Sunday, July 24, 2011

Delicious Almond Crisps

Are you ever lounging around having a cuppa and feel like that little something to go with it? Then these are what you are craving! Almond Crisps are a thin biscuit with a chewy centre and delicious crispy edges. The almond meal adds depth to their flavour and the drizzled chocolate makes them a little bit fancy. This is another fantastic recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.

Ingredients for Almond Crisps
125g softened unsalted butter 
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain four
1/2 cup almond meal
1tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

180g dark chocolate chopped
1tsp vegetable shortening - this will help the chocolate stay shining and hard once it has cooled on the crisps.

Pre-heat the oven to 200'C and line two trays with baking paper. The recipe makes about 35 crisps, so you will need a few rounds of baking with the trays.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, light in colour and importantly smooth in consistency. Add the egg and vanilla and beat slowly until combined. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl and slowly stir until the mixture is blended.

With a teaspoon take level sized amounts of the mixture and place onto the baking trays, keeping the scoops at least 2 inches apart. Bake until the biscuits are golden around the edges, although note that they will still be soft. After 5mins of resting, move the crisps to a wire rack for cooling. You will notice that the crisps will not all be perfectly round, however this gives them a rustic homely feel, which I think is great.

Once the crisps are completely cool, spread them out along a bench in preparation for the chocolate drizzling. I strongly recommend that you lay baking paper below them as it is going to get fun, but very messy! Place a bowl containing the chocolate and shortening on top of a small pot of boiling water. Slowly stir until the mixture has melted into a smooth glossy loveliness. Now here comes the fun part - take a fork, lightly dip it into the chocolate and use a flicking wrist movement to drizzle it over the crisps. Allow them to set for 40mins and then serve!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Love Cake Decorating!

A few weeks ago I attended a cake decorating course at Planet Cake - the home of incredible cake decorating in Sydney. The course was given to me by someone very special and I was over the moon to be given the chance to improve my decorating skills. Entitled Basics 101, it covered shaping and ganaching a circle cake, and how to use fondant to cover and decorate the cake and cake board. The general theme was the Explosion Cake, where the middle of the cake bursts open and is adorned with fun wire fondant cut-outs.

Before completing this eye opening all-day course, I had only used fondant to decorate cupcakes. Decorating a full-sized cake is much more involved and there was no better way to dive into the challenge than with the help and guidance Planet Cake. The methods and little tricks taught in this course have made such a valuable contribution to my decorating skills and confidence in attempting new fondant adventures. Here's an overview of the stages that were covered in the course:

Cutting and Shaping
For me cutting and shaping cake is by far the scariest part of the process. I suppose this is linked to the idea that with just a slip of the knife your cake foundation could be ruined. When watching Ace of Cakes (one of my favourite TV shows), seeing them carve away at cakes with such speed and accuracy to create incredible shapes blows my mind. At this stage of the course we shaped the cake to remove any hard excess parts and then cut it into three even levels.

Ganaching is an integral part of creating the perfect foundation for the fondant to shape to, as ready-to-roll icing takes on the form that is underneath it. We started by placing ganache in between each layer of the cake and then moved to ganaching the side. This involved the cake being on a lazy-susan wheel in order slowly glide a metal scrapper around the edge of the cake to get a smooth and even layer of ganache. Finally ganache was applied to the top of the cake, aiming for an even, level and perfect edge to the ganache.

Fondant Decorations
Fondant was used to cover the cake and cake board, which gave a great look to the presentation of the final product. It was during this stage that we also created the explosion in the middle of the cake and prepared the wire cut-outs to be stuck in at the end. I used three colours along with white: purple, and two shades of blue. I was very happy with the final result as the colours complimented each other well. The last stage included adding the circles cut-outs on to the cake and the coloured balls around the base.

