Sunday, 17 July 2011

Other cupcake designs... Native animals and simple flowers

What do you serve when members of the Greens political party are coming to the office for afternoon tea? Well it's simple - cupcakes with bright green icing and some sort of natural environment theme ... Like these possum cupcakes.

 The possum pattern bears more than a passing resemblance to an old Wilderness Society sticker design that read 'Wilderness not woodchips' and had a bright red possum next to the slogan. I always loved the way that the sticker was the shape of the possum's back and tail which formed a perfect circular curve. Those stickers have long disappeared and I could only find a tiny image of one on the webs - I based this possum design on that graphic.

To begin your possum cupcake, cover your ganached cupcake (see earlier posts) with a good bright green coloured fondant. Roll the fondant out and cut it with a large circle cutter - choose a cutter size a bit bigger than the cupcake. Stick it in place with a few drops of water and burnish to make it smooth.

Then roll out some brown fondant and, with a circle cutter a few sizes smaller, cut a circle, a small heart and a tiny diamond. The circle will be the body, the heart will be the head and the diamond will make the ears of the possum.
Starting on the circle, use a cutter another size down to cut a semicircle about 3mm from the edge - this will be the tail - and, at the point this semicircular line finishes on the left side, cut two semi circles as shown to provide the outline of the legs and feet. Discard the rest of the infill area fondant. Trim the fondant in a diagonal line up past the 'front leg'.
Then, using the small heart cutter, cut a heart and hand shape it into a triangle shape, sitcking it on the body point down to make the head.
Cut the tiny diamond out of fondant, then cut this in half and hand shape each half to make a little ear. Stick these on with a drop of water.
Make the eyes - roll two small balls of white fondant, and two smaller balls of black fondant for the pupils. Stick the 'eyeballs' onto the face, about halfway down, with a drop of water (it helps if you make a small dent for each eye and nest the eyeball into the dent). Then make a tiny indentation into the white eyeball and drop the black 'pupil' into it, fixing with a very tiny drop of water.

I experimented and found that these possums are more effective with no nose or mouth. After all the big thing about possums is their huge staring eyes. I think it looks almost more effective if the eyes are slightly uneven. Your possums will look suitably alarmed and slightly mad.

For a bit of variety it's good to throw in some flower cupcakes - this continues the natural theme but brightens up the colour scheme a bit. 

These are the simplest of fondant-iced cupcakes to decorate. You need some circles slightly bigger than the cupcake top, and then some cut out shapes of flowers, hearts or anything else in varying sizes.

These are quick to decorate and can help you to use up colours that you have previously mixed but can't find a use for.

I made these with a pink base and mixed green, blue and yellow flowers.

Enjoy nature and cupcakes together with these environmentally friendly designs!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sushi Cupcakes

Looking for a healthy snack? Sushi surely has to be on the menu... these cupcakes (or logs to be precise) are fondant-covered chocolate mud cake, cunningly disguised as healthful Japanese bite size sushi pieces.
I had huge fun making them, but it is not a quick undertaking. If you plan on creating some sushi cupcakes, give yourself three or four hours for the decorating process!

The first stage is to cut up your cake... in this case I used a rich chocolate mud cake, but it doesn't matter what type of cake as long as it has density and a fairly fine texture so that you can cut it and shape it easily.
I aimed for logs that were approximately the same size and shape as sushi pieces. Make them a little thinner and lower than you want to end up with - remembering the icing will make them bigger.

Then you need to roll out some white fondant icing and, having measured your chocolate cake logs, check with a ruler that your fondant is wide and long enough to cover the top and all four sides of the log in one piece.

Then dab a little water on the top and sides of the log to stick the fondant firmly, and drape it over the log, working the corners gently and cutting the edges to size. If you need to fold the corners over and there is a visible join, don't worry because this will all be hidden by your RICE GRAINS.

This is possibly the slowest and most ridiculously detailed fondant decoration I have done. I cut individual white fondant logs the size of rice grains (seen here larger than actual size). There reason it's slow is not because of the difficulty - they're not difficult at all. You do, however, need a lot of them. Like, hundreds.

As you are chopping up your rice grains, drop them in a pile of cornflour to make sure they don't stick to each other. They will dry and harden quickly - this is ok - it makes them easier to work with.

When you have enough rice grains, hold one fondant covered log gently by its top and base, and paint it with water to make it sticky, then sprinkle the grains onto it. They should adhere unevenly, like in this picture.
Do one side at a time, all four sides, but don't do the top because you will be covering that with fish, prawns etc.

Do all of your logs at once and have them all ready for the topping. If your rice grains become sticky, dredge them in cornflour again.

Then the fun part begins as you start your toppings!

Egg sushi - roll out bright yellow fondant thinly and cut into rectangles with a ruler. Make them slightly wider and longer than the log, and allow them to drape slightly over the corners like in the pic.

Then roll out some black fondant and cut it into strips. This needs to be very thin so that it resembles the paper-thin seaweed band of the real thing. Drape it carefully over the log, fixing it with a tiny drop of water. Beware do not get the water near the edges of the black band, because the colour will run onto the yellow fondant and look yuck.

