Sunday, 27 June 2010

Practice Cake, or, I Really Am That Good (part three: decorating the second cake)

SO, now we're in the home stretch! We've determined that I can in fact make chocolate curls, which excites the pants off me (not literally. That would be awkward), so now I wanted to see what else I could do.

I decided that glueing white chocolate slabs around the sides of the cake and filling it with M&Ms would look pretty good and kind of different and funky. And I was right.

First up I melted the white chocolate in a double boiler, then I spread two rows of it on gladwrap and left it to dry on the bench.
But, being impatient, I decided to pull a frozen baking tray out of the freezer (I had put two in there, unsure as to how many I would need for my chocolate curls) and slid the gladwrap onto it to speed things up. And then I put it in the freezer to speed it up more. How unlike me...
Next, I cut the chocolate into unevenly-sized slabs with my trusty metal paint scraper. This worked well because I took the chocolate out of the freezer while it was still ever so slightly pliable. Once cut, I peeled the slabs off the gladwrap, popped them back on the cold tray and put them back in the freezer to finish setting. When it came to applying them, I cut some of the bigger ones in half across the middle to get two shorter pieces that could be turned on their sides, and also trimmed the bottoms so they'd sit flat.
Then, I applied another layer of ganache to the cake (oh yeah. I did that for the previous cake too but I forgot to mention it, and now I CBF editing the post) and glued the white chocolate slabs onto the sides of the cake using more ganache.
The next step was to pour a bag of M&Ms over the cake and press them down gently to make them stick. I usedthe mixed ones, which I suspect improves the overall look because the randommness of M&M sizes goes with the randomness of the chocolate height around the edge. One normal bag is just enough. I only ate two of them. Are you proud? :)
Finally, I tied a ribbon around the cake, which was a little challenging, so I ended up sticking a pin through the knot to hold it taught whilst I tied the bow, and then pulled the pin back out.
So there you have it. I Really Am That Good. And I bet your fridge isn't filled with as much deliciousness as mine is, either.

Practice Cake, or, I Really Am That Good (part two: decorating the first cake)

As discussed in my previous post, I haven't really had much experience working with chocolate. Given that I want Jody's birthday cake to come up looking great, I thought I'd practice by making two smaller cakes and having a play.

First things first, I applied a crumb coat of ganache (bring 2/3c cream to a gentle boil, then pour over 225g of finely chopped chocolate (I used mainly dark with a little bit of milk). Let it sit for a minute then stir until smooth. There were still lumps left where I hadn't chopped the chocolate small enough so I popped it in the microwave for about 20 seconds) to both cakes.

Also, prior to applying the ganache I slipped some extra alfoil under the edges of the cake to stop the cake board from getting dirtied up (baking paper would work too). Remove this after you've done all icing-type things, but before you add slabs of chocolate to the side (as per the post that will follow this one).

I decided that the first cake would have your classic chocolate curls, which I failed to produce for Emma and Andy, and the second cake would be a bit less traditional and more fun. So, my next step was to select my Weapon of Choice. I bought both of these because I wasn't sure what length curl I would like. I went with the smaller, metal paint scraper thingie in the end. And yes, I did procure these from the hardware store.Get your hands on some shortening. This stuff strikes fear in my heart - solid vegetable fat. But not so much as its friends sitting adjacent to it on the shelf at the supermarket - solid animal fat, and lard. Anyway, the point is, Pioneer Woman's tutorial for chocolate curls tells you to use some to thin the chocolate down a bit and make it easier to handle. I didn't use the exact ratio - I pulled a Mum, which means "add it until it looks right".Small segue: You know what happened today? I discovered the redeeming feature of electric cooktops - you can melt chocolate on a double boiler and hold onto the bowl with a potholder with no fear at all of it catching on fire. Finally! I KNEW there must be something good about them!
Freeze one baking tray (make sure it's clean first). Place it bottom up on the bench.Spread the melted chocolate over the tray. I then popped the tray in the freezer to cool it a little faster (I'm impatient). I wanted it to be not quite set, so it was still soft enough to handle but hard enough to curl as I applied the scraper.And THIS is my FIRST EVER CHOCOLATE CURL!!! I'm so proud :) I'm glad I could share it with you. I'm also glad that the dirt under my fingernails is not dirt at all, but pure, unadulterated chocolate. Here's a (really badly over-exposed photo of a) bowl o' chocolate curls. The success was a little variable because some of the chocolate didn't seem to be as set as other bits. Also, hot tip, give the blade a good wipe between each curl, otherwise it'll stick to the next curl. I also found that at the start of each curl, gently coaxing it to fold over with your fingers can help. And, try to hold the blade of the paint scraper (or whatever tool you chose to use - I'm sure you could do it with the side of a metal ruler if it's all you had!) on a 45 degree angle from the tray.
Et, voila! You have a semi-professional looking cake! I suspect the addition of strawberries would have pushed it up a notch to the professional level.Finally, bask in the fact that you are a cake-decorating prodigy. For now...

