Monday, November 29, 2010

Canary Cupcakes

If my family needed any solid proof that blogging has made me batshit crazy, I think they got it during my Malaysian holiday. My Mum, confused as to how I had managed to completely fill my suitcase (which was empty at the start of the trip), picked up a cardboard box and opened it up to find a birdcage. Yes, I'm the type of nutjob who sees a little birdcage in a store while on holiday and thinks, "Ooh that would make an awesome prop for photos!". So of course, once I had the birdcage, I had to made a bird cupcake of some sort. I'm a huge bird-lover, growing up with pet budgies and still owning one 10 year old budgie and a cute cockatiel. Canary cupcakes were my first choice, because canaries aren't too complicated feature-wise. (I'm lazy like that)
So once I decided I would make canary cupcake, I tried to think about what flavour I would make them. Well with their bright yellow colour, lemon seemed like the obvious choice. Lemon and poppy seed somehow seemed like the cupcake flavour that canaries would be if they were a cupcake flavour. Plus I've never done a lemon poppy seed recipe on this blog before and I've had a lovely sounding lemon poppy seed cake bookmarked for ages.
"Oh noes! You're stuck in a cage!"
It was difficult figuring out how to decorate my canary cupcakes. As per usual, this would have been so much easier and neater to do with fondant, but my recent encounters with fondant covered cupcakes have only reaffirmed my stance against it. NO to fondant on cupcakes! Icing and buttercream all the way! Since I knew that I would be sticking random things on to my cupcakes for the bits & pieces of the canaries, I decided to use a lemon royal icing, which would hopefully set and hold everything in place. It worked out pretty well, I ended up using white chocolate Lindt balls covered in the royal icing for the head, with mini m&ms and some sugar coated fennel seeds for the eyes and the beak. The tail was made out of sponge finger biscuits which were carved into triangle shapes and then brushed with the royal icing. A commented that they were dangerously close to looking like rubber duckies, but that doesn't make them any less cute right? The icing is a little messy to work with and hard to get smooth, especially when you have to handle the icing covered head and attach it to the cupcake, so you can see a few cracks and rough bits. But if I wanted smooth, perfect surfaces I could have just used fondant. Bleurgh.
"Don't worry, I'll save you by breaking into the cage with this spoon!"
As for the cake, the recipe sounded so fluffy and moist with all those egg whites and buttermilk. It didn't disappoint on those fronts, especially the day after baking. The cake was super fluffy and moist, though I think it could have done with a bit more lemon. I think if I was to do the recipe again, I might include some diced up pieces of candied lemon peel, I always love that in my lemon poppy seed muffins. I got lazy and only decorated 6 of the cupcakes like canaries, the rest I just covered with a thin glazing of lemon icing. They were delicious!
Lemon Poppy Seed Canary Cupcakes
(adapted from this recipe, makes 18 cupcakes)
3 cups plain flour
2 cups sugar
4½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp poppy seeds
2 sticks (225g) unsalted butter
1 large lemon, zest and juice
1¼ cups buttermilk
5 egg whites
1/3 cup water
Optional: 2 tbsp candied lemon peel, finely diced

To decorate:
2 egg whites
4 cups icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Yellow food colouring
Lindt white chocolate balls or marshmallows for canary head
Mini M&Ms or other sugar coated candy for eyes and beak
Wafers or sponge finger biscuits for tail

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line cupcake tray with papers. Combine the flour, 1 3/4 cups sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix gently to combine. Add the butter, lemon zest and 1 cup of buttermilk to the flour. Beat on low until completely mixed. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-2 minutes until lighter in colour.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk, whisk to blend thoroughly. Add the egg white mixture to the batter in 2-3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only enough to incorporate the mix. Add in candied lemon at this point if you want to include it. Spoon batter into the cupcake papers, filling up until about half a centimeter to their tops.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched lightly in the centre, and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack. While the cupcakes are cooling, make a lemon syrup. In a small pan combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Generously brush the cupcakes with the lemon syrup while they are still warm. Then allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

Beat egg whites in a clean bowl until it reaches soft peaks. Gradually sift icing sugar into the egg whites and mix until combined. Add food colouring and lemon juice and stir until smooth. Use icing to coat the candy you are using for the canary heads and the biscuits you are using for the tails and place on a sheet of baking paper to dry. Decorate canary heads with eyes and beaks (I used brown mini M&Ms for the eyes and orange sugar coated fennel seeds for the beak). Spread a layer of icing over each cupcake, allow to dry for 10 minutes, then place head and tail on top of each cupcake. Spread extra icing on each cupcake for the wings. Leave on a wire rack for half an hour to set. Can be stored in an airtight container overnight.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fancy Gems Mini Choux