Next make the sashimi tuna- easy!

Colour some fondant a pinkish red and roll it out to about .5cm thick. Cut a rectangle about the size of the log, then bend it a little to one side to make the shape a bit curved, and score it down the centre lengthways, then at an acute angle in sets of lines coming off the 'spine', like an arrow shape, for the bones.

For this caviar one you need a circle of cake, not a log shape. Cut a circle of cake with a circle cutter and cover the top and sides with white fondant, as described above. Then thinly roll out some black fondant, cut it into a long strip which is the same width as the height of the cake, and wrap it around the cake, using some water to stick it in place. Make sure there is a small amount of black fondant sitting above the top of the cake to act as a container for the 'caviar'.
For the caviar filling, using red fondant, chop small pieces about the size of a pea and roll them into spheres, then stick them on the top of the cake.
 For my personal favorite, the prawn nigiri sushi, you need to hand-sculpt a prawn body in white fondant - do this by making a cone shape, then flattening it and scoring it down the centre. Then roll the knife blade out of the scored line to create two rounded mounds with the scored line in the centre.

Get a separate piece of fondant and cut it roughly into a heart shape, then fashion the prawn's flat pronged tail from it. Score it with thin parallel lines.

Using some liquid food colour, paint the prawn with parallel stripes of yellow and orange. Use a deeper orange for the tail.

These are the prawn tails all laid out to dry after being painted. I laid them with the tail hanging off the edge of the plate so that they would dry in that shape and look really three-dimensional.

For the salmon nigiri, roll out a piece of pinkish red fondant and lay thin parallel stripes of white fondant on it, then roll again to adhere the two together. Cut rectangles the same size as the sushi logs and lay on top of the log, fixing with a drop of water.

Basically do whatever you can think of - I also did some white ones, as you can see here, and just scored them in a fishbone pattern.
A quick note, I also used a spray on culinary glaze with these - available from cake decorating suppliers. I was a bit suspicious of it, but it appeared to work well - it gave a bit of gloss to the sushi without making the colours run.
Enjoy your healthy snack! :-)


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A traditional Linzer Torte ... with a sneaky gluten free option

A Linzer Torte is a wonderful thing.
Basically it's a cross between a cake and a pastry, made with hazelnut or almond meal, with a lattice top and a filling of blackcurrant or raspberry jam.

detail of the pastry lattice
There was an amazing Austrian or German cake shop in Melbourne when I was growing up called Fleischer's that used to make them. Fleischer's was in Chapel St, just around the corner from my Dad's toyshop in Toorak Road, and when I was little and was spending weekends with Dad, we would trot up there before we opened the shop on a Saturday morning, and get some little cakes to sustain us through a tough morning of toy-selling.

Fleischer's got me through many years of Saturday morning treats and the occasional cake for special occasions. I was delighted to see that Lori Leidler (Mr Fleischer) had contributed the recipe for his awesomely good Linzer Torte to Dean Brettscheider and Lauraine Jacobs's book Baker: The best of International Baking from Australian and New Zealand Professionals (Allen & Unwin, 2001).

I think Mr Leidler was being a bit sneaky though, because when I first made it, it didn't taste like the one I always had at Fleischer's. But when I replaced the ground almonds in his recipe with ground hazelnuts, it got a lot closer. AHAHA Mr Leidler, you can't fool a true Linzer devotee :-)

As there are some lovely people around me who are dietarily challenged, I experimented and found that this Torte works well as gluten-free and dairy-free (see my asterisks below), although I would always use wheat flour and a good unsalted butter if I have the option.

Linzer Torte

200g plain flour*
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
170g ground hazelnuts
110g castor sugar
1 tsp lemon zest, chopped finely
225g unsalted butter*
2 hardboiled egg yolks, mashed and cooled
2 raw egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
300g blackcurrant jam

glaze: 1 egg and 3 tbsp cream*, mixed together lightly

*for a dairy free option: substitute Nuttelex for butter and leave out the cream from the glaze; for a gluten free option: use a special gluten free flour such as Orgran All Purpose Flour, which is a texture-balanced mixture of maize, corn flour and rice flour - you can get this at health food stores.

Set the oven at 175C. Sieve the flour with the cloves and cinnamon into a large bowl and add the ground hazelnuts, the sugar, lemon zest, the butter (at room temperature) and the mashed hard-boiled egg yolks. Mix well to combine - I did this with bare hands, like the old fashioned way of creaming butter and sugar - this is because you can feel much better if the mixture is well combined. Add the raw egg yolks and the essence and work this into a dough.
 Form the dough into a ball - it will be very soft - and wrap in cling film; refrigerate for an hour to firm up.
Butter and flour a Springform cake tim with a removable base, otherwise you'll never be able to get the Torte out of the tin. (Remember if you are going gluten or dairy free you must take care to use your alternative butter and flour substitutes in this process or you will contaminate your cooking.)

