Friday, 25 February 2011

White chocolate mud cupcakes - Moon and Stars and Stripey with bows

After a boring week at home recuperating from the worst cough in the universe, I was definitely in the mood to experiment with some white chocolate mud cupcakes and some free form fondant decorating.
These are some 'Moon and Stars' cupcakes of my own design.

To make the Moon and Stars cupcakes, I started with a very bright light blue fondant which makes up the sky.

I was much more careful with my edging this time around and I got a neater result which I was pleased with.

I used a larger circle cutter than I needed and this gave me enough 'extra' at the edges to wrap the fondant down to where the paper wrapper starts.

You can see in the picture at the top that this gives you a nice neat domed look. Yay!

I used my smallest circle cutter to cut the moon by first cutting a full circle, then moving the cutter inwards and cutting a crescent shape out of the circle.

I was delighted to be able to use for the first time a little set of three star-shaped punch cutters (they have a button on top that you can press to remove the cut-out fondant when you have cut the shape- you need this because the pieces are so small and fiddly to remove by hand).

I freeformed the star patterns but you could do real constellations if you are able to (I would have liked to do this but I only know the Southern Cross and Orion's Belt, and I'm a bit shaky on the Belt one). 

I also did some stripey 'presents' with black bows. Sally Alps showed me how to make this pattern in my fantastic Alps & Amici cupcake decorating class in Launceston last November.

To make the stripes, you roll out one colour of fondant - here, the light pink - to slightly thicker than normal.

Separately, roll out the other colour and cut it into think stripes using a ruler and a sharp knife.

Lay the stripes out on top of the first rolled fondant piece and gently roll them in, in the direction of the stripes.

Then cut circles from the stripey fondant.

The lines go a bit crooked but the effect is still good, especially if you then put a darker coloured bow across at an oblique angle.

This is the 'production line' of cupcakes getting their bows.

Firstly you put a plain strap of black fondant across the cupcake.

Then you make a little bow from another strap, by folding both the ends over into the middle and fastening them by wrapping another small strap over the join.

Finally, make a small hole in the top of the bow and press a silver cachou into it.

The final product ready to go.

I had baked the cupcakes in some new bright coloured wrappers (thanks, downsizing Mum!) and I tried to match the icing colours to the wrapper. This worked particularly well with these bow cupcakes because by chance the wrappers were a very close match to the dark pink stripes.

Monday, 21 February 2011

How to make the perfect chocolate macaroon!

... Well maybe not perfect, but it will impress your friends and taste super!
I've tried a few different recipes, and there is conflicting advice out there on the best methods to use.
I have had multiple failures and some successes so I can give some great tips on what *not* to do :-)

Even Jade (Mr Cupcake) is rather fond of these despite his not-very-sweet tooth.

I think a good macaroon has three textures (the hard macaroon shell, the soft squidgy macaroon inner, and the soft creamy filling);  a flavour that is rich and full but not too sweet;  and an appearance which is consistent in terms of size and shape with a smooth, flat surface and a rough 'foot' on the base that gives them a little height.

Tant pour tant:                    
180g ground almonds              
200 g icing sugar                      
30g cocoa powder  
*note: if making a different flavour, use 200g of ground almonds and leave out the cocoa)

Italian meringue:        
200g caster sugar
75ml water
 2 x 80g egg whites*
*Measure out the egg whites to get 160g (usually about 4 egg whites). You will use this in two separate stages, hence, 2 x 80g.
Chocolate buttercream: 
125g unsalted butter
75g icing sugar
50g dark chocolate - I used Lindt 70%
To start off, measure out your 'tant pour tant' (this fancy term just means equal quantities, and refers to the icing sugar and ground almonds that are the basis of your mixture).

Just to make things confusing, the 'tant pour tant' in chocolate macaroons is not actually equal quantities at all, as you can see in the recipe quantities, but is still called 'tant pour tant'. Got that? :-)

This needs to be whizzed in the food processor and then sieved. The double-combining and sifting is necessary to get a really smooth texture. If you don't do it, your macaroon tops will be lumpy and there's nothing worse than a lumpy macaroon top, as we all know.
 At the end of the sieving you should have a smooth fine powder mixture like on the right.

To the 'tant pour tant' you add 80g of the egg whites, very lightly beaten - just until they are foamy.

Make a well in the centre of the tant pour tant and pour them in, then stir well to incorporate.

You will get a very firm mixture which takes a bit of muscle power to stir - seen here in the larger metal bowl.

Leave this to one side while you make the meringue.

To make the Italian (cooked sugar) meringue, put the caster sugar with the water in a small heavy saucepan on medium to high heat and boil for a few minutes until it reaches 'soft ball' stage,  at 115C.

