Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Mocha Spice Cup Cake

I have had a ball this christmas and this is my last cup cake for the year (I think!).

What better way to finish the Christmas entries than on a cup cake that combines so many of my loves: Cup cakes, coffee, christmas spices and chocolate. Mmmmm, that just about covers my vices.

Jennifer from the Crabapple Bakery Cookbook describes this as "a hot spiced mocha in a cupcake paper" and she is right.

The combination of chocolate, coffee, spices, brown sugar and sour cream make you feel like you are eating a mocha and the thin layer of royal icing gives it that sweet kick you need.

I also liked the way it was decorated with a thin layer rather than the compulsory 2 inches of icing on everything these days. I am very guilty of this. Some of my tasters love it and others hate it. One of my tasters would prefer I just gave her a bowl of icing rather than the cup cake, others scrape off the icing and eat the cake. Icing is such a hot topic for cup cakes on all the blogs and especially in this town. There are two of us that make and sell cup cakes, my competitor, far more regularily and seriously than me but our customers choose us based on our icing. Well that is the main thing they talk to me about anyway. "I like yours because her icing is too sweet". Funny, her customers probably say the same to her about me. Like a fine wine - all just personal taste. I did try a different recipe lately recommended by a fellow blogger but it turned out like whipped butter. I will keep searching.

Here I am digressing again. Anyway, this cup cake was topped with the thin layer of royal icing (a egg white and icing sugar mix) before being topped with my hand made holly creations. I had lots of fun rolling and cutting and getting into the christmas spirit.  Not that I need any encouragement.  I love all things baking and all things christmas!

I am about 12 hours off stepping onto a plane back to my hometown of Mornington for 3 weeks. I am really looking forward to the holiday and seeing our family and friends for christmas but am nervous about being away from my kitchen for that long! I will probably break out in a cold sweat after a couple of days. I may have to wrestle my folks out of the kitchen and sneak on the blog to get my fix! LOL.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Christmas Fruit Mince Cup Cakes

I love a good fruit cake. Nothing like it, especially those good old Lions Cakes for charity. I know, it is not exactly "home baked" but I just can't go past it. Dad was a Lion and he always gave us a couple at christmas. I would nibble away at it for weeks, that's if the Workaholic hadn't spied it first and turned it into a pudding by pouring custard over it and eating it swiftly.

This is why I had to try this recipe for Fruit Mince Cup Cakes. It appealled to me because I had so much other baking going on I didn't have time to soak my own fruit. This one called for a jar of ready made fruit mince and 1/2 a cup of brandy.

Alcohol, what could be wrong with a tipple in a fruit mince cup cake? Sounds reasonable. My only problem is that we live in a 'restricted' town where alcohol is not readily available like other parts of Australia. Here in the Northern Territory with a large indigenous or Aboriginal population many people like more than a tipple and alcohol selling has been restricted to certain hours, days, establishments for a couple of years. Not sure it is working but that is an entirely different blog. 

I am not a big drinker, in fact I rarely drink, but with two small children and limited hours to get a drop (ie - usually at the crazy hour before dinner and bath and things go mad) it can be a bit challenging at the best of times. Anyway I managed it and I think I have been black listed for buying the smallest bottle of brandy on their records. I think the people in the queue (and there is always a queue) thought I was completely mad!

Anyway, I have gone completely off topic! The cup cake is filled with spices, fruit mince and alcohol and came up a treat. Very subtle fruit flavour. I would usually like chunks of fruit but I think subtle is needed in such a small cake.

I also seem to find things in the most unusual places. I found the cup cake pans in the local "mad harry's" which is like a $2 shop. They were very cute and complimented the top nicely.

What would be a christmas cup cake without a christmas tree topper. I had such fun making these. I wish Christmas went on and on and on. I love making all the christmas items. 

Here I cut out stars and sprinkled gold glitter on them for the top of the tree, then I decorated the "tree" with silver balls. I loved them.

I think I better ask Santa for a new camera as I have been struggling lately - maybe it is the very late hours of the evening/morning I have been taking the shots! LOL.

Happy 80th birthday to a music teacher

Imagine being lucky enough to reach 80? Oh, all the things you would have seen, all the changes to the world, all the new family members. I think reaching that age, if you fully embrace life and live it to the full, would be sensational.

My 84 year old grandmother was on the back of my cousin's jet ski at the weekend. Now that is what I call embracing life! Go Grandma! She has always given everything a red hot go and I love and admire her for it.