Flour a bench top and press out three-quarters of the pastry, reserving the rest in the fridge for later.  Using plenty of flour because it will be sticky and soft, gently roll the pastry out to about 1cm thick, or until you have enough to cover the base and halfway up the sides of the tin. If the pastry sticks to the bench (and it will - believe me, it will) use a metal spatula to loosen it from the surface and get it into the tin. Patch any cracks or tears with oddments of pastry and press into the tim firmly.

Pour the jam into the pastry base....

...And spread evenly. A good quality European blackcurrant jam is desirable, although bizarrely, the dreaded Coles has started to produce their own brand which is actually fantastic - points to the evil empire for that one.

Apparently raspberry jam is also acceptable, but for me a true Linzer Torte has blackcurrant filling. 

Then take the remaining pastry from the fridge and roll out, cutting into strips about 1.5cm thick and as long as the diameter of the tin. Place the strips in a lattice pattern on top of the jam surface.

I found it difficult to be neat about this because the pastry is so soft - it tends to stretch, crack and stick to everything :-(

Brush the lattice with the egg and cream glaze to add some shine. Replace the Torte in the fridge for half an hour to firm up, then put it straight into the preheated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is browning at the edges.

Remove from the oven and CAREFULLY run a clean sharp knife around the edge of the torte to loosen the sides from the tin, then leave it to cool and firm up for a while before removing the sides of the tin.

This keeps well for up to a week and can be gently warmed in the oven before serving to freshen it up. 

Happy eating!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Dates stuffed with pistachio marzipan

Now I know that not everybody in this world loves marzipan. But this is for those of us who do.
We know who we are... we sneak around at Christmas time stealing the thick layer of marzipan and icing off the fruit cake and discarding the cakey bit (because hardly ANYBODY is that keen on fruitcakes).

We pretend we like German Stollen for the sultanas when actually we can't wait to get to the little marzipan sausage in the middle. And the sight of glossy, colourful marzipan fruits makes us very, very excited.

 This is the sort of traditional European confectionary that I love. When I was a poor uni student I had a passion for Godiva chocolates, which were airlifted from Belgium and available at Daimaru (anyone else remember Australia's only Japanese department store?) They cost a fortune, and one of their lines was a marzipan-stuffed date which was coated in crunchy sugar, similar to this. I would have sold my grandmother for them... and nearly had to, because they were priced by weight and were quite a bit heavier than most of the chocolates.

I kind of made this up based on what I remembered and a few recipes that were similar. I was very pleased with the result and showed them to Mr Cupcake, who immediately said, "How cute... they look like little vaginas." I'm not sure if he meant that was a good thing or not. Anyway. Vaginas or not, Mr Cupcake could not be tempted by the stuffed dates because he's not keen on marzipan and also hates dates. So these were pretty much a dead loss in his book. Sorry Mr Cupcake :-(

A note for the dietarily challenged: these are gluten- and dairy-free.

Dates stuffed with pistachio marzipan

16 dates
80g pistachios
95g ground almonds
250g castor sugar
75ml water
1 egg white, lightly beaten
icing sugar
castor sugar for dusting

The dates need to be the best ones you can get, for instance in supermarkets go for the dates sold by weight in the fresh produce section because these are generally bigger, softer and juicier than the packaged dates on the dried fruits shelf.

Split the dates down one side, lengthways, and remove the stone. Then set them aside and make the marzipan.

Boil the castor sugar and the water in a small saucepan over a medium heat, stirring constantly until boiling, then boil the mixture without stirring until it reaches soft ball stage (116C, or you can test it by dropping a teaspoonful of mixture into iced water - if you can form it into a loose ball with your fingers, it's ready). Take off the heat and stir it until it begins to go cloudy - this is the sugar starting to grain. Then turn all the pistachios and almonds into the mixture along with the egg white, and stir well, placing it back onto a low heat and continuing to stir just for a few minutes until the mixture firms up a bit. 
Spread some icing sugar on a clean dry bench and turn the marzipan out onto it. Leave it until it's cool enough to work with your hands, then begin to knead it gently until it is smooth and pliable.

Add as much icing sugar as you need to stop it being sticky. Form it into a ball - this quantity will yield much more than you need for the quantity of dates, so cut off about a quarter of it to use immediately and wrap the rest tightly in cling film and refrigerate - it will keep for months.

 The texture should be fine and slightly speckled like this.

Roll small sausage shaped pieces about the same length as the dates.

Then gently prise the date open and place the marzipan log in the middle, pressing the sides of the date into it so there are no gaps.

Sprinkle or pat some castor sugar over the top to make a little sugary coating, Repeat with the other dates.

If you want a thicker, more opaque coating, brush the date and pistachio with a little egg white and then dredge it in sugar. This will dry to a crunchy pale coating. I have also seen these with one end dipped in white liquid fondant, which dries hard - it looks lovely too.

Keep in an airtight container or in the fridge.They should keep for at least a few weeks if stored well.

Action shot. Dates going everywhere.
There are many folks out there who are not keen on dates... if this is you, you can make these very successfully with walnut halves sandwiched together with the marzipan.