Friday, December 28, 2012

Fondant Covered Cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago I was scraping around looking for inspiration for some baby shower cupcakes. The weather was hot and I knew my usual piped buttercream wasn't going to cut it.

At the same time I was tooling around on the internet looking for decoration ideas, when I came across a blog where a woman was putting fondant onto cupcakes with a thin layer of buttercream underneath. Back in 2009 when I first tried fondanting cupcakes I'd used white chocolate ganache as the under layer. It was really hard to get the ganache to behave well and I spent a lot of time smoothing it to form a neat dome shape. The lighbulb went on for me when I saw the buttercream under layer and I thought I'd give it a go.

In addition, I have a texture mat that I really haven't put to good use in the years since I bought. I thought why not emboss a small amount of fondant on the texture mat and see what happens? It turned out to be a winning combination.

Here are my tips for this cupcake decorating technique:

1. Fill any space left at the top of the cupcake paper with buttercream so that the fondant will rest on the very edge of the paper.

2. Use a round cookie cutter that is about 3mm wider in diameter than the cupcake. You will think the round will be too big, but the height of the domed buttercream will use up the excess.

3. Keep your hands free of any buttercream when handling the fondant. Otherwise it leaves a wet and shiny patch on the fondant.

4. Gently seal the edge of the fondant to the top edge of the cupcake paper.

5. Carefully smooth the fondant onto the buttercream to create a domed top. If you've used a texture mat don't press too hard or you'll lose your pattern.

6. When you've finished leave your cupcakes out to dry overnight if you can. Try not to keep them sealed in boxes as this makes the fondant gor sticky.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Christmas Cocktail Party

Well it is that time of year again - when there's parties a plenty, with lots of fancy drinks and of course loads of festive fare to enjoy as well.

I've kicked off what we fondly call "the silly season" with a cocktail party in my backyard. We had been thinking about doing this for a couple of years but were concerned we'd have planes landing all night, since we live under the Sydney flight path. Instead we had to battle appallingly hot weather on the very first day of summer. I must say I don't cope well with heat, and my face was flushed for the entire day. In fact I wasn't sure if I would ever return to my normal colouring again. But when we woke this morning, a cool change had blown in and some light rain had cooled things down.

I so enjoyed preparing canapes for my guests I thought I'd share them with you.

Rare Roast Beef Crostini

1 French bread stick
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic
250g rare roast beef, sliced paper thin
Rocket leaves
100g creme fraiche
2 tsp horseradish cream

1. Cut the French stick into 5mm thick slices. Just cut straight across - you don't want the crostini too wide.
2. Brush one side of each crostini with a little olive oil.
3. Slice the garlic in half and rub over the entire surface of each crostini.
4. Bake in a moderate oven for 5mins or til a little golden and very crusty.
5. Cool on wire racks then set aside until serving time.
6. Lay a rocket leaf on each crostini. If you mistakenly buy baby rocket like I did lay a couple of leaves on the crostini.
7. Fold the beef into a decorative ball/knob/lump - whatever you want to call it. You want to be able to see the dark edge and the pink middle.
8. Stir the horseradish cream into the creme fraiche and then spoon it into a piping bag with a small round nozzle. Pipe about half a teaspoon of cream onto each crostini and serve. I managed to make 32 pieces with the above ingredients.

Salmon & Cucumber Canapes

3 Lebanese cucumbers
200g smoked salmon
100g cream cheese
juice of 1/2 a lime
32 baby capers

1. Slice each cucumber into 10 or 11 pieces about 8mm thick. The Lebanese cucumbers are nice because they have less seeds and more flesh.
2. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until it's soft. Add the lime juice and combine thoroughly.
2. Fit a piping bag with a 1cm closed star tube and fill it with the cream cheese mixture. Pipe a decorative star of cheese onto each cucumber piece.
3. Separate the slices of salmon and roll each into a tube. Slice through the middle then cut 1cm wide tubes and place them end up on top of the cream cheese,
4. Position a caper in the middle of each piece of salmon.
5. Refrigerate until you serve. I made 32 pieces with these ingredients.

Mushroon Pate Mini Pies

300g chopped mushrooms
1.5 cups almond meal
75g butter
1/2 cup water
2 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste
6 sheets ready rolled frozen puff pastry
1 egg yolk, beaten

1. Chop the mushrooms even more until they are very finely diced.
2. Melt the butter in a pan and add the garlic. Lightly sautee then add the mushrooms and water. Continue to sautee until the mushrooms have reduced down and there's no liquid left.
3. Transfer to a bowl and set aside until the mushrooms are cool.
4. Stir in the ground almonds.
5. Lay a sheet of pastry on a pastry mat and mark out nine squares using a sharp knife. You don't need to cut all the way through.
6. Position a teaspoon of mushroom pate in the middle of each square. Using a pastry brush, paint around each ball of mixture with milk.
7. Position another sheet of pastry over the top and gently press down to cloak each ball of pate. Make sure you don't trap any air in the pocket and try very hard to seal the two sheets of pastry together.
8. Using a 6cm pastry cutter cut each ball out of the pastry sheet. I used a round cutter because it seemed easy, but you could use a heart or a star shape. As you cut each piece be sure to check all sides of the pastry are sealed. Brush the top of each piece with the egg yolk.
9. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 190 degrees celcius for 20 minutes.
10. Serve hot or cold. I served these with sweet chilli sauce.

Vegetable Gyoza

My sneaky canape of the night was these vegetable gyoza. My local supermarket sells these in boxes of 16 for $7.00. A bargain I say! I still had to steam them and their fry them to make their bottoms crisp. But they were a welcome addition and helped me set my catering numbers for the other canapes. I served these with light Japanese soy sauce.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Granville Markets, Vancouver, BC

Recently I took a trip to Canada to attend a course and had the great fortune to spend a couple of days in Vancouver. Of course Vancouver is all about the Canuks! The big foodie highlight for me was Granville Island, the location of the public market.

With autumn falling across Canada, many shop windows showed displays of their harvest produce. I was concerned that there really wouldn't be much good food available, but boy was I surprised! Here is a selection of the great fresh produce I found on Granville Island.

Granville Island was originally a swamp and was converted into an industrial island where the main product being produced was iron and steel. It fell into dilapidation after the second world war, and was reclaimed by the city and turned into an urban redevelopment in the late seventies. You get there by taking the bus from downtown, or you can catch the Aquabus which docks right outside the market. You can find out more about Granville Island by checking out their website.

The first sight that greeted me in the public market was capsicums as far as the eye could see and of every colour. I really would have liked to buy a big load of these and get to work cooking traffic light ratatouille with some delicious pasta and meatballs. In Australia the most common coloured capsicums are red and green. Granville Island has red, green, orange and yellow capsicums. Apparently red capsicums are just rippened green ones, but the orange and yellow ones are actually a different variety and are grown from different seeds. In Canada they probably call these bell peppers.

There was also an abundance of tomatoes. Every shape, every colour. Under the tables were bags of cherry tomatoes - red, yellow and orange. I have never seen so many varieties of cherry tomatoes. They also had them on the truss, which is highly covetted in Australia. I had the feeling that one could cook up an enormous Italian feast with the foods I found on the very first stall.

Asparagus is typically a delicacy in Australia, and we pay a lot for it. Granville Island had bunch after bunch of asparagus. Can you imagine all of this lightly steamed and served with beautiful hollandaise sauce and freshly cracked pepper? Or how about if it was tossed in garlic butter and garnished with roast hazelnuts? Or maybe even wrapped in a lovely slice of proscuitto and baked in the oven then drizzled in light olive oil. Mmmmm!

