Let Them Eat Only the Very Best Cake

I’m about to reveal the secret ingredient that will make every cake taste better. It works even if you aren’t the person who baked it. Even if it resulted from a packet mix, an ill-advised experiment or a six-year-old’s messy afternoon; from a hand-whipped, double-choc, mocha sponge to a gluten-free, paleo friend of the villi, you can make any cake more delicious.

Untitled design (1)

The secret is candles. A study published in Psychological Sciences in 2013 concluded that the ritual of making a wish, singing and blowing out candles has a significant impact on how the taste of cake is perceived. In short, rituals make food taste better.

I’m a fan of traditions and rituals. Not so much the televised self-important kind, but the smaller ones, the ones that knit up the fabric of our lives and mark the seasons and staging posts. They recognise and build connections between people and it warms my cockles that so many of you have lit up birthdays with my candles. They were The Candle Kitchen’s best-selling product last year, so thank you.

The candles in the study were made from paraffin wax, mass-produced in large machinery and shipped from China to the US. If they can make a cake taste better then just imagine what hand-dipped cake candles, made from beeswax molten with renewable energy, could do.

Slice of cake and cake candles

Just one more thing, the study said that to get the full benefit you really need to take part yourself.  So if you’re not blowing and wishing then sing. Or if singing doesn’t bring you joy, do a little dance or something, find a way to join in and get everyone else to join in too.  You’ll be rewarded with fabulously tasting cake.

How to Make Ice Lanterns

You know how, because it’s Christmas, it’s perfectly acceptable to stay in your pyjamas until noon, hide scrabble tiles between sofa cushions, lose count of glass refills/days of the week and pretend the dessert was all your own work?

No?  Well it is.  And because it’s a stubbornly mild Christmas here in the Westcountry, it’s also okay to cheat improvise a little when making ice lanterns to welcome your guests in from the cold. Cold-ish, that is. You can make the lanterns in the freezer and they will still look entrancingly beautiful because nothing quite works like combining fire with ice.

You will need:

  • a bucket or plastic food container
  • freshly cut evergreens or herbs (try using spare branches from your Christmas tree)
  • a drinking or votive glass
  • masking tape
  • tealights or small pillar candles
  • distilled or filtered water (optional)

Basket of greenry1.  Attach the glass to the centre of your bucket/container with the masking tape as seen in the picture below. Secure it so that there’s a nice gap between the bottom of the glass and the bottom of the container.

2.  Push the greenery down in between the glass and the container and pour water in around the leaves. Use distilled, filtered or twice boiled water if you’d like the ice to be clear. Leave room for the water to expand as it freezes and do a bit of rearranging of the leaves as necessary. You could also add berries, sliced fruit, flowers, stones, glass pebbles or shells.

Making ice lanterns, pouring the water

3.  I happen to know that one reader of this blog lives in Alaska. If this is you (I’m sorry, I don’t know your name), then pop your container outside for about ten minutes. For everyone else, it’s time for the most challenging part of the process which is making space in a festively packed freezer. You may need to eat some of those mince pies.

4.  When the water is completely frozen (it takes about 24 hours) and you’re ready to use the lantern, remove it from the freezer and remove the masking tape. Then remove the glass from the lantern – I’ve found the easiest way is to pour a little hot water into it.

5.  Remove the ice lantern from the container (upside down under a warm tap if necessary) and pop a lighted candle inside.  A small pillar candle would work better than a tealight in warmer weather because you want to avoid the base getting so hot it melts the wax.

Ice lantern with lit tealight inside

I made these two last year, so that’s why there’s snow in the pictures. If you’re dreaming of more white Christmases to come, then please think about switching to renewable energy. And if anyone asks for that dessert recipe, you’ll give it them another time – right now, it’s Christmas. Have a very merry and bright one.

Two lit ice lanterns on snow

Gifts for Friends: Is it the thought that counts?

