Monday, June 30, 2008

We're going to market!

We are thrilled to announce we are taking our cupcakes to market!

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

When idiocy takes hold

One of the main items I keep in my pantry is the full range of essences and colourings made by Queen Fine Foods. If you live in Australia you probably know them really well yourself - they are famours for their Natural Vanilla Essence, and in more recent years, their range has expanded to include flavourings like Almond Essence, Orange Essence, Rose Water Essence and so on.

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 ( 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

Unexplained icing failure

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

Don’t be ripped off

I heard a shocking story yesterday of how suppliers of cupcakes for weddings have been ripping people off. The story came to me via a friend about a customer who had two daughters get married in the space of two years. One of them decided she wanted cupcakes to serve as dessert, so she sought out a supplier for a quote. Can you believe she was given a price of $15.00 per cupcake?

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

Back to basics

I recently had a breakdown with my chocolate cupcakes – they simply wouldn’t rise in the middle of the cake. I found this really hard to understand, because this is a recipe I have been using for years, and I was convinced I knew it like the back of my hand.

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 ( 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.