Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Practising my skills

As part of my new job I am lucky enough to be able to attend some of the fantastic cake decorating courses that Cakes 4 Fun offer. This week, in the lead up to Christmas I went on the 'Festive Mini Iced Cakes' course, where you learn to cut and decorate five very cute miniature sponges. I absolutely LOVED this course and by the end of the class had developed a very strong affection towards my little cakes. I kept staring at them all doe eyed. This was my first time working with some of the equipment, for example the snowflake plunger cutters and I think the results are so cute!

This little Christmas tree was made from rolling sugar paste (mixed with CMC/Sugarcell to make a stronger modelling paste) into a cone and using scissors to snip the little branches.

By the way, sorry about the very average photos. I was in a rush to meet my friend Abee and give her this! Her favourite colours are pale pink and black.

And to another friend (who is a Pastry Chef at Harrods and a fellow lover of all things baking who encourages me no end) I gave this...

This cake covered with pearlised little reindeers and an edible Florist Paste bow was gifted to my cousin Kristy.

And finally, this little Christmas Pudding cake was gifted to a family friend. I think this is really cute!

I had so much fun in this course, my tutor Jen was absolutely lovely and such a great help. Even though I may be slightly biased because I work at Cakes 4 Fun I can wholeheartedly recommend the courses they offer. We have so many talented tutors and the courses are really well planned to ensure you not only learn new skills and come out with beautiful cakes but you have fun while doing it! You can view the full list of courses available online.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's been awhile

Hello. I'm back. And a lot has changed, hence why I haven't been posting although that's only a half excuse. For the most part I am too scared and sadly too lazy to post. Which I am so embarrassed to admit but it's very true. I wish I wasn't lazy. Or so easily distracted. I'm making a promise to myself to try and stop. But that's enough of all the 'woe is me'. Things have changed. Over the past 12 months I've moved my little life between three beautiful cities in three different countries. Melbourne, Australia. Wellington, New Zealand. And finally (for now) London, England.

I've left people whom I love dearly behind (just for a wee while) and come to meet new people who I now also get the honour of loving dearly. People around the world never cease to amaze me. There are such great, kind, generous and caring people everywhere. Sometimes, just as you're feeling down, someone, a complete stranger maybe, will pop up and do something kind to remind you that the world is a good place full of mostly lovely characters who find joy and satisfaction in doing nice things just because they can, and because it comes naturally to them. I think that's what makes 'us' as people so special.

As well as a change in world location, I've also had a change in career. Up until August this year I had been working in the advertising industry. Along the way I met some of my favourite people and got to work on some great campaigns but when I got to London and started interviewing something just didn't feel right. I knew that it was time for me to do what I'd been dreaming and talking about for years. Work with cake! And so...I now work at the busy cake supplies and novelty cake store, Cakes 4 Fun, in Putney as a shop assistant. And I am really proud of myself.

I love that people have dreams and more than loving that people dream, I love people who try and make those dreams become a reality. I wanted to be one of those people. Dreams can be scary sometimes and I am still freaking out a little about all the change that is happening in my life but in trying these things surely I can only learn more about myself and hopefully in doing that become a better, more interesting, wiser and more compassionate person? And if not...at least I would have enjoyed eating a lot of cake! I know it's cliche but if you have a dream, go for it! In baby steps or big leaps...just try because you never know what will come from just trying.

D x

P.S. Here's a photo of a rose buttercream cupcake I made the other day. It makes me happy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rainbow Cake. Happy Birthday E!

It was my partner's birthday recently, and being the big kid that he is, he decided he wanted a Rainbow Cake. Admittedly I did plant the idea in his head...this was a cake I wanted to try and I needed an excuse to do it - it's not an everyday cake. I don't often attempt cakes like these. For one, it's full of colouring which can't be the greatest for us, but it also looked like it had a high chance of failure. I like to bake but I like baking to work out. It's too disappointing otherwise.

Mixing the colours.

To make this cake I followed the super detailed instructions given by Megan of Not Martha. That Rainbow Leprechaun Cake is impressive! Megan has since made the same rainbow cake numerous times in different tins but her first attempt turned out to be the best. Megan's instructions for making the rainbow cake are so good I won't re-post them in my own words - just visit her site!

Layering the colours in different quantities.

The thing I love most about baking is the cake process itself, so I didn't use a packet mix. I like knowing what's in the batter and using a packet seems to sort of take away the science. Instead I used the recipe for Vanilla Cake from Martha Stewart and I think it was a good alternative although maybe the heavier batter contributed to the fact that my rainbow arches looked more like rainbow globs? Oh well. It was still a bright, cheery, completely undeniable celebration cake. Perfect for birthdays! On birthdays you can eat as much naughty stuff (including multi-coloured cake) without any guilt. I love birthdays.

A great tip I found out from Megan's post was that if you bake a cake at a slightly lower temperature than what the recipe recommends you'll get less doming i.e. a more level cake. Which is really handy thing to know when it comes to making a rainbow cake (or any presentation cake).

