It’s beginning to look a lot like November

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Christmas has always been my favourite holiday – it is a time for all the people you love most to come together, to eat and drink, and be generally merry.

Since I am going to be in India for that actual day, Christmas has moved forward a month (obviously we had to formally apply for this concession with Santa, but as we all know, he is a very accommodating fellow once bribed with milk and cookies). I have always believed that you choose your family. So, whilst we are still having the traditional christmas lunch with my beloved relations, this year I chose to host Christmas lunch with my other family: the ridiculous, irrepressible, extraordinary group of humans who have put up with me for the last 10 years.

So, one month early we invited everyone around to our place to party like it was December 25.

The Decorations

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I found this idea on Pinterest – You can learn to do it here

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Proof that couples dress alike….

The Food

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Shhh…..

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The Cost

In total, the lunch cost about $25 a head – I considered this very reasonable considering we had enough food to fell an ox. I had accepted that this was going to be a bit of a splurge, but if you are going to do it, do it right.

The Bill

However, I was still conscious of keeping the cost as low as possible, and as such here are my 5 tips for keeping down your Christmas cost:

  1. Hit up the markets: We got all our vegetables, salad, and berries for $42.15. If we were to buy the same quantity from Woolworths it would have been $61.07. Likewise, the seafood was about $10 cheaper, significantly fresher, and of better quality.
  2. Serve a big main dish, rather than individual dishes: We cooked up a 2kg leg of lamb on the BBQ, carved it up and served it with a buffet of roast vegetables. If we had served individual lamb racks instead, everyone would have got the same quantity of lamb, however it would have meant significantly more time in the kitchen for me and would have cost us $70 more.
  3. Beg, borrow, and steal: I am lucky that my mum has a well stocked herb garden – “borrowing” some cheeky rosemary cuttings saved me $10. We also borrowed almost all the decorations, saving us much moneys.
  4. BYO: We served a Bellini at the start of the day – adding the peach puree meant we could get away with a cheaper bottle of sparkling. For the rest of the booze, we asked our friends to bring their own – this saved us a bundle as well as saving me a headache as I tried to pick a neutral beer and wine that everyone would like.
  5. Remember your left overs: One of our guests is not the biggest fan of seafood, so we decided to serve up some Christmas ham. We bought a whole leg of ham, which was a little pricy, however, we only served about 1/4 of it. Our shopping bill for the next week was only $30, because we were able to make all our lunches and one of our dinners using the remaining ham.

The Merriment

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We love our bread. We love our butter. But most of all, we love each other.

xx V

Victoria, you seem to have eaten so much you are about to explode

Victoria, you seem to have eaten so much you are about to explode

 

 

Look What I Mer-Made

Mermaid Cake

Recently I was called into action to make the cake for a 5 year olds birthday party. All I was told was that the birthday girl was obsessed with mermaids and the cake had to be so themed. The idea behind the design was to have a mermaid just hanging out and chilling on a sandy rock in the middle of the ocean.

The cake was a simple chocolate cake – I made one big ass chocolate cake mixture (see here for the recipe I used – but any dense chocolate cake would have been perfectly fine) and poured it into a 26 cm and then a little 10cm pan. The cakes bake at the same temperature (the big one just needs a little longer), so it was a time efficient way to make a big layered cake.

When the cakes were cool, I levelled the tops and cut both cakes into two layers using a cake leveller and iced with white chocolate ganache. Making white chocolate ganache is pretty much the same as for dark chocolate (see here) except you need to use 360g of white chocolate to every 1/2 cup hot cream and there is more chance that the icing will spilt. I have found that if you blitz the chocolate in the food processor to make it as finely chopped as possible then you will avoid the ganache from splitting. After the ganache was cool I whipped it (whipped it good) until it was white and fluffy. I let the cakes chill in the fridge for about a day.

I had previously made a seaside cupcake set with my boyfriend’s sister so I adapted some of our ideas and used them for this cake.

