A herd of Reindeer: shortcuts in the kitchen.

It’s unbearably cold at DG Manor (if you’ve seen my entry for this week’s Gallery, you’ll see what I mean!) So cold that I have been busy in the kitchen, hoping that the barely-functioning oven would co-operate with me so that I could a) produce cakes that are both cooked and unburned for Dimples’ Playgroup Christmas Party tomorrow and b) feel a little warmth, however brief. If you think I’m kidding about the Oven of Doom, check out the great big Christmas decoration it has. Yes, that’s right, my appliance, or part of it, is actually unsafe, and the rest of it is unapologetically unreliable. I did put in a shameless begging comment on Mediocre Mum’s recent post in the hopes that the Appliance Godfairy will take pity on me and enable me to cook our Christmas Lunch without having a take-out menu in reserve. Not very appropriate for my aspiring Domestic Goddess status!

But desperation pushed me towards the temperamental machine which provided me with the perfect opportunity to try out the Dr Oetker Shake it! Fairy Cake mixture. I first came across Dr Oetker (pronounced Dr Ert-ker) in Germany when, almost simultaneously, I discovered baking. He’s famed for his excellent baking powder and, though he’s taken a while to cross the channel, it’s good to see his name in the supermarket Home Baking shelves. And this fabulous mix is evidence of the skills that the Dr has. All you do is add milk, put on the lid and shake furiously for a minute and pour into the paper cases you should already have put in the your fairy cake tin. Bung in the oven for, according to the instructions rather than my imprecise oven, 15 minutes and hey presto.

I would say that it’s worth measuring the milk in advance, since it’s quite difficult to fill to the line, especially if, like me, you may have overlooked step one, which is to shake the bottle to ensure the mixture isn’t stuck in the crevices. It’s also quite challenging pouring accurately into the paper cases. With my second batch, I was much more sparing with filling and that seemes to work better. They do however, come out beautifully: fluffy texture, good flavour, even rise. If you have a slender spatula and are sparing with the case filling, I’d also say you can make far more than the advertised dozen.

 When cooled (which took all of five minutes in this weather) I moved on to decoration, testing yet more products that offer kitchen short-cuts for busy mums, or those who aren’t confident about baking (or don’t own enough kitchenalia that they could open their own store!) Dr Oetker’s Ready Royal Icing is so easy to use: blitz in the microwave and slap on your cake. It does harden very quickly so speed is key, although to soften it again you just reheat. I’d also say it’s better suited to rough icing rather than smooth, although if you have a preference for smooth icing you’d probably choose Fondant anyway. But it spread easily and looked very professional. There’s not that much in the tub: mine covered 18 cupcakes.

I was planning on making Reindeer Cupcakes, so once I’d put on the icing, and stuck half a Glace Cherry on each cake for Rudolph’s nose, I got on with the antlers. For a pair of antlers, you need a pretzel snack, which you first break in half.

Then you break off the curved top of each section, discarding.

Thus giving you a pair of antlers. That said, it’s quite a tricky task and I went through quite a few disasters before I amassed an adequate number of antlers.

Push your antlers into the cupcakes at the opposite side to the red nose, then use black icing to pipe on a pair of eyes.

Other finishes for your festive cupcakes couls include these sweet Christmas wreaths, which only require a basic level of icing, particularly if, like me, you cheated and bought ready-made icing pens. They are so simple to use, come with the most-used nozzle types and save the time it takes to make up icing from scratch. They are a great thing to have in your store-cupboard. Using a star nozzle, pipe blobs in a circle on top of the cake (as with right hand cake) then decorate with sprinkles. You could even pipe on a bow as with the left-hand picture.

This has been a post for Cafebebe’s Christmas Challenge. Check out the other bloggers at Crafty Wednesday too.

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