Friday, January 29, 2016

Red Velvet 21st Birthday Cake

This month my daughter celebrated her 21st birthday. And my 18 year old son has graduated from high school and is embarking on a new beginning. Where has the time gone? I'm feeling a little melancholy but am so fortunate I have been able to spend so much time with my precious children. They have grown to be wonderful, sensitive young adults and I am very proud. It is now time for me to let go and allow them spread their wings. I know, that with God's grace, they will accomplish what they set out to do with integrity and respect for themselves and others.

The 21st birthday celebration was an understated affair with a simple meal at our home on the front lawn with close family and friends. My daughter has always loved selecting a birthday cake and this one was no exception. It had to be red velvet, multi layered and decorated with lots of colour. And so it was.
Red velvet cake was layered with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream and covered in dark chocolate ganache. It was a riot of colour with cherries, raspberries, blueberries,fresh roses and assorted sweets and biscuits to accompany the homemade decorations.  I made lots of little pink, orange and yellow meringues, red velvet macarons (recipe coming), honeycomb and sugar paste butterflies to decorate the cake.

The sugar paste butterflies are part of this month's Daring Kitchen challenge hosted by  Shillpa Bhaambri from Cakeline the Journey. Shillpa challenged us to become cake designers using fondant, sugar paste or modeling chocolate to create a design for a cake or cupcake. As I already had a plan for this cake I decided I could incorporate the butterflies into the design. I used homemade sugar paste coloured pink, orange and yellow to cut out butterflies using a cutter. A piece of cardboard bent into shape and covered with non stick baking paper served to shape the butterflies.

After they dried overnight I used a little black colour thinned with vodka edge the wings. Then once that dried a sparkle dust dry brushed on lifted the colour of each butterfly. With a little royal icing (egg white and pure icing sugar) a thin wire was secured to the underside.

Happy birthday to my beautiful girl!

The red velvet cake is a recipe by one of my favourite bakers Summer from Cake Paper Party and the Italian meringue butter cream is by Warren Brown with my adaption of cream cheese.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Struffoli - A Baker's Odyssey Challenge #38

Today I would like to share with you a delicious sweet treat from A Baker's Odyssey - Struffoli. 

Several years ago I pick up a copy of A Baker's Odyssey while on holidays in Brisbane. ( I was in Brisbane to see the show Mamma Mia - I love that show!) This cookbook, written by Greg Patent was published in 2007 but I had never come across it. What I loved was the variety of recipes from across the world brought to  America by immigrants. In the book Greg tells the stories of how he came across the recipes and the people behind the recipes. A true treasure! 

Do we have such a book in Australia? As a first generation Australian, I am fascinated by the immigrants that came to Australia -  the people, their food and their stories.  

Struffoli adapted from A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent

3 eggs
pinch salt
1 tablespoon limoncello (optional)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups plain all purpose flour

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Honey sauce

1 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoon orange flower water
1/4 slivered almonds
glace cherries and coloured sprinkles to decorate

In a bowl mix together eggs, salt, limoncello, oil and sugar. Slowly mix in the flour until a firm dough has formed. Turn our onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or so. Wrap in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for about an hour.

Cut the dough into 8 piece and keep covered. Take one piece of dough and roll into a rope about 18 inches or 45 cm long. Cut into small pieces about 1/2 inch size which is just under 1.5cm. Repeat with all the dough. Set aside and heat the oil.

I just used a deep frying pan filled with about 1 inch of oil. Heat the oil to 185C/365F. Prepare a baking tray lined with paper towels.
When the oil is ready fry handfuls of the struffoli, stirring to separate the pieces and allowing them to brown and puff up. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and cool on the paper towel lined baking tray. Repeat with all the dough.
To make the honey sauce, place the honey, sugar and orangeflower water in a wide frying pan or skillett. Heat to dissolve the sugar then bring to boil. Simmer for 5 minutes until the sauce is glossy and thickens a little. Add the stuffoli and the almonds stir and cook over low-medium heat for 5 minutes until all the struffoli are coated. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for a few minutes to cool and thicken. Stir well. 

