Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pink Champagne & Strawberry Cake

Hiya!! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, mine was turkey-filled. Got lots of wonderful presents, and hopefully everyone liked what I gave them. And now 2010 is almost over, can you believe it? I know I say this every year, but this year has really whizzed by. So I'm closing off the year with a celebratory cake. I know it's a little late for those who might actually want to attempt this recipe for New Year's Eve parties, I planned on getting it done earlier but then work got in the way, as per usual.
So what is this cake exactly? It's been a while since I've worked up the energy to make a full-sized layered cake, but it was exactly what I thought was perfect for this time of year. There were so many sweet little strawberries on sale, and I had to test out my new strawberry huller which I got for Christmas. I'm not usually a fan of one-use-only kitchen gadgets but it was so handy! And nothing says New Year like here is my Fresh Strawberry Cake with Pink Champagne Buttercream.
I made this cake with several occasions in mind. It's a HAPPY NEW YEAR! cake...and a WELCOME BACK! cake for my brother and his wife, and also HAPPY BIRTHDAY! for the both of them who celebrated their birthdays overseas this month. So hopefully when they arrive tomorrow and try the cake they will totally love it and will be very understanding about the fact that their sister is a baking blogger who always shows up with cakes that already have a slice carved out of them. Because I always have to give you guys a good innards shot!
YUM! That makes you want to dive right into it right? The strawberry cake is super, super easy, and a great way to show off some really great sweet, fresh strawberries. The cakes stay nice and soft, so you don't have to worry about making them a couple days ahead before you cover them in the buttercream. The pink champagne in the buttercream gives it a very light tang which counteracts the sweetness of the cake. Top it off with more of those fresh strawberries dipped in some bitter dark chocolate and it's certain to be a hit with your friends on New Year's Eve.
I always forget what a pain it is to ice a cake until I start doing it. Obviously my icing skills could still use some work, but I think I'm slowly improving! I love how pretty and pink the insides of the cake look against the pale buttercream. And it wouldn't be a New Year's celebration cake without fireworks right???
Strawberry Cake with Pink Champagne Buttercream
(adapted from this recipe, serves 8-10)
85g (6 tbsp) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
2 punnets (1 pound) strawberries, hulled and halved (if you wanted to make it a little boozier, you could marinate the strawberries in pink champagne overnight)

For the buttercream:
5 large egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
315g butter, room temperature
2/3 cup pink champagne
Optional: 1 punnet fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate, white chocolate flakes
(If you're new to making Swiss meringue buttercream, these wonderful tutorials from two of my favourite bloggers will help)

Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins and preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Put butter and 1 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in egg, milk, and vanilla.

Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture. Split mixture between the two prepared tins and smooth tops with a spatula. Arrange strawberries on top of batter, 1 punnet per tin, cut sides down and as close together as possible. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries (1 tbsp for each tin). Bake cakes for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 160 degrees. Bake until cakes are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 40-45 mins (if on top and bottom rack, switch cakes between racks halfway through). Let cool in tin on a wire rack, then turn out. Can be stored in an airtight container for a day or so before icing.
To prepare the buttercream, whisk together egg white and sugar in a large heatproof bowl. Clip a candy thermometer to side of bowl. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk until mixture reaches 70°C (160°F) and sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes.

With a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg white mixture on high speed until cooled and thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Add champagne and whip until smooth and thick. Buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before using, and beat on low speed until smooth. Fill and crumb coat the cake with about 1/3 of the mixture, then cover entire cake with the remaining frosting and smooth with a spatula. Top with chocolate covered strawberries and shaved white chocolate to decorate. Can be refrigerated for up to three days after icing. For best results, remove from the fridge several hours ahead and serve at room temperature.
Happy New Year everyone!!! I will see you in 2011 with more baked goodies :)
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Madeleines