I'M BAAACKK!!! Did'ya miss me??? Of course you did :P

After an amazing 3 weeks in KL that I spent shopping, eating and getting pampered once my brother's wedding was over, I was so ready to get back in the kitchen and start baking. So much so that on my last night in KL I actually dreamt about baking. And what did I dream about? Fancy Gem Biscuits. You may or may not have had these before, but here's a picture of them. Little biscuits topped with a sploge of brightly coloured royal icing. I have so many childhood memories of eating bags of these little sweet cookies, though inevitably you end up giving up on eating the biscuit part and just bite off the icing. I still see them sold at Cookie Man stores and I'm always tempted to buy a bag even though I know it's just like eating a bag of sugar.
Since I've never been a huge fan of the biscuit part of Fancy Gems, I decided to mix it up a little and bake some super tiny mini choux pastries instead. I know I've said I'm not a huge fan of eating choux pastry, but these little ones are the perfect replacement for the biscuits in Fancy Gems, they're light and buttery and not dry like the biscuits. And oh so cute as they puff up in the oven. So here are my Fancy Gems Mini Choux Pastries!
There's something about the brightly coloured icing rosettes that makes me happy. And you can never have too much icing, which is why I couldn't resist baking a few full-sized choux pastries to make some giant fancy gems. Wheeee!!! Check it out:
So much icing....oh yeah. So anyway, I used the most reliable choux pastry recipe I've come across so far, from the Daring Baker's Challenge way back in May for my Cupcake Croquembouche. I just piped really tiny rounds of batter and reduced the baking time and it worked perfectly. So if you wanna try your own fancy gems at home, this is a great simple recipe and you don't end up with dry, powdery biscuits that you don't want to eat. I can't stop popping these little babies in my mouth by the handful!
Fancy Gem Mini Choux Pastries (NOT a recipe for the Fancy Gem Biscuits)
(adapted from this recipe, makes approximately 100 mini choux)
88 ml water
3 tbsp (43 g) unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup (63 g) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
For egg wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

For Royal Icing: (you may need to make several batches of this, I made 2)
1 egg whites
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.
Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute to cool slightly. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg and stir until combined.
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted. Pipe very small circles of batter, about 1/4 tsp sized and a spaced a few centimeters apart on the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1cm x 1cm. Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt). Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 7 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 10-15 minutes more. Keep an eye on them as the bottoms may start to burn. Remove to a rack and cool. Can be stored in a airtight box overnight.

To prepare the royal icing, beat eggwhite in a clean mixing bowl until it reaches soft peaks. Add cream of tartar and then gradually sift icing sugar into egg whites. Beat until mixture is shiny and fluffy and just holds its shape. Add any desired food colouring at this point, then place in piping bags (I recommend disposable ones for this part), and pipe rosettes on the top of the mini choux pastries. Leave on a rack to set for about half an hour. Can be stored in an airtight box overnight.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Quick Stop In Adelaide - A Wedding, Pizza & Maggie Beer

Hi everyone! I know I'm meant to be on my first proper holiday in nearly two years (I haven't been on holiday since I started this blog!), but I was getting so sad looking at my poor, neglected little blog. So I thought I'd share a few pictures from the 3 quick days I spent in Adelaide for the Australian leg of my brother's wedding. I really loved the small amount of time we spent there, all the gorgeous old buildings and so many flowers. It was a welcome change from Sydney, whose crowded streets and overrated restaurants with useless conceited front-of-house staff I had become slightly weary of lately. My brother had his ceremony at Carrick Hill, a heritage estate with the most amazing grounds. It was so unbelievably picturesque, I can understand why the bride always wanted her wedding to be held here. I can't wait to see how the wedding photos turned out, but for now I'll have to do with the ones I took on my old crappy point and shoot.

Carrick Hill, Springfield
We had been worried about the weather because the entire week before the wedding was cold and threatening to rain, but the morning of the wedding had peeks of sunshine and only a slightly chilly breeze. And the sun was so bright by the end of afternoon the bride was sun burnt after going around Adelaide taking wedding photos!
The signing table
The bride's bouquet and bling
There was even a cute family of duckies! But what you don't see is the other big duck outside of the frame which was giving us the stink eye and then proceeded to charge forward at A as soon as his back was turned.
The pretty marquee where canapés and drinks were served - none of which I can remember or took any photos of because my heels were killing me. But they were very tasty and disappeared fast!