Then pile on a serving plate and decorate with cherries and coloured spinkles.

As Greg says these are so moreish, people just pluck them off to munch on and keep going back for more.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gateaux Pithiviers - December 2015 daring bakers' challenge

  For the month of December, Kat challenged us to make Gateaux Pithiviers. 

Yep, I'm late!
It's the second day of January and I am posting this December challenge for Daring Bakers.

Daring Bakers is an online baking group I joined back in 2009. I have enjoyed baking with this amazing group who have taught me the intricacies of macarons and croquembouche as well as taking me baking to Palestine, Hungary, France and Austria just to name a few. Over the years I have noticed the members participation start to wane a little. I too, find it sometimes difficult to complete a challenge and post every month. But I am not giving up just a little late!
If you enjoy a baking and cooking challenge please head over to the Daring Bakers and join us!

So this time, it was back to puff pastry. I can tell you in the heat of a tropical summer this is no easy feat. The freezer becomes my best goes the dough, board and rolling pin...the whole's the only way.
With this homemade puff pastry we made a delicious French pastry Gateaux Pithivier also called King's Cake with a small token traditionally baked into the almond filling. Whoever gets the token in their slice is King for the Day!

Kat supplied a recipe but gave us free reign to use our own puff pastry recipe if we preferred. In a previous Daring Bakers challenge hosted by Steph of Whisk and a Spoon the puff pastry recipe was by Michel Richard as the recipe appears in Baking with Julia. Watch with video as Michel demonstrates the recipe.

I just used the freezer to keep everything very cold in the hope to combat the ferocious heat we have been experiencing.

I used half of the dough to roll out and cut two 9 inch rounds for the Gateaux. The remainder is chilling in the freezer until I decide what I will make with it.

This is the recipe for the Frangipane however I found it not firm enough so added a little more ground almond and a spoonful of plain flour. For this purpose I think the frangipane should be refrigerated overnight so that it firms up.

1½ cups blanched almonds ( which I weighed to be 225g), toasted
⅓ - ½ cup (65-100g) granulated sugar, depending on your sweetness preference
4 Tbsp. (55g) butter
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract
zest from 1 lemon or ½ an orange or 2 tangerines
2 Tbsp. Armangac or Rum.

To make the frangipane, grind the almonds. Mix the ground almonds with the remaining ingredients. If necessary, add a little more almond meal to thicken to that the paste can be shaped into a 6" disc. It will be fairly loose. Chill at least 30 minutes.

PReheat the oven to 180C/350F

Spoon enough of the frangipane in the centre of your round leaving about 1 inch of dough all around. Brush the dough with egg wash and centre the second round of dough over the frangipane and press firmly to seal.

With a small sharp knife cut a decorative pattern on the pastry only cutting  partly through the dough. With the back of your knife mark all around the edges to give a scalloped effect.

Bake in your preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until well risen and browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with powdered sugar and place under a grill to caramelize and brown the sugar giving a glossy surface.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Oreo Celebration Cake

A celebration always requires cake! 

I have been admiring cakes by a few amazing Australian bakers for some time. Katherine Sabbath, Cakes by Cliff and Unbirthday Bakery are creating amazing edible works of art.

So, as we prepared to celebrate my son's 18th birthday my mind went to the cake! And my mind boggled over what to do....which cake to to decorate it...and the big question...would it work? On the other hand my son didn't care much for the cake.."you can make whatever, Mum, I don't eat the cake anyway".

I had a couple of practice runs...testing cakes and frosting....then the day came. Summer from Cakes Paper Party  has some of the most delicious cake recipes I have ever tried. The end result was layers of chocolate and vanilla cake sandwiched with cream cheese Italian meringue buttercream (my favourite recipe by Warren Brown) and crushed oreos. Decorations included a chocolate sail and caramel popcorn.

