Monday, 22 October 2012

A Collingwood FC cake for a football-mad boss

No one who knows my boss (or for that matter, any of his relatives) could doubt that he is football-mad. Not only was he rather a good player in the State league, he has a lifelong, mad allegiance to the Collingwood Football Club. Unfortunately, Collingwood (despite its passionate fan base) is the most unpopular club in the history of Australian competition, so when it came to the boss's birthday, I had an extremely difficult decision to make...

...Could I quell my own distaste for his hideous team....

... In order to make him happy with a Collingwood-themed birthday cake??

Well, clearly, it turns out that I could, and did. Many doubted my sanity, but I pushed onward, and tried not to think of all the Collingwood supporters leering at my cake with their gappy-toothed smiles and their jailhouse tattoos.

First I needed a model for the dreaded Collingwood logo, so I turned to the interwebs for that. I tried to find the clearest graphic that I could:

Then I needed to start with the basics - this is a chocolate mud cake coated with chocolate ganache and hot-knifed to be absolutely smooth.

For detailed instructions on that process, click here. (The link relates to ganaching cupcakes, but the process is the same for larger cakes.)

I then rolled a large sheet of white fondant icing and covered the cake's top and sides entirely with it, trimming the base carefully.

Now it was time to get to work on the detail. I cut two wavy triangles for the two flags at the base of the logo. The black-and-white Collingwood flag was fairly easy, but this one - the Australian flag - was fiddly.

I started with the Union Jack in the corner and then drew the outlines of the stars. Then I coloured in the rest in blue. I used food grade (non toxic) textas - the cheapest and easiest way to get these is to go to a good toyshop and ask for non toxic, washable children's markers. Crayola is fine for food colouring and works well.

I cut a tiny shield from rolled white fondant and printed the requisite foundation date of the Club (as neatly as I could - it's not easy to print neat letters with a soft nibbed texta onto soft-surfaced findant).

This picture shows several of the elements of the logo together: you can see the flag shapes partially cropped from the picture at the bottom, still unpainted, the shield shape, not yet printed, the wheat sheaves to go on the sides and the main oval plaque. I cut out all of the shapes first and put them together loosely so I could work out whether the basic proportions were right.

White-on-black lettering is harder than black-on-white, because you must first draw hollow letter shapes, then colour carefully around them. You can see this process underway in this picture.

The magpie in the centre was a hand drawn equivalent of the one on the logo - it could have been better but it was ok for this purpose. I copied it as closely as I could from the picture because the trick with this kind of cake is to be as accurate as you can.

The finished logo was assembled from each individual piece after each had been coloured/lettered. I used a very small amount of water to stick the pieces together - you need to be really careful when using water near colourings, as the cake's surface was pure white, and there is always a danger that the colours may run - you have been warned.

Presentation of the cake was somewhat delayed, as the boss was out of the office on the actual day, with a shocking feverish cold. We got it couriered to his house where it managed to put a smile on his face - and even better, he brought the remains of it back to work the next day, so we all got a chance to COMPLETELY DESTROY the Collingwood logo in a ceremonial, knife-wielding way!

Happy footballing from Dr Cupcake!

Chocolate cake leftovers can be fun!

If you ever make a cake or a batch of cupcakes and there is some mixture left over, here's a great tip:

Dr Cupcake's Great Cake Tip #43: NEVER THROW EXTRA MIXTURE AWAY.

Take the Wombles as your role model. If you are as old as me then you'll know that the Wombles, while they were underground, overground, wombling free, were ALSO making good use of the things that they find, the things that the everyday folk leave behind:
Yes indeed. And I bet they were fond of chocolate cake (although I can't say that for sure), and further, I bet you anything you like that, had they had extra cake mixture left over from a batch, they would have turned it into a smaller tin, cooked it, and come out with something..... looking rather like this:

.... looking rather like this:

- Which they would have put in the freezer, slightly flat and unattractive-looking as it was, in the certain knowledge that, ONE DAY SOON, it would find a use.

The Wombles, whilst whipping up a batch of ganache for their last cooking project, and finding that there appeared to be too much ganache for their purposes, would, almost certainly, have done.....

....THIS, and scooped it unattractively into a sandwich bag, to be popped in the freezer for a later event.

And this is exactly what you and I should do, too.....

Because, the very next time you have a special occasion and absolutely no time to make anything fancy, you can rip your little flat cake and your messy ganache out of the freezer and do this with it, and no one will ever know that you haven't slaved over a hot stove for hours making it.

