Friday, 26 August 2016

Chocolate Not-Quite-a-Pound Cake

You have this idea, don't you, that baking with your children is a wholesome kind of experience?
But the reality is a flour-flinging, egg-dripping, sugar-spilling mess, isn't it?    




I mean, I bake with my children all the time. I do. But I don't enjoy it. They love it, though, so I put on a grin and grit my teeth while I watch them scoop eggshell out of the batter with their fingers (did you wash your hands before you started?) and lick the spoon mid-stir (did you wash your... oh, never mind.) I can deal with all of that. (The powdery floor after a baking session is a little harder for me. I have an obsession a thing for clean floors.)  
And, anyway - it's quickly over. 
We have a little routine: they each get a bowl and spoon, and I line up the cupfuls of ingredients. 
No recipes, just basic ratios. 
Which is how I came up with this not-quite-a-pound-cake chocolate cake. It was my son's production (my daughter always does a pink cake... with sprinkles, icing and candles...). And it was really very good - a lovely fine crumb, moist, and dense enough for stacking in a tall cake. Just what I needed for his birthday cake. (I normally use a chocolate mud-cake recipe for that kind of thing, but this batter is so much easier.) 


Chocolate Not-Quite-a-Pound Cake Recipe
Recipe by Tea, Cake and Create


Pre-heat oven to 180'C
Grease and line 3 x 6inch round cake pans or 2x 8inch round cake pans
(I made two batches for this tall cake - 4 layers.)

Ingredients
320g cake flour, sifted
60g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
400g caster sugar
4 XL eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250ml sour cream
250ml vegetable oil (canola)
100ml boiling water

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until pale and fluffy.
Mix in the vanilla extract, followed by the oil.

With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half the sour cream.
Repeat;  end with the last third of the dry ingredients.

Pour in the water, and beat just until the batter consistency is uniform.
Divide evenly between the prepared cake pans.
Bake at 180'C for 35-40minutes or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean.
(Baking time also depends on how many tins you've divided your batter into.)

Allow to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.


Happy baking!

xxM





Sunday, 21 August 2016

Working with Modelling Chocolate

A couple of years ago I was really reluctant to introduce modelling chocolate into my (cake decorating) life.
 I was just starting to get the hang of working with fondant, and making modelling chocolate sounded tricky. And fiddly. And like more work.
B-u-t I kept on hearing about how great it was to work with and knew that I'd have to capitulate and give it a try eventually.
And oh, boy am I glad that I did!
Now, I don't know how to work with plain fondant anymore. I have expectations based on the results that I get from a modelling chocolate/ fondant blend, that plain fondant just cannot match.
We don't have a great selection of good quality fondant icing available to us here in Durban. And that used to bug me. But it doesn't anymore. Because I've moved on, and the there's no looking back!


Everything on this birdhouse cake is a modelling chocolate / fondant blend. 

What do I like love about it?
It's ability to set fast and firm - like the roof of this birdhouse cake; placed flat on a cool surface, it firmed up in minutes but was still flexible enough to bend over the apex of the house.
The way it cuts - no snagging and feathering along the edges like fondant would.
It's versatility - paneling cakes (like the one above), modelling creatures, making delicate flowers, use in moulds; it does it all.
And then, of course there's it's taste.
 Chocolate does make everything better!

But, as you know - chocolate is not without its issues. So, let's look at one of those now:

In the process of making your modelling chocolate, you may land up with a crumbling mess.
Don't throw it away!

Here's how to rescue crumbling modelling chocolate:
Let it set for a few hours or overnight.
Then heat it briefly in the microwave to soften.
Knead it into a equal mass of fondant.


It may look like this ... !

















Don't discard it!
Carry on kneading the crumbly modelling chocolate mess and the fondant together, mop up all the stray crumbs, and heat again briefly in the microwave.

















Carry on kneading and it'll look like this - a perfect blend!





















That transformation only took about 2 minutes to achieve. An extreme modelling chocolate make-over! How can you not love it?!


Happy decorating!

xxM

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Shark Cookies & Shark Cupcakes

And of course there were shark cookies...

Shark attack cookies!


 ...and shark cupcakes...




The cookies were the biggest hit. Usually at kids parties, there are bits of half-bitten eats scattered around, right?!
 Well, for a change the look was deliberate! And then they got properly devoured (the only boy who left a half-eaten one was my son...)
 The bite mark was created using the edge of a small hedgehog cutter. Which was just weird (hedgehog vs shark...?!)
The "jaws" design and shark-attacked surfboards were both inspired by Sweetsugarbelle.
And every boy went home with his own reef shark to nibble on.


The cupcakes were buttercream-covered red velvet, with a blackcurrent jam secret centre, just to hint at a bit of gore lurking in the depths. It was an 8 year old boy's party, ok! 

Shark-infested cupcakes!

I'll share the chocolate cake recipe that I used for the cake  with you soon.

Happy baking!

xxM

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Shark-Themed Birthday Cake

Ok, I'm just going to come right out and say it - I don't like sharks. Not one bit.
It's not that I'm afraid of them.
Ok, maybe I am, but my risk of encountering one is pretty low.  (I don't go into their space much.)
They hit my creep button, even from a distance, though. Big time.

 My son however, is fascinated by them; and knows all the different types. (Thanks largely to the game Hungry Sharks. Dreadful admission!).
So, I had little choice when he decided on a shark themed birthday party this year...




I took my time circling the idea though, before I had to finally take the plunge.
 (Did you get the way I made that a sharky/watery metaphor?!)




None of the shark cakes that I looked at for inspiration appealed, though. I just didn't see anything attractive in them, no matter how well executed they were. But then I found a couple of cartoon images that didn't completely freak me out, and began modelling the shark topper.