I digress. With about 12 hours until I get on a plane with 2 small children I am up to my ears in cakes. Beautiful flourless chocolate cakes that remind me of the chocolate brownies I have been making, all fudgy and delicious.  They are for a client who's mum in law is having a 80th next week.

She doesn't mind what I do to decorate the cakes except one must have an 80 on it. My other clues are that the lady used to be a piano teacher and loves music and the Adelaide Crows (football team to those not in Australia!). Well, decoarating anything Adelaide Crows is out of the question. So I went with hand made chocolate music symbols with the "80" scattered throughout. The above photo is just a snap of a few of them. I hope she likes them.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ms Lawson's old fashion chocolate cake

It was brought to my attention by my sister-in-law, Aislinn, that I may have been a bit harsh on her fellow (sort of) country woman, Ms N Lawson in my early blog on Snickerdoodles.

Aislinn is a huge fan of Nigella Lawson and cooks and bakes many things from her books/website.

I decided that maybe I should try something else of Nigella's. Maybe something a little more English, if there is such a thing.

I poured over the only cookbook I have of hers "how to be a domestic goddess". To be honest I struggled. Many things in there don't look very "English". Puddings were out - I live in the harsh, Australian outback and it is HOT! Cookies seemed too American. Many of the recipes called for things Australia just doesn't have. Then I needed something that could be shared, cut up easily or came as individual pieces, I do too much baking to be able to eat everything I cook. I seemed to be stuck.

Then, in chatting with my brother via phone who is quite a cook himself, he found a solution for me. He had baked an "old fashion chocolate ,cake" from Nigella's website for Aislinn's birthday and was so impressed he went on to bake it twice more in the same week. He is a bit of a chocolate lover like me so we hunkered down on the phone and discussed the cake in detail.

The cake is made entirely in the food processor, bit of a change from my multiple mixing, multiple bowls efforts. I felt like I was cheating but at the same time it was so easy and effective. The cake itself does not have real chocolate in it, just cocoa. It is very light weight. The mix is split between two cake tins.

The icing is where the good stuff lies. It is more of a ganache than a icing. It has real dark chocolate, sour cream, golden syrup, butter and all the good stuff in it. It is spread between the two cakes and around and on top of the cake.

I made it for a lovely lady, Jan, who was leaving the Workaholic's office to go back to Adelaide for christmas, before taking on another role at another agency in Alice Springs. She is much like the cake, old fashioned (she loves wear pearls out in the dusty hot communities), classy and rich in character. Nothing like a lady in pearls and suit walking down a dry hot river bed towards you to talk about your family.

She will be missed. You don't know yourself until "you've been Janned"!!

So, Nigella, in this instance, I owe you an apology, I may have been a bit hasty...............

Teacher's christmas gifts - or don't you wish you taught my children!

As you would have gathered by now, I love home baked goods. I love to give home baked goods. I probably should have been European as food translates to love to me! I should have been a big old Italian lady who wanders around saying "you too skinny, you need to eat more" while shoving baked goods at you. You get the point.

This is why I spent many an hour over the last week baking in my hot kitchen (we had a 43 degree day the day before my children's kinder and preschool finished).

This is some of the product. They were quite big boxes full of goodies and I should probably do a photography course soon because my photos are really not getting that across lately! I am struggling with the whole photo thing, which is probably why I am a baker and not a photographer. You need to bear with me and use your imagination sometimes!

Anyway, these boxes were large and filled with shortbread stars, chocolate balls, gingerbread christmas trees drizzled with white chocolate and chocolate brownies.

They are all simple to make and three of them can be made or partially made and frozen, so you can prepare early and don't need to do everything at once.

The shortbread stars and gingerbread dough can be made (and were made) the week before and then the dough frozen until the day I needed it. Both recipes are really simple and I am happy to give them to anyone who emails me.

The chocolate balls are really easy and popular. Sometimes it is the simple things that are the best. These are just Maree biscuits thrown in the food processor. Then you mix in a cup of coconut, a tin of condensed milk and a tablespoon and a half of cocoa. Mix it into balls, roll it in coconut and then put in the fridge.

They are a version on the old fashion rum balls without the rum and I have been asked for them frequently by many friends over many years. In fact, when I first came to Alice Springs I made them at a "meet the new mum in town" function a friend held for me (thank you Kim) and one of the girls that was there swears she is only my friend today because I made them!! LOL.