We were both unemployed...it was a prolific baking period

We were both unemployed…it was a prolific baking period

The first thing I made was ocean fondant to cover the bottom cake. This is surprisingly easy to make but looks super effective. All you need to do is knead some blue food colouring into a big blob of white fondant – the key is to not knead the colouring all the way in, you want to stop as soon as the fondant looks marbled with the colour. You need to be careful when you roll the fondant out (tips on how to do this here) not to roll it so thoroughly that you lose the marbling effect (you really only get one shot so maybe practice a few times with plain white fondant before attempting the marbled fondant). I used the marbled fondant to cover the big cake and this became my ocean. I left the fondant to dry out for a couple of days.

A day before the cake was needed I crushed up some digestive biscuits so they looked like sand – it’s a bit of a mind trip when you do this, because it looks so much like sand it brings back all the memories of learning to bodyboard and ending up eating the sea floor (this happened to everyone right…). I covered my little cake in another thin layer of icing and then rolled the whole thing in the biscuit crumbs – I let it set for about an hour in the fridge and when it was done it looked like a sandy rock.

I placed my sandy rock cake over the worst bit of the fondant ocean and piped a little bit of icing around the base and pressed on some more biscuit crumbs to bring the whole thing together.

Now I needed to make the mermaid to sit on the rock. I looked at lots of different blogs to work out how best to make that idea reality- my biggest influence was MyCupcakeAddiction’s mermaid cake, and how she used a barbie as the mermaid’s body and made a fondant tail. I set off to buy the creepiest thing I have ever bought from a cake decorating shop: a half barbie. All she had was a head, arms and body, and then below her belly button she was just a stick….it worried me.

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But I persevered and stuck her half-body into the sandy rock cake and went about making her a fondant tail. I will admit it was not easy, even with the excellent video tutorial, and it took me a couple of tries to get it right. I also free-hand cut a fondant seaweed bra to protect barbies modesty.

I plopped my cake onto a lipped cake stand and scattered some more biscuit crumbs around the bottom to make the sea bed. I had bought some sugar sea creatures from the cake store as I didn’t have the time or inclination to attempt to make my own fondant animals. I piped a little royal icing onto their backs and stuck them all over the ocean and rock (don’t neglect the back of the cake, if the cake is the centre piece it will be viewed from every angle).

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This was where I planned to stop, but it didn’t look quite right. It needed something else. So I made some seaweed for the sea bed, again owing massive thanks to MyCupcakeAddiction. I cut some very thin strips of green fondant and then wrapped them around some straws. I left these to dry for a day and then gently eased the fondant off the straw to create seaweed spirals. I broke these into various lengths and stuck them on with royal icing. It was at this point (30 minutes before the cake was being picked up) that I was so covered in icing I had it in my hair, on my ass, and stuck in the dent of my collar bone.

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It took me a long time to make this cake – it took days of mixing and drying and cooling and rolling and moulding and icing – but this is the cake I am most proud of, just because of the excitement on the birthday girls face.

xx V

"Victoria, stop taking vanity shots. We're trying to eat our breakfast"

“Victoria, stop taking vanity shots. We’re trying to eat our breakfast”

Fon-dos and Fon-don’ts of Fon-dant

Covering a cake in fondant is one of the most anxiety inducing cake decorating techniques. My friends can attest that I have called them panicked in fearful anticipation of such an attempt. So it was only for a very special friend’s very special black and white 21st birthday party that I would attempt an 8 layer, 2 tiered, fondant covered, exclusively black and white birthday cake (I’m anxious even writing that sentence).

The cake itself was relatively straightforward; it just took a lot of baking, levelling, icing, and stacking. I will write a proper blog about how to make many layered, tiered cakes when uni stops kicking my ass, but I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about the best way to cover a cake in fondant.

Rolled fondant is an edible icing that has a play-dough like consistency. It is mouldable but dries firm. I use it to mould figures, make borders, or cover entire cakes. You buy fondant at cake stores, or increasingly at super markets. It usually comes in a 1kg slab. This is the brand I get:

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When covering a cake I use this website to guess-timate how much I am going to need. Once you’ve got your suitable size blob you need to knead it. Sprinkle a substantial amount of corn flour (or icing sugar) on a clean work surface and knead it as you would any other dough. If you want coloured fondant add the food colouring here. You want to knead it until it is no longer sticky to the touch. If the fondant is too sticky it will stick to the bench and the rolling pin and tear. However, you also don’t want to knead in too much corn flour; if the fondant is too dry it will fall apart and crack as it dries. Fondant dries out very quickly, so if you are not using it you need to keep it covered in glad wrap and in a snap lock bag.

