How to make a simple Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake (or even Gordon!)

Thomas the Tank Engine cakeAfter tackling Peppa last year, I was hoping for something a bit simpler this time round. Especially as I also have a rather large belly to work around this year. But being almost three, Scrip ensured she got her request in early and her cake had to be Thomas The Tank Engine-themed but not only that, it had to feature Gordon. Tough brief.

After much research (there’s some brilliant inspiration on Pinterest and YouTube – here’s my three year old party board) I quickly ruled out carving out a 3D train or even a face-on engine in favour of a simpler cake shape and making Gordon’s face out of fondant.

Although the internet is bursting at the seams with Thomas creations, Gordon is a lot harder to find. So this was mainly about adapting tips for Thomas and making sure I captured the angular face of Gordon rather than the (probably simpler) rounded one of the main character.

Gordon the tank engineIt’s also worth saying that there are lots of different versions of all of the characters – depending which book, cartoon or image you find. I went for this Gordon off the internet which is like the current TV CGI and I thought would be the easiest to copy.

I started off with the cake. As for last year, I used this sponge recipe from all recipes – it really does seem to be foolproof. The cake was 20cm x 20cm square and I used this adjustable tin from John Lewis which I had from last year. I made sure I followed the recipe to a letter and also remembered to follow my cake making rules from last year.

Tala cake toolsWhen the cake was in the oven, I tackled the most difficult bit: Gordon’s fondant face. As the detail was intricate, I bought some fondant tools and they really helped. Mine were Tala and I got them from John Lewis, but you can also buy them online. I bought this fondant rolling pin and these modelling tools (double sided).

My fondant was Waitrose’ own brand. I think Waitrose have the best supermarket selection of home baking ingredients, but I also got some ready-coloured fondant for the detail (like his black funnel) and I’d really recommend that to get the colour right. Mine was Dr Oetker Regal Ice Ready to Roll (Coloured).

I found a great tutorial online which helped with a few tips. Key with fondant is to try not to let it dry out too much, so I had sealable plastic bags on hand to pop in any icing I’d opened but wasn’t using straight away. I also had a little bowl of water to help smooth over cracks; be aware that too much of this makes for a shiny surface, so only use when you really have to.

marbelled fondant icingI started by deciding how big Gordon’s face was going to be on the cake. Mine was about 12cm to make sure I could fit the funnel and a few extras like her age and the candles around the outside. Then I got a biggish blob of icing and added a few drops of black to it to make the silver/grey colour of Gordon’s face and moulded and kneaded it until it was even all over (it stays marbelled for quite a while so be patient). Best to start with a little bit of colour and add more as necessary. When you’re happy with the colour roll it out with the fondant rolling pin to a few cm thickness and then make your circle shape. I used a clean round container of around the right size that I pushed down on the icing and cut around. Keep the bits around the edges as you’ll be using these for the nose and cheeks.

For the cheeks, turn the head over, roll two smallish balls (about the size of marbles) and put them on the back in the middle of the head. Push them in gently, then when you turn it over you can easily mould crease-free cheeks over them. Next was the nose. Thomas’ nose is round but Gordon’s is sharper. It was roughly the length of the cheeks. I stuck it on and smoothed it down with one of the rounder tools, adding a bit of water at the end to really get a nice surface.

Gordon fondant faceI used the tool with the sharp end to carve out the mouth and cleft above it, adding a bit of extra grey icing around the bottom lip to make it stand out. This only needs to be a very thin bit. Then I put another very thin bit of white icing in to make the teeth. I flattened it with one of the tools.

For the eyes I used my thumbs and the tools to make two indents above the cheeks, then added small pieces of white in half moon shapes. I tried to mould these before putting them on as I didn’t want to press them too much once in place. The pupils were tiny pieces of black fondant made into very small circles. I put them in place and then cut out triangles at each side to create his ‘twinkles’. This was fiddly and it was hard to make sure they both matched – but he looked a bit cross-eyed if they didn’t!

