The second birthday cake

So it’s already been a year since this cake. Woah. Last year we didn’t really do a big party, but this year we thought a party would be nice – park, playground, yummy food, a good bunch of people and kids – and of course in that case there had to be a cake. And when you’re on to a good thing, why change? So I made the same cake. Well, sort of…

It was the same recipe, but I made two batches. And split each batch across two cake tins. And dyed them different shades of pink. Yep, I made one of those ombre layer cakes! Never made one before, what could go wrong? Just to add to the fun, I thought I’d also try a totally different style of decorating the cake too, because why not live life on the edge?

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Surprisingly, it turned out really well! And there were no tears (from me anyway, there were a few babies at the party who cried, but I don’t think they were crying about the cake). Like I said, I used the same recipe but made it twice. I split each batch, dyed them, and baked in 18cm round cake tins. I didn’t dye the top layer, but for the second layer I used 3/4 teaspoon pink food dye, for the third layer I used 1 1/2 teaspoons pink food dye, and for the bottom layer I used 3 teaspoons pink food dye. Then I put them in the fridge overnight before doing all the trimming and decorating in the morning.

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Once I’d trimmed the tops and the sides a bit to make them even and smooth, I layered them together with plain vanilla buttercream. (I don’t have a recipe for this, it’s just butter, icing sugar, vanilla and milk beaten in the mixer until it seems about right). I’m not the world’s greatest cake decorator, just gonna admit that right now, but I think that for my first time at this I didn’t do too bad a job. I can see how with a bit of practice it would look totally pro. And with a bit more patience I probably wouldn’t end up with crumbs all through the top layer of icing…

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The real test though was going to be cutting into it at the party. It was a pretty tall cake, so thin slices were plenty. I was so nervous about it, and then so happy when I realised how well it had worked, that I made everyone wait for their serves while I took photos. The presentation wasn’t the best, no fancy plates or props, but I was very proud of myself.

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Here’s the thing though: my daughter doesn’t really love cake. She ate about 3 bites of my piece before she’d had enough. Which is more than she would have eaten if it had been chocolate – she really doesn’t love chocolate. Strange woman. Anyway, I’m having leftovers for dinner, because she’s asleep and I think I deserve it!

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Brown butter bourbon blondies

I’ve never been big on Valentine’s Day, it always seems like a commercialised mess of over-priced wilted roses and unrealistic expectations. What I do like though is demonstrations of love and affection any day of year, and handmade or personalised gifts. And cakery. So why not combine those things, and time them right for Valentine’s Day, just because?

Here’s another thing I’ve never been big on: blondies. I think because I always just thought of them associated with white chocolate, which I really don’t like. Chocolate is great, white chocolate is not the real thing – so therefore brownies are awesome, blondies are weird and too sugary. So why I had a sudden hankering to make them is beyond me, but I’m kinda glad I did. Realised they don’t actually have to have white chocolate in them! Who knew? (probably most people…) What they do have in them is still a lot of sugar, sure, but also a lot of butter. Here’s what I absolutely love: butter.

So anyway, in line with the Valentine’s Day theme, I thought that I’d make them flavoured with my husband’s favourite drink (bourbon), cut them out in heart shapes, and then pack them up for his lunch. And then I could take the leftover bits to work and make my colleagues love me too…

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In the end the recipe I used was a kind of amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes, and also what I had in the pantry. Here’s what I’d do differently next time: use all brown sugar (I only used 1/4 brown sugar and 3/4 raw sugar, because that’s what I had. It worked fine but the brown sugar would make it more caramel-y I think) so that’s how I’ve written the recipe.

250g butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
120ml bourbon
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour

First thing is to brown the butter. Melt it in a saucepan over low heat, until it is just bubbling. Keep it going, swirling the saucepan around regularly so that it doesn’t stick, until it starts to go dark golden. At this point take it well off the heat because it will continue to darken, and swirl it around a bit more to cool it down because it can tip over into burning point pretty quickly. Then just let it cool down for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line an 8×12 inch tray with baking paper.