Measure out your cake so you know how big the fondant needs to be to cover the cake. I tend to draw out a circle that is the size of the cake diameter plus the height of the cake sides on a piece of baking paper. Shape your fondant into a ball shape (assuming your cake is round, if not shape the fondant into the general shape of the cake). Use a large rolling pin, liberally covered in corn flour, and begin to roll the fondant out into a large circle. You want the resulting circle to be about 1/8 inch thick. The important thing in rolling is to make sure you have uniform thickness throughout the fondant – you don’t want one bit of the cake covered in 1/2 inch of fondant and another bit covered in 1/16 inch, it will be lumpy and ugly. Once you have your shape check it is big enough using your baking paper stencil.

Now you need to prep your cake. First the whole cake needs to be covered in some kind of icing that is set and relatively dry. It is important that this icing is not lumpy or uneven – much like Gok Wan keeps telling me about my knickers, if you don’t have a smooth base you won’t have a smooth ass cake. The icing has to be flat on the top of your cake, especially if it is a bottom tier, otherwise you will have a wonky cake- this is crucial, even if it means being yelled at for getting icing on the spirit level. Right before you fondant your cake you need to brush the cake with a very thin layer of sugar syrup.

Ok back to the fondant. I’ve always been told that you want to roll the fondant onto a rolling pin to transfer it to the cake, but this has never worked for me and it always end up stretching or splitting. So I tend to just very carefully lift it by easing my two corn flour covered hands (if it is a very big cake, using my friends hands as well) under the fondant and carefully lift it up off the bench and then ease it onto the cake. This works for me mainly just because I have practiced it a lot- you should use whatever method allows you to get the fondant onto the cake in one piece without having a mental breakdown.

Once your fondant is on the cake you need to smooth it using a fondant smoother. These are not particularly expensive and I would definitely recommend getting one if you want a really professional finish. First smooth the top of the cake, smoothing out from the middle toward the edges. The fondant will ruffle around the side of the cake- you want to smooth from the top of the cake down to the bottom, lifting and straightening out the ruffles so you don’t have creases in the sides. If you get any air bubbles, like Arya Stark, stick them with the pointy end of a needle and then smooth out the air using your fingers. Using a pizza cutter, cut the excess fondant away from the bottom of the cake, and tuck any extra under the cake. Leave the cake to dry in the coolest room in your house for about a day (longer if it is humid).

Now have a drink because that was a fricken ordeal.

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The 10 fon-DOs and fon-DONT’s of fon-dant

  1. Do watch YouTube videos. This is a particularly good one, but a search of “how to cover a cake in fondant” will give plenty of instructional videos.
  2. Don’t add too much food colouring. The food colouring will make the fondant overly sticky and it will taste kind of chemical-ly. Add the colour gradually by dipping a tooth pick into the gel colouring, wiping it on the fondant, and then kneading it in- you can always repeat this if you want a more intense colour.
  3. Do practice on cake tins. You don’t need to make a whole cake to practice; you can roll out the fondant and practice laying it over the cake tin.
  4. Don’t use corn flour when you roll out black fondant as it will leave white marks on the fondant. Cut a piece of baking paper big enough to roll out the fondant to size and have a friend help you pick it up and lay it on the cake.
  5. Do get a friend to help you position the fondant over the cake so you make sure it is over the middle.
  6. Don’t roll the fondant too thinly. If it is too thin it will crack and split and you will have to scrape it off the cake and throw it out. Start with more fondant than you think you need, you can always keep what you don’t use
  7. Do take your time. If you rush the steps you will accidentally tear it.
  8. Don’t put a fondant-covered cake in the fridge. I don’t know why (maybe just to make my life harder) but every time I put fondant in the fridge it becomes super sticky and starts to weep. If the cake is covered completely it will be airtight and will keep well in a cold room like the cellar or the laundry for at least a couple of days
  9. Do invest in the proper equipment – using the right stuff will make your life so much easier and the cake so much better. As a start, along with a fondant smoother, I would recommend a fondant roller with plastic rings for measuring thickness. When you start getting more confident you can buy things like fondant moulds and embossing sheets.
  10. Don’t be scared. I mean it is pretty hard, and you will probably fail the first couple of time, and you will waste good ingredients, and you will discover that lots of people just pick off the fondant anyway…actually do be scared.