Many Decembers ago, as I was visiting a busy friend, a horrified look came over her face and she told me she’d forgotten to buy me a Christmas present. We were in her kitchen at the time and she was making preparations for a Christmas dinner she was going to cook for 26 people. No, you didn’t read that wrong, it actually was 26 people. A few hours later, she presented me with a wrapped gift that turned out to be A Daily Calendar of Calm. I think someone had tried to give her calm for Christmas and had failed, but she pulled off a wonderful Christmas dinner with it in short supply.

Aside from the usefulness of having a neutral, wrapped gift tucked away for the kind of emergencies that happen to us all, what struck me about this event is how often what we give a friend is bath oil, a bracelet or a scarf. And what we’d really like to give her are more hours in the day, an appreciative boss and the ability to love her thighs.

Gifts for Friends

One birthday, I watched a hostess unwrap the books, Women Who Love Too Much, Loving Him Without Losing Yourself, and Men Who Hate the Woman Who Love Them in succession. Each gift had been from a different guest and there was a small silence before someone’s partner said:

“Hmm, I think there’s a theme developing here..”

Then there was another small silence before the birthday lady was simultaneously offered more white wine, a filo spinach roll and a non-book shaped gift that turned out to be a rather attractive teapot. The thought can be loud and clear but there are times in our lives we’d rather have the teapot. And the wine.

So I’m not someone who thinks it’s only the thought that counts.  I’d like it to be both. The thought that says, I know you, I value you, and the carefully wrapped, handmade original things of beauty that we’d never have found or bought for ourselves.  Something that carries that thought and communicates it every time we use it.

Untitled design (4)

In the spirit of offering both the loving wishes and an original object of beauty, I highly recommend these candles.  They each have meaning and are embedded with semi-precious stones. My customers have been reporting back that recipients are delighted by them and there are few things more delightful than delighting a friend.

Untitled design (7)

Just this weekend, you can get 20% off crystal cubes

by using the order code GIFT15.

Offer ends: 7pm on 07/12/15.

When Did You Last Dine by Candlelight?

Not counting meals in restaurants, when did you last light a candle at your own dinner table? Most of us only think of doing so whilst attempting seduction. This is a shame because, although there are many things you probably shouldn’t attempt by candlelight (reading small print, sharing really scary ghost stories, the plumbing), dining isn’t one of them.

Dining by candlelight

Here’s how to indulge more often:

  • Don’t restrict yourself to dining à deux.  Experiment!  Have a candle-lit meal with a friend, or a bunch of friends, or see your family in a different light. And what about when you eat alone? Instead of a late night snack by the light of fridge, sit down and light a candle. You’ll eat more slowly, enjoy your own company, and stop once you’ve had enough.
  • Unscented is unsurpassed.  Scented candles will confuse your palette and dim your appetite, whereas letting the food provide the fragrance maximises your enjoyment. The only exception might be kitchen candles that smell naturally of citrus, spices or herbs and complement your dishes.
  • Candlelight makes everything look better. That includes food, glassware, cutlery and people. It’s lovely to pull out all the stops for a special event, but when you have guests at two hours’ notice and it’s already been a long day, just light the candles. They’ll change your mood, throw a new light on the room and flatter everything, including you.
  • Try candles at breakfast.  At this time of year many of us get up in half-light if not actual darkness. Morning rituals can include a mindless breakfast rushed down by the light of a mobile phone, or else a sparse standing one as you orchestrate everyone else’s. Try taking an extra 10 minutes, make something hot and fuel up by candlelight – it’s a much gentler preparation for going out into a cold morning. If you work from home, whether it’s with a laptop or a series of domestic appliances, you can indulge yourself without the clock-watching.Copper lanterns on a dining table
  • There’s a reason taper candles are known as dinner candles.  Being tall and slender, tapers are ideal for shedding light over your table, though it’s useful to check sight lines so that diners can see each other. If you’re planning a Halloween event and want people to mistake the burrata for monsters’ eyeballs, by all means use just one tealight. Otherwise, if you love tealights. do use them, but bear in mind you’ll need to use at least twice as many as you would tapers. The white porcelain tealight holders (pictured above) go with a variety of schemes and the copper mini box lanterns are just stunning. 
  • We are like moths to flames.  It’s innate in us to gather around fire, it’s not just the light, it’s the movement; the way it dances. It draws us together and helps us to forge connections. It creates an intimacy that makes conversations more real, more reflective and more relaxed. Give it a go because it’s probably been too long since you last ate by candlelight. Plus, it makes you look gorgeous (so don’t rule out attempting seduction).

