Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spring-time mud madness

I just love spring.  Days begin to feel warmer, new growth appears in the garden (where my one year old pup hasn't already demolished the plants) and if you're in Melbourne, it has rained, and rained, and rained.

My daughter Olive has loved it - lots of muddy puddles to jump in.  Clearly its time to whip up a bunch of mudcakes!

Mud cakes are the modern wedding cake decorator's salvation.  They can be baked a couple of days in advance, allowing plenty of time for elaborate decoration.  Mud cakes tolerate fridge and freezer storage and being particularly dense, can be reliably stacked on top of one another or carved into fun shapes like teapots.

Mudcakes are also ridiculously easy to make - melt and mix. Gently heat your chocolate, butter and milk together and allow to cool.  Whisk up your eggs and combine with the cooled chocolate mix and then pour into sifted dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, pour into cupcake papers and bake.  Voila!

There are plenty of recipes out there but the one I've had particular success with is from Exclusively Food.  As with all recipes, your own oven will determine the appropriate cooking time.  My tiny, old Bosch oven works better with no fan and at about 20 degrees less than the stated recipe. 

In keeping with the spring time theme, the cakes are decorated with a swirl of green buttercream (hinting at lush foliage) and a dainty sugar flower.

The perfect springtime treat to be enjoyed after lots of mad muddy puddle jumping!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Classic tea for two

One of the joys of cake making and motherhood are impromptu tea parties.

My almost three year old daughter Olive is well versed in the custom and loves it when I test recipes or decoration techniques. This time around I was experimenting with cake chemistry, a la Cake Journal

The lovely Miss Louise from Cake Journal has a theory of how to make the perfect domed cupcake - perfect for dipping in poured fondant.  She changes the traditional method of creaming butter and sugar together and instead whisks the  eggs and sugar together and melts the butter with the milk. 

I used my favourite vanilla cupcake recipe to see how different (and puffed) my cupcakes could be. 

Method-wise, I would go so far as to say Cake Journal's method was simpler and faster.  It was supposed to yield a runny batter which would benefit from using a jug to pour the batter into the cups but mine was still thick.  I ended up using my trusty ice cream scoop.

I filled the cups past the three quarters mark as suggested by Cake Journal but found that my cups did runneth over, but I definitely had domes!  Hooray! 

When I think about the classic cupcake I get nostalgic about the cupcakes of my own childhood - simple glace icing with hundreds and thousands on top.  You sometimes see them in bakeries but they never look chic. 

Cake Journal's gorgeous pistachio green poured fondant cupcakes are so pretty that I just had to try  her 'simple' poured fondant icing.

The premise was simple - melt ready to roll fondant in your microwave until you get a smooth liquid consistency and then dip your cakes into it.  I had plenty of blue coloured fondant left over from my cherry blossom cupcakes so used this. 

I did manage to get a liquid-like icing but found it crusted on the edges of the bowl.  This is something I'll have to experiment with but I love the idea of it - and absolutely love the shiny icing shell result.

And so did Olive. 

We're having lots of practice tea parties in the lead up to her Afternoon Tea Birthday Party in December. Classic iced cupcakes will definitely be on the menu!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pretty in pink

Isn't this one of the prettiest things you ever laid eyes on?

I made these beautiful (di-licious) hydrangea cupcakes for my friend's daughter's baptism.

The vanilla cupcakes with vanilla and raspberry buttercream were all the more special thanks to Neilsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract. I splurged on a bottle at Simon Johnson a few weeks ago after talking for half an hour with one of their sales team about how important a great tasting cake was. She assured me that my cakes would reach another dimension with this amazing vanilla. Well, she was right. These were by far the most amazing vanilla cupcakes I have ever made. The perfume, the taste - just di-licious!

I hope I can continue to produce cakes to this standard when I one day put up my own shingle. I have been consistently underwhelmed by the offerings of cupcake shops and wonder if the so-so cake is a product of the production process that making bulk cakes requires. Its something I'll need to think about. And could I afford to use such high quality ingredients (and would customers be prepared to pay for them?)

I must also thank Glorious Treats for her amazingly generous tutorial on creating the buttercream hydrangeas. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to make them one day.

When I was asked to make the baptism cupcakes my brief was simply vanilla cupcakes with buttercream and a pink and white colour scheme - the design was up to me. I didn't want to just do classic swirls, I wanted to create something pretty. That's when I remembered the hydrangeas and the rest, as they say, is history.

I used what I call a soft buttercream - it has a higher ratio of butter to icing sugar and doesn't form a crust. I think it allows you to enjoy the flavours of the buttercream without the overwhelming sweetness of a traditional buttercream frosting.