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The biggest thing I can say with fondant is practice. Don’t expect your first attempt to look like that amazing wedding cake you scoffed for your great-uncle’s 8th marriage- mine looked like a lumpy, cracked, misshapen mess. But once you add fondant to your cakes they will look so much more professional and you have so many more decorating options. Basically it takes you to the level where your grandma says “oh yes, my grand daughter makes cakes just like the ones in the bakery “.

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The beautiful birthday girl’s cake turned out ace by the way, as did the party (even if I did spend a large majority of the night getting everyone to look how level the top of the cake was).

xx V

 

Vegging Out

I’ve been very busy recently, moving house, working full time, and trying to study for exams all at the same time. So what can one do except hire an underling to do all the work for them. The following is a blog written by my cousin Stuart (who is a genius and a bozo in equal measure) as part of his IB Diploma.

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This blog is his attempt to win our ongoing civil and gentlemanly, massively violent argument about the merits of his newfound vegetarianism. My argument is stronger, of course, because it has more protein.

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As Stuart’s punishment for being much cleverer and funnier than I am, I have asserted my right as the older cousin and included embarrassing baby photos.

xx V

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“I’m a Vegan.”

“Well, okay then…. uh… welcome to Earth. You must be hungry after your long voyage to our planet. Let me buy you a burger.”

These are the perceptive words, in mono-personic conversation, of Bob the relaxed Vegan (who has a YouTube video slowly approaching 100 views). Apparently, the word vegan is not one to be proud of, as first glance may mistake it for a demonym. However, I think an alien from the planet Vegus would have preferred the vegan chocolate cake we baked today to a hamburger – perhaps without the icing.

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Today, in a kitchen on the planet Earth, we made a simple vegan chocolate cake.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

325g sifted plain flour

45g dark cocoa

1 1/2 teaspoons bicarb soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

330g caster sugar

125 ml vegetable oil

350ml water

1 tablespoon vanilla essence

 

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Prepare a round 22cm cake tin – grease sides (with oil, not butter) before lining with baking paper.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, bicarb soda, and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, water, and vanilla essence and mix together thoroughly using a wooden spoon. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

This cake is very temperamental in its cooking time. Bake for 30 minutes then cover with a piece of foil. Bake for another 30 minutes. After this hour, check using a skewer – if, after poking the skewer into the cake, the skewer comes out with any batter or crumbs attached leave the cake in the oven for another 5 minutes. Keep repeating this until the cake is ready.

When ready, take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Cool the cake upside down until completely cold.

While the cake was cooking, we prepared an icing, the recipe for which was found here. This required margarine, an ingredient which was not readily available within the kitchen of Vic. We headed off to the IGA to buy this, but in the hurry that ensued we unfortunately bought margarine that contained a small amount of dairy. Dairy!

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Yes, dairy. In fact, the integrity of our cake’s veganism was brought into question by two other components. Firstly, the cake and the icing both contained white sugar, for which neither of us can attest as to whether or not was processed using animal bones. Secondly, the fondant’s (for the IB logo on top which is mentioned later) scant ingredients list left any claim to veganism highly ambiguous. To the untrained eye, like ours, it can be surprising how many seemingly animal-free inhabitants of the pantry are not in fact vegan.

Anyway, back to the cooking. The icing was fairly simple to make, as it simply involved putting margarine in a food processor, followed by soymilk and vanilla extract, followed by icing sugar. The icing at this point looked a bit too runny, so we added all of the cocoa to get some extra thickness.