This stack of strawberries amounted to a pound, which I actually bought and attempted to eat. I polished off six for lunch, another six for afternoon snack and another six for breakfast the next day and I still hadn't put a dent in the big pile. The flavour was amazing - even better than English strawberries. Clearly they were grown in a field not a hot house. Sadly, I had to leave at least half a pound of strawberries behind because I simply couldn't finish them. I won't mention the maple syrup seller who offered me a free sample to enjoy with my strawberries and then put it back on the shelf. Because that might give the markets a bad reputation!

There were so many gorgeous little cakes that would have been great to try - but they were very expensive. And lets face it, you can't eat every cake, right? Well at least that's what I tell myself. Pictured here are mini lemon cheesecakes, chocolate cheesecakes, mango cheesecakes and strawberry tarts.

Spooky halloween cookies.

Fresh raspberries and fresh blackberries. Really we don't get them in this kind of quantity in Australia. And we're more likely to get them frozen rather than fresh. It just seems to work out cheaper that way. But I found raspberries in particular were served fresh all the time in Canada. I truly would have loved a chance to cook with these beautiful berries. French style flans I think!

In Canada I found the cult of toast to be extremely lacking. Most commonly I saw bagels, likes these beautiful fresh bagels at the Granville Island market. Or there were "breakfast sandwiches" which we would call Egg & Bacon McMuffin! But rarely was there toast offered. When I ordered toast in a cafe, they said they could make it for me but then they scrambled to locate the bread?? Whereas here all the loaves would be lined up next to the toaster waiting. It was good to de-toast for a while, but the result has been a week long vegemite toast fest since I got home.

All over Granville Island were signs of Canada preparing for halloween, a festival which is tied in my mind to the autumn harvest. As it turns out, halloween is based on the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, which is also known as All Saints Day. On October 31 to November 1, it was believed the doors to the other world opened and allowed spirits and fairies and the like to enter our world. Maybe I won't be so "thingy" about halloween now that I know this. I like the idea of connecting to the other world, but really, has it got to be so gruesome?

Apart from all the beautiful fresh produce on Granville Island, there's also many sellers of freshly cooked takeaway meals. You can buy your lunch and seat yourself at a table inside, or you can head outside to sit by the harbour if you don't mind battling the seagulls. Which incidentally are about three times the size of the seagulls in Australia. I offered them strawberries but they clearly weren't to their taste. But that didn't stop them from noisily demanding I come up with their snack. If you are ever in Vancouver, make sure you don't miss Granville Island - it's definitely worth the visit.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Melting Moments

When I set up shop at the markets again this year, I decided a couple of different things on the table would help pique the interest of the Double Bay shoppers. I added gingerbread men for the kids and decided Melting Moments were a great option for mums to have with their coffee.

I had tried out the recipe a few weeks before and my husband and I found them irrestible. The fat buttery biscuits with a gorgeous dob of lemony frosting in the middle. And they didn't take that long to make either, which as I found, was extremely important on production day.

These biscuits are a classic in Australia. And I had customers who live in the USA saying they couldn't get them there. Well now you can just make your own.

250g salt reduced butter
1.5 cups plain flour
1/2 cup pure icing sugar (powdered sugar)
2/3 cup corn flour
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line a large baking tray with bakiing paper and set aside.
2. Combine the butter, icing sugar, flour, corn flour and lemon zest in the bowl of your Kitchenaid. The butter must be at room temperature for this to work. Using the paddle beater mix on first gear until the mixture forms a dough. There will be a point where you think it's not going to work and you need to add liquid of some kind. Do not be tempted! Just let it mix and it will come together.
3. Form teaspoonfuls of the mixture into small balls and place evenly across the baking sheet. Try to get 20 balls onto the sheet - you should still have half the mixture left. I use my small icecream scoop to make these balls. It means every biscuit is almost exactly the same size.
4. Use a fork to press each ball down into a disc. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are very light golden brown. Do not over cook! These biscuits are meant to be blonde.
5. Repeat with the remaining mixture. You want to have 40 pieces in total.
6. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

90g salt reduced butter
1.5 cups icing sugar
3 tsp lemon juice

1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid and mix on sixth gear until thoroughly combined. Continue beating for one minute so that the frosting is nicely whipped.

1. Fit a plastic piping bage with a 1cm star piping tube. Don't even try to use the old fabric piping bags. The water from the butter will squeeze right through and leave your hands feeling horrible.
2. Squeeze a small amout of frosting onto 20 of the biscuits the sandwich a second biscuit on top of each one. Try to match shapes and sizes (even though you've made them all perfectly identical.
3. Allow to set for 30 minutes, then scoff!

Makes 20 biscuits which keep for a week in an airtight container.

More big cakes

Well it seems every time I go to the markets I get less blogging done. Which is surprising because I am always cooking until I virtually drop. I came out of the corporate for a while again this year and decided to go back to market with my cupcakes. It's been an awesome time, and in between I've had some cool big cake jobs which I thought you'd like to see.

This is The Batman Cake. Aka The Dark Knight Rises Cakes. It was made for a former colleague whose son was turning 21. It was an awesome pleasure making this cake because it really struck the right mood for the last Batman movie. The photo doesn't really show how cool the colour of the cake was - a mixture of cyan, grey and black icing.

I made this cake for my little boy's third birthday. Despite his love of robots and cars he insisted that he wanted a duck cake. I had to make sure the duck design wasn't twee - otherwise it would have looked quite babyish. The interior of both the cake and the barn is chocolate cake with chocolate ganache. I had the same interior for the Batman cake.

This is Dorothy the Dinosaur. I made her for a little girl who was having two birthday parties and two cakes. Her mum wanted to be able to put Dorothy on one cake then transfer her to the other. Dorothy is made entirely of fondant, which I think I was lucky to get away with. Next time I will take a leaf out of Planet Cake's book and make the middle of the figurine out of caramel fudge.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Fairy Cake

Even before I did the "Lia" wedding cake last week, I had great fun creating this fairy themed cake for a friend's little girl. I love it when people give me a very loose brief because it means I can let my imagination run wild. For this cake, I was asked to make it fairy theme. I knew straight away it had to have a toad stool on it - the white dots against the red top are always striking. Then I knew there had to be a fairy and of course some green tendrils and loads of flowers.

So I assembled all the pieces I needed, covered the cake in fondant, and began adding bits on. As I completed each new addition, I stepped back, took and look, and then decided if anything more was needed. In my opinion, cakes like this reveal themselves - you just have to be prepared to go with with the flow. Right up until I added the ribbon, I felt the cake wasn't quite done. But once the ribbon went on, ta-dah! It's cakes like this that make decorating so much fun. In a couple of weeks I'm going to make a duck themed cake for my little boy. Despite his love of cars and robots he is adamant he wants a duck cake. Who knows - maybe I'll venture into the realm of square cakes for that one!

Monday, July 02, 2012

The "Lia" Wedding Cake

I'm almost at the point now where I can make any big cake I can dream of and it will turn out pretty much as I planned. Last week I made this big cake for a wedding, and I am naming it "The Lia" after the bride. She asked for a chocolate cake, white on the outside with red flowers, but pretty much left the rest up to me. The wedding reception only had 30 guests, so there was no need for a multi-tiered construction. But I didn't want the cake to be a flat thing on a table for the photo with the bride and groom, so I made a stacked chocolate cake - two eight inch cakes both 4 inches high, covered in chocolate ganache then covered in fondant.

