Sunday, February 1, 2015

Brunch: Tarts Cafe

I recently met a girlfriend for brunch at Tarts Cafe - I actually thought it was quite appropriate for us, given what we used to get up to back when we were young(er) single girls! haha  

But those days are long gone - she's now happily settled with a 4 month old, and I'm just happily settled with a sad sack of a dog! 

It's a nice little place, just down the road a bit from the ever popular Sayers Sister (which had a massive queue outside).  After struggling to find parking, we got there at about 10.20am and though the cafe was quite full, we fortunately managed to get a small table for 2 (plus stroller) outside before a big rush of people arrived. 

The weather was lovely and the decor was bright and colourful.  It was a lovely setting really for brunch. 

Christos: $15.90
I ordered the Christos, described as "An avocado shell filled with sundried tomato, smoked salmon, rocket and marinated avocado on grilled asparagus spears served with ciabatta and a poached egg". Everything was there as described, and I don't know - maybe because these days I feel fussy, and stingier in my old age.  Yes it was all there, and it was fine, but ... it just wasn't all that exciting.  If the avocado was marinated, I couldn't tell - it just tasted like avocado to me.  And the bread was kinda hard (I had to cut it into tiny pieces so it wouldn't scratch the roof of my mouth as much - yup, I'm OLD! haha

And I found myself saving the smoked salmon pieces just so there was something more of a flavour to be had.  I tried all the components separately, I tried them all together, and I just couldn't get excited.  It wasn't bad, it just .. for $16 - knowing the purchase cost of an egg, half an avocado, 2 strips of salmon, 2 slices of bread, a half a sundried tomato (thinly sliced to make it go further) and 2 spears of asparagus - I was expecting a bit more 'something' to justify the markup on this dish.  Throw in some red onion, or some basil, or dill or something!

On the upside though, they served real hot chocolate (made with actual chocolate and not powder) - and I'd go back just for that alone.

Soy hot chocolate 
Well ok to be fair the menu sounded pretty good and there were several other things I'd go back to try.  The service was great and I feel like the quality of the ingredients is there - it just needs a bit more something (and when I find out what the word is I'm looking for, I'll be sure to come back and edit this! haha)

Tarts Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hello 2015!

My first cake for 2015 was for my boss' birthday and I took the opportunity to hit another bird with the same stone and use it as a canvas to do some more practice!  

Inside it was another sort of a frankencake - my April bride asked to sample some flavours, so I baked all 4, set aside her sample portions and put the rest into this cake: chai spiced buttercake, mocha spiced buttercake, marble buttercake and white chocolate mudcake.

Later this year I will need to reproduce a brushstroke finish using a metallic colour. I was hoping I might be able to brush through some silver leaf to achieve it, but this cake taught me that that wouldn't be possible.  Those white-ish blocks are where I tried to semi-adhere the silver leaf, then brush through it with a wet brush to 'antique' it and hopefully get it to streak.  I didn't get the effect I was after with that, so I think with the actual cake I will have to paint with gold lustre instead.  The rest of the brush stroke painting worked really well and I'm feeling more confident with reproducing that effect later this year.

The last practice component was that I will have to speckle a couple of toppers with gold, 'like sunlight'.  I made a simple succulent for my boss and attempted to speckle that.  Not so successful there (IMO I ruined a perfectly good succulent lol).  I might simply use gold lustre and flick a brush next time, or get some of the gold flakes and try sticking those down instead of trying to tear up the sheets myself.

I'll admit, it's something quite different to my usual style but I really like it.  It made me step out of my comfort zone, producing something quite abstract and random, as opposed to my usual obsessively planned work.  My boss loved it and refused to cut it at work, preferring instead to take it home and show off at his family reunion some 3 days later!  If I had known he would do that, I would have made a bigger cake, and something that more reflected him! haha but nevermind, I'll still take the compliment, and plan a little better for next year!  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Practice makes perfect ... eventually

Later this year I will need to wrap a wedding cake in edible gold leaf and then stencilling over the top, something that I've never done before.  It turns out that gold is about 3x more expensive than silver!  I know what I'll be practising with haha

This 'cake' is another one of my frankencakes, made from a combination of white chocolate mudcake crumbs, dutch cocoa, rum, raisins and roughly chopped almonds.  It's Christmas, why not have something on a theme of choc rum balls, right?  I packed the mixes tightly into 3 x 10cm springform rounds and froze them to firm them up.  Once firm I stacked and ganached them as I would with a regular cake, then let them come to room temperature.  There was no small amount of sagging but I fixed that up and let it re-set over the course of a day or so.

