Sunday, 22 December 2013

Gingerbread House 2013

...well rather Spectulaas spice!

Yes, it's that time of year again where I get my creative Christmas shoes on and engineer my Gingerbread House (or should I say Spectulaasbread House, but I'll come to that shortly).

This year I've done things a little differently and made not one, but THREE houses and two Christmas trees. It's a Speculaas village! Perhaps I will name it 'Collinsville'. 

In baking 3 houses, it opens the door for many decorative ideas, as you can see from the photos.  You can really use whatever you want, do the houses differently, or do them all the same, the world is your oyster! 

The other difference this year was my decision to make Speculaas spice Houses rather than just the traditional Gingerbread. Of course, the credit really has to go to my mum. She has been making speculaas biscuits for years and has often suggested it would make a really good house recipe. The rest of the credit has to go to my sister Cherry. Cherry often complained that the gingerbread recipe  'isn't gingery enough'. But with this recipe it gives the dough a  warmth and zing that ginger alone doesn't have. 

So, what is Speculaas you might ask? Bascially, it's a dutch shortbread biscuit containing:

8 parts cinnamon
2 parts nutmeg
2 parts cloves
1 part white pepper
1 part ginger
1 part cardamon

To make your specculaas dough all you need to do is add 2 tablespoons of the spice mix to every 2 and 1/2 cups of flour your recipe has. But really you could add as little or as much as you like. My only other tip is, you might need to add a little water...depending on how dry the extra spice makes your dough.

My process this year, however, was not all sunflowers and rainbows. Allow me to explain...

We'd been given a Kris Kringle at work and my grand idea was to make one of these little houses for my Kris Kringle. The construction and decorations I'd decided to use where the same as the house below, and mostly came along without a glitch. It was quite a hot day (even with the air con on) and I was worried that the royal icing would take to long to set, or worse, wouldn't set at all. 

I'd decided to place the house I'd done for my KK upstairs, as it is the coolest place in the house while the air con is going, just to get a tickle of cool air and hopefully allowing it to set. 

La dee da, I went to work, came home and part of the roof had broken off! I thought to myself, 'no worries, royal icing is like super glue, easily fixed.' My happiness was short lived. I soon realised that the walls of the house were breaking away from the front and back of the house! 

A slight freak out later, I came to the conclusion that an entire new house had to be made. 

Moral of the story, speculaas/gingerbread and air con don't mix!

So now let me elaborate on the decorations I have used for each house.

For the house above, I've used freckles, chocolate buttons and scorched peanuts for the roof. Round the bottom of the house you'll find smarties and coloured choc-chips, these are also used up the walls. The window I cut out with a scone cutter and the window is made from pretzels. 

This little path has been made with smarties and coloured choc-chips. Simply used the royal icing to stick into place

This house is probably my favourite, as it looks like a log cabin. To get this effect, I've used pretzel sticks on the roof, around the bottom and up the walls of the house. The star is a piece of cut out speculaas dough with sprinkles stuck to it with royal icing.

To make the trees, cut out star shapes from the dough. You'll need 3 different sizes and 2 of each size. But you make the tree whatever size you like. Cachous, or the little round metallic balls, simulate Christmas lights (well I like to think they do). 

Now this house was purely my Mum's idea. 

All you need is a packed of musk sticks. For the roof, Mum cut the sticks in half lengthways. We decided to do it this way otherwise they would have been totally out of proportion with the house. I then cut the sticks into little pieces for around the bottom of the house. 

Don't you think they look like little rocks? 

I hope you all gained some from inspiration for your next gingerbread/speculaas spice House. 

Santa Claus is coming to Town! 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Passionfruit and Blueberry Cake

I love making birthday cakes!

So, a few months ago when my boyfriend's Mum wanted a birthday cake for his sister Alex, I couldn't say no! And given that she was turning 21, it had to be extra special. 

