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.