The most selfish Christmas presents I ever made? Vouchers for a cupcake decorating class for the sisters-in-law. Of course, I had to get one for myself, too. After all, it was about spending time together. Decorating culinary delights and stuffing our faces was just the icing on the cake.
During one of my daily strolls around Islington, I was walking past The Make Lounge – a little workshop that offers crafty day and evening classes to ‘meet people. make stuff.’ Peeking inside through the huge front windows, I felt like a little girl pressing her nose flat against the sweet shop’s window display.
The shop is a girl’s dream. Gorgeous printed fabrics, cute-as-button buttons, beautiful trimmings, delicate cake decorating tools, craft kits, embroidery motives, jewellery making tools and much, much more. The best thing about it: If you, like me, have absolutely no idea what to do with the vast majority of these gorgeous items, their workshops will give you just the right amount of guidance and insight to get you going.
Having a sweet tooth and a weakness for all things pretty and girlie, the cupcake decorating workshop had written ‘Christmas present’ all over it. The sisters-in-law were delighted (in fact, only one is an actual in-law, the other one is living in sin. Shocking, I know!).
10:30 on a Saturday morning is manageable – even for the childless. Jennifer, who founded The Make Lounge in 2007, greeted us with tea, coffee and biscuits. Coats and bags stowed away and hands washed, 11 ladies and one gentleman gathered around the long table and eagerly listened to Leigh, who happens to be pastry chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Sketch in London.
We learned how to scoop. How to make a piping bag. How to use food colour. How to use marzipan. How to colour marzipan. Not to lick the stick you used to stir the blue food colouring. Lots of lots of helpful icing tips!
And just look at all the beautiful cupcakes. Needless to say that they were delicious, too.
This is a recipe Leigh shared with us. Custard icing, mhmm…
500g cold butter cubes, 120g milk, 93g egg yolks, 120g sugar
Making the custard base:
- Place yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk till thick and pale.
- Bring milk to boil in a saucepan.
- Pour HALF the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking mixture as you are pouring the milk to avoid cooking the eggs.
- Return the other half of the milk to low heat and pour the egg, milk and sugar mixture into it.
- Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, gently stir the mixture until it is 81 degrees or it becomes thick enough to coat the back of the wooden spoon.
- Once the custard is ready, quickly remove from heat and pour the custard into a mixing bowl through a sieve, to remove any cooked bits of egg.
- Whip the custard with a paddle attachment and add the cold butter & beat till thick and pale, till you get the consistency of buttercream.
Leigh runs her own little company called Craft Cakes. If you are blessed with two left hands when it comes to baking, consider one of her designs. Or visit her Facebook page and try one of her recipes.