Really I just wanted a 'canvas' to use to practice 2 techniques: panel wrapping the cake with modelling chocolate, then applying and stencilling over the top of the metallic leaf.

The first thing I learned was that, as with anything, the finish is only as good as the coat it's applied on.  So in this case, when I panelled the sides I didn't join the 'lid' properly, so you can see where there is a slight crease at the top edge.

The second thing I learned was to apply the transfer sheet from the top down (as opposed to aligning the edge of the sheets to the bottom of the cake.  You can see the seam a couple of cm from the top edge.

The third thing I learned was that if you don't brush or spray the sides of the with water or some other kind of moisture, the leaf will not stick.  Moisture made by the heat of your hands on the modelling chocolate isn't good enough.  Despite giving the appearance of sticking, when I pulled the stencil off, it took a better chunk of the leaf off with it.

What is sort of good is that you can pretty much fix anything.  I pulled off what came off easily by dry brushing over the top of it, then I lightly wet my brush with water and brushed over the blank spaces just to make it tacky.  I then reapplied the leaf, and let it sit for several hours, or until it was pretty much dry and didn't come off onto my fingers when touched.

Then I stencilled again.  This time I was a bit lazy, the royal icing mix was a bit too wet and I didn't bother scraping it smooth.  I wasn't looking for a perfect finish, I just wanted to see whether it would work.  And for the most part, it did!

I'm really glad I gave this a good shot.  I learned a lot by the exercise, feel more confident about being able to produce a better finish for an April wedding, and my work colleagues (what few of us worked through the Christmas/New Year week) didn't complain when I brought the 'cake' in for a treat =)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A woodland birthday.. on NYE!

My final cake for 2014 and what a high to end on!   Still one of my favourite cakes of all time (and there are some really lovely pics of my cake on this blog), Tenille asked if I could make her daughter's first birthday cake - for her party on NYE! 

She had chosen some really beautiful invites for me to theme the cake on and I had lots of fun putting them together!  (tho if I had my time over I would make the deer look less like an owl with horns lol)

One tip I would give to myself and to anyone else is to make sure you have enough of an allowance between tiers or (in my case) between the cake and the base cake board for the animals to sit on.  I didn't think about this before I went to put the animals on and I wasn't going to spend the hours making them over, so I was a little restricted as to how to place them.

Luckily it all came together in the end!  The trees I cut freehand from a combination of fondant and modelling chocolate (I used the same mix for the animals, hoping they will taste better than gumpaste).

The bottom tier was chocolate mudcake with chocolate ganache and the top tier vanilla butter cake with white chocolate ganache.  I heard that one of the guests commented that it was the best butter cake she had ever tasted, so thank you Rose Levy Beranbaum for your delicious recipe!

I'm really delighted with this cake and I feel like this and my previous one really showcase how much I've learned and improved this year with my cakes.  Onwards and upwards for 2015!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas bundle of joy

And just like that, gender reveals became all the rage.

This one was a bit interesting though - mum wanted to a combination Christmas theme and gender reveal cake so that she and her family could find out together on Christmas Day.  She wanted a stork cake with a Christmas bundle.  

I was glad that she was happy with a seated stork and not a standing one (given there was only 3 days between this cake and the previous there was no way I was going to attempt a standing stork!) but even so, I have to admit that I cake-crastinated for a looooong time on this one because in my  head it had all become bigger than Ben Hur! haha

As usual though, once I started the work, it ended up being less frightening than I thought and in fact, I had more difficulty with the sack (damn you red fondant that always wants to tear!) than with the rest of the stork.  In the end I rolled out some gumpaste very thinly and pressed that to the back of the red fondant and put them both together through the pasta roller.  This way I got the red colour on the outside, with the strength of the gumpaste on the inside.  

She had initially asked for Christmas toys on the oustide of the sack, but I said to her that I thought it would look better (and be easier) to have snowflakes on the sack and toys around the cake.  She then asked for little baby's legs/feet popping out of the sack instead, which was fine by me (such little toes!).

The part that caused me the biggest headache though was the baking of the cake itself!  I needed to colour it pink and usually I never have a problem with colouring butter cake, but this time with white chocolate mudcake I don't know if it was due to the length of time in the oven, but both times when I torted the cake the pink was saturated at the top of the cake and was a regular golden yellow at the bottom.  Accidental ombre!

