may take a bit of time and muscle to separate the pieces away, as they will be sticky and still setting.

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- Store the treacle pieces in a tin, separated by greaseproof paper. Beware, they will stick together if left touching! Something I didn’t know about treacle toffee is that it can be rescued if all goes wrong. If your toffee is too hard to mark out and cut into pieces, you can either smash it up into irregular pieces or put the whole lot back into a pan, melt it on a gentle heat until its all liquid again and pour it back into the lined tin to let it set again. If the toffee is too soft and will not set, heat it up again in the pan, boil it for two minutes and you’re good to go again.