Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chocolate Honeycomb Balls

My girlfriends and I have had a traumatic couple of weeks. Many of us are sending our first borns off into the big wide world of school for the first time!

This is very daunting. As my Workaholic says, "they give you books and milestone charts for the first 5 years. You know what to do when they need a nappy change, they have a rash, they are burping too much, they are not burping enough etc, but there is no "guide" to the next 5 years". You, and them, are just off in the wilderness. This is the last time we will solely parent them, guide them and look after them. From now on, teachers, peers and other groups will step in and help us. Or as my primary school teacher cousin says "completely take over - we know everything now, you as a mum, know nothing according to your child!". Mmmm, nice, very comforting, thanks for that Kirsten ;).

This calls for chocolate! And lots of it!

Many years ago, when my first born arrived and was such a good sleeper, I reverted back to baking and my needs at the time where cup cakes (although no where near as extravagant as today) and chocolate to keep me company while he slept. I used to make this wonderful no bake slice that had a crushed biscuit, butter, chocolate bar and condensed milk base and then you poured chocolate over the top, crumbled some more of the chocolate bar on top of that and set it in the fridge. You then simply cut it up and enjoyed!

The original recipe called for Violet Crumbles. I am not sure if the rest of the free world knows about this chocolate bar but it is basically a honeycomb bar coated in chocolate. Not content with one kind of chocolate bar slice, I have tried many, Cherry Ripe, Mars Bar etc.

With my first born off to school this week, I reverted back to the slice but decided to see if I could make it into balls and be a little bit fancy....LOL.

It worked and they were delicous.

My only hesitation is the butter content, I found that for some reason the original butter content was too much for a ball and made them too sloppy and oily. I would just melt half the amount and work up from there next time.

These are super easy and impressive.

The recipe is:

1/2 cup condensed milk
100g butter
200g plain sweet buscuits, finely crushed
3 x 50g violet crumble bars, chopped (or mars bars or cherry ripes)
200g milk chocolate (I use dark chocolate, personal taste)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I omitted this)

In a small saucepan combine condensed milk and butter. Stir over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until melted. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in crushed biscuits and 2 of the violet crumble bars. Roll into balls and put in fridge for 30 minutes. Or at this point you could spread into a lined, greased pan and put in fridge. Melt chocolate and oil in saucepan over simmering water. Take balls out of fridge and roll in chocolate and then roll in remaining chocolate bar. Or if you have done the slice version, pour chocolate mix over slice and sprinkle with remaining chocolate bar. Put balls or slice back into fridge until set.

Store in a container in the fridge - if they last that long.

Good luck to all those parents sending their kids off to school this week. Ours went exceptionally well and we are very proud of him. Onwards and upwards my young man.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The one continued...............lamingtons

Okay, happy belated Australia Day. I had such dreams, such plans for this day and many blogs leading up to it......the lamington blog, the pavlova blog, the list goes on. But alas, my kids came down with a stomach bug the Friday of the Australia Day long weekend, so any baking and well timed blogging plans quickly flew out the window.

I did manage to bake something uniquely Australian that week leading up to Australia Day but had no chance of getting it up on the blog. After I found the perfect vanilla cup cake recipe the other week, I went completely mad thinking of recipes and reasons for me to try it again, just to make sure.

Luckily Australia Day, or the day of Lamingtons, pavlovas, BBQs, beers and beach cricket was approaching. I departed from the usual sponge base and went with "the one" vanilla cup cake recipe. This made for a departure from a traditional looking Lamington too.

I have to be honest, the best lamington I have tasted used day old sponge cake mass produced by a supermarket then rolled in homemade thin chocolate icing and coconut made by my mum or my Grandma's, which is more of a cup cake, rolled in lamington icing and coconut. I think they are incredibly messy to make and not worth it when you can get a nice tasting one using a store bought sponge. Lots more things I would rather make. I am being very unAustralian I know.

Anyway, during the past week I have had a go at a few different versions of the lamington. None of which I am very happy with visually but all got a resounding thumbs up from the eaters at the Workaholic's office.

