Monday, 30 December 2013

Since last we spoke...

Lest you think I've given up baking and comics and have gone to live in a small, dark hole somewhere...I haven't. I am just a bit rubbish at blog upkeep (clearly), and must resolve to be better in 2014. Oh well. In the meantime, here's what I've baked since last we spoke...

Cake for the Aces Weekly birthday party - go check them out here.

Parmesan cheese and chive scones, made for a special tea and baked goods party with the lovely SouthLondonHardcore chaps (and extended SLHC family).

The Nao of Brownies (pun-tastic baking idea courtesy of Mr Paul Shinn) for a Nao of Brown centred reading group.

Lamingtons, made to satisfy the insatiable cravings of one Mr Richy K Chandler (who was very cross with me when I made them before and didn't save him one).

For Gosh!p's second anniversary, we had a little party to celebrate. In traditional Jess-style, I crafted Gosh's book table out of banana loaf (complete with stacks of icing books) and made individual cupcakes to represent each member of the reading group. Everyone then illustrated the face of the person next to them on a (mildly shoddily crafted) cake topper.

And finally - Christmas happened! I made a Yule Log for the family, and - as is traditional - it was topped by a skiing Father Christmas. Because everyone knows how they like to hang out on logs.

That's about it for 2013. I don't really do New Year's resolutions, but if I did I can assure you one would be to update this thing more regularly. So I'll just promise to try to do that. Hopefully.

...if I'm not too busy baking/reading.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Wu Wei (Or: my friends are WELL talented, innit?)


Let’s just gloss over the fact that I haven’t posted in about 9 months. (Except to say this: no, I did not have a baby). Instead, let’s talk Wu Wei.

“What is Wu Wei?” I hear you ask. Well, the online dictionary (though not the OED, as that slammed its doors in my face once I stopped being a student), defines it thusly:

noun (in philosophical Taoism) action accomplishing its purpose in accordance with the natures of things and events. 

So obviously that clears things up then. 


Hmm? Still don’t get it? Well that’s OK. Because within the confines of this blog post, you don’t really need to “get it”, as such. All you really need to know is that Wu Wei is a new comics anthology, pulled together by the ever-industrious Mike Medaglia, with contributions all around the theme of spirituality. A very grown-up subject matter indeed, and one that has clearly been mulled over carefully by the various contributors.

Contributions range from the quiet and contemplative (see Tim Hassan’s piece), to the visually arresting (Christian Ward's colourful centre page is just stunning), to the downright chortle-inducing (John Riordan. Meditato. ‘Nuff said). What becomes immediately clear when leafing through this beautiful book (and it really is beautiful) is just how personal “Wu Wei” is. Each interpretation is different. Each shines a little light on the creator. And each makes you think that little bit harder about what your take on “Wu Wei” might be. This is a book that is deeply contemplative, and inspiring of contemplation as a result.

Nowhere is this clearer than with Andy Poyiadgi’s origami comic. When I was speaking to Mike about it, he said he hoped people would “take a quiet moment” to construct the comic, and I find it hard to imagine anyone doing otherwise. When I sat down to tackle mine, I found it required a certain kind of focus: prompting me to go into tunnel vision, shutting out everything else. By the time I had intricately pulled it together and could spend some time turning the corners to read it, I was in a pensive mood, taking in the beauty and sadness of the story with a new kind of absorption.
A similar experience washed over me as I read Howard Hardiman’s contribution to Wu Wei. Something about the repetition and the regular and reflecting lines lulled me into a different mode of reading than I’m used to. I didn’t charge through Wu Wei. I didn’t power my way through with the kind of voracious appetite that people associate with “page turners”. And in making me take the time to think about what I was reading, it was so much better and more valuable for it.

I wish I could take the time to talk through every wonderful contribution to Wu Wei, but that would be a very long blog post and I fear my fingers would fall off from all the typing. And it becomes very difficult to bake when you don’t have fingers.

SPEAKING OF BAKING (see what I did there?), whilst I was not a “contributor” to Wu Wei itself, I like to think I was a “contributor” to its birthing into the world. (…please immediately banish any mental images of someone birthing a book. I apologise for putting them out there). Here’s the deal: there was a launch party for Wu Wei last Friday at Gosh - the home of all good launch parties* - and I agreed to make a cake for it. A special, spiritual cake.


As a person who doesn’t, admittedly, think about spirituality a huge amount (sorry, I mostly think about comics and cake and nerdy things), the natural and most obvious direction for me to go in with this was a yin and yang cake. SORTED. And actually, bar a couple of slight obstacles, I think it turned out pretty well:

I decided to make life slightly complicated for myself, and rather than just ice it like the yin and yang, make it yin and yang all the way through – cakey innards and all. Because, you know…easy is boring, and all that jazz. So come with me now on a journey through time and space my cake crafting process.