While you are doing this, beat the other half of the egg whites (80g) to stiff peak while keeping your eye on the syrup. Multi tasking!!

You can tell by the look of the syrup what stage it's at. If it is boiling hard and looks as thin as water, it's not ready. When you see the consistency start to change, watch carefully. It gets more syrupy, and the boiling bubbles look glossy and sticky and slower to burst and re-form. Take it off the heat when it gets like this because it can quickly go past soft ball and into the cracking stages of caramelisation - if it starts to colour, for instance, it's gone too far into the caramel stage and you need to start again.

OK so you have taken your syrup off the heat and your egg whites are all whipped up to great heights. Now pour the syrup in a thin stream onto the egg whites, beating all the time. This is a bit counter intuitive to me because I thought the heat of the syrup would cook the eggs and make them scramble, but it doesn't! Magic! Instead, you end up with a luscious glossy smooth meringue, above.
Keep beating until the meringue cools slightly (and beware if you are using a metal bowl the syrup will heat up the bowl, the benchtop, your implements, etc).
Stir a quarter of the meringue into the tant pour tant mixture, to lighten it up a bit; then fold all of the remaining meringue into the tant pour tant, making sure it is well combined.

You will end up with a light, mousse-like mixture.

One of the benefits of Italian meringue as opposed to French (uncooked) meringue is that its greater stability means it is not as susceptible to 'sinking' when stirred. This means you can stir and combine this mixture thoroughly without fear of destroying its lightness.

Now for the exciting bit where you get to play with a piping bag!!

I use disposable piping bags from the supermarket. Life is too short to wash out and re-use a piping bag.

I have a sneaky way of filling my piping bag, I sit it inside a large china mug (see pic), this makes it 'stand up' while being filled and makes it a much tidier procedure than trying to stuff it like a dead turkey when it's lying on its side.

Cut off the end of the piping bag with scissors and pipe circles onto the baking trays lined with baking paper. I find it effective to cut a fairly large hole (say 1cm diameter) and pipe straight downwards, holding the bag still, letting the mixture spread evenly out the sides to form the circle.

Try to be consistent with size: it really helps when you come to sandwiching and filling the cooked macaroons.

There's a bit of magic to a piping bag, it gets easier with practice and it's really worth the effort it takes to learn.

If your piped rounds have obvious peaks on them (like in the one at the bottom of this pic) you can dip your finger in water and gently push the peak down again. The water prevents the mixture sticking to your finger.
Give the trays a bit of a tap on their bottoms to knock out any stray air bubbles and leave them to sit for half an hour. This helps a skin to form over the tops of the macaroons, helping them to get that perfect flat-topped, rough-footed macaroon shape when they are baking.

Preheat the oven to 150C while they're sitting.

When they've half an hour to sit and think about themselves, put them in the oven for exactly 14 minutes.

When you come to take them out, lift the whole sheet of baking paper off the tray and slide it onto a wet benchtop - this stops them cooking and makes it easier to get them off the baking paper.

After a few minutes remove them from the paper with
a spatula and put them on a baking rack to cool while you make the buttercream filling.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl placed over the top of a saucepan of simmering water. When it's smooth and melted, set it aside.

Use an electric beater to beat butter with icing sugar -easier if the butter is at room temperature.

When the butter/icing sugar mix is smooth and well combined, keep beating while you pour the melted chocolate in a thin stream into the mixture.

You will end up with a smooth velvety mix, about the consistency of mascarpone - see pic.

Use a small spatula or a knife to spread this buttercream onto the base of a macaroon, then press another macaroon base onto it to create a 'sandwich'.
Repeat until you have completed all your macaroons.

Store macaroons in the fridge in a sealed container - they keep better, and taste better, cold.

When things go wrong... FAQs

Macaroons can look pretty strange and gruesome when things go wrong.

They can crack on the top or bubble up from the inside like a volcano. Pic on the left shows a couple of monsters from a recent batch. 

They can fail to rise and just be really flat and kind of wrinkly on top like a balding old man. Pic on the right shows you what I like to call the 'flabby skin' look. 

Or they can be too puffy and rough and inconsistent in size and texture. 
These are classic examples of what happens if you reckon you don't need a piping bag to form circles on the tray - because you're so neat at doing that with a teaspoon :-/

Why did my macaroons crack on top?
You may not have rested them long enough before baking. Resting for half an hour before baking causes them to form a skin on top, which protects them against cracking. 