For the frosting I used Martha Stewart's Whipped Frosting. I was aiming to make it look a little like clouds. It was light, fluffy and pure white. It didn't keep so well on the cake (going slightly grainy as the bubbles broke down) but the light texture and flavour worked really well with the cake. It wasn't overly sweet or rich like buttercream can sometimes be.

The final effect - not quite a rainbow but hey...

This is a really fun cake. I don't think anyone would be disappointed to cut into this fluffy white cake to reveal the in-your-face, high-density, candy-coloured RAINBOW inside. Unless they're afraid of colouring. But that's no fun. It would make a great kids birthday party cake and also works for people who are kids at heart like my E too. Happy birthday baby.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cake Class - Me versus Frosting

It's Wednesday night and I'm sitting on the carpet in my PJs after having finished week three of a four week Cake Decorating class that I'm taking at Wellington High School. Here are some photos from last week when I made my first attempt at 'properly' icing a cake with buttercream frosting. We had to split the cake into three even layers and frost each layer with a nice uniform amount of frosting. I was so happy when I cut my cake to see that the layers were even! Cutting a cake in three is actually a little harder than I expected and icing it evenly and smoothly was a tricky process too. Who would have thought that buttercream could be so sensitive? It's just buttercream! But that's why I'm doing this course, to learn the little secrets of the cake trade that will make whipping up a beautiful cake that much easier.

Yes, that's my Almond Cream KitchenAid in the background. Thanks family! You are the best!

The cake I made was a plain chocolate cake (using cocoa and not actual chocolate) from a recipe given to us by our lovely tutor Maria. It's a cake recipe she relies on a lot and is part of her repertoire of 'go to' cakes for the work she does - including managing the baking side of treats at the sweet and charming Martha's Pantry (who are well known in Wellington for their cute, classic high tea). I haven't asked Maria if I can share the recipe here yet but I will do. Watch this space. It's easy and turns out a cake that's perfect for layering as it's quite dense but not overly moist (hate that word but couldn't think of an appropriate alternative!). The flavour is also simple enough to work well with the rich buttercream.

I frosted my cake with lavender buttercream. I had never worked with lavender in baking before but after some online research I decided to just pick the flower buds from the garden, pull off the petals, cover them with a little bit of milk, boil it in the microwave to get rid of any little plant bugs that may have been hanging out in the tiny blossoms, and add the lavender to my frosting mix. Voila - lavender buttercream. The flavour was subtle but really nice, just a little perfumey. It didn't taste at all like you were eating potpourri (some people thought it was an odd choice of flavouring). I would make it again but only for the right girly type of crowd.

Tonight's class was all about prep for our epic grand finale cake that we'll be making for our last class next week. We spent two hours playing with Flower Paste, making the decorations. I have great plans...whether or not they work out is another thing! Just know that there's going to be pineapple, coconut and possibly some white rum involved. Until next time...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hot Cross Buns

I made buns. Hot cross buns! Check ‘em out. I’m quite proud of myself. They are 'unglazed' in the photo above...the glazed buns can be seen at the end of this post.

When I was little I wasn’t a fan of hot cross buns, or anything with raisins, currants or dried fruit in general really. Dried fruit was for old people. Now that I’m older I get it. I like dried fruit and I never thought I’d say it but I’m quite partial to a slice of fruit cake with a cup of tea. I can’t help it. One thing I still don’t like is chewy, hard dried fruit in cereal, especially muesli. My sister and I both think there should be more non-fruit muesli available - but that’s another story. Back to my buns.

We were having a really quiet Easter so I planned to fill one of my days by baking hot cross buns. I haven’t baked bread in years, and I’ve never made hot cross buns so I was expecting it to be a bit of a challenge, but to be honest it wasn’t. It was all quite straightforward until I got to the jam. I did manage to get flour and bits of dough all over the kitchen but that’s just how I bake. When you’re working with flour it’s good to throw it around a bit so you look all baker-like.

The recipe I worked with was from I Eat Therefore I Am. I felt this was a good, safe place to start. I added a few very small tweaks of my own (like soaking the sultanas because I like them juicy and plump and upping the spice). What I was hoping for was a nice soft bun with a definite ‘hot cross bun’ vibe – warm spices, sweet fruit and a light, bready texture. And that's what I got.

Hot Cross Buns
310ml warmed milk
60g caster sugar
16g instant dried yeast (I used 2 sachets of Edmonds Sure to Rise Dry Yeast)
600g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 ¼ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground nutmeg
60g butter, (just soft)
1 ½ cups raisins or sultanas – soaked in a cup of boiling water or tea
2 eggs, lightly beaten

For the Cross

60g plain flour
60ml water

If you haven’t already done so, soak the sultanas (or currants etc) in the boiling water or tea. I think the tea gives a nice flavour however this is entirely unproven and possibly pointless. I used a regular breakfast tea, but you could try any tea such as earl grey or a fruity, floral herbal tea.

Whisk the sugar, milk and yeast together until the sugar has dissolved. Cover this mixture and set it aside until it becomes frothy (which means the yeast has activated), around 10 mins.

In a separate bowl whisk the flour, salt and spices together. Rub the butter in the flour mix until it goes crumbly. It takes a little bit of work but I find these flour/butter processes quite soothing.

