Thursday, August 07, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
My husband has always enjoyed the flavour of caramel more than chocolate, so last year when we went to Brest in Brittany, France, he was delighted to discover that caramel was also the preferred flavour in that region. On our first night in Brest we had the great pleasure to dine at a traditional Brittany restaurant with our friends and hosts.
Of course crepes were the main item on the menu, and both Mark and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I forget what I had for dessert because it paled in comparison to the confection that Mark accidentally ordered. When he ordered a bowl of caramel icecream for dessert he had no idea that there would be anything else in the bowl other than icecream. Imagine his surprise (and my utter envy) when the waiter placed a massive bowl of caramel and vanilla icecream covered with delicious, hot, runny, buttery caramel sauce, topped with whipped cream? Mark’s eyes nearly popped out of his head!
In fact, it wasn’t just caramel that was so important to the people of Brittany – it was also butter. They put butter in everything! On the crepes, on the vegetables, all over the bread – they’re mad for butter. And since caramel is based on butter, naturally they love that as well.
Unfortunately for me, the diet in France was far too rich and my stomach put severe restrictions on what I could and couldn’t eat. Annoying, since it had taken me 11 years to get back to France after my first visit. I would have been happy if the waiter had brought me Mark’s dessert, only leave out the icecream and the whipped cream – a whole bowl of that caramel would have been heaven to me!
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup of water
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup self raising flour
¾ cup plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
75g chopped walnuts
12 unbroken walnut halves.
1. Pre-heat you oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2. Place the chopped dates and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add butter and stir until melted. Allow to cool.
3. Add sugar, egg, flour, bicarb soda, spice and walnuts and mix until combined. Do not beat!
4. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with confeta cups and drop icecream scoopfuls of mix into each. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Tops will remain soft and squidgy so do not touch!
5. Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 15 cupcakes.
½ cup brown sugar, tightly packed
2 tblsp milk
175g salt reduced butter
1kg icing sugar mixture
1. Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until combined.
Slowly bring to boil and simmer until sugar is melted. Do not over heat or you’ll get hard lumps in your mixture.
2. Warm 2 tablespoons of milk in microwave so it comes to room temperature. Add to butter and sugar mix and stir until combined. Set aside to cool completely (or make this the day before you need it if you have time).
3. Put 175g butter, icing sugar and milk into the large bowl of a mixer. Combine on low speed until all ingredients are wet. Increase speed to medium-high and beat buttercream until it’s light and fluffy.
4. Add caramel mixture and beat until well combined. For a deeper caramel colour add ¼ teaspoon of Parisian Browning Essence if desired.
5. Top cool Date & Walnut cakes with caramel buttercream and decorate with half a walnut.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
It was hugely exciting to take our cupcakes to market last weekend. We were up and running by 8.15am, but didn't serve our first customers for at least another half an hour. When I finally relented and went off to get a latte, Murphy's Law kicked into play and Mark made our first sale in my absence.
But further sales were fast to follow. It's great to see people we don't know happily purchasing our product and enjoying it! Apart from the odd homeless person (pickled in Jim Beam) we found the Bondi Junction Organic Food Markets an extremely pleasant place to spruike our wares. So we'll be there again this Saturday, July 12. Hope you can make it down to see us this time - and of course partake in a little piece of cupcake heaven.
Monday, June 30, 2008
On Saturday, July 5, 2008, Kitchen Alchemy will unveil its cupcakes at the Bondi Junction Organic & Grower's Market. The market opens at 9.00am and closes at 4.00pm. It's located in Bondi Junction Mall, which is on Oxford Street, right near the ramp to Bondi Junction train station.
We'll be selling our vanilla cupcakes, topped with delicious strawberry or vanilla buttercream, our Double Dutch Chocolate cupcake, plus a limited number of our mini cupcakes (all vanilla with an assortment of buttercream toppings).
We're really excited about this next step in our cupcake venture. If you've been a reader but never a taster, we especially hope to see you there!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I recently went to my local Food For Less store, which is owned by Woolworths, to stock up on vanilla. I looked up and down the baking aisle for the vanilla essence and strawberry flavouring but never found it. I thought nothing of it until I mentioned it to my neighbour who told me Woolworths had removed the essences because of the recent scare mongering in the media over kids buying the stuff instead of booze.
I thought the exact same thing. So the next time I was at the supermarket I asked the checkout guy whether they were now keeping the vanilla essence and pink food colouring behind the counter - with the knives, cigarettes and other controlled items. You know what he told me? Food For Less isn't stocking those items at all any more because of the Government!
