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Showing posts from 2012

Fondant Covered Cupcakes

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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 cupc…

Christmas Cocktail Party

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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

Ingredients
1 French bread stick
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic
250g rare roast beef, sliced paper thin
Roc…

Granville Markets, Vancouver, BC

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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 …

Melting Moments

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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.

Ingredients
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 th…

More big cakes

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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 c…

Fairy Cake

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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 coupl…

The "Lia" Wedding Cake

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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 tak…

Black Forest Cherry Cake

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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…

Chocolate Ginger Bread

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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 h…

Queen Cakes

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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 b…

Coconut Ice Cakes

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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 s…

Mocha & Chocolate Layer Cake

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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.

Ingredients
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 …

Raspberry Kermakakku

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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…

Caramel Coconut Cream Sponge

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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.

Ingredients
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…

Bruscetta

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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.

Ingredients
Loaf of sour dough br…

Warm Pear Pudding with Caramel Sauce

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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 …

The Design Diva Tweets!

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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

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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 rec…

Fat reduced buttercream

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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.

Ingredients
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 i…

Saffron & Rose Cupcakes

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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 cupc…

Coconut Biscuits

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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 Ch…

Valentine's Dinner Menu

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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…

Thieves in the temple

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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.…

Australia fare

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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 b…

Caramel Fudge

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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.…

Chocolate celebration cake

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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.

Ingredients
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 b…