Put the brown butter and the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for a few minutes, then add the vanilla and bourbon, beat for another minute or so, add the eggs and then beat again for another minute or two. Add the flour and beat lightly until just smooth, then pour into the tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just golden brown on top. Leave to cool in tin for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before slicing – they will be chewy in the middle and crunchy on the edges.

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You can either just cut into squares like usual, or use cookie cutters to cut out fancy shapes. Delicious on their own but also excellent as a dessert with vanilla ice cream!

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Lamingtons

Confession: I’ve never been a massive fan of lamingtons. I feel a bit un-Australian saying that, but I’ve always felt they were nothing special. Despite that, I decided that I still needed to try making them! And what better time to make lamingtons than Australia Day?

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I knew that the cake should be a light and basic type of cake, and also one that cuts up well rather than crumbling everywhere, so I decided to go with the vanilla butter cake that I used for my daughter’s first birthday cake. It’s super easy, it works, it tastes good. You make it the night before and keep it in the fridge and it cuts up even better. I cut the square cake into 20 pieces (5×4) and they wouldn’t want to be any bigger – could probably even cut the square cake into 5×5 and they’d be perfect.

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Because one of my issues with lamingtons is that they can be dry and a bit boring, I added a layer of jam in the middle of each one. I had actually made my own strawberry jam the previous weekend, so I used that, but you could use anything really. Raspberry would be good, but a layer of extra chocolate would also be pretty decadent.

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Which brings me to the part that I had no idea about, not being a lamington connoisseur, and that was whether the chocolate that the cake is covered in was icing or ganache. I looked up a few recipes but some were ganache and some were icing, and I remained confused, so I made both! They were both very simple: ganache was melted dark chocolate and cream, and the icing was icing sugar, cocoa and milk. I didn’t measure the ingredients for either of them, I just mixed until the consistencies seemed right.

I hadn’t thought about how messy it would be to actually assemble the lamingtons, and I tried to keep it to a minimum but it’s really hard to not get desiccated coconut and chocolate everywhere! First I cut up all the cake, then spread all the jam and sandwiched the pieces back together so they were ready to go. Then I made the ganache and the icing, set up a big dish of desiccated coconut, and set to work!

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I learned that even though the ganache/icing part might look pretty messy, once you roll the whole thing in coconut it looks totally fine. The assembly did take longer and was more fiddly than I expected, but the end result looked and tasted really good. Most people who tried them seemed to like the ganache the most, and I tend to agree – while the icing ones were loved by those with a super sweet tooth, the ganache helped make an already very sweet treat just a little bit less sugary. And they weren’t dry at all!

The first birthday cake

My daughter turned one last week. We took her out to brunch (mostly because we wanted to eat tasty foods) and she had avocado and banana, which she was very excited about, and we had a get-together with the grandparents that involved cute dresses, tasty lunch foods, presents, and of course there was cake. It took about 30 seconds of thought before I decided that she had to have the traditional number one cake. You know what I’m talking about – the cake shaped like a number one, covered in buttercream and smarties. It’s an Australian classic.

And for good reason. It’s simple, it’s effective, you can make the cake the day before, and everyone loves it.

I made a plain vanilla butter cake as the base, but I guess if you wanted to you could do something fancy. I don’t recommend that though, because if you have a one year old then they’re probably taking up most of your attention and sitting at your feet while you make this, begging to be picked up only to want to be put down again 30 seconds later, ad infinitum, so simple is best. My biggest tip would be: don’t overestimate your time or patience. Unless you’re making this for someone else’s kid, in which case do whatever you like. There were no tears, but there were swears, I’m not going to lie.

My second biggest tip would be: make the cake the night before. Refrigerate it and the next day it will be way easier to cut into shapes without crumbling everywhere. You can make the whole thing from a single large square cake. No need to double quantities or split it between tins or anything like that. Here’s the cutting technique I used:

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Stick the bits together with a dab of icing (there was some cake left over, if I’d had a larger cake board I’d have used all the cake but I didn’t have room):

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250g soft butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
3/4 cup milk

Cream the butter with electric beaters or a stand mixer until pale, add the vanilla and sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating briefly after each addition. Stir in half the flour and then half the milk, then the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk.

