Friday, 28 January 2011

Friday night caramels

*Grandparental advisory: do not give these caramels to your nan. They will pull her fillings/false teeth out and it will be very embarrassing for everyone involved*

These remind me of my Grannie Gracie actually, not quite sure why - she never made anything like this. But she always used to line her cake tins with heaps of paper and I think wrapping the caramels in twists of baking paper like I did was what made me think of her.

caramel setting in the moulds

Thanks to the Frankie Sweet Treats cookbook for the recipe and Instagram for getting across in picture form the old fashioned simple quality of the caramels.

Only ingredients are brown sugar, castor sugar, glucose syrup, condensed milk and butter, boiled to soft ball stage (115C).

It hardened quite quickly in the mould. I turned it out when it was still warm and cut it into squares with an oiled knife, then hand-shaped them into oblongs. The consistency when cool is very firm, but will yield when pressed between thumb and forefinger.
I am looking forward to taking these in to work on Monday and finding out which of my co-workers has loose fillings :-)

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup glucose syrup
3/4 cup condensed milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
pinch of salt

Line a rectangular container with greaseproof paper.
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to the boil. Increase the heat to medium and boil until you reach 115C or soft ball stage (about 10-15 minutes). Stir constantly, the mixture is very prone to sticking to the bottom of the saucepan and burning. Remove from heat and pour into containers. When the mixture has cooled and firmed up, cut into squares with oiled scissors or an oiled knife. Wrap in twists of baking paper.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Sean the Sheep Cupcakes

This would be a perfect present for any stray New Zealanders you come across ahaha... sorry.

I was trying to come up with a design for Will Tatchell who runs Van Dieman Brewing.
I wondered about a beer cupcake but I wasn't sure how to do it, so in the end I fixed on Sean the Sheep because Will's brewery is on a farming property, and there is a sheep that was bottlefed who follows him around.

For Sean's head I looked at an old Wallace and Gromit alarm clock. Jade was confused to find it on the kitchen table but guessed straight away that it was possibly cupcake related.

The green background (left) works better than the purple one below because it looks like grass. The cachous were just to glam it up a bit but were possibly a mistake.

It would also be fun to do a more three dimensional Sean by modelling half of his body and making it look as if he was jumping out of the cupcake.

My problem though with that type of solid modelling is that you end up with so much icing relative to the amount of cake, it's not really edible.

Baa-aaaa, happy eating Will.

Australia day macaroons

It was a Frenchy kind of Australia Day at our place with no lamingtons or pavlova in sight, Sam Kekovich would have been very disappointed (although we did have lamb).
These are coffee flavoured with a coffee buttercream filling.

I had some trouble getting the flavour how I wanted it without upsetting the texture of the mixture. Using a shot of expresso coffee is a beautiful flavour but it makes the buttercream separate and curdle.

First batch of buttercream went straight in the bin, second batch I tried a syrup flavouring, Bushells coffee and chicory essence, it comes in a tall glass bottle in the coffee/tea aisle of Coles, costs about $3. It's strange stuff that smells quite bitter, but it worked really well and I got a flavour and colour that I was ok with.

So the coffee buttercream is still a work in progress as I am playing around with quantities and ingredients.

Here's a tip, if you get something right when you're experimenting, bloody well write it down straight away - I made a really good coffee cream a few months back and have never been able to do it again.

I have discovered that piping the macaroon mixture onto the oven trays is heaps easier than trying to spoon it out evenly. I am using disposable piping bags from the supermarket, how easy is that?

One Eureka moment I got from reading my new book on macaroons is that you need to leave them for half an hour after piping but before baking, to form a skin on the top. This is how you get that classic shape of the smooth upper with the little rough 'foot' on the bottom.

These chocolate macaroons were made about a week before we ate them but were still in really good condition after being kept in the fridge. In fact having them cold from the fridge seemed to add a denseness to the filling which improved them. I think they would last quite well for up to two weeks.

Proof that following a recipe can achieve results similar to those pictured in the recipe book! Thanks Jose Marechal for writing such a great teaching textbook on my favourite food.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A pirate with eyepatch and earring

Pirates are fun to make and not very hard - thanks Paris from Planet Cake for this design which is in the book Planet Cake Cupcakes. 