Step one: Sketch out the cake in my brain. Who needs pen and paper? ...What’s that? Most sensible people, you say? PFFT, I say. PFFT. But for the sake of illustration, here’s what the sketching process in my brain looked like:

Step two: Pick a recipe. EASY. This one, from the trusty folks over at BBC Good Food, is one I’ve made before, and it always goes down well. Fret around for a while about how to adapt that recipe to make two different coloured cakes (the yin and the yang). Ultimately decide to add cocoa powder to one cake to make it dark (with some twiddling around with other ingredients for flavour and SCIENCE).

Step three: BAKE TWO CAKES. This part also comes complete with step 3b: LICK TWO CAKE BOWLS. And – because I’m nice – also allow housemate to lick cake bowls.

Step four: Whilst cakes are cooling, make a very sophisticated stencil from some fairly sturdy cardboard. Try to make the halves as even as possible. You could probably do this properly with the help of maths and stuff, but I gave up maths after GCSEs. I used my eyes instead, as they generally work out OK for me.

Step five: Delicately place stencil on top of cake(s) and slice around with a knife. This results in 4 (almost even) curvy halves.

Step six: Whip up some tasty cream cheese frosting (thank you, Hummingbird Bakery) and use to sandwich together the bottom halves – one dark next to one light. Cover those with a layer of the frosting, then repeat the process (delicately, now) with the other two halves, placing them on top. Finally, use the rest of the frosting to cover the top of the cake.

Step seven: Painstakingly roll out some regal icing, and use the aforementioned stencil to cut out a circular topper – a little bigger than the size of the cake tin, as it needs to droop down over the sides a TINY bit. Manhandle that onto the top of the cake without breaking anything.

Step eight: Using more rolled out regal icing, cut around the half-size stencil to create a yin/yang. Again, make it a little bigger than the stencil itself. Then use a cookie cutter to punch out a circle in the bulbous part of the yin/yang.

Step nine: Paint the punched out circle and the yin/yang (damnit, I’m going to have to research this now so I can stop writing yin/yang…hold on…)…the YIN with black food dye. This would’ve been a lot easier if the Little Waitrose on my way home from work deigned to sell black regal icing, but NO. Sigh. Various hours (and layers of food dye later), gently lift the painted icing onto the top of the cake, using a little water to stick the layers of icing together.

Step ten: CAKE.

Picture courtesy of Mauricio Molizane De Souza

I managed to store the cake at work during the day without anyone from my office eating it (victory), and lugged it across to Gosh in the evening, where it lasted all of 5 minutes once I’d started cutting it up and serving it.

I think it went down well. At the very least, it was endorsed by Jack McInroy (one half of South London Hardcore) – a hard man to please:

Me: So? Was it alright then?
Jack: Yeah, it was really nice! I thought it was going to be too dense when I saw it…but no, it was nice!

High praise if ever I’ve heard it.

You can go and read all about Wu Wei over here, and have a look at some of the beautiful photos shot at the launch party by the very talented Mauricio Molizane De Souza here. And once you’ve done all that, you should really just go and buy the comic, shouldn’t you? I mean…come on now. That’s where this is heading, isn’t it? Best just to give in.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Yes, it has been a long time.

No, I am not dead.

I can but apologise for the appalling delay between posts, and hope that the contents of this extra-special Comics & Cakery blog post will make up for the wait. Today, I present to you the ultimate marriage of my two favourite things: COMICAKE.

I cannot promise that this is the world's first comic-cum-cake creation, but it was certainly a first for me and - going by the conversations I had with the contributors - for them too. 

Yesterday saw the second of Comica Festival's biannual Comikets for 2012, and it was quite the occasion. I had decided a while back that, as well as being the good little volunteer that I am, I would bring my own special brand of peculiarity to the November Comiket in the form of a comics-themed cake (or "Comicake", if you will). Unfortunately, in spite of having had the best of intentions, my hectic schedule and lack of preparedness meant that it was all a little ad hoc. I spent most of Friday making the cake (an insanely rich, dense chocolate cake from BBC GoodFood, which hopefully will not have given too many people diabetes) and painstakingly covering it with white sheet icing and small "panels" of black icing. The hope was that it would end up looking a bit like a double page spread of a comic. Thus, when I turned up at Comiket (having forewarned a few artists, but sadly not many), I was carting this with me:

Not the easiest thing to get across London at 7 in the morning, I can tell you. Still, I managed to arrive with cake surprisingly intact. As I had managed to do so little in the way of forewarning artists, I was originally just going to ask each contributor to attempt a mini self portrait (or similar) to fill the pages. However, the wonderful Paul Gravett (part of the trio who run Team Comica, for those not in the know) was having none of that. "No! It must have narrative!" he cried. 

