Monday, 30 January 2012

The leaning tower of deliciousness

Celebration Cake

So I've been dabbling a bit in decorating.. I've made a few cakes now,  and some of them have even not been that bad! My latest cake was one for work. Two of our finance engineers (Yay Katie and Dan!!) have recently passed some pretty tough exams and their manager wanted to have a celebration cake for them. I was beyond gleeful when he asked me to make it.


It's.. What?! Leaning?!! No- it's most definitely not. Don't you think I would NOTICE if it was leaning? I'll show you leaning!!

OK- it's leaning.. I'll call off my guys.. In the end, I think it was the lack of refrigeration that got me. You see, when you first make the cake, you freeze it. Freezing makes working with it easier, as there are less crumbs and less likelihood of breaking. But, once the cake is put together, it defrosts. I do put in some infrastructure to keep it upright, but sadly, because red velvet cake is oh so soft and gentle, the infrastructure moved around. Something to keep in mind for next time.

Let's talk about the bow though! I read the article on making a bow here and I just had to try it. It looked fantastic! I also used the Cake Boss website for another reference- and I liked that they made the bow with upright and sideways pieces. The construction starts off pretty easy. I wanted it to reach to the very edge, so I measured the diameter of my cake, halved it, and added a centimeter for the loop. I then made loops that were 2 centimeters wide, and the calculated length long. I needed to put them on something to keep the loop, and I found some shot glasses! I used largeish ones- the small ones won't be big enough to make a pretty loop.


I made about 22 loops- I used ALL of them, I recommend making a few more to be safe. I also made some stars on wire. These I used at the very last minute for decorating the cake.


Two days later, I made some royal icing and stick the loops together- taking care to make some upright and some on their sides so that the bow looks nice and messy!


This also has to dry for quite a while, until it's solid. And.. That's it! Be VERY careful when putting it on the cake! I broke a couple of loops this way..

Lemme skip to my favourite part? The cake!!! It was magnificent.. The freezing really doesn't affect the cake at all- just be sure not to freeze them on top of each other! It was irresistible: gentle and sweet. Just lovely. I was SO happy that they wanted a Red Velvet cake with white chocolate icing- it's my favourite!


Is that just GORGEOUS?? I want to just take handfuls of it and rub it on my face..

I should make a quick note- Ralph and I are in a teeny tiny little place at the moment, and this cake took up most of it. Not only did Ralph not mind- he REALLY helped me with putting decorations on the cake- the most tedious part, AND he drove me to work the next morning so that I could try to make sure the cake stayed in one piece. And.. It almost didn't! But we made it :-) Thank you thank you!!

Next time- I'll need to figure out how to refrigerate. I would change almost nothing else. If I can dry the bow in an air conditioned room- I would definitely go for that, as mine was very soft and difficult to work with.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

An Apple a Neighbor

Apple Fritter Muffins

It's the glaze that really makes these.. They go together so well. I'm embarrassed to say I overbaked the muffins somewhat, but the glaze definitely made up for it. You'll notice in the pictures that I overdid the glaze a bit- and I'm completely unashamed to say I don't regret it! Getting icing all over your fingers and licking it off just makes these more delicious for me.


I feel a bit guilty about that- the whole messy thing? I think it's because mostly I just suck at the whole neatness thing, and I've learned to appreciate a good mess :-).

These muffins were a great Sunday night treat for my neighbors, and everyone we love that lives close by. We did a half hour trip with a plate of muffins, dropping them off everywhere we could think. It was so much fun and so appreciated- I think I'll do it again soon.

I haven't been posting as much lately, mostly because I haven't quite settled into my house yet. I haven't figured out how and where to photograph my food. Especially because I would really like to start taking better pictures, and it's a daunting task. It's also because I've had quite a few flops recently. My friend Erin came over and made Martha Stewart's sheep cupcakes. We made our own recipes, but tried to make them look right.. And they were yummy but a bit of a disaster! I also tried to make Croquembouche for my wonderful Ani's birthday- and again, it was astoundingly delicious but it became a pudding rather than eclairs of any sort. Also, I tried a Miette Tomboy cake- but the syrup I was making for the icing went hard rather than staying liquid. More? ok! I also made red pepper soup- which was warm and lovely, but didn't look nearly as red and come-to-me as it was supposed to. Sadly, those aren't all the flops I've had- but I've been quite happy eating all of them!