Lamington 1: Vanilla Cupcake with rich chocolate ganache and shredded coconut

I had seen these ones on my recent trip to Melbourne in the cup cake shops but to my mind, it just was not the same. I used the richest chocolate icing I could find to compensate for not covering the whole cake but it just tasted like vanilla cake topped with chocolate icing, not that wonderful combination a lamington has with the thin icing and coconut all over.

Lamington 2: Traditional type using sponge recipe

I must have been really disappointed in this one, because searching back through my photos a week later, it appears I have deleted all evidence! LOL. I have an aversion to stale cake and because you need to leave a sponge to age a day before attempting Lamingtons, I usually don't bother. From memory, these looked alright but tasted substandard. I didn't let anyone sample these.

Lamington 3: The cup cake lamington bite mark 2

This one was definitely my preferred. This was the last one I did and I decided to go back to my childhood and use the icing my mum used to use which was a combination of boiling hot water, butter, cocoa and icing sugar. One recipe I read also called for some milk, so I lived on the edge and threw some in. It ended up like the icing of childhood, very watery and thin. This is one of the keys in lamington making. The icing needs to be thin so the cake doesn't fall apart when dipping it in the icing and before dipping it in the coconut. Some other tips are to use day old cake, which is against my religion, or to freeze the cake, which sounds like something I would prefer. I didn't have time to freeze this batch as the staff meeting they were for was starting in an hour.

The cakes are actually the mini cup cake variety to make it easier for them to just grab one in the staff meeting. I had some complaints that people would like them bigger but that was probably just to save face as they were seen going back 3 times. Probably didn't like people to see them at the dessert table to often. :)

I am loving my progression with this baking passion. I am getting a bit of a name around town. My Workaholic keeps forwarding home emails from people who say things like "I would love to come to the meeting, I hear your wife makes a mean cake, will you be bringing some?" or the classic from the lovely receptionist "there is cake here everyone, don't know what it is, but Kate made it and it is awesome". It is nice to be appreciated and talked about in a good way! :)

The one................

It is here, my much awaited and longed for Kitchen Aid Deluxe! Queue drum roll. I feel the need to keep saying "Deluxe", not just any old Kitchen Aid you know. I am really relishing in the new "baby".

Unfortunately our household has been sick for about a week and my first born started school this week for the first time, so the Kitchen Aid as not had a big run yet.

I had all these plans to do some fabulous things for Australia Day Tuesday just gone, but alas it was not to be. I did manage some lamingtons, but more on that later.

Many of you know of my quest for THE PERFECT VANILLA CUPCAKE. It has driven me mad for over a year. I can make, and have made, just about every other flavour with stunning results but the most basic of cup cake has driven me near mad (not a big leap - LOL!).

Anyway, the gods were smiling on me over the last week. They delivered the perfect Kitchen Aid DEEEELUXE, a new baby girl Daisy, for my girlfriend, Caz, and the perfect Vanilla Cupcake. What a beautiful combination that just couldn't be ignored!!

The new baby was definitely worthy of the first cup cake in my new Kitchen Aid. Not that a baby can eat a cup cake but bear with me.

Over the last few weeks I have been researching the internet, across many continents, for a number of vanilla cupcake recipes. I thought I would try roughly 4 of them and then take them into the workaholics Friday staff meeting and have them taste them and vote on them. Sorry guys, not going to happen!

Baby Daisy arrived on the Tuesday before the staff meeting and I decided to be brave and try one of the recipes. After much internal debate I decided on the famous Magnolia Bakery recipe. How can this world famous bakery be wrong?

It was a departure from my usual recipes because it asked for white sugar instead of caster sugar. I am used to the fine grain sugar in my cupcakes. It was a fairly simple recipe and is apparently their best seller. I can see why.

It was just what I hoped for soft and fresh and just the right amount of vanilla and a great texture. The workaholic and I looked at each other in excitement, finally the one! I just could not believe it. So many people ask for a plain cake with a variety of toppings from me and I never felt right using the recipes I had. Now I have the one!