...Or...well...maybe "cried" is a little strong. But he was very keen that some kind of story emerge, and in retrospect I am glad that he was.

The cake kicked off with Woodrow Phoenix, who got the ball rolling with a panel featuring his Pants Ant character. He, like many other artists on the day, chose to decorate with the wonderful double-ended Culpitt pens that I discovered in my local Whisk shop. Very handy tools that avoid lots of faffing about with fiddly icing tubes and piping. Here he is in action, beginning the Comicake masterpiece:

Throughout the course of the day I worked my way around the hall, gently (and not so gently) badgering kind-hearted souls to help create this collaborative, edible story. Rather than take you through the process panel-by-panel (a process, mind you, that lasted about 4 hours in total), here's a selection of photos taken throughout the day to capture the cake's evolution:

Joe Decie joins in the fun

A story begins to form, with Pants Ant spotting some free cake. Mmm, tasty
self-referential comics...

Graham Johnson tries out a brush and food dye technique, whilst Rob Cureton
watches over and documents the process fastidiously

Page one in progress

Luke Surl gets in on the fun

David O'Connell and Hunt Emerson both have a go, with Hunt finishing
page 2 to give other artists something to work towards

David and Hunt were also the first (but by no means the last) contributors
to have a go at moulding some fondant icing to create a 3D effect,
as seen in David's panel here

Claude T.C. provides crucial support to Nich Angell as he
tackles his panel

Page 1 completed, image borrowed (as it's clearer than mine,
and in the hope that she won't mind) from Sarah McIntyre's
blog post about Comiket

John Miers took particular pleasure from crafting his 3D masterpiece...

Said masterpiece on display, kicking off page 2 with a bang! 

The ever-charming Dan Berry gets in on the action

Here's his panel, next to John's. Sadly we had no green pens, but I think Dan
still managed to effectively recreate John's creepy character 

Sally-Anne Hickman followed on from Dan's panel, and was the only artist
to utter the words "oh yes, I've used these pens before!"

Page 2 in progress, with Hunt Emerson's final panel on display

Douglas Noble brings Pants Ant back into the story

A slightly blurry shot of the first half of page 2, with Doctor Simpo's 3D panel
on show

Sarah McIntyre jumps into action!

Soon followed by Darryl Cunningham, who was no match
for my persuasive skills

I grabbed Rian Hughes pretty much as soon as he'd walked
in the door. Clearly I was getting pushier as the day went on!

A complete page 2, with some lovely (if slightly bizarre)
story development

Said story development in a slightly less blurry depiction...

I just want to say a final thank you to everyone that took part, and helped me to indulge my love of comics and cakery. I hope I brought a little of the joy of cake making and decorating to the contributors, and that everyone who then went on to buy a piece of cake (bless you for that) enjoyed eating their part-art-part-dessert purchase!

Lord knows how I'll top this next time, but believe me - I'll try!

Here's that image of the final cake again, with a list of contributors below:

Page One [reading across rows from left to right]: 4 introductory panels, 
then Woodrow Phoenix, Joe Decie, Jazz Greenhill, Elena Vitagliano, 
Graham Johnson, Rob Cureton, Luke Surl, Theo Aji, 
Richy K. Chandler, David O'Connell, Nich Angell, Will from Twisted Dark 
(whose surname I must find out...)

Page Two [reading across rows from left to right]: 
John Miers, Dan Berry, Sally-Anne Hickman, Francesca Cassavetti, 
Douglas Noble, Jaime Huxtable, Frank Fiorentino, Doctor Simpo, 
Sarah McIntyre, Darryl Cunningham, Gary Northfield, John Maybury, 
Rian Hughes, JAKe, Krent Able and Hunt Emerson.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Teapot Therapy and On Reflection: An Andy Poyiadgi special!

It’s always a bit of an awkward moment when someone you know offers to send you their work to look at. Even if you insinuate yourself into creative, artsy circles like I do (bribing creators to be my friend with cake), there’s nevertheless a risk that you will open up said link or email and find something that isn't your kind of thing at all.

Mercifully, when the lovely Andy Poyiadgi said he would send me a story of his (a suggestion which - appropriately enough for this blog – came from a shared love of tea, biscuits and cake) I opened up the link and was blown away. The piece in question was Teapot Therapy, which can be found here. In 4 short pages, it does something that many comics struggle to achieve: it connects on an emotional level, and is incredibly moving. The heartache that forms an undercurrent to the comic gradually seeps into the story, never becoming melodramatic or trite, but rather striking a recognisable and convincing chord. I won’t go into the story too much as, frankly, you should just go and read it for yourself. (It's only 4 pages, don't be lazy now). Suffice it to say that it is a thing of quiet beauty. Something which can also be said of Andy’s art, which somehow manages to match the tone of his narrative perfectly. Soft, clean lines and muted colours (aided by the clever use of actual tea for the backgrounds, I believe) seem at first comforting, but then with the gradual reveal of the story take on a different meaning. For me, they speak to a muted every-day life: not grim or unbearable, but somehow sapped of those things that had once made it vibrant and engaging.