GoodLife Pizza, North Adelaide
The night before we stopped by GoodLife in North Adelade, which is this great organic pizza place. It was very relaxed, somewhere you could meet up with friends and spend ages chatting and eating. And the service was fantastic!
“Taste SA” -- A Starter Plate from SA's Wine Regions ($8.40 per person)
From the Barossa- “Ballycroft Soft Curd Style Cheese”
From McLaren Vale- “Spicy Eggplant Relish”
From the Foothills- “Warm Haloumi Slices”
From the Adelaide Hills- “Olive Tapenade”
From the Barossa- “Smoked Duck Breast and Balsamic Glaze”
From Willunga- “Warm Spicy Chorizo on GoodLife Dukkah”
Please excuse the super shitty photos. It was frustrating getting used to my old small camera again! I insisted on getting the starter plate as soon as I saw the menu, I have a huge obsession with haloumi and olive tapenade. Everyone was pleased with me once we starting tucking into it, everything was absolutely delicious. I especially liked the idea of each of the different dips being sourced from a different region of Adelaide. The warm fresh bread was so great when slathered with the tangy spicy eggplant relish, or the salty, rich olive tapenade. The soft curd cheese was creamy and light while the thin slices of fried haloumi had that beautiful bounce as you bit into it. The smoked duck breast was fragrant and really matched the balsamic glaze, but I swear there was an Asian flavour to the glaze like they had added a bit of hoisin to it. It was fantastic whatever it was. I couldn't eat the dukkah but the chorizo was fried until it was crunchy and so moreish.
Swiss Brown Mushrooms Pizza (12-inch, $22.90) - Marinated in organic balsamic vinegar with an organic lemon aioli garnish
As a mushroom lover, this pizza was heavenly. The thick slices of mushroom were meaty and juicy, and I loved the huge dollops of creamy lemon aioli. LOVE! We also had a great chicken pizza with roasted potato and a ton of shaved parmesan. The chicken was cooked to perfection but I didn't think it really needed the chunks of potato.

Maggie Beer's Farm Shop
The day after the wedding, we hopped in the car for a quick drive to the Barossa Valley. I had to visit Maggie Beer's farm while we were there, and I wasn't disappointed. The only thing that would have made it better is if Maggie had been there! But it was still great fun. There are so many free samples available of all her products in the farm shop, I had to try everything. My favourites included all her pâtés, as they have a much wider rage of pâté compared to the ones they sell in regular stores in Sydney, and the kalamata olive biscuits were fantastic too; like a savoury shortbread. The blood orange marmalade was so good that I was super sad that I didn't have any space in my luggage to buy some.
Wheeeee! I ♥ freebies!
Chicken and Rosemary Pate Picnic Basket ($15.00) - Chicken and Rosemary Pate with cornichons, freekah salad and wood oven bread + Porcini Mushroom & Verjuice Pate Picnic Basket ($15.00) - Porcini Mushroom and Verjuice Pate with gruth cheese, freekah salad and wood oven bread
We stayed here for an early lunch; it was pretty quiet since we went on a Friday, but apparently it gets really crowded on the weekends and it's not a very large space. All her pâtés are available as part of these adorable picnic baskets that they pack for you, which includes fresh fluffy bread rolls, cheese and salad. The bread was so good with the pâté that we had to buy extra rolls.
Seasonal Cheese Picnic Basket ($15.00)-Maggie's seasonal cheese choice with quince paste, fresh fruit and walnut bread roll
A demanded that we get a cheese picnic basket to try, which turned out to be a great choice. The cheese wasn't anything special, just a nice cheddar, but it went to well with my favourite quince paste and the little tub of tomato chutney that we got in our basket.
Homemade Pheasant Terrine ($18.00) - Pheasant and porcini mushroom terrine wrapped in sour cream pastry with salad greens, Vino Cotto vinaigrette and Maggie's Cabernet Sauce
The only warm savoury food available was her famous Pheasant Terrine pastries. OMFG. That was pretty much all I was saying as I was stuffing my face with this. They were freshly out of the oven and the pastry was golden, butter and super crisp. The pheasant terrine was rich with flavour and the cabernet sauce cut through the richness so well. Most of the stuff they sell on the menu is available to buy in bottles from the store, including that lovely cabernet sauce, which is very smart of them. After all that food I was a bit bummed that I was too full to have some of her awesome ice cream flavours, but instead we had a stroll around her land which had all sorts of birds, including peacocks and chickens which were running around loose. I loved the relaxed, rustic feel of the entire area.
It's not everyday that you see a peacock patrolling a carpark
A pheasant with particularly impressive plumage
This guy was roaming around freely
After this we stopped by a few wineries for some tastings (of course), and spent a good amount of time admiring the scenery, but the farm was still my favourite part of the whole day. I wish I had a couple more days to spend in Adelaide as we didn't get to eat out at many places and I had only the shortest visit to the Central Markets, which seemed AWESOME and made me wish we had that kind of produce available in Sydney. Now I'm all the way in Malaysia, which is pretty much the exact opposite of Adelaide. Stay tuned for updates on my KL trip!
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Rainbow Paddle Pop Fudge