I went marching down to Coles, which is situated a block away, and went straight to their baking aisle. Lo and behold - the entire range of Queen Fine Food items was still in pride of place on the shelf (except for a couple of items that had sold out that day). I knew Lemon Essence and Orange Essence were the offending items in question, so I checked the product information on each - indeed, they contained 69% alcohol. But we're talking about a 59ml bottle, people!!! I checked the Strawberry Essence - it only has 3% alcohol, so no worries there.
I came stomping home to my husband and told him we should buy up all the Lemon essence, tip it into some Lemonade, and see if we can get drunk on it just to prove a point.
Food For Less Randwick was recently victim of a stupid pipe bomb attack by kids no older than 13-16 years. I can't help thinking they are still recovering from that event and perhaps they don't want to sell anything that would promote criminal behaviour amongst our skurrilous junvenile community. But to delete an entire product line is a complete overreaction. If they want to control the sale of those items, they should be put behind the counter. Honestly, I do think it's easier to get a packet of cigarettes in my neighbourhood than it is to buy a bottle of vanilla essence. Society has gone mad!
My solution to this problem is simple: I rang Queen Fine Foods (http://www.queenessences.com.au/) and ordered my vanilla from them direct. I'm not letting Woolworths's stupidity let this brilliant Aussie company go under. We saw Coles do it to the people that made junket. If your supermarket gets silly about food colourings and flavourings, PLEASE!, make a complaint before this silly witch hunt ruins baking for all of us.
Friday, June 13, 2008
If you have ever been to France and have had the great fortune to gaze into the windows of a Parisian patisserie, you would know that the French have taken cake baking to a whole other level.
France, of course, is the home of cordon bleu cooking, upon which the best recipes in the western world are based. The French work wonders with pastry. They whip this, they fold that. They think of the most profound things to do with ingredients in order to produce a gastronomic feast. When I was in France last year I naturally gravitated towards every patisserie I passed. While macarons are my absolute favourite, I am also fascinated by the detailed little cakes that can be found everywhere.
One of the key ingredients of these cakes is French buttercream. Now I have talked extensively on this blog about buttercream icing, which I use on most of my cupcakes. As I’ve said, the first people I saw using buttercream was a couple of Mormon missionaries. But buttercream icing bears no resemblance to French buttercream.
The process to make French buttercream begins with sugar, water and vinegar in a saucepan, which is carefully boiled to 250F. Ingredients MUST be measured precisely, because if ever there was alchemy required of a recipe in my kitchen, this one is it. You have to use a candy thermometer to get the precise temperature, and when the syrup is just right, it’s poured, boiling, over two eggs nicely whisking in the Kitchenaid. The hot syrup cooks the eggs and after about 10 minutes of mixing, you introduce lumps of butter. More mixing, etcetera, etcetera, then voila, it all comes together in a creamy mass of delicious, buttery French evil!
When I first started making French butter cream, it was in the dead of summer. We all know butter can turn to water if it’s left on the bench in summer, but I was clever enough to manipulate the temperature so this never happened. I used the French buttercream to fill love heart cakes which were then covered with what I used to call frosting, but which is now dubbed buttercream icing. It was an amazing cake. Visually, not up to scratch, but taste-wise it was delicious.
So when I dreamed up a new design for a cupcake this week, I thought French buttercream would be the exact thing to top the cake with. Smooth, yellow, sweet, delicious. How could I go wrong? Therein lies the rub. The last time I made buttercream I used an electric stove, it was summer, and I had my old Sunbeam Mixmaster. Today I used my gas stove, it is winter, and my trusty Kitchenaid was my main tool of trade.
The syrup cooked swiftly and perfectly. I poured it into the eggs and let them whisk for seven minutes. Then I dropped the chunks of butter in and waited for the magic to happen. The Kitchenaid mixed and mixed and mixed and finally, it said “enough!”. But the buttercream wasn’t right. The butter had smoothed out but there was still a wetness about the mix that indicated not all the syrup had incorporated into the buttercream. I can’t figure out what went wrong but here are a few hypotheses:
1. The mixer was too fast and the butter separated from its own water (kind of like what you’d get if you churned cream to butter).
2. The eggs and syrup mix was too cool when I added the butter, inadvertently bypassing some melting action that was required.
3. There wasn’t enough butter – I was a half an ounce short of what was required.
4. I didn’t mix the buttercream long enough (but I thought 20 minutes would be fine).
5. You just can’t make buttercream in an Australian winter.
Any and all of these ideas are possible. I don’t know which is correct. So I’m deprived of a specialty filling until such time as I figure it out.
