Saturday, 23 November 2013

Sugar Mice And Other Birthday Treats

Dear readers,

To paraphrase the French writer, Erik Orsenna, in his book dedicated to sugar, bitterness, sourness and saltiness bring us back to our everyday lives whereas sweetness always evokes an air of festivity.

Sugar holds magical powers.  It can unlock the gates to an enchanted kingdom of childhood memories.  Biting into red lacquered toffee apples - can you hear the music of the fun fair? - nibbling paper-thin, buttery pancakes on Shrove Tuesday with dribbling white sugar and lemon juice, dropping a generous dollop of strawberry jam into a bowl of creamy rice pudding, deftly pinching a piece of Christmas cake marzipan behind your mother's back (was I the only one to do that?) and the unequalled treat of being presented a vast assortment of chocolates to choose from.

Caster, granulated, confectioners, Muscovado, Demerara, liquid sugars both amber and white. Regardless of its multifaceted forms, sugar always has the ability to metamorphose into different forms simply by the application of heat.  Who has not succumbed to the delights of making jams and marmelade or marvelled, whlst stirring and waiting patiently for the soft ball stage, at the deepening colour of caramel and the aroma which holds the promise of bowls of ice cream with lashings of caramel or fudge sauce?  Reach the hard crack stage instead and you will be subjecting your teeth to the pleasures of brittle toffee.  For me the humble meringue is the most miraculous of all. Combine two ingredients, sugar and egg whites, to create clouds of white billows, creamy inside with a crisp exterior.  A most heavenly delicacy.

Dani Sunshine's knitting pattern, Brook, is like inviting an old friend for tea; hours of peaceful pleasure spiced up with moments of frivolity and laughter.  Those dinky twisted cables are deliciously addictive; take a peek here and here for proof.  I called this pullover Coloured Sugars.  The Uncommon Thread colourway, Manuscript, makes me think of raw cane sugar.  And don't your just love that spring-like assortment of colours in the stripes?  I bought a skein of Koigu Painter's Palette one Easter, on a whim, and chose to knit it double here (it's a fingering weight) for the rows.  The colours remind me of a display of flavoured sugars I spotted in this fabulous tea and coffee shop in the Loire Valley town of Blois a fortnight ago.

My birthday cake - yes, yes, it's my birthday - simply had to be Maple Syrup Cake this year.  It's quick to bake, fluffy and, doused with richly flavoured syrup, becomes as sticky as a steamed sponge pudding.  The best part for me was watching the children's faces light up as each evoked their special memories of enjoying this cake, some of which had slipped my mind.  Tristan recalled eating it one snowy sunday with candles and his eyes simply sparkled.  I found this recipe once in an old Sainsbury's recipe book but I've made it so many times that I know it by heart.  It's delicious with vanilla ice cream, strawberries in late spring, or slices of apples sautéed in a little salted butter with a dusting of cinnamon.

You will need:

250 ml (8 fl oz) maple syrup
125g (4oz) self-raising flour
125g (4oz) sugar
125g (4oz) softened butter
2 eggs
2-3 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°C and butter a dish.
2. Heat the syrup in a saucepan until it comes to the boil.
3. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the sugar.  Mix.
4. Add the butter and eggs and mix until the mixture becomes creamy.
5. Add the milk and mix.
6. Pour the hot maple syrup into the prepared dish and spoon the cake batter on top.
7. Bake for around 40 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and turn upside down onto a pretty plate while still warm.

Those tiny pink mice and rabbits, gazing up at silvery snowballs and flakes on a sparkly linen, were designed for a sweet girl who will be celebrating her fifth birthday tomorrow (five is SO much better than forty-five); a gift by way of showing my appreciation for her most generous grand-mother.  As I reached out for my favourite The Gentle Art hand-dyed cotton embroidery threads in the Spun Sugar and Pink Champage colours, unsure of what to make,  my mind conjured up SUGAR MICE!  Another childhood memory.  Do let me know, incidentally if you would like the reference for the sparkly linen.*  It is stunning even though you can barely catch a glimpse of the glimmering threads on the pictures I've taken.  The hare, Miss Twinkle Toes, is also made from the same linen.  You cannot have too much of a good thing, right?
There have been A LOT of hares and a handful of mice being created behind the scenes (all to be seen over at Madame Millefeuilles) in time for Christmas.  They've been clamouring to be displayed here this evening but only two were invited, Miss Twinkle Toes and Mademoiselle Violetta (with twenty five hand-embroidered sugared violets trimming her skirt).  I told them it would not do to bombard my readers with a gaggle of giggly linen creatures.  These little ladies will be requiring some boy companions soon, I think.  After Christmas, I hope.

