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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Bread and (no) Butter Pudding (with Benedictine)

We had a sausage sizzle at our house last weekend, and I over-catered with the bread. I bought 4 loaves, but we only ended up using about 2. I froze the leftovers but I really had no idea what I was going to do with it all, considering we don’t really eat much bread in our house. So yesterday I decided to try making brad and butter pudding.

It turned out a little differently than I had originally envisaged, probably (like many other kitchen experiments of mine) due to my laziness – I couldn’t be bothered going to the shops to buy ingredients so I made do with substitutes that I found in the pantry.

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It looked a mess but tasted good! The original recipe actually had butter in it, and also sultanas. No marmalade or Benedictine. I like how mine turned out though, so here’s the recipe:

8-10 slices slightly stale bread
marmalade
2 eggs
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons caster sugar
30-45ml Benedictine (you could use Grand Marnier or Cointreau instead, we just had Benedictine sitting on the kitchen bench for some reason)

Spread the bread generously with marmalade and cut in half diagonally. Layer in a greased baking dish. Whisk together all the remaining ingredients and pour over the top of the bread, making sure the bread is well soaked. I squished it down into the dish with my hands to make sure all the bread had been moistened. Leave it to soak for about 30 minutes. Place the baking dish in a large pan of water, making sure the water comes about halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake in a moderate (180C) oven for about 35-40 minutes. Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

If you wanted to make it the regular way, switch the marmalade for butter, leave out the liqueur, and sprinkle sultanas between each layer of bread. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of cinnamon or mixed spice before baking.

Crazy/Messy/Delicious

It was my fiancé’s birthday last week, and one of the things I do for him each year is make him whatever birthday cake he would like the most. Up until now the most memorable was the black forest disaster from a few years ago (the cake itself was wonderful, me dropping it upside down on the ground and then being swooped by magpies for it was not). This year he requested a layered mash-up of two of his favourite cakes, Chocolate Stout cake and Red Velvet cake, the common link being that I usually put the same icing on both of them.

The result was a crazy mess of deliciousness!

Note: He was not turning 301 – that’s 30 + 1 because we didn’t have the right candles!

I made both cakes and cut the stout cake into three layers and the red velvet cake into two layers. I made one quantity of cinnamon cream cheese icing, and used it to sandwich the layers together, alternating flavours, and then finish with the rest of the icing on top.

It was not a pretty cake! If I ever do this again I will definitely make more icing to put in between the layers and also to cover the sides. But, despite how it looked, it tasted amazing. Incredibly rich, although the red velvet added some lightness, and huge! Thin slices were more than sufficient to put everyone into a sugar coma.

She’s my Cherry Pie!

My fiancé woke up on the weekend with this song in his head…

He’s never eaten it, and I’ve never made it, so I thought I’d give it a go! I found a recipe among my books – of course in a trusty Australian Women’s Weekly – and it didn’t look too complicated. It did ask me to make my own pastry though, something I’ve not done in years and was never very good at, so that had me a bit worried. It’s winter here in Brisbane at the moment so the weather is cool and dry, which I think really worked in my favour – making pastry in high heat and humidity is no fun at all. If it’s hot and/or humid where you are, I’d seriously recommend either turning on the air conditioning, or using frozen pastry sheets to save yourself some angst!

The original recipe also called for frozen cherries, which I haven’t seen at my local supermarket, so I used tinned ones and drained them really well. If you have fresh cherries available (and they aren’t crazy expensive like they are here) then by all means use them instead.

It worked out well, but you’ll see I managed to not follow the recipe steps very accurately… Continue reading