Pour into a greased square tin (I think mine is 22cm x 22cm) lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 1 hour. Cool the cake in the tin for 5-10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. Wait until it’s completely cooled before icing. Or, even better, follow my tip and refrigerate overnight first.

To make the icing, beat 125g-150g butter with electric beaters or a stand mixer until pale, and then this is where I stopped measuring. I added a fair bit of icing sugar, maybe 500g, maybe a bit more. I also added a couple of tablespoons of milk – it helps make the icing a bit paler and fluffier and more spreadable. Basically with icing I just keep adding bits of things until it seems right and I have enough. Keep an eye on the texture and taste and you’ll be fine. You can add some colour to the icing if you want, but I didn’t.

Cut the cake up, and stick the bits together with a small amount of the icing. Then just go for it – buttercream all over the outside of that cake until it’s all nice and even and covered up. Make it as smooth as you can, but remember that the smarties hide a lot of mistakes.

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My daughter seemed to enjoy it, although I took the smarties off her piece so that there was no choking. She’d never had cake before, but honestly I think she would rather have had a banana. So I ate the rest of the cake myself over the next 2 days. It’s a lot of sugar. Now I jut have to decide what kind of cake to make next year!

 

Lime Pie Cheesecake Thing

It was my last day at work yesterday for nearly 6 months, because I’m about to have a baby, so of course I made food to take in and celebrate a totally different thing (Harmony Day) in order to take any focus away from me. This was an experiment. An experiment that turned out to be not really a pie, but also not a cheesecake. No cheese in it, for starters. Although it looked like a cheesecake. But only because I made too much of it to fit into a pie dish… Whatever it was, it was delicious and amazing and really easy to make. Because it needs to chill for a good few hours after baking this is ideal to make the night before you need it.

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There was an original recipe that I found on Pinterest, but I kinda just used it as a general guide to ingredients that I could mess with. Especially because it was a US recipe and therefore the quantities were all messed up anyway. Apparently a 14oz tin converts to 414ml and that is just never going to work. I had to google what a ‘key lime’ is. And I have no idea what a graham cracker is, but I do like a gingernut, and they make good pie/cheesecake/thing bases. So here’s my version:

1.5 x 250g packets of gingernut biscuits
melted butter
2 x 395ml tins sweetened condensed milk
250g light sour cream
zest of 3 large limes
Lime juice (I juiced 2 of the limes and that was enough, depends how juicy the limes are)

(A few notes here to start with. I started trying to use a tart tin, but as I was smooshing the base into it I realised there was going to be no room for the filling, so I switched to a round springform cake tin. Also, you could easily use the whole two packets of biscuits if you wanted, and run the base further up the sides of the tin than I did, because I had some filling left over that I had to just eat with a spoon from the bowl instead. That was a shame… A delicious shame. Also I have no idea how much butter I used – I just kept melting a bit at a time and stirring it in to the biscuit crumbs, but I ended up using too much because I then had to soak off a heap of buttery grease with a paper towel before I baked it. Oops.)

Whizz the biscuits through a food processor until they are a fine crumb, then pop them in a bowl and add enough melted butter that it all starts coming together and you can press the lot into the bottom of a cake tin without it being too crumbly. Bake in a 200C oven for 7 minutes. Leave it in the tin and let it cool while you make the filling.

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Beat together all the remaining ingredients. Because I squeezed the limes straight into the bowl I don’t know how much juice there was, but lots of bits of pulp ended up in there too which I think made the flavour just that bit better. Basically just taste the mixture and see if it’s good. The extra lime I think helped balance out the condensed milk, which I find can be overwhelmingly sweet. Pour the filling into the tin, and it should come up to around the top of the edges of the crust. Bake at 180C for no more than 15 minutes (the crust will start to burn if you leave it too long). Take it out, cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then put it all in the fridge for at least 3 hours before removing the tin.

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I was really surprised at how set it was when it came out of the oven, I really wasn’t expecting it. And again surprised at how well it properly held together while slicing it and eating it the next day. Everyone seemed to really love it too, so I’ll definitely be making it again!