I'm squeezing in one final Christmas recipe for the year, one of my favourite treats - madeleines. Delicious little shell shaped sponge cakes that are somewhere between a cake and a cookie. I honestly adore them, and I decided to Christmas them up. I know I posted my pandan madeleine recipe a while back, but I wanted to see if I could take out some of the more tiresome steps of the recipe and still get the same results. And it turns out my new simpler recipe is just as good. So here are my Green (pandan) & Red (strawberry) Christmas Madeleines.
I am still a little traumatised from my last experience with madeleines. So many batches of flat, sticky fail madeleines will do that to you. It was a little scary trying again, but I think I finally figured out why my last experience led to so many madeleines without their signature humps. I found that my batter was more likely to collapse and not develop a bump if there were fairly large air bubbles in the mixture, which seemed to weaken the batter and cause it to deflate in the oven. So if you're having any trouble with your batter, make sure you give it a good stir to get rid of the big air bubbles! The issue kind of reminded of what you need to do when of mixing up macaron batter.
Like any madeleines, these are best eaten straight out of the oven. I dipped them in a thin layer of plain white icing, because I think that makes them extra Christmassy, but it doesn't really need them. I love the vibrant colour of the red ones (thanks to my tub of Wilton colouring paste), but I can't go past the fabulously fragrant flavour of the green pandan madeleines. So good that it will be hard for you to stop at one and exactly the type of thing you'd expect to be indulging in on Christmas day.
Pandan & Strawberry Madeleines
(makes about 24 madeleines)
2 eggs
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
150g butter melted, plus extra for greasing
Pandan flavouring (essence or paste), strawberry essence, food colouring if needed
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1-2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease madeleine tin very well, then dust lightly with flour. This will make it easier to remove the madeleines later.

Combine eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the mixture is very pale and fluffy and has tripled in volume, at least 6 minutes.

Add sift flour and carefully fold into mixture. Finally, stir in the melted butter until just combined. Split mixture into two separate bowls. Stir in pandan flavouring to taste (I used about 1 tsp) into one bowl, and strawberry flavouring (about 1/2 tsp) + red food colouring into the other bowl.
Carefully spoon pandan mixture into the moulds filling them about 3/4 full (a bit less than a tablespoon). Bake for 10 minutes or until the tops of the cakes are just turning golden. Immediately and carefully remove the madeleines from the tin and cool on a wire rack. Regrease and flour tin and fill with strawberry mixture and repeat.

When madeleines are cool, mix icing sugar and milk together in a bowl to form a paste. dip icing on the end of each madeleine, then leave on a wire rack to set. Best served freshly baked, can be stored in an airtight container for a day or so.
Merry Christmas everyone! Hope you have a happy and safe holiday :)
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Present Box Macarons

It's been a little quiet on the blog this month, as the less fun parts of my life have had to take priority over the baking parts. This completely bums me out since baking is my therapy and helps to uncrankify (yep I just made that up) me. But weekend finally arrived, and with a sigh of relief I was back in the kitchen with Lady Mix-a-Lot.
I've been lacking inspiration for Christmas baking ideas, which has surprised me since I went crazy with it last year. But this idea sort of popped up out of nowhere, and I am completely in love with the result. I've always wanted to do Christmas-themed macarons, but Zumbo had already used up the best idea for candy cane macarons. There's still plenty of other Christmas things to be turned into macarons, and this time I decided it would be Christmas present boxes.
Lucky for me, I stumbled across this amazing Gingerbread Buttercream recipe from Martha, and I had to try it. It was the PERFECT filling for this macaron, so unbelievably smooth and light, packed with flavour from all the spices. It really does taste just like gingerbread.
Piping these square macarons with red ribbons was a pain in the butt, I'm not going to lie. I wasn't sure how to get them nice and square, but piping a thin square border and then filling it in worked out pretty well. As for the ribbon, I had to use a super thin piping tip and pipe the bows very carefully, making sure it didn't spread out into a big red blob. But in the end I think you can definitely tell what they are supposed to be, and I'm super chuffed with the result. Delicious and pretty freakin' adorable.
Christmas Present Macarons with Gingerbread Buttercream
(makes 12-15 macarons, buttercream recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)
100g aged egg whites (you can use fresh eggs too, just make sure they are room temperature. I always use fresh these days, and zap it in the microwave on defrost for 10 seconds)
110g almond meal, dried in a cool (100 degrees C) oven for 5 minutes and sifted
200g icing sugar
50g caster sugar
Optional: 1 tsp powdered egg whites (available from The Essential Ingredient)
Red powdered or paste food colouring

For the gingerbread buttercream:
1 large egg white
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
90g (about 6 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
A few drops of pure vanilla extract
1/3 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves
(If you're new to making Swiss meringue buttercream, these wonderful tutorials from two of my favourite bloggers will help)

Line two baking sheets with baking paper. Place icing sugar in food processor and pulse for a minute to remove any lumps. Stir in almond meal and pulse a few times to combine. Sift into a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and egg white powder in a medium mixing bowl until the egg white powder dissolves and it reaches soft peaks. With the mixer on high speed, gradually add sugar and beat until it reaches stiff peaks.