It was an absolutely fantastic day of cake decorating and I learnt many new skills. My colleagues at work were able to enjoy the fruits of my labour and my Dad instantly asked me to make his 60th Birthday cake. I was happy to take up the challenge as I love nothing better than baking for family and friends, and it also gave me a great opportunity to re-enact the skills I learnt at Planet Cake. I decided to keep the general design of the cake but personalised the decorations for his milestone birthday and love of music.

I followed the same process that was done during the course, and have some future notes for my next cake decorating challenge:

1. Unlike at the Planet Cake where the cake was provided, I baked their lovely chocolate mud cake from scratch. I had to deal with a dip in the top of the cake, as it sunk slightly once it was removed from the oven. Next time I will turn the oven off and slightly open the door, but will not remove the cake straight away.

2. Ganache definitely helped in fixing the above problem, however one should never underestimate how much ganache is needed. Realising that you're going to run out is not a good feeling!

3. It is very important not to over-work the fondant and to stop it from drying out, particularly when attempting to fondant the whole cake and cake board.

The cake was an absolute hit with the Birthday Boy and the rest of the family (not to mention lots of looks of admiration from other diners at the restaurant). It is definitely the best part of cake decorating when you get to see how amazed, impressed and happy people are to see the cake and realise that it not only looks great but also tastes delicious! I can't wait for the next excuse to bake and decorate another one...stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gluten-Free Orange Almond Cupcakes

This one's for you Mum! 

These were extremely delectable and soft cupcakes, which combined the moist texture of almond meal with a great zesty flavour.

Ingredients for 12 Gluten-Free Orange Almond Cupcakes
70g gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
125g softened unsalted butter
1 orange finely grated
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g almond meal (ground almonds)
60ml milk
1/4 cup orange juice

Pre-heat oven to 180'C and line a 12-hole cupcake tray with papers. Sift the flour together with the gluten free baking powder. In a separate bowl beat the butter, sugar and orange zest until creamy and light. Singularly add in eggs and beat after each addition. Stir in the almond meal and then slowly add a little flour and milk, gently folding them into the mixture.

Place mixture in the cupcake papers. Bake for 20mins or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Once removed from the oven, keep the cupcakes in the tin for another 5-10mins and then allow to cool on a wire rack.

You may want to beat a little caster sugar and pure cream together until light peaks are formed for a yummy topping.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nan's Vanilla Slice

Looking back through my childhood, this was one of my most favourite treats. Nan's Vanilla Slice was always something to look forward to and was a common visitor to birthdays and family get-togethers.

This recipe is very simple and I believe is even better than the vanilla slice variations found at bakeries in Australia. Instead of fiddling around with pastry, it uses Arnott's Lattice pastry biscuits with a sugary sweet cream cheese filling. Just writing about it makes my mouth water!

Ingredients for Nan's Vanilla Slice
2 packets of Arnott's Lattice biscuits
250g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
250g cream cheese (I use Philadelphia Cream Cheese) (at room temperature)
2tsp vanilla extract/essence
1tbsp powered gelatine
1/2 cup caster sugar
A little icing sugar for dusting

Line the bottom of a lamington or slice tray with baking paper. Once done, place the Lattice biscuits along the bottom (making sure the glossy side faces down). The biscuits won't fit perfectly so you might have to cut a few around the edges.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 cup of hot water, stir and put it aside to cool. Mix together the butter and cream cheese using a fork or spoon. It is very important that both ingredients are at room temperature otherwise you will have trouble trying to get it smooth.

Add sugar and vanilla and mix well. Again make sure there are no lumps, as they will set when the slice is refrigerated. Stir through cooled gelatine.

Before pouring the mixture over the face-down Lattice biscuits, take note of how the biscuits are positioned (i.e. where the off-cuts are). This way the bottom and top biscuits will be line with each other when you go to cut through the finished product. Pour mixture into the tin and carefully lay Lattice biscuits on top, glossy side up. Refridgerate for 2 hours and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Plum Buckle

During Summer we get to experience a range of amazing fruits and in particular, stone fruits. Blood plums are one of my favourite and very importantly my Pa's. I found this recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book that I bought in my local coffee-book-shop. It gives the reader American soulful recipes that I can imagine grandmas baking in their kitchens all over the South.