Practice Cake, or, I Really Am That Good (part one: baking the cake)

I recently volunteered to bake my friend Jody a cake for her upcoming 30th birthday. I thought that, following the colossal disaster that was Emma and Andy's engagement cake, for which I profusely apologise and remain a little embarrassed about (I KNOW I can do better! Especially now...), that I should probably practice my cake decorating skills. Note that this entry is divided into two parts - the baking of the cake, and the decorating of the cake - because I made two smaller cakes so that I could try different decorating techniquies.

Here's Emma and Andy's cake. It's not awful but it's very amateurish and not at all the standard I would personally want at my own engagement party. Sorry, guys.

Not my finest moment! I have several things to say in my defence, though.
1) I got off a plane from Adelaide at 9pm the night before the engagement party. Knowing that the cake would take several hours to cool on account of both the density and size of the cake as well as the fact we were in the middle of a heatwave, I decided to bake the cake as soon as I got home from the airport. I started mixing at about 10:30pm, got it in the oven at about 11:30pm (I must have been moving in slow motion because I was so exhausted) and set the alarm to get me up so that I could take the cake out of the oven. Waiting around for it wasn't an option because I was so tired I was shaking.

2) The tin was a larger than usual square one so that it could feed the requisite number of people, and I had to hazard a guess as to how long it would take. Luckily I underestimated and had set my alarm early, because the cake was, in my opinion, a little dry when I rescued it from the oven. I reckon it had something to do with the massive surface area but relatively shallow batter.

3) I hadn't used this particular recipe before. It's from Exclusively Food. The cake tastes heavenly, by the way, but with the exception of this first time I cooked it, I have not succeded in producing a cake that did not fall in the middle. And I mean really fall in the middle. So really, this is a reverse excuse. I've made the cake four times now and the last three it's been delicious but ugly. But a multitude of sins can be fixed when a cake is dense and muddy and smothered in chocolate!

4) When it came to decorating, I had never actually worked with chocolate before. Ganache, yes. Chocolate, no. Emma requested chocolate curls, but, not being in posession of a marble slab, and not being either clear enough in the head or wise enough to have discovered Pioneer Woman and read her tutorial on chocolate curls (spread your melted chocolate on the reverse side of a frozen baking tray), I opted to make chocolate waves instead (made by spreading melted chocolate on wedges of baking paper and draping them over the handles of cooking utensils to dry).

5) It was a stinking hot day, and our house lacks air conditioning, so all the chocolate I touched ended up with little smudgy fingerprints on it. Also, the cake was too big for the fridge and the chest freezer is in the bottom of the shed, so I couldn't very well run down there with each new chocolate wave - I had to make do with placing the waves all at once and then bringing the whole lot down to the freezer.

Right. I think I'm done with the excuses. To the recipe!

This is a very good way to start making a mud cake.

And this is what happens when you apply heat and add the better part of a cup of coffee.
This is the Axis of Delicious. Depending on whether you are watching your weight, this may also be known as the Axis of Evil. In here, there is 250g of chocolate (dark and milk), 250g butter, 1tsp instant coffee powder, 3.4c water, 2c+2tbsp plain flour, 1/4c+2tsp cocoa powder, 2 1/2c castor sugar, 4 large eggs, 2tbsp peanut oil, 1tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2c buttermilk (I used normal milk and a teensy bit of white vinegar).Please feel free to take the time to admire my very good looking Le Creuset mixing bowls. I know, we've established before that I'm a bit of a freak about things like this.Mix it all up (melt everything up to the coffee; cool. Sift dry ingredients into big bowl. Mix wet ingredients in smaller bowl and add to dry ingredients in big bowl. Add chocolate mixture in 3 batches and bake it in a deep 23-24cm greased and lined tin at 160oC for about an hour and 15 to an hour and 30).
It looks good enough before you add the chocolate mixture......but this is what it looks like AFTERWARDS. Yummm.
Then you bake it, and because you never seem to cook the recipe in the tin size specified, it sinks in the middle, badly, and so you have to cut the big rim off the top and fill the pothole in the middle with it. But it's a moist, dense cake, so it doesn't change the texture much.