Add meringue to your dry mixture and mix, quickly at first to break down the bubbles in the egg white, then fold carefully as the dry mixture becomes incorporated and it starts to become shiny again. Just as the mixture starts to come together, take approximately 1/4 of the mixture and place in a separate mixing bowl. Add red food colouring to this bowl and then continue to mix both mixtures until it is the right consistency. Take care not to overmix, the mixture should flow like lava and a streak of mixture spread over the surface of the rest of the mixture should disappear after about 30 seconds. (It is not so bad if you slightly overmix the red mixture in this case) Place in a piping bag and pipe squares of about 4cmx4cm on lined baking sheets or silicon baking mats. I did this by using a narrow tip to piped the outline of the squares and then filled them in. Gently rap your baking sheets on your bench top to remove any extra bubbles from your piped shells.
(I got the chance to use my awesome new Matryoshka Doll measuring cups, thanks Suze for the birthday pressie :D)
Leave shells on bench to dry for about 30 mins, so that when you press the surface of one gently it does not break. Using a very narrow round tip (2mm) pipe on the red ribbons, piping a cross along the top with a bow in the centre. Take care not to disrupt the dried surface of the piped macaron squares or it will be more likely to crack in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 140-150 degrees C (temperature varies depending on your oven) and dry for a further 30 mins. Place on top of an overturned roasting tray or another baking sheet if they are not professional grade. Bake for 13-15 minutes, depending on the size of your shells. Remove from the oven and cool on the tray for a few minutes, then gently remove from the sheet and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare the buttercream, Whisk together egg white and sugar in a large heatproof bowl. Clip a candy thermometer to side of bowl. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk until mixture reaches 160 degrees F and sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes.

With a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg white mixture on high speed until cooled and thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Beat in vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month; bring to room temperature before using, and beat on low speed until smooth. Use buttercream to sandwich macarons. Place in the fridge overnight in an airtight container. Can be stored in fridge for several days, bring to room temperature before serving.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Tree Marshmallows

I have to admit, it's been difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I am in a current state of post-holiday depression, stressed out and all of my family members are overseas. So I'm feeling like a bit of a Scrooge. But here's a cute little recipe that helped lift my spirits - Peppermint and Cocoa Nib Christmas Tree Marshmallows!
Believe it or not, I actually thought of this recipe nearly 5 months ago. We had just had a Christmas in July party and then this idea hit me and I was incredibly bummed that I hadn't thought of it earlier. But it sounded like such a fun and easy idea, I knew I had to remember it for the real Christmas.
I've only attempted marshmallows a couple of times before this, having some great success with my alphabet marshmallows. I much prefer the recipe below, since it uses glucose syrup rather than light corn syrup, which is slightly less evil (I think) and more widely available in Australia. And it was a great recipe to use Lady Mix-a-Lot for, she made everything so much easier! And the marshmallows were SO FLUFFY. Yes, I totally hugged my KitchenAid after this. My Christmas tree cookie cutter was kind of dodgy so these could have looked neater, but you can still tell what they are.
One issue that I did have was that it was rather humid on the day I made the recipe, so I found that one hour wasn't sufficient time to dry these marshmallows out. But after a few more hours and an extra dusting of sugar, they were good to go. I love the combination of mint and chocolate, and I have a love affair with cocoa nibs. I just think they look so good sprinkled on top of anything. I may have gone a little bit overboard with the peppermint flavouring, but I think the bitterness from the cocoa nibs helped to balance it out. If you can't get cocoa nibs, chopped up chocolate or chocolate chips should be fine (and might be slightly more kid-friendly). It's a super easy recipe that is a great treat to bring along to any Christmas party.
Peppermint & Cocoa Nib Marshmallows
(adapted from this homemade marshmallow recipe, makes approximately 24)
500g caster sugar
1 tbs liquid glucose (see note)
2 tbs gelatine powder
2 eggwhites
2 tsp peppermint essence
Green food colouring
1/2 cup (75g) cornflour + 1/2 cup (75g) icing sugar, sifted or 1 cup snow sugar
Cocoa nibs, about 3 tbsp

Grease and line a 18cm x 25cm x 4cm lamington pan. (I also had to use a second 20cm square pan as well) Dust inside of pan with 2 tablespoons icing sugar (or snow sugar). Combine the caster sugar, liquid glucose and 200ml water in a saucepan over low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until a sugar thermometer reaches 120°C.

Place 200ml cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the powdered gelatine, then stand for 10 minutes. Place the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water and stir until completely clear. Stir the gelatine mixture into the sugar syrup.
Beat eggwhites with electric beaters until stiff peaks form. Continue to beat while you gradually add the sugar syrup, then beat for a further 10 minutes until mixture thickens and becomes glossy. Add green food colouring while this is beating to achieve the right colour. Fold in the peppermint essense and pour the mixture into the pan. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes and then sprinkle cocoa nibs over the surface. Chill for 1 hour until firm.