This little fellow is a bit grumpy but not very scary. I will have to work on more scary facial expressions. 
The Planet Cake design had only one strap coming off the eyepatch (the one on the left) but I thought he needed a bit of balance so I put another one on the other side. The straps are a bit too wide and next time I will cut them finer. 
The cut on the cheek adds a bit of interest to what is a very simple design, this was just painted on with red food colouring and a fine paint brush. 
If you were doing more than one pirate it would be fun to do the headscarves all different colours.

Macaroon Madness.... pistachio v chocolate

Macaroons or ‘macarons’ if you want to be all French about it are possibly the most awesome foodstuff on the planet. 
I know there are many people who would argue with that statement, but I would argue that those people should not be reading this blog. 
Now if you live in a small and mostly un-French place like Tasmania there are limited opportunities to purchase macaroons, and you may be forced to make your own. That is basically why I started to make macaroons.

Macaroons are fiddly and time consuming to make but they are worth it for the enjoyment factor. They also last really well (about 10 days). 

The ones in these photos are chocolate (above) and pistachio (right).
I was a little more careful in shaping the chocolate ones - you can see the pistachio ones are misshapen and a bit weird looking. This was because I was just doling them out on to the oven tray with a teaspoon. You get a much better result if you pipe the mixture out into circles using a wide nozzle. 
The chocolate ones are made by adding cocoa to the basic meringue mix of egg whites, sugar and almond meal. The chocolate buttercream I made by just adding some melted dark chocolate to some creamed butter (unsalted) and icing sugar. In other words it is a butter icing with lots of chocolate in it!
The pistachio macaroons are a bit more tricky. For a start they are a lot more expensive to make because pistachios cost heaps more than almonds (this may be a seasonal thing I guess). Then you have to buy them whole and grind them from scratch. Whatever you do, don't buy salted ones. And don't try to grind them by hand with a mortar and pestle, your arms will drop off. You need to whizz them in a food processor with some icing sugar so they don't get too oily. And then you need to whizz them again. And again. Just saying. 
For the filling in the pistachio macaroons, I discovered that traditional recipes often put a couple of egg yolks in the buttercream along with butter, sugar and some ground pistachios. I was a bit worried about this but it worked really well, I can recommend using the egg yolks as it seems to stabilise the mixture and add an extra smoothness and taste dimension. 
I'll post more pics as I make some more.

Just FYI, I have actually found three places in Tassie that sell macaroons. In Launceston, Tant Pour Tant in Charles St has them but only about once a week and you mostly have to order them specially. In Hobart you can get them at Sweet Envy in Elizabeth St North Hobart, and there is a microbusiness called Ruby’s Macarons (do a search on Facebook, they have a page) who supplies some delis. Companion Bakery at Oatlands also has them sometimes.

Quick comparison between suppliers:
Tant Pour Tant makes very traditional medium sized macaroons, mostly vanilla ones, with a firm buttercream filling. They are similar to  Laurent Patisserie’s in Melbourne.
Sweet Envy’s are smaller and have buttercream filling plus a mystery additional filling of syrup or something, and a huge range of flavours, blackberry, raspberry, lemon, orange, lemon myrtle etc. I love their coffee one especially.
Ruby’s are medium sized, traditional buttercream and they do an awesome salted caramel one that is filled with a soft caramel, outstanding!
Companion is more a rustic style and they are very large, only vanilla, and the filling is a stiff almond paste which I didn’t like very much (sorry Companion, you do awesome sourdough bread and semolina biscuits though).

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Mandy and her butterscotch sauce

Along with fairy cakes and caramel, my other great childhood success was butterscotch sauce. I don't like butterscotch sweets very much so I was always surprised at how good this tasted. 

My best friend Mandy had the most awesome recipe which she shared with me when we were about 13 years old. She copied it out for me in her best writing on a piece of pretty notepaper. I have never rewritten it because I really like still having the original piece of paper she gave me. 

1/2 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup caster sugar

Equipment: Double boiler saucepan; if you don't have one, use a bowl that fits tightly on top of a saucepan and fill the saucepan beneath with hot water. 

Place the double boiler on a low heat, the lower saucepan one third full of water. In the upper saucepan, combine all ingredients, stirring gently. 

Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. How easy is that?

Pour the sauce into a glass screw top jar and put it into the fridge for a few hours to thicken.

I used Bonne Maman jam jars because I love the gingham-pattern lids (and I love the jam that comes in them too).

Warm it to room temperature to serve. 

You can keep this almost indefinitely if you keep it in the fridge and sterilise the jar before putting the sauce in. You could also freeze it I guess - in fact it would be awesome swirled through icecream and then frozen. 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Other things to do with fondant – stamped sweets

After being scared of making my own fondant for ages, I found a very simple recipe for these small fondant sweets in Frankie Magazine’s cookbook, Sweet Treats

They reminded me of lollies that I used to get when I was little. Jade pointed out that I may be mistaken for a drug dealer trying to flog eccy tabs, but I think it’s worth the risk.

The fondant is sugar, water and gelatine that is boiled and then beaten until it forms a white mass that you can ball up loosely. You then dust your hands with icing sugar and knead it for 5 minutes or so until it starts to look shiny on the surface. You can tint it whatever colour you want, I divided it up in three parts and did pink, blue and yellow. I used gel colouring and was very sparing because I wanted light pastel shades. 

Who knew that you could still buy paper doilies? Thanks Frankie for making them cool again.

 I found these tiny cello bags at Birchalls which seemed to suit the whole cutesy theme.

Flavouring was a problem for me, I experimented with using no flavour (pretty foul), vanilla (worse), lemon (not strong enough – need lots) and peppermint (quite nice). If I had rose water I would have tried that for the pink ones. Reckon it’s worth trying to match flavours and colours. Yellow – lemon, pink – rose, green or blue – peppermint.

The cut outs were small pastry cutters, continuing the childhood theme, the ones I used were actually ones that I have had since I was little, I used to use them with scraps of bread dough when Mum was making bread. On my last trip home I raided her kitchen cupboard and rediscovered them, thanks Mum for keeping them safe all this time!

The lettering was made with a DIY stamping kit that I bought at Birchall’s (newsagency), most big stationers would have something similar. The kit contains lots of individual rubber letter stamps, some stamp holders with parallel bars to slot the letters into, and a set of tweezers to help you pick up and position the letter stamps (they are about 2mm tall). So you can put together a stamp to say anything you want. I thought it would be nice to do some friends’ names. Great birthday or wedding present.

A word of warning, these are fragile when they have dried hard and are liable to break. Particularly packaged in the bags you have to be very careful with them.

Happy face sad face

Who knew 'skin tone' would be so hard to get right? The first cupcakes that I did of people were for Christmas - I did a Santa with a big white beard and red hat, and an elf with little pointy ears and a stripey hat. I used a light pink colour for their faces and they looked all flushed and kind of drunk... like they had had one too many glasses of brandy left out on Christmas eve. No pics of those ones, sorry (I must've had one too many brandies myself and forgot to photograph them).
 So the next time I tried faces, I used 'ivory' colouring. Now my little cupcake people look anaemic and sad. Grrr.

Anyway, this is an anaemic sad baby in a beanie. One of my friends asked me what on earth I did to him to make him so sad. Maybe it's the prospect of being eaten?

So I started experimenting with other facial expressions (although secretly I really like the sad anaemic baby).
Have to credit Planet Cake Cupcakes with a lot of the ideas for expressions. I modified some and as I got more confident I started riffing on the theme a bit. FUN.

The ones below need only one pastry cutter, a large round, which you use both to cut out the face and to cut out the hair or hat. You can then go to town styling the hair in different ways.

 The hair is scored with a knife and hand cut into a 'style'. 

The eyes are tiny hand-rolled white pieces of fondant with even smaller hand-rolled pieces of black fondant. 
The easiest way to position and attach the eyes is to make a pair of indentations using the end of a paintbrush or something similar - you need a tool where the end is rounded and approximately 3mm diameter. Then dab the tiniest drop of water inside the indentation to stick the 'eyeball' in place - too much water and it will come out the side of the 'eyeball' - and no, it doesn't look like tears, it just looks messy. Then press the white fondant into the hold and tap it gently to flatten it. For the pupil, make a tiny indent in the eyeball - be consistent and make it in the same place on each eyeball so you don't get a crosseyed cupcake - and press the black fondant in. It takes a steady hand to position the fondant, I guess you could use a fine pair of tweezers if you have trouble.