I've been counting my days in hare parts and garments these past months which, some would say, is a sign of obssession.  That is the way I am.  One evening this week, dear Héloïse invited me to the theatre as a birthday treat.  We saw Molière's Les Fâcheux, written in haste for the unfortunate Nicolas Foquet, Louis XIV's minister of finances, for the grand festivities at Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1661.  Whilst I sat through this remarkable represenation, given by La Fabrique à Théatre, I marvelled at the Baroque dance, music and burlesque, and realised that in some sense I had lost my way a little over the past few years.  I felt tears of joy pricking my eyes and felt as though I had returned home into the world of Baroque art.  Now I feel quite fired up and pretty certain that change is afoot for me.
I've think I've rabbited on long enough about sugar and treats, my friends!  I leave you with a picture of my sweet-toothed Tristan, my favourite musician, who always has a creative project up his coat sleeve!

Thank you SO much to all those who take the time to leave a message here.  I know how busy you all are and I truly appreciate the time you take to write a few words.

A bientôt,


ps Joining in with sweet Hannapat's Weekly Bake

* Here is the reference for the sparkly linen as requested by some kind souls: Zweigart 32ct Belfast Lurex Linen.  Now, I found it pretty tricky to find some in the UK but purchased mine from my favourite central Paris shop, Des Fils Et Une Aiguille which has a fabulous online shop too.


  1. My nephew is Tristan! Lovely name:)

  2. Happy Birthday, Stephanie :) I enjoyed celebrating with you vicariously through your post! Your lastest stitching, baking, and theater visit are lovely, as are your children. It is cold and clear here at the base of snow cloaked Mt. Hood in Oregon. I have not seen any snowflakes swirl around me yet, but ice is forming on our ponds. I am ready for some cozy crafting time, but first I am headed to the kitchen to bake some cookies :) Thanks for posting.

  3. Firstly Stephanie I wish you a very happy birthday!! Secondly though, I am in need of a sugar fix now after reading about the numerous delights in your post! :)
    So much to love........embroidery, hares, mice, cake and a cute little girl in a pretty sweater!
    Hope your day was wonderful! :)
    V xxx

  4. Happy birthday! Your cake sounds scrumptious! The little colored sugar sweater is so sweet on your little girl. And your rabbits are darling, especially Mademoiselle Violetta. So, so cute!!

  5. thank you for this deliciously delicate delight, as good as a visit to a french patisserie, your words reflect the same beautiful detailed care as your stitches xxx

  6. Happy birthday dear Stephanie and wishing you a great year ahead. The cake sounds delicious - thanks for sharing the recipe.
    Beautiful sweet photos and words you have shown today - darling children, pretty jersey and adorable rabbits.

  7. beautiful memories, beautiful crafts and beautiful reading!!!!
    thank you for sharing all that Stephanie!
    love, xxxxxx Ale

  8. Happy birthday! Good for you treating yourself to such sweets. The sweater is wonderful. I like how there are some splashes of color. Your kids are lovely.

  9. Happy happy birthday.....(I personally love to celebrate for at least a week...a month if I can get away with it!!!) Hope it was perfect in every way. I think I need to pop into the sugar bin after reading this...you have my mouth watering!!

  10. Wishing you a very happy birthday. The rabbit is fantastic. The cake sounds delicious too! I might be writing that recipe down...

  11. Happy Birthday!
    Those sugary things bought back so many memories and vivid images. Thank you! Hope you have a good weekend. x

  12. Many happy belated returns Stephanie.

    I actually let out a squeak when I saw your dear little stitched mice! They are an absolute delight. There is magic in your fingers my friend.

    I'm afraid I have a bit of an aversion to very sweet things. It's partly my mother's fault. When we were poorly as children, she used to hide a crushed paracetamol in a spoon of jam. It still haunts me. It's my birthday in a couple of weeks and I should like a large piece of cheese with a candle in the middle!

    Heather x

  13. Beautiful! Belated birthday greetings.

  14. Happy belated Birthday!

    It sounds like you had a lovely time, and the cake and baking instructions sound simply yummy. I think I must have a go at baking this one!

    Love your sweet hares how cute they are.

    Here's to sweet treats and happy memories.