And guess what?
The birthday boy was pretty impressed by the cake and....ate it too!

So to begin with...two layers of vanilla cake and two layers of chocolate cake. These recipe will make 3 layers of each. Freeze the extra layers for later.

Vanilla Cake recipe by Cake Paper Party

16 tablespoons (8 ounces, or 227 grams) unsalted butter softened
12 ounces (340 grams) castor sugar, (superfine)
4 tablespoons (60 mls) sunflower oil
4 large eggs
1 ½ tablespoon (23 milliliters) vanilla extract
6 ounces (170 grams) all-purpose flour
6 ounces (170 grams) cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups (300 mls) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and grease and flour 3 8inch cake pans or line with baking paper.
Beat butter, sugar and oil for 2 minutes in a stand mixer then add eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture. Turn the mixer on and mix until just combined. Add the buttermilk and mix on medium speed for 1 minute.  Pour equally into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Then allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rakes to finish cooling.

Chocolate cake by Cake Paper Party

4 ounces (114 grams) dark 70% chocolate, broken or coarsely chopped
4 ounces (120 mls) hot espresso

8 ounces (228 grams) unsalted butter, softened
14 ounces (396 grams) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ tablespoon (25 mls) vanilla extract
1 ½ ounce (45 grams)  cocoa powder
8 ounces (227 grams) all-purpose/plain flour
1 teaspoon (5mls) baking soda
½ teaspoon (3 mls) salt
8 ½ ounces (240 grams) sour cream

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and grease and flour 3 8inch cake pans or line with baking paper.
Mix the espresso with the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Microwave for a few seconds if the chocolate doesn't melt. Set aside to cool to room temp. Beat butter and sugar for 2 minutes in a stand mixer then add eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and add half to the butter mixture.  Turn the mixer on and mix until just combined. Add half of the sour cream and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and sour cream.  Pour equally into the prepared pans. Bake for 28-32 minutes. Then allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rakes to finish cooling.

Prepare Warren Browns Italian Meringue Buttercream

1 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup water
5 egg whites
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons

Boil 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium heat until it reaches 245. As it cooks begin meringue so it's ready when syrup is done.
Whip egg whites with a wire whisk in a stand up mixer on high until soft peaks form. About 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup sugar. Beat.
Slowly pour the hot syrup into the meringue steadily with the mixer still on high.
Beat the frosting for 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temperature.
Beat in butter by the tablespoon. The butter will deflate the frosting a bit.

To make the Cream cheese Oreo filling

Remove 2/3 of the buttercream and set aside. Take 250g cream cheese, soften and beat well until smooth. With the whisk attachment still attached whisk the cream cheese into the buttercream spoonful by spoonful.
Add 10 crushed oreos and mix in well.

Layer cakes and fill with cream cheese buttercream alternately vanilla cake and chocolate cake.Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes then crumb coat with reserved Italian meringue buttercream. Refrigerate again until firm.

Then frost with remaining buttercream. Crush a few more oreos to decorate the base of the cake. Refrigerate while you prepare the ganache.

Chocolate ganache

250g dark 70% chocolate, coarsely chopped
125ml cream
30g copha, melted

Heat the cream until bubbles form around the edges then pour over chocolate. Stir to melt. Then stir in melted copha. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Pour the ganache over the cake allowing it to drizzle over the edges (encourage drips with a teaspoon or pipe drips while the ganache is pourable).

Decorate as desired.

....hmmm, needs something?

...yes, I know...a dusting of gold powder.

Don't you think layer cakes just scream celebration!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ricotta Crumble Tart - November 2015 daring bakers' challenge

 For the month of November Krista and Nicole of “Two Cups of Sugar.”challenged us to make our own version of cheesecake crumble pie.

Cheesecake crumble pie? Sounds rich? Yep, you bet!