I decided to try something different, something I had never done before. This meant...cake trials!! Which also meant cake eating. Now, I love eating cake as much as I love making it, but the amount of exercise that is required during a cake trial to ensure the least amount of weight gain as possible is remarkable. I'm also a nurse and luckily my job requires me to run around like a headless chicken for half the shift, otherwise I might have got to be a sumo wrestler.

I wanted to do chocolate. 

Who doesn't do chocolate. 

In a few magazine's, I'd seen that the latest trend is Ombre Cake. For those of you who have been living under a rock, ombre is where the cake starts off darker at the top and becomes lighter as you get down the bottom. As you can see below.

This one was a caramel and chocolate version. Very yummy. Very nutty. But perhaps another time, I didn't feel it was special enough for this special girl. 

I finally decided on transforming my previous Lemon and Blueberry Cake recipe, as Alex is a MASSIVE lover of passionfruit. I've supplied the link above but I'll just jot down a few things that I changed in case you want to make this version:

  1. Instead of lemon zest and juice in the cake substitute for 1 can of passionfruit pulp that has been put through a sieve. 
  2. Use 1 jar of Yackandandah passionfruit Curd
  3. Make a batch of passionfruit cream cheese frosting;
125g Cream Cheese, softened
40g Butter, Softened
1- 1 1/2 cups Icing Sugar
4 fresh Passionfruit

Sieve the passionfruit to get rid of the seeds. Place all ingredients in an electric mixer and beat until fluffy. You might need extra icing sugar if it gets to runny. 

Then it was time to decorate. 

I'm not a big fan of photo cakes. But when it came time to asking my Boyfriend's Mum how she wanted the cake decorated, she was THRILLED to announce that she'd ordered an edible photo of Alex.

All in all, the cake turned out pretty, er, um, pretty. 

I wanted to use fresh flowers. You'd think being in Melbourne that getting flowers for a cake would be pretty straight forward. But believe me finding the right ones is no easy feet. And by Saturday afternoon, when I needed the cake by Sunday, panic had started to settle in. 

But a little shop in Ashburton seemed to have all the answers :) 

I ended up using little yellow roses and these purple and white ones, which for the life of me I can't remember what they're called. Even when I showed my mum, the avid gardener, the photo's she couldn't place them either. Combined with strategically placed blueberries on the top and a little blueberry border around the bottom, finished the job off nicely. 

I can't wait to make the next birthday cake...but it is nearly Christmas, which can only mean one thing...

...Gingerbread House!

Watch this space!! 


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Mum's 50th Birthday

I know what you're going to say, 'WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN HIDING THE LAST 2 MONTHS?!?!' Well, to be honest, I've been going through a bit of change...

...I turned 23 last month...I got a new job...and I moved back to the country (and closer to my parents YAY!)...

So, I apologise for my absence but finally things have settled down and I believe that this is the beginning of wonderful things to come. 

But I digress....

My Mum and Dad at their engagement party...almost 30 years ago!!

Amongst settling into my new life, my wonderful, creative, fabulous, ever wise mother turned the big 50 last month. And to celebrate, she decided to go out with bang and have TWO parties. A nice afternoon tea party, with plenty of cakes, tea, coffee...or for the fashionably late...a few bubbles. And of course a party, full of wine, beer, dancing and even more cake. 

Now my mum is a bit like me (or I'm a bit like my mum) in that we are cake snobs. There is no point in denying it. If it's anything less than perfection, well, lets not even go there. So, naturally all the cakes where handmade. I, of course, willingly volunteered to help out....completely unaware that I wouldn't leave the kitchen for two days. 

Having already made most of the bases, all that was really left was to frost, decorate and put together all these scrumptious treats (with a little help from my sister for the Birthday cake). 

I have supplied some of the recipes but my main objective for this post is to showcase some of my decorating skills that I hope you will all enjoy. But believe me, they were as tasty as they look. 
This Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Mousse Frosting was the Birthday Cake. My sister and I were left in charge of this which involved banishing Mum from coming anywhere near the kitchen for a few hours. Which, by the way, was no easy feet. 