I could not help but top it with a light strawberry buttermilk icing and a baby cot/pram topper for baby Daisy's arrival. After all, mum needed her energy to look after three girls under 4. 24 cup cakes and regular drop offs of some main meals from me should do it!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cheeky Monkey Cake for a cheeky monkey

My nephew turns 2 in a week or so and he and his family came to visit us in Alice Springs last weekend. His mum and dad had been through here about 6 or so years ago, prior to us living here, and were not impressed.  Let's just say large expanses of nothingness that is the outback is not their style, nor the "characters" you find here. About 500km north of here is a little town called Tennant Creek. They stopped there for lunch and to decide where in town to stay the night and, lets just say, lunch was quick and the place they stayed the night was in Mataranka, a further 500kms up the track. LOL! Each to their own, I love it.

So it was with much trepidation I awaited their visit. Throw in my two sick kids and it was looking like their three night stay was going to leave them even less impressed than last time.

I really love the town and its people, I wanted to show them a "locals" perspective. And show them we did, 40 degree temps, blazing sun, flies etc. But we did manage to show them the good side of Alice and its surrounds. I also wanted to have a little party for my god son as we miss all the kid's milestones being so far away.

He is a huge fan of the Melbourne Zoo. What is not to love? He can be found there most weekends. He loves the monkeys. So with this in mind, I contacted our local cake tin hire business and ordered the tin for the weekend.

Alice Springs is an amazing place for a remote town. If you look hard enough you can find anything you need, including cake tins for hire. This enterprising south african lady decided that there would be big business in hiring out cake tins for kids cakes. Wish I had thought of it first! Normally they retail from $39 and you only get one use out of them. Bit of a waste. But this business hires them out for $10 a weekend. What a simple but profitable business idea. I have used them 3 times in about 3 months.

Anyway, I used my "killer vanilla" cup cake recipe for the whole cake (more on that in my next blog). The first time I did it, the cake stuck to the pan and we lost his tail. So, much to my brother and partner's disgust, into the bin it went.  They were thinking lamingtons, triffle etc. I was thinking, shite, it is 8pm and I have to start again!

Second time round I greased, floured and sprayed the tin to within an inch of its life and it was perfect.  I found the cake mix went a bit dry in the bigger pan so probably wouldn't use that one again for the big cake, just the perfect cup cake!

I am becoming a bit of an expert at these kids cakes and the piping, taking less and less time each one. You need to be patient with them. When you first start the cake you will probably be thinking "what have I done, this looks quite sad" but, trust me, it all comes together in the end. My first one took about two and a half hours to ice, this one was just over an hour - I think! They really are fairly simple and follow a basic colour by numbers instruction set.  I tried to kid my brother, who is quite the cook himself, into doing one but he looked at me like I had lost my mind.

Seriously, everyone should try one, especially if you can hire a tin for $10.

My newphew loved the cake, although I think he enjoyed blowing out the candles too many times to count and eating it more than admiring the design.  Ah two year olds, no accounting for taste!

Enjoy your 2nd birthday buddy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I have been spoilt!

This post is a departure from my normal posts in that it doesn't have any baked goods in it, however I was so blessed this christmas, I had to write about it. Firstly, I had a wonderful time surrounded by family and friends in my old town of Mornington. We had a great weather and managed to get out and about and see lots of our friends we had not seen for the 18 months we have lived in Alice Springs.

Then Santa spoilted me completely with lots of baking related gifts, everything from Donna Hay subscriptions to baking cook books, zesters, cake stands and other handy little kitchen items.

To top all that Christmas cheer off, the workaholic, in conjuction with Santa, is sending me for a week long intesive cake decorating class at Planet Cake in Sydney! I am so excited and overwhelmed. It is such a generous present and totally unexpected. It has taken me the three weeks or so since christmas to recover.

A whole week in Sydney to immerse myself in my passion and learn new skills to make the presentation on my cakes just that little bit special. He is even flying his parents in to look after my beautiful kids so I don't have to worry.

I look forward to telling you all about it in March when I come back.

New Years Day saw another birthday for me (I have stopped counting) and many vouchers and contributions towards my much longed for mixer, a Deluxe Kitchen Aid.  You may remember that my mixer blew up some months ago (see earlier post) and I have been managing on a second hand Kenwood. The Kenwood was a revelation to me and is still going strong and will become my "spare" as I often bake up so much of a storm that I need two at once.

