Monday, March 28, 2011

A cake for Olive

I had a lot of fun planning my daughter's 3rd birthday cake.  However even the best laid plans can go awry.

Initially I'd planned to make a two-tiered white chocolate mud cake, covered in fondant and decorated with fondant strawberries, leaves and flowers in a homage to Cath Kidston.  I wanted my first fondant covered cake to be stunning.

Sometimes though, you have to let the cakes (or lack of cake) decide what your design will be.

The 9inch cake worked out perfectly - it was tall and even and cooked through. At the time I thought I was on fire!  Then I cooked the 6inch cake.

The worst thing a baker can do is start to feel cocky before the cake is finished.  I must have invoked a curse because my 6inch cake had a big crack on the surface.  I tested it with the skewer (in multiple spots) and came out clean.  Fantastic!  I let it rest on the bench and got busy with cleaning up.

Fifteen minutes later I took a look at my cake and the crack had turned into a ravine with lots of raw cake batter flowing at the bottom - cake disaster!

They say when life hands you lemons - make lemonade.  With only one cake to work with I decided to scrap my original design and go with a tea party setting instead. 

Using the beautiful miniature porcelain tea set Olive received for her birthday, I turned my cake wreck into a triumph.

So there you have it - a white chocolate mud cake, filled with raspberry buttercream and covered in fondant.

It looked gorgeous, but the taste - oh my god - insanely sweet.  This is a cake that needed serious portion control (Mr Di-licious cut the cake!)

I don't think I'll ever make a white chocolate mud cake again but I did overcome my fear of covering a cake in fondant. 

And to see the look of wonder on Olive's face - it was worth it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mastering macarons

In case you missed the news, Nigella was in town last week.

That’s right, the domestic goddess herself. I just adore her attitude to food and those gorgeous cashmere cardigans.... they’re the kitchen accessory I covet the most in this world after a Kitchen Aid mixer.

It got me thinking: if Nigella were to pop round for arvo tea at my place, what would I make? I delved into How to be a Domestic Goddess for inspiration and then it came to me – macarons!

Macarons are the most elegant biscuits in the world – a divine concoction of almond meal, icing sugar and egg whites, sandwiched with ganache or buttercream. They shouldn’t be confused with macaroons which are more like little cakes and are made traditionally with coconut.

Macarons are quintessentially French and are about to take over from cupcakes as the next big thing in baking. If you were a fan of Masterchef Australia you would have seen Adriano Zumbo’s killer Macaron Tower challenge.

There are hundreds of blogs celebrating the macaron and many offer advice for the aspiring baker – apparently the sexy little French biscuit is notorious for being tricky to bake.

Debate abounds over
  • the optimum time for resting the batter before baking (anything from 10mins to 5 hours - I vote for 45mins)
  • correct baking temperature
  • how long to bake for
  • how to achieve ‘feet’ - the little ruffle at the base of the biscuit
  • whether the shell should crunch or not.
And let’s not even started about whether it should be spelt with one ‘o’ or two. (If you consult Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopaedia of gastronomy, it spells it with two.)

But the biggest debate seems to be about the correct ratios of almond meal, icing sugar and egg whites – what is the best [failsafe] recipe for the not so humble macaron?

Since it was my first attempt I wanted a recipe that had some serious French credentials.

I had flirted with the idea of making Nigella’s Chocolate Macaroons purely based on her description in Domestic Goddess that words could not convey just how good they were – “Eat them: that’s enough”.

Then I discovered Dean Brettschneider in a back issue of Cuisine magazine that I picked up at the op shop for 99cents (May 2005). Dean Brettschneider, also known as the Global Baker, is an authority on all things baked. The article was an exclusive excerpt from his then forthcoming cookbook Taste: Baking with Flavour. He was given the Chocolate Almond Macaroon recipe from BakeMark Ingredients France’s export pastry chef, Olivier Hutt. I took it as a sign and plunged in.

With respect to the mixture, yes, you really do need to sift the almond meal. I didn’t have any cream of tartar so I substituted with a few drops of lemon juice.

I admit I did get spooked into changing the baking temperature and time after reading about other people’s trials and tribulations with macarons. I baked them with a starting temperature of 130degrees (no fan) and then turned it up to 150degrees, for 15minutes. Call it beginners luck but they worked. Next time I’ll try Dean’s recommendation of 180degrees for 8-10minutes.

My pretty as a picture chocolate macarons had a lovely small 'foot'. I used a small palette knife to lift them off the baking paper lined trays as soon as they came out of the oven and they came off cleanly. They had a smooth shell surface which look deceptively hard but provided little resistance when bitten. Inside they were chewy – the optimal result. Most importantly – they weren’t crunchy! (I am extremely proud of this achievement!)

I sandwiched them with the chocolate ganache and then put them into a container and stored them in the fridge overnight. Apparently they get better if they’re aged in the fridge for a couple of days. Handy to know – bake them on a Friday and store them in the fridge for a Sunday afternoon tea!

So how did they taste? In a word – di-licious!

My three year old daughter exclaimed “Wowsers Mummy – they’re great!” My brother-in-law pronounced them “yum” and insisted that I would have to keep ‘practicing’ just to make sure I really had got it right.

And I’m delighted – I’ve ticked off my first baking resolution for the year – mastering the art of making macarons. Nigella would be proud!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baking resolve

I finally got a kick in the pants this week to just get on with it.

A timely admission of being less than perfect from Glorious Treats made me realise that there’s never going to be a perfect time to bake, create and write. Not everything will bake properly. Not everything will look pretty and I have the kitchen I have so stop wishing and hoping for something better.

I have a framed “Keep calm and carry on” tea towel in my family room/kitchen. It’s my daily mantra for when my daughter acts like a preschooler and the house is looking worse for wear.

I mutter it under my breath when inevitable baking disasters occur. I force myself to remember it when the dog has dug up my lavender bush to make a nest for herself in the sun.

I still swear and throw things at the bench but I take that deep breath sooner and think about how to solve the problem or resolve to start again. When all else fails, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (depending on the time of day) and a little lie down on the couch helps put things into perspective.

Carrying on is why Di-licious is back in the kitchen and online to share my baking adventures with you. Happy [belated] new year!

I know its March but here are my baking resolutions for 2011.
  • Organise my cake cupboard
  • Use up the leftover cake pieces in the freezer and make cake pops
  • Master the art of making macarons
  • Make a new cake from every cookbook I own. Actually, that’s just ridiculous - there’s over a hundred books there! How about I tackle the first shelf.....
  • Ask my mother to help me translate her baking recipes from Norway
  • Make my sister’s wedding cake
  • Join the local Country Women’s Association (CWA) branch
  • Make some fondant fancies a la Peggy Porscheon
  • Host an afternoon tea for friends
  • Keep hunting for beautiful china
  • Practice icing lots and lots of cookies
  • Make some cupcakes....

Carry on images copyright The Lobster Pot 2010