Baby Quilt

Baby quilt

One of my lovely sisters is expecting a baby this winter – the first grandbaby for my parents!  We are all super excited and are going to completely spoil this baby.  I decided to make this quilt for my sister’s birthday, inspired by one that we both independently noticed in a fabric store here in Seattle.  The store is Drygoods Design in Pioneer Square and they had an adorable quilt made with 4×4 squares of different floral fabrics separated by large squares of grey.

I started by collecting floral prints when I saw them – I got a some at Drygoods Design, some at Nancy’s Sewing Basket in Queen Anne, and some at District Fabric in Fremont.  It was fun to have a collection of all-over-Seattle fabrics!  I tried to get a variety of colours and a couple darker ones that would contrast more.  I bought them in the minimum quantities (at some stores 6″ and at other stores 9″).  I got half a yard extra of the yellow and red floral to use for the binding.  I got some grey quilting cotton, some pale green flannelette for the backing, and some cotton-bamboo batting.  And I managed to remember at the last minute to buy thread.

I wanted the quilt to be about 3’x4′ so I decided to do a grid of 12″ squares.  I cut 24 strips of florals, each one 14″x3.5″.  I pieced these together into six blocks of four, and then cut each block into four 3.5″ strips the other way.  I then jumbled up these strips and pieced them again into six blocks, each a 4×4 grid.

Piecing together quilt blocks

I read a little bit online about the neatest way to press the seams for this type of quilt.  If you are sewing together two pieces that have seams lining up, it will lie flatter if the seams on the two pieces are pressed in opposite directions.  In order to achieve this, when I pieced together the blocks of four strips, I pressed all the seams in one direction.  Then when I cut them up and arranged the strips into blocks the second time, I made sure that if the top strip had its seams pressed to the left, the strip below it had its seams pressed to the right, and so on (see the picture below).  Ideally you would be pressing towards the darker fabric but since I was using all different colours in no particular pattern it would have been too complicated so I didn’t bother.  Luckily the seams aren’t visible through the lighter fabrics.

Back of quilt blocks showing how the seems were pressed

Once I had my colourful 4×4 blocks, they should have been all 12.5″x12.5″, but of course they were all a little shy. I still haven’t figured out why my pieces always end up short, but it didn’t matter much here because I just cut the grey blocks a bit smaller than 12.5″x12.5″.  I pieced the blocks together into a grid, pinned the top to the batting and backing, and quilted it on my machine.  The quilting was probably the trickiest part – it is hard to keep everything flat when the top layer of the fabric gets stretched out a bit differently than the bottom layer.  I’ve heard that the spray glue that sticks the layers together and then washes out in the machine can help, so I’ll probably try that next time.

I cut 2.5″ strips of floral for the binding and machine stitched it to the front then hand stitched on the back, which was slow but gratifying!  I’m very happy with the way the binding turned out.

Hand binding of quilt

This was a lot of fun to make and has inspired me to do more sewing!  I find sewing projects move a lot faster than knitting – it just takes a bit of momentum to gather the materials and pattern and get cutting.

Hopefully this quilt keeps my future niece or nephew cozy this winter!

Baby quilt

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Lemon-blueberry cake and brush embroidery cookies for Catherine

Lemon-blueberry wedding cake

This post is coming all the way from France!   I am on vacation with my mom, and we are on the train travelling from Paris to a little town called Labrugiuere.  Once I have internet access I’ll put this up but I figured since I have the time now, I might as well write it.  Our few days in Paris were full of pastry and excellent bread, as well as important landmarks of course.  I think I won’t be posting anything else for quite a while, since we’re just doing a lot of eating and no baking!

The cake and cookies in this post were made for my sister’s friend Catherine, who got married a couple of weeks ago.  She had seen some of my other baking and requested some for her wedding.  She was the easiest person to bake for – she basically told me to make whatever I wanted!  The wedding had a dessert buffet so I decided to make a cake and some fancy sugar cookies to add to the table.  Catherine really liked the brush embroidery cookies I made previously, so I made more of those, but in three shades of blue/green for the background.  It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but if you look closely you’ll see mossy green, baby blue, and teal.  I chose them to roughly match the colours in the rest of the wedding.