I have to rant about how amazing it is having a home.. The baking, the watering of the garden, feeding my neighbors cats milk, going for walks, having afternoons with Ralph on the patio.. I always dreamed about this while I was packing my bags driving between my house, Ralph's house, and my parents. Having one place to belong. I had thought I was overestimating how much it would change my life and make me happy, but I really didn't.

Anyway- the wonderful muffins! They came from Tracey's Culinary Adventures - I just love that site.

Apple Fritter Muffins
From Tracey's Culinary Adventures, originally from Chasing Some Blue Sky

Apples:
3 medium apples (cut into half centimeter pieces)
43 g butter
2 tblspn sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
3 - 4 tblspn water
42g cake flour

Muffins:
292 g cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup apple sauce (I used the granny smith one from Woolies)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup muscovado sugar
2 extra-large free range eggs (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup of buttermilk

Glaze:
4 tblspn melted butter
2 cups icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tblspn hot water

1) Preheat oven to 200 C
2) Put all the apple ingredients except the flour in a small pan and put onto a medium heat, and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes. The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of water and, but I added more because I really don't like crunchy cooked apple, I like it to be super soft. So I just added more water, and cooked it for longer to make sure.
3) Once the mixture is cooked, let it cool down a bit, then add the flour and toss to cover.
4) In one bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt)
5) In a separate bowl, mix the apple sauce, canola oil and both sugars. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition. Add the vanilla and stir well.
6) Now, add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk into the mixture. Start and finish with the dry ingredients. now, the whole thing about muffins is that they must not be over mixed. You need to stir the ingredients in, so that your last stir still leaves some lumps in the mixture.
7) Gently fold in the apple mixture.
8) Fill up two muffin trays 3/4 deep. I didn't make it a full 2 trays- I only made about 20 muffins. Bake for  15 - 20 minutes, until the muffins are golden. Let them rest for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
9) Once the muffins are cooling, make the glaze by simply whisking all the ingredients until smooth. I ended up making the original recipe's glaze twice as I ran out, so I've quote twice the amount.
10) Dip the muffins in the glaze upside down, and allow to set.

These muffins are best when just baked- all the people that had them that evening RAVED about them. But I was guilty of not keeping them in an air-tight box overnight..

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Sweeties!

Chocolate Candy Cake


Does this cake make you drool or cringe? Let me tell you a little more about it before you decide: inside all that, it's a red velvet cake with chocolate buttercream. I bet you have a REALLY strong opinion about it now. I'm curious to see what it is- perhaps comment a yay or nay?

I made this cake for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the candy really made me think of friends of mine who don't seem to have grown out of the OMG SWEETIES faze of their lives. Hopefully they never will! Also, we were having a superhero party, and since we were going to dress up in silly costumes and play games, why not have a kiddies dessert too? It suited the party so well- I'm really glad I came across it on Pinterest.

The response to the cake was just as expected- the OMG SWEETIES people absolutely loved it, and the rest of us couldn't finish a slice!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Traditious Delicion

Apple Pie

I'm not completely sure I've ever had apple pie before. I really don't remember. But somehow, in my genes, thanks to evolution, was the knowledge of how an apple pie should smell and taste. And this is it: THE apple pie. It smells perfect.. If I could bottle that smell I could make millions selling it as a drug..



Ralph's family likes to have a traditional Christmas. Turkey, ham and Christmas pudding are on the menu. This year I decided to try and pitch in for the dessert with a traditional apple pie. I really wanted it not to flop, so I prepared for making this apple pie like never before. I did all the things you're supposed to do that I NEVER do. I read through the recipe ahead of time and did conversions and made plans. I made sure everything was ready before I started and that I had plenty of time to prepare the crust and apples, chill the crust, and possibly remake the crust.

Let me tell you about the recipe. I was considering 3, all of which I plan to make! The most exciting one was from Confessions of a Foodie Bride - everywhere I read up on it people said it was the best apple pie they had ever had, but because I wanted to go more traditional I had to put this one in the "one day" pile. There was also one that Jennie from In Jennie's Kitchen said was amazing, but because this pie didn't have cinnamon, and she mentioned that this wasn't that kind of pie, I put it off as well. I REALLY wanted a traditional apple and cinnamon flavour. Then I remembered this recipe. I subscribe to Zoe Bakes and I had been wanting to use on of her recipes. And this one was SO detailed and wonderful- it felt less risky and it was perfectly traditional.