Stand by for my next post on decorating these suckers (the real reason behind the title of this post, because there's nothing in this particular entry that denotes that I am in fact That Good! Unless you count the fact that I cleaned up after myself immediately. In which case, yeah! I really AM That Good!).

Monday, 21 June 2010

Emptying the Pantry: Part Five - "Whatever" Biscuits

No, my friends, this is NOT a reference to mid-nineties popular culture.

These biscuits are called "Whatever" biscuits because you can put whatever you want in them! In this case, it involved walnuts, dates, apricots, sultanas and glace ginger. These truly are one you can use to empty the dregs of the pantry.

I'm home. I truly am home. This is the Holy Grail of baking for me. This is what I've been searching for. A recipe that I can throw together, off the top of my head, and that will turn out just fine. As we speak I am waiting for them to cool enough for me to determine whether they fit the bill, but I suspect they will. THANKYOU, CWA!!! (FYI, the recipe is from the CWA's "biscuits and slices" book, which is nice and compact and well presented and makes a great gift - thanks again, Jordana!)

110g butter
1/2c sugar
1 egg
1c SR flour
1c "whatever"

And that's it! How easy is that to remember! Almost as easy as pav (4 egg whites, 1c castor sugar, 1tbsp cornflour, 1tsp white vinegar)! Where there's a pattern, I remember. For this one, you bake them at 180oC for 10-15 mins. Cream butter and sugar, mix in egg, then sifted flour and "whatever".

The end.


PS - Om nom nom. They turned out just fine! Some of one tray turned out ugly, so I had to eat them to destroy any evidence that points towards anything less than total baking prowess. So I suggest making sure they're well spaced on the tray.

PPS - The recipe really DID make twenty! This is a landmark event! Okay, actually, it made nineteen, but I snuck a bit of the dough every now and then, just to make sure it wasn't poisoned...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Intriguing and perhaps controversial product design (may or may not be wholesome and G-rated, depending on whether your mind resides in the gutter)

I bought a bag of licorice today. I just wanted to know whether my smutty mind is seeing things that aren't actually there, or whether anyone else sees what I see in this logo.

Because really, if it's not what I think it is, then I can't see what the hell else it could be, and what relevance it could have to either "licorice" or "lovers"...

Hit me up on the guestbook and let me know what you think!!!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Childhood dreams

For those of you who haven't already, meet my better half, Grant.

Grant had a childhood dream of owning a Sea Scooter - you know, those things the divers use in James Bond movies to zip about underwater with. They look kind of like a miniature torpedo and you hang onto them and away you go.

Thanks to the wonder that is Ebay, Grant was able to purchase one at a very good price. He chose Saturday - the fifth day of winter - to try it out.

Now, Saturday was quite a nice day. The sky was blue, the sun was shining... but looks can be deceiving.

It was around 16oC when Grant finally convinced me to get my bathers on and come down the beach. But thanks to a 24km/hr wind, it felt more like 10oC.

It was the sort of wind that blows sand along the beach, and as it gusts, it picks up the sand and exfoliates your legs. And sticks to anything you leave lying on the ground (like, say, nice warm jumpers and towels).I think that it is fair to say that despite the fact that it was freezing cold, Grant was quite excited about trying out the Sea Scooter. Exhibit A:

It is also fair to say that I, although wanting to be the supportive girlfriend, was somewhat less than enthusiastic about the prospect of getting wet in cold water and then standing in the wind. Exhibit B:
Grant's physical reaction to the cold water did nothing to inspire confidence or enthusiasm in me. I managed to capture him flinching as the first wave lapped at his leg.

Cold though it was, he had a childhood dream to fulfill, so he derobed and waded into the water.I'm sorry to say that Sea Scootering isn't a very exciting thing to take a photo of. Perhaps next summer, when the water is warmer and I am a more willing participant, I will get hold of a waterproof camera and capture some of the action underwater. Meanwhile, this is all I've got.After zipping about for about twenty seconds, Grant emerged from the water, breathless from cold, triumphant from having achieved a dream, but a little disappointed at the power of the Sea Scooter. I suspect there may be some modifications in the pipeline!And then it was my turn. Boy, was I excited! Okay, so maybe excited isn't the correct word to be using here. I mean, I would have been excited if it was warmer. But I'd made the fatal mistake of testing the waters with my toe.

And it only got worse as I got further in.I'm ashamed to say that this is as far in as I got. I'm getting soft! But I am looking forward to next summer, when it is toasty warm in both the wind and the water, and we can Sea Scooter and snorkel about the place to our collective hearts' content.

Moral of the story: By all means, take your childhood dreams off the shelf and try them out... but supercharge them before use. And do it on a warm day.