 My take on this challenge was to attempt to lighten the dessert by using ricotta for the filling. Ricotta is a wonderful cheese to use in sweet and savoury dishes.  It is lighter in texture and fat than cream cheese and a good source of protein and calcium so makes a great filling for a cheesecake. I had never thought to top it with a crumble but why not and I think it was very successful! Thank you Krista and Nicole of Two Cups of Sugar for hosting this challenge.

To flavour the ricotta filling I delved into my freezer for the glace fruit I have purchased some time ago. These gorgeous little glace oranges would be perfect. So the flavour was decided - orange, dark chocolate with an almond crumble.

Orange, Dark Chocolate and Almond Ricotta Crumble Tart
 (recipe loosely adapted from this recipe from Mindfood)


1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 cup almond meal
125 g butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1-2 tablespoons chilled water

Process the flour and almond meal with the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs in a food processor. Add the yolk and pulse to combine. Add a little bit of water will the processor is running until the dough comes together in a rough ball. Turn it our onto a floured board and knead lightly until it just comes together. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour. Grease a 23cm flan tin with a removable base. Roll out the dough to 3mm thickness between two sheets of baking paper. Line the flan tin with the pastry. This is a very short pastry and for me, it fell apart as I lined the flan tin. However it was easy to patch up here and there. Put in the freezer for 10 minutes. In the meantime preheat the oven to 200C. I actually left the pastry shell in the freezer overnight until I was ready to bake it the next day. Blind bake for 10 minutes them remove paper and weights and bake for another 10 minutes. Cool. Reduce oven temperature to 180C.


500g ricotta
1/2 cup castor sugar
3/4 cup mascarpone
2 eggs
80g dark chocolate, chopped
140g glace orange
50ml Amaretto liqueur
1 tablespoon cornflour

Process the ricotta and sugar in the food processor until smooth. Add the eggs and whizz until mix in well. Add the Amaretto and cornflour and process to mix. Remove the mixture to a bowl and stir in the dark chocolate and glace orange.

Spoon into the prepare pastry shell and smooth the surface. Bake for 15 minutes.

In the meantime prepare the crumble

1/3 cup plain flour
60g butter
1/3 cup almonds
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Place all ingredients into a processor . Process to combine and roughly chop almonds.

Sprinkle crumble onto the tart and return to bake for another 30 minutes. Turn the oven off. Leave oven door ajar and cool the cheesecake for one hour. Remove from the oven.

Cool before chilling for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Vanilla Layer Cake with Almond Filling and Coffee Buttercream

The next six months are big in my family. My son turns 18 in a months time, in January my daughter turns 21 and then in March and April my husband and I both celebrate our 50th birthday. So you can imagine I have a lot of cake on my mind. Birthday in our house are never celebrated without cake. We love them! Cake = Celebration.

I have been seeing a lot of layer cakes around. And they look so perfect! Ooooooh, I so want to make a wonderful cake for the most special people in my life. So I decided to practice this weekend. It's not perfect but I'm quite happy with a first attempt. The vanilla cake is from a great blog Cake Paper Party which has the most amazing cake combinations. Have you ever hear of a Pinot Noir cake? No, I hadn't even imagined that flavour but how fantastic! 
The Italian Meringue buttercream is by Warren Brown and is one I have used before for the Rainbow Rose Cake and the Filipino Sans Rival Cake. I love this buttercream but it can be a challenge especially if you don't wait for the meringue to cool.

So, after this I feel I have some good celebration cakes in me for the upcoming BIG birthdays. I have a lot to learn still and by no means perfect but I look forward to creating something special for my family. 
Do you celebrate with cake every time?

Vanilla Cake (recipe adapted from Cake Paper Party)

230g unsalted butter, softened
340 grams castor sugar (superfine)
60mls canola oil
4 large eggs
25ml vanilla extract
170 grams all-purpose flour
170 grams cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
300mls buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Grease and flour 3 x 20cm cake pans.
In a stand mixer beat the butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy which should only take 2 or 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just moistened. Pour in the buttermilk, mix in slowly, then turn up to medium and beat for 1 minutes. Pour evenly in cake pans. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until well cooked. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pans then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to cool.