The Brownies are a new recipe as featured in a previous blog but they are by far the most popular non cup cake item I have made so far. It can be cooked and then frozen too, if you need to prepare in advance. The workaholic can not get enough of them and I am stopped in the corridor of his workplace often in the last month for people to talk about them. What can I say, chocolate and raspberries, how can you go wrong! Again, if anyone is interested in the recipe, just email me.

I even made a "gluten free" version for some of the Workaholic's workers who are gluten free and they went down equally as well as the normal version.

A couple of the teachers wanted to know where I got my goodie boxes from and how they could order them. My friends who have seen them have made me promise that next year I will sell them at the local christmas markets so that they can buy them to give to their kids teachers.

Anyway, thank you to all of the teachers who have influenced my children this year. Oscar has really come out of his shell and is really ready for his first year at Primary School and Alice has only just started at 3 year old kindy but is already painting up a storm!

From little things big things grow........

I had an interesting request from a friend, Tammie, the other day. She wanted me to come over to her house pronto and help her decorate a Grade Six Graduation cake with a Llama!!

Bizarre. Didn't think I would ever be asked for a Llama on a cake, but there you go. I really like Tammie and I thought it was a good chance to catch up.

It was for the school my son will go to next year and she is a teacher there with a reputation for baking too.

We didn't have a lot of detail, just that we needed to collect the premade cake from the school at lunchtime and return it two hours later! We didn't know the size of the cake, the shape of the cake or anything. I grabbed some tools from home and headed to Tammie's house.

Also, knowing my love for the internet, you know I jumped straight on and found the above image of a Llama. I then covered all bases and copied it and enlarged it several times. I kinda thought that if it was a small cake (let's hope) we could put one Llama on it and be done. If it was a big cake we could depict the llama's growing and the journey from being a little primary school kid to a big high school kid.

I then made a stencil out of all of them. Something I have never done before but will do again as you can lay the stencil down and pipe in the middle and carefully remove. Tada!

I can honestly say that when my friend, Tammie, arrived home with the cake I was shocked. I had never seen a cake this size. My picture does not do it justice. It was about 1 metre long and 40 to 50 cms wide (guessing here). It felt huge and was covered in very ordinary cream, which was not as ordered.

I thought it would be best to remove the cream and ice it. Icing is easier to work with usually. However, I was also nervous that they had covered it to hide something. I was right! The cake had a big divet in it. In hindsight, I shouldn't have removed the cream as the cake was so big and therefore the icing was really hard to get smooth without all my tools.

Tammie set to work on making about three batches of icing, while I set to decorating the cake. We thought it would be great to incorporate the colours of the school, hence the red and blue blankets and also there was red and blue piping on the sides and bottom of the cake.

I shy away from writing on cakes. Avoid it as best I can. Never actually found a "cake writing font" as they call it in the trade, so I encouraged Tammie in this endevour!! She did a great job! Go Tammie!

I think we did a pretty good job with 2 hour timeframe and two three year old kids under our feet on a 43 degree day!

The school had to ring around town to find a fridge big enough to hold it until the Graduation Night. It ended up at the catering kitchen of the local University Restaurant.

All in all, Graduation night was a success and we had lots of positive feedback on the cake.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

It has been awhile. I have been really busy putting together some Christmas treats for the kid's teachers, the Workaholic's workers and some paid orders, as well as experimenting with some new things.

This means you are going to see a rush of new entries on my blog of the next day or two as I have been storing them up while I have been baking in the kitchen. And some of them will be brief (ah, sweet relief, I hear you say!).

These little beauties were for love and for my personal challenge to myself to try every flavour of cupcake in my favorite cup cake book, The Crabapple Bakery Cookbook.

I love a good gingerbread. Not the hard biscuit type but the soft chewy type. So I couldn't resist trying this gingerbread Cup Cake recipe. Jennifer, the author, says in her introduction, "now you can have gingerbread all year round". I don't know what was stopping her before. I certainly didn't feel the need to wait for a special occasion to indulge, but maybe that is just me.

These ones have freshly grated ginger, crystallised ginger, sour cream, ginger spice, brown sugar and you know with all those fine ingredients, it can't help but be good.

And they were. If you have been following my blog, or know me personally, you know I usually make all my own toppers. Just prefer it. More personalised. However, I could not resist the mini gingerbreads that Coles and Safeway do and at this time of year I needed all the help I could get.