Why didn't a crust or 'foot' form on the base of my macaroons?
You may not have rested them for long enough (see above). You may have over-beaten the mixture, causing it to have little air in it and consequently it didn't rise when baking (this happens more when you use an uncooked or French meringue). Try the Italian meringue method shown above and you may find this problem goes away. 

Why are my macaroons all bumpy and rough on top?
You may not have ground or sieved the tant pour tant finely enough. The dry ingredients need to be very finely ground and sieved in order to get a flat smooth surface. 

Why are my macaroons puffy/rough/too hard/too flat?
You may have been careless with the quantities of your ingredients. Too much dry ingredient will result in a mixture that is too thick - your macaroons will be very high and rough and chewy; too little dry ingredient and the macaroons will be sloppy and spread too far on the tray, making them very long and flat. 

Why didn't my egg whites beat up to soft/hard peak?
You may have accidentally got some egg yolk or oil into the mixing bowl. Egg whites are very sensitive to fats and won't foam up if they have been exposed to them. Make sure your beaters are washed well with detergent, not just hot water, and dry them thoroughly with a clean tea towel before beating your egg whites. When you are separating your eggs, take special care that you don't puncture a yolk into the egg whites. If you do, you must start again with new ones (make a nice omelette for dinner with those ones :-)). 

Why did my buttercream separate?
For some flavours of buttercream (like coffee) you may be tempted to add a liquid flavour (a shot of coffee) to the buttercream. You must always add liquid flavour to the icing sugar and make a paste first, then combine the butter with that. Don't pour a watery liquid onto the butter, or the mixture will separate. 

When I tried to get my macaroons off the baking paper, they stuck to it and all I got was hard shells with no base. Why?
You may have tried to remove the macaroons before they had 'set' - they need 5-10 minutes once they're out of the oven to firm up a bit. Alternatively, you may have taken the macaroons out of the oven before they were cooked - in which case, they won't be able to firm up. Check your oven temperature and your timings. 
When you take your macaroons out of the oven, slide the whole baking paper sheet off the tray and onto a wet bench top or a cake rack. Leave the macaroons there for at least 5 minutes. Then gently peel the baking paper back from one of the macaroons on the edge of the paper sheet. If it peels off ok, repeat with the others, or use a small metal spatula to run under each macaroon to release it from the paper. It's normal to have some stickiness around the base. 

Why did my melted chocolate suddenly go grainy and rock hard, and how can I fix it?
Chocolate is a very bad-tempered cooking ingredient. Melting or melted chocolate 'seizes' because moisture gets into it. A tiny drop of water can cause this to happen; so can the substitution of incorrect ingredients with the chocolate (the classic one is substituting margarine for butter; whereas butter will melt smoothly into melted chocolate, margarine will cause the chocolate to seize). The only way to make seized chocolate usable again is to mix a small amount of Copha (solidified coconut oil) into it. When incorporated gently this will slowly un-seize the chocolate but beware, it also affects the purity and the taste. 

Friday, 18 February 2011

Individual greengage jellies

When I was little I had a picture book called 'The Delicious Plums of King Oscar the Bad' which was about a greedy king who had an orchard of plum trees and would never give anyone else any. From this I worked out that plums must be pretty awesome.

Possibly the most awesome of all plums is the greengage, and that's what this jelly is made from.

I only knew about greengages from King Oscar, and also from my Mum, who used to talk wistfully of having them back in England when she was growing up.

You never saw them in the shops in Melbourne so it was only when I moved to Tasmania as an adult that I discovered them.

I guess that they are not very attractive to the big supermarket chains because although they taste incredibly sweet, they don't keep very well and are soft enough to crush easily.

The googlemonster tells me that their name comes from Sir WIlliam Gage who brought them from France to England in 1724.

The label fell off the box he shipped the trees home in, so he introduced naming rights (he must have done that a bit because there are also plum varieties called purple and yellow gages).
In France they are called Reine Claude or La Bonne Reine (the good queen).

So back to the jelly. I started with about 600g of fruit in a small saucepan on a low heat just to warm it up and get the juices to come out. I added the juice of one lemon to it because the plums were so sweet, but in retrospect this was a mistake and made it too tart.

When it was soft I pushed it through a sieve and combined it with some gelatine (if you haven't worked with gelatine before, refer instructions below).

In the meantime I hunted through my new box of pastry equipment (thanks, downsizing Mum!) and found some mini jelly moulds. Yay!

I wasn't quite sure how to prepare the moulds so I consulted Nigella, who informed me that I should brush them with some vegetable oil.

I then put some halved greengages in the bottom of the moulds because I thought that would be pretty, but as you can see from the pic at the top, the jelly is too dark to really see them :-( This is one difference with home made fruit jellies compared to commercial ones, they have real substance and colour, so they tend not to be as clear as packet jellies.

