Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pumpkin puree: 4 ways

I've been a little overexcited about root vegies and pumpkins lately.  Don't ask me why - maybe it was the recent hail and rainy weather that we've had despite spring having sprung some almost 2 months ago. 

Anyway, in all my enthusiasm I roasted a whole tray of pumpkin (ironbark and jap), steamed another kilo (to add to our daily green smoothies), and roasted a mixed tray of swedes, parsnips and home grown sweet potato, intending that I would bring a few pieces to work every day for my 4pm afternoon snack. 

Fast forward 4 days and it became screamingly apparent that despite our best efforts, we were not going to get through all of it quickly enough, so I pureed the lot in a failed attempt to make soup (despite throwing tomatoes and carrots into the mix, it wasn't enough to overcome the strong smell of swede).  What's a girl to do with an icecream container full of (mostly) pumpkin puree?  What else - bake, of course! 

I sat the puree into a sieve to drain off some of the liquid and then I got to work.  First up, the naughty:  

Pumpkin, cheese and rosemary scones
Lorraine from NotQuiteNigella says in her blog that she had 3 of these, lathered in butter, before she remembered she had to photograph them.  Yes, they are that good - oh-so-fluffy, subtle pumpkin, salty savoury cheese richness and then you get that scent of rosemary.  Having had a mostly paleo diet for some time, it was very, VERY difficult to just stop at one of these.  How I've missed you, flour! 

And then the not-as-naughty: 

Chai pumpkin bread courtesy of 
A couple of years ago I was given a small box of T2 choc chip chai as a Kris Kringle present.  It smells amazing and I like the tea, I just don't happen to drink a lot of tea, so safe to say it's still about 90% full.  The recipe for this pumpkin bread intrigued me because it meant I could use up more leftovers!  I made a few modifications to the original recipe as follows: 
  • I had a couple of tbsp of leftover sun butter, so I used that first and then topped up the rest of the cup with the required almond butter 
  • As per the recommendation of one of the reviewers I added 3 tbsp of tapioca flour for added fluffiness and colour 
  • I increased the honey from 1/4 cup to just under a 1/2 cup, but in hindsight it really didn't need it
  • I had a real craving for prunes (and have some that are very close to their best before) so chopped about a half cup and tossed that in at the end 
  • I used about 2 tsp of my choc chip chai in lieu of the contents of 2 chai tea bags 

Most of the paleo recipes I've tried have been great, but one thing I haven't really liked so much is the banana breads - always overly wet and gooey on the inside, and with almost no structure (it's so wet and/or coconutty that it just all falls to bits and you have to eat it with cutlery instead of just being able to pick up a slice).  What I really loved about this recipe is that you honestly (and I'm not exaggerating here) cannot tell that it's paleo.  Aside from occasionally crunching into whole spices (whole cloves are sooo strong!), its absolutely delicious and I can definitely see myself making this one over and over. Best of all, I did the whole thing in my food processor.  Easy peasy! 

On an aside, I love her blog and am slowly working my way through her posts.  Such humour!  Such amazing recipes - I can't wait to try them all! 

Speaking of ooey and gooey: 

Ooey gooey chocolate chip pumpkin bars
I still had heaps of vegie mush left, and this recipe uses a good 3/4 cup, yay!  I didn't have any chocolate chips so I also took the opportunity to chop up some of the leftover chocolate that Steve and I haven't gotten excited about (they've been sitting around for so long they bloomed.  oops), like some dark Hershey mini-blocks and Lindt coconut.

Steve really loved these little bars, I didn't mind the gooiness this time because it wasn't trying to pretend to be a bread.  They're moist and chewy and very more-ish, but definitely a sometimes treat.  To me, coconut sugar is still sugar, and I have enough problems with that addiction thank you very much!

Now last but not least:

Pumpkin spice macarons
This recipe came to me from my friend Tina who is also interested in healthier eating (thanks Tina!) as a suggestion to use up the rest of my pumpkin puree. At work I've been calling them pumpkin coconut bites, so as not to be confused with the French macarons (made with egg whites, almond meal and icing sugar) or the coconut macaroons of my childhood.