I used the madagascar vanilla for the white buttercream and sieved french raspberry jam to flavour the raspberry buttercream. (You have to sieve the seeds out of the jam because they block up the piping tip!)

I just adore these cupcakes and hope you do too. Pretty in pink for a beautiful little girl's baptism, and di-licious to boot!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Playing with pretty

Last night I was feeling playful. I'm in the midst of creating Golden Snitch cupcakes for my niece's party this weekend and I wanted to take a break from wings and gold paint.

I showed you my first fondant roses recently and pledged to turn them into something pretty - and so here it is.

Very simple, but very pretty!

I also got myself a new cake decorating toy - an embossing plate.

In truth, its actually an embossing plate for making impressions on cards, but its also perfect for creating pretty cupcake size designs on fondant.

To see some really pretty cupcakes, take a look at Small Things Iced - a gorgeous bespoke cake maker and decorator in the UK.

One of these days I'll catalogue some of my favourite sites and blogs.....another project AFTER the Golden Snitches!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sweet, petite, afternoon tea treats

Mini lemon delicious cupcakes
I've been musing for a while about what market I might focus on for my 'future' cupcake business. And I seem to keep coming back to afternoon tea treats.

There seems to be a renaissance going on for girly get togethers over beautiful china, sparkling wine and pretty cakes. And why not? Many top hotels are advertising weekend High Teas, but they don't come cheap.

One of my close girlfriends recently received her grandmothers gorgeous china and was inspired to host her own high teas at home. They're now a much sought after invitation event.

She loves to make savoury treats but prefers to leave cakes to someone else. Hmmmm....that sounds like an opportunity!

This weekend she was hosting a birthday party for the same grandmother whose china she now cherishes and wanted it to be extra special. So she asked me to make two of my favourite cupcakes, in miniature.

Salty Chocolate Ganache cakes
The Lemon Delicious cakes are baked with lemon curd and topped with lemon buttercream and a little sugar flower.

The Salty Chocolate Ganache cakes are a mud-style chocolate cake with rich chocolate ganache and sea salt flake sprinkles.

So, dear readers, what sweet treats would you choose for your own afternoon tea party?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everything's coming up roses

Since embarking on my cake decorating journey I've been desperate to learn sugar flowers.

I've struggled to find a class nearby and I thought I had to buy lots of complicated cutters and tools - that was until I discovered David Cakes on YouTube.

This fabulous cake shop based in the UK has put together some really informative videos on how to make fondant flowers without cutters. And you know what - its pretty easy. If you can roll a small blob of fondant into a ball and flatten it out between your fingers, then you can create a gorgeous rose.

The roses above were my first efforts. And without blowing my own horn, I think they're pretty great!

They need to dry, and of course I should have used gum paste to ensure they dry out properly, but I don't care. I now know I can do them. Sure they don't have green calyxes on their bases, but on a cupcake - who needs one? Some hand piped leaves will do the trick quite nicely.

Stay tuned for a dressed up cupcake featuring the roses.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cherry blossom finale

My couture cherry blossom cupcakes made their grand entrance on Saturday night to rapturous applause and lots of 'oohhhhh' and 'aahhhhhhs'.

The birthday girl was happy.

I was even approached by one guest about possibly doing her wedding cupcakes in January - a wonderful compliment!

The proof is always in the tasting and this time I achieved what I had set out to do - a very grown up Jaffa cake - Grand Marnier and Chocolate that was both flavoursome and moreish.

It was fantastic to receive such postive feedback on my work. It also confirmed for me that no matter how pretty the cake looks, its the taste that will always have the bigger impact.

Another original Di-licious recipe to add to the master file!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Crying over split ganache

I had a minor catastrophe in the kitchen this week - I split my ganache!

I followed the same method I've always used:
* 2:1 ratio of dark chocolate to cream
* roughly chop the chocolate and put into a bowl
* heat the cream to just boiling point in a small saucepan
* pour the hot cream over the chocolate
* stir until melted.

It looked fine. It was lumpy initially but did become smooth after a lot of stirring. I allowed it to rest overnight but the next day it had a film of oil over the top. I tried to remix it, heating it gently in the microwave on low power. It turned grainy and lumpy. I tried mixing in some more cream. It looked worse. It was unusable. Time to cut my losses and start again.

So what went wrong?

Ganache is a notorious for being temperamental. You are emulsifying two seemingly un-mixable ingredients with the aid of heat and aeration. A lot can and often does go wrong.

With a little guidance from some of my learned friends on Planet Cake's Tea Party Forum I came across some expert advice on all things ganache. Sherry Yard, as featured on The Global Gourmet blog], and The Elements of Chocolate provides some possible answers for my ganache disaster.

