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. 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!