The nose is a small hand rolled ball of fondant of the same colour as the face. Make a little hole with the end of your paintbrush in the centre of the face, where you want to position the nose. Then roll the ball of fondant between thumb and forefinger to make it slightly conical. Moisten the narrow end and fasten it into the hole.

Mouths are really tricky to get right. I have found that using the smallest size of circle cutter is the most reliable way to make a nice even smile or frown. 

The simplest expression is a surprised one, like the girl with the ponytail above. The mouth is just a tiny indentation from a sharp pointed tool (if you don't have any pastry tools, a miniature screwdriver set is a good substitute - use the smallest philips head in the set).

The earrings are made of cachous, those silver ball decorations you can get everywhere. Supermarkets seem mostly to sell medium sized cachous, the ones I used here are small ones that came in a 5-part cake decorating shaker with other things like chocolate sprinkles etc. 

Freckles are painted on with a thin paintbrush and brown gel colouring (see previous posts for differences in working with gel as opposed to liquid colourings). 

The cheeks are dusted with an amazing substance that some people call rose petal dust, it is basically a deep pinkish red powder colour that comes in a tiny plastic tube, you get it from cake decorating supply places, about $5 a tube. You mix it with cornflour to dilute the colour and then brush it on with a soft wide brush - like a makeup brush (if you have a clean new one that is). Then you can blow gently on it to remove the excess powder. A really simple tool but it adds a lot to the look of the cupcake. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Toadstools, playing cards and halloween

These are designs I made up (as opposed to my usual practice of stealing designs from Planet Cake and the interwebs).
I got the idea for the toadstools from some tiny little sugar toadstools that I found at The Mill Providore in Launceston ages ago. I planned to use them but then thought it might be more effective if I made my own toadstools out of fondant, so that the texture would be consistent with the green 'grass' they were on.

The stalk is a small cone of white fondant rolled in the palm of your hand. The top of the toadstool is a hemisphere of red fondant that is hollowed out inside - you can press a fingertip into it to hollow it.

I also used the end of a small paintbrush to indent a small hollow in the underside of the red piece, so that you can 'nest' the stem into it and provide a more secure join. Moisten the join with a drop of water to make it stick fast.

I used white hundreds and thousands for the toadstool's spots.

 I thought that playing cards would be really effective and simple, but they were harder than I thought and I wasn't happy with the result. I am not very good at painting on letters, and my cutters to make the hearts and spades weren't really in proportion to the size of the 'playing card'.

A better idea might be to do the whole top of the cupcake in white, and just paint the letter and stick the hearts/spades directly onto it.

 It's really annoying when the cupcake wrapper starts to pull away from the cake and won't stick back on - it looks messy and I haven't found a way to stop it happening.
I think they would be more effective as a big group, but the colours are quite harsh and 'un-food-like' which bothers me a bit. FAIL.

While I was on poisonous substances and gambling, I thought I'd detour to Halloween and show you some quick and dirty mini cupcakes I made a while back, non fondant decorated but you could easily do these from fondant:

The icing was a plain chocolate buttercream for the pumpkin ones and a plain white glace icing (just icing sugar and water) for the skulls.

The pumpkins were hand cut from rolled marzipan that had been coloured orange - I used liquid colourings because I hadn't yet discovered gel colourings.

I got lazy with the skulls and used plastic favours that I bought from a party shop. I hate using non edible stuff on cakes but I was in a hurry and couldn't work out how to make them. If I did these again I would try to make them from white fondant.

I guess if you were dedicated you could make a mould from these plastic ones and use the mould to make sugar skulls??

Anyone got any other ideas for Halloween?

How to overdo it

I really liked the idea of puppy cupcakes from the Planet Cake book but when I actually made them I was not so keen.

The designs are fantastic and I got a result I was reasonably happy with, but it took ages - so long that I really didn't want to either eat them or give them away, which kind of defeats the point of a cupcake.

Also, re eating them, there is so much icing involved in the solid figures that you wouldn't WANT to eat them - the balance of icing to cake is just all wrong.