But how I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new "baby". The company I ordered it from just happened to have 5% off all stock a few days after my birthday so I got a further discount and it is due to arrive any day now.  My family talked me into moving away from the standard kitchen aid and going with the commercial grade one. I am glad they did. I did have to compromise on my "racey red" one though and get a blue one.

I look forward to many happy days baking with it and will let you know when it arrives, along with my first creation. I hope it is soon as it would be really special to be able to do some Australia Day baking as the first things to be baked in the KitchenAid!

Streusel Topped Blueberry Muffins

I have had this recipe tucked away for a while waiting for blueberries to come in season.  While I was in Mornington the local supermarket had blueberry punnets on sale for $2.95 which is a bargin compared to Alice Springs prices, so I grabbed them.

I have been a bit obsessed with cup cakes and icing because I think they look gorgeous and photograph really well. They have that wow factor. 

I long to really explore this baking passion I have and would like to turn a "hobby business" into something more, and it can't just be about cup cakes. They are very popular at the moment but I want to be able to do a number of things well and keep up with trends and not just put all my eggs in one basket, pardon the baking pun.

So, with this in mind I have been sourcing different recipes that can be sold individually or in small quanities, and not necessarily be a cup cake.  This also fits the "not everything has to be iced" theory I have, to cater to different tastes.  Different varieties of muffins and mini loaf cakes fit this bill.

Hence, the Streusel Topped Blueberry Muffin. This also appealled to me because I am a HUGE fan of crumble anything. Apple crumble, apricot crumble, apple and banana crumble. You get the picture. It is great comfort food.

I loved this recipe which was sourced from It had a couple of twists on the normal blueberry muffin recipes. For starters, the crumble topping. As most of you probably know, crumble topping requires rubbing together ingredients with your bare hands. I love getting my hands dirty in the kitchen and when I was away from my kitchen and baking constantly, it was nice to reconnect with it in such a pure way in my mother in laws kitchen.

Also, I learn't a new trick which I will share with you in case it is news to you too. If you put the blueberries in a bowl and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of plain flour over it and mix carefully, this will coat your blueberries and stop the who batter turning "purple". So simple, yet so good.

Another bonus was this recipe calls for lemon zest which gave me an opportunity to use a brand new toy I got for christmas, a lemon zester grater. Not just any lemon zester but a Microplane Grater. These are the best graters invented. They are so sharp and the zest falls out the back rather than just sticks in the grater and you find yourself trying to prize it off with a knife. They aren't cheap but they are a time saver and worth their weight in gold.

The muffins turned out so light, soft and fresh. They did not last long. The photos don't really do them justice but I had limited time to do the photography before they were gobbled up by my extended family and friends.

Cappuccino Cup Cake

Mmmm, all my vices rolled into one delightful cupcake - coffee, chocolate and cake.

I think most of you are across my addiction to chocolate and cake but some of you may not know about my coffee addiction. It all started about 3 years ago when my two gorgeous girlfriends brought me a coffee machine for the birth of my second child. They figured I needed coffee more than a bunny rug or rattle and they were right!!  It has become an extension of me in the mornings and the kids know to go quietly until the first brew is poured.

I found this gem of a recipe in the Herald Sun Newspaper while in Mornington.

I had to go against everything my heart was saying to me and just follow the recipe to see if it worked. You see, unlike most of the recipes I do, which have about 5 steps and a few twists to keep them interesting and "worthy" this one was a one step "throw it all in the bowl and beat" mix.

I thought hard about the recipe and really wanted to revert back to the multiple steps I was accustomed to. Everything I have learnt so far has pointed towards not overmixing at the flour and milk or liquid stage. This one just said "put everything in the bowl and mix for 4 minutes". It really tormented me but in the end the only thing I did differently was beat the butter before everything else was thrown in.

It was amazing. I was nervous the coffee would never dissolved. But it did. I was nervous you would be able to throw these at a window and break in to steal the "real deal" cup cakes. But you couldn't. They were delicious.

I am a bit bored with the usual buttercream icing. I am also experimenting with finding one that holds in a hot climate and is not so sweet for those of us that don't have a sweet tooth. Hard to believe, I know. This icing was out of the box. A white chocolate and sour cream combination.