So then I ladled the jelly mixture into the moulds while it was still warm and left them to set in the fridge for a couple of hours.

When they were firm to the touch, I unmoulded them by dipping the mould quickly into hot water, then reversing it onto a plate.

I think I held them in the hot water too long because I got a small puddle of 'juice' at the base when the jellies were unmoulded. So be sure to do the 'hot water dip' for no more than a few seconds.

This pic on the right does look somewhat radioactive but apart from showing that I'm addicted to photoshop it also shows the shininess of the jelly and the colour variations in it.The darkness on the top of the jelly is the half greengage set into the jelly.

The taste of the jelly was not perfect. It was too tart (refer lemon juice comment above). I didn't add any sugar because I thought the sweetness of the greengages would be enough. And it was almost, but not quite, enough. The texture was good though: firm but not rubbery. I HATE rubbery jelly.

All in all, for someone who is not used to working with gelatine it was a good experiment.

Greengage Jellies

600g fresh greengages, ripe if possible
sugar, if desired
1 sachet or 10g powdered gelatine
4 tbsp cold water
vegetable oil for brushing moulds - use a mild-tasting one like sunflower or canola

Halve and stone the greengages and place them in a small saucepan on a low heat until they are soft. Stir and crush the fruit with a wooden spoon. If you want a sweeter jelly, add a few spoonsful of sugar at this point and let it dissolve.
When the fruit has disintegrated, push it through a sieve. Discard the pulp (the bit that's left in the sieve). Set the juice/syrup aside. You should have about 500g of syrup. If you have more, or less, adjust your quantity of gelatine accordingly (10g of gelatine will set 500g of liquid).
Put the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine onto it, leaving it to 'sponge up' for a few minutes (it expands and appears spongy). Then place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water for a few minutes to heat up the gelatine-water mixture, stirring so that the gelatine dissolves.
Take the bowl off the heat and add a ladleful of your fruit syrup to it, making sure that the syrup is still warm (if it's not, place the bowl of syrup over the simmering water for a few minutes to warm it up). Make sure the gelatine is incorporating smoothly into the syrup. Add the rest of the syrup to the gelatine and stir to combine.
Brush the moulds with a very small amount of vegetable oil and ladle or pour the mixture into the moulds. Set the moulds on a flat tray and place in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

To unmould: fill a bowl with hot water from the tap. Hold the mould by its rim and immerse it into the hot water up to the rim for a few seconds, then immediately reverse it onto a plate. If the jelly doesn't want to come out, hold the mould onto the plate and give it a sharp shake downwards, or tap the top of the mould with a spoon. If it still won'r come out, dip the mould in hot water again.

Serve with pouring cream.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Valentine's Linzer Sables

A yummy Valentine's Day version of a very old European favorite!
One of my favorite cakes when I was growing up was Linzer Torte, an Austrian cake from the town of Linz which according to the interwebs is the oldest cake recipe known, dating from 1653. 

Linzer Torte is a really rich, dense cake with ground hazelnuts, cinnamon, cloves and lemon rind which has a latticed pastry top and a filling of blackcurrant jam.

There was an awesome Austrian cake shop in Melbourne called Fleischer's, it used to be on Chapel St and then moved to Glenferrie Road. They made the Linzer Tortes I know and love. 

Linzer sables are a biscuit version of the torte, same flavours, just a bit crunchier!
To get the best flavour from the hazelnuts, roast them in the
oven for 5 minutes and then rub the brown skin off. 

I'll put this out there straight away, these were a nightmare to make.

The pastry is very short (a large proportion of butter or 'shortening' to the dry ingredients) and this makes it incredibly fragile and prone to cracking and disintegrating when handled. It sticks to rolling pins, benchtops and just about everything else too.

It wouldn't roll out at all because it cracked and split immediately when I even waved a rolling pin in its general direction.

In the end I had to flatten it out roughly by hand and then smooth the top with a spatula. See the unevenness in the picture, pre-spatula :-(

Of course, while I was flattening the top out with the spatula, the bottom was busy sticking firmly to the bench.

So then the spatula had to be wedged underneath to loosen this soft, crumbly mixture from the surface underneath so that I could stamp out my heart shapes.

Half of the shapes were plain large hearts.

The other half were the same large heart cutter but I also stamped a tiny heart cutter to create a cut out space in the middle of the sable, see picture to the right.

This is so you can see the lovely dark jammy goodness inside.

It took a lot of time and patience to get the sables all cut out and onto oven trays :-/

After spending so long on rolling and cutting, I was paranoid that they would go wrong in the oven, but no! A quick ten minutes and VICTORY!!