I had originally intended to hang a blue and pink stocking with 'he' and 'she' written on them under the plaque, but it just didn't look right, so I had to hide the glue marks with snowflakes.   Nobody seemed to notice, teehee.

Santa's little helper did a boo boo!
She was really delighted with the cake and so was I.  I really hate sculpting cakes, and I prefer not to bake into this Christmas time because of all the other things I have to do, but I feel like this time it was really worth the effort.

Merry Christmas all!  Hope you have a safe, happy and feastful silly season!

Note to self to sprinkle on the 'snow' after affixing the trees so you don't have to go putting your fingerprints all over it! haha

Friday, December 5, 2014

Something blue, something big

I was really lucky this year for my birthday in September, my boyfriend bought me something I'd been lusting after for over a year - my very own airbrush!!! Such excitement.  I played with it fairly early on, realised I had no idea how to clean it properly, bought about 24 colours straightaway, and then let it sit in a box for a while while I waited for a good reason to messy it all up again (the thing is actually a bit annoying to clean!).  

The bride for this wedding wanted a classic design: 3 tiers with a spray of blue orchids.  The picture of the orchids she sent to me was such a vivid blue I decided that I might be able to get away with using my airbrush for these flowers for a change. 

Every cake is an opportunity to learn and this was no different.

Firstly, the cutter/veiner set by Petal Crafts is not that great.  The instructions are incredibly basic, and if you followed them to the letter, you'd end up with a flat-ish flower with no movement.  The back 3 petals are all cut/joined together and I couldn't find a way to wire them (other orchid cutter sets allow you to cut, wire and vein the 3 back petals individually and this allows you a little more freedom with how you can fit the flowers together later.  In the end, after much trial and error with 3 different flower formers, and various attempts to wire the trio petals, I found that what worked for me was to let the veined trio dry in a flower former tray with a hole pierced through the centre, then after wiring the throat and other 2 individual petals together, pushing that through the pre-pierced hole and then wrapping enough floral tape around the base to keep the petal trio from falling down (in the end I also added a dab of craft glue for extra security as these were not intended to be eaten).

If I had my time over, I'd buy a set from Sugar Art Studio (such stunning results!!) but I already have 2 orchid cutter sets (moth and dendrobium) that I hardly ever use.  Maybe one day!

Anyway, each component was airbrushed.  There was blue everywhere - in my nose, all over the table, even places I didn't think the air went to I was finding blue weeks later.  So beware the power of the airbrush!  If I have to do a lot of airbrushing in the future I might consider investing in a proper spray booth ... though I'd need a lot of orders to make that worthwhile!

I arranged the orchids in 3 sprays at home with a few extra flowers to spare, and those I placed on teh cake at the venue (in straws filled with fondant, for those who are funny about wire in cake).

A Google search of blue orchids brings up orchids that are more purple than blue - but my bride mentioned specifically in her brief that she wanted blue orchids, so I gave myself nightmares about the orchids being too purple (and I went over them a few more times with blue just to be sure!), but funnily enough when I got to the venue, the orchid table centrepieces were bright purple!

Still, the wedding photographer spent a great deal of time taking pictures of the cake (which weighed an absolute ton!!) and there were lots of ooh's and ahh's from guests as I set up (quite a stressful experience for me as I'm used to working in silence and space).  I'm hoping to get a copy of those pictures at some stage, as I had left my camera at work so had to use one of the guest's mobile phones (luckily she is also a friend haha) to take these pictures and in case the question ever arises, yes, the Samsung Galaxy S5 takes infinitely better photos than the iPhone 5s!

But why were there guests even milling around?  Well because the venue in its infinite wisdom had decided to be money greedy and open for lunch the same day as the wedding.  The ceremony was at 3.30pm and lunch finishes at 3pm, so while the ceremony was taking place, they were clearing out the restaurant layout and redressing the space for the wedding reception.

I had been told I could not deliver the cake any earlier than 4pm.  I arrived at 4.20pm to find the function area in the process of being set up - I arrived the same time as the tables and chairs were being delivered!  I rested the cake tiers on a speaker while the DJ did a sound check and waited for them to put a table together for me.  And this was after being ignored by 2 members of staff and the person I did finally flag down (with the help of my friend who was a guest at the wedding), a flustered lady with a manilla folder who seemed to be in charge, treated me like I had gone out of my way to make her day more stressful.  At about 4.30pm the guests started to mill in the function area as this was where the bar was and of course I was still waiting for a table to stack my cake and arrange the flowers.