Brush embroidery cookies

The cake was a lot of fun to plan and bake.  I wanted to make something with summery flavours, so I chose lemon and blueberry, with hints of lavender, mascarpone, and honey.  The cake layers were once again Alice Medrich’s hot milk sponge cake.  I made a double batch, also adding about two tablespoons of lemon zest, and divided it between three nine-inch cake pans.  After they were baked, I split each in half to make two layers (six in total).

I consulted one of my favourite food blogs, Annie’s Eats, for the filling components.  Inspired by her blueberry-lavender-honey jam, I made a blueberry lavender filling using this recipe and replacing some of the sugar with honey (I wrote down the exact recipe I used if anyone is interested).  It was super delicious, I think my favourite part of the cake.  The lavender was noticeable and went very well with the blueberry, but it wasn’t overpowering or perfume-y.  Some other time I think I’ll have to make some actually blueberry-lavender jam just to spread on toast.  This filling wasn’t quite jam – it was fairly thick but used cornstarch to set, which might be a little odd in jam.

For the other filling, I started to use the lemon-mascarpone filling recipe from Annie’s Eats, but then pretty much stopped following it.  I made some lemon curd, since I had some extra yolks in the fridge.  Then I creamed together mascarpone and butter, and added in icing sugar, lemon curd, honey, and possibly some other things that I don’t remember.  I then folded in whipped cream.  I originally steeped lavender in cream, strained it out, and then tried to whip that, but for some reason it just didn’t whip.  So I just used regular cream.

I then made some swiss meringue buttercream for the frosting, using a little less sugar than usual, and adding honey and vanilla at the end (I also wrote down this recipe if anyone is interested).  This was very tasty, although the honey flavour was quite subtle.

While assembling the cake, I piped rings of buttercream around the perimeter of the cake layers to act as a dam before adding the fillings.  I did cake, lemon, cake, blueberry, cake, lemon, cake, blueberry, cake, lemon, cake (if that makes any sense).  Then I coated the whole thing in the honey buttercream.

I had been really keen to decorate the cake with fresh flowers, but I didn’t manage to get my hands on any organic ones.  Everything I read online says to only use organic flowers for cake decorating if they will be in contact with the cake, since non-organic  ones are not intended for consumption and often sprayed with chemicals.  The farmer’s markets seem to have a few organic flowers at the vegetable stands, but the timing just didn’t work out (I wanted to buy them at most one day in advance so they would last until the wedding).  Anyway, in the end I used wafer paper to make some flowers.  This is a very thin, edible paper made of potato starch that is pretty trendy for making cake decorations.  I didn’t have any of the special tools, but managed to imitate an “open peony” I saw online.  I brushed green and pink petal dust on (my sister helped with that) and then stuck some coloured dragées in the middle using royal icing.

My sister made the cake topper out of wood using the laser cutter at her work.  Catherine and her husband are avid swing dancers, so it seemed like the perfect addition.  We hot-glued toothpicks to the bottom and it stuck in easily.

My sister’s reports indicate that the cake was tasty!  So I call that a success.

Wafer paper flowers

Pastel sugar cookies

Pastel sugar cookies

These cookies were based on some I found on Pinterest, from a wedding magazine called Utterly Engaged.  My sister and I made cookies like this before, the ones that came to a tragic end as I described before.  Anyway, here are the pastel cookies, Mk. 2!  I mixed the icing to between piping consistency and flood consistency (maybe shampoo-like consistency).  This allowed me to just mix one consistency of icing for each colour, and use it for both flooding and adding on details.  Flooding the cookies like this without outlining first doesn’t look quite as tidy, but sometimes you just don’t want to mix any more icing!  I loaded it into piping bags with all the round tips I could find, and just went at it.  After flooding the cookies, I added dots of other colours, dragging a toothpick through some to marble them.  I especially like the big blue cookie that’s sitting on top in the above photo.  I made the flower in the center by piping big white dots, then adding smaller pink dots over top.  Then I dragged a toothpick through, starting in the white dot and moving through the pink one.
Pastel sugar cookies

The Wedding Cake

The wedding cake

A few weeks ago, my mom and I had the exciting job of making my sister’s wedding cake.  My mom was a chef/baker/caterer for her first career, so she has made many wedding cakes before.  I watched her make one a few months ago for a friend, and this time I decided to get more involved.