They were very slightly puffed and still malleable when they came out of the oven, I was so fearful to disturb these temperamental baked goods that I left them on the trays for ages before being brave enough to transfer them to a rack to cool.

It's worth all the fuss, they are melt-in-your-mouth crumbly and hazelnutty and sweet. Happy Valentine's Day!

Recipe from 500 Cookies by Phillipa Vanstone

  • 150g roasted skinned hazelnuts
  • 300g plain flour
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 50g blackcurrant jam
  • icing sugar to decorate
Set the oven to 175C. Grind hazelnuts in a food processor until fine, then add all other ingredients and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Flour a work surface and roll out the pastry (good luck!!). Cut shapes, making sure you have even numbers of each shape. Cut holes in the centre of half the shapes to make the 'jam holes'. Transfer the sables to trays lined with baking paper, handling them carefully to ensure they don't crack. Bake sables for 8 to 10 minutes. 
Sandwich the cooled sables together with blackcurrant jam, pressing down carefully to make the jam rise through the centre hole. Sieve icing sugar over the top just before serving. 
Filled cookies keep for up to 3 days, unfilled keep for over a week in an airtight jar. 

Kids DIY cupcakes at Festivale

At Festivale this year there was a wonderful stall in the kids area which can best be described as 'DIY Cupcakes'.

You paid your four bucks and got to choose one of about 8 patterns. You then were given a plain undecorated cupcake, you took this to the 'buttercream station' with your chosen pattern and they dolloped the right colour of buttercream on your cupcake...

... giving you an icy pole stick to spread it, and a little bag of pre-cut decorating items like marshmallows and licorice. 

The picture shows my chosen pattern which was a very cute bunny with scary black whiskers. 

So I took great pleasure smoothing my buttercream to the smoothest smoothness possible and sticking on the little bits 'n bobs of decorating things... the result I achieved was pretty much what the picture indicated... if anything the whiskers were scarier than advertised. :-/

I undertook this activity with two small friends of the O'Byrne variety who were equally as excited as me at making their cupcakes, and equally careful in their decorating skills. 

In fact they had the jump on me because their little fingers were the right size to handle the tiny ingredients. 

 I loved this design of two teddies marooned on a desert island, complete with a cocktail umbrella to protect their delicate teddybear fur from the hot sun. They look pretty happy with their tropical paradise.

The happy trio with their decorating efforts.

Their mum, my friend Michelle, tells me that this DIY cupcakery idea is starting to take off at little people's parties... there is a whole scene out there that I have been unaware of up until now!!

Thanks girls for sharing your DIY cupcaking experience with me and thanks Michelle for the photo!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Lots 'n' lots of piggywig cupcakes!

A whole STY of piggywigs for morning tea at work this week!
"And there in the wood a Piggy-wig stood, with a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, with a ring at the end of his nose."

Although I love this quote from The Owl and the Pussycat it makes me wonder if I should have put little rings in the noses of my piggywig cupcakes.

Farming question: do piggywigs have rings in their noses these days??

These piggywigs are waiting expectantly for Tuesday morning tea at work. I chose this design because it's simple and quick, an advantage because on this occasion I needed to make a fair few of them and had limited time.

Piggywig uses one large round cutter to cut out the face. His snout is hand shaped by rolling a ball of fondant, then flattening it a bit top-to-bottom and upward-downward. The snout is stuck on to the face with a few drops of water, and you can use the end of a little paintbrush to make the dents for the nostrils.

The eyes are tiny balls of black fondant placed in tiny holes made by the smallest size of ball tool and moistened with a drop of water to stick them down.

The ears are stamped out with a little triangle cutter, but if you don't have one you could cut triangles with a knife.
This is the production line of piggywigs getting their snouts and ears and eyes put on.

I also brushed some rose petal dust (diluted with cornflour) onto the cheeks, to give them that rosy blush. I put a little on the tips of the ears too but it's a very subtle effect that is hard to see in the pics.

A warning, I cut the ear triangles and left them to dry for a short while because they were so soft that it was difficult to stand them up. But when they had dried a bit, they were much more likely to crack and have an uneven surface. I'm not really happy with the ears, would welcome advice?

A note on colouring the fondant, start off with a really tiny amount of colour. The amount of colour shown in the pic below left was actually too much for this quantity of fondant - I had to add that much fondant again to get the colour down from a very hot pink to a piggy pink. That's why the fondant seems to have 'expanded' in the pic below right.

Oink oink, happy eating - and if you were wondering, OBVIOUSLY all these piggywigs are free range.