You can see in the first picture that the sugar on the crust didn't melt, but it still tasted and looked just magnificent.. When I took it out of the oven it just stood there, smelling like what I imagine heaven does. And it was letting out just that Martha Stewart-homey string of steam. The crust has that perfect crunch- even under the apples.. It's just.. What I've always imagined. I really wanted to post a picture of a slice, but I didn't want to take photos of food during supper. Trust me though, it looked just wonderful..

I won't repeat the recipe here because I think Zoe's instructions are just what you need. I'll just say this: I used half Holsum and half butter instead of lard for the crust, as I have no idea where to get lard around here. I also used Treacle sugar, as I don't know where to get Turbinado. This is probably why the sugar on the crust didn't turn out as planned. Finally, I used half Granny Smith and half Golden Delicious apples. It was a great combination.



I'll finish off by saying that I am just MADLY in love with this pie. I can't wait to make it again. I don't know if I would make it for Christmas again. It didn't go down very well because everyone was full and didn't want dessert. But I plan to make it for a friend's birthday soon- and every other chance I get!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Summer Winter Wonderland

Gingerbread House

It's not cold here on Christmas, isn't that AWFUL? No snow, no snowmen, no snow angels, no fires.. I don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but that doesn't stop it being a huge day in my calendar. I love creating and picking out presents to make people smile.. I think my absolute favourite is actually watching people open their presents- it's just wonderful. Oh - and the carols! I got a 4 CD compilation of them this year! Anyway- as a special treat this year, Ralph and I had been planning to combine his interest in DIY and mine in baking and build gingerbread houses for his gorgeous nieces. 


Even now, when I just look at it the photos again, I feel so as happy and excited. In a couple of years, I hope to make gingerbread houses again, this time getting the girls to decorate. But this year it was our fun (or if you ask Ralph, it was torture and we're never doing it again. Of course, he was in charge of the roof). I thought I would share some photos and tips (I just sort of squeezed these in at the end of rants :-) ) of the very complicated construction project. Tip #1: Make windows in your gingerbread walls using cookie cutters, and put lollipops in them (here I used Beacon Sparkles). They will melt in the oven and create stained windows for your house- just make sure to really fill the hole, they make less melted goo than you would think.


We had to make 2 houses, of course, because we were WAY too deep in a Christmas excitement frenzy to worry about figuring out who was going to eat them. Does that happen to you? It happens to me way too often.. What do you do for baking frenzy? Meditation? Medication? Or does it treat itself? Tip #2: To make gorgeous Christmas trees, buy ice cream cones and pipe icing onto the outside using a small floral tip (I used my Cuisinpro Cupcake Decorator- and I only could because they replaced a broken bit for me recently, so I really owe them a shout out!)


The hunt for the candy canes was long, tedious and didn't look good for a while.. I read about them on Bake Love Not War, and they just seemed perfect for the houses. I couldn't find any, so I sent my parents and Ralph looking while I baked. My parents (yup BOTH of them, scary neck brace and all!), I've been told, had everyone at the Woolworths in Brooklyn running around looking, unsuccessfully. Ralph, the hero, finally found one lonely one in Cresta while picking up my AWESOME Christmas present. Tip #3: Pipe icicles onto the edges of the roof using royal icing. It was Ralph's idea and it looks lovely. And finally- Tip #4: Spread the outside of the board of the house with plain butter icing, and sprinkle with icing sugar. It makes the ground look covered in snow. Of course, I sprinkled icing sugar everywhere else for the snow effect too.


On a personal note, I have been missing this blog quite a bit. It has been possibly the worst couple of months of my life. Usually cooking and baking is what gets me through tough times, but it's the one thing I haven't had a minute to do. I've been looking after my parents, and it's been trully wonderful. This is going to sound SO cliche, but I have to say it just because I really believe it: I've always found that when really awful things happen, good things come out of them eventually. It has definitely been the case here. I have never loved and appreciated my parents and Ralph more. I feel so grateful that they're in my life, and I can't figure out what I did to deserve them. I'll stop going on about it now (um- just give me one last sentence?), but I'm just so grateful for everyone that's wished my dad well, listened to my complaining about doctors (I did a LOT of that) and offered advice. Ane, you wonderful custard guzzling thing, I plan to make you a lot of cake..