Cream too hot
Hot cream raises the temperature of the emulsifying ganache and can overheat the cocoa butter - this would cause droplets of fat to pool together and rise to the surface of the mixture.

Stirring too soon and too much
I should try leaving the mixture for one minute after adding the cream to let the cocoa butter melt before stirring in a slow circular motion. Steady agitation reduces the fat to tiny droplets. Excessive beating will cool down the mixture too quickly and make the ganache grainy.

Chocolate has too high cocoa butter percentage
I used 70% dark chocolate. To use the standard recipe of 2:1 chocolate to cream ratio I needed to use 40-55% dark chocolate. (Higher percentage chocolate requires more cream).

Adding hot cream to chocolate
Traditional recipes say to pour the hot cream over the chocolate. When you add a liquid to chocolate it can seize. Adding melted chocolate to the cream is generally a more fool proof method.

Ganache Take Two
This time I used 50% dark chocolate and melted it over simmering water. I heated the cream and poured it over the chocolate. I stirred slowly until it came together. Perfect ganache! (But next time I might try adding the chocolate to the cream....all in the name of baking science)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Planning a couture cupcake

One of my dearest friends is having a party to celebrate her birthday so I thought a great gift would be to make her some very special couture cupcakes.

I use the term couture a little tongue in cheek - I don't think they're a one off design, but the distinction sets it way above a basic buttercream swirl.

First thing to consider is flavour - a couture cupcake has to taste amazing.

My friend's favourite cake flavour is jaffa so I wanted to make a very special chocolate and orange cake. And orange doesn't get more special than Grand Marnier, that oh so beautiful french liquor. I did a test batch of cuppies using Lindt Intense Orange chocolate. They were nice but the dried orange and almond pieces kind of spoilt the texture a bit. So I'm modifying the recipe by using unsweetened cocoa instead and appling a coat of dark chocolate ganache under the icing.

Now we get to the fun bit - the design. I like to ask people what colours they'd like and any specific design elements. In this case my design brief was turquoise and red.

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. I flicked through mags and websites but nothing really stood out. Then I looked at the box of tissues in my bathroom and I had it - red cherry blossoms with turquoise fondant.

Hmmmm....red flowers. I'll admit the idea of red scared me initially. I've heard many horror stories about how hard it is to colour icing red. But then I thought if I could buy flower modelling paste already coloured red then maybe it would be ok. (Never mind the fact that I'd never used modelling paste before!)

Red modelling paste is terrible - its so wet and sticky and it stains your fingers. But after kneading in a lot of cornflour it got easier and I managed to roll out some blossoms to put together a design concept for my friend to approve - she loves them!

As for the turquoise, I got some gorgeous Confetta blue damask papers. Since they were a darker hue, I decided that a lighter turquoise fondant would make the red cherry blossoms pop. The branches are piped using black writing icing.

Now its all about logistics. Three dozen cupcakes means:
* 108 perfect blossoms (120 just to be sure)
* 1kg RTR fondant coloured turquoise
* Big batch of dark chocolate ganache (leftovers can be frozen)
* 4 dozen cupcakes (I always make extra as my insuarnce policy)

The order is for this Saturday night so I've been making 20 blossoms every night for the past week. I'll colour the fondant and make the ganache on Tuesday. Bake and ganache cakes on Thursday. Ice and decorate on Friday. Deliver on Saturday and toast the birthday girl with a well deserved glass of champagne!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Oh cardomom, sweet cardomom

Over the weekend I had my own little invention test and set out to make the ultimate cardomom flavoured cupcake.

Most people probably associate cardomom with the little green pods you find in indian curries (and let me tell you, they're fabulous in them!) but the ground spice from the seeds is also a staple of Scandanavian baking. (You can take the girl out of Norway but you can't take the Norwegian out of the girl!)

So it only seemed fitting that I make a cardomom cupcake to celebrate my mum's birthday.

I paid a visit to my friend Google and looked for some recipe ideas. Most favoured pairing cardomom with either orange or chocolate. Both combinations sounded great but I was really looking for a solo taste act.

It dawned on me that I could probably just add cardomom straight to my favourite vanilla cake recipe and I confirmed it when I found A Mingling of Tastes 's Vanilla and Cardomom cupcakes recipe.

My objective was to make a cake that really tasted like cardomom. First step was to reduce the amount of vanilla - in a plain cake, vanilla helps mask the taste and smell of cooked egg. On the advice from Mingling, I ground up my own cardomom seeds, leaving them a little coarse so I could see the flecks in the batter. The aroma is so much better than pre-ground spice (but if that's all you have, then use it).

I used two teaspoons and it seemed to be about right.

