Monday, 12 November 2012

That's amore!

We lived for a year in Melbourne when we migrated to Australia some 25 years ago.  We ended up coming to Perth because my dad hated his job there and despised the miserable weather.  Of the weather, all my 6 or 7-year old brain remembered of Melbourne was winds strong enough to break umbrellas and lift me off the ground (I remember clinging to my grandfather as we walked to school), gloomy skies, cold and rain.  But I had other memories too: the house we lived in had a big backyard filled with fruit trees and lots of other  plants.  To this day the most delicious apricot I've ever had was from one of our backyard trees - soft, juicy, sweet and packed with flavour.  I also remember my mum making vats of strawberry jam: we never seemed to run out of strawberries!  

I've always dreamed of growing enough strawberries to make my own jam but have never had her green thumb when it came to growing my own.  I've never harvested more than about 5 fruit at a time and over the past 4 years I think I've killed close to 20 strawberry plants through fungal disease caused by over watering, or dehydration as a result of overcompensation. 

Last week at work a lady came to reception selling 500gm punnets of organic strawberries that she had picked fresh that morning.  Each punnet was $6.  I bought one thinking of my own strawberries, few and far between as they were, but sweet and fragrant.  Unfortunately these little guys smelled amazing, but were a little too much on the tart side for me.  Not being one to let anything go to waste, I decided (funnily enough, at 9.45pm on a Sunday night) to put those strawberries to use and give jam making a go anyway.

I used these proportions: 
  • A little under 500gm strawberries (I had eaten about 3), washed, hulled and chopped
  • 320gm sugar (reduced from 350 to accommodate the reduction in berries)
  • The juice of a wedge of lemon (about 1/8 a large fruit, perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 of a normal lemon)

I put all the ingredients together in a pot, turned the heat onto low until all the sugar had melted, then turned the heat to med/high to bring it to a rolling boil. 

I boiled the mix for about 15-20 minutes, stirring and testing the consistency occasionally - I had a little saucer in the freezer that I would dollop some jam onto: if after a few minutes it formed a skin that would wrinkle on pushing, or when it maintained its shape after I ran a finger through it, then I knew it was done (much in the same way you would test whether custard is done).  It felt like it took forever! I had almost given up, until I checked and saw that it had substantially deepened in colour and was very thick falling off the spatula.  By this stage the strawberry lumps had almost disintegrated but I tell you what - it smelled absolutely amazing!

The various stages of development - from chunky fruit to sticky jam
I was extremely lazy with the sterilising of my jar - you're supposed to boil it for 10 minutes and then put it in the oven or something like that, but I could just see myself fumbling around a boiling hot jar with a pair of tongs and causing some kind of disaster in the kitchen.  So I wet the jar and stuck it in the microwave for a minute (I later read that microwaving doesn't sterilise jars or baby equipment.  Oops).

While the jar was still hot (the heat evaporated all the water) I scooped/poured the jam into it (I would never deliberately dribble some down the sides so I could lick it up hahaha).  The jam about 3/4 filled a 500gm jar.
It's ready!
So can you guess what I was doing at 6.00am this morning??  You guessed it: scones, cream and a pot of tea!

I'm not a fan of jelly-like jam, so for me this thick gooey texture was just perfect, and I loved the little chunks of strawberry pieces too.  I think the tartness of the strawberries could have afforded me the luxury of using the full amount of sugar but it's still so flavoursome and nothing beats that natural red.  It looks and tastes absolutely delicious!  

It's possibly no wonder about a third of the jar is already gone...

Friday, 9 November 2012

Strong on softness

So I think I maaaay just finally be getting the hang of the whole upside down ganache thing.  It still took me forever, but at least I can say it's the smoothest and sharpest finish I've ever been able to achieve.  I have to say, getting a proper pastry/dough/bench scraper (one with a 90 degree edge like this one) has made a world of difference:
From this..
Unfortunately, all of that went to poo when I stacked the top tier, despite using 5 fat bubble tea straws as supports.  Possibly 'plonking' it down didn't help - there was definite bulge action happening down on the bottom tier.  Me not happy!  No amount of fondant could hide it too, which was a real shame for all the hard work that went into smoothing the sides.  

Still, I had to box on.  Chapel bells a-ringin' and all that. The bride had sent me 4 photos of cakes that she liked, and pointed one out as her favourite.  (It has since been affectionately referred to as the 'toilet paper cake' ever since Steve saw it and said it looked like a massive roll of Sorbent!)   I had a mini freakout - it was 4 weeks to her wedding and I had no idea how to recreate the embossing on the sides of the cake but I really wanted to attempt her preferred design.  You only get married once - you shouldn't have to settle for second best!  Thankfully, a lovely person at Cakecentral (gosh there's so much crazy talent out there) was able to point me in the right direction and after careful study and some several hours later I was able to come up with this:

To this!
It's not exactly the same as the picture she had given me: I had issues with joining the diagonal seams - they simply wouldn't line up, and I had the added pressure of it being the very last of my fondant (I had less than a 5cm ball remaining after the cake was done and any closeups of the cake would show the cracks on the scrollwork due to the fondant having become so overworked).  I think the scrollwork hides the joins quite well though, and I think the tiny red accents worked well.  All in all I think my additions are an improvement, I just hope the bride sees it the same way!

She told me that she had arranged for a florist to provide an arrangement of fresh flowers for the cake.  I really hope it all came together perfectly on the big day!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Fancy a spot of tea?

When a customer sent me a picture of an intricately detailed, gold trimmed, fine porcelain teacup and asked if it would be possible to replicate it in gumpaste, I had a mini-freakout! haha I sent her a couple of alternatives (my painting skills are not the best, and the picture she sent to me was very small) and she really liked this teacup by Creative Cake Designs.  I was so relieved! Due to time constraints I told her that I wouldn't be able to carve the sloped sides and she was happy with that.

The week before this cake was due, she told me that her original party theme for her mother's 60th was a formal tea party, but the cost to hire the tea sets was in the region of $700-$800.  Her family decided instead to go to Op Shops and buy odd tea sets cheaply instead, and this changed the theme slightly to be a little more in the way of a Mad Hatter tea party.  What a brilliant idea!  And so much easier to execute in a cake too. 

I started the teacup about 2 weeks ahead of time just to be sure that it set properly.  What I ended up doing was rolling some gumpaste very thinly then cutting a long, wide, rectangular strip, generously dusting the inside of a teacup, pressed the gumpaste to the inside shape and then trimmed the top edge.  I pressed the join together until it was barely noticeable, checked that it could still come out of the teacup easily and then let it set for a few days.  When it could hold its own shape, I let it dry upside down.  I used a similar technique for the saucer.  

I based the cake design loosely on the one that she liked but made the cake a little bigger by adding a top tier and also added a few small embellishments.  I'm really happy with how it turned out.  As a surprise, I made the cake layers inside alternating layers of pink and green (pandan and rose flavours for a bit of a Malaysian twist for her guests who don't like chocolate).  Her feedback the next day was: 
'Thanks for the awesome cake was a sell out!  ... All 50 ladies said the cake was fab.  The multicoloured cake was just awesome!  Many thanks I'm sure would have taken you ages. ... Have a good wkn'