Again they were a hit. Quite frankly I have only marked 2 of the many Crabapple Bakery recipes as "failures" and this one isn't on that list.

Gingerbread all year round!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Raindeer Chow - here comes santa claus!

Have I mentioned I love Christmas? And that I love chocolate? This post is all about the two.

A few weeks ago an American girlfriend, Tammie and I were discussing baking gifts for christmas. She told me that she made Raindeer Chow and her husband's workers likened it to be as addictive as Crack Cocaine. I was intrigued. I had never heard of Raindeer Chow and inquired as to the ingredients.

Later I googled recipes for Raindeer Chow. None of them looked like she described or had the same ingredients. In fact rather than be described as Raindeer Chow, I would describe them as Raindeer droppings, if you get my meaning.

So after much looking Tammie kindly passed on her recipe. Tammie and I have a lot in common and are in many ways alike, we love to bake things with sugar in them and we love to do homebaked gifts. She says its because she is from the Mid West States and people out there don't cook anything without fat or sugar. Sounds perfect to me. If people had "sister cities" like towns have, she would be mine!

I talked in earlier posts about simple recipes and needing more of a challenge. I may have to make an exception for Raindeer Chow. It tastes awesome, looks very festive and is so simple and it is a great fun to do with the kids!

It contains two types of sugary american cereal - honey and chocoalate chex, pretzels, M&Ms, cashews and white chocolate. Simply mix all ingredients (left) except white chocolate and then pour melted white chocolate over it. Refridgerate if you live in a hot climate like me and then break into pieces for devouring. Next time I am going to use the christmas M&Ms and may also add marshmallows. It didn't photograph as good as it looked - it looked very festive and yummy.

This stuff is not for the faint hearted. It gives you a real sugar hit. I told Tammie it made my teeth hurt! It is addictive.

The workaholic took it in to his office with the warning to only let them have once piece each due to sugar content. What can I say, it was a Friday and obviously those Child Protection workers do not know how to exercise restraint as the whole office was described as absolutely "buzzing" and "manic"that afternoon. LOL.

Crack coccaine indeed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Peppermint Bark

Yes, yes, more chocolate, beautiful white chocolate with crushed peppermint candy canes stirred through it, before letting it set and then breaking it up to share and tada... you have peppermint bark.

I have a weird confession. I don't really understand the reconstitution of items to make something that is basically the same as what they started as. Melting chocolate to turn into, well, chocolate is not my first choice to bake/experiment with.

I totally get mixing a variety of raw ingredients to make something else, ie, a cake or biscuit but to do something to have it turn out the same thing just seems strange to me.

However, Peppermint Bark and lots of things like it: White Christmas, Chocolate truffles, etc are wildly popular and addictive. I really enjoy eating them and seeing other people enjoy them but I do not make them often at Christmas. I guess I like a challenge now days and trying new things. Having said that, the simple things in life are often the best and who can argue with CHOCOLATE!!

I made the Peppermint Truffles and yesterday I made Peppermint Bark and little dark chocolate Santas.

All of them require melting of chocolate to then reform in a different shape and are simple, meaning I can whip them up between kinder runs and other household duties, and don't need to concentrate on elaborate recipes.

I must say that all three items where a hit and I will be repeating them at various stages this christmas.

All of them are great if you are time poor, and lets face it, these days most people are. Personally, I could bake 24/7 because it is my thing, but many others would prefer to do millions of other things that give them pleasure like read a book, work in the garden, exercise or play the piano and could think of nothing worse than standing in the kitchen.

And this is why I will be making them and several other things this christmas. As I said in previous posts, I like to give baked goods because I know they give pleasure and I think home made baking is becoming a lost art with huge sections of the population, and that is a shame. Nothing tastes as good as home made.

A few of these easy but delicious items are exactly what I need right now because I fly home for christmas to my old beautiful beach town of Mornington and our families and friends in about 10 days and I have a heap of baked goods to make to give out as gifts. There are lots of demands on my time right now, what with end of year preschool and kinder concerts, christmas carols and other social functions, not to mention the usual demands of two children and a Workaholic husband, I need all the simple but delicious recipes I can find! I will mix them in with the more time consuming, finely decorated cup cakes and biscuits I like to experiment with.

So if you are new to this kitchen caper and are looking for something to make and give this christmas you really should try some Peppermint Bark, White Christmas or Chocolate Balls. They are a good place to start.