    P x

  15. just lovely stephanie, that little girl and her jumper are indeed very sweet. It looks so comfy and she looks like she loves it! The hares are exquisite. Really. I would find it very hard to part with them! Heather x

  16. Hello lovely Stephanie and a vey happy birthday to you (you can never have too many wishes :-)). Your cardigans are all so beautiful, well done on yet another gorgeous creation. I love the combination with the mustard trousers it really works so well. Your opening description of food was mouth watering and it also made me giggle thinking of of days where I hid behind my granny's chair stuffing food into my mouth. I too love meringue and I can see just how this inspired you. Thei cake sounds wonderful and I will most certainly give it a try. If you would like you can link it into my weekly bake so others can also use the recipe. Enjoy getting all your gorgeous mice and rabbits ready they really are so so beautiful and I love all the detail. I don't know how you part with them. Have a wondeful week xoxo

  17. You have mesmerized me this morning, you have articulated a feeling I have had about SUGAR, for years.

    Wait...there is so much here, I have to number my thoughts:

    1. The way you describe how sugar takes on many forms is brilliant. I remember the meringue my mum made, by hand, and watching the chemistry take place, by her side.
    2. I can literally taste the purity of her cakes from scratch.
    3. I remember from a very early age, corresponding the visual delights of GLITTERED and colorful Christmas ornaments to sugared candies, and to this day, when I see a glittered ornament, I can taste the gumdrops from my childhood (I am such a Proust girl!)
    4. Your embroidery of the mice.....good heavens, I need those little mice.
    5. Your Mesdamoiselles are beyond sweet. They are dreams of childhood, the craft of adulthood, the special work of your hands.

    Oh Stephanie, you are so talented! LOVE IT ALL! Anita

  18. P.S. your photography is STUNNING! Your children, such a beautiful sight!

  19. Happy birthday to you! What a lovely post for my first visit to your beautiful blog! Your prose about the sweet delights of sugar have me reaching for the cookie tin...and your crafting is stunning, from the gorgeous knitting to the charming little animals...I have a real love of linen, and the dainty stitching of those violets has me swooning! Thank you for sharing the cake recipe, my birthday is next week and I may request this yummy one...Chrissie x

  20. Gorgeous post today, with your beautiful children, your amazing creations, oh and that sweet sweater. I feel like I have had such a treat reading the wonderful words you have chosen to paint the pictures of your post.

    And might I add a big Happy Birthday to you! 45 is a great age to be, enjoy every minute of it.

  21. Hello again, beautiful Stephanie, what a wonderful post. The cake sounds divine but alas my poor husband has diabetes and I know if I made it I should end up eating it all and then I wouldn't fit through the front door! I shall just have to sit here and drool instead.

    You embroidery, knitting and hares are all beautiful. You are such a talented lady.

  22. PS forget to ask you whether you would give us the link to the sparkling linen x

  23. Stephanie, I send you lots of belated wishes for a very Happy Birthday. It seems that you are the one who has given us birthday gifts!

    I agree with you about the joys of a meringue, and think that your beautiful posts offer equally splendid joys. The little sweater with the delicately Koigu cabled yoke is such a gem. Of course, you do have a perfect model!

    The recipe for that cake is so, so tempting. I've not gotten going with any baking yet this season...but the time is fast approaching.

    And now on to those charming hares. What exquisite sweeties they are. Your creative touch is pitch perfect. It's grand to read how the visit to the theatre renewed your love for baroque, but may I humbly say that from my vantage point, you have not ever seemed to lose your way.


  24. Such a lovely post. Your writing and creations are beautiful! Happy birthday by the way!

  25. Wishing you a happy birthday. The jumper, hare and sugar mice are gorgeous. Your cake sounds so good too!
    Sarah x

  26. Such a lovely post Stephanie and belated happy birthday! Thank you for the recipe which I will definitely add to my list. I too will still steal blobs of marzipan!

  27. Very lovely makes. You are keeping busy. I enjoyed your post. Have fun crafting!

  28. Oh a very happy birthday to you sweet Stephanie, sounds like you have had a lovely time and that cake looks more than delicious. Your mice and hare are just too beautiful and such attention to detail. Your embroidery, knitting and sewing skills always leave me inspired and satisfied, thank you for sharing these and your sweet children x Happy days to you for this next year xox Penny

  29. sweet stephanie, happy birthday wishes are being sent to you from the california coast. i feel so greedy when i read your posts as i want everything i see. even littles new 'brook' sweater and mustard jeans (she is the most precious ever), want those in my size too! and the mice. o.m.g.
    hi darling tristan!