Formally, Andy plays with the conventions of panels and structure in a way that is interesting but never distracting, with each new shape or sequence adding another subtle level of meaning to the story. And you can’t deny that it’s beautiful to look at. I mean, seriously now, just look at this page:

Sigh. Lovely stuff. If you're a fan of more traditional panels, Andy's also got a 6 page story in  ink+PAPER #2On Reflection. Rather like Teapot Therapy, the tone is quiet and thoughtful, with sequences given over to individual moments to allow each one the space and weight it deserves.

Compositionally, it is perhaps more conventional than Teapot Therapy, but it is nonetheless an intriguing one to pore over. Without giving too much away (again, you should be going out and buying yourself a copy of ink+PAPER #2 here, or at your local comic shop), take a moment whilst you're reading this to enjoy the way in which reflection permeates not just the content of the panels, but also the structure of the page.

What a lovely thing it is to discover just how talented one of your friends is. Having seen what Andy can do in a shorter piece, I'm now eager to find out what he could do with a longer story. One to watch, I have no doubt!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Europe Cake

Another friend's birthday, another excuse for cakery.

Because my friend Jordan likes to travel, I decided that his birthday cake would have to be geographically themed. Perhaps somewhat rashly, I formed a plan that involved reproducing a map of Europe in baked form and marking all of the places that dearest J-Man has visited. Cue several worrying realisations about the level of my geographical savvy...

I came up with a plan that - whilst fiddly and probably quite time consuming - felt feasible. I found this lovely looking recipe on which promised to stay moist for 3-4 days (and frankly, anything with the word "ultimate" in the title feels likely to be a winner, no?). I've made Angela Nilsen cakes before, and they have invariably turned out nicely. Which is not to say that I wasn't a bit nervous about it: the trouble with making birthday cakes is that you can't test them before icing - a cake with a Jess-sized chunk missing might look slightly less than perfect...

Anywho, it didn't give me any trouble and looked quite pretty once I had taken it out of the oven and ganached it (a process that involved me making lots of fretting noises whilst trying not to burn cream in the pan). VoilĂ : cake avec ganache:

(Don't worry, I tidied up the base before I iced it - you'll find no sloppiness in the kitchen de Cave)

Whilst the ganache was setting in the fridge, I busied myself by getting ready for the party with plenty of time to spare (this is a barefaced lie: I actually spent an hour running around Ealing trying to locate regal icing and food dye). When it came to the icing, I lucked out by finding some ready-to-roll blue icing which I mixed with some white to give a fairly pleasing sea colour.

You should probably know that in preparation for this icing extravaganza I read several blog posts warning of "cake farts" - a pretty alarming prospect (and one that somewhat reassuringly comes from the cake, not the person eating the cake). I ended up following instructions from the very helpful "Inspired by Michelle" YouTube channel, and miraculously avoided creating flatulent baked goods. PHEW.

I made the countries for my map through a slightly long-winded process that involved: i) printing off a map of Europe, ii) tracing said map onto greaseproof paper, iii) dying and rolling out green icing, iv) laying my greaseproof map over the icing and stabbing around the lines with a toothpick, and finally v) cutting around the dotted lines on the icing with a knife. Below are snapshots of just a few steps from the rather finicky  experience:

By the way, I have found that cake decorating is about 36 times more fun if done whilst listening to inappropriate music and singing/dancing around the kitchen. Just saying...

Right, so where was I? Oh yes, I know. So, I transferred the countries onto the cake (trying to put my Geography SAT knowledge to use in order to get them in the right position) and then made little flags out of toothpicks, stickers and tiny pictures of Jordan's face which I stuck haphazardly into locations I thought he'd been to (turns out there were 19 in Europe...NINETEEN).

Somehow, I managed to get the cake from Ealing to Chalk Farm in one piece amidst the Olympics madness. (Seriously, I'm rather more proud of that fact than I am of the cake creation...) As I think can be seen in the pictures below, Jordan seemed to enjoy his cakey birthday treat - and a good thing too, as otherwise I would've had to cut off his supply. I am a harsh cake mistress, I'll tell you that now.

So my dears, there you have it: one European travel inspired birthday cake. Somewhat poignantly, it was my first proper decorated cake without the help of my partner in crime, Steph (she of the Fargo cake fame). I can only hope she'll be proudly looking on from dear old Brizzle...

p.s. As an added bonus, please enjoy this picture of my friend Ella merrily sneaking up behind me with a large knife: