Summer farewell

For a summer-lover like me September brings the unwelcome first hints of autumn – the days get a little shorter and the temperature cools. September usually passes much too quickly for me as I try to cling desperately to the last vestiges of summer. October is a dark month then as I resign myself to the passing of summer. By November I have usually accepted the fact and am being somewhat consoled by the fact I can now dig out all the woolly winter accessories and the promise of Christmas is just around the corner.

These are my ‘September’ sugar cookies:
september cookiesseptember cookies

Sugar Cookies

  • 200g butter
  • 400g flour
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla essence and spices. Beat in the egg. Gradually stir in the flour until a dough forms.

Roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper until about 5mm thick. Chill the dough for 30 mins. Once chilled, peel off the parchment paper and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out your cookie shapes and place on a lined baking tray. Chill again for 30 mins.
Preheat the oven to 180C and bake the cookies for 8 – 15 mins until lightly golden around the edges.
Once cooled decorate the cookies using royal icing.

Decorating sugar cookies with royal icing

To decorate your sugar cookies you will need:

  • Royal Icing (I buy the quick-mix bags from the grocery store but you could make your own)
  • Icing piping bags (for piping details) and several small resealable plastic bags or squeezy bottles (for flooding base cookie colors).
  • A #2 or #3 piping tip
  • Toothpicks
  • A large clean work space
  • Oodles of patience

To get a nice smooth finish on sugar cookies like these is actually easier than it might seem. You first pipe a thin outline of icing around each area of the cookie and then ‘flood’ inside the outline with thinner icing, using a toothpick to draw the icing out to the piped edges so it fills the area in a nice smooth layer. The technique is called ‘flooding’ and is explained and demonstrated well by the cookie genius Bridget of ‘Bake at 350’.

Some important decorating tips:

  • Prepare your work area before you get started. Make sure you have all your icing bags, toothpicks, wet cloth etc etc etc ready to go before you start icing. I have learned from experience that cookie icing can descend quickly into chaos and defeat if you don’t have all the tools you need within arms reach at the right time!
  • I use clear disposable plastic lunch bags to put my flooding icing into. I mix all the colours I need and put each one into a separate bag, squeeze out all the air and knot the bag. In this way the icing will keep from drying out until you need it. When you’re ready to flood with it just snip the corner of the bag and squeeze it out.
  • Be obsessive about wiping away any dust and flecks of dried icing as you work or they will inevitably end up making their way onto the wet surface of your cookies and ruining your hard work!
  • Give the cookies at least 24 hours to dry before trying to stack them, flooded icing takes quite a while to dry completely.

september cookies
The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

PS. Through the magic of scheduled publishing this blog post is being revealed to you while I am currently lying on the beach somewhere on the turquoise coast in Turkey. Hubby and I have taken an end-of-summer holiday to soak up the last of the sunny season and to explore somewhere totally new. I’ll be back in a week or so with plenty of places, foods and experiences to share so stay tuned!

Cookies and cream cupcakes

I made these oreo cupcakes for a baby shower a couple of weeks ago. The cake is sweet, white and fluffy dotted with big cookie chunks. The 1/2 oreo cookie at the bottom is a sweet surprise which also helps hold the cake together somewhat while eating. The recipe for these cupcakes comes straight from Bean Town Baker and is definitely worth checking out!

The frosting I used here is something I’ve been wanting to try out for a while now. When I first came across this recipe for icing made without icing sugar and using a white sauce (really!?!) I was intrigued. People rave about this icing – light and creamy, not too sweet, delicious taste….
It wasn’t until I finished making this frosting and gave it a taste test that I realised I’d sampled this seemingly new discovery before!!!… by a different name and used for a different purpose this frosting is pretty much the same as ‘mock cream’. Mock Cream has always seemed cheap to me, like pretend, wanna-be cream when the real thing would be much superior. However, in this case mock cream actually works really well and holds up much better than fresh cream would. This recipe is perfect for cupcakes when you want to decorate with a generous swirl of frosting without giving an overpowering sugar kick.

Mock Cream Frosting

Makes enough frosting for approx 18 cupcakes

  • 3 tablespoons Flour
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • <1/2 cup Butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

In a small saucepan, mix the flour and milk. Heat gently and stir until a thickened sauce forms. Remove from heat and strain the sauce through a sieve into a bowl. Cover and put in the fridge until completely cooled.
In another bowl cream the butter and sugar. Pour in the thickened milk and vanilla. Mix this all together and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat on medium-high for 7 or 8 minutes. The finished frosting should be silky and light. Pipe onto your cupcakes using a large star shaped icing tip.

Baby Shower fun

Over the weekend I helped throw a baby shower for a very dear and amazing friend who is expecting her first baby in October.
The lime green and white themed shower came together really well and was so much fun to plan for. I made cutesy shower invites, bunting, nappy cake, onesie sugar cookies, oreo cupcakes and other goodies for the shower. Recipes and more info about some of these things will follow when I have some more time. For now, rather than trying to describe all the details I’m going to let the pictures tell the story of the day:
baby shower decorations - nappy cake, flowers, cupcakes and sweets
Nappy cake: Oh so cute and seriously very very easy to make. All you need is a load of disposable nappies and some cute ribbons. This one also has a few goodies hidden in the middle for the mum-to-be to find later 🙂 Beautiful flowers arranged by the nana-to-be. Green and white sweets layered in a glass vase were perfect to bump up the green factor on the food table.
baby shower bunting
The green and white bunting looked very cute strung around the garden.
Onesie Cookies
Onesie cookies. These were oh so cue but also oh so fiddly to make. I loved the way they came out but have had quite enough of sugar cookie decorating for the next year or three.
Me and Lucy and bump
Lucy and me and bump – can’t wait to meet the little princess!

Baked Alaska

This is my first month as an official Daring Baker. The Daring Kitchen runs a monthly baking challenge, a fun way to challenge yourself to new recipes and get inspired by all the variations and delicious photos of other peoples baking creations.

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

Wow! The browned butter was totally new to me and so was ice cream making! This first challenge had me more than a little intimidated. Never-the-less, I followed the recipes and actually had a lot of fun – especially making the ice cream and then torching the meringue on my first ever Baked Alaska. Isn’t it gorgeous!? :
Baked Alaska

Because this challenge had two parts to make – the cake and the ice cream I’m just gonna describe the ice cream and the final assembly here. I’ll write more about browned butter pound cake soon along with the recipe and another way to dress it up! For now, lets talk about ice cream…

One of my favorite things to eat but something I’ve never made myself. I always thought it would be too tricky and time consuming to make without an ice cream machine. To be quite honest, it was very time consuming yes. But the final product was so good I don’t resent the time it took and I’m glad I was challenged to try it at least once. One day when I have my own ice cream machine I’d love to experiment with some other flavours – cherry and almond, maple walnut, boysenberry, rocky road… There are so many possibilities!

The ice cream recipe starts with making a basic custard using milk, sugar and egg yolks. I added 2 big teaspoons of instant coffee to my custard mixture as well as some vanilla extract. This custard is then stirred into a whole lot of heavy cream and chilled before starting the freezing process.
coffee custard and cream

Without an ice cream machine you need to freeze the custard mixture for short intervals and repeatedly taking it out to give it a good stir up. I used a spoon to scrape the hardened edges in and a hand-held stick blender to blend it smoothly each time.

After 2 or 3 hours the ice cream was nicely frozen. Mid way through this freezing process I melted some dark chocolate, drizzled it over the ice cream and stirred it in to create little chips of chocolate in my coffee ice cream.
adding chocolate

Coffee Stracciatella Ice Cream – delicious!
I put some of the finished ice cream into half-cup silicone molds and froze them to use on my lil’ baked alaskas.

Vanilla Ice cream

Recipe is by David Lebovitz here.

  • 1 cup milk
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • A few drops of vanilla extract

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk with the tip of a paring knife. Add the bean pod to the milk. If you don’t have a vanilla pod you can use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead.

Stir together the egg yolks in a bowl and gradually add some of the warmed milk, stirring constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the saucepan until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Strain the custard into the heavy cream and stir as it cools. Chill for a few hours or overnight, then remove the vanilla bean pod and commence the freezing process, either in your ice cream maker or using the gradual freezing process outlined here: How to make ice cream without a machine.

Basic Meringue

To make the baked alaska you also need meringue. To cover two 8cm round alaskas I made 2 eggs whites worth of meringue.

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. You’ll know you’ve beaten it long enough when it looks glossy and the meringue stays in place even if you turn the bowl upside down.

Baked Alaska

To assemble these little puffy desserts I placed a mound of ice cream on top of a round of cake then piped meringue all over until the cake and ice cream were completely covered. Like a big fluffy pineapple cloud hehe!
piping meringue

They need to go back in the freezer for an hour or so now to make sure the ice cream is good and cold. Then when you’re ready for dessert, torch the outside with a brulee torch and serve. This part was so much fun and the finished desserts looked and smelled like giant toasted marshmallows!!!
torching the meringue
cake, ice cream and meringue

Epic Fail Blondies

It wouldn’t really be honest of me to show you only the beautiful dainty things I bake. Because, truthfully sometimes the things that come out of my oven are not pretty at all.
See, look at these:
mini blondies - fail

Ewww huh?! They’re supposed to be blondie bites – blondie batter baked in mini muffin cups. They were going to be fabulous. I used my favourite lime green polka dot liners. I was going to top them with a swirl of caramel and share these little mouthfuls of delight at an upcoming baby shower. But instead, these blondie bites will be hidden in my kitchen cupboards and picked at over the next few days and then banished from my memory.

What went wrong? I’m not 100% sure. The recipe looked good before baking, and the final mess tastes great. The only thing I know went wrong is that I overfilled the muffin cups. With only 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder I was sure they wouldn’t rise very much… so I filled them 3/4 full. In the oven these little babies grew and grew and grew. Then they spilled out of their tins, made a big gooey mess and then they sunk. *Sigh* sometimes unpredictable things happen in the kitchen.

What did I learn? Sometime my assumptions are wrong. Always try a recipe in its original, intended form before attempting adjustments. This particular recipe may work wonderfully in a brownie pan, but perhaps is not so great for mini muffin tins. Lesson learned.

Guacamole

I love avocado. The bright, fresh, green colour that greets you when you slice one in half. The versatility – you can put it in a salad or on toast, pair it with chicken or bacon, or mash it up and serve it on corn chips. Whatever you pair it with, it makes the dish better.

One of the reasons they taste so good is probably because of their very high fat content. But this is one fatty snack I don’t feel guilty about scarfing down. Avocados are full of the good fats not the bad ones and they have lots of antioxidants and other good things in them too. I made guacamole for the first time a couple of months ago and I’ve been making it a lot ever since. Its so easy and tasty.
Here’s how I make mine:

Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2 tablespoons Red onion diced finely
  • 1 tomato, diced finely
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon mild chilli minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or coriander if you like that sort of stuff *bleh*)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Peel the avocados, remove the stones and roughly chop into small pieces. In a shallow bowl, mash the avocado with a fork until its mushy with only a few lumps left. Add the diced onion, tomato, chilli, lime juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Serve with tortilla chips and homemade salsa om nom nom 🙂
guacamole ingredients
guacamole

Chocolate Guinness Cake with Irish Cream Frosting

guinness cake

Living in Dublin we occasionally have the pleasure of playing host to friends and family visiting the emerald isle for the first time. One of the outings we do with most visitors is a trip to the Guinness Storehouse, the original brewery of the famously Irish stout.

The building is impressive and the tour is interesting. The best bit however is the 360 degree view of Dublin from the bar at the top. I always feel a bit bad when we get to the top and I hand over my drink voucher for a soft drink instead of a pint…

3 years in Dublin have not made me a Guinness fan. I love to watch the swirling foam as the pint is poured and starts to settle. I think the thick creamy head looks delicious but I just can’t bring myself to drink more than a mouthful or two. Too strong. Too bitter. Not at all my kind of thing.

This chocolate guinness cake on the other hand is exactly my kind of thing! Please make this cake. Seriously. It’s DELICIOUS.
This is what I would call a “mud cake” recipe – soft, moist and fudgy with a really good chocolately flavour. For fellow skeptics and beer-haters I can assure you that the finished cake doesn’t taste like Guinness at all. I promise, not even a teeny bit. The stout seems to just boost the richness of the chocolate and the deep dark colour.
After making this cake, the recipe has moved up to #1 spot in my list of favourite cake recipes. The perfect special occasion cake for adults.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Cake recipe adapted from here and frosting and ganache inspired by these cuppies

Ingredients

  • 250ml Guinness
  • 140 grams butter
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup plain greek yoghurt (or sour cream)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 175C and grease and line a large round cake tin.

Put the guinness and butter into a saucepan. Heat until the butter is melted then remove from heat. Whisk in the sugar and cocoa powder.
In a separate bowl whisk the sour cream and eggs together. Add the vanilla essence and stir in the guinness and butter. Lastly add the flour and baking soda and mix until smooth.

Pour the batter into your lined cake tin and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until cooked through. Cool in the tin on a cooling rack.
Once cooled carefully remove from the tin and peel off the baking paper – the cake is very soft.

Baileys Frosting and Ganache

  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon Irish Cream eg. Baileys
  • 120 grams dark chocolate

Heat the cream in a saucepan until steaming then remove from heat. Add the roughly chopped chocolate and leave to sit for 5 minutes. Stir the chocolate in until a smooth glossy sauce is formed. Add the butter and baileys and stir until combined. Cool the ganache until is thickens enough to pour over the top of the cake without sliding off the edges! Cover the top of the cake with ganache and put in the fridge so the ganache can harden further.

  • 50 grams softened butter
  • 2 to 3 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Irish Cream eg. Baileys

Mix the icing ingredients together. Add more icing sugar or baileys as desired to form a smooth, spreadable frosting. Ice the cake and decorate as you wish. I left the sides bare and used a fork to swirl the icing into little peaks (a bit like the creamy top on a pint of dark guinness). For maximum enjoyment, serve with a glass of baileys over ice!
guinness cake slice

Summer Weekends

This is the view from my living room today:
Bubble of bliss
I stand on the balcony with the sun on my face and fishing boats quietly drifting by and at that moment I’m in my own tranquil bubble of bliss and all is well and I am thankful.

That is all.
I’m off to enjoy the summer day now, ciao!

Warm roasted vegetable and couscous salad

warm couscous salad

This is one of my favourite side dishes to make. It’s simple and easy to make and a little addictive to munch on. Sometimes I serve it warm with baked chicken, sometimes cold with lamb kebabs off the bbq. The dressing and the couscous are the two key elements, the rest you can vary depending on what you have on hand. I’ve made this with all manner of roasted vegetables – potato, pumpkin, zucchini, capsicum, onion, eggplant…

To avoid using the oven altogether you can make this with raw capsicum and red onion and throw in some chopped dried apricot, crumbled feta and toasted nuts and seeds. This makes a great dish for a big get together as the couscous is so quick to prepare and bulks up the dish a lot. You can make a giant bowl of this salad very quickly!

Curried Couscous Salad

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup boiling hot water
  • 3 cups vegetables chopped into roughly 2cm chunks – spuds, sweet potato, pumpkin, capsicum, onion, zucchini all work well
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C.
Toss the vegetables in some oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes or until cooked. Remove from oven and set aside.

Put the couscous into a bowl with the boiling hot water. Cover the bowl and set aside for 5 minutes until the couscous has puffed up and has soaked up all the water. Stir the couscous to break up any clumps.

In a small bowl combine the vinegar, oil, sugar, garlic and curry powder. Stir together well.

Pour the dressing over the couscous. Add the roasted vegetables and parsley. Stir to combine.
Serve warm or chill in the fridge and serve cold, either way it’s delicious!

Recipe can also be printed as a PDF from here: Couscous salad.

Baby Cupcake Hat

In my circle of friends and family right now there are lots of people having babies. Lots and lots. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage…” It seems like everyone has collectively chosen 2010 to move into the ‘baby carriage’ stage.
This fact sometimes overwhelms me just a little bit and makes me wonder – did we miss the memo or something?! … but mostly I’m delighted for every one of them and excited to meet all these cute balls of squish as they make it into the world.

Lots of babies means lots of baby showers and lots of baby gifts. So, I’ve been brushing up on my very novice knitting skills so that I can make some cute baby hats, booties and other goodies over the next few months. This is the cupcake hat I made this week:

The hat is based on a pattern I found at Chile Con Yarne. I also read some instructions here on how to adapt the pattern for smaller sizes. I think its just adorable, the very definition of cute.

My version came out a little pouffy on top because I didn’t pay strict attention to the pattern and the top section of my hat ended up in garter stitch rather than stocking stitch as shown in their pictures and it decreased twice as quickly at the top! I still think it came out cute though and would look oh so precious on a teeny little baby head!!!