I attempted to rescue the buttercream by adding icing sugar. I thought it would absorb the wetness but I was wrong. It maintained that curdled look, and turned the buttercream into a sweeter than desired confection. I did use it to sample my design (see above). But really, this was a disappointing failure.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Luckily she wasn’t sucked in by this shocking price, so they sought a second quote. Can you believe the second supplier quoted $7.00 per cupcake? When the woman commented on the price being a little high, the supplier justified themselves by saying, “Well, they are very fiddley and quite time consuming you know.”
That’s utter rubbish!!! For everybody out there who is looking for cupcakes for a wedding, please note the following:
1. When you say “wedding” to any supplier, the price immediately doubles. Hide this fact for as long as you can.
2. The base price for a cupcake should be between $3.50 and $4.50. If someone quotes you more than that, start asking questions.
3. The things that might increase the price are:
- Special decorations. Some hand made sugar flowers can cost $1.00 a piece. If you want multiple flowers on each cake then the cost will increase for every additional piece you add. Some cupcake bakers can do sugarcraft themselves, and that could bring the price down. But if they have to source the decorations from a third party, then they aren’t able to control that part of the price. My advice – think of a different decoration if you can.
- Special presentation. If you wanted your cupcakes displayed in pretty cupcake covers, these can cost around $1.00 each. They have to be imported from America, so there could be shipping costs involved too, and you’ll need to order way in advance to allow for a lengthy delivery time. If you want your cupcakes presented in a gift box, these can cost anywhere between $1.00 and $3.50 each, depending on where they come from, what they’re made out of, and whether they were bought at wholesale or retail. Sometimes it’s better for you to source boxes yourself. A good old two dollar shop is usually the best place to start.
- Extra special icing. If you wanted a fabbo ganache icing or rolled fondant, then the dollars will go up, not just for the icing but for the application of the icing. Fondant has to be rolled, laid, trimmed, blah, blah, blah. And you might want shimmer dust painted onto it to make it extra special. That is the kind of fiddly time consuming workmanship that pushes the price up. And it doesn’t necessarily make your cupcake taste better. My advice: ask yourself if you want things to look like plastic and taste like cardboard. If the answer is no, then you have an easy choice.
- Fancy cake. If you ask for a non-standard cake base, like chocolate mud or fruit cake, your price will go up. These types of cakes require specialty ingredients, including high quality baking chocolate (usually Belgian or Dutch), dried fruit and expensive liquor. Vanilla buttercake or chocolate cake are the original and the best flavours on the planet. If you can accept one of these, you’ll save money straight away.
Cupcake lovers, my advice to you is to take time to look for the right cupcake supplier. If you buy cupcakes from your favourite café, ask them if they’d commission their supplier for a bulk order, or if they’ll put you in touch with their supplier direct. In the icing department, I say you can’t go past the crispy white American egg white icing I often use on my vanilla vanilla cupcake. But buttercream can also be fancied up. And don’t forget display is everything. Get the right cupcake stand and your special cakes will look amazing.
If you have any doubts, leave a message, and we’d be happy to advise you on the best course of action. And for those of you in Sydney, we are certainly available to fulfil your cupcake dreams. Just ask!
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
I had one batch of chocolate cupcakes dip slightly in the middle of the cake and I thought nothing of it. But the following week I was in a serious hurry to cook a batch of chocolate cupcakes to fill a café order. Imagine my horror when I took the tray out of the oven to find all but two cakes with massive great holes in the middle – and I knew I had accidentally put double the amount of bi-carb soda in the mix, so there was no reason for them to sink.
I took my recipe book to bed that night and studied the directions very carefully. The base of the recipe is a chocolate syrup made out of water, cocoa, sugar and butter. It also calls for bi-carb soda, which aerates the mix. But I had been leaving that out of the process until much later because I was convinced it caused the mix to boil over the sides of the pot.
I decided to go back to basics with my next batch of chocolate cupcakes. I followed the recipe to the letter and found the mix had reverted to the thin batter I used to see this time last year, instead of the thick batter I’d been getting lately. I divided up the mixture and found, to my surprise, that I got 16 cupcakes out of the batch instead of the 12 I’d been getting. This was very encouraging.
With the cakes in the oven, I settled down on the kitchen floor to watch them bake. Yes – I am that dedicated to my baking! I was delighted to see that each cake was rising to the level of the Confeta cup – one in particular seemed to be rushing ahead (thanks to a very uneven temperature in my oven, no doubt). When the timer bell rang, I whipped my chocolate cupcakes out on to the bench and, lo and behold, cupcake perfection!