We used real roses, that are obviously scarce at this time of year, but you can buy them from any florist. I was originally going to pipe around the bottom of the cake, but I was fiddling around with the leaves and we decided it looked much better. The fresh raspberries were a no brainer and instead of standard candles, a single tea light completes the look. 

My sister putting on some final touches 

Up until the party, I always thought my piping skills were pretty average. I have never really done much before, but I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of these Lemon and Blueberry Cupcakes. 
This is me putting the Lemon and Blueberry Cupcakes together. 

These little bundles of amazingness are just cupcake versions of the Lemon and Blueberry Cake which can be found through the link below: 

The centre of the cupcake has been cored out, just with an apple corer, and filled with the lemon curd. Finish with the lemon frosting and garnish with some lemon zest. OR even a fresh blueberry would look pretty. 

My Mum recently discovered that she has an intolerance to wheat, not gluten, wheat! Which means she can still have some types of flours, such as rye, but just not your standard supermarket variety. 

This cake is an Apple and Walnut rye flour cake, topped with my brown sugar frosting, which can be found here: 

To get the squiggle on top of the cake, you need to use a jagged edged plastic scraper (that's the best way I can describe it). If you don't have this tool, you may also be able to get the same effect using a fork...but don't quote me on that. Simple star piping finishes off the edge. 
Here are my simple Dark Chocolate and Coconut Macaroons. These are completely gluten free and a nice dainty treat for any tea party. Clearly, not much decorating required here :)

If there is anything from the party that I'm most proud of, it would have to be these Turtle Cupcakes. They are a chocolate cupcake, topped with chocolate frosting, a nut of your choice (we used crushed hazelnuts and pecan quarters) and finally drizzled with homemade caramel. 

I used a large star nozzle to pipe the frosting onto the Turtle Cupcakes and I was most impressed that I was able to get them all looking relatively the same. Not to toot my own horn, but I believe they could be put in a shop tomorrow. 

They were sooooooooo cute that it was hard to stop at just once. But the fact that they were so small allowed for, some, guilt-free indulgence. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dark Chocolate and Coconut Macaroons

It's been brought to my attention that there is a difference between a macaroon and a macaron. Here I was thinking that artistic license was allowing bakers to label this humble biscuit which ever way they wanted; either with a double or single 'o'. But in actual fact the two are remarkably different.

Allow me to elaborate... 

To put it simply, the macaroon, which I have done for you today, is more like a soft biscuit than a meringue and consists of eggs, sugar and coconut. 

However it's cousin, the macron, is a sweet, crunchy merinque like biscuit and is usually sandwich together with some type of filling. It is more complex to make and you'll find instead of coconut there will be an underlying nutty flavour, commonly from almond meal but you will often see pistachios used. 

I love them both but I am yet to perfect my macarOn making abilities so in the mean time these dark chocolate and coconut macarOOns will have to do....jeez, what a shame (sarcastic tone intended). 

2 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
3/4 cup Sugar
3 cups Coconut
200g Dark Chocolate chips

To make the macaroon...
Preheat oven to 160°C  and line a baking tray with baking paper.

In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Beat in egg yolks one at a time. Next, gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition; continue beating until the sugar is dissolved. Stir through the coconut and chocolate chips until well mixed. 

Place spoonfuls of mixture on the baking tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on trays before transferring to wire rack. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Flourless Carrot Cake

My job consists of a lot of driving around. This can often mean I don't have much time to eat so I like to bring with me easy, snack like things to just munch on in the car...while trying to be healthy. So if you ever see a someone driving around Melbourne chowing down on a carrot, you're probably looking at me. 

I do love a carrot. It's usually my go to food when I'm feeling fat and unhealthy. It's one of those foods that just feels like you're revitalising your body whenever you consume it, that and a good snow pea (but I highly doubt snow peas would work in a cake). 