These are, obviously, little squares of rich chocolate mud cake topped with a warm, half-melted ganache and topped with some fancy sugar roses.....

.... Which I had no compunction in getting out of a packet - again, if you have the time, it's wonderful to make them yourself, but if you don't, it is really worthwhile to keep a few ready made ones in the cupboard.

I hand cut the cake squares with a sharp and heavy knife. It helps if the cake is not completely defrosted, or at least still very cold, when cutting - that way it is less crumbly and less likely to break into smaller pieces.

The good thing about the 'dolloped' ganache icing is that it hides any inconsistencies or breakages in the cake squares.

I was lucky enough to have both red and white roses to top the cakes with. The red were my favorites.

And seriously one of the best things about the whole experience was the amount of washing up that I had to do at the end, which was:

Done, finito, from go to whoa in approximately 20 minutes ... and a roomful of appreciative chocolate smeared faces were none the wiser.

So, be like the Wombles, because they're cool and stuff.

Happy wombling from Dr Cupcake!

Ten Epic Cooking Failures from Dr Cupcake and her family

I've had countless cooking disasters. So have most people I know - in fact some of the best stories from my mum and other friends are about when cooking went terribly, horribly wrong.

Funny thing is, all those lovely cookbooks and foodie mags we read seem to describe some weird alternate cooking universe where eggs turn smoothly into custard, oil never catches fire in the frying pan and chocolate never freezes solid when it's supposed to melt. Cooking shows are a bit the same, although I admit Masterchef does have a few recipes for disaster (see what I did there?)

Plus, I had a couple of really weird moments recently when friends of mine told me they were thinking of cooking something sweet but they thought it 'wouldn't be good enough to show me'. I hate the idea that blogging about my cooking experiments might actually discourage people from trying things.

So this is a post dedicated to cooking failures, disaster stories, and tips and tricks for beginners at cooking sweets.

Failure No. 1 - Serving raw meat by accident
When Mum was first going out with Dad, she decided to impress him with her fine cooking skills at a dinner party. She decided to do a Beef Wellington which was big in the 1960s.  It's a long piece of eye fillet steak wrapped in pastry and baked in a hot oven, so that the pastry browns perfectly and the meat inside cooks to a perfect rareness - pink to red inside.
Problem was that Mum got a little confused and purchased Scotch fillet instead of eye fillet. Any difference? Well, yes, because Scotch fillet is about double the size of eye fillet. So instead of a beautiful rare piece of juicy steak, Mum carved at the table, for everyone to see, a massive raw hunk of meat encased in pastry. She was forever grateful to Dad for setting a polite example and manfully chewing his way through raw scotch fillet. Neither of them ever really got over this incident.

Failure No. 2 - Setting yourself on fire in front of the whole family
It was Auntie Petra's turn to host the family Christmas dinner. She had made a traditional plum pudding of which she was rightly proud. Finally the big moment came to flame the pudding. Carefully she heated the brandy and poured a generous quantity over the pudding, where it pooled deeply in the bottom of the dish. Then, with dining room lights turned off, she lit the brandy and began walking quickly in from the kitchen. Too quickly. With the speed of her gait, the flaming brandy slopped all over her hands, then her arms. She shot into the darkened dining room shrieking, with arms, hands and pudding aflame. Luckily, brandy flames at a low temperature, so she wasn't seriously injured, but the rest of the family will never forget Petra and The Pudding.

Failure No. 3 - Setting the kitchen on fire 
I was sixteen and home alone at Dad's flat while he was working late. I decided to make some eggs and bacon for dinner, as you do when you're sixteen, and I got the frying pan onto the heat and poured some oil in it to prepare to cook. Meanwhile, an interesting program on the telly caught my attention, and I strolled into the lounge to check it out.
A few minutes later I became aware of an odd orange light emanating from the bar that linked the kitchen to the lounge. I slouched across, in a teenagery way, to investigate and discovered that the entire wall of the kitchen was covered in flames. The plastic exhaust fan was melting into the frying pan, all the wood cupboards were blackening and starting to catch. I was strongly tempted by the option of running, screaming, for the front door and leaving it to burn, but I did feel a bit guilty at the thought of burning Dad's house down. So I bravely dumped a full box of flour on the source of the fire and batted the other flames with a wet teatowel. I caught it just in time. The smell of charcoal, burnt flour and melted plastic was truly awful. I retired to Mum's house and left a note on Dad's door with the immortal words, "Hi Dad. It's not as bad as it looks. Love Astrid.'