The moral to this story is simple – even if you think you’re an expert at what you’re doing, sometimes true kitchen alchemy means sticking to the original recipe. That being said, I’m not publishing the recipe for those cakes – it’s a commercial secret! What I will give you though is a recipe for semi-ganache, an excellent icing for chocolate cake.
100g dark cooking chocolate (choose good quality for the best results)
67g salt reduced butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1. Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave for one to two minutes. Do not over heat or you’ll scorch the chocolate!
2. Mix the choc/butter mix until well combined then add the icing sugar. Combine all ingredients then transfer into the bowl of your Kitchenaid (or some other inferior mixer!).
3. Beat with the whisk attachment until the icing thickens. Remove and spread or pipe onto your cake. Do not over handle! This is a very small batch and will cover only two or three cupcakes. A larger batch will make an excellent filling for a chocolate gateaux. However, I would increase the batch size to more than four times what's shown here (eg 400g chocolate et al).
Note: I used 76% cacao cooking chocolate in this recipe. It's commercial grade. If you can't get that, go for Plaistowe 64% cacao. Or if you live in the Sydney CBD area, stop by the Lindt Concept Store (http://www.lindt.com.au/1/4.asp) and pick up a huge bag of cooking chocolate from them. The service might be lacking, but the chocolate isn't.
Extra Note: I found this recipe behaved completed different the second time around to the first time I made it. If the icing isn't thickening for you, add a little extra icing sugar a tablespoon at a time. But remember, once it thickens up it will set quickly so get it onto your cakes ASAP.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
We at Kitchemy Alchemy are proud to announce the launch of Cupcakes By Kitchen Alchemy - our new sideline designed to feed the cupcake fanatiscism that has swept Sydney, Australia and many parts of the Globe!
For some time now our cupcake efforts have been coming to the boil - where ever we go we've brought our cupcakes with us. People wanted to know how they could get more, so we decided to make it easy for them - voila: Cupcakes By Kitchen Alchemy. Now instead of just reading about them, you can order them and eat them!
Check out the Cupcakes By Kitchem Alchemy website over here at http://www.cupcakesbykitchenalchemy.com/
Can't wait to order your own? Then hot foot it down to Anise Cafe at 381 King Street, Newtown - currently our exclusive stockist of Cupcakes By Kitchen Alchemy. You can read more about Anise here: http://www.eatability.com.au/au/sydney/anise_newtown.htm
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Well late last year I was fortunate enough to score a second hand Kitchenaid KMS90 for a bargain price – one which had only ever been used twice. I’ve been working with my Kitchenaid for about six months now, and I’ve decided it’s time to report on the performance of this machine.
Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!
That’s the only way to describe it. Because it was second hand, the Kitchenaid showed up with no manual and only one attachment – the standard whisk beater. Having seen what can happen to the same attachment on the Kenwood Patissier, I quickly bought the flat paddle attachment from Pulp Kitchen and installed it as the default attachment.
The number one thing I use my Kitchenaid for is making cakes – cupcakes mostly, and I can attest to its excellence in all things cake. I do find it prefers a double sized cake batter mix instead of the single. The resulting cake is always light, fluffy and moist.
I’ve also used the Kitchenaid to make fruit cake – tricky, as you don’t want to accidentally mash the booze-soaked fruit.
Recently I acquired the Kitchenaid icecream freezer bowl, which was the big item touted as an extra last Christmas – sadly, my skill in the icecream churning department is lacking, so I haven’t gotten the best results out of that attachment. And I’ve decided that’s probably a good thing.
And finally the dough hook – I may have mentioned before that I hate making pastry, so I’ve used this attachment for making pizza dough instead, with again, excellent results.
In direct comparison to the other two mixers, the Kitchenaid’s performance is light years ahead. Despite the Kenwood Patissier being a copy of the Kitchenaid, it couldn’t beat a single egg white, whereas the Kitchenaid can. I never had a problem with the Sunbeam Mixmaster – until it blew up. Despite being in the repair shop for six months it never recovered from that disaster, and last council pick up we left it on the street as trash (that WAS a sad day). And of course there were the ongoing problems with the Kenwood Patissier’s whisk attachment breaking – and costing $55 to replace. Not cool.
I high recommend the Kitchenaid bench top mixer to anyone who is serious about baking. They normally retail for $695 - $750, and come with whisk beater, paddle beater, dough hook and pouring shield (I had to buy three out of four of these at $27.50 a piece). And let not forget all the other exciting attachments there are to go on the front – shredders, graters, pasta makers… the world is the Kitchenaid owner’s oyster.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
So I went to the plant nursery near my mother’s house and bought myself a young lemon tree. The tag said it would fruit three seasons of the year. This was very exciting news! I took the tree home and planted it on a mound of dirt in the corner of the back yard, which was theoretically communal, but which was only used by me.