This is not the first wedding cake my sister has had.  As a toddler, when my mom made wedding cakes for customers, my sister would ask for a piece, but of course she couldn’t have one.  So for her third birthday, she requested a wedding cake.  My mom delivered:

My sister's third birthday

That’s my sister about to blow out the three candles on her “wedding cake”.  On the top are a pair of little wedding bears that my mom had found at a dollar store.  My sister has kept those bears ever since, and we decided to reuse them (this time with no candles).

Wedding bears

The cake is Alice Medrich’s Hot Milk Sponge.  Each tier has six layers of cake (three rounds each cut in half).  My mom did the actually baking of the cake while I was away for a few days during the critical wedding-preparation week.  I believe she did three batches of the sponge recipe (each batch making one large, one medium, and one small round).  We soaked each layer in a simple syrup with limoncello and lemon juice.  We then layered them alternately with the lemon mousse recipe from Maida Heatter’s Lemon Chiffon Icebox Cake and with white chocolate buttercream (loosely following Sweetapolita‘s swiss meringue buttercream recipe).  When adding the lemon mousse layers, I first piped a ring of buttercream around the edge to act as a dam.  All three of these recipes are delicious and versatile, and my mom and I have both used them for many different desserts.

I didn’t take any photos of the process, but each tier was assembled on a cardboard cake circle.  After doing a crumb coat and final coat of white chocolate buttercream on each tier, I set the bottom tier on a tinfoil-covered piece of plywood.  I then stacked each tier by inserting four dowel pieces into the layer below (there’s an illustration of this here).  My trusty assistant helped me cut the dowels to be exactly flush with the top of the cake tier once inserted (we stuck the dowel in first to mark the right length with a pencil).  I stuck a blob of icing in the center of the four dowels to help glue the next tier on.  Once we stacked all the tiers like this, I did the piping where they joined in order to cover up the crack (and because I thought it would look pretty).  We then carried it very very carefully into the fridge.

Between the reception and dinner, a couple of hours before the cake was going to be served, I added the flowers.  The day before, I had gone to pick them out from our friend who did the bouquets.  I was a bit torn between doing a small cluster of flowers and a big cascade, but as you can see I went big – the flowers were so bright and pretty that I couldn’t resist.  I added dahlias (from a local farm), roses, and little green berries.  I didn’t have much method – I basically started with the biggest blossoms and added them near the bottom, and went from there, filling in all the gaps and making sure the colours were distributed evenly.  I used a skewer to poke a hole in the cake before inserting the flowers.

We also made two sheet cakes (not shown), since there were 160 people and we were worried about the tiered cake being enough.  In the end, we had way too much, and the tiered cake didn’t even get touched – we were giving it away for the next couple of days.

The cake cut beautifully and the servers added a strawberry to each piece.  The lemon mousse is similar in colour to the sponge cake, but you can see it if you look closely.

The wedding cake

The first slice

Photos taken by the awesome Richard So (see his flickr page here).

Brush Embroidery Cookies

Brush embroidery cookies

While making butterfly cookies for my sister’s wedding a few weeks ago, I was a little overambitious and decided to do flowers as well.  So, in addition to all the butterflies, I baked a bunch of flower- and circle-shaped sugar cookies (I planned to make the circles into dahlias).  When I got to the decorating phase, I got really into the butterflies and never made it to the flowers.  The flower and circle cookies sat in a tin until now, when I decided to stop eating them plain and actually decorate them.

I’ve been staring at brush embroidery cookies for a few months now, specifically the beautiful ones made by sweetambs.  These cookies are my first attempt.

Brush embroidery cookies

Brush embroidery cookies

I definitely learned a few things while making these.  Here are my tips to myself for next time:

  • Use a smaller tip (probably #2) for outlining, and be more careful outlining to get better circles and not have a weird bump where the circle joins
  • Use thicker icing to flood – these took quite a while to dry
  • Use thicker icing and a stiffer brush for the brush embroidery – mine didn’t have much definition, and when I tried to do the inner layers of petals, they tended to merge a bit with the outer layers

All in all, I am happy with these!  Next time I might try a light background with more colourful flowers… for example doing outer and inner layers of petals with two different shades.  I’d also like to experiment with patterns other than flowers.  This time, I also tried a feather, which worked out reasonably well, a bird (not so much), and a couple of more abstract designs.  These are the more experimental ones (without the bird):

Brush embroidery cookies