Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sprucing up normality

Do you ever make a hot chocolate and think it's a little ho-hum? Or eat a biscuit and think it could be better, but how? Or sit around a fire in the backyard (controlled, of course) and wonder how the night could be better? Well, I have the answer for you. It's not that difficult and once you hear the solution, you'll wonder why you haven't done it sooner. Ready? Here it is... MARSHMALLOWS! And I don't mean those horrible store bought marshmallows that feel grainy while eating and you question what decade they were made in. I mean fresh, soft, delicate homemade marshmallows! Now, I sense some of you are poo-pooing this idea now you know they're homemade, but trust me, they are super easy and you'll wish you had discovered this super simple recipe ages ago! Now get baking!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

De-stress baking

I was just sitting at my computer, feeling a little irritated and stressed, so decided to take 5 minutes to browse some of my favourite blogs. I always find this takes my mind off being annoyed and helps me refocus. Yes, technically I am at work and should be "working", but today I haven't had a lunch break so don't believe I am being naughty :-). Also, I'm in Marketing, so any website or blog browsing can be considered research... kind of.

So, I started looking at my top 5 blogs. I started with Raspberri Cupcakes and found a delicious looking Orange Tea Cake and instantly decided I needed to do some baking tonight. That then reminded me, I haven't posted my cheesecake from my sibling's dinner last week - whoops. So here it is, along with my Top 5 de-stress baking blogs (in no particular order): Raspberri Cupcakes, Sprinkle Bakes, Bakers Royale, Sweetapolita and Tastespotting.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Last minute chocolate pie

My sister and her boyfriend have been living in Canada for the past 18+ months and have recently come home for a whirlwind visit for a family wedding. Since they left, I have done a few fun things with my baking and created some pretty tasty treats for my family and friends. So, upon their recent return, there were a few demands. Unfortunately, my weekends have been pretty busy. The first weekend they were back in town I was making a big 30th birthday cake for a friend, then this weekend just past I was out and about too much to plan anything special. My sister organised dinner at my parent's last night. I had a small window of baking opportunity before dinner and decided to quickly whip something up. It's winter in Brisbane at the moment and I really wanted to make a pie. After a quick search online, I found a pretty quick and easy chocolate pie recipe. I fancied it up a little with a meringue topping, then wha-lah, my surprise dessert was ready! Phew!

I know I'm not off the hook for something else before they leave, but at least I've done something chocolate for them, might have to try something caramel or fruity for next weekend!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cheesecake makeover

It was my birthday recently and I felt like celebrating with something pretty, but fresh and tastey. It's been a while since I've made a cheesecake, so thought I'd whip out my favourite recipe and give it a makeover. What resulted was a wonderful white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake. As always, the cheesecake was light and fluffy, but had a delicious sweetness from the white chocolate and a fresh buzz from the strawberries. It was a great way to celebrate entering the final year of my twenties.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Racing through the years

I love traditions. I love the nostalgia that surrounds them and the excitement when people talk about them. One book which seems to be linked to a tradition for a lot of people I know is the Australian Women's Weekly Kids' Birthday Cake book. I get told stories of Mums handing their children this book each birthday to pick a cake for their special day. Some kids were even lucky enough to have almost every cake in the book made at some point for them or their siblings.  Hearing the excitement when friends retold their experiences growing up around this tradition, I wanted to create something similar with my son. A few years ago, I was given the latest edition of the Kids' Birthday Cake book. I love the options available and knew it was my time to shine!

The weekend before my son's birthday we sat down and looked through the pages of the book. With every new cake, he declared he wanted that one. We finally settled on a rocket ship cake. I should have known that was not his final choice. A few days before his birthday we drove past a soccer field and he announced he wanted a soccer ball cake... he doesn't play or watch soccer but said he liked it. Then finally the day before his birthday we went through the book again, this time I gave more direction and picked a few he could have. We finally decided on a race track cake, but in the shape of a number 4. Phew - sorted, and just in time to make and quickly decorate the cake before it needed to be adorned with candles and consumed.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Time to get my baking shoes on

It's been a busy week. Lots of work on and not much time to do it. Weeks like these, sometimes you get to the Thursday night, knowing you're so close to the weekend, and you just want something to treat yourself. Then you also see that there's nothing nice in the fridge for lunchboxes the next day and the decision's made - it's time to bake!

Last weekend I made fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and bacon for breakfast. I LOVE this combination, it's amazing. The only thing that can top it is to add some caramelised banana slices (done easily on the grill or fry pan with a little bit of sugar to assist in the caramelisation). After breakfast, we had a fair bit of maple syrup left over. And yes, I realise it can be stored easily, however I had the delicious taste of maple teasing my tastebuds and vowed to make my next baking venture in maple! 

So, back to Thursday night and the need to bake something... a bag of pecans sitting in the cupboard just waiting to be used, left over maple... it was a no brainer!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Good food and food company

I believe good food makes people happy. Good food and good company make for a fantastic night. And good food, good company and a great bottle/s of wine is always memorable. I started getting into baking when I wasn't the happiest in life, it acted as an escape for me and also gave me something to be passionate about and enjoy. Eating the food was also amazing, however did cause a fair bit of weight gain - so a lesson, moderation ;-).

I find my baking can make others happy. I am filled with pride when I present a layer cake to a friend or family member to celebrate their birthday. I love hearing the mmmmmmm from people when they take the first bite of a treat I've lovingly prepared. And I love when friends or family ask me to bake something for them, as it shows my passion has transferred to them and they want to share good food with their friends or family. (My photography is not great though, so I think that should be the next thing I work on...)

This recipe is for my uncle. He has shared many cakes and desserts with me and during the week asked if I could make something special for a lunch party he was throwing. Blueberries are just coming back into season here, so I decided on a blueberry sour cream cake with a white chocolate cream cheese icing. I was later told it was a hit!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The mighty Red Velvet

This week is a massive hub of activity at my work as the exclusive season of The Bolshoi Ballet opens. Almost everyone at work is somehow involved, and having The Bolshoi come exclusively to QPAC (ie NOWHERE else in Australia) is a big achievement. I'm mainly working on other projects, so not heavily involved, but wanted to congratulate my teammates with a cake that symbolised the Bolshoi. I could have played with something vodka infused, or done the Pavlova to link to the first Bolshoi Australian visit, but I wanted to do something that linked to "Big" and "Red" - a Red Velvet Cake. I know red velvet feels more American than Russian, however it is red, it is big, and it will impress!

The main reason I've avoided red velvet in the past is because that on my first red velvet experience, I could taste the food colouring. I hate the taste of food colour and that turned me off. So, wanting to make something special for the Bolshoi but avoiding that bad food colouring aftertaste, I started a search online for a great red velvet recipe with minimal red food colouring. Most recipes called for 2 or 3 ozs (up to 6 tbs) of red food colouring, which was way too much for my liking. Then, via tastespotting, I found a recipe that required just 1 tbs. It even called it a "sexy" red velvet, so I went with that. 

As always, I made the cake with my son. He got so excited when we added the red food colouring and cocoa, as it change the cake from ordinary to "OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT COLOUR!" We definitely had fun making this cake, so much so, I might try red velvet again. ENJOY!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Surprise, it's a birthday cake!

Another birthday, another layer cake. I really wanted to bake a caramel cake for my brother's birthday on the weekend. I searched the internet for a caramel cake recipe that looked delicious and wouldn't take four hours to bake. I then thought about how I could add texture and found a simple honeycomb recipe that would be delicious between the layers of my caramel cake. Once I had finally decided on what to make, I got baking. The first thing I did was make the honeycomb... first issue, no honey. However, I had treacle, so thought "why not give that a go?" It looked ok, a bit darker than honeycomb, but didn't foam up the same way and wasn't crunchy, so left that. Then I went to start on the caramel cakes. I pulled out all my ingredients to find I had no more brown sugar. So, with treacle-comb unsuccessful and no brown sugar for a caramel cake, I decided to go onto plan B... a white and dark chocolate layer cake. 

I don't know how my caramel cake would have turned out, I'll probably tell you next brithday, but I can tell you the white and dark chocolate cake was delicious, and even more special with the white chocolate buttercream! ENJOY!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day inspirations

Things I love about being a Mum:
  • The feeling of pride as my son surprises me with a new thought or learning.
  • The warmth of his cuddles as he squeezes me.
  • The joy I feel when planning special games or activities to share with him that I know we'll both enjoy.
  • Having him sit o the counter while we bake together.
  • Hearing the stories from his day.
  • Knowing I've done something right when I might be feeling upset or stressed and he spontaneously cuddles me and lightly pats me on the back. 
  • The look of absolute love he gives me
I don't think I can write down all the joys of being a Mother. I know I can complain about the hardness at times, but I would go through it again in an instant knowing there are so many amazing moments of joy that come with parenthood. I have changed more than I expected since becoming a Mummy. I may have lost personal time and irresponsibility, but I have gained strength, wisdom, courage and a love which cannot be explained or described.

Happy Mother's Day to all the Mums out there. Enjoy the beautiful day you deserve!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Early morning rise

This morning I woke up at 4.30am when my son called out from his room. I was daft and checked the time before I went in, which meant as soon as I got back to bed, I knew it was almost time to get up and my head didn't let me go back to sleep. I started thinking about all the meetings I have on today, then about some of the projects I have at work, then about what we're doing for Mother's Day, then I checked Facebook and Instagram (surprisingly not many updates from last night). Then I started asking myself if I should just get up and if I did get up, what I could do... This all feels less crazy when I'm lying there in these moments than it does writing it out now. Anyway, I remembered a recipe I found the other week for a sticky bun. It takes about 20 minutes prep time, an hour to rise and then about 30 minutes to bake. I didn't have the time last week, however being awake so early this morning and knowing I'm leaving for work a bit later today, I thought "why not get up now and make that bun!". So, I did. And here it is in it's gooey, warm, goodness! YUM. Hope your breakfast was as delicious ;-).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pinch and a punch... etc

Pinch and a punch for the first day of the month. White rabbit. Slap and a kick for being so quick. This is generally how every first-day-of-the-month started while at school. I'm yet to teach my son these games, mainly because he is still figuring out what the days of the week are, introducing dates and months would through him a little too much... So to celebrate the first day of May (HOW DID IT GET TO MAY ALREADY???!), here's a little morning tea treat which many would have experienced in their lunch boxes growing up, with a bit of a delicious, buttery addition. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Muffins in exchange for cuddles

I belive it's important to bring something to share when going visiting. It might not be shared while you're over, but the gesture is there and it makes you feel like a good guest. When I don't have time to bake, I always stop by a bakery. More often than not though, I'm disappointed with what I buy. The taste is either boring or it isn't fresh enough. So, I generally try to make something myself, which gives me the feeling that my gift is more genuine. 

Today I am meeting my Manager's baby for the first time. We through her a Baby Shower recently and I got to bake super sweet and decadent treats. However, now I need to take breatfeeding and windy babies into consideration and I've scaled my baking back. Today I've made her White Chocolate and Coconut Muffins. Coming into Autumn with the air cool and crisp, the lovely warmness of these fresh muffins with a light sweetness to them is not just comforting, but feels perfect for a first baby meeting.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Doh... no syrup

Today is Anzac Day. Traditionally on Anzac Day, one makes Anzac Cookies - golden, chewy, delicious biscuits made mainly of oats, butter and golden syrup. I am not making Anzac Cookies today though, as yesterday in the supermarket the golden syrup was completely sold out. Not to be derogatory, but it reminds me of when I was growing up and having to go to church every Sunday morning. It would be easy to get a park and easy to find a seat - not many people went. However, come a Christian holiday and you'd have to cram yourself into the church and either squeeze between people for a seat or stand at the back. I actually fainted on two occasions when young, as the air-flow was bad, it was hot (Queensland and our church was old and without air-conditioning) and their were too many people. So, to link that story back to my original... NO GOLDEN SYRUP! All the one-day-a-year cookie bakers were prepared and bought the store out before I got there. I know I could have gone to another shop in search of syrup, but to be honest, I couldn't be bothered. So instead I'm attempting some "real" doughnuts. By referring to them as "real", I mean I am using yeast and frying them, yum yum.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Monte Carlo is more than a place

Another post of something that links to my childhood food memories. It's a similar story to my Kingston Biscuits post, the Arnott's Monte Carlos were always popular among my family. I was also excited to see them in my lunch box at school, especially if they got a little soft, as the jam in the centre would be a tacky and I could chew it for longer. I also loved opening the two biscuits up and trying to get equal cream on both sides to eat individually.

But why make Monte Carlo biscuits now, you ask. Well, all week my morning coffee shop have had the nicest looking biscuits on display. They were thick and crumbly with either a buttercream or cream cheese centre. The girl who works there said they were going to have Monte Carlos tomorrow and that set my brain on the path of how I would make Monte Carlos. So, last night with no "treats" for my sons lunchbox in the cupboard, I decided to make some Monte Carlos. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Adding a tang to Easter

So, how was your Easter? Did you eat way too much chocolate? Did you drink too much beer/wine/whatever floats your boat? Last night did you vow only to eat carrot sticks for the next month? Well, if you said yes to all of the above, sounds like you had a pretty good Easter break!

Easter for me was a little different than past years. It was the first time since my son was born that I didn't share the joys of discovering what treats the Easter Bunny had left for him on Easter morning. I have loved seeing the excitement and shock across his face when he's come out of his bedroom to find evidence that the Easter Bunny has been to our house and even better, left him some delicious chocolate. The first Easter he was only about 9 months old, so instead of lots of chocolate, he got a few toys and chocolate custard. The next Easter he was old enough to eat chocolate and of course the family took full advantage of that - he had chocolate coming out of his ears! His third Easter he got pretty spoilt again, mainly because it was around the time his Dad and I were getting separated and I think we both just wanted him to have a great day and be spoilt by everyone and anyone. This Easter we were all pretty good. He spent Easter day with his Dad, which meant the Monday was our day. Even though it was only a few people around for lunch, I wanted to make it special by baking some fresh and Eastry desserts. It was lovely and even better, the Easter Bunny made a surprise stop at our house even though Reuben wasn't there. How exciting!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter...

... and happy 4 days off work. Four days isn't much of a break, you couldn't really call it a holiday, but it's enough time to spend with your family - the one you're born into and the one you choose. I'm very lucky that both my "families" are great, so was wonderful to spend quality time with them this seasonal break. On Friday my bestie was in town for a day (they live in Tassie now), so myself and the other bestie got to catch up with her, have lunch and drink a bit too much alcohol. As I was always taught by my "original" family, when invited to someone's house, bring something to share. So that's what I did, and of course, with Easter flare.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Showering a friend with sweetness

A few weeks ago we through a baby shower for my manager at work. She has been an inspiration to me and many others I work with and we wanted to show her how special she was by throwing a party for her and bub. I've been saving this post until Baby Stalley was born... and we just got the news that he arrived. So a BIG congratulations. We cannot wait to give him cuddles.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Oozing with caramel

It's baking time with my little boy again. I asked him on the weekend what we should bake. His first response - CHOCOLATE CAKE! He then got the cookbook we used last time and pointed out the chocolate mudcake we made. Wanting to mix things up slightly, I told him we'd make some chocolate cupcakes instead. Not wanting to be boring, I decided to take them a step further and make a caramel for the centre and frosting. The result was an oozing caramel from the centre and icing of the cupcakes.

I love these afternoons with my little boy. It's a great way for us to do something together and get our hands dirty. He loves to help mix and add things to the bowl, and his favourite part has to be licking the beaters and spoon (and if he can, the bowl) when we're finished!

I did leave a few cupcakes without caramel centres for my sons lunchbox. I didn't want him jumping off the walls at daycare and coming home in a horrid mode (moreso than usual). A success all round!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Going bananas for chocolate

It's confession time again... I'm a hoarder of bananas! I can't help it. My son loves bananas, so each week I buy a bunch for his lunch. I always buy too many though so at the end of the week when the midges are starting to swarm, I pop them in the freezer. Recently I had more frozen bananas in my freezer than food! This week I fixed that by making heaps of banana "stuff". For dessert after my son's dinner, I've been processing a frozen banana with a spoonful of nutella and a few macadamia nuts. The rumours are true, it does resemble and taste like ice cream (so much so that my son believes me when I offer him banana ice cream for dessert). To make this post more like my normal sugar packed editions, I also used the bananas to make a birthday cake for my parents (they are a month apart, but we were slack celebrating Mum's, so combined them this year) - a choc-banana layer cake with choc-chip swiss buttercream. The chocolate cake recipe I used was more of a crumbly cake and the banana cake recipe I used was dense, so if I were to make this again, I'd use the recipe I've posted below, which is a richer chocolate cake. ENJOY!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Patriotism via food

I don't feel like Australians have much patriotism, unless we're at a major sporting event. As a country, we seem to support the underdog more than the over acheiver, we give critism from the sideline and we rarely produce movies that have a strong sense of national pride and achievement. HOWEVER, try to tell us certain foods are not Australian and you have a fight on your hands. We fight more often than not with the New Zealanders, who most notorisouly try to lay claim to the Pavlova - verdict is still out however this Aussie will agrue it's our creation! Other foods we feel are ours include lamingtons, ANZAC cookies, vegemite, pies and ninish tarts. Funny enough though, vegemite is owned by an American company, pies are more likely English and every country seems to have a variation on the ninish tart.

Another item I list under the Australian identity (which also reminds me of childhood) are cornflake cookies. Super easy to make with a sweetness from the sultanas and a crunch from the cornflakes. Give them a go if you've never tried them and feel free to leave me a message below with your childhood "patriotic" foods.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The taste of Summer

Summer activities* in Brisbane include going to the beach, going swimming in a friend or family member's pool, swimming in the blow-up pool in the backyard or sitting in front of the fan trying not to create a pool of your own sweat.

Summer flavours in Brisbane are pretty tropical, including mangos, passionfruit, peaches, pineapple and so on. I am generally one to bake with chocolate and heavy flavours, but in the extreme heat of a Brisbane summer, the best things to bake are cold, sweet and light (ie not turning on the oven and not using too much energy). I found the perfect dessert to accommodate these flavours and energy level - a Mango and Passionfruit Layered Pavlova. Light, sweet and easy - and better than anything else, a crowd pleaser.

Feel free to exchange the Mango and Passionfruit with a different flavour, maybe hazelnut spread or berries. Enjoy!

(* I have a toddler, so activities for me generally include something to keep a hyper-active 3 year old happy).

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's a tarty Friday treat

You know what's really funny? Giving a child a lemon to taste for the first time. I don't mean to be cruel, but it's one of those reactions that you can't help but laugh at. The innocence as they inspect the brightly coloured fruit, then naturally raise it to their mouth to taste. Then as the juice hits their tongue, the instant screwing up of their face followed by a look of complete shock - how can you not start to giggle, at least out of recognition of the situation. 

I've never been a huge fan of the tartness of lemons, however as I get older, I seem to be more tolerant to their refreshing flavour. I also accept that most other people like lemons and citrus flavours, so thought I should probably add these to my baking list more often (and on a plus, if I don't like it, I will automatically eat less).

So, here are some lemony cheesecake tarts for my friends in the office today. They mainly act as a farewell for two wonderful people, neither from Australian so deserving of a fresh, tangy treat to remind them of their time here and working with our team.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Moving sucks, cupcakes don't!

My brother and his girlfriend are in the process of moving house. Everyone knows moving sucks. Packing everything and making sure it gets from one place to the other safely is not fun, especially when you have been living in said place for many years and have accumulated many unneeded items. I wouldn't call my brother a hoarder... because he's not, but he does have a lot of books, DVDs and "stuff". To make it worse, my parents recently cleaned out our old bedrooms and made him take a lot of his old things (better known as crap) home with him. Now they are packing and tossing and getting ready for their new home. So when I get a text requesting cupcakes, I immediately get into the kitchen and prepare an impromptu afternoon tea.

Mixing the need to provide a good dose of energy (in the form of sugar of course) and a civilised afternoon tea, I decided to make a jam drop inspired cupcake. A chocolate cake base with a surprise raspberry jam centre, vanilla swiss buttercream icing and a freshly baked jam drop perched on the top. It had height, it had flavour and it had the right amount of deliciousness to keep them going for (hopefully) the rest of the week as the pack, sort and toss. Good luck guys!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The final recipe for the season

Christmas is over and it's a new year, but the flavours of the season are still fresh in the air - most houses still have their Christmas tree up and there are still fairy lights flashing along most suburban streets (tree and lights are still up at my place). So, to hold onto the last threads of Christmas, I made some Maple Cinnamon doughnuts. My main reason for making doughnuts was because I found a baked doughnut tray on special in one of the department stores just before Christmas. I have always turned my nose up at these trays, thinking that if you're going to bother making doughnuts, do it properly and fry the hell out of them. Then I saw the discounted price on the tray and my excitement for a bargain won over my snobbery. And to my delight, the baked doughnuts were delicious. Light and fluffy, but still with a distinct doughnut texture and flavour. My first attempt was great (I followed the below recipe), but my second attempt was with chocolate (obviously I strayed from the recipe). They looked great but were too dense and dry... so I haven't posted the chocolate recipe, will work on it a bit more first.

So, here's to the final days of the season. Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Life needs a ganache topping!

Some say, "when life gets you down, make lemonade"... wait, that's not right. Try again... "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade".  That's it. Well, when life gives me lemons next time, I'm going to add blueberries for a burst of sweetness and cover it all in a silky white chocolate ganache! Why drink lemonade when you can eat cake, that should be the new proverbial phrase!

I was served a few lemons in 2012, but also a lot of blueberries and... I need another food metaphor to complete this sentence, how about coconut for joy... coconuts. It was my hardest year to date both professionally and personally, but like everything, I made it through in one piece feeling stronger than ever.

The cake below isn't beautiful in it's appearance, it is what it is - a tasty treat with a few surprises peering through the glaze with honesty. I like to think of the white chocolate in my cake metaphor as the icing on the cake, literally, a way to coat last year and close it off. 2013 is a new beginning, a new flavour, a new adventure filled with new experiences. I wouldn't dare forget or wish away a moment of 2012, I am grateful for all I learnt and for the amazing people in my life, however I am also happy to look into the future and discover what awaits for me.