Combine the remaining icing sugar and cornflour in a bowl (or just use snow sugar), then spread over a tray. Using a Christmas tree shaped cookie cutter, cut out shapes (while trying to minimise waste), and roll each in sugar mixture. Stand for at least 1 hour or overnight to dry. Store in an airtight container. Marshmallows are best eaten within a couple days.
I brought these along with me to the Sydney Food Blogger's Xmas picnic, which was fantastic fun as per usual (Thanks Helen & Suze!). There was so much awesome food and everyone put so much effort in, I felt a little lazy bringing these super easy marshmallows which I had hurriedly whipped up the night before! I'm not sure if I can un-Scrooge myself enough to get any more Christmas recipes out the door in time for the holidays, but we'll have to wait and see!
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chocolate & Sour Cherry Shortbread

Shortbread always makes me think of Christmas.

It's one of the many things I always indulge in during the holiday; tins of thick, buttery shortbread which were sneakily emptied bit by bit when my Mum wasn't looking. I always got in trouble when the empty tin (except for a few crumbs) was eventually found. Nowadays I prefer my freshly baked shortbread to the tinned stuff, and seeing how much butter goes into the recipe is enough to stop me from completely gorging myself on it. I have already made a batch of traditional shortbread, but I wanted to share an adaptation of the recipe that really suits the season. If you want to try the traditional recipe, go to the link further down in this post. It's a great recipe though personally I would add a little bit of salt or use a lightly salted butter.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that cherries are always a big part of an Australian Christmas. We're lucky enough to have fresh cherries come into season right in time for Christmas, and I eat them by the bag until my hands are stained red. The combination of shortbread and cherries just screams Christmas to me. To make it fair to those who aren't able to get fresh cherries at this time of year, I used up some of my delicious dried sour cherries to make these Chocolate & Sour Cherry Shortbread biscuits. A rich, dark chocolate biscuit that is cut through by tangy bits of sour cherry. If you get it right, the biscuit should just melt in your mouth. If you forget about them and let them go too far you'll end up with very dark, dry and crumbly biscuits (as you can see with my letter-shaped biscuits, *sigh*). It's hard to tell exactly when these biscuits are done, unlike traditional shortbread which very obviously turns golden when it's ready. The best thing to do is to take it out when it is smelling lovely and buttery, and waiting for it to cool, giving one a test taste and if it is too floury return it to the oven for a bit longer. Once it's overcooked, it's too late.
If you follow me on twitter you might have noticed the arrival of a very special addition to my household. I knew a long time ago that if I was ever going to buy a KitchenAid mixer it would HAVE to be purple. And this year, on my birthday, I was lucky enough to get one. I'm super spoilt and crazy lucky, because I have a boyfriend who got it for me, a cousin who was willing to carry it back on the plane for me, and friends who bought me the best attachment for it! And yes, I named my boysenberry KitchenAid. I had the name ready before it even arrived. She is Lady Mix-a-Lot - she likes big buns and she cannot lie! The first thing I made was a whole lot of shortbread. I actually had a kooky idea which didn't work out, so these chocolate shortbread were Plan B. But a very pleasant Plan B. And who knew that creaming butter and sugar could take mere seconds?!
Chocolate & Sour Cherry Shortbread
(adapted from this traditional shortbread recipe, makes...erm...a lot of cookies)
250g butter, at room temperature
150g caster sugar
90g (1/2 cup) rice flour, sifted
260g (2 cups minus 4 tbsp) flour, sifted
4 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup dried sour cherries, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C and line two baking trays with baking paper. Use an electric beater to beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy.
Combine sifted flours and cocoa powder in a separate bowl. Gradually add the combined flour mixture to the butter, beating on low speed until almost combined. Add the chopped sour cherry, beating briefly to incorporate.

Use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until smooth. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions, and roll flat using a well floured rolling pin (or press flat with floured hands), about 3/4 of a centimetre thick. Use a cookie cutter of your choice to cut shapes, rolling scraps together to be recut. I used a 4cm diameter star shape cutter. Transfer cutouts to prepared trays, keeping at least 2cm apart on all sides. Score surface of cookies with a fork.
Bake the shortbread in oven, swapping the trays halfway through cooking, for 30-35 minutes or until cooked through (They will still be soft when warm but will harden as they cool). Set aside on the trays for 10 minutes to cool before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Timing is very important; the biscuits will taste floury if undercooked (check after they have cooled) and should be returned to the oven for 5-10 minutes or until cooked through. Biscuits will be dry and crumbly if overcooked. When cool, dust with a thin layer of icing sugar. Best served with a cup of hot tea or coffee :) Can be stored in an airtight container for several days.
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