Saturday, November 19, 2016

Food for the gods

My dad turned 90 last September and our family had the grandest of reunions in the Philippines! I say "grand" but not in the sense that it was lavish or anything like that.  It was grand because we have not had a reunion of this magnitude since 2003.  My brothers and I are scattered all over the world and to be able to all fly back to Manila with our families at the same time is one great feat!

Every time I visit family in the Philippines, I always take the opportunity to browse through my aunties' recipe notebooks to see what I can copy and recreate when I get back home to Australia. Most of their handwritten recipes are not very detailed and are more of just a listing of ingredients. The challenge always for me is to be able to sort of fill in the blanks.  I try to figure everything out by myself as I really don't want to bother my auntie (the baker) with questions.  She is even older than my dad at 92 years! One of my nieces who came from the US became very interested in the recipes and asked if I could send her copies.  I promised I would but that I needed to test them out first to make sure everything was in order!

The first recipe I tried out was that of food for the gods.  This pastry was a staple in all our family gatherings but as a kid, I never really liked them.  I didn't like dates.  I didn't like that it was moist and chewy. However, since I tasted sticky date pudding some years ago, that all changed. Now, I love them!



My aunties' recipe is pretty straightfoward and it is not too different from other recipes you will find online. What I noticed though is that it had only half the amount of butter than other recipes and rather than melting the butter, it is creamed with the sugar.  It doesn't make it less tasty though.  It is still moist, just not very wet and sticky as other food for the gods are.  If that is what you prefer (like me), then this recipe might be for you!


FOOD FOR THE GODS

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (about 150g) pitted dates, chopped
1 cup (about 110g) walnuts, chopped

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 170C. Grease and line an 8x8 or a 6x11 pan with baking paper.

In a small bowl, sift together the plain flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar and honey until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Add in the dry ingredients and beat mixture until just combined. Lastly, fold in the dates and walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan then level off with a spatula. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the four corners of the cake comes out clean. (It's ok for the centre to be a little moist just as long as the top surface is already dry and uniformly brown.) Transfer pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool completely before cutting into bars.




PS.  Before I forget, thank you so much for those who voted for my cake in the Lifestyle Food Bake Challenge.  Thank you even more for those who expressed their support in the comments section of my previous post and for those who emailed me personally.  I appreciate it very much!  And just to let you know, WE ARE IN THE TOP 10!  Hope you can keep on voting for my entry till the 13th of December.  After that, I'm praying Matt Moran and Maggie Beer will vote for my cake too!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lifestyle FOOD Bake Challenge

I know I have been gone for a loooong time.  And to come back just to ask for a favour is not the best thing in the world but I'll take my chances for whatever it's worth.

You see, I entered a cake of mine in an online competition just for fun.  It's mostly a popularity contest. However, Australian Bakeoff judges Matt Moran and Maggie Beer will choose their top 3 bakes from the 10 bakes who receive the most votes.  Only the judges' choices will get prizes.

The cake I entered is the birthday cake I made for my first grandson.  Yes, you read that right!  I have a grandson.  His name is Lachlan and he is 15 months old now!  I have not shared this part of my personal life with you although without you knowing, I've actually shared some of the cakes I made for him for his baby showers (here and here) and baptism.  Maybe someday soon, I will tell you more about him and what it's like being a rather young grandma.

On Lachlan's first birthday last August, I made for him a 3D teddy bear cake which I so painstakingly made to look like his favourite teddy bear.  He loves his bear and doesn't go to bed without it!


His daddy (my second son) turned 21 just 5 days before his birthday so we held their party together.



To be honest, carving cakes is not my thing.  Never did it before and so it really took all the powers in me to pull it off.  I was so happy that I did!

Anyway, back to the contest...

Again, the goal here is just to get my entry to the Top 10.  From there, it will be up to the judges.  I have not seen any teddy bear cake entries yet so I sort of have high hopes for my cake to win.  But I do need your help for this to happen. Pretty please?

You don't have to sign up for anything.  All you need to do is go to my entry page and click on the VOTE button.  That's it.  You are allowed to vote once a day.  If you vote for me once,  I will appreciate it very much.  If you will take the time to vote for me everyday till the end of the competition on the 13th of December, then I would love you for it :)  And I would love you even more if you share the link with your friends and ask them to vote as well.  Is that asking too much? Hope not! :)

Thank you very much! I will surely let you know how it goes!



PS.  Just to let you know too, I am working on a second book.  And I am working on new cakes as well.  Being a grandma just takes too much time away from baking and sitting in front of the computer that's why it's taking so long to finish. I love being a grandma though!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Frosted Heaven eBook on Etsy

Just dropping by quickly to let everyone know that the Frosted Heaven eBook is now available in my Etsy shop. To those from the EU member countries that have been interested to get the eBook but couldn't because of the VAT issue, here now is your chance.  Etsy takes care of adding the VAT to the total purchase price!  This is an instant download and unlike before where problems downloading occurred rather frequently, I do not foresee any difficulties with Etsy.

I am really hoping I could get some time off from my super hectic life to work on a second recipe book.  It's been a long time coming!  The ideas are all there but how to squeeze working on them into everything else that is going on in my life, I really don't know! Fingers crossed, maybe before the year ends?  We'll see!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cake Decorating Tip: Buttercream polka dots

This weekend, I was coincidentally asked to make both Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse-themed birthday cakes.  These cakes were for two separate parties for two different birthday celebrants!



When thinking about this Disney pair, what comes to my mind apart from the round black ears and Minnie's big bow is the polka dots. Cutting circles from fondant would make the perfect polka dot, but since I don't use fondant anymore, I had to think of a way to make them as good with my Swiss meringue buttercream. Using buttercream usually meant that the dots would look like small mounds or would have peaks and that was not what I wanted, of course.

Let's take a closer look at my polka dots again....



Yes. that's buttercream! Perfectly flat, perfectly round.  There is a super simple way to achieve this and I'm going to teach you how!

1. First, find a polka dot template online.  There are lots of free ones you can print out.  Choose the polka dot size that suits your need.  Mine were about 1/2" circles. This is what I used.

2. Position your printout on top of a tray or board.  Cut parchment or baking paper of about the same size and place it on top of your printout.  Secure both with tape.


3. Fill a piping bag fitted with a round tip (I used a #12) with buttercream.  Using the template as a guide, pipