Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stripping for success

Hands up if you've ever baked a cake that’s come out of the oven with a Rubenesque dome on top.  (Come on, don't be shy - we're all friends here.)

Normally a dome is the quaint hallmark of a homemade cake - and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But if your baking agenda is to cover a cake in fondant or create multiple layers then you need a cake that is flat on top.

One way to achieve this is to [simply] level off your cake.

Use a serrated knife and a steady eye to lop off the offending hump, or if you like baking toys [guilty, your Honour], grab yourself a cake leveller. (Cake off cuts can easily be frozen for later use in trifle or cake pops.)

But if you want to bake a perfectly flat cake from the outset, you really should think about stripping.

Cake strips are essentially strips of padded fabric coated in aluminium. You soak them in water, wring them out and then wrap them around your cake tin before baking.

I’ve read about cake strips on a few forums and tried making my own once by soaking tea towels in water, wringing them out and then laying them on foil. I folded it up to make a pudgy strip to wrap around my cake tin and awkwardly tied it in place with kitchen string. It was fiddly and tedious. Naturally my initial enthusiasm waned when it came to bake the next cake.

The Wilton Bake Even Strips have been winking at me for a while at my local cake decorating shop. Knowing I had a special cake order on the way I thought I’d give them a go and see if they really did prevent cracks and create a smooth, even top.

Preparation was simple – soak them in water, squeeze out the excess by running the strip between two fingers and then wrap it around your cake tin and secure with the nifty little pin.

I followed my own baking advice and set my oven to no fan and a lower baking temperature. I used a lower shelf and baked the cake a little longer than the specified recipe (this combination alone generally ensures that the cake doesn’t crack for me).

They say that seeing is believing, so here’s the final baked result - no dome!  What’s more, the edges were smooth with no noticeable crust as sometimes happens with cakes.

I was astonished. They really did work!  I didn't have to trim anything off before I torted it!

Apparently it’s all about equalising the temperature that the cake bakes at. Without strips the edges of the cake cook faster than the middle. The moistened cake strips insulate the cake, preventing high and low spots and also limits the degree of crusting on the edge of the cake.

Well, however it works, I’m convinced!

I’m all for using a secret weapon when the occasion demands. In my wardrobe you might find shape-wear to smooth out my own Rubenesque bumps but in my baking cupboard, you’ll definitely find baking strips.

This is an un-solicited review of a product purchased by Di-licious and is written in the interest of sharing baking knowledge and experiences with Di-licious Cupcakes readers.
Di-licious has not received any payment or merchandise-in-kind for this product review.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My blog is making me fat

Temptation lurks everywhere.
It’s official. My blog is making me fat.

It’s also keeping my house messy since I started prioritising writing and baking over vacuuming and putting away laundry.

In fact it’s happening right now – I’ve slept in because I stayed up to watch the new Kennedy’s drama on ABC and then wanted to ‘quickly’ check in to see if there were any new messages or comments. Before I know it its really late and that coffee I had after lunch has kicked in, giving me caffeine-induced heart palpitations, delaying sleep even further.

Mr Di-licious (bless him) allowed me to sleep in and delivered a latte to my bedside. There’s a bowl of porridge waiting for me on the kitchen bench, ready to be reheated while I turn on my laptop and think about my next post.

I used to get up early and go to the gym before breakfast but lately I’ve just been too tired. You know you’ve been MIA when you get notified about a trainer leaving and you’ve absolutely no idea who they’re talking about.

And then there’s the constant parade of cakes, biscuits and sweet things that move through the kitchen – all in the name of research and blog posts. I have to taste them in order to give an honest appraisal and I try to offload them promptly or freeze them. (Mr Di-licious is very popular amongst his work colleagues.)

A few weeks ago I made a cheesecake slice for Mr Di-licious to take to his study group. I over catered and plenty came back home. They sat in the fridge the rest of the weekend, calling me to eat them. Damn it I couldn’t help myself, I just had to taste them, again and again. I tried to convince myself that I was channelling my inner-Nigella, indulging in that sly midnight snack except I wasn’t wearing a sexy silk robe. I think I should surrender my Weight Watchers membership card and hang my head in shame.

Am I alone facing this dilemma? I doubt it.

In fact I’m putting out an SOS for ideas and tips. How do you bake, taste and blog whilst keeping the scales happy and maintain a state of domestic bliss?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Norwegian Apple Cake {Recipe}

If you’ve been following my blog you’d know that earlier this week I celebrated Norway’s Constitution Day – hip hip hurrah! 
The Norwegian Kitchen is a collection of traditional and new recipes from each region of Norway, presented by the Association of Norwegian Chefs. 

Choosing just one cake recipe was hard but I decided to recreate a popular cake from my own childhood – apple cake.

When I made the cake I thought three apples was a bit excessive and only used two. Once baked I regretted my decision – whilst still di-licious, the extra apple in the centre of the cake as well as on top would have provided a greater apple flavour and a moister cake. Definitely use two green cooking apples – in Australia we would use Granny Smiths.

I made the cake the day of our afternoon tea so it was still slightly warm when served. The leftover cake was popped into an airtight container and consumed over a week. Kept in the fridge it stays quite fresh. To bring out the aromas, gently reheat a cake slice in the microwave on 50% power.

My mum tells me that her recipe has cream in it. I’m still trying to pin her down to translate her recipes but she’s promised to do it when she gets back from her Norwegian holiday.

RECIPE: Norwegian Apple Cake
The Norwegian Kitchen
200g (7 oz, scant 1 cup) unsalted butter
2 ¼ dl (1 cup) sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp baking powder
3dl (1 ¼ cup) flour
3 apples
2 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
Pearl (coffee) sugar

  • Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).
  • Grease and line a 24cm (10inch) spring-form cake tin.
  • Beat butter and sugar together til light and fluffy and sugar has dissolved (this will take a few minutes).
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Combine baking powder and flour and sift over the batter. Fold through batter until just mixed through.
  • Pour half the batter into lined pan.
  • Peel and core two of the apples and slice thinly and arrange over the batter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
  • Cover apples with remaining batter.
  • Peel, core and slice the last apple. Arrange the slices over the batter in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle top of apples with pearl sugar.
  • Bake on the lowest oven shelf for approximately 50 minutes.
  • Serve the cake still warm with thick pouring cream and Norway’s national drink – coffee.

 Have a di-licious day!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Celebrating 17 May

It's Norway's national holiday today - hurrah!

Whilst my Norwegian family were getting ready to head out to see the annual parade, back here in suburban Melbourne I held my own special celebration, dressing up Olive and baking a traditional treat.

See this picture - that's me and my sister outside our old home in Sandefjord, on our way to the parade. I think I was 2.  The dress I'm wearing is called a bunad.   Based on traditional folk costumes, every region of Norway has their own special colours,  embrodiery and accessories.

Fast forward 35 years and here's my daughter wearing that very dress and hat (and waving the same flag, albeit not quite so new looking now).  I love that my mum has preserved these touchstones of our culture.

This year my parents are actually in Norway for my cousin's wedding and timed their arrival to be there for today's festivities.

Rather than miltary parades, school children march through the town waving flags and shouting Hipp Hipp Hurrah.

I'm reliably told that the day was lovely and warm and the parade was fantastic. One day I'll take Olive and Mr Di-licious.

Dress ups aside, today was also the perfect excuse to bake something that is truely Norwegian to me: sweet cardamom scented buns, filled with custard, also known affectionatley as school buns (skoler brod).

It's funny, I searched high and low for a recipe for these buns online (quite succesfully in the end) but it turns out I already had it in one of my own cookbooks. 

Happily for me the recipes match, making me confident that by sending you to the lovely Siri at The Transplanted Baker, you will find an authentic recipe (and I can be a little lazy and not type it out).

Using a spoon to create hole for the custard
These delightful buns are actually quite easy to bake and make a good starting project for working with yeast. 

