Tag Archives: Birthday cakes

Being three meets Being Brunel: a birthday day out

Being Brunel“We’re going to a pirate ship!” Not strictly true but the idea definitely captured D’s imagination on his third birthday, as we set off for a day out at the nearby SS Great Britain. He might have been looking forward to cutlasses and treasure chests; my husband and I were looking forward to seeing the new Being Brunel permanent display.

Our trip started with a stop at the M Shed, after a friend’s tip off that an open air steam train is running up and down the dock during certain weekends. We took the first return trip of the day and D thought it was magical, and didn’t even cry at the loud noises, even though the whistle was just near us. You can disembark outside the SS Great Britain directly but our journey was non-stop. We also decided to come back to the M Shed another time because the displays and cafe there were brilliant.

Despite it being a drizzly day, there was plenty of colour as we walked along the dockside, with the bright rainbow shades of the houses in the distance and then the multi-coloured flags blowing in the wind on board the SS Great Britain, which raised the excitement levels. The ship really is magnificent, even from a distance.

SS Great Britain

This was my husband’s first time on board so we took some time to look around the edge of the dock and the museum. The attention to detail is brilliant – from the old fashioned posters outside to the tour guide who prepares you to step back in time as you enter the area. Then we headed to Being Brunel, the permanent exhibition new this year.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his majestic designs were a regular feature of my up-bringing, as he designed the Tamar Bridge which took us from Cornwall into deepest, darkest Devon; the first London landmark we reached, Paddington Station, and the most famous structure in my university city of Bristol – Clifton Suspension Bridge.

I’m pleased to say that Scrip knows a lot about him as well, having studied Brunel at school, so she was equally interested to hear more about his life. Once again, the attention to detail is good: you can pause on entry to have a photo taken wearing one of a range of replica trademark top hats – which my father later told us was chosen by Brunel to add to his height.

The first stop is a copy of his dining room, beautifully embellished and with some digital portraits that come to life and tell his story. Through the second door the children liked the moving train carriage, which bumped along when they climbed aboard, and the gigantic 3D Brunel face on the wall, which rises two stories high. As always when looking around museums with children you only tend to get a glimpse of displays before being made to move on, but there was a lot in there to look at.

Being Brunel

His life story is told through time lines, documents and images and the journey continues upstairs with more displays. We didn’t make it into the Brunel video experience as it promised flashing lights and loud noises, which one of our children wasn’t keen on, but that also sounded interesting. I should imagine this would be a big draw for older children, as there’s probably less that’s hands-on in here than in the main museum.

Then we carried on to the SS Great Britain herself and enjoyed another brilliant tour of the ship, complete with sounds, smells and scuttling rats in the kitchens. I didn’t manage to make it to Go Aloft, the climbing experience, as it was raining harder by then. So I’d love to come back and do it one day. But it was certainly a great day out and one little boy had to be carried back to the car, and no doubt dreamed of pirate adventures as he slept the whole way home.

Being Brunel

I’ve also written about 12 things to spot on the SS Great Britain.

Thanks to the SS Great Britain for letting us experience the SS Great Britain for the day. A family ticket costs £45.

Easy and quick baking – a review of Betty Crocker cake and cookie mixes

Betty CrockerI’m not sure if it’s the nesting or having a bit of rare time to myself before the d-day (or b-day) but I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently. It started with my Gordon the Tank Engine cake for Scrip’s third birthday and since then there’s been my favourite banana loaf (which was meant to be frozen for guests post-baby but got gobbled up pretty quickly by the three of us), wholemeal and white bread (have discovered how easy it is with a dough hook – no kneading!), homemade pizza and then trialling some Betty Crocker packs which were sent for review.

When the brand got in touch I’d heard of the name and even seen the packs in supermarkets but never really considered giving them a go. No particular reason – but I suppose I generally only bake Continue reading

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!

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