Once I had finished and had taken some photos, they lifted my cake table out of the dance floor and placed it next to the bridal table.  It was so pretty!  None of the pictures I took gave it justice and I just can't wait to see the professional shots.

This cake was also one of the largest I think I've made: over 2.5kg in sugar excluding the fondant and fillings, over 2kg in butter, approx 20 eggs and about 10 blocks of chocolate excluding the ganache, about 2kg of fondant itself... I got my weights training in for the day I think!

The top tier (7") was caramel mudcake with a French caramel sauce filling, the middle tier (10") white chocolate mudcake filled with sour cream ganache and the bottom tier (13") chocolate mudcake with choc rum meringue buttercream - to serve 120 people.

Friday, November 28, 2014


4 years later and a couple of things become apparent: 
  • boyfie had had our anniversary date wrong this whole time; and 
  • the romance has totally died hahaha
The conversation, at about 9pm on a Thursday night, went a little something like this:
Hey, so how was your night? 
It was pretty good, how was yours? 
Er.  Not bad. You know, I came home early so that we could maybe spend some time together for our anniversary.  
But isn't our anniversary tomorrow night? 
Pretty sure it's the 27th.  
I always thought it was the 28th!  (Grabs his tablet and searches his calendar entries from 4 years ago) ... omg.  It was the 27th!!! Oh no! I'm so sorry!
It's ok, I was actually busy anyway (I was caking that night, I just like making him squirm lol) So are we going to do anything? 
Yeah, we should.  But I didn't get you anything. 
I didn't get you anything either.  But if you want to give me something, the best present ever would be if you could clear the cobweb in the window and the one inside the laundry cupboard. 
Ok done! 
Yay!  Best boyfriend ever! 
The next day a feeling like maybe we should actually do something for our anniversary (and for me, a hankering for pasta) overcame us and we found ourselves at a little Italian/Mediterranean place in Inglewood called Cecchi's.

Rustic but modern decor - there were funny little nude roman soldiers on the walls, but I didn't want to look too much like a perv haha
The menu has about 9 items on it but I completely forgot to take a picture of it and now don't remember any of the fancy names they had and the website as yet can't shed any light, so please forgive my terrible descriptions!

We were greeted with a complimentary appetiser of zucchini and tomato bruschetta, which was really fresh and delicious.  I love simple things done well.

Complimentary appetiser
My entree was basically smoked trout and scallop on top of a pickled something (these descriptions are terrible, I know).  The pickled thing was a bit too vinegary for my taste, and though the scallop was a perfect texture, it didn't really taste like anything which was a shame.  The trout was lovely though.

Trout and scallop
Steve got the filo tart and it was really delicious. I had serious food envy!

Filo tart
As for filling my pasta craving, this was as close as I could get (the other options were gnocchi or a kind of filled pasta, but I wanted, as I described to the waiter, 'strips of pasta, like noodles' - yup, I'm all class!):

Mushroom tortelloni
The pasta itself had a texture like it was home-made, which I really loved.  Unfortunately, it was a little tasteless, so I think they tried to overcompensate by making the mushrooms really salty.  They were really salty.  And often as you're twirling your fork away you get a mouthful of pasta with no mushrooms, so you end up with a small plate of really salty mushrooms at the end, which was a shame.  It was still a quality dish though, I just think they could've held the salt a bit and maybe used more egg yolk in the pasta to give it a bit more flavour.

We got the chickpea chips to share, as we were worried the main sizes might be too small to fill us up.  The chips were surprisingly delicious!  Really crispy on the outside and full of flavour.  The dipping sauce was fantastic too.  I can't remember how much this was - I have a feeling it might have been in the region of about $9 - but it's definitely worth a try.

Chickpea chips
Steve's beef fillet.  Though a very small serve (2 strips of meat), it was perfectly cooked and he really enjoyed it.

Beef fillet
I really wish I had taken a picture of the menu - it's small, but what they do, they do pretty well.  I think the mains were in the region of $40 and the entrees around $20 from memory.  We had an Entertainment Book discount and I think it was really great value with the discount, though it would be worth the full value too.

The service was fine, the decor a charming rustic elegance but best of all, even though it was quite full, it wasn't noisy and we still felt like we were enjoying our meal in relative privacy (no yelling or straining to hear each other).  It was lovely and I'd like to go back to try some of the other dishes.

Cecchi's on Urbanspoon