Italian Meringue Buttercream ( recipe by Warren Brown)

1 cup castor sugar (superfine)
1/4 cup water
5 egg whites
1/4 cup castor sugar (superfine)
250g unsalted butter, cool room temperature

Heat the 1 cup castor sugar and water in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil until it reaches 120C/245F. At the same time as the sugar syrup is cooking start the meringue. Beat the egg whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until  soft peaks form - about 2 minutes. While still whisking sprinkle in the 1/4 cup sugar. Beat well. By this time the syrup should be ready. Pour it into the meringue, whisking all the while,  in a slow and steady stream. Continue to beat until the mixture cools. This will take about 10 -15 minutes or longer. Once cool and not before, slowly add the butter tablespoonful by tablespoonful. The mixture will deflate slightly but all is well. If your butter melts the meringue is still to hot. Beat until it cools. If necessary, remove the bowl and place it in the refrigerator for a while. Then start again.


I stirred a couple of tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur and a teaspoon of almond essence into the finished buttercream. Taste as you go and adjust to your taste.

Almond Simple Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon Amaretto Liqueur
a few drops of almond essence

Heat the sugar and water in a pan. Bring to boil and boil for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool then add flavourings.

Bringing the cake together

You will need to toast a cup of almond in the oven until fragrant. Chop coarsely for the filling.

Place one cake onto your serving plate. Brush lightly with Almond simple syrup. Then spread an even layer of buttercream over the cake and sprinkle with a generous layer of crushed almonds. Top with another layer of cake and press down lightly but firmly. Repeat filling. Top with the last cake. Press down and check that the cake is level.

  Spread a thin layer of buttercream all over as a crumb coat. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, mix 3 teaspoons of instant espresso powder with 1 tablespoon of boiling water. Allow to cool. Then mix into the remaining buttercream along with two heaped tablespoons of icing (powdered) sugar. Once the cake is set and cold, spread the coffee buttercream all over side and top of the cake. Decorate as you wish.

PS: When the cake was really set and cold it cut much more cleanly.
 Hmmm, lesson learnt!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Quick Crunchy Coconut Biscuits

 I think I have found the ultimate biscuit recipe - fast, crispy and delicious! Today I needed to fill the biscuit barrel but fast! Maybe you're the same, I need more than 24 hours in a day, these days. Store bought biscuits have their place and they are great at a pinch but if you want to know exactly what you are eating, we all know home baked is best.

I found the recipe here and is submitted by Bernice. Bernice tells us that they are "Crisp, delicious and perfect with a cuppa." She goes on to say, "These are so easy and will be gone in seconds! It's an old recipe I found among my Mother's few recipes, written out by her aunt many, many years ago."

So I had to try them. I agree with Bernice, these biscuits are delicious and definitely easy. What can be easier than melting butter and mixing with the other ingredients? This is a basic recipe. Why not add choc chips, or nuts. Maybe some cinnamon or sub out the coconut with muesli or crushed cornflakes? Or just make them as they will love them!

Crispy Coconut Biscuits

125g butter
1 cup castor sugar
1 egg
dash of vanilla
1 heaped cup self raising flour, sifted
1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut

Heat the oven to 180C/ 350F. Line a couple of trays with non stick paper.

Soften the butter in the microwave or leave it out on the counter until really soft. With a wooden spoon stir in the sugar. Add the egg and the vanilla. Mix well. Add the flour and the coconut. Stir well until thoroughly mixed.

Roll small balls about the size of a walnut and place a little distance apart on the baking tray. Press with a fork. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, turning the trays once ( that's my oven, anyway). The biscuits will puff up and then as they cook will flatten, that's when you know they are ready and will be browned and crispy. Remove and cool on wire racks.

Makes about 24