Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nuts for donuts!

I have hardly any cakes going on and it's bliss.  The kitchen's clean and my weekends are free and it's just great!  Except that I find myself with itchy fingers and all manner of sugar cravings...

Ever since one evening I came across this donut recipe while I was wasting time surfing the net I've wanted to give it a go.  I've never made donuts before, thinking they were surely going to be massively complicated.  What made this recipe so interesting was that it sounded really easy, plus it used steamed potatoes!  I've never heard of such a thing, but apparently it's common enough for people to use up their leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes to make bread (and the loaves look AMAZING.  I must try.  No, resist the urge, resist!!!)

Easy as the recipe sounds, I am super lazy, so I did it in my bread machine.  I loaded up all the ingredients...

Weighing things up!
Set it to the 'dough only' cycle, and walked away.

Being thrown around - I mean, kneaded
The 'dough only' cycle on my trusty old bread maker (am pretty sure this thing is about 15 years old and still going strong.  They really don't make appliances like they used to, and what's great about this one is that it's a good old fashioned horizontal loaf, unlike the vertical loaves made by the newer machines) and walked away.  I let it rise an extra half an hour (as the machine defaults to only one hour).  

After rising
The recipe doesn't say how thick to roll the dough, so I turned it out onto my pastry mat and rolled it to about 6mm.  I used my 9cm round cutters and got about 9 donuts (well, the last one was a bit of a frankenut as it was made up of the scraps roughly balled and pushed together).

After another 30 min rise
We don't actually have much in the way of vegetable oil so I poured all of what we had into my pan.  I think it worked out to be about an inch deep, or less.  I tested the oil was hot enough by putting a wooden skewer into the pan and when bubbles started coming out of it, I figured it was time to start frying!

Deep frying - not one of my skills, clearly!
My one and only attempt at deep frying anything was about 10 years ago when I was housesitting and my bestie and I had a go at pisang goreng.  Um, let's just say there was a lot of screaming and holding up of newspaper to protect ourselves from splatter, and we thereafter referred to the tragic event as being a pilot episode of our new series of "How not to cook"!

These were much more successful!  They really only needed a few seconds on each side before they started turning quite brown (I was paranoid about them being raw inside so some of them a little browner than they should be).  And as for fluffy, they had that in spades - very light!  I filled them (a little too generously maybe lol) with Nutella - delicious!

I set aside 3 donuts for the healthier alternative of baking instead of frying.  I just kept an eye on the oven every few minutes and took them out when they were a golden brown colour.

After baking
I dusted them with cinnamon and icing sugar, but I think if I were to make these again, they might be a bit more fun with regular sugar, just for a bit of crunch!

As for the verdict on the baked ones, they were more like a brioche (a cross between bread and cake), not quite as fluffy as the deep fried version, but still yummy.  The drawback with deep frying the donuts is that I felt like I could smell/taste the vegetable oil.  Maybe this is because we bought the cheap stuff (I think it was canola from memory).  With the baked version you couldn't smell it, but there was just something a bit lacking in the texture - to me anyway.  Still yummy though, and one day I will try and fill them a little better - maybe with jam! nom nom nom

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!  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why I can't do the silicone thing..

If you have to grease and flour it same as a metal cake tin, why not just use a metal cake tin?  And this isn't the first time this has happened (fortunately the majority of the mix went into a loaf tin and this was just a vessel for the leftovers that I thought may overflow): 

Pretty sure it's meant to be non-stick.
Plus cleaning it out is a real PAIN.  Everything wants to stick to it, and you can never see the debris until it dries.  ARRGGGHHHH  Give me a good ol' metal cake tin any day.

The cake was a test bake orange semolina cake with a syrup spiced with cloves and rosewater.  I can't remember where I got the recipe from (pretty sure I used the cake from one recipe and the syrup from another) but it wasn't nearly as nice as I was hoping.  I think the cake itself wasn't as buttery as I would've liked, it tended to crumble to bits (I guess this was the semolina?) and I wanted to make the syrup less deadly and used stevia instead of sugar, and I'm not entirely convinced that the two are interchangeable in this kind of application (stevia always leaves me with a bit of a strange aftertaste.  Though I hear it's a natural sweetener, what it does to my tongue feels distinctly unnatural to me!

I've since used that mold with white choc mudcake batter and it didn't stick at all.  I wonder if it's due to the cake having a much firmer/stronger structure.

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