When I was growing up, one of my favourite ice creams were Rainbow Paddle Pops. Those of you in Australia, or anywhere else that sells Streets ice cream will recognise these. Multi-coloured, creamy iced treats on a popsicle, with a super sweet flavour that you couldn't quite identify (according to the wrapper it's meant to be caramel flavoured). I was addicted to them. I seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with all blue coloured foods. A few years ago they took the blue out of the rainbow paddle pop ice creams, so there's no 'artificial colouring'. Whateverrr. It's not the same without the blue. Now I buy banana paddle pops instead :P
I felt like making fudge. I was just going to do a regular caramel fudge, but then I remembered that rainbow paddle pops are caramel fudge flavoured anyway! So much more fun right? Rainbow popsicle caramel fudge! I simply replaced the brown sugar in the original recipe with caster sugar so that the colour was a little lighter and then added some chocolate food colouring and swirled it together in a brownie pan. There's a very close resemblance to the original rainbow paddle pops (I had to include the blue of course), but I had trouble finding a picture of one to show you.
The fudge is smooth and creamy, though it had a stronger flavour from the white chocolate rather than a caramel flavour. I think next time I might replace half the caster sugar with brown sugar to give it a little more flavour. But it was still fabulous. According to the people who tasted it, the fudge was good because it wasn't too sweet, unlike some fudges which can be sickly sweet. Though I wouldn't encourage you to eat too much of it in one go...I had some for breakfast and spent the rest of the morning bouncing around.
As pretty as the rainbow coloured swirls of fudge looked as it set in the brownie pan, it didn't look like a rainbow paddle pop until I cut it into these shapes and stuck into on to the paddle pop sticks. I cut the sticks in half and they were the perfect size, and used a piece of cut out plastic as a stencil for the fudge shapes. It was simple and effective and now I am rather pleased with myself. Especially after the disappointments in my previous post!
Rainbow Popsicle Fudge
(adapted from this Caramel Fudge recipe, makes 15-20)
1 x 395g can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup caster sugar (replace with firmly packed brown sugar for a stronger caramel flavour)
125g butter, chopped
2 tbsp liquid glucose
1 1/2 tbsp golden syrup
200g good-quality white cooking chocolate, chopped
Blue, pink, purple & yellow food colouring (I used powdered food colouring for chocolate from The Essential Ingredient)
Popsicle sticks, cut in half

Line a 17x27cm slice/brownie tin (or an 8-inch square baking pan), allowing a 2cm overhang over two ends. Place condensed milk, sugar, butter, glucose and golden syrup in a medium sized heavy based saucepan on medium heat and stir continuously with a rubber spatula until it starts to boil. (It is hard to stop the mixture from burning on the base, if you can't be bothered with the vigorous stirring then try the microwave heating method in the original recipe. If you get some burnt bits in your mixture, simply strain it before continuing) Reduce the heat to slow and continue to stir over heat for another 5-6 minutes until it is thick.
Add white chocolate to hot mixture and stir until the chocolat melts. Split mixture into 4 equal portions and add powdered food colouring. Dollop spoonfuls of mixture together in the prepared pan, using a flat bladed knife to swirl the colours together in the pan. Smooth surface with a spatula and stand at room temperature for 3 hours. Chill in the fridge uncovered overnight or until set. Remove from the fridge, lift out of pan using the ends of baking paper and cut out popsicle shapes using a sharp knife (mine were approximately 4cmx6cm in size). Insert popsicle sticks into the bottom of each piece of fudge. If there is any moisture on the surface, use a piece of baking paper or a paper towel to remove it. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
I'm be heading off on a 3 week holiday so the blog might be a bit quiet until the end of the month. I'm on my way to Adelaide and then Malaysia for my brother's wedding! Congratulations bro & M! Very excited for them (and also looking forward to pigging out in KL). If I get the chance I might post updates of the food I'm enjoying on my holiday, check back here or on twitter. I hope my awesome readers won't abandon me completely, promise I'll be back and baking up a storm in a month!
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