Showing posts from 2007

Queen Ann Christmas Cake

A couple of years back I had the pleasure to work with a lady named Anne, who was as passionate about baking and kitchen craft as I am. But that wasn't the first thing that stood out about Anne - it was her incredible sense of style.

Anne had grown up in a family that worked in the "rag trade". At the same time, she also had acquired a love of the fashions from the 1950s Hollywood golden years. Flattering bodices, A-line skirts - the kind of glamour personified by the like of Grace Kelly, Ginger Rogers and Audrey Hepburn. In much the same way that I spent my lunch times scouring stores for kitchen equipment, Anne spent hers scouring boutique fabric stores for unique prints and imported pieces of cloth.
Anne would take these treasures to her dress maker, along with a video or dvd of a movie she'd seen something in, and ask the dressmaker to replicate it for her. Keep in mind, Anne did not have the figure of any of these screen goddesses - and that was irrelevant. Where …

Christmas Cupcakes

What is it about Christmas time that makes everybody so thingy? Or so kooky? Or just plain positional? Firstly, I think it's the fact that Christmas only comes around once a year (and we should all thank the Maker for that!). Because Christmas only comes once a year, we tend to put a whole lot of energy into making it a wonderful, over the top, sensory experience. And when we have an experience like that, we want it to happen over and over again.

And that, I think, is how Christmas traditions are born. We do something once, decide it's really good, and we keep doing it because we like to feel good again and again.

When I was a little kid I loved the excitement of Christmas. My mother did a great job of establishing a set of Christmas traditions that we repeated every year with great joy: setting the tree up exactly one week before Christmas, wrapping up little bundles of edible goodies in coloured celophane and tying them to the tree... and of course, the Christmas lunch, which …

The scoop on scoops

One of the best tips I ever got on cupcake baking was to use an icecream scoop to measure out the mix.
Icecream scoop, I hear you say? One of those anti-freeze jobs that they use at the gelato bar? The kind they use to roll the icecream into a ball before they drop it into a cone or cup?
Absolutely not! Once was a time when the humble icecream scoop was far less technological, and might I say successful. It was a fixed metal scoop with a moveable wire that swooped across the bowl of the scoop with a spring action to eject the icecream from the crevice.
As it turns out, this is the ideal item to measure the perfect amount of cupcake batter into a standard muffin tin. When I heard this, I went out in search of a traditional icecream scoop, and found not one but two different sizes. I bought both, thinking there would indeed be a use for each; all I had to do was think one up.
I got to work with my icecream scoop and found that not only could I get the cupcake batter into the cups a whole l…

White lies

Back in 1988 I read a book called Chocolate: The Consuming Passion, by Sandra Boynton. It was a great book about one of the things I truly love – chocolate. At the time I used to enjoy the occasional Nestle Milky Bar, so when I read her page on white chocolate, I was a little miffed. She had drawn a square in the middle of the page with a black dotted line around it and said “for the great flavour of white chocolate, cut out and chew!”.
Years later after having produced flop after flop of one white chocolate sort or another, I have finally come to the realisation that white chocolate is nothing more than a tragic pretender to the chocolate throne, and should be renamed out of defference to the greatest sweet treat ever known to man.

The latest white chocolate insult to my baking efforts comes in the form of a white chocolate mudcake. Jennifer Graham has a recipe in her Crabapple Cupcake Bakery book, and since I trust Jennifer implicitly, I decided to give it a go. But I wanted a big c…

Rainbow Ratatouile

We had an odd set up at our place when I was a kid. My dad was a salesman, and his territory was the far reaches of country New South Wales. So he would leave for work on Monday mornings - well before dawn - and come home on Friday nights. Mum had a job as an egg collector on a chicken farm. She mostly worked Saturdays and Sundays, so my sister and I were faced with a unique situation - Mum all week, Dad on weekends.

Dad was not as experienced a cook as Mum so often in her absence, we were confronted by some very er... whacky meals. And tha'ts putting it politely! I remember one meal of scrambled eggs which were hopelssly burnt. We smothered them in tomato sauce and ate them. Another of Dad's favourites was Camp Pie - a remnant of his Army days, and a sure fire way to catch Mad Cow's disease these days, is you ask me (Camp Pie is tinned English beef). One thing Dad did serve up to us, which he considered povo food, but which we thought was a gastronomical delight, was boile…

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The Tao Of Cupcakes

A quiet revolution has been taking place in cafes around the world. It is a revolution that is round, approximately two to three inches high, and comes in multiple colours with a plethora of flavours to make even the most stalwart dieter come skipping with delight.

It is the humble cupcake I am talking about. No longer left solely for kiddies parties, cupcakes are taking the place of fatty friands, mega-muffins and banana bread as the preferred morning snack.

But just what is it about cupcakes that has taken hold of our tastebuds?

I cast my mind back to the parties I attended as a child, and the sweet fare spread across the table that was nothing short of a sugar-fest designed to titillating our tiny tongues and send us home in an insulin haze. My party preferences were always sausage rolls and cocktail frankfurts for savouries, followed by fairy cakes and toffees for sweets. I was also partial to chocolate crackles, but knew full well that ingesting an entire one meant certain sickness …

Mini Chocolate Bar Cakes

There are times in your life when you realise it’s just possible that friends can do as much for you as family can – if not more. I was nineteen years old when I first figured this out. It was my first year out of high school. I’d been working for about eight months as a proof reader in a Braille publishing facility. I still lived at home but I’d bought my first car and I was fast becoming an independent young woman.

