Monday, 25 November 2013

The TapHouse, Ranelagh

I was blown away by my first visit to the TapHouse a few weeks ago. On the site of the former 18 year old's mecca, Russells, in Ranelagh Village, it is now a much more inviting space with a heavy emphasis on craft beers and a vastly improved menu. Had I put this review up then it would have been flawless but my second visit, just a few days later was an altogether different and very much substandard experience.

I wish I had comparison photos but I don't, only of the first visit which was really excellent. The menu is quite limited (but of course that's never an issue as long as what IS offered is good). The menu has several light bites at 6e a pop (hummus with various bits and bobs, prawns Pil Pil etc, a selection of sliders (mini burgers), a few sharing platters and a couple of desserts. And that's about it.

Service on the first day was brilliant.We were hungry (aren't we always) and chose 3 sliders each (one lamb flatbread, a bacon and quail egg version and another pulled pork effort.) We also went for 2 sides, chips and onion rings.

 The burgers on that first visit were incredible, two of them on a slightly sweet, buttered broiche bun. They came on a little wooden board which I am always slightly suspicious of hygiene-wise but were so nice I would have eaten them off almost anything! They were all uniquely sauced and flavored and each absolutely gorgeous.

The sides were also brilliant - crunchy onion rings and great chips with a very moreish malt vinegar flavoured mayonaisse - brill.We left full of the joys about this place and keen to return but what a difference a week made!

On what was bank holiday Monday the staff looked frazzled and overwhelmed. We were ignored for almost 20 minutes before we got the chance to beg for drinks, then menus and, later, cutlery). We were told they were 'out' of all of their speciality beers but 1(!) and also of onion rings (which would surely be very simple to batter up and fry?)We went for the chicken wings on this occasion which were the worst I've had -
 fatty non crispy skin dredged in salty seasoning (but after frying so there was a nasty powdered coating on them). Rank.

But the biggest disappointment of all was my beloved burgers! They had obviously ran out of the little broiche buns after the busy weekend and had instead sent someone into Lidl for a few packets of broiche finger rolls. The buns were cold and the whole thing slapdash and not a patch on the first time round.

I will return but cautiously so and really hope these are just teething problems and not complacency setting in so early.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Making a Wedding Cake

I know that my friends and family's hearts will sink to see this post appear on their social media feeds. I know they are sick to the back teeth of hearing about this cake. But I promise this is the end of the wedding cake talk, until the next one at least!

The Finished Product - slightly right of centre but standing!

I had originally been building up to making a wedding cake for my friend Anne for her NYE wedding but when the lovely Patrea asked me about 6 weeks ago to make hers for 1 November, I was certainly not going to refuse!I did have more than a few moments of panic as I remembered I had only made 1 stacked cake ever before (2 tier, this was to be 4), never mind a wedding cake. The bride was incredibly laid back which helped a lot but still, this was someone's WEDDING and I didn't want it to be a mess. So I began to do research - a lot of research!

Sugarveil Lace
One site I found to be invaluable was Cake Central, which, if you can get past the occasionally preachy tone of some contributors,  is an absolute goldmine for info;  how to dowel correctly, when to ice, what gumpaste is best, it was all there and I am honestly indebted to the community there for helping me ensure the cake wasn't a disaster!.

I knew I wanted to take this opportunity to learn as much as I could in the process and in fitting with the bride's preference so decided to make gumpaste roses, handmade pearls and also to use my great (but expensive at 100e a pop) Sugarveil kit.

Flower Detail
I had made roses before in a one day class but they certainly weren't at a standard I would have been happy to put on a cake. So I practiced - a lot. The pearls were a pretty tedious process but I discovered the best way to get them all the same size as to use marzipan spacers to make sure the paste was all the one thickness before cutting with round icing bag tips, rolling and dusting in lustre powder.

I have a loooong way to go in my cake journey and am certainly no expert but here are some things that might make a first-timer find the process that little bit more managable.

1) Let go of the search for perfection. If this is your first wedding cake, you are probably not a professional cake baker/decorator. Cut yourself some slack. That's not to say you shouldn't try your best but having a breakdown over a crack in a broken sugarflower or a crack in the icing (in my case!) won't help anyone. Remember, ribbon hides a lot.

2) Think about how early you need to start your decorations etc and start a week earlier.
Even though I did 'a bit (of varying lengths) pretty much each day for 3 weeks, I was still up against it as the date apprached (not to say I didn't enjoy it but it WILL take longer than you think, especially if making anything involving gumpaste decorations.

3) Do not be afraid to freeze ahead. This was one of the many tips I got on Cake Central with many of the (American) professionals in particular saying they freeze all their cakes as a matter of course,
 not to save time/get ahead but instead to lock in moisture. I baked mine 4 days ahead and froze them wrapped well in greaseproof paper and cling film and I think they were as moist as if id baked them that morning. You can also freeze your buttercream ahead.

4) Don't scrimp on the sugarpaste. There are a lot of cheaper sugarpastes on the market at the moment (from Aldi etc) and I have used them with varying degrees of success but I'd definitely recommend buying one of the professional brands for such an important cake and definitely one which you have practiced with before. You want to give it and yourself the best possible chance of not cracking under pressure or tearing as you life the big sheet from the table.I used Regalice.

5) Use tried and tested recipes. Now is not the time to experiment! It can be tempting to try out new things but its probably best to save that for a rainy Saturday afternoon when the stakes aren't so high!

The face of relief

6) If using, lay a sheet of kitchen roll over your dried gumpaste flowers. I freaked out about a week before the wedding when I saw the fruits of all my hard work start to droop slightly as a result of the high humidity!(damn you Irish weather). I am convinced doing the above helped minimise the damage (that and placing them in a breathable cardboard box).

7) Do it for the right reasons. I took on this challenge on the first hand to fulfill a request for a friend
but also looked on it as the chance to  improve/develop some of my skills. Don't take on a request to make a cake if your heart isn't in it because the stress that WILL follow just won't be worth it and you may start to resent the whole thing!

Wedding Cake talk is OVER my friends!(now on to Anne's for NYE!;)