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A Different (from my usual) Chocolate Cake

So I realised recently that the only recipe for a full sized chocolate cake that I’ve used in ages, and in fact the only one I’ve actually written about, is the Chocolate Stout Cake. It is definitely my go-to for a chocolate cake, and it’s great for decorating, it’s a crowd-pleaser… But sometimes I just don’t feel like a super heavy and intensely rich chocolate mud cake. This week I felt like something just a little lighter.

I always get a bit nervous trying a new recipe for a full sized cake – what if you go to all that effort and then when everyone is around and you cut it and it’s terrible? Oh, the pressure! Anyway, I bit the bullet, tried a new recipe, and it worked out 🙂 Luckily, because it was taken to work for a team member’s birthday!

Originally I envisioned this cake with a fluffy chocolate buttercream icing all over it, and maybe even layered through the middle as well. But a late night and extreme tiredness got the better of me and I went with the lazy option when it came to icing and decorating. Lazy still equals delicious though, so it was all ok.

250g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
200g dark chocolate
1 1/3 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/2 cup milk

Melt the chocolate (I do this in the microwave, slowly so that it doesn’t burn) and set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat again, then add the eggs one by one, beating between each addition. Pour in the cooled chocolate and beat well. 

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In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb soda. Beat in a third of the dry ingredients to the batter, followed by a third of the milk. Repeat until all the dry ingredients and all the milk is beaten into the batter. 

Pour the mixture into a greased and lined round springform tin (mine is a 24cm tin) and bake at 160C for about 50 minutes. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn upside down onto a wire rack.

Now, if you were making a chocolate buttercream (and I still think this would be great, I mean, how can you go wrong with chocolate buttercream) you would need to cool the cake completely before making the icing and decorating the cake. But if you want to just dump a jar of Nutella on top of the cake instead and spread it around and let it ooze down the sides, then now is when you do that.

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Oh yes, that is what I did. Most of a 400g jar went on top of the cake. I saved some for eating with a spoon from the jar at another time, like right now as I’m writing this.

Nutella icing

While the cake is still warm, the Nutella goes a bit melty and spreads really nicely. Then you put it in the fridge so the Nutella doesn’t melt entirely off the cake. Or, even better, just before you put it in the fridge you also cover the top of the cake with hundred and thousands, to add a bit of fun colourfulness.

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Told you – lazy but delicious (and effective) cake decorating.

Gluten-Free Pineapple & Coconut Cupcakes

New team at work, new birthdays, new likes/dislikes/allergies. We have a coeliac and someone who is allergic to peanuts, and while the coeliac is fine with missing out on cake (she’s used to it, poor thing) I don’t think anyone should have to miss out if they don’t have to. So here we have some gluten-free (and peanut-free) cupcakes.

pineapple Coconut Cupcakes

This is a recipe I’ve not used before, plus the added gluten-free factor meant that I was really worried these might not work out, but they seem to be pretty good! I tried making the pineapple flowers to add a bit of sparkle and they were surprisingly easy and delicious. If I were to do this again though, I’d make the pineapple flowers first and let them cool while I made the cakes.

3 cups plain gluten-free flour (or regular flour, if you like)
2 teaspoons baking powder
250g butter, softened
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
440g tin crushed pineapple, drained (reserve the juice as you may need it later)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla well. Add the eggs one at a time and beat lightly between each addition. Sift in the flour and baking powder in two batches, and fold in to the batter. Add the pineapple and the coconut and mix well. I found the batter to be really thick, so I added about 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice as well, and could probably have added more.

Spoon batter into lined cupcake tins and bake at 180C for about 25-30 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Makes 24.

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Pineapple Flowers – you will need a whole fresh pineapple for these. Cut the skin off and take out the eyes. Slice into rounds as thinly as you possibly can. Make a sugar syrup by melting 2 tablespoons of sugar into 2 tablespoons of water in a saucepan, and boiling briefly. Brush the pineapple slices with the syrup and lay on wire oven racks. Dry in an oven at 120C for about an hour. Take the pineapple off the racks and push them into mini muffin trays (or egg cartons) to shape them, and allow to cool.

I made a cream cheese icing, and decorated the cakes with toasted coconut as well as the pineapple flowers. Yum! And cute!!

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