My birthday is in September, and up until that point, my school friends and I had been in the habit of going out to restaurants to celebrate. My friends at the time were Tory, Leanne, Lisa and Tracey and sometimes Larrissa, although she came and went from the group. I hung with Tory the most, because we liked going clubbing together. We often took Tracey with us, and we frequently caught up with Lisa, who had moved into the city with another friend Peisha.

But we were all in Penrith the weekend of my nineteenth birthday, and I had been told that I was in for a birthday surp…

Festive Pineapple Ham

A few years back when I was still single I decided Christmases were better spent with friends. My inaugural Christmas trip away from family was to Cairns to visit an old school friend Peisha. She was actually my first flatmate too, and was very instrumental in teaching me how to be a high stepping Eastern Suburbanite.

I had lost track of Peisha years previously. She had gone off to live in Italy, I’d had a stint in Hong Kong, and it wasn’t until 2002 when I was organising my high school reunion that I finally located her whereabouts. She’d been in Cairns for several years, and while she couldn’t make it to the reunion, we did catch up for lunch and then dinner when she was in transit to and from Italy. At dinner I quite unceremoniously invited myself to Christmas at Peisha’s. It was really rude, when I think about it.

Luckily for me, Peisha was a very welcoming host. She owned a fantastic big old Queenslander which was a complete two bedroom house upstairs and a whole second three bedro…

Road Test: Sunbeam Mixmaster v Kenwood Patissier

Back in 2003 when I began my most recent baking odyssey, I acquired a Sunbeam Mixmaster – the remake of the classic retro mixer from the fifties. My mother had a Mixmaster which she bought in the seventies, and which I did most of my cake baking with as a teenager (when the obsession truly took hold). She still has that Mixmaster today, although it is significantly worse for wear – the plastic cover over the light is broken and they haven’t made the bulbs for years, so there’s a “live” cavity where the light bulb should be. I can vouch for that because I stuck my finger in there accidentally last year and got a nice shock from it.

I paid quite a lot of money for my Mixmaster and it held pride of place on my kitchen bench for three years. That is until I had it running one Sunday and one of the motors blew up! I discovered that the twin motor “600 watt” power it claimed worked in two ways: 1. to run the beaters; 2. to turn the turntable the bowl sits on. After seeing flames shooting fro…

Banana Cornbread

The first cat I ever knew was Bill. Sir William Sneddon, to be precise, but Bill to everybody who loved him.

Bill was a completely black cat with yellow jewel-facetted eyes. He arrived in our family when I was about four or five years old, and became a constant source of enjoyment to my sister and I. He was an incredibly tolerant cat - allowing us to mess with him in a way most young cats would never allow.

My sister and I particularly enjoyed dressing Bill up in dolls clothes. We'd put a frock on him, complete with a lacey bonnet, then put him to bed in my sister's dolls craddle. Mostly he'd stay there for a second or two, then bolt, sending my sister and I into peals of laughter as he tried to walk away without tripping on the skirt of the frock, his dignity only just in tact. But there was one occassion when Bill actually thought the craddle was a good option - we have pictures of him occupying that little bed for a nice afternoon kip, blanket and all!

Our back yard was a …

Glazed Orange Rosettes

A few years back I took a stab at starting a cake design business. I lay in bed at night thinking about the kind of cakes I would really enjoy eating, whether I bought them from a cake shop, or whether they were sold in a chi-chi city cafe. I settled on three different creations, each one individual sized, and proceeded to work out the recipes for the cakes of my dreams. I invited six of my close friends over for an afternoon tea (a tradition that is seriously underrated, let me tell you!) and greeted them with a table covered in cakes - a pink one, a chocolate one, and an orange one. I watched pure excitement creep over their faces as I gave them free license to try ALL THREE of the cakes. They sat down, plates in hand, and began to sample my work.

I viewed the table with an overly critical eye - one is always more critical of one's own creations than is necessarily within reason, don't you think? Never the less, I announced that I felt the orange cake was incomplete. My frien…

Wedding Cake

I used the recipe for Traditional Christmas Cake as my wedding cake []! I had to cook three large round fruit cakes to produce my wedding cake, which was a three level high column cake. I actually ended up making six cakes - three that were the right size, and three smaller ones with all the cake mix I had left over.

I aged the cakes for six to eight weeks, and found they were still quite moist regardless. I consultated a lot of cake experts, and despite the cake decorating instructions saying otherwise, I did a few things to the cake which in the end caused more problems than improvements. Namely, I sandwiched the cakes together with marzipan which eventually liquified thanks to the weight and moist of the fruit cake. I also stuck wooden skewers through the cakes to provide them with more stability. The skewers ended up poking through the fondant, which luckily was covered by the flowers all over the top.

I wanted to use crispy white egg white ic…

Vanilla Cupcakes

My sister was in the Brownies when she was a kid. She put on her uniform every week and went off somewhere mysterious to me, taking pledges, doing things to win badges... she even went off on a camp (which made me interminably envious because it required she be bought a pair of bedsocks). She made Brownies look like it was fun. As soon as I was old enough, I begged my mother to let me join.

The problem was, my sister's Brownie pack was too big. So they formed a new pack which it was determined would meet in the new hall. Now the new hall wasn't like the old hall - it had been brought to town on the back of a truck and had been plonked down next to the old hall on ugly, exposed brick stilts. It had none of the dignity of the old hall - it was garish and offensive.

To make matters worse, the new pack would have a new Brown Owl. She took forever to turn up, and when she did, she didn't seem to know what she was doing. Her tongue was sharp, her tone snappish; she seemed more th…