Next onto what appears to be the most important part of this blog. The decoration! Unfortunately, being a simple cake we decorated it fairly simply too – not like some of the more ostentatious of Vic’s designs. Although not extravagant, today’s cake decoration was quite relevant. The vegan chocolate cake is the first baking and “Sugar, Spice and All Things Nice” blog contribution I am doing to pocket a few CAS hours. Therefore, we simply covered the top of the cake with a blue-and-white fondant IB logo. To do this, a similar-sized logo was printed, and the white fondant was rolled out flat, and cut out where the blue-dyed fondant would be put to create the glorious symbol of inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young thinkers.

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Rolling out the fondant was quite challenging, as it seemed no amount of flour could stop it from being sticky. So I kept rolling and rolling the fondant in the flour until Vic approved, and my hands were as blue as Tony Abbott’s tie collection.

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Soon enough, the cake came out of the oven and was cut in half and left to cool. The small dome on top was taken off, and these crumbs were enjoyed, giving us a first glimpse of what the cake would taste like: soft, moist and surprisingly rich.

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So, once the cake had cooled and the icing ‘solidified’ in the fridge, the cake was iced. Vic, in her typical outlandish style, decided the icing should go not only around the outside of the cake but also as a layer in the middle. Thus it became a layered cake.

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Once the cake was completely iced, all that was left to do was place the fondant decoration on top. Pick it up and put it on top. Easy. Done!

And so the Earthlings of the house converged and it was time to try the cake. Unfortunately, the whole cake didn’t quite match the crumbs in taste. Why? The cake was good, but the icing wasn’t. Too sweet, too grainy and too runny. As Victoria, in typical outlandish hyperbole proclaimed: “The icing is a disaster zone.” Despite the extra cocoa added, it was still too runny. Perhaps next time less sugar, less soy milk or, as I suggested to an outraged reception, tofu.

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Perhaps it was just the tiny bit of dairy product in the margarine that ruined the icing. Vic wouldn’t think so though, which is why we will now be staging an epic VEGAN VS. NON-VEGAN BAKING BLOG COMPETITION, a.k.a “vegan baking vs. eggs-and-butter baking smack down”. How will the enthusiastic, egalitarian environmentalism of vegan baking fare against the tried-and-true tradition of eggs-and-butter baking?


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Stay tuned to “Sugar Spice and All Things Nice”

Stuart

 

 

Macaron and Tell That

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Macarons (to be distinguished from macaroons, a fact my friends militantly remind me of) are a mixture of meringue, icing sugar, and almond meal. Easy… right? WRONG! Macarons have been the bane of my existence ever since Masterchef made them one of the most popular desserts in Australia. My sister tried them first and produced one of the worst ever baking failures/the best ever chocolate-almond-meringue-slop-biscuits.

The basic technique of macarons is to mix a highly sifted combination of icing sugar and almond meal with meringue. Recipes vary on the proportions, colouring, and flavouring used, however, the major difference between recipes is in the type of meringue used. French meringue is made by beating caster sugar into egg whites; Italian meringue, on the other hand, requires making a sugar syrup by boiling water and caster sugar to a very high temperature (between 118°C and 121°C depending on who you ask) and then beating this hot syrup into the egg whites. French meringue is much easier to make, but is less stable than the Italian version.

For about 3 years I used the French-meringue-based recipe from the Masterchef Series 2 cookbook and made ok macarons, but they were never excellent. They always turned out either grainy and lumpy or flat and cracked – but they were yummy and I figured close enough is good enough. That was until my sister was given the Adriano Zumbo cookbook for her birthday.

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Zumbarons changed the way I make macarons. The Italian-meringue-based recipe is complicated and scientific and balls-to-the-walls amazing. The recipe is best described in Zumbo’s book, but a variation can be found here (obviously the food colouring and filling can be changed to fit your theme better).

Making macarons can take me anywhere between a morning and a week (depending on how involved I am in whichever episode of Doctor Who I am re-watching), so this week I invited my cousin over to help me out. Having two sets of hands is actually very useful- it means you can have someone sorting out the dry ingredients and separating the eggs, while the other concentrates on the sugar syrup and the meringue. Also I always enjoy having my law-student cousin as my sue-chef (because she’s a lawyer…so she sues people…but an assistant chef is a sous-chef…pun).