All the flowers are edible, and again, I made them all myself. It's the first time I've ever put sugar flowers on a wire and I must say there is a trick to it, which I don't think I'm privy to. If you are every wondering why wedding cakes like this cost so much, it's because the handmade sugar flowers take many many hours to make. They can't actually be made in one go either - they need to be created layer upon layer, sometimes with a days drying time in between each. I spent a lot of time talking to my mum about making these flowers. I used pre-prepped flower moulding paste, and I really think it is a poor replacement for the pastillage my mum and Aunty used on the flowers they made for my birthday cake (when I was five!). Those flowers "clinked" like china. These ones just never dried to that point. But all in all, I am very pleased with this result.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Black Forest Cherry Cake

When we moved to Penrith in 1980, the housing estate we lived in was brand new. We had lived in Newcastle all of my life until then, and we knew everyone in the neighbourhood. But in Penrith, everyone and everything was new.

My sister made friends with a German girl in her school, who happened to live in a house kind of over our back fence. We had never met anybody from Germany before, and we were very lucky to be invited to afternoon tea, where Mum, my sister and I were served hot butter cake cut in thick rectangular slabs.

Not long after, my sister was given a piece of her school mate's birthday cake. She said it was called Schwartzwalder Kirsch Torte - Black Forest Cherry Cake. This type of cake was unknown in Australia at the time. Now it is a staple of any cafe cake selection. We loved it, and I requested it for my birthday that year. In fact it became the standard birthday cake in our home for the rest of my childhood. And of course, I made sure I learned how to cook it.

I was delighted recently when a good friend recently asked me to make a Black Forest Cherry Cake for her friend's birthday. I can make that cake with my eyes shut. She said she wanted the cake to be chocolate sponge, not chocolate cake. We were taught by the Germans to make a dense chocolate cake, but hey - I'm flexible! So chocolate sponge cake it was!

6 large eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup corn flour
3 tblsp fine cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease and line a 10 inch round cake tin.
2. Crack all the eggs into the bowl of your Kitchenaid and beat them with the whisk attachment on 10th gear until they are foamy.
3. Gradually add the sugar, then continue to beat for a further 10 minutes.
4. Sift the three flours and the cocoa together. Stir to combine then add to the egg mixture one third at a time, gently folding the dry ingredients through until they are fully combined. Take your time with this step - gently folding will produce a fluffier sponge.
5. Pour the sponge mix into the cake tin and bake in the oven for about one hour - or until the sponge springs back at the touch. If you are unsure if the sponge is cooked, insert a skewer through the middle. If it comes out clean the sponge is cooked.
6. Cool for five minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Filling & Assembly
200g high quality cooking chocolate
1.2L thickened cream
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp sugar
2x 400g tins pitted black cherries
60ml Kirsch (cherry liqueur)
16 fresh black cherries

1. Melt the chocolate carefully in the microwave - about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn it! Try 30 second bursts then stirring until its ready.
2. Spread the chocolate along a sheet of baking paper that is about 15cm high and 1.2m long. Using a pen or the handle of a wooden spoon, carefully roll the paper up into a tube. Yes - the chocolate will be touching the paper as you roll. Trust me - this is a good trick.
3. Place in the fridge for an hour or until the chocolate is solid.
4. With the chocolate roll sitting on a tray, hold the leading edge of the paper and carefully unroll the chocolate. Shards will break into the tray as you go. Set chocolate shards aside.
5. Split the cake into three layers. Be very careful not to break the cake.
6. Pour all the cream into the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat with the whisk attachment until the cream is whipped. Do not over mix or the cream will look buttery. I stop and check over and over as it approaches completion to make sure all the cream is whipped to the same consistency.
7. Drain all the cherries and retain the juice in a glass jug.
4. Add the Kirsch to the cherry juice.
8. Position the bottom layer of the sponge on a cake board or presentation plate. Spoon the cherry juice over the cake until it appears adequately soaked - about one third of the juice should do it.
9. Arrange half the cherries over the sponge and then cover them with about a quarter of the cream.
10. Place the second layer of sponge over the first and repeat the juice, cherry and cream steps.
11. Place the final layer of sponge over the second. Gently press down on the top to seal all the layers. Make sure the top is level.
12. Use a dinner knife to smooth any cream that bulges out around the sides. Continue to cover the sides with cream. Cover the top with cream, being careful to make a nice smooth top. Don't let any cake show through the cream.
13. Position chocolate curls around the sides of the cake. Arrange the fresh cherries on the top of the cake so that they are evenly spaced out around the edges. Pile any remaing chocolate flakes in the centre of the top of the cake.
14. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Makes 16-20 serves.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chocolate Ginger Bread

Now that my little son is a bit bigger, there are increasing chances to enjoy time creating in the kitchen with him. A couple of weeks ago I bought him a bakery set, with 20 items items a kid could use in the kitchen. My intention, of course, was to divert him to his own utensils every time he gets mine out of the cupboard.

Today, however, I really felt he could put the rolling pin and cookie cutters to work. So I whipped up a batch of ginger bread, but making it more chocolate than ginger. Surprisingly my little boy didn't want to roll the dough. He did want to do all the cutting out of the shapes, but again was happy to let me transfer each cookie to the baking tray.

After lunch I started piping royal icing onto the cookies and let my son go wild with sprinkles. Of course one bowl was inevitably knocked flying, to the tune of little sugar balls bouncing all over the floor. But who cares!? My little boy had buckets of fun. With every cookies decorated, he decided it was his job to lick all the decorations off. But not before we got a photo of the finished product!

125g butter
1/4 cup treacle
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp bicarb soda

1. Beat the butter, treacle and brown sugar in the large bowl of your Kitchenaid until it is pale and creamy.
2. Add the eggs, one at a time, combining thoroughly after each addition. The mix will look wrong at this point. Don't worry - it will come together.
3. Add the ginger, cocoa, plain flour and bicarb soda and mix on first gear until the dough comes together - about 30 seconds. Do not over mix or the dough will be tough!
4. Gather the dough up into a ball, knead a little, then wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degree celcius.
6. Take the dough out of the fridge and cut it into quarters. Roll each piece out until it is 3mm thick and cut shapes using your favourite cookie cutters. Last year we used this dough to make pick-up truck cookies for my son's birthday, so really it can work with any shape.
7. Arrange on a cookie tray lined with baking paper and bake for 6 minutes. These cookies burn easily so watch out!
8. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Royal Icing
1/2 an egg white
2/3 cup pure icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

1. Combine all the ingredients and mix until you get a thick paste. Add more icing sugar if necessary.
2. Pipe or spread onto cookies and decorate immediately with sprinkles or silver cachous.

Makes loads of cookies, depending on the size of your cutter. We got 20 little cookies and a further 20 gingerbread men out of this batch.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Queen Cakes

This past week we have enjoyed watching the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II who is, in fact, the reigning monarch of Australia. How odd that, at the far end of the world, we are ruled by a monarch instead of being a republic.

While I'm all for a republic I absolutely enjoy the pomp and pageantry the Queen and her family bring to our lives. Even more, I enjoy reading about her ancestors, most notably Henry VIII, his six wives (I am extremely fond of Catherine of Aragon and despite her behaving a shrew, Anne Boleyn). So much so, a few years back I was motivated to take a trip to Britain to trace Anne's footsteps and that of some even earlier kings who built their castle at Old Sarum.

So for the past few months I have been thinking how I might pay tribute to the Queen, and the idea that sprang to mind was a cake version of Queen Pudding. It is a bread and butter pudding, with jam added to the equation, and meringue baked over the top. I don't like bread and butter pudding that much, so I spent a lot of time thinking up how to adapt the idea to a cake. I came up with these little beauties which, you might be delighted to know, are fat free. Although not if you serve them with a dollop of King Island cream, which I think you should.