I wanted to use up all of my puree, so I had closer to 1 full cup, and I omitted the honey because I discovered belatedly that my coconut flakes were sweetened (not happy, McKenzies! I bought the pack some months ago before reading the label - silly me for thinking that moist coconut flakes would be just that). Steve wasn't quite so keen on these, they've very moist, quite sweet and very pumpkin spice-y.  I had great reviews from my co-workers and I like them, but I'm reluctant to eat much from this batch because of how sweet they are.  I'll have to try them again sometime with unsweetened coconut and less puree!  

There's so much I didn't know you can do with pumpkin aside from roasts and soups.  I even saw a recipe for pumpkin (paleo) ice cream!  I think I'm coming close to exhausting my pumpkin obsession for now, but I'll be sure to give it a go in the future.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

And the carving continues!

For this baby shower cake they asked for a replica of the "Me to you" bear cake by Bake-A-Boo cakes. 

I've never before had to cut away so much cake in such a short space of time!  I generally avoid anything that requires cake carving because I already have enough problems controlling myself with snacking on just the cake trimmings themselves, but when you're cutting up/cutting away big chunks of cake and it's late at night and there are no witnesses... well you get the picture!  

The part that was surprisingly difficult was trying to colour the buttercream grey! I just assumed I could add black to vanilla buttercream and it would turn grey.  Instead, it turned a really odd greenish colour.  I read somewhere that adding all primary colours together creates black, so I just kept throwing more and more colours at it.  It felt like an interminably long time before I eventually threw down my spatula and decided "no more!! close enough good enough!"  So the bear ended up a weird yellow-grey colour lol

Next time I think I'll ganache the cakes together instead of just using buttercream.  I feel like ganache can set as firm as concrete, whereas the buttercream couldn't really hold up the weight of the cake for parts like sticking the arms to the body.  I would also use a firmer cake.  Rose Levy's All-American Chocolate Butter Cake is deliciously moist, soft and dark and great to carve while frozen, but once it came to room temperature, any attempt at carving would leave you with a pile of crumbs.  Luckily I carved the head and body while it was still quite firm, then moved on to the feet and legs.  The arms were made with cake scraps mixed with enough frosting to turn it into a sort of dough, but by the time I went to cut out circles for the ears the cake was very much at room temperature and very soft and crumbly.  Cutting and covering the ears was far more trouble than  I could've imagined!

This cake needed to serve 30.  I baked 2 x 7" layers for the body, a tall-ish 5" layer for the head, and a couple of extra 7" layers for the other body parts.  I ended up with most of one layer left as spare (better to have too much!).  There was a cardboard round under the head, with tall bubble tea straws inside the body for support, and a long skewer through the head down the length of the body to hold it all together.

Starting the piping
I had real issues with the arms falling off and because the cake was so soft every time I tried to smear on more buttercream I just found myself pulling off more and more cake.  About 8 toothpicks went into holding up those arms, about 4 toothpicks went into holding up the nose.  When that didn't work (for the arms), I used a couple of small pieces of bubble tea straws.  That seemed to hold things for a bit... and then the morning after I thought I had finished everything, I came down the stairs to discover that the right arm had fallen away from the body.  One more toothpick and a big squirt of frosting later, it was somewhat reattached (more like I just filled in the gap!!).  I kept that cake in the coolest part of the house to keep it from expanding and cracking any more, and then counted the minutes until it was collected.  Pretty sure I say this every time, but I've never been so happy to see a cake go!

Can't paint to save my life, and it turns out that my handwriting skills are pretty lacking too - 3 footpads died in the making of this one (which I didn't have time to wait until it hardened, so the edible pen cut into the fondant some.  Oops).

And the finished product!

I had heaps of compliments for this cake - with many people saying that it looked too real to be cake!  My favourite pictures of the cake at the party were of them cutting it (though some said the decapitation was a brutal act of cruelty, nothing makes me happier than seeing people eat my cake!), and the biggest compliment was of the mother-to-be saying that her hubby was still enjoying the cake for breakfast the next day.

I'm really happy with how it worked out in the end, but have to give full credit and a huge thank you to Bake-A-Boo cakes for their original design and free online tutorial, which I found to be invaluable and took away a lot of the stress I would otherwise have had.   I'm so grateful to her for sharing her step-by-step. If more people were as generous, the world would be such a different place =)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Basic carving and a baby bum!

This baby bum cake was quite fun to put together.  I had been anxiously mulling over how to do the legs and feet but in the end it all somehow came together!  The most difficult part was covering the cake itself, actually.  

Cute little toesies!
While I love carrot cake, due to the lack of butter it's so soft that even though I piped a dam around every layer, bulging still took place once the layers were stacked and crumb coated.  And no matter how many times I went around and around and how much white chocolate ganache I added, I could not get the damn thing to not bulge!  So frustrating.   I actually had a different design in mind but had to scrap that to try and disguise the bulge using texture.

To that end, in a way it all ended up being a happy mistake.  I often suffer from over-decoratoritis (as Kerry Vincent likes to call it) and throw all sorts at a cake.  This time I wanted to keep it very simple and clean, just focussing on colour and texture, and I just love button themed cakes for baby showers.

Though the mum was having a little girl, she didn't want any pink or for the cake to be too girly (she's hoping her girl will be a tomboy!), so she chose purple and tiffany blue as her colour scheme.  What an amazing combo! 

The feet were all fondant, but the legs were made from scraps held together with leftover lemon buttercream, rolled into tubes and then covered with ganache.  The 'bum' was a 6 inch round that I roughly carved into a dome shape and crumb coated with ganache and then white fondant (quite untidily, because I knew it would all be covered with the blanket and ruffles anyway).  

This cake ended up being one of my most popular on FB for some reason, and another lady from the same workplace asked me to do another in a few weeks' time for a friend of hers, what a compliment!   

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A non-Peppa pig

I was a bit apprehensive when I got the brief for this cake - it seemed like there was so much to remember and I was sure something would slip through and I'd ruin it all:
  • 2 tiers 
  • colours to match the birthday girl's dress, but not too much yellow/green 
  • dancing pig on top
  • her name in building blocks 
  • no big bow (the picture she sent to me as a guide had a big bow)
  • not too much pink 
  • the pink to be a cool shade of pink, not a warm shade of pink
  • a no. 1 somewhere
When something seems overwhelming (not just cake requirements!) it always helps me to write it all down and just work your way down the list.  

The crooked vertical stripes are driving me nuttttssss aarrgghhh
I made the pig and the building blocks ahead, and then agonised for some time over where/how to put the no. 1.  I was tired when I decided to go with the frill oval plaque, and in hindsight now I wish I'd opted for something smaller (when I glued it on I actually yelled out to Steve "oh my freaking god it looks like there's something obscene on this 1st birthday cake!!"), but overall I think the cake still looks soft and pretty.

The pig pic she sent for me to use as a guide
Ultimately, I was just really happy that the pig she wanted wasn't a Peppa Pig and I still think my little piglet is quite cute, don't you? =)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Avengers - in cake!

An Avengers themed cake!  This particular client just let me have free reign with whatever I wanted to do. At first I was considering making a Hulk fist punching up out of the cake (which is quite commonly done in cake for this theme) but about a week before the event date, I was told that they were only really going to have half as many people at the party as expected, I opted to keep things simple and stick with just a Thor Hammer. 

I made the hammer using this tutorial as a rough guide.  I had 22 gauge wire running down the handle and into the head which was covered with ganache and white modelling chocolate.  The handle was just fondant if I recall correctly.  

I took this cake as an opportunity to have a play with a couple of techniques I haven't had a chance to try: a fondant explosion (I'm sure there's a better way to describe it lol) and vertical stripes. The Royal Bakery's tutorials on the seamless join and the fondant burst were very helpful (and you'll note where I drew inspiration for the colourscheme from too haha), though I used Jessica Harris' wax paper technique to place the stripes. 

Captain America shield - hard as buggery to stick on - oh why did I have to go and make it so big lol 
With the exception of the Captain America shield, the other logos were made by using my Silhouette Cameo to cut them out of cardstock, then I cut around them onto the fondant. I think I could've saved myself a lot of last-minute grief had I been bothered to make these ahead of time and let them set around a dummy cake.

The hulk
Black widow
Iron Man 
The only irritating thing that I didn't put much thought to was that the extra circle of red fondant I placed under the blue would cause a ridge (you'd think I would've realised this before I placed down my fondant.  And to cover this I had to suffer from serious over-decoratoritis and throw stars everywhere.

The cake was by all accounts a huge hit at the party (despite some initial confusion as to the theme when only the top part of the hammer was visible from behind the bar, hahaha).

Friday, April 25, 2014

Om Nom and Cut the Rope!

I had a lot of fun putting this cake together for the son of a high school friend.  I had to Google what 'Om Nom' and 'Cut the Rope' was (thank you Google!) but it turned out to be such a fun, cute theme at the end, and what I loved most was the whole casual torn-up-cardboard feel of it.  Anything that allows me to embrace imperfection is fine by me! 

Still a WIP
I found this tutorial really helpful for making the stars, candy and Om Nom.  The only addition I made was to use my clay extruder gun to pip a really thin outline around his eyes.  I think that finishes him really nicely.  I also had to use a fine wire to stick up his little forehead sprout (I have no idea what that is lol)

The actual fondant finish (white) was was terrible.  I hate covering square cakes!  My nemesis!! But I didn't sweat it because I knew there would be coloured layers on top of the white.

Hard to get the colours right at night!

I used my Cameo Silhouette to create stencils for the text.  I started with the black layer, waited for that to dry, sponged over with the white, waited for that to dry, then did the scissors/dotted line.  Fiddly but I think the effect worked well.

For the green layer, I simply used my circle cutter to mark out the circles and then I removed and replaced alternate circles for the 'polka dot' effect (which is completely lost under the wording, oops).

I was told that the birthday boy loved his cake, and the pic that I saw of him blowing out his candles just made my day!

Friday, April 11, 2014

1920's mobster in the house!

Before she had even booked her venue, my girlfriend asked if I was available to create a 1920's themed cake for her husband's 30th to be held at the Ellington Jazz Club (love that venue, btw!).

She sent me this link, and in time this invite arrived in the mail (she makes her own cards and invites - so creative!): 

I'm terrible with estimating how much in the way of RKTs I need for any given project, so given that the hat wasn't going to be huge, I was reluctant to whip up a whole batch of them.  What I ended up doing was digging out of my freezer the cake crumbs I had sitting in there for over a year, shaping them into the hat shape (the crumbs were so moist on defrosting that they didn't even need to be mixed with frosting as a binder first), I froze that for a little while, then covered it with white chocolate ganache, chilled that again and then smoothed fondant over the top. 

The hat is technically edible (the cake crumbs were from a wedding cake after all), but I advised them not to eat it, as I made the hat 5 days before the event and let it sit at room temperature all the while. 

I can't remember if I've ever covered a cake with black fondant before, but the adage of black hiding all manner of sins rings as true with cake as it does with clothes on our bodies! hahaha  The fondant on the round tier went on just fine and it sat overnight at room temperature without a problem.  However, after I came back from work that day, there was a giant blowout in the form of a large vertical crater on one of the sides of the cake.  The fondant had ballooned out, cracked, some sort of oil had oozed/dribbled out and then the fondant itself had set in that stretched position, so I couldn't simply push it back in and smooth it out again.  So strange that such a thing should happen - it wasn't even a very warm day!??

Anyway, it was just as well that I knew I would be putting a red tie down the front of the cake and that hid the vertical canyon perfectly.

Love using my Cameo Silhouette to make stencils!
I really need to practice covering square cakes.  The bottom tier went on terribly, I didn't roll out enough fondant and what I did roll I rolled too thinly, so there were holes at the bottom (the red banding was compulsory lol) and I had to come up with ideas to cover some of those creases and gaps.  I was wearing a feather boa myself, so decided to use my feather mold for the first time.  It was an interesting experience.. I'm not sure it was 100% effective, but from a distance it will do!  

If it had been any other colour, the finish on that bottom tier would've been terrible.  Luckily, though, the black is so black that most of those bumps, lumps and creases that would otherwise be glaring imperfections were camouflaged perfectly.  

My delivery boy!  That cake was deceptively heavy.
We had to park a little distance away and the cake was heavy, so I was so glad I had a helper with me who took the bulk of the weight while I had the hat!  There was a prize for the best dressed for the evening, so we both made a bit of an effort (though neither of us won, unfortunately).

Top tier: caramel mudcake with caramel buttercream
Bottom tier: red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
I don't know why people are so scared to cut into my cakes - that's what the cakes are for, after all!! Anyway, once again I was asked to butcher my own work.  I don't know if maybe I was too stingy with my slices, but the picture of the bottom tier (8 inch square) was exactly how much was left of the cake - I don't know if maybe some people had left by the time of the cake cutting, or maybe not everyone had cake, but I was asked to provide a cake to serve 35 as dessert, and somehow I must've gotten at least 25 serves out of that top 7 inch tier alone.  *shrug* At least nobody ever balks at eating leftover cake!

Me cutting and serving!