I might see you at the local supermarket, I'll race you to the chocolate isle!!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Brownies

Okay, Brownies are not the most photogenic things in the world, but these particular ones do taste gorgeous.

Being Australian, the brownie does not feature regularily in my diet. In fact I have only ever made them once many years ago and called it a failure as it tasted like a very dry, crunchy cake.

I can not remember buying one ever. Which is very strange given my love for all things chocolate.

So what changed my mind? Well, this recipe. It is, as I mentioned in my last post, one of those normal everyday things publishers/chefs rename from the simple Raspberry Brownie to the "Christmas Brownie" this time of year to sell more magazines. (Guess who used to work in Marketing and is a bit cynical??!).

The recipe contains white chocolate, frozen raspberries and lots of the standard brownie ingredients. I think the raspberries make the difference. Adding beautiful summer fruit to any desert is a winner in my book, and makes everything more moist.

I have also learnt alot more about brownie baking since my first attempt and really kept my eye on the oven.

The Workaholic's samplers were chasing him down the corridors of the workplace for more - even those on the usual summer "diets" and some who are not fond of the cup cake icing even thought they were better than my cup cakes!

Shame, shame, how can that be, better than a cupcake? Never.....

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mmmmmm Chocolate!

Anyone who knows me, knows I love chocolate. Nothing fancy mind. Just good old fashion chocolate - plain cadbury's is fine. However, over the last couple of years, I have developed a hankering for dark chocolate. It is always my reward for finishing what is a massive food shop for my family.

I love this time of year. This is when baking really comes into its own. Over the last month, I have been pouring over my cook books and magazines to plan out my Christmas baking. For years now, I have always baked gifts for friends, workmates, kinder teachers and so on. I am well versed in shortbread, chocolate balls, mince pies, peppermint bark etc. I will always bake those old favorites but I wanted to branch out this year.

I have not been paying attention in previous years, because I had the old favourites. I have discovered that christmas is just an excuse for publishers to wack on the word "christmas" in front of anything. I have seen "christmas brownies" (which I have to say are damn good, but more on that next time), christmas cookies (looked like the recipe for sugar cookies to me), christmas gingerbread men (that sell as plain old gingerbread men the other 11 months) and now we have christmas chocolate balls. Taaadaaa! Funny, I have seen them as Chocolate Truffles in previous issues.

Never mind. I don't care, I love chocolate, I have never made a truffle and even better, this recipe called for peppermint liqueur. Just to digress a minute for the Australian's amongst us, I feel there is a clear side, you are either a Tim Tam fan or a Mint Slice fan. I fall firmly in the Mint Slice camp. Always have. Nothing beats them, you can bring out all your special flavour type Tim Tams you like. Mint Slice wins hands down, which is why this recipe appealed to me. It had dark chocolate AND Mint. You can't loose.

Anyway, the recipe called for melting of dark chocolate, butter and cream. Easy done. You then take 2 Peppermint Crisps (not sure if you can get these outside Australia but it is basically a green coloured peppermint candy bar covered in chocolate) and crush them up. Stir them into the melted mix and cool in fridge for 3-4 hours.

What is supposed to happen next is you take the mix out of the fridge and simply "roll into perfect balls". Are you kidding? The mix was as hard as concrete. I left it on the bench to soften and nothing much happened. I ended up scraping of bits at a time. Then, maybe I didn't crush the Peppermint Crisp enough but my perfect balls weren't so perfect. Tried my best but I have the hottest hands in the Southern Hemisphere so what were hard as rocks quickly started to melt between my hands. I perserved. Who likes a perfect ball anyway? I will give you a hint - obsessive compulsive me, that's who.

Once the balls were done. I had to put them back in the fridge to recover. Then I melted more dark chocolate and dipped the balls into them. Then back in the fridge to harden. Finally, I melted some white chocolate to drizzle over them before popping them back in the fridge to harden.

Phew!!! I then decided they could do with a bit of dressing up and put them in tiny cup cake papers.

They tasted divine and were well received at our dinner party last night and by my 32 week pregnant mother of two girls under 4 girlfriend today who was having a bad day. Chocolate solves everything!

I must say, I now know why those "handmade" truffles in little delis and chocolate shops cost so much per serve. There are a lot of man hours in this delight!

Anyway, this kicks of the christmas baking for me. Lots more to come this month.