  30. Tout d'abord je vous souhaite des annees heureuses et creatives a venir, apportant des changements benefiques et souhaitables soit pour vous soit pour tous ceux qui vous entourent et que vous aimez si tendrement.Assister a une piece de Moliere jouee en plein coeur de la Loire, ca me ferait vraiment enormement plaisir... Rire a la maniere de Moliere... Excellente idee de cette amie!
    Vos travaux manuels capturent le regard, c'est tellement minutieux, tellement beau.
    Alors, que la nouvelle semaine apporte des choses agreables loin des"facheux"!

  31. Happy Birthday to you dear Stephanie!
    Such a beautiful post to celebrate your special day too...Angélique looks so pretty in her latest knit and those little cables do look very enjoyable to do to.
    Beautiful stitching everywhere! (I have to say dainty Violetta is just gorgeous...I do love your little mice) ...and such beautiful cross stitching too...a perfect way to start my day...fingers crossed it carries on the same way!
    Love the pic of your most talented Tristan...x
    Happy Monday!
    Susan x

  32. Happy birthday!!
    Thanks for the cake recipe-it sounds delicious...those mice and bunnies are too cute too : )
    Love the colors added into your sweater~ very nice!
    Have a super week...

  33. Dear Stephanie, Happy birthday to you! Wishing you a wonderful year ahead, and a happy coming holiday season to you and your family!
    Happy stitching too!
    Renee <3

  34. beautiful sweater! I love the yoke detail and the tiny cabling that is sprinkled throughout. Happy birthday :)

  35. Love your blog. Being from New England, I can't wait to make the maple syrup cake. I do have a question on size pan to use. Is it a 9" round? Thanks so much.

  36. Happy,happy Birthday dear Stephanie :)

    So many sweet things in this post, but somehow it is what I found myself thinking of as the burnt sugar of the Baroque that I would most like to hear more about from you.

  37. May I wish you a belated Happy Birthday, and as my father used to say- "And many of 'em".

    November and sugar conjures up sweet memories of Bonfire Night and treacle toffee. Testing the soft balls of toffee as they cooled in saucers of water.

  38. Dear Stephanie,

    Happy belated birthday to you! Hope you had a good time with your family. Your birthday outing with Heloise sounds lovely. What a pretty girl she is.....and a handsome son too :-)! I love the sweater you made her and off course your other projects as well. Wish I had your sewing and embroidery talent (and the time :-))!

    Wishing you a happy week!

    Madelief x

  39. Happy Birthday - I know that will have to try that Maple Syrup Cake. Perhaps when it turns to Autumn here in New Zealand I think. Those little sugar mice are beautiful - you must have such patience for the embroidery, cross-stitch and beautiful knitting you do. Thanks you for sharing them with us.

  40. Happy Birthday! and that photo of your son cracks me up :)

  41. Such beautiful stitching, as always. x You have really inspired me with the sparkly linen ( although it is now sold out! I'm going to do a bit of searching in the UK).
    Happy Birthday, what a yummy looking cake. Hope you enjoyed it.

    1. Hello lovely lady! Did you try to purchase it at the Parisian shop? It isn't sold out, I don't think, but is available with different dimensions. I know that Sew And So in the UK have it in white. That could be so pretty for winter festivities.


    2. Yes, I've just checked; it is available and there's another very swift online shop in Paris:


      Warm wishes,


    3. Got it, many thanks for that. I can't wait to receive it now. I'm also 45 next week so it is a lovely birthday present to myself, my birthday cake however is going to be a very naughty chocolate cake - its tradition in our family - with smarties on the top! jx

  42. Oooh! Happy (belated) birthday, Stephanie!
    What a lovely post - so full of cuteness! :-)

  43. Dear Stephanie,
    Happy, happy birthday to you!
    What a sweet post! As usual your words themselves are sweet jewels I like to read slowly and enjoy, accompagnied by you images ( love your photos of Angelique and Tristan. Is that wooden blue door of yours?).
    ... oh, please, do not hesitate to bombard us with gaggles of Mesdemoiselles, I'd love to admire every detail, every embroidery (your embroideries are always very inspiring, I wish I hade more time to try myself)
    Your maple syrup cake simply looks delicious, it definitely will be my next culinary experiment.

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