Eyebrows were much easier: black fondant shaped into two similar eyebrow shapes and laid over the eyes. Try and get the angle roughly right and make sure they’re around the same length as the eyes.

I then moved the face onto a plate using a palette knife (make sure you loosen it all the way around underneath before) and added a thinnish roll of black fondant to make the outline all around his face, and a small tube with a roll of icing on top to make the funnel. And Gordon was done!

Cake and icingWhen the cake was out I let it fully cool before doing my icing crumb layer (as I did for Peppa). The icing was buttercream plus a lot of blue food colouring. I couldn’t get the royal blue colour of Gordon with supermarket colours – probably only with professional colouring – but I got a nice blue shade which hopefully still looked edible and gave everyone the idea! I used a couple of tubes of Dr Oetker Sky Blue plus extra tubes from the Cooperative.

Once my crumb coating was fully cooled in the fridge, I put on the final layer using palette knives to smooth with a bit of hot water where necessary. As not much of the icing was on show it didn’t need to be perfect. Once that was set, it was time for Gordon’s face to go on. I transferred it very carefully using the palette knife and put it in the centre. I made a few puffs of smoke using white fondant formed into simple cloud shapes to look like they were coming out of the funnel and then used some star cookie cutters to make some star shapes which I piped number 3s onto with writing icing (careful as it can bleed a bit – so try and keep it as thin as possible).

The finishing touch was some wafer stars from Lakeland to go around the outside – two on each side. And don’t forget to leave an empty corner for the candles!

I hope that was relatively easy to follow. It was certainly appreciated by my little three year old – and that made all the preparation and fondant smoothing worthwhile!

A childcare trial – Babysitters of Kensington and Chelsea

I was recently offered a free babysitting trial by Babysitters of Kensington and Chelsea – BOKAC – who are expanding further west. My friend Anya, who lives in Chiswick, trialled the service. Here are her thoughts:

BOKAC was launched in 2011 by Anna Cameron while she was working in London and babysitting for local families as a way of earning extra income. She soon found that she had more families to babysit for than she had evenings free, and had also noticed a lack of services that allowed parents to book and pay for babysitting appointments online. After securing a website developer and recruiting their first babysitters, BOKAC was born.

The business has grown steadily ever since whilst maintaining strong relationships with both parents and sitters. Central to BOKAC is providing a service that is efficient, personal and reliable. Anna meets each candidate for a face to face meeting to discuss their childcare Continue reading

Six reasons my phone is my best parenting buddy

Phone apps for parentingThis isn’t about using your phone as a substitute babysitter (although it can come in handy – especially when you need to entertain your toddler for what could be a while in a quiet waiting room). This is because I realised the other day how much my phone had become not just my lifeline to the outside world but also my parenting hotline.

Here are my favourite ‘parenting’ apps that I come back to again and again.

Lifecake – this is where I share all of the best bits of life with Scrip (photos and video) with close friends and family. I reviewed Lifecake when it first came out and have recommended it numerous times. You get a certain amount of storage for free and can then choose to upgrade. I love the fact it’s private and that important people who you don’t see all the time can quickly share in and comment on moments and memories.

Baby and Child First Aid - this has been invaluable – quick, easily accessible advice for injuries, burns, fevers etc. This one’s by the British Red Cross. I also wrote a review of the advice on choking by St John Ambulance recently.

My Baby’s Beat - in the three years since I’ve had Scrip things have moved on a lot – you certainly couldn’t hear your baby’s heartbeat with a smartphone back then. I love this app – it’s quite reassuring to listen to your baby whenever you want without any microphones or attachments (although it’s clearest in the last trimester). You can also record and share recordings. Don’t forget to turn it onto airplane mode for safety.

The Bump Pregnancy - I used this last time around to check on the weekly updates (your baby’s the size of a marrow etc.) But now it includes short weekly videos, which is a great way to keep track of things and for both me and my husband to focus on the baby together in the way that it’s much more difficult to do with a toddler in tow. Also good is I’m expecting.