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Our candy thermometer broke mid-use and we couldn’t measure the temperature of the sugar syrup, so we just had to vibe it. In the end the meringue wasn’t as stable as I would have liked and the macaron mixture was a bit runny, but we shoved it in the fridge for a bit and with some adept piping we stuck the landing.

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We filled those bad boys with dark chocolate ganache and sprinkled the top with unsweetened cocoa for decoration/to hide any crappy bumpy bits on the top of the shells. We barely had enough time to take some vanity pictures of the finished product before eating them all.

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My 5 tips on making macarons (compiled during my 6 billion failures)

  1. Only use gel or powdered food colouring and add it to the sugar syrup; adding liquid colouring will change the consistency and texture of the mixture. For the same reason only use dry ingredients/powder to flavour the macarons and add it to the dry mixture.
  2. The egg whites should be aged – leave them out on the bench for a couple days to reduce their moisture content. This will thin the egg whites so they will give maximum volume when whipped
  3. When whipping the Italian meringue, the bowl should still be warm when you stop whipping. If the bowl is cold there is to much air in the meringue
  4. Always bang the tray of piped macarons down hard on the bench a couple of times – this removes air bubbles so they are less likely to crack. After this ALWAYS leave the macarons on the bench for at least half an hour or until the top is not sticky to the touch – this allows a skin to form in the macarons, meaning that when they rise in the oven they will form a characteristic ‘foot’.
  5. Most importantly: don’t under- or over- mix the mixture – under-mixing will lead to macarons that are lumpy and cracked whilst over-mixing will lead to macarons that are flat and deflated. The only way to get this right is to practice…and eat a lot of macarons until you know what texture you are looking for (there are worse things…). I found this site really useful when practicing. Lots of recipes suggest the consistency should be like ‘molten lava’, but never having lived in a volcano I don’t quite get that simile. I tend to mix until everything is just combined – the mixture should pipe easily out of the piping bag but not leak out.

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Making macarons is like taking care of a baby: it’s difficult, requires patience and persistence, and you usually end up covered in brown sticky stuff. However, like those cute little pudge balls, you are going to want to eat them right up.

xx V

Rubik-ulous Chocolate Cake

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What does one do when they have the house to themselves all day….? Cook a chocolate Rubik’s Cube cake…obviously.

Dark Chocolate Mud Cake

225g unsalted butter, chopped into cubes

360g chopped dark chocolate

1 tbsp instant coffee granules

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup plain flour

1/4 cup self-raising flour

2 eggs

1/4 cup coffee or chocolate liqueur 

 

Preheat oven to 150 °C.

Place butter, chocolate, coffee, water, and sugar in a metal bowl; place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or use double boiler) and stir until everything is melted and combined. Leave the mixture for about 15 minutes, or until cool.

Whisk the sifted flour and liqueur into the mixture until smooth and combined. 

Pour the mixture into a lined, 18cm, square pan. Tap the pan a couple of times on the bench to settle the mixture. 

Bake the cake for about 90 minutes (check using a skewer -if skewer is clean after being inserted into the cake, the cake is cooked).

Allow cake to cool in the pan.

The cake is super easy – it does take a while though because everything has to be completely cool before you move on to the next stage (this does give you enough time to re-watch the entire 4th season of How I Met Your Mother though…so really…win).

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While I was waiting for the cake to cool I made some chocolate ganache to ice it with. Ganache has a reputation of being really hard, which I imagine it is if you care about it being perfect as opposed to just caring about whether it tastes delicious. Basically boil 1/2 a cup of cream on the stove top (add any food colouring you want, black in this case) and then pour this on top of 200g of chopped dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts. Sometimes the ganache splits (goes all grainy), but I have found that if you just stick it in the fridge for a bit and then beat the hell out of it in the Kitchen Aid it will still turn out awesome.

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I then made some fondant squares for the sides of the cube. I coloured the fondant by kneading in gel food colouring and adding cornflour to adjust the texture (I also coloured my hands for the rest of the day…). I then cut 3x3cm squares and left them to dry for about an hour.