Drain the soaking fruit well and stir the fruit, along with the egg and frothy yeast mixture until just combined.

Throw some flour on your work surface (i.e. kitchen bench) and swish around so you make a nice floury surface for your dough. Turn your dough out onto the bench and knead using the heels of your hands for around 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and stretchy. Lightly grease a large bowl (melted butter or light oil are fine), place dough in the bowl and turn once so the dough is lightly coated with grease. Cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm, draught-free place for 45mins or until the dough has doubled in size. Tip: if it’s cold where you live like it is in Wellington, before you start this recipe heat the oven to 50°C and then turn it off – you can then put your dough in the slightly warmed oven to rise. Just be careful that it’s not too warm, it should be cosy, not hot!

Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the cling wrap and punch the dough down (just whack your fist right into it) until it has dropped in size a little bit. Give the dough a quick knead again and divide it into 12 bun like portions. I divided mine into about 16 as I was using a smaller tray (18 x 28cm) and could only fit 12 smallish buns into it. I used the remaining dough to make a twist which I then burnt and promptly binned. Whoopsies.

Place your little buns into a greased 20 x 30cm baking tray, cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for 15 minutes. Don’t try and squish all your buns super tight into the tray, otherwise they’ll smoosh all together and be fighting for room. Gently touching buns are good. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Whisk the flour and water for the paste together (if it’s too gluggy add a little more water) and pipe using a fine piping tip into cross patterns across the buns.

Bake at 200°C for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for 15 mins more. The buns are ready when they look golden and sound hollow when you tap the top.

The original recipe suggests glazing the buns with hot apricot jam. I attempted this but was too lazy to properly heat the jam so it ended up sticky and thick. Next time I’d brush the uncooked buns with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little milk or water) before cooking, which should hopefully give them a nice shine.

Here are my sticky, jammy, glazed buns.

I gotta say, these buns were really good. I surprised myself! If I had to pick between these buns and Pandoro buns – mine would win. Definitely an unexpected result. In saying that I didn’t ask anyone else to make the same call but my vote counts. Next time I might get a little adventurous and add some dried apricot, lemon rind or…chocolate.

If you’re in the mood for spicy, sweet buns try these! And remember, it doesn’t have to be Easter to enjoy a toasted hot cross bun with a smear of butter and a nice cup of tea.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I found it!

I've been gone for a long time. Sorry about that. I truly didn't mean to start writing then stop, and I don't plan on letting that happen again. I moved country and then I moved city - so some big changes have been happening! I'm now living in Wellington, New Zealand and am busy setting up home here. So far, so good. Thankfully Wellington has a great food culture built up by some truly dedicated foodies so there's a lot of inspiration around. Plus it means I can find ingredients that are usually hard to source in this part of the world. Bonus!

My first post back is a bit of a cheats post - it's a recipe that I mentioned in my Lemon Cake post. This however is not a Lemon Cake recipe - it's the lost Nigella Lawson recipe for Raspberry Cupcakes! Hurrah! I am so happy I found this because it was really good. And where did I find it you ask? Well, clever me had printed the recipe the first time I found it (I thought I had made the recipe straight from my laptop but turns out I didn't) and had stashed it safely inside an old copy of Donna Hay's magazine that I had lying around (but not the one with the Lemon Cake recipe in it). Anyway, that was confusing, and superfluous to your requirements - all you need is this recipe. I love it and totally recommend it. Raspberries in a beautifully soft, light, brown sugary cake. Make some. Eat them. Rejoice in sweet cakey goodness. Seriously.

Raspberry Cupcakes

Thank you to Nigella Lawson for this recipe - which was once featured on her website (where I found it) but has now for some inexplicable reason been removed.

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ cups plain flour
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a muffin/cupcake pan - if you want to use paper cases they work fine as well and there's no need to grease the pan. Gently melt the butter and when just melted whisk in the brown sugar. Let this mix cool to room temperature (just a few mins) then whisk in the eggs. Add the milk, vanilla, salt and baking powder; whisk all to combine. Add the flour and whisk again until just combined. Fold in the raspberries. (A tip I have heard, and that I follow but haven't actually tested, is to toss the berries lightly in flour before adding them - this stops them sinking to the bottom of the batter). Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans and bake until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean - which is about 20mins for smaller cakes or 25 for larger ones. At this point they will look all bouncy, light brown and beautiful.

Leave the muffins in the pans for 5mins after removing them from the oven then transfer to a cooling rack. Ice or frost when completely cold - otherwise the icing will melt and drool off the sides.

Nigella's recipe suggests icing with White Chocolate Ganache but I think they were even better with Passionfruit Cream Cheese Icing - basically just whip together a pot of cream cheese and icing sugar to taste and then add passionfruit pulp (or the syrup you can buy in a little can from the supermarket).

I made these on a Thursday night and then iced them and took them to work the next day and they tasted great. They won't stay around long enough to see if they keep for more than a day. They'll be munched down and demolished. As they should be.

P.S. I'm writing this while waiting for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies to bake. The recipe is from the lovely and hugely inspirational Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette and oh my gosh do they smell good. Really really good. If you don't wish you were here right now - you should. I have a glass of milk ready and waiting.