Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mini cupcake fun at Halloween

I was lucky enough to be given permission to bake again for the girls at school.  Now that they're both at school, there were 2 class parties to cater for and after determining exactly how many mini cupcakes were required I realised that I'd have many leftovers.  What I hadn't figured out was just quite how many leftovers there would be - eek, 7 dozen cupcakes was not the total amount I had expected!!
But I had fun, decorating them with chocolate and vanilla buttercream, some coloured orange (but not flavoured orange, I'd learnt that lesson awhile back.  Kids don't like orange-tasting icing - odd, but true) and a selection of sparkly black and orange lines, white ghosts and black bats.
 The orange with bats and ghosts went to one class, the white with lines to the other...
 The chocolate iced ones went to the school office to be divvied up...
And these last ones plus some white ones with ghosts and bats went to Mr Becca's office.  Bet you there won't even be any crumbs in the containers when I get them back.  Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Anzac biscuits, at school, in October?

I had a meeting with a primary (elementary) school in our city a month or so ago, about teaching baking to a select group of children.  It was myself, the Principal Teacher for that department and the Healthy Eating Assistant for the school, and we discussed what type of recipes may be suitable, which ingredients the Scottish Government Healthy Eating Policy (or whatever its official name is) would allow and so forth.  As a slight geek, I was excited about the basic science and maths involved in baking - watching the solids turn to liquid, watching disparate ingredients turn into delicious cookies and cakes, seeing the numbers on the scales increase, sifting the flour through the little holes and watching it get finer and so on.  I like it when my girls master a new skill, like sifting flour only into the bowl, or cracking eggs and having no shell in the bowl, or weighing out sugar and was hoping to pass that joy on to other kids.
We determined that we'd need short, easy recipes to start with (no mention was made of how long this arrangement may continue, but one session to start with, so Oct-Dec) and that in the week that I wasn't in class, the teachers would work on hygiene, basic maths, science etc to prepare the children for what was to come. 
Somehow the idea of cooking from different countries came up, and with my Aussie background, I looked for simple classically Australian recipes of my youth, and found this beauty that would perfectly suit our needs - Anzac biscuits.  For the history behind these tasty crunchy, oaty bickies (as the Aussies call them), see here.
Isn't this board great?  The teacher made it to visually show the children all the steps involved in baking.  On the left side we can see the ingredients for this particular recipe, and the recipe itself in the middle.  They each had various tasks to perform, and next time their name will be beside the task for that lesson.
Here are the biscuits, ready for the oven.  The Healthy Eating Assistant was going to take them through to the school kitchen, and they would be ready for the children once they'd eaten their lunch - perfect.
One of the children cleaning the table, others were tasked with washing and drying dishes - not their favourite parts. 
The lesson ended before the biscuits were baked, and I had wanted to try out the recipe before teaching it, so below we can see The Team plus a friend/classmate/neighbour stirring the biscuit mix yesterday afternoon, after they'd all done their homework of course.
 Here we see her making 'balls' with the mix the clean way, getting it ready for the oven.
And the finished product - the Kitchen smelled fantastic, and the biscuits were crunchy, oaty and delicious!  Enjoy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Oooh, a hen party...

I see a lot of interesting cake decoration techniques and effects on my travels through cyberspace, and either mentally or actually bookmark many of them for future reference.  A prevalent recent one is animal print on cakes, like cow print on a Toy Story cake, or zebra print or leopard print.  In most cases these are a case of cutting shapes in black sugarpaste and placing them on top of white sugarpaste to make the design, but in the case of the latter two, I've actually seen them done in the sponge itself.
Zebra-print I'm planning to try out at some point... but leopard print had me stumped.  I read  how to do it and still didn't really get it.  And didn't really mind, because my girls are a bit young for animal-print anything just yet and I've been busy enough just now with holidays and back-to-school and life in general not to have oodles of time in which to experiment.  Then this one looked easier, but I only just read it now...
Anyway, I couldn't find any leopard-print cupcake cases at short notice, so here's what the customer and I worked out would co-ordinate with her theme/idea for her best friend's hen do.  Classic Vanilla cupcakes in dark brown cases with either white, black or chocolate sugarpaste accents and some lustre and sparkle...  Have a blast ladies!!