Failure No. 4 - The cat sat on it
It was Dad's 50th birthday and Mum was fired up to make a meringue and buttercream layer cake, with the meringue layers piped into the letters '5' and '0'. Everything was going swimmingly. The delicate meringue layers formed the numbers perfectly, and Mum stacked them in between sheets of baking paper in a stack on our kitchen table.
We popped out to get the final decorative touches before the cake was assembled. By the time we returned, Lord Henry Wootton, in his inscrutable feline way, had discovered the meringue stack. The combination of softness and crinkly paper proved irrestistable and he created a nest for himself by crushing all the meringue to fit perfectly around his plump form. Ww found him there dozing peacefully when we returned. The meringue was ruined.

Failure No. 5 - Chili can burn your lips off  (part 1)
Mum and her half indian boyfriend (pre-Dad) went to an Indian restaurant. They liked spicy food and prided themselves on being able to handling chili better than most. The waiter encouraged them to go for a medium hot curry, but they declared, perhaps a little dramatically, that they could cope with any and all chili. The resulting meal (which they had to eat, to save face) left blisters around Mum's lips. Ouch.

Failure No. 6 - Chili can burn your lips off  (part 2)
When staying with a friend overseas I offered to cook a delicious szechuan bean curd dish for my host and his friend. I had cooked it many times and knew the recipe backwards. I went shopping and bought my critical ingredients - hoisin, bean and chili bean sauces. Confident in my recipe, I also failed to taste the dish before I served it.
My pleasure at doing a good deed for my host turned to fascinated horror as I saw his face change into a grimace of pure pain and he rushed from the room after one mouthful. I had assumed that the sauces I used  in Australia were exactly equivalent in chili levels as they were in Hawaii. Turns out I couldn't have been more wrong, and I'd put enough chili in my recipe to kill people.

Failure No. 7 - Don't put all your eggs in one basket
Many people say that when you are using eggs for cooking, you should break them one by one into a little bowl, then add them to your main mixing bowl, in case by chance you get a bad egg. After doing this for years and never getting a bad egg, I dispensed with this unnecessary step and just broke all my eggs straight into the main bowl.
Shortly afterwards I was making a cake which required five eggs. I had six in the fridge - excellent. I cracked the first four in the bowl - no problems. When I cracked the fifth, a hideous smell permeated the entire kitchen and a black slimy egg slopped into my mixture. I had to (a) dispose of the now stinking mixture and (b) go out to get more eggs.

Failure No. 8 - Trying to poison your friends more than once
I had a dear friend in my student days who was the easiest-going guy on the planet. He was a muso and looked like a Viking God and was also incredibly nice. One small thing, he was allergic to seafood. Not a big deal, because who eats seafood all the time when you're a poor student?
I often had people round for dinner. Bizarrely, whenever Adam came, I served seafood. It happened at least four times. My memory is fine. I am a considerate person. I knew about his allergy. I still can't understand why I consistently nearly poisoned one of my best friends. If you're reading this, Adam - sorry, man.

Failure No. 9 - Flying across the kitchen (in a bad way)
Another awesome story of Mum's and far less likely to happen these days, because gas stoves have a different kind of gas in them than they did in the 1960s which was when this tale occurred. Mum tried to turn on and heat up the oven, but the flame went out. The gas, of course, did not - it kept hissing into the oven like billy-o. Mum tries valiantly to light the oven again, and was just a little delayed by the match failing to strike... finally a lit match was thrust into the oven... and BOOM! Mum was blown across the kitchen by the blast and lost her eyebrows and eyelashes. She was otherwise uninjured apart from a heavy blow to her chef's pride.

Failure No. 10 - Drinking and cooking do not mix
This reflects quite badly on me but I'll tell it anyway. I had my new boyfriend over for dinner for the very first time. I didn't want to go too formal, and I wanted something that would resemble 'man food' without going to the lengths of cooking a big steak, which I'm not really that crash hot at, having been vegetarian for six years or so. So I settled on the perfect first-date-dinner, an easy-cook, man-food special: BEEF TACOS.
Now, tacos in a packet from the supermarket are ridiculously easy to cook, indeed, I would have said they were pretty much impossible to screw up. I fried off some beef mince with onions and added the spice mix; I prepared, in advance, the shredded lettuce, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa with fresh tomatoes chopped through it. The beef mince was keeping warm in a pan on the stove and everything else was in attractive little bowls, ready to dip into for some last-minute, easy taco assemblage. Nothing could go wrong.
New boyfriend arrives, and I'd already had a stiff drink or two because I was a bit nervous. Everything was going swimmingly, except that I ended up having another drink... then another.. then another until by the time I came to actually serve up the tacos, I was pretty well sozzled. All I had to do was heat up the taco shells in the oven. Which I did... using the whole lot at once, and drunkenly setting the oven at 220C (nuclear explosion temperature) and then forgetting, until a burning smell became apparent, that I'd even put them in. I BURNT THE TACO SHELLS. Yes, you too can become an idiot when the appropriate amount of alcohol is involved.
The only positive thing about this incident was the priceless text message the new boyfriend received the next morning which he still snickers about : "I burnt the tacos and passed out on the couch, are you sure you want to see me again?"