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When the cake was FINALLY cool, I levelled the cake with a bread knife, just cutting the top off so the cake sits level (tip: cool the cake upside down so the cake is already pretty flat). I then cut it into quarters (i.e. 4, 9×9 cm pieces), ate one quarter as a reward for my hard work, then stacked the other three pieces on top of each other to form a cube, squirting a bit of icing in between each layer to hold it together.

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I then iced my cake tower with a thin layer of the ganache, piping it on and then smoothing it with a spatula. I also rotated the top layer so it looked like someone was trying to solve the cube. I stuck it back in the fridge for a bit for this layer to set, thus preventing crumbs getting mixed up with the icing. When it was cool, I piped and smoothed on another layer of icing and pressed the fondant squares into the sticky icing. When I had finished all the sides I piped a thin line of the ganache between the squares to define the edge. To be honest piping is my Achilles Heel in baking; I have a shaky hand and the inability to maintain the same pressure throughout so I end up with a wonky line with 7 different thicknesses.

I’m pretty happy with the final product – it definitely looks like a Rubik’s cube and it is totally delicious, so I fulfilled the brief. However, if I were to do it again, I would cover the whole cake in black fondant rather than icing – this would mean I don’t have those annoying chocolaty finger prints on the squares and I wouldn’t have to attempt any piping.

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In the end, like all the others before it, I couldn’t solve this Rubik’s Cube.

 xx V

Cake recipe adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Cake Decorating book.

The Hogwarts House Cup(cakes)

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My sister and I have been big Harry Potter fans since we were little kids, so when it came to her 20th birthday party an HP desert was definitely in order. I had A LOT of free time on my hands, so I thought “go big or go home” and decided to undertake an insanely complicated, completely nerdy, and ultimately delicious project. The idea was based on the house cup – each Hogwarts house would have a different flavour of cupcake, the cupcakes that got finished first at the party would be declared House Champions and live forever in eternal glory.

Making cupcakes is actually insanely easy – most cupcakes have the same base recipe that you can tweak to make completely new flavours.

Base Cupcake Recipe:
225 g softened unsalted butter
225 g caster sugar
225 g sifted self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
 
Preheat oven to 175 °C
Beat all ingredients in a medium bowl with an electric whisk for about 3 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and pale. 
Place 18 cupcake cases into 2 regular muffin tins. Spoon the mixture evenly into the cases.
Bake cupcakes for 20 minutes.
Remove tins from oven and cool in tray for 5 minutes, before cooling completely on a wire rack 

And the winners are…

...and power-hungry Slytherin, loved those of great ambition…

4th Place

4th Place

Slytherin…the house we all love to hate. The cupcakes obviously had to be green and the only thing I could think of was mint, which coincidently I hate about as much as Voldemort hates Mudbloods.

To make Chocolate-Mint Cupcakes add 4 tbsp of cocoa powder and 1 tsp of mint essence to the Base Recipe. These cupcakes are best iced with mint butter cream icing: Beat together 115 g of softened unsalted butter and 225 g of sifted icing sugar until smooth then stir in 1 tsp of mint essence. 

Obviously we needed snakes on these bad boys, leading me to annoy everyone at the pick-and-mix counter by sifting through kilos of gummy snakes to find the green and silver ones. I wound these into the curls of the piped icing, which I had coloured green. At the last minute I decided to add dark green sugar crystals, because I thought they looked like the emeralds from the house hourglass.

 

….their daring, nerve, and chivalry, set Gryffindors apart….

3rd Place

3rd Place

For the Gryffindors we needed a cupcake that could prove their bravery and as we couldn’t put them at the bottom of a frozen lake I settled on chilli. Chilli-Chocolate Cupcakes are delicious – that little bit of spice adds a whole new dimension of warmth, like using incendio in your belly.

To make Chilli-Chocolate Cupcakes add 4 tbsp of cocoa powder and 2 tsp of chilli flakes to the Base Recipe.  These cupcakes are best iced with with a basic chocolate butter cream icing: Beat together 175 g of sifted icing sugar, 50 g of cocoa powder, and 115 g of softened unsalted butter until smooth.