Happy Diamond Jubilee dear Queen. I can't help but love you.

4 large eggs
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup self raising flour
1/3 cup corn flour
4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup strawberry jam - lump free is best
7 strawberries
extra egg white and caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease and line a 28cm x 40cm baking tray with baking paper and set aside.
2. Crack the eggs into the bowl of your Kitchenaid and beat with the whisk attachment on 10th gear until the eggs are frothy. Gradually add the caster sugar and continue to beat for 10 minutes.
3. Gently fold the flours through the egg mix, ensuring all the flour is combined. Do not beat or mix!
4. Spread the sponge mix evenly across the baking tray.
5. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the sponge is cooked. If it's still sticky when you touch it, give it three more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray.
6. Use a 5cm round cutter to cut rounds out of the cold sponge. You should get about 15 rounds (some may be a little crunchy on the edges).
7. Clean your Kitchenaid bowl and place the egg whites in it. Beat with the whisk attachment on 10th gear until soft peaks form. Gradually add the caster sugar and continue to beat until the sugar has disolved - about 5 minutes.
8. Clean the baking tray and line again with baking paper. Make sure it is very flat.
9. Spread about one and a half teaspoons of jam on the bottom of a round and sandwich it onto the top of another round. Try and match rounds so that they all roughly end up the same height. You'll have one round left over. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius again.

10. Using a small palette knife, spread the meringue around the sides of each cake. I held mine with thumb on the top and forefinger on the bottom as I spread around the edges. Try not to get any on the bottom as they will stick to the baking paper.
11. Carefully place on the baking paper on the tray and spread meringue over the top of the top so that the cake is fully covered. Repeat until all rounds are covered and you have seven cakes on the tray.
12. Bake in the oven for 3-5mins until the cakes are very lightly brown on the peaks. My slow gas oven took five minutes, but if you have a fan forced electric oven it might only take three.
13. While the cakes cool on the tray paint the strawberries with egg white and roll in the extra caster sugar. Set aside to allow the sugar to harden.
14. Carefully transfer the cakes to serving plates. Place a frosted strawberry on the top of each. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Note: these cakes taste great warm, but they're also fine cold. They will keep for three days.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Coconut Ice Cakes

What story do I tell you that doesn't begin with some experience I had as a kid? Coconut Ice is no different - it was "some kind of wonderful" that would turn up on the tables of school fetes, usually costing 20 cents for a few pieces. I was always charmed by the beauty of the delicate pink hue next to the pure white, and the way the two were layered to form a dreamy coconut partnership.

When we got our first food processor in the 80s, the book that came with it included a recipe for coconut ice based on condensed milk. This was a good flavour, but it wasn't quite like the coconut ice of my childhood. Around this time Darrell

Lea, the chocolatiers, began making slabs of coconut ice. Also not like the coconut ice of my childhood, but since it was readily available, I didn't care.

Skip forward to circa 2000 and I was having a pre-Christmas cup of tea at a friend's mum's place, who had just taken delivery of some Christmas treats. And there it was sitting on the plate - coconut ice just like I used to get at the school fete. I begged for the recipe and was very fortunate to be given it. Imagine my surprise when I found it contained one raw egg white? I'll share that recipe with you some time, but for now, I want to show you what I've made for World Baking Day.

Coconut Ice Cakes. I was dreaming of a gorgeous loaf cake with swirls of icing along the top, trimmed with shredded coconut and little pieces of coconut ice marooned on the icing mounds. But my cake stuck to the tin and I just couldn't bake another. So I decided to put my inventor's cap on and came up with these little morsels, which would sit perfectly on any high tea menu. Enjoy!

250g butter
2 cups caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup desicated coconut
1/3 cups butter milk

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees celcius. Grease and line a deep bar tin.
2. Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Combine on first gear then stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to sixth gear and beat for three minutes.
3. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin. Colour the remaining mixture with 1/4 teaspoon of pink food colouring. It needs to be quite dark to come out pink after cooking.
4. Bake in the oven for one hour. Test with a skewer if you are not sure it's cooked through. If the skewer comes out of the cake clean, it's cooked.
5. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
6. At this point, if you want my original idea, go to the icing instructions. If you want the little morsels in the photo, continue from here!
7. Slice the cake into 1.5cm thick slices. Use a bread knife for this task and be very careful to catch each slice before it breaks.
8. Lay each slice flat on a chopping board and use a 4cm heart cutter to cut a heart shape out of the middle of the cake. You should get about 14 hearts. Set the off cuts aside (and scoff them plain with coffee later).

100g butter
500g pure icing sugar
4 tblsp full cream milk
a good squeeze of Wilton icing white
1/4 cup shredded coconut
14 pieces of store bought coconut ice

1. Combine all the ingredients in the large bowl of your Kitchenaid. Mix on first gear to combine, then increase speed to sixth gear and beat until white and fluffy. Make sure there are no butter lumps.
2. Fit a piping bag with a closed star piping tube then fill the bage with the icing.
3. Pipe a strip of icing around the heart shape, finishing with a squeeze in the middle.
4. Sprinkle with shredded coconut then decorate with a small piece of coconut ice.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mocha & Chocolate Layer Cake

I have been thinking about making a layer cake for quite some time now, but I just haven't had a good reason to get into it. Since it was Mother's Day today, I thought I would indulge myself - my excuse being that I wanted a piece of chocolate cake, and I should just make my own so as to avoid disappointment!

Everyone has been making layer cakes lately with ribbons of icing piped up the sides of the cake. I am really glad I avoided this as it would have applied too much icing to what is already a sweet cake. Instead I went for a classic cake with a coffee twist. See what you think.

2 cups water
250g butter
3 cups caster sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp bicarb soda
4 eggs
3 cups self raising flour

1. Combine the water, butter, sugar, cocoa and bicarb soda in the biggest pot you've got. It needs to be at least four litres.
2. Stir until the butter is melted and the ingredients are combined, then bring to the boil. Do not take your eyes off the mix as it will boil up and over the sides of the pot, creating a shocking mess on your stove. Boil for five minutes - the more this mix boils, the darker your cake will be.
3. Pour the chocolate syrup into a glass bowl and set aside to cool until it is stone cold.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line two eight inch cakes tins with baking paper on the bottom and the sides.
5. Pour the chocolate syrup into the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Add the eggs and flour then mix to combine on first gear.
6. Increase the speed to sixth gear and beat the mixture for three minutes or until it becomes thick and pale.
7. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the cakes spring back when touched. If in doubt, insert a skewer in the middle - if it comes out clean, the cakes are cooked.
8. Turn the cakes out of the tins, remove the baking paper, and allow to cool completely.

1 kg pure icing sugar
175g butter
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp instant coffee powder.
150ml full cream milk
4 tsp hot water

1. Combine all the ingredients for the icing in the bowl of your Kitchenaid and mix on first gear to combine. Increase the speed to sixth gear and beat until all ingredients are combined.