Pinterest – not a new discovery for most people but such a handy way to keep your random children’s present ideas, party games, projects, decor and even to do lists together in one handy place. So good for inspiration and so easy to share boards.

Phone4Kids – no list would be complete without a little distraction app. This has been great for a few years now – in fact ever since Scrip learnt to use the iPhone many months (OK, years…) ago. There’s a lot packed into this little app and if you can get over the annoying accents it’s helped her with days of the week, numbers, letters, seasons and how to catch 10 presents off Santa’s sleigh (all important life skills).

What apps would you add to the list? I’d love to get some more suggestions to fill up my iPhone.

Linking up with:

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Six tips for sharing a family room in harmony

Family RoomWe’ve just come back from what could be our last ever break as a three. It almost didn’t happen. Despite talking about it for a few weeks beforehand, we couldn’t find anywhere suitable that ticked all the (many) boxes. But then we realised we were being a bit fussy and when I got a Late Rooms offer through for a Mother’s Day stay in a country hotel and spa in the Cotswolds, I clicked through straight away (we didn’t end up getting exactly the deal that I thought I’d applied for, but that’s another story).

With Sunday sorted we decided to stay in a budget room on Saturday so we could make the Continue reading

Afternoon tea with a twist: Mother’s Day at the Lancaster London

afternoon teaJust five days to go until Mother’s Day (and probably not the last time I’ll need to remind my husband about it). If you’re in or around London on Sunday and fancy treating (or being treated), I’ve just reviewed a special afternoon tea at the Lancaster London hotel.

I loved the original twists on classic dishes (like a miniature Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and horseradish) as well as the wide range of teas which came with their own little egg timers to ensure optimum brewing time. Veggies like me were well catered for as well. Here’s my review for West London Mum.

Wherever you spend your Mothering Sunday, I hope it’s a lovely, relaxing day.

Spring is here (finally)

Persil Spring BlossomPinch punch, first of the month, and the first day of spring. I left work at 5.45pm last Thursday and it was still light! Well, maybe not light but not fully dark. I almost sent my colleagues a picture, but then I realised they were still inside and I was outside so probably not a tactful move.

But for me, the evenings getting lighter is one of the signs that spring is here – finally! As are the daffodils Scrip’s Aunty Pocket (don’t ask) brought with her when she came for dinner. It’s also Scrip’s birthday tomorrow and I’m turning the heating down, so what more convincing do I need?

Currently brightening up my worktop is a limited edition Spring Blossom Washing Up Liquid from Persil. OK it won’t scent the air as naturally as my daffys (perfect for St David’s Day) do but it does smell surprisingly fresh and slightly fruity, almost like handwash (apparently down to notes of freesia, white rose, vanilla and dry fruit) and I love the bright pink colour.

Being Persil, it cleans really well and it’s just £1 a bottle. Bring on the spring.

I was sent a limited edition bottle of Spring Blossom Persil Washing Up Liquid, £1 for 500ml and available from Tesco from March 2015.

Our windows onto the world

VELUX window in snowSpace isn’t just at a premium in London: I should imagine most families across the country feel they could do with more of it. I’ve written about Scrip’s box room nursery before, our storage areas feel like they’re already bursting at the seams (my mum said just today she didn’t understand how I fitted everything in – and the fact is, I don’t) and that’s before we’ve introduced another little person who’ll be followed by a deceptively huge array of accessories (one word: Jumperoo).

Just over two years ago, on a space-enlarging mission, we went up into the loft to create an extra bedroom and bathroom. We’re lucky we were able to do this and we’re really pleased with the results. We quickly moved our bedroom up there and Scrip loves the amount of room she has to play in when she ventures upstairs. In fact, her balance bike and trike seem to have found permanent parking spaces underneath my dressing table. Continue reading