For the icing I wanted to keep it simple. I already had some white chocolate ganache in the freezer so I used this to glaze the tops and topped with a sugar flower. Next time I'll add some of the ground cardomom to the ganache so you can see the flecks.

The verdict? Yum! Happy birthday Mum!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Say it with a gift cake

What's a birthday without gifts and cake? So why not kill two birds with one stone and present your lucky friend with a gift-cake?

Inspired by Sugarbloom's Tall Cupcake Tutorial, I thought I'd try my hand at covering a cupcake with fondant to make a birthday gift for a special friend. Never mind the fact that I had never covered an entire cake with fondant before....

Well, 9 cupcakes later I think I nailed it:
The mini cake is actually one of my lemon delicious cupcakes, coated in white chocolate ganache and pale pink fondant. I didn't make the pink and white flowers myself, but I did pipe the monogram (another first with Royal Icing mix).

The cake was packaged in a matching gift box with gorgeous Cristina Re vellum paper and brown grosgrain ribbon.

I sacrificed a lot of cupcakes along the way, but I did learn some things in the procees:
  • ganache is better than buttercream under fondant
  • you really do need to let the ganache set before you try to smooth fondant over it
  • fondant isn't as scary as I thought it was
  • one mini cake is fine - I would go insane making a whole wedding order!
  • a gift cake really is a wonderful present to give your friend!

Happy birthday Lea!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's not as easy at it looks

I had to stiffle a giggle or two last night over MasterChef's CWA baking challenge. Anyone who is a baker knows that a seemingly simple recipe is anything but.

Never baked a cake? OK - impress 100 CWA members with lamingtons, fruit cake and scones. Oh and do it outside. The result? Entertaining TV with the inevitable train wreck at the end - scones you could use as hockey pucks, raw fruit cakes and burnt [cake] bottoms.

I was curious to know if the prep team made sure the ingredients for the cakes were at room temperature? It's an important question. Baking is all about chemistry and having all of your ingredients at the right temperature allows the magic to happen. Get it wrong and your mixture curdles - and your cake won't rise properly.

Sorry to get all technical on you but I've become very passionate about chemistry lately. It wasn't my strong point at high school - I barely scraped a pass on my VCE exams, but now you'll find me pouring over technical cooking mannuals to understand how baking powder works and spending the day before getting my ingredients ready for a baking session.

MasterChef also reignited my interest in joining the CWA...who knows, maybe one day I'll win a 'Home Industries' award at the CWA State Exhibition. Now that would be worth promoting!

Happy Baking!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Flight of the Golden Snitches

I have been making cupcakes for my niece Hannah's birthday for the last couple of years. This year she wanted a Harry Potter theme.

I have a small confession to make here - I have never read or watched Harry Potter anything. There is a back story to this but lets just say I can't. Harry Potter cupcakes, OK cool, I thought. Then she announced that she wanted Golden Snitches - what???

Anyway, brief lesson in Harry Potter folklore (there are university courses in the UK for this stuff now!) - Golden Snitches are a golden, walnut-sized ball with wings used in a semi-contact sport called Quidditch, apparently very popular with witches.

Ok - so she wants round balls with wings, coloured gold on top of cupcakes. I can do this.

One of the things I love best about cake decorating are the toys, I mean tools. This project allowed me to add a few more things to my arsenal. I tracked down a wing cutter and veiner to pattern the wings online at Iced Affair (arrived within 2 days! Really prompt service!)

I made the wings first with yellow modelling paste. (Yellow is a better colour base for edible gold paint.) To create movement in the wings, I laid them in round moulds (painting palettes).

For the round bodies I first tried rolling balls of fondant, but I really struggled to get them smooth and even. Walking down the confectionery aisle at the supermarket, I wondered if there was something already round that I could use. That's when I saw the Raffaello chocolates. Initially I only planned to rub off the loose coconut, but I accidentally rubbed off the whole chocolate layer leaving a perfectly spherical wafer ball. Perfect! (Raffaellos do contain nuts so if you're considering using them for your own decorating project, make sure you mention this.)

The balls were easy to paint. The wings were easy to paint. I used yellow royal icing to attach the wings to the bodies and then touched up the joins with more edible gold paint.

I used Toba Garrett's Decorator's Buttercream recipe for the icing. Purple is what I call a 'thirsty' colour - you need to add a lot of colouring gel to get a dark colour so I added another half bag of icing sugar to get the right consistency.

For assembly I piped a swirl of buttercream on top of vanilla cupcakes, placed the snitch on top and dusted liberally with gold disco lustre.

At the party I set the cakes up in a 5 x 5 grid on a square cake board and placed gold candles in the middle cupcake.

What do you think? I think they look pretty di-licious myself. And Hannah was delighted.