Rainbows for Eid

I was thrilled to be asked to make a rainbow cake again.  The last (only) one I'd done was for our  most recent wedding anniversary which was a few months ago now, so I was excited.  This one too was for a special occasion, Eid, so it had to be just right.
I remember hearing, (perhaps on Grey's Anatomy once?) that in medicine the operations/surgeries were See One, Do One, Teach One.  Now, whilst I'm not by any stretch of the imagination equating cake baking to surgical operations, it feels like it might be similar.  I've made one rainbow cake so I feel confident in making another, or talking someone through what worked for me.  Just saying...
Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  I again had to go next door to borrow her Wilton Sky Blue colouring, because I hadn't got around to buying me one yet.  I did see Dr Oetker's new gel paste colours on offer at my local Sainsbury's supermarket so I picked up a red, ultra violet and a sky blue for next time.  I tried out the red this time actually, and wasn't impressed.  It was red, but far too pale for my needs. 
My go-to brand for food colour is Sugarflair, but last time I needed red colouring I wasn't near a shop that sold it, so bought Wilton Red Red instead.  A touch of this into the pale colour I had for my batter and whoosh, a much deeper colour.  I didn't want to add too much in case it affected the taste, so left it at that.
Once again the cake was pleasingly tall and full, and I covered it in white buttercream icing (though could probably have done with a couple of crumb-coats, and have made a note of this for next time) and picked out one of the colours to make the plaque.  The customer's hubby collected the cake, as she was so busy in her kitchen cooking up the feast, and he was kind enough to ask her to send me a couple of photos once it was cut. 
Thanks to her we have these fun shots of the interior, and you can see what I mean by the not-as-bright-as-last-time red of the first layer.  Still great fun though, and what great light she had in her next photo!
And the best part?  Her family loved the cake she chose for their celebration.  Eid Mubarak everyone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dundee loves Clandestine Cake Club, Autumn style

It was time for another meeting of our branch of The Clandestine Cake Club and this time the theme was Fall Fancies, the colours and flavours of Autumn.
I really fancied making a pumpkin cake, especially after doing the pumpkin cupcakes a week ago.  I had specially bagged up the pumpkin puree in 200g and 440g (approx 1.5 cups) bags in preparation.  One of my American cake friends, C,  set up a board on Pinterest called Cakes to bake-Pumpkin and directed me to the Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake.  She had tried one or two of the recipes, and this one looked like something I could manage.
After converting all the measurements to metric, I got started.  Once again, the pumpkin seemed to make the cake very moist and dense, even though I baked it for longer than the specified time and the inserted skewer came out clean.  And it felt kind of wrong to burn butter on purpose, but I had to do it 3 times for the brown butter components of each section.  Mmm, what a difference it made to the taste though.  Spiced pumpkin sponge, cream cheese icing and caramelised pecan nuts - yummy.
That beauty is my contribution.  Below are the cakes brought by all the bakers - from L to R we have Jackie's Cinnamon Apple cake, Jac's version of a Halloween Victoria Sponge - complete with choc fondant eyeballs, Ellen's Apple and Bramble bundt cake, Catriona's Pumpkin Maple bundt, my cake, Gary's Beetroot Choc cake and Carolyn's Sticky Pear and Ginger Cake.  Sadly Kelly was unwell though, so we missed her cake.

To each event a baker is invited to bring a guest, called an eater, to help taste and eat the cakes.  So in this case we had a couple more eaters than bakers - because there is always So Much Cake.  You really do need the help, I promise.
And here is the lovely little cafe chosen for this event, on the Perth Road if you are local to Dundee...  Although I think next time we'll need to chose a larger venue - this event had a long waiting list, so exciting!!
Just a query - for those of you who bake with pumpkin regularly, does this slice of cake look good to you?  No, honestly I'm not fishing for compliments (though they will always be gratefully and graciously accepted) but it seems dense to me and my Mr...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Butterscotch is a manly flavour, right?

An ex-colleague of Mr Becca goes out with an ex-colleague of mine (from my pre-children days) - how's that for a coincidence??!  Anyway, she wanted to treat him to a birthday cake baked by my good self and after some discussion back and forth, we agreed on the same butterscotch cake that I made for Mr Becca's birthday this year.  The birthday boy is mad keen on boats, and even owns his own on which he sails whenever he gets the chance (kinda like Mr B and his motorbike) so the original plan was I'd attempt to outline a boat onto the top of the cake.  Then she got in touch to say, no, make it say 60 because after all, you're only 60 once.  So it does.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cake, oh my!