As soon as I saw the recipe I thought it would be a wonderful thing to bake for my Pa and on my next visit I made sure to give it a go. Not only did the cake look amazingly rustic and homely, but Pa loved it. This is my first attempt at a Buckle cake and it was very simple. The result is a dense moist cake with a lovely crumbley top surrounding the baked fruit.

Ingredients for Plum Buckle
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
250g softened unsalted butter 
1 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
6-8 blood plums (pitted and quartered)
1tbsp of caster sugar
1/4tsp of ground cinnamon

Pre-heat your oven to 180'C. Grease an average 24cm circular spring-form tin and lightly flour it. Alternatively you could line it with baking paper. 

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer/beaters until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat well. 

Place mixture evenly in the tin and poke plum quarters into the cake batter. It is important that the slices are close together, and don't be scared to push them deep into the batter. Combine the remaining caster sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and liberally sprinkle over the cake. This will lightly caramelise during the baking process and add great flavour to the plums.

Bake for 50mins or until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake. Set the cake aside to cool before serving.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gluten-free Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Cream

This is an extremely belated entry of cupcakes I made for Christmas day. My only excuse is that I found myself in paradise over the holidays, Fiji to be more specific, and am only just getting back into regular routine.

So that Mum could enjoy the tasty desserts like everyone else on Christmas day, I decided to make gluten-free cupcakes. They were very yummy and very simple. In saying that, the raspberry cream which looked and tasted fantastic, definitely made these cupcakes a winner. The cream complimented the chocolate so well, with its soft texture and bursting raspberry gems.

Ingredients for Gluten-free Chocolate Cupcakes (makes 12)
1 3/4 cups gluten-free self-raising flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1tsp baking soda
1 cup caster sugar
125g melted unsalted butted 
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 180'C and line a 12-hole cupcake tin with paper cases. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together in a large bowl. Stir in caster sugar. In a separate bowl, hand whisk the buttermilk, butter and eggs. Fold this mixture into the dry ingredients.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and fill to about 2/3 full. In the photos you will notice that the cupcakes rose well above the lip of the cases and gave a lovely rustic look. Bake the cupcakes for 45-50mins; keep in mind that as these are gluten-free they will take much longer than normal cupcakes. When a skewer comes out clean and the tops of the cupcakes spring back quickly when touched, they are ready (the cupcake should feel stable when touched). After 5mins out of the oven, allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

Ingredients for Raspberry Cream
300ml double thick cream (I used Pura Double Thick Cream)
3tbs caster sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

Lightly beat the cream and caster sugar until it is light and fluffy. Taste the cream to make sure it is sweet enough. You don't want it to be overly sweet as the cupcakes are sweet enough, however if need be slowly add some more sugar and beat again. Fold in the raspberries (keep a few for decoration later).

Refrigerate the mixture until the raspberries separate and the fantastic colour has bleed into the cream (this is definitely necessary if you use frozen raspberries). Using a small spatula place the cream on top of the cupcakes. Add a raspberry to the top of each cupcake.

There were many other fantastic treats set out for Christmas lunch including Mum's Christmas Cake. This is an old family recipe, which I hope to divulge for Christmas 2011. I helped Mum decorate the cake with a fondant tree and presents. The humidity definitely made this hard, but it survived in time for everyone to enjoy it.

And in true Aussie fashion was a light and fluffy, cream and fruit covered Pavlova. Can Christmas eating get any better?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Gingerbread Cookies

For the past few years I have been making Christmas Gingerbread Cookies. That's not to say that I don't make gingerbread cookies all year round, but this way they look extra special when decorated for Christmas. The cookies make a great gift for family and friends. This year I made them for my Christmas Dress-Up Party and work colleagues, and they went down a treat. The following recipe makes about 35-37 cookies.