The cupcake decorations were based on the Gryffindor emblem. I crafted large G’s out of white fondant and painted them with edible gold paint. At first I tried adding these to all the cupcakes, but it looked too boring and repetitive (and a little like I was obsessed with Sesame Street’s letter of the day). So I changed my plans at the last minute – I created red and gold shields out of fondant and stuck on a store bought sugar-lion. I coloured the icing red and out of pure luck the combination of the brown icing and red colouring created a very authentic maroon colour.

Delicious cupcakes certainly, but 2 tsp of chilli in 18 cupcakes is hardly cause for bravery, so I had to up the stakes and thus was invented Chilli-Cupcake roulette: 5 of the cupcakes were simply tasty, harmless treats, 1 however was spiked with 3 tablespoons of chilli flakes. Once they were iced no one could tell which cupcake was which and you just had to take your chances. The poor man that eventually ended up with the anathema proved himself to both be very brave and a bit of a crier.

 

…those patient Hufflepuffs are true, and unafraid of toil…

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2nd Place

Poufsouffle is my sisters spiritual (and Pottermore official) house so I deferred to her favourite flavour: banana. In fact I liked banana as a choice, it embodies the softness and sweetness of the astro-puffs. Also, ironically, these cupcakes were the ones that required the most hard-work.

To make Banana Cupcakes add 225 g of mashed bananas and 1/4 tbsp of nutmeg to the Base Recipe and omit the baking powder.  These cupcakes are best iced with a cream cheese icing: Beat 200 g of cream chess until soft and smooth; then add 175 g of sifted icing sugar, 1 tsp of lemon juice, and 1 tsp of vanilla and beat again until smooth.

Decoration choices were easy to think of but very hard to make (my imagination is far more talented than I am). I drew a cartoon badger on a piece of paper, then individually cut out the head shape, stripes and eyes. I then transferred this stencil onto black and white fondant using a very sharp knife to cut around the outline. I then reassembled the pieces to make my friendly little fondant badgers.

 

…and only those of sharpest mind, were taught by Ravenclaw…

1st Place

1st Place

Ravenclaw is the house of my people and also the most difficult flavour choice. I thought for a long time about how I could make a cupcake smart – even the internet could not yield me a brain flavoured cupcake. So, I took it upon myself, as a proud member of the Claw, to just give up completely and make my favourite flavour of cupcake – salted caramel and chocolate.

To make Chocolate Cupcakes add 4 tbsp of cocoa powder to the Base Recipe. I didn’t have a recipe for Salted Caramel Icing so I free-styled it:  Salted Caramel Sauce: Heat 3/4 of a cup of sugar and 1/8 of a cup of water over medium heat, whisking until the sugar has dissolved. Once the mixture reaches the boil, stop whisking and let the mixture boil until it is dark amber. As soon as it is this colour add 3 tbsp of salted butter and whisk until it is melted (seriously, this step has to be done very quickly otherwise it will burn and you will have to start again). As soon as it is melted, remove the mixture from the heat, wait ever so slightly and then add 1/2 a cup of cream. Whisk until the mixture is smooth (it will bubble and splutter ALOT, don’t worry). Let the sauce cool.  Salted Caramel Icing: Beat a 1/4 of a cup of softened butter and 1 cup of icing sugar until smooth, add 3/16 of a cup of the completely cold caramel sauce and whip until fluffy. 

For the decorations I wanted to recreate the Ravenclaw Eagle – so I cut off the muffin top, and cut it in half to create two wings – basically a butterfly cake. I then iced the flat topped cupcakes with the icing (which I had coloured blue) and drizzled it with some extra caramel sauce and sprinkled the tops with sea salt flakes. I then added the ‘wings’ to create my bird.

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Now, I know what you are thinking – a party with Harry Potter themed cupcakes, that must have been a wild night…. Well actually, I will have you know that we ended up having the police called…at 11pm..by our 90 year old neighbour who deemed we were playing Hits of the 90s too loud. So… yeah… hard core. We gave the cops some cupcakes

xx V

Cupcakes were inspired by and adapted from those in 500 Cupcakes (F. Connolly)