My only regret was that I didn't make 24 smaller buns instead of the 12 whoppers I ended up with.  They didn't quite cook all the way through under the custard but this was more noticeable when eating them still slightly warm. 

I've shared some process photos to illustrate how to fill the buns with custard before baking (another first for di-licious).

Filled with homemade vanilla custard

Baked buns straight out of the oven

School buns are perfect with a cup of black coffee (Norway's national drink and pastime) or glass of milk.

The hardest part is stopping at just one!

Thanks for allowing me to indulge in a little nationalistic pride.

My bookshelf baking challenge this week will also be a taste of Norway - stay tuned!

Hipp hipp hurra for 17 Mai!

The reluctant patriot

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Am I not pretty enough?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the life of a baking blogger is all sugar and spice and all things nice. There is an ugly side.

Welcome to “reality baking” in a domestic kitchen where sometimes the cakes just don’t bake pretty.

Uneven edges, baking papers coming away from the cake – there’s no rhyme or reason why it happens. But when it happens to an important order, it’s annoying to say the least.

The cakes themselves were fine (di-licious in fact) but they just didn’t look great. Even a generous swirl of buttercream couldn’t hide the fact that the papers were distorted.

In order to get these cakes to the party on time, I rewrote the rules for cupcakes and tried something a little unorthodox - I gave them a head to toe makeover.

Firstly, I removed the offending paper cups. Just like the plain-Jane secretary taking off her glasses and shaking out her hair, all of a sudden my ugly duckling cupcakes turned into swans with serious potential.

Next, I neatened up the edge of the cakes by cupping them in my hand and pressing in the rim – instant facelift!

You can’t go to the ball without a dress so I put the cupcakes into new mint green cases. I actually love the effect of the fanned out papers.

Then using a Wilton 2D tip, I piped beautiful buttercream roses on top. (The trick is to start piping from the centre and then spiral outwards – it creates the rose petal effect.)

The final result – lovely Rose cupcakes with rosewater buttercream – dressed to impress.

What do you think? Are they pretty enough now?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Learning fondant the hard way

As a mere amateur cake decorator, I am still navigating the highs and lows of rolled fondant.

A few weeks ago I completed my second-ever fondant covered cake. It was an order and I wanted it to be perfect with a capital P.

The occasion was little Alice Rose’s first birthday party. I made her christening cupcakes and knew the crowd would be expecting something di-licious.

The cake itself was simple enough – vanilla butter cake filled with raspberry buttercream. I’d made the fondant roses, leaves, letters and heart ahead of time. I just had to cover the cake (cue imminent danger music).

Fondant is finicky and it can sense your fear. But sometimes you have to face near catastrophe in order to get the job done.

Here’s what I learnt the hard way:

Less really is more. Colour more fondant than you think you’ll really need but once rolled out, estimate the size of your cake and sides and trim away the excess before lifting up to cover your cake – fondant, even when rolled thinly, is heavy and will tear!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Buttercream will wipe off rolled fondant if you use a SLIGHTLY damp cloth. Having torn a huge hole in my fondant (see above) I lifted it off to find it smeared with buttercream. Not wanting to colour another kilo of the stuff, I was prepared to give anything a go. Wiping seemed to work.

Ribbon covers a multitude of sins. If you can’t get a nice neat finish to the bottom of your cake, use pretty ribbon – instant gorgeousness.

Always bring along a repair kit! Despite your best efforts, sometimes holes appear for no apparent reason. I drove the cake over to my friend’s house (approximately 30mins away). When I left, the fondant was immaculate. When I opened the box in her dining room, there was a huge tear in the fondant. I was crushed (but my friend graciously overlooked it).

Oh fondant – how I sometimes detest thee! But when at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I love Mum cupcakes {Recipe}

It’s Mothers Day this weekend and we’re hosting my family for lunch. That means no leisurely lie in or breakfast in bed for me. 

Instead I’ll be clearing away my daughter’s toys from the family room and making sure the kitchen benches are clear.  

This year I’m giving a gift to myself by being organised and keeping the menu simple.