This cake is another Donna Hay special (what can I say, I'm an addict) with a few minor tweaks. Like I've said before, I'm a huge fan of flourless cakes. And this one is no exception.

I almost convinced myself that this cake was healthy...until I put cream cheese icing on the top. By all means you can leave this off and go for all out health. But I had this inkling the carrot cake was starting to feel a bit lost without it's partner in crime. 

Again, I have made my own almond meal (which I probably could have ground up smaller) but the chunkiness and nutiness that this brings makes this cake a meal in itself. Combined with my love of carrots, warm spices and a few other goodies, I smashed almost half of this cake before anyone else and I'm sure you will too. 

5 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/2 cup Sunflower Oil
3 1/2 cups Almond Meal
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ginger
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
400g Carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup shredded Coconut
1/2 cup roasted Slivered Almonds
1/2 cup Sultanas 
Cream Cheese Icing
250g Cream Cheese
1/3 cup Icing Sugar
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice 

To make the cake...
Pre heat oven to 160°C . Line the base and sides of a 24cm spring form baking tin with grease proof paper and set aside. If you line the edges of the tin so the grease proof paper is above the line of the tin this will help prevent the cake from burning.

Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer and whisk one a high speed for 15 minutes or until pale and tripled in size. Place the rest of the ingredients into a LARGE bowl and stir to combined. Gently fold through the egg mixture and spoon into the prepared tin. 

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the cake tin before turning out. Frost with cream cheese icing. 

To make the icing...
Place the cream cheese and sugar in an electric mixer and beat for 5 minutes. Scrap down the edges as needed. Add lemon Juice and beat for a further minute. Spread over cooled cake. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting

Ever since I had an Apple Crumble Cupcake from the Cupcake Bakery, I've been wanting to do my own Apple Cupcake. After a few attempts with the crumble, I realised that something was not quite right. 

My failed attempts were narrowed down to two things...

1 - Once the cupcakes had risen, the crumble would end up all over the pan rather than on top of the cupcake (which defeats the whole purpose of having the crumble in the first place)

And, 2 - The maple syrup flavoured frosting I was making was simply just to sickly sweet and made me feel really quite ill after consumption. 

However, I persevered and remembered this pear and prune cake that my sister has baked before. With this as my new inspiration, and the addition of some apple friendly spices, my Spiced Apple Cupcakes were born. 

I ditched the maple syrup frosting and replaced it with this Brown sugar cream cheese frosting, which is now my new preference of cream cheese frostings. The brown sugar gives this icing a sweetness, without making you want to pass out from a sugar coma afterwards. And in combination with a fluffy cupcake, centred with stewed pieces of apple (which almost gives you a pudding like centre), this cupcake is warm and extremely, extremely tasty. 

3 Apples, sliced
75g Butter
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
20ml Sherry
2 1/4 cups Plain Flour
2 teaspoon Bicarb Soda
2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
115g Butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/2 cup Milk
100g Butter, softened
250g Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup Brown Sugar

To make the apples...
Make the apples first as they need time to cool before you use them in the cupcake

Melt together the butter and Sugar. Add the sliced apples and sherry. Bring up to the boil and allow to simmer on a medium heat for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool

To make the cupcakes...
Preheat oven to 170°C and line a cupcake tin with patty pan cases. 

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until pale. Add the eggs and vanilla and continue beating until fluffy. Mix in the dry ingredients and milk. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes.

Place a tablespoon full of mixture into the bottom of each patty pan case. Top with apple (reserving the liquid) and top with a further spoonful of mixture. Don't stress if the apple isn't completely covered.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden and the skewer comes out clean. Drizzle warm cakes with the  reserved apple liquid and allow to cool. Once cool frost with brown sugar cream cheese frosting

To make the frosting...
Beat together butter and cream cheese until combined. Add the brown sugar and beat on a high speed for 3 minutes or until pale in colour. 

Just a small visual aid on the cupcake assembly.