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.