Ingredients for Gingerbread Cookies 
125g unsalted butter
100g brown sugar (firmly packed)
125ml golden Syrup
1 egg yolk
375g plain flour (and a little extra for dusting)
2tbs ground ginger
3tsp mixed spice
1tsp bi-carb soda

With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the golden syrup and egg yolk and beat until combined. Sift flour, spices and bi-carb soda and add to the mixture. Once combined, taste the mixture as this is the best time to tell whether you need to add more spice. When you're happy, turn the mixture on to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth. If the mixture is a little too wet, slowly knead in some flour. Break the dough into two parts and flatten them to the shape of round discs, then cover with cling wrap and refrigerated for 30mins-1hour.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to approximately 1cm thick (you may need to knead the dough first to make it workable). Using your desired cookie cutters, cut out the shapes and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. I have a set of Christmas cookie cutters which are fantastic and use the shapes that I think are easily recognisable once decorated. Bake the cookies for 10mins or until brown at 180'C. Careful not to over bake them, as they can burn quite easily. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.

Before placing the fondant on the cookies, I use a thin spread of my Dark Chocolate Ganache on top of each cookie. This helps the fondant stick to the cookie. Alternatively you could use jam with a little boiling water to create a syrup (although make sure you strain the liquid as it needs to be smooth).

Fondant Icing 
You can buy fondant from any cake decorating store. I buy it in white and then add the desired gel colour (also found at decorating stores). Some colours are best to buy pre-mixed, as you cannot physically reach the colour depth with gel colour. I strongly recommend buying red fondant pre-mixed and coincidentally my red is called Christmas Red. Please note that when you are not using the fondant, it should be covered in plastic (cling wrap or freezer bags) as it will dry out quickly. For each different cookie's decoration you will need approximately a handful of fondant in order to cover about 6 cookies.

These are very simple as you can use white fondant and do not need to colour it. Roll out the fondant to  desired thickness (I aim for 2-3mm) on a flat surface sprinkled with corn flour - this will stop the fondant from sticking. Cut out the shape with an angel cutter and place it on top of the cookie. Use you fingers to perfectly mould the fondant on to the cookie.

The snowmen are exactly like the angels (follow instructions above). For the cute little hat, knead equal parts of red pre-mixed fondant with white. This is necessary as the pre-mix will be quite sticky and hard to work with on its own. Make a large amount of red as it will also be used for the candy canes and red poinsettias. Once rolled out, I use the top of the snowman cutter for the shape and then use a knife to trim the hat. For the eyes and mouth, use a skewer or something similar to poke holes in the fondant.

Christmas Trees
Your white fondant will need to be coloured for these cookies. Use your thumb to create a well in the centre of a ball of white fondant and place a few drops of dark green gel colour (I use Forest Green). Knead the fondant until the colour is blended. Once the colour is even (and the right shade), roll the fondant out to desired thickness (I aim for 2-3mm) on a flat surface sprinkled with corn flour. Cut out the tree shapes and use your hands to mould the fondant to fit the cookie.

Red Poinsettias
As done for the snowman hats, knead equal parts of red pre-mixed fondant with white. This is necessary as the pre-mix will be quite sticky and hard to work with on its own. Make a large amount as the red will also be used for the candy canes. Roll out and cut the fondant, and place the shape on the cookie.

Candy Canes
These are done exactly the same as the poinsettias. Roll out and cut the red fondant, and place the shape on the cookie. You can also make white and red candy canes, and use strips of the alternate colour to wrap around the cookie.

Now it is an absolute requirement that you try one (or two, or three) of your fabulous gingerbread before sharing them around! These gingerbread cookies are a great gift for those special to you in the festive season. All the effort and love you have put into gifts such as these make them even more special to the receiver. I use clear cellophane to wrap the cookies and tie a nice red ribbon for decoration.

Merry Christmas!