I had seen a photo of this cake and fallen in love.  But seriously, chocolate cake, peanut butter icing and chocolate ganache - when are you gonna eat a cake like that??  And no-one was likely to order one, because they wouldn't know that I wanted to bake it.  So...  I had to wait for just the right occasion.  Which came during the just-ended October school holidays. 
A good friend of mine L (we met first in the post-delivery labour ward, our girls are twins-from-other-mothers), whom we don't see often enough, invited us over to play.  They'd been over to play at our place during the holiday-week before and I'd only noticed that it was her birthday in the weekend between playdates late the night before they were coming to us, and really didn't feel like baking something then.  Wrote a card, but no baking.
Then inspiration hit when she mentioned that she was going to do a peanut choc traybake for her family party at the weekend - Eureka!!  I could make this cake for our playdate, woo hoo.  I thought to make it in my new 6" tin (partly because it's less cake to eat and partly because it's kinda cute and still a novelty for me).  After checking with a mutual friend J (who was also coming to the playdate) that her peanut-allergic girls could be near the cake as long as they didn't touch it, I went ahead.
I had found these beauties recently at a nearby supermarket and had to buy them, knowing that at some point soon I wanted to need them...
I had looked up few different recipes for a peanut butter cup cake, then realised I could just muddle through it myself.  I had a chocolate fudge cake recipe that I wanted to try, so used that as the base.  Then made my usual vanilla buttercream but instead of adding vanilla I kept adding tablespoons of peanut butter until I thought the taste was strong enough.  First I used up all our smooth peanut butter, then onto the crunchy stuff.  After that I made chocolate ganache using 120ml of double cream and 120g of dark chocolate (with a bit of milk mixed in so it would be sweet enough for Mr Becca to taste some).  As you may agree, that was a bit too much ganache, as it dribbled all down the sides and pooled at the base.  But I still think it looked good, and more importantly, so did the birthday girl and everyone who saw it.
And the best bit?  It tasted amazing!!!  Rich, decadent and more-ish, yummy.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

It's Autumn, it's time for pumpkin

A regular customer, and friend, C decided she'd like to bring a gift to her parents and asked for a tray of brownies and 'something else'.  Ooh, what do you add to a tray of brownies?  Having been reading all those blogs and posts about apples, cinnamon and pumpkin, I had bought a small pumpkin and cooked and mashed and bagged the pulp.  It wasn't very orange, or strongly flavoured, so I did the same and added some butternut squash to it before popping in the freezer. 
However, before bagging and freezing all of it the inspired idea of pumpkin cupcakes came to me, and thus to C and her parents.  I had made them last year, and was excited to do so again.  They baked up quite moist and dense, and tasted just great with the cream cheese icing sprinkled with cinnamon and all-spice.  Mmmm, afternoon tea is served...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Real men eat cupcakes

B had ordered a Red Velvet birthday cake for his lady-love P and she now wanted to return the favour, as it was his birthday.  We discussed various options, and my capabilities, and settled upon a dozen mixed cupcakes in banoffee and choc raspberry.
I was really excited about baking these, because they were a variation on some I had baked previously, and because the toffee sauce is amazingly good, and I was hoping there may be a little leftover for 'taste-testing' afterwards.
As with her cake, she wanted them simply to say 'Happy Birthday B' and '43 today'.  Your cake wish is our command, P - hope he loves them...
 These are the raspberry chocolate ones...
These are the banoffee ones (see that icing?  all the colour comes from the toffee sauce, and there was a little leftover after all, yummy)
And here they all are, snuggled together in their box ready for collection and delivery to the birthday boy.
(These few were leftover, so I added a different type of buttercream swirl and popped a raspberry on top, to add to the one underneath) 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Autumn in a pastry? Cinnamon apple turnovers