Each morning I came out onto my balcony and surveyed my fledgling lemon tree, and was overjoyed when it sprouted some blossoms. My dream of an abundance of lemons was on its way to coming true!
Some weeks later I was entertaining friends from France. As I pointed proudly to where my lemon tree should have been, I was horrified to discover there was nothing left of it but a stick of a stump. Some person had cut my lemon tree off below the graft, unceremoniously ending my dream of a fruiting lemon tree, not just for myself, but everyone in my building.
Of course I overflowed with outrage. How could such a thing happen? I had left the lemon tree name tag on it so it couldn’t be mistaken for some noxious weed. In a place that was relatively barren, my attempt at nurturing life had been prematurely and maliciously cut short. It never fails to astound me how stupid and senseless people can be sometimes.
I never found out who committed that despicable act, although I have my suspicions. I reported the crime to my best friend and her parents, who surprised me at my wedding by delivering a beautiful dwarf lemon tree to my husband and I when we returned home from our honey moon. They were clever enough to plant it in a massive pot so our new lemon tree could sit protected on our balcony, and be transported with us where ever we go. I’m yet to supply the new building I live in with lemons from that tree – but I treasure it all the more for having seen its predecessor cut down before reaching prime. When you live in a city, it’s good to grow things and to nurture them, and to remember that even if your dream does get cut down, you simply plant it again and grow it until it comes true.
1 sheet frozen sweet shortcrust pastry
3 eggs yolks
200ml sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup caster sugar
12 curls of lemon zest
1. Cut the shortcrust pastry into rounds with a 6cm fluted cookie cutter. Gently press each round into a 12 hole gem scone pan. If it’s Teflon coated you shouldn’t need to grease the pan.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the whites and set the whites aside. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until blended. Add the condensed milk and lemon juice, then mix thoroughly until all ingredients are combined.
4. Place a heaped teaspoonful of mix into each pastry case. Do not overfill! It expands slightly during cooking. Set aside.
5. Put the egg whites in the small bowl of an electric mixer and beat on heat until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the caster sugar and mix for a further three minutes to dissolve the sugar. Mixture should look silky and a little stringy (if it doesn't look like this it will shrink after baking).
6. Place heaped teaspoonfuls of the meringue over the lemon filling. Use the tip of the teaspoon to create a gentle swirl effect. Do not flatten or push the meringue – however it sits naturally is good.
7. Place the tartlets back in the oven and cook for a further six minutes or until the meringue goes a very light golden brown.
8. Allow to cool then decorate with a single strip of lemon zest and serve.
Note: this recipe actually makes enough lemon filling for 24 tartletts so if you feel like making double the number of pastry cases, go right ahead. Alternately, you can use a 12 hole patty cake pan to make your pastry cases a little bigger (so that they hold more filling).
Saturday, March 29, 2008
It was tough for me leaving the only school friends I'd ever had, but the change was made a lot easier by a girl called Nicole who lived around the corner from our new house. Even though Nicole has just completed sixth grade, she was repeating – I think it was because she was too young to go to high school. What ever the reason, I was lucky to have a neighbourhood friend who was in the same class as me at school.
Nicole and her little sister were what you call ‘latch key kids’ - their parents worked during the day, and weren’t there when Nicole and her sister arrived home from school. Eventually my sister and I would also end up as latch key kids – much to the detriment of our burgeoning predilection for squabbling (we weren't nice to each other at all). What I didn’t know about Nicole and her family was that they were also Mormons. This really meant nothing to me until I went round to Nicole’s place one afternoon to find two Mormon missionaries in the kitchen baking a tea bun for Nicole’s parents.
At the time I thought they were ‘men’. Now, of course, I realise they were probably 19-year-old kids, which I understand is the average age for a young Mormon to go on a mission. I was fascinated by Elder Rob and Elder David, mainly because they were American and spoke with a strong Utah accent. But they were also interesting because they were cooking. The tea bun was sitting on the cooling rack and the two Elders were whipping up buttercream without a mixer.
I can still clearly see those two young guys standing there in Nicole’s kitchen with Nicole, her sister and I utterly enthralled by them and what they were doing. I asked them why they were baking for Nicole’s parents – they said it was to help out. I couldn’t really fathom how a tea bun could help two hard working people – but of course these days I’d quite possibly do the same thing for someone myself. If I had a recipe for a tea bun! One thing I will never forget is the colour, texture and delicious vanillary smell of that buttercream. Those missionaries set a standard for buttercream which left a 30 year impression on me. I still think of those guys every time I whip a batch up.