The potatoes for the potato salad will already be cooked. The sticky date puddings and butterscotch sauce are already stashed away in the freezer for dessert. My brother in law is bringing along a couple of side dishes and all Mr Di-licious has to do is light the BBQ and grill the salmon steaks just before serving. 

I’ve even planned ahead my own Mother’s Day gift, wording up my daughter for some fabulous striped gumboots – she’s very excited about her ‘secret’ shopping trip with Daddy on Saturday.

With Mother’s Day in the air I thought I’d make a start on my Bookshelf Baking Challenge and make a special treat for my playgroup mums.

I found the appropriately named Mother’s Day cupcakes in Sussanah Blake’s Say it with a Cupcake.

These delicate rose-scented cupcakes are moist and di-licious. I made them as mini cupcakes and decorated them with rosewater flavoured icing and a pink fondant disc.

Needless to say all the playgroup mum’s loved them (one so much that she's ordered two dozen for next weekend for her daughter's birthday).

If you love your mum, maybe you could say it with these rose scented cupcakes too.

Recipe: I love Mum Rose Cupcakes
Recipe by Sussanah Blake, Say it with a Cupcake (2009)
(makes 12 regular or 36 mini cupcakes)
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
115g self raising flour
3 tsp rosewater
For the icing
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp rosewater
1-2 tblsp water
Pink food colouring
Fondant decorations of choice

  • Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F).
  • Cream softened butter in your mixer for a few minutes before adding sugar. Beat well until the mixture is pale white and fluffy and the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Sift the flour and gently fold into the mixture (the mixture will be quite stiff)
  • Finally add rosewater and stir through gently until just mixed through.
  • Spoon mixture into paper cases evenly.
  • Bake cakes on low shelf in oven for 15-20 mins (12-15 min for minis), or until cakes are lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean. Allow cakes to sit in tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
To make the icing
  • Sift icing sugar into a large bowl and stir through rosewater and 2 tsp of water
  • Keep adding water bit by bit until mixture is smooth. It needs to be spoonable but not too runny.
  • Add one to two drops of pink colouring to achieve a light pink colour.
To assemble the cupcakes
  • Using a teaspoon, drop a small dollop of icing onto each cooled cake and spread lightly with a palette knife.
  • Top with decoration of choice.
  • Leave to set 3-4 hours before serving.

  • Make your icing the day before. Icing will keep in an airtight container in the pantry for at least a week. Give it a good stir before using.
  • Fill your cases only half full. This batter rises a lot.
  • Freeze un-iced cupcakes for up to three months. Wrap individually in cling wrap before storing in freezer safe bag or airtight container. Allow to defrost on bench or in fridge overnight.
  • Rosewater is available from Middle Eastern grocers and good delis. It’s the signature flavour of these cupcakes and worth the minimal investment.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Freezer love

It’s a glorious autumn morning here in Melbourne and I’m getting soup ready for the slow cooker so I can concentrate on housework.

To make life easier, my daughter is happily watching The Wiggles sing on TV. I feel slightly guilty that I’ve resorted to the electric babysitter again, but it buys me time to focus on the onions and the vacuuming.

“Mummy, I want a snack. A sweet-some-thing snack. P-l-e-a-s-e Mummy.”

Its times like this I love my freezer.

Here’s a fact that every mum should know – baked biscuits and cookies freeze.

I won’t be so bold as to claim that every single biscuit or cookie can be frozen but most can, and should be if you love the taste of home-baked.

To freeze biscuits or cookies, let them cool completely after baking and place them into an airtight container or freezer-safe snap lock bags. Label and date and store them in the freezer for up to three months. (They will probably last longer than this in the freezer but I’m being conservative in case the food safety police are listening. Besides I’m lucky if I can hide them away from Mr Di-licious for that long!)

This morning’s sweet crisis was averted by the Anzac biscuits I baked before Easter. I flicked the coffee machine on and whipped the bag of bickies out of the freezer.

Ten minutes later we were sitting down at her little table with our ‘coffee' and sweet-some-thing snack.

I love my freezer. Why don’t you let your freezer love you too?