Sorry Paris... I really do like the designs but... just saying.

Dragonflies and piggywigs

Since doing Sally Alps's class and discovering the Planet Cake style of decorating I have been ridiculously Martha Stewart-like, sitting in the kitchen for hours mixing colours and rolling fondant and fiddling around with tiny shapes and cutters.Jade worries that I have become obsessed.

This was the easiest of the PC designs. The dragonfly's body is made up of hand-rolled balls and the wings are done by using a heart cut out with a pastry cutter, then cut in half vertically to get each wing section. The antennae are dried pasta (spaghettini), the book uses florist's wire but I don't like the idea of using non-edible materials.
You could do these in any colour and just mix one batch up, then halve it and add more of the same tint to one half of the batch to get the darker hue for the body of the dragonfly.

I sort of made this up although I have seen similar ones in the past so maybe I subconsciously borrowed the idea. Piggywig is stupidly simple but I really like him.
Use just a single colour tinted to whatever pink you want. One large circle to cover the top of the cupcake, a hand-rolled oval which is flattened and stuck in the middle for the snout, two little black balls pressed flat for eyes and two dots of red colouring put on with a paintbrush for nostrils. When I painted them I wasn't happy with how it looked so I indented them with the rounded end of the paintbrush.
The ears are vaguely triangular hand moulded shapes that are pinched at the sides to make them three dimensional. I dabbed the inside of he ears with painted red colouring but I think this was a mistake.
Cheek blush - I will do a separate post about this soon, really simple and effective technique using stuff called rose petal dust.

Planet Cake, Sally Alps and fondant rolling

 Last November I did my first actual cake decorating course (I have always been totally self taught). It was fantastic and sorted out all sorts of lingering questions I had had about fondant decorating, which I had never been confident to use. I went to Sally Alps of Alps & Amici in Launceston and the course was Christmas Cupcake Decorating. Sally learned her art from the famous Paris of Sydney's Planet Cake. I have since got hold of the new book Planet Cake Cupcakes which is a great buy and very informative.

My eureka moments from the day were:

It is PERFECTLY OK to use commercial or 'ready-to-roll' (RTR) fondant, in fact most great decorators use it! Yay, now I don't have to feel guilty for not making my own fondant icing.

There are a few different types of fondant icing available and you can get it in the supermarket or at places that sell cake decorating supplies. They vary in stiffness and taste so you need to experiment with what works for you. In Coles you can buy Orchard White Icing in a cardboard box from the flour/sugar aisle, this is RTR fondant.I always wondered whether it was or not.

The best colourings are paste or gel colours. The liquid ones that are everywhere get really messy when you try to knead them in because they're too wet. The gel ones are a bit harder to get (go to a cake decorating place) but they give a very intense rich colour and don't make the fondant so sticky. They cost about $5 per colour and it is so worth buying a range of colours so that you can be a bit varied.

Cover the top of the cupcake with a layer of ganache that you can hot-knife so that it is totally smooth - this gives you a beautiful flat surface to work with and means your rolled-out fondant can be quite thin and still be smooth.

Comb good toyshops for kids' modelling tools and rolling pins... this is the perfect scale to use for cupcake sized decorating.

And keep collecting pastry cutters of all shapes and sizes because you can form the basics of lots of cute designs by using the cutters - for instance look at the snowman above which is made from different sized circles.

In the beginning...

... I was a small girl with a sweet tooth and a cookbook which contained a recipe for fairy cakes. The recipe told you how to mix flour and sugar and eggs together and scrape this mixture into patty cans.

It also said: "Ask Mummy to set the oven to Gas Mark 8."
... and so I did, and she did, and my first batch of cupcakes appeared all hot and fresh from the oven.

Then it said somewhat scarily "Be careful not to eat them when they're still hot, or you may get hiccups."
... I have still never figured out if this is true.

From then on I loved making cakes and I still do. I'm a pretty lazy cook, I only do stuff that I'm interested in, and the only thing I am consistently interested in is baked treats. So that is the focus of this blog in which I'm going to try to document my experiments with cakes, pastries and biscuits. I like to read and see what other cooks are doing or have tried to do, and I often turn to the interwebs to solve cooking problems so hopefully I can help others to do that too!