An Anatomy Lesson

How many parts of a candle can you name? I’ve been asking that question of random people for the last few days. Most of them name the wick and then dry up. The delivery man looked at me with a blankness that was tinged with suspicion, but if you’re a candle connoisseur you can probably already describe a melt pool or a scent throw.

Annotated drawing of a candle

the naming of the parts

Clockwise from the top:

  • Scent throw:  The fragrance emitted by a candle. It includes the strength of the fragrance and the effectiveness with which the candle ‘throws’ the scent around a room. Natural fragrances are as strong as synthetic ones when the candle is under your nose, but are less likely to make it down the corridor.  A ‘cold throw’ is how the fragrance is described when the candle isn’t lit and a ‘hot throw’ is what it emits when it’s… hot.
  • Hang-up: Part of the wax that’s sticking up and hasn’t melted. More commonly used when wax is left stuck to the sides of container candles.
  • Wick:  This is the one everyone knows (except possibly the delivery man). Usually cotton, paper or wood.
  • Gutter:  A ridge caused by wax running down the side of a candle.
  • Jump lines:  Small horizontal lines on a candle, also known as “skip lines”. Caused by pouring cooling wax into a cold mould so that the wax starts to set during the pour.
  • Core:  The central section of a candle. Factory-made candles often have a core made from a different kind of wax to the rest of the candle (but dyed to look the same).  Some ‘soy’ candles have a mineral (paraffin) core because mineral wax burns more easily and is easier to wick.
  • Bloom: Uneven surface caused when oils in beeswax migrate to the surface and crystallise there. This also happens with soy wax, though crystals on soy are more commonly referred to as ‘frosting’. Either can be removed by wiping with a soft cloth. Neither are to be confused with a deliberate rustic look caused by a candle maker cold pouring.
  • Melt Pool:  the puddle of liquid wax that is drawn up the wick as the candle burns.

So, how did you do?

The Moon, the Tides and Poldark

My husband is staring into the waves and drawing on my student days as an astronomer. “Is it really the moon that controls the tides? How does it do that then? Where did the moon come from?” I answer him whilst trying to keep my tripod still in gusts of fresh air and make out what I’m seeing through the lens of my camera in the bright afternoon sun. My feet feel newly liberated on the warm sand and the sea is roaring in surround sound. Beaches are magical places. The unspoiled beaches of Cornwall’s South West are particularly magical and I can’t think of a better place to start this blog.

All that water and sand make beaches safe for candles and taking some with you prevents the dusk hauling you away from the shoreline. You do need to protect them from sea breezes though, and we used these long-stemmed tealight holders to linger a while by the cliffs as the sun went down.

Staked tealight holders on a beach

Vintage style fairtrade tealight holders, handmade with internal recycled glass cups.

Yes, it is mainly the moon that controls the tides; the oceans respond to the pull of its gravity and the push of a centrifugal force caused by its rotation. I love that- twice a day, we’re left with a clean slate, a fresh page of smooth, flat sand.


The following day, a coastal walk took us to Porth Chapel then on to Porthgwarra, both of which featured in the BBC’s Poldark. On the cliff at Porthgwarra, I set up camp, positioning our polished steel lanterns on the edge of a cliff while a seal bobbled about in the waves below.

Untitled design (10)

 

The tide came in, the sun went down and the winds were high but the lanterns did their work keeping the candles lit.  We looked down on the little cove where the fishermen landed pilchards in Poldark. Almost beneath us was the tunnel where Ross Poldark was filmed hiding after helping a fugitive escape to sea. We imagined the tales this place could tell of shipwrecking, smuggling and… well, seaweed harvesting.

Porthgwarra and polished steel lanterns

Porthgwarra, Cornwall Today magazine and fairtrade handmade steel lanterns

Sign up for special offers and the latest news from my website, workshop and melting pots.