Here in the lovely part of Scotland we have chosen to call home, it's most definitely Autumn.  Not only are the leaves changing colours and starting to fall (very pretty and fun for the kids, but a mess in the garden), but the temperature has dropped noticeably and we are barely getting into double figures these days (well, perhaps up to 11c/52f). 
I have some American friends, and am in an American cake group, and love how much they love their Holidays.  Starting with Halloween, then Thanksgiving then Christmas, it's just one big party for the next few months for them.  And all the blogs and Facebook pages are talking about baking and cooking with seasonal ingredients, most noticeably pumpkin and spices. 
I read about a really easy, tasty-sounding idea on one of the pages/blogs and didn't have all the ingredients to hand but wanted to make it.  So I (thought I bookmarked it, or emailed the recipe to myself) bought the ingredients the next weekend and got excited.  Then couldn't find the recipe for love nor money.  I mean anywhere!  I tried The Girl Who Ate Everything, not her.  I tried Created by Diane, not her.  It wasn't even Betty Crocker, for goodness' sake.   I was fast running out of patience, but more importantly I felt, desire to bake, eek.  So from my vague memory and without knowing correct proportions I went ahead with these Cinnamon Apple pastries...
 That's a sheet of store-bought puff pastry cut into eight rectangles  (ooh, could it have been on their site??), topped with apple pie filling and a mix of cream cheese (or their site?), icing sugar (confectioners/powdered sugar) and ground cinnamon.  I had to guess at the amounts, and just kept adding until it tasted good.
But I ended up with too much filling, and not enough space within each pastry rectangle, so did the best I could to pinch the edges together.  Then to bake...
Uh, they kind of exploded a little.  But mmm mmm, they tasted great!!  They were best warm, but The Team still managed to gobble them up at afternoon tea that day.  If you happen to see the recipe anywhere, please get in touch!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Home-made honeycomb ice-cream? Yes please!

A while ago I was approached by the makers of Angel Delight to try out their new product, Angel Delight ice-cream.  Whilst it doesn't involve a proper ice-cream machine, or hours in the freezer then stirring and re-freezing, it is home-made ice-cream and you can add anything you like to make it more fun.
So we chose Crunchie bars - yumm!!  Now, in this instance, when I say we I mean I.  Although to be fair, I didn't really think the girls would complain too much at the thought of ice-cream full to bursting with crushed Crunchie bars. 
 I used all 4 bars, so we'd have plenty of 'bang for our buck', to coin a phrase.  Looking good so far...
Then it was popped into a container for the freezer.  You can see I didn't need any fancy equipment to make this - just a mixing bowl and simple handmixer.
Here we can see the finished product naked - choc-full of scrumptious honeycomb and chocolate chunks.  Mmmm
 And here one girl wanted chocolate sauce and coloured sprinkles...
 Whilst the other chose chocolate sprinkles.  And what an after-dinner treat that was.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

My blog made an order!

There's a new family that have moved into our area, and one of the children has joined Mini-1's class.  They get along well, and we've walked home from school together a few times.  I was chatting with the Mum one day to arrange a playdate after school for the girls, and gave her one of my business cards so she had my contact details. 
I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that she'd spent the following morning reading my blog!  She says she really enjoyed it, and was very keen to taste the Sweet and Salty traybake.  A great choice, as it's very more-ish.  I had a busy week and weekend coming up, so she decided to have it for today, as it was her 19th wedding anniversary.
The cut one is an extra tray I made for us.  I mean, this stuff is so good that it's hard to give away.  (although I was good, and cut it into about 60 little bite-size pieces and thus shared them with the girls' school teacher, who loved them too!!)

Monday, October 01, 2012

Party entertainers are we

I had been approached before about offering cupcake decorating parties, but not really given it enough thought and it never worked out.  This time however, I gave it proper attention, worked out exactly what I would need to do to prepare and bring with me, and it was Game On!
The girls had no idea I was coming, so they were pleasantly surprised to disover what the party entertainment was.  They were 10 years old, or almost 10, so a good age to take in what I wanted to show them. 
I brought baked vanilla cupcakes for each child, plus spares on which to demostrate.  Plus a big bowl of fresh white vanilla buttercream, ready to be coloured.  I chose 5 colours for the icing and about a dozen different sprinkles of all sorts of shapes and colours, plus a small tub or two of non-toxic foodsafe glitter, just for fun.  Any more and I felt the girls would not be able to choose...
 The birthday girl trying out her first colour
 And her second.  Nicely done T!
A friend mastering the technique required to swirl her icing.
 The gang showing off their colourful handiwork - they did so well and we all enjoyed ourselves and had a lot of fun, parents included!!
 Boxed and ready to take home to show their families - well done girls and thank you so much for sharing your 10th birthday with me :)