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!!