happy valentines: a romantic dinner for 5 with black forest cake

we had family over for dinner for valentine's day, so since we have heart-shaped cake pans courtesy of a garage sale, of course we had cake for dessert! my father-in-law isn't a big fan of sweets, so i thought, what's not too sweet - maybe a bit tart? cherries. and chocolate. black forest cake!

cherries are not in season, so i bought a jar of sour cherries to start with. i used about half the jar, i think. i started by straining out the syrup, sweetening it a bit (they were very sour cherries), and thickening it with a bit of corn starch. i also added a bit of cognac (one of these days i will break down and buy a bottle of kirsch).

the cake itself was a half-recipe of david lebovitz's devil's food cake. it was absolutely perfect, the most even and lovely cake i have ever baked! i only did a half recipe because i foolishly worried we would have too much cake otherwise. does that even make sense?

i really wish i'd taken a picture of the putting-together process. i am generally bored to tears by blogs that have endless pictures of everything (look! an egg! look! a mixing bowl with some sugar in it!) but one pic could have been quite useful. i sliced the single heart-shaped layer horizontally to make two thin layers, coated the cut edges with a thin layer of cocoa buttercream, and then - here's the clever bit - piped a thick edge of buttercream around the edge of the bottom layer, and another thick heart outline in the middle. then i chilled both layers before assembling.

basically, i was trying to recreate what i remember of the swiss pastries black forest cake i remember from childhood. the idea is to use the butter cream to create a vessel for the cherry filling, so you can get more cherry goodness inside without it squooshing out the sides. you can sort of see what the edge-barrier looks like in this photo.

anyway, i did that, then filled it up with as many cherries as i could get inside without overflow (and saving some cherries for decoration), and filled any outside gaps with more cocoa butter cream. then i grated enough of a bar of bittersweet chocolate to sprinkle over the top, and melted the rest with some heavy cream to make a ganache (no measurements, just eyeballed it), and used that to cover the whole cake.

then the cream! i always get organic or small-dairy cream, or really any cream that doesn't have ingredients other than cream. lots of commercial cream now has sugar and thickeners added. meh. i will add my own stuff if i feel like it. (i added a bit of icing sugar and vanilla, actually.)

i spread the cake with whipped cream, sprinkled with grated chocolate, piped a few dollops for the cherries, and then because i still had some cream in the piping bag, did a heart/arrow on top as well.

it was delicious! but my father-in-law still wasn't interested. ah well, all the more for us! it didn't last long, really. next time, full recipe of cake, and more layers.

also, i finally took a picture of my january sewing project. pyjamas!


february challenge accomplished!

my big resolution this year is to work from my stash instead of buying new stuff that i really do not need. harder than it sounds! but i seriously have loads of fabric (and loads of yarn, and... and... and...) and i even have loads of fabric that has been cut and pinned and bundled neatly together with the required notions. all i need is time and motivation!

i had the day off work yesterday to do some volunteering at the kiddo's school, so i decided to spend the morning on something i'd wanted to do for ages. a couple of years ago i found a great deal on a lightweight wool in a classic prince-of-wales check. for only two dollars a yard! how to resist? i bought the six remaining yards they had in stock.

now, i had a lot of ideas for this fabric, and one of those ideas was to try my hand at dying, seeing as i had lots of fabric to play with, don't really need multiple identical skirts, and wool is an excellent fibre for dying.

so yesterday was the day. i followed all the instructions carefully. weigh the fabric, wash it, leave damp, dissolve dye in 500 ml warm water, dissolve salt in 6 litres warm water, stir dye into salt water. wearing rubber gloves, add fabric and stir for 15 minutes continually, then let steep for another 45 minutes stirring frequently.

what i didn't realise?

one of my rubber gloves had a hole in it.

i took that pic after washing and scrubbing my hand with a pumice. my son says it's great zombie makeup.

anyway, i got the fabric nicely dyed! in the past i've had issues with blotchiness when dying. it's a long long time since i've even tried, for that very reason. i think that this time worked better in part because, being cold water dye, i was able to work the fabric with my hands to make sure the dye was evenly distributed. also, i cut out the fabric before dying, so i didn't waste any dye on fabric that would just end up as scraps anyway.

here's a before pic to compare:

i also got skirts made! well, almost.

this one still needs to be hemmed:

but this one is done and i'm wearing it today!

it's fully faced in cotton voile, to give the fabric a bit more structure (i think a pencil skirt needs to look fairly "tailored") and so that i can wear it in the summer without a slip. love all-season wool! i tried (and failed repeatedly) to take a pic of the skirt in action; this, sadly, is the best i could do:

the february challenge on the ravelry vintage sewing machine group is to make something from scraps or stash. so excited to have completed the challenge before the month is even half over! maybe i'll get some shirts made, too.