I did my usual piping swirl and dusted it with cappacino chocolate dusting. Usually I would also put something on top, a handmade topper or a nut or something but I was time poor, in my mum's kitchen and given it was post christmas, the local supermarket had run out of my white icing! How could they?!

That is when mum whizzed into the kitchen and said "would you like some chocolate coffee beans for them?". Absolutely perfect, don't you think? Thanks mum.

I don't mind saying that if I saw these in the shops I would have to buy one. As it is, I had two!


Here is the recipe, reproduced from the Herald Sun. 

125g unsalted butter (softened)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbs instant coffee granules
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven at 180c

Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat with electric mixer for 4 minutes.

Put in cases in muffin tin and bake for 18 minutes or until the centres spring back lightly when touched. Remove from tin and cool on a wire cake rack.

Ingredients for icing

80g white chocolate
30g butter
60g sour cream
140g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp cocoa powder

Melt chocolate and butter together. Allow to cool a little and stir in sour cream. Gradually beat in sifted icing sugar until desired thickness (I added in more than recipe).

Generously ice your cakes and sprinkle with sifted cocoa.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Raindeer Cup Cakes in the new year

So, I know Christmas is over but bare with me here. My kids requested this cup cake as my birthday cake - lucky me!

More on this later. As most of you know, because I visited you, I have been away from my kitchen and down in lovely beachside Mornington for Christmas. We had a great time and I got some lovely gifts for christmas and birthday that will get a mention here in the next few weeks.

I talked in my last blog before leaving Alice Springs that I may have withdrawals from the kitchen. And I did! It was crazy. I get so much joy from baking and I received some beautiful cook books for Christmas which made me just itch to get in the kitchen.

I was lucky enough to borrow my mum and mum in laws kitchens. Well, they didn't really get much of a choice. Baking is like my therapy. My dad said even in my teens and early twenties he knew I was trying to sort a problem out when he saw me in the kitchen. Baking just makes me feel better about the world. My father in law says it is the only place he hears me hum (poor thing - it's an assult on your ears believe me).

Cooking in someone elses kitchen results in a number of challenges. Firstly, just being out of your own environment where, as my grandma says, "your kitchen knows what goodies it needs to have in its cupboards and behaves itself"! Other people's kitchens don't have the things in them that I have, although Mum's comes close. My mother in law has a beater from another era, and not in a good way, like my second hand Kenwood. But surprisingly it performed very well under the challenge.

Secondly, you are imposing on other peoples space. Luckily they were all very nice about it and only talked about me behind my back and refrained from making me feel uncomfortable. LOL.

Anyway, back to the Raindeer Cup Cakes. My good friend, Jo, mentioned she made some while my boy was listening and he decided that these are what I should have for my birthday. Never mind that my birthday is a full 7 days after christmas. Minor details to a 5 year old.

So, on New Years Eve, on a 39 degree day in Mornington I made these cup cakes. I have talked before about my endless quest for the perfect vanilla cup cake. I have decided to keep trying different recipes until I find THE ONE.

This time I tried one from the Joy of Baking website, which comes highly recommended. I found it disappointing, however I did not follow the exact recipe and that may have been the reason. I have a mental block about using white sugar in cup cakes so substituted with castor sugar. I also only used 1/2 the called for lemon zest, but it was plenty. Some people commented that they thought it was a lemon cake. I found it a bit dry and rubbery. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I should have used the normal sugar. Maybe it was just too hot. Anyway, the search for "the one" continues...

Decorating the cup cakes with the kids was so much fun. Often the kids can't help me with my decorations as I am trying to make the presention "just right". But this time I just let them go for it. I think they ate more than the decorated but who cares.  The eyes are just marshmallows cut in half wtih a M&M on top. The nose is a Jaffa and the mouth is some piped chocolate. The antlers are Cadbury's Curly Wurly's chopped up. The antler were a bit of a disaster on a hot day as they are caramel and chocolate and just drooped and looked sad in the end. Next time I will use some pretzels.

The big kids (ie the Workaholic and our families) and the little kids loved eating them on New Year's Day.

Please forgive the late posting of a Christmas Cup Cake well past Christmas, but it is never too early to plan for next christmas!!

Happy New Year. May 2010 bring you love, health and happiness.