Those pink shark gums, though ... No way. I couldn't bring myself to add that feature to this guy.
 So he got a black mouth and a pink tongue.
 Do sharks have tongues?!
 Well, this one has a sneer, and a tongue. But no pink gums.


To cut out the teeth, I rolled a long thin sausage of paste (a modelling chocolate / fondant blend) and sliced it into small triangles. (I tried using a flat piece of paste first, but the teeth lacked dimension. Sharks teeth need to have dimension!)



The 2D sharks were cut out using printed templates (Google search "shark silhouettes").
 I placed the templates onto rolled-out paste, and used a pointed tool to outline the shape, then cut that out using a sharp craft knife.



As it happens,  I lost some of my antipathy towards sharks while I was cutting these out - they have a beautifully streamlined angular shape.  Very sugar-craft friendly..! 




The cake was covered with a modelling chocolate/ fondant blend that was marbled using a technique similar to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmpIRjRHpR0




So, do you think I can legitimately say it?  I survived a shark attack!


Happy decorating!

xxM


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Decorated Panda Cookies

School cake sales.
They never seem to coincide with the end of a session of classes when I've got demo cookies looking for a home. They're always smack-bang in the middle of a busy-baking period.  
Of course, I could just make popcorn, or buy a dozen doughnuts (which are both great sellers...)
But I don't.

I was already in cookie-decorating mode (for the ballerina classes and Jack's party), so why not make a few dozen more...?!
The plan was to keep it simple, though: Minimal colours. Like black and white. Pandas! Great idea. Simple.
But then they needed blue eyes.
And pink paws.
And character.




So, these simple panda cookies took me a whole afternoon to decorate.           



And we sold them for R5 each at the cake sale. 






The economics of cake sale are um... amusing
We provide the treats to the school.
And then we give our kids the money to buy the treats that we've supplied to the school. 
So basically we're paying for everything twice.  Funny, huh?!





That's parenting in a nutshell... You pay for it! 


;o)

Happy decorating!

xxM

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ballerina Cookies

I attended a ballet class once, when I was about 4.
We had to run around the stage pretending to scoop up flowers and place them in an imaginary basket. It was mid-term, so the other little girls had all been doing this for a few weeks already.
They knew where to run. But they hadn't learnt to be light-footed yet. And I got trampled in the stampede.

End of story.

But I love a ballet theme. Pink and pretty - it just makes me happy! (No stampede PTSD).
My daughter isn't interested in doing ballet, though (despite demanding the full kit a couple of years ago.) So we're unlikely to have a ballet-themed party for her.
I just had to schedule a ballerina cookie decorating class instead.


Those lovely twirling ballerinas are inspired by Sweetsugarbelle
(She has a number of suggestions of what to use for the faces; I used a ladybird fondant plunger-cutter set for these cookies.) 



You hardly see a set of ballet cookies without them these days. Such a clever idea! 





Now, mine is not nearly as clever, but here's how I turned a heart into a pair of ballet shoes: 




My  favourite out of this set, though, are these two sweet ballerinas - lost in their dance....


 

 I printed out a template image (Google search - "ballerina silhouette"); drew around it on the dried royal icing background, and then iced on the figures. 
The skirt ruffles are done using an Ateco 101 petal tip, and stiff royal icing. 



"Dancing is like dreaming with your feet"

Happy decorating!

xxM  

Friday, 15 July 2016

Milk Tart (Easy!)

Now you're probably lucky enough to have been handed down Tannie or Ouma's favourite melktert recipe - as priceless as any family heirloom.
But not me. I only have vague memories of my Austrian grandmother (who did bake, but not milk tart), and none of my South African one (who probably didn't... with ten kids, I've gathered she was more of a hide-in-the-corner-with-a-bottle-of-gin kind of parent, anyway!).

So no local family recipes for me. That's ok. I have Magdaleen van Wyk's  Complete South African Cookbook, which covers everything from "Abalone (see Perlemoen)" to "Zucchini (See Marrows, baby)".
But its "Milk Tart (see Melktert)" recipe calls for folding stiffly beaten egg whites into the custard. And if I can avoid folding in egg whites, I do.

So this is the milk tart recipe that I use most... It's easy - you don't even have to bake the custard; tasty - which is kind of important! And it makes 2 tarts - one for your guests and one for you!




Milk Tart
Preheat the oven to 180'C
Grease 2 loose-based pie pans. (Will make 2 tarts.)

Pastry Ingredients
120 g sugar 
125g butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
320g cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat well. 
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix to form a stiff dough. 

Roll out the dough and press into the two pie pans. 
Bake at 180'C until the pastry is light golden brown (about 15min). 




 Filling Ingredients 

1 125 ml full cream milk (4 1/2 cups)
1 cinnamon quill
peel of 1 naartjie
200g sugar
3 eggs
2 tbs cake flour
2 tbs corn flour
1 tbs custard powder
1 tsp vanilla extract*
pinch salt

Cinnamon for sprinkling

Place the naartjie peel and cinnamon quill in the milk, and bring to the boil in a saucepan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until light and creamy.
Add in the vanilla, flour, corn flour, custard powder and salt.
Pour the boiling milk into this mixture. Stir well.
Return to the saucepan and the stove. Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens.
Remove the naartjie peel and cinnamon quill.

Pour into the baked pastry shells, and refrigerate until cool.
Sprinkle with ground cinnamon before serving.


* A melktert is traditionally flavoured with almond extract rather than vanilla. But I'm not a huge fan of the former; and I love a vanilla-flavoured custard.
I'm satisfied with the South African-ness of this dish - especially with the addition of the naartjie peel.
But you choose - feel free to add almond extract, instead!

Happy baking!

xxM