1. Measure the cakes to check the height - these cakes usually end up 5cm high for me. Insert tooth picks around the circumference of one cake at the 5cm high mark. Then carefully cut the dome of the cake off to level it. The split the cake at 2.5cm high.
2. Insert toothpicks around the circumference of the second cake at 2.5cam high and then split the second cake, retaining the domed top.
3. Place the bottom of one cake on a cake board or turntable. Spread a good amount of the mocha icing over the cake then place the flat top over the icing. Repeat until the cake is fully stacked. Try to use the icing sparingly as you sandwich the layers together - too much icing can over power the beautiful flavour of the cake. Reserve at least a quarter of the icing for finishing.
4. Refrigerate the layer cake to set the icing.
5. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the layer cake, smoothing with a long palette knife to get is as consistent as you can.
6. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream

Makes 12 serves.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Raspberry Kermakakku

There are many different sweets the people of Finland enjoy, but when it comes to birthdays one of my colleagues, who hails from that part of the world has told me, no celebration is complete without a kermakakku. ‘Kerma’ means cream and ‘kakku’ means cake. Together they mean cream cake – a layered sponge cake decorated with lashings of whipped cream and favourite fruits found in Finland. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, lingon berries and cloudberries are all common flavours for this indulgent dessert cake.

I wanted to try making such a cake last year, and decided my birthday was a suitable occassion. The sponge cake was very easy to make (although when my colleague sampled mine he said the Finnish version was much more dry, thanks to their use of potato flour amongst other things). I worried this would be a cream heavy cake, but the piped cream up the sides was deceiving. My son and his friend scoffed this cake in minutes. And there was more than half a cake left over to take to work to share the next day.

Note: I've adjusted the ingredients in this recipe today as I made this cake for my mum yesterday and I wasn't satisfied with the proportions of the sponge cake. I think your sponge needs to be thick and fluffy. If you try this recipe please let me know how it works for you so I can make any further adjustments if necessary.

4 large eggs
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup self raising flour
1/3 cup corn flour
800ml thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp white sugar
1 ½ cup raspberries
¼ cup raspberry syrup

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease two 20cm (8 inch) round cake pans and line the bottom and sides with baking paper. It makes a big difference lining the sides of the tin as this helps the cake rise neatly up the sides.
2. Crack the eggs into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high for one minute. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating for 10 minutes.
3. Place all three flours in a bowl and mix with a spoon to combine. Drop flour into a triple layer sieve and sift one third into the egg mix. Gently fold the flour through the egg mix, being careful not to over mix. Repeat two more times until all the flour is combined. Divide the sponge mix between the two prepared cake pans and place them in the middle shelf of the oven to cook for 20 minutes. Test they are cooked by inserting a tooth pick into the middle of one. If it comes out clean the sponge is cooked.
4. Turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and carefully peel the baking paper off the sides and bottom. Leave to cool completely.
5. Pour the cream, vanilla and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high until the cream is thick and will hold a peak. Be very carefully not to over mix the cream.
6. Spread one third of the whipped cream on the top of one sponge. Cover with raspberries, reserving 12 of the best looking berries to decorate the top.
7. Place the second sponge on top of the raspberries. Press lightly to secure. Use a knife to spread a thin layer of whipper cream over the top of the second sponge.
8. Fit a star-shaped piping tube to a large piping bag and fill the bag with the rest of the cream. Pipe strips of cream up the sides of the cake to completely cover it. Pipe decorative swirls of whipped cream around the top edge of the cake.
9. Carefully pour the raspberry syrup onto the middle of the top of cake. Gently tilt the cake to spread the syrup to the edge of the cream.
10. Place the 12 reserved raspberries on the cream around the top of the cake and serve.

Note: as an added extra, it's really nice to spread a layer of lemon curd through the middle of the sponge before you add the cream and raspberries.

Serves 10.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Caramel Coconut Cream Sponge

A couple of months back I told the story of the caramel cream sponge my dad used to buy us when I was a kid. And I promised I would try and recreate that cake and share it with you. Well this weekend I finally did that. It was a friend’s birthday, so I decided what better occasion to test that recipe and see if it worked.

I found, in the process, that the toasted coconut on the side of the cake was a key player in the overall taste balance. So I've renamed the cake to include the coconut. It was a really fun cake to make and I hope you really enjoy making and eating this blast from the seventies past.

6 large eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ cup corn flour
½ cup plain flour
½ cup self raising flour
800ml thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp sugar
2/3 cup desiccated coconut
2 cans Nestle Top n Fill
12-20 pistachio nuts

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease and line a 10 inch cake tin. The lining is very important as it will help the sponge cake to rise.
Beat the eggs with the whisk attachment of your Kitchenaid – use 10th gear.
2. Gradually add the caster sugar, then continue to beat the eggs for 10 minutes. The mixture will become thick and foamy.
3. Combine the three flours in a triple sieve. Sift one third of the flour into the egg mix and gently fold through with a spatula. Repeat two more times or until all the flour is added. Be very gently with the folding, but also be careful to check that all the flour has been incorporated.
4. Pour the sponge mixture into the tin until it is two thirds full.
5. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the sponge is golden on the top and springs back at the touch.
6. Remove the sponge from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes. The sponge will drop a little – don’t worry if this happens.
7. Carefully turn the sponge out of the tin onto a wire rack. Peel the baking paper off the cake and allow to cool completely.

1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper and spread the coconut over the paper.
2. Toast the coconut in the oven for about seven minutes, or until the coconut is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely before using.
3. Combine the thickened cream, vanilla essence and sugar in the bowl of your kitchen aid and beat to stiff peaks.
4. Empty the two tins of caramel into a medium sized mixing bowl and beat until smooth. I did this with a hand mixer.
3. Split the sponge in half place one half on a decorator’s carousel. Fit two large piping bags with a round piping tube. Fill one bag with the caramel and the other with the whipped cream.
4. Pipe a ring of whipped cream around the perimeter of the cake, then continue in decreasing circles one 1cm apart.
5. Pipe the caramel in the gaps between the cream. Be sure to finish with caramel in the centre as this will give the middle of the cake support.
6. Place the second half of the sponge over the filling and press lightly to join.
7. Palette a thin layer of cream around the edges of the sponge, making sure no cake is visible.
8. Pick up handfuls of the toasted coconut and lightly press it against the side of the sponge. Coat all of the cream but do not get any coconut on the top.
9. Change the cream to a piping bag fitted with a closed star tub and pipe star shapes or fleur de lys shapes around the edge of the top of the Sponge. This is to form a “fence” to retain the caramel. You’ll see in my picture I didn’t do this. When I transported the cake half the caramel ran down the side.
10. Pipe the caramel onto the top of the cake, then carefully use a palette knife to spread it out to meet the cream at the edge.
11. Decorate with 12-20 pistachios to mark cake portions.

Store in the fridge until it’s time to serve. You really should get about 20 serves out of this cake.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Bruscetta (pronounced bru-sketta) actually refers to the bread, olive oil and garlic part of this antipasto dish. Dating back to the 15th century, it was a way to turn stale bread into a delicious snack. Italians enjoy many different toppings on their bruscetta, including roasted peppers, salami, tuna tonato (tuna blended with white beans, lemon juice and garlic) and even cheese. But nothing beats the flavour of perfectly ripe tomatoes, seasoned with salt and fresh basil. This bruscetta combination is a wonderful breakfast for a very hot day.

I have heard people dismiss bruscetta as nothing more than tomatoes on toast. But this is a far cry from the taste sensation of a properly made bruscetta. The key, in my opinion, is chosing the juiciest, most ripe tomatoes you can find, and combine them with beautiful fresh basil. As a breakfast meal bruscetta will leave you feeling like you have done something good for yourself today. I invite you to try.