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dr Cupcake's Savoury Muffin Odyssey

As you know, Dr Cupcake is very fond of sweet things. But sometimes, only a savoury something can really hit the spot. My savoury muffin odyssey began one week ago on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when I had a hankering for the sort of savoury muffin that, in my innocence, I thought would be found in every recipe book on earth: a light, tasty, warm and flavoursome treat packed with little bits of cheese, herbs and other delicious things, that would be ideal when roughly torn up and spread with butter. Something like this:

Imagine my horrified surprise when I looked through a good dozen cookbooks and came up with NOTHING. Nigella let me down badly. Bill Grainger - nothing. Jamie Oliver? NOTHING. Okay, I thought, maybe muffins are an American thing: I turned to the American goddess of home cookery and all-round domestic goodness, Martha Stewart. Martha had NOTHING!!

In desperation I went to my CWA binder-file cookbook. Surely the good ladies of the Country Womens Association would be on top of this one. Know what? If they are, they aren't sharing.
By this time I was getting very frustrated, but I had the interwebs, so I googled 'savoury muffins' and came up with a bundle of recipes, most of which sounded actually rather unpleasant. There was only one thing left to do. Make one up. So that's what I did. And that's what, in the interests of happy tummies everywhere, I am now going to share with you.

Dr Cupcake's Bestest Ever Savoury Muffin Recipe

2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup plain (greek-style) yoghurt, or the same quantity of sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 cup of the following chopped combined ingredients: sundried tomatoes, crumbled feta, black olives, chives, italian parsley
Small handful of grated cheddar or tasty cheese (optional)

Notes on the ingredients: You can substitute a good, balanced gluten free flour mix for the flour if you are gluten free but the miffins may have a shorter shelf life. You could substitute olive oil for the butter. For the flavourings, really I just thought of the flavours I wanted and threw them in - you should do the same.

Set oven to 175C. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside.

You'll need two mixing bowls, one for the dry ingredients and one for the wet ingredients.

In one, put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and mix well.

In the other, break the eggs and whisk them together, then add the yoghurt, melted butter and milk.

Whisk all the wet ingredients until you get a smooth, creamy pale mixture. Then turn this into the dry ingredients and give it all a good stir to combine it well.

This is a selection of the ingredients I put in for the flavouring, and I could try to persuade you that they were all carefully selected but it would be more truthful to say they were "whatever I could find in the fridge at the time". Therefore I had half a brunch of fresh (ish) chives, half a wedge of beautiful handmade Elgaar farm marinated feta, a tub of black olives from the supermarket and the remains of a packet of grated tasty cheese left over from the pizza three days ago. Glamorous? Oh yes.

Here you can see my muffin mixture with the ingredients on top - I chopped the olives roughly, crumbled the feta, chopped the chives into the bowl with scissors and then added my SECRET (well, not so much now) ingredient: Gerwurzhaus 'Venetian Gondola Spice'. This is a mixture of onion, garlic, bell pepper, sea salt, parsley and pepper - well, that's what it says on the label, but this stuff tastes absolutely amazing - all I know is, there's a ton of umami in this little baby. Look for it online, you won't be disappointed.

After you've given the mixture a good mix, and distributed the flavourings evenly, dollop the mixture into muffin cases, as you see here. Don't fill them all the way up because they will rise.

Put them in the oven for about 20 minutes, but check them after 15 minutes. When they're risen and golden, and a skewer stuck into the middle of one comes out clean, they're done.

One warning - they do stick to the paper cases. If this is likely to bother you, either grease the paper before dolloping the mixture in, or dispense with the paper cases and oil the tin really well.

Serve with lashings of butter while still warm - or keep them in an airtight container for a few days - just warm them gently in the oven before you eat them.

With love from Dr Cupcake!!