Loaf of sour dough bread
3 tblsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
3 medium red tomatoes
1 tblsp olive oil extra
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Half bunch fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1. Cut six 1.5cm thick slices off the loaf of sour dough. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush olive oil on both sides of each slice of bread.
2. Peel the garlic cloves and cut each one in half. Rub the cut side of the garlic all over one side of the oiled bread. Repeat for the other slices. Keep the garlic pieces for later.
3. Arrange the bread on a baking tray and place in on the middle shelf of the oven. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, or until the bread is lightly toasted.
4. Wash the tomatoes and cut each one in half. Use a soup spoon to scoop the seeds out of the middle of each tomato half. Throw the seeds away. Dice the de-seeded tomatoes into 1cm squares.
5. Place the diced tomatoes in a bowl with the extra olive oil, salt, pepper and the basil leaves, roughly torn into smaller pieces. Mix to combine then divide the tomato mixture evenly between each of the toasted slices of bread. Decorate with a sprig of basil and serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Warm Pear Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Back in the seventies, my sister and I used to sit down to a breakfast of puffed wheat every morning. If we were lucky, they were honey puffed wheats, served up with canned pears. Mum kept a lot of canned fruit in the cupboard, which seems odd now I think of it, because fresh fruit was plentiful, and not particularly expensive.

Those boxes of puffed wheat always came with a toy in them - a Dutch figurine, and I used to marvel, firstly at how many of them my sister got and I did not, but also at the unusual shaped hats and shoes the figurines wore. Of they were not shoes, they were clogs, something which I later learned my Aunt who spent six months travelling around Europe.

I used to make a lot of parfaits in the seventies, in which canned pears or canned peaches featured heavily. They were basically a single serve of trifle in a tall glass. They'd take all day to make because I'd set the jelly in the jar and couldn't add another layer until it not longer wobbled.

I never really took to fresh pears as a result of eating all those canned ones. But today when the unusually cold weather motivated me to make a pudding for dessert, I decided the pear in my fruit bowl would be the ideal fruity addition. Of course no pudding is ever complete without sauce of some kind. I chose carmel sauce for this one. The combination of caramel and pear is unbeatable.

125g butter
2 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
2/3 cup butter milk
one fresh pear, peeled

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Heavily grease a 7 inch round cake tin and set aside.
2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of your Kitchenaid and beat on sixth gear until pale and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat add until combined. Ensure all the butter mixture is scraped off the sides of the bowl and fully incorporated.
4. Add the flour and buttermilk and beat on sixth gear for two minutes. Pour into the cake tin and smooth the top.
5. Cut the peel pear into eights and remove the core. arrange the pieces in a decorative pattern around the top of the cake.
6. Bake in the oven for 60 mins, or until cake is golden brown and form to the touch.
7. Carefully turn out of pan and cool on a rack top side up.

Carmel Sauce
50g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tblsp milk

1. Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir while it comes to the boil.
2. Boil for one minute - no need to stir.
3. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
1. If you have another pear, peel it and cut into 5mm slices, ensuring the pieces remain attached at the stem. Fan the pear out and arrange on the top of the cake.
2. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the pear and cake and serve. This pudding is nice with icecream too!

Note: the pears in the cake will sink - don't worry if this happens!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Design Diva Tweets!

It's quite often a long time between posts isn't it? I try not to blog unless I've got a really good story to tell along with a really good, reliable recipe. I try to put a post up every week, but I noticed last month that just didn't happen! And yet I cook every day, sometimes three times a day! What the heck am I doing in between blog posts?

Well now you can find out. I've set up a Kitchen Alchemy Twitter stream, which lets me follow all my favourite foodies, and also gives me a chance to show you where I'm eating, what recipes I'm reading, and of course, what food I'm cooking. I figure micro blogging will help me keep up with you guys, and it will also let you keep up with me.

If you want to hear about the daily magic Kitchen Alchemy creates, follow me on Twitter. Just search for user name Kitchen_alchemy. Or you can click here to go straight to my Twitter profile Kitchen_Alchemy See you in the Twitterverse!

Meringue Au Chocolat

In 1702 Francois Massiolot, a chef in the kitchen of King Louis XIV of France, was the first to name an egg white and sugar confection he'd concocted for the King, “meringue”. Meringues are the little sisters of pavlova, a delicious dessert usually accompanied by whipped cream and fruit. The great thing about meringues is they are portable and they taste good on their own. Meringues can be found in patissieries all over France, often as large as a baker’s hand, swirled with the beautiful colours of fruit syrups.

When we first started our market stall in 2008, we had a lot of requests for gluten free items. We just didn't have the time or resources to come up with a range of GF cupcakes, so each week I'd whip up a batch of chocolate meringues so I'd have something to offer the GF customers. These were the cheapest item on the table, selling for $1.00, and they were invariably always the first thing to sell out.

If ever I have egg whites left over from another recipes, I make these. My husband adores them. They need no accompaniment to be enjoyed.

3 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
75g dark cooking chocolate, melted

1. Pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees Celsius. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and set aside.
2. Beat the eggs whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Add the vinegar and mix until thoroughly combined.
4. Drop heaped spoonfuls of mixture on the baking tray, ensuring you leave enough room in between each for spreading.
5. Dip a skewer in the melted chocolate and swirl it onto the top and sides of each meringue.
6. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes. Remove tray from oven and allow meringues to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 meringues.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fat reduced buttercream

The weather over the Easter break in Sydney was unseasonablly warm this year. So when it came time to make cupcakes for Easter, I really had to rethink the buttercream icing that is synonymous with all my cupcakes.

My standard buttercream icing has a high proportion of real butter in it, which is why it tastes so good. To me it is the key differentiator between a great cupcake and one that's just acceptable.

But with the weather so warm, I knew I had to reduce the amount of butter in the buttercream icing if my Easter cupcakes were not going to melt into a puddle. We've seen this happen in the last of our market days back in 2008 when the spring weather arrived. The texture and consistency needed to be as good as usual to get the beautiful shape when piping. I think the result was fantastic! See what you think.

500g pure icing sugar
50g butter
1 tbslp full cream milk
2 tbslp cold water
colouring of your choice
1/2 tsp Wilton Icing White

1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid and mix on first gear to combine.
2. Increase speed to sixth gear and beat the buttercream for three minutes. If the mixture is a little dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time to achieve a thick consistency. If it is a little too wet, add a dessert spoonful of icing sugar at a time to get it to the right texture.
3. Pipe on cupcakes with your choice of piping tube. Decorate immediately - this buttercream will form a skin very quickly so ice and decorate one cupcake at a time.

Makes enough buttercream to ice 12 muffin sized cupcakes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saffron & Rose Cupcakes

When I was 16 years old my sister and her boyfrfiend took me for dinner at a restaurant called Zorba The Buddha. I was utterly thrilled with this outing as it was in the city, to be specific, it was in Darlinghurst which was in my opinion, edgey, and it was on a school night! Zorba The Buddha was in fact run by Orange People. Or to be precise, the followers of the Bagwan Rajneesh who was at the time embroiled in some kind of sex scandal.

His followers dressed in robes dyed the same saffron colour as that of the Hari Krishnas and ran the restaurant presumably to raise money for their cult. Whatever the Bagwan was up to, it had no effect on the food served at the restaurant, or the jazz music played by the saffron clad staff. I can still hear the strains of the trumpet today.

But recently when I watched a documentary about the origins of saffron, it wasn't the Bagwan and his cult that immediately came to mind. It was whether or not saffron could be incorporated into a cupcake. Saffron is actually the thin thread centre of a purple crocus-like flower. It's grown in thE deserts of Morocco and is hand picked, dried in the sun, then shipped to the markets where it fetches an enormous price. I wondered whether it would make sense to put such an expensive spice into cupcakes. But since the saffron I have was just sitting in the cupcoard, I thought why not!? See what you think!

125g butter
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1.5 cups self raising flour
a big pinch of genuine saffron threads
the seeds of one vanilla pod

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line a muffin tin with cup cake papers - you'll get between 12 - 16 cupcakes out of this mix.
2. Place all ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid and mix on first gear to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate any unmixed ingredients. Increase speed to sixth gear and beat for three minutes.
3. Drop spoonfuls of mix into each cupcake paper. I use a size 6 icrecream scoop to get each cake the exact same size.
4. Bake for 20 minutes or until cakes are golden brown and spring back when touched.
5. Cool on a wire rack.

500g pur icing sugar
75g softened butter
1 tsp rose water essence
6 drops pink food colouring
3 tblsp milk
3 tblsp water

1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid, then increase speed to sixth gear. Beat until all ingredients are well combined.
2. Pipe icing onto cold cakes and decorate with a sugar flour.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Coconut Biscuits

When I applied to appear on Masterchef a couple of years back, there was a question in the extremely lengthy application which asked who my cooking influences were. I listed several women in my family, including my mum and my nana. Nana really was the epitome of the country cook, only I don't think she was in "the association" which has achieved so much notoriety in the past few years. She was a master of very good ordinary cooking, and her specialities stretched from roast dinners to pies, cakes and of course to biscuits.

At home with my little son last weekend, I decided I wanted to cook the most traditional cookie I could think of. I flicked through my Women's Weekly Bake cookbook and found nothing but fancy schmancy cookies that all looked a bit complex for my liking. So I rang my mum and asked for her coconut bickie recipe. This is one that figured heavily in my childhood. It was cooked with regularity throughout the year, but was also trotted out at Christmas decorated with pink or green sugar.

It turns out that recipe is one of Nana's. I have seen in replicated in some modern cookbooks and I've baked them using that recipe only to find the resulting product lacking. Mum was quite right when she said Nana's recipe is the best. Nana has been gone for nearly four years now, and really she was gone for about three years before hand, thanks to that cruel disease, alzheimer's. But I like the fact that I can connect my little boy to my nana through her cooking. He stood up at the bench with me and dipped each bickie in sugar before helping place it on the baking sheet. Nana would have liked that - she always liked to help a kid learn how to cook.

125g butter
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup desicated coconut
1 cup self raising flour
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup corn flour
coloured sprinkles

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius and line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of your Kitchenaid and beat until creamy. Add vanilla and egg and continue beating until light and fluffy.
3. Add coconut and all the flours. Mix on first gear until ingredients are completely combined but do not over mix! This will make your biscuits tough.
4. Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of dough into balls. Pour sprinkles into a saucer and drop each ball of cookie dough into the sprinkles and press to flatten slightly.
5. Place on cookie tray with a good five centimetres between each as these cookies spread a lot.
6. bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Be careful as these cookies can burn suddenly.
7. Cool on tray for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 25 biscuits.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Dinner Menu

A couple of years ago on Masterchef Australia, the judges set the contestants a challenge to create a romantic meal. I thought it was a great challenge, and I expected to see all sorts of sexy dishes presented as a result. To me the basic ingredients for a romantic meal were obvious. First, choose anything you know has aphrosidiac properties. Chocolate should be what everyone thinks of first. Then oysters second. Then think about the colours of love, red for passion, and chocolate brown for chocolate! And then think of textures. I like lychees because they were introduced to me as the sexiest fruit on the planet, and I couldn't agree more. Then all that's left is to think about your beloved - what does he or she love the most, which, if you presented it, would win you the most favour?

So, given all of that, here is my Valentine's Dinner Menu, which I cooked for my husband. Apologies for the delay - I was so disappointed in the photos for these recipes that I just couldn't finish this post until now. I still don't have photos for you but I will endeavour to do them for you in the coming weeks.

Chili and Bacon Oysters on the shell

4 rashers short cut bacon
1/2 long red chili
1 tblsp olive oil
half a dozen freshly shucked oyseters on the shell

1. Finely dice the bacon into 2mm by 2mm squares. Slice the chili in half, remove the seeds and dice half the chili to the same size as the bacon.
2. Heat the olive oil in a teflon pan. Add the bacon and chili and sautee until the bacon is brown. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
3. Cover an interesting shaped plate with rock salt and arrange the oysters to sit in the salt.
4. Sprinkle a small amount of the bacon and chili over each oyster and serve immediately.

Rare Rump Points Ends, served with creamy mash and almond green beans

4 rump point ends
2 tsp olive oil
3 pontiac potatoes, peeled and diced
100g butter
1/2 cup milk
1 large handful of green beans
1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds
2 tsp butter

1. Take the rump point ends out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. Massage both sides of each rump point end with the olive oil.
2. Place the diced potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat on the stove top until the water comes to the boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender. Drain and mash with a potato masher. Switch to a spoon and stir in the butter and milk. Add a little extra milk if need be to produce a creamy mash.
3. Top and tail the green beans and steam in the microwave for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Do not over cook! Stir through the flaked almonds and butter and transfer to a serving bowl.
4. Heat a teflon pan on the stove top and add the rump point ends. I like this cut of meat medium rare, so I very precisely time them in the pan. Cook for 3 minutes on the first side, then turn and cook for a further 2 minutes on the second side. Remove from the pan and rest on a plate in a warm place.

Note: these items cannot be cooked consecutively if you wish to serve a hot meal! There'll be a point where all three elements will be cooking so that they're all ready at the same time.

Diane Sauce
50g butter
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup cream
1 tblsp fresh parsley finely chopped

1. Melt the butter in the same teflon pan you cooked the rump point ends in - do not burn the butter! Add the garlic and lightly sautee.
2. Add the brandy and cook for 2 minutes.
3. Add the cream and and parsely and simmer for a further 5 minutes, or until the sauce reduces and thickens.

White chocolate and raspberry cupcake

2 vanilla cupcakes
3/4 cup fresh raspberries
300ml cream, whipped
1/3 batch of white chocolate ganache

1. Split the cupcakes in half and place the wider half top down on a presentation plate.
2. Spread a heaped spoonful of whipped cream on the cake, then arrange a layer of raspberries over the cream.
3. Place the second half of cake on the raspberries so the slimmest end of the cake is pointing upwards.
4. Spoon white chocolate ganache over the top of the cake until it begins to drip down the sides. Set both cakes aside to allow the ganache to set.
5. Pipe a small star of whipped cream on the top of the ganache and decorate with a single raspberry.

Verve Champagne
1. Crack the champagne and pour into glasses!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thieves in the temple

20 years ago I left Hong Kong, where I had lived for two years. It was an amazing time in my life, and I had never been back, so when I noticed how many years had gone by, I decided it was time for a visit. While I was there I took a trip out to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery. Originally a single Buddhist temple built in 1924, Po Lin expanded over the years to include other buildings until finally, in 1989, they began construction of a 34 metre high bronze statue of Buddha. Completed in 1993, this has been a major draw card for visitors to the monastery ever since. Of course it was an amazingly spiritual place - particularly since I was there on the second last day of the Chinese New Year period. People were lighting joss sticks, banging bells and drums, and off course paying tribute to the big Buddha , whose presence on the hill was ominous to say the least.

But a highlight for me was partaking of the beautiful vegetarian dumplings made in the monastery's cafe. The signs for each dumpling were in Chinese, so I just chose what looked delicious. The lady serving me was shaking her head and giving a quiet tsk-tsk, and once I began eating I could see why. I had selected an incomprehensible combination of sweet and savoury. No matter! It was all good, the best dumpling being the glutinous rice black sesame dumpling which I saved for last.
There was a bigger dining room where you could sit down to a meal of delicious Chinese vegetarian dishes, but this seemed to be designed for bigger groups. Since I was at the monastery on my own, I didn't think it was appropriate to ask for more food than I could actually eat.

If you are ever in Hong Kong, do make sure you allow a day to visit Po Lin Monastery. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the journey there, as well as everything there is to see once you get there. And of course don't forget to wave at the big Buddha - he is very welcoming!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Australia fare

Well Australia Day has come and gone and I have not posted a single recipe that might be of any use to anyone anywhere on this topic. That's because I'm not really doing much creative cooking at the moment.

However, I will regale you with a happy memory of Australia Day - it was easily 10 years ago, when my sister had moved to the central coast. She found a beautiful beach called Catherine Hill Bay, and my friend Jeannette and I decided to head up there for Australia Day.

There aren't too many beaches in Sydney where a person can take their dog and allow them to run free. At Catherine Hill Bay you could happily do this at the far end of the beach. To get there you had to drive through a grave yard, park under some trees and traipse over some sandy hills to reach the beach. Jeannette and I had bought grass mats for the occassion. The idea was to lay down the grass mats and place our towels over the top to make a much more comfy position for ourselves to enjoy the beach.

With towels neatly arranged we head into the water for a dip - which was perfect I might add, and magical, as is often the way at Catherine Hill Bay. Chest deep in water, Jeannette and I looked back at the beach to where my dog, Derek, was staring out at us. It was almost as if he was waiting for us to make eye contact so we could witness his crime. He turned around and began digging at our towels and grass mats - much as if he was digging for China! Sand was flying everywhere, and we began shouting "Get off! Get off!". Derek, of course, ignored us and kept digging until he'd made a nest. He circled around two or three times, then plopped himself down to wait for us.

Jeannette accused Derek of being a filthy wretch at the time. But looking back, it was hilarious! After we'd straightened everything out, we sat down and were thrilled to see the F1-11s flying past the beach on their way to Sydney. Back then they came every year to participate in the Sydney celebrations - they'd do a loop of the entire city, and it was thrilled to see them screeching past. I'm not sure if they do it any more. I certainly didn't hear them yesterday.

If you're an Aussie, I hope you enjoyed our national day yesterday! Lets see if I can do better with recipes for Valentine's Day!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Caramel Fudge

Straight out of school my first job was as a braille proofreader. No! I'm not blind! But I worked in partnership with a guy who was. He'd read a braille print out and I'd follow the original text and tell him if there were words missing or if there were punctuation problems with the transcript.

We frequently stopped to chat because reading all day every day can get tedious. And one thing we chatted about was cooking. As it turned out, my colleague and I both had a thing for caramel fudge. So when I left that job and found the corner shop near my new job sold amazing home made caramel fudge, I naturally sent some back to my old work buddy.

He didn't really like it - he preferred the Scottish tablet type of fudge which was a bit harder and more crystaline. But I liked the squidgey stuff. And I frequently was able to get fudge right after it was delivered while it was still warm.

Years later I asked the guys who sold the fudge why they didn't stock it any more. They said the lady who made it died. But she had left them the bowl she made it in, the wooden spoon she stirred it with and the recipe. Sadly they were so busy they didn't have time to make it.

I've been on the look out for a good fudge recipe ever since. I recently discovered Planet Cake uses fudge as the base for many fondant covered trinkets they include on their cakes. This fudge could be used for that. But I think you're better off just eating it!

395g condensed milk
395g top n fill caramel
2 cups dark brown sugar
250g salt reduced butter
1/3 cup liquid glucose
1/4 cup golden syrup
400g good quality white cooking chocolate

1. Line a 20cm x30xm brownie tin with paper, making all four sides are covered. Allow some overhang on each side.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat on the stove over a medium heat. Stir until all ingredients are well combined, ensuring the sugar is completely melted.
3. Allow to come to the boil and continue to boil for six minutes.
4. Remove from the stove and stand on the sink or on a trivett. It will take about three minutes for the boiling to subside. Do not touch the saucepan! Do not lick the spoon! And don't get any of it on your skin - it will burn like you won't believe.
5. Carefully pour the fudge into the prepared tin and set aside for three hours. Then place in the fridge and chill until fully set.
6. Cut into bars 2cm wide by 6cm long. Wrap in baking paper and tie with a ribbon if you like.

Note: You will get loads of bars out of this mix, with plenty to keep for yourself and give away to friends

Friday, January 06, 2012

Chocolate celebration cake

When I was a little kid my mother used to make the most amazing chocolate cake. It was a dark, moist cake, layered with whipped cream, which she sometimes flavoured with coffee.

She made that cake for me to take to my second grade christms party one year. Mum sure had a lot of confidence that a bunch of seven year old kids would love the flavour of chocolate and coffee together. But she was right - that cake was devoured right down to the last crumb.

I'm still of the opinion that a chocolate cake is the best kind of cake for any occassion. I made this one recently for a friend's mum's birthday. I added a few extra flourishes to turn it into a celebration cake.

2 cups water
3 cups caster sugar
250g butter
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1tsp bicarb soda
4 eggs
3 cup self raising flour

1. Combine the water, sugar, butter and cocoa powder in the largest saucepan you've got. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, watching carefully that the mix does not boil over. Continue to boil for five full minutes. The longer you boil this mix the darker your cake will be. In the last minute add the bicarb soda and mix to combine.
2. Pour the chocolate syrup mix into a glass bowl and allow to stand until it is completely cold.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Transfer the chocolate syrup into the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Add the eggs and flour and mix on first gear to combine. Increase speed to sixth gear and beat for three minutes. Mixture should be thick, pale and glossy.
5. Pour the mixture into a fully lined 10 inch round cake tin. Bake in the oven for 80 minutes, or until the cake is cooked.
6. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to completely cool.

1 kg pure icing sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
175g butter
120ml full cream milk
3 tsp warm water

1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Mix on first gear to combine, then increase speed to sixth gear. Beat until the buttercream become thick and fluffy.
2. Split the cake in two. Spread one third of the buttercream across the top of the middle layer. Position the top layer over the bottom and carefully align so the sides are even.
3. Use a butter knife to spread buttercream around the sides of the cake. Then use a long spatula to spread buttercream over the top of the cake. Make it all as smooth as you can but don't worry if there are bumps. Rustic is good with this cake!

Chocolate Almond Bark
500g milk chocolate couveture
2 large handfuls of raw almonds

1. Roast the almonds in a moderate over for five minutes.
2. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave - do this in two one minute bursts to avoid burning the chocolate. Continue with 10 second bursts if more melting is needed.
3. Stire the chocolate until all pieces are melted. Pour two thirds of the chocolate onto a cold plate and allow it to cool. Add it back to the rest of the chocolate and stir to thoroughly combine.
4. Chop the almonds - you want the pieces to be large but not chunky. Add to the chocolate and stir to combine.
5. Spread the chocolate onto baking paper. Make three strips no more than three inches wide. Place on trays and chill until the chocolate is set.
6. Cut the chocolate into two inch wide plaques.

Toffee Shards
1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Sprinkle caster sugar across the baking paper - make it about 2mm thick.
3. Heat in the oven until the sugar has melted and browned. Do not burn!
4. Allow to cool completely.

1. Stick the chocolate plaques to the outside of the cake while the buttercream is still wet.
2. Break the toffee into shards and arrange randomly on the top of the cake.
3. Tie a coloured ribbon around the outside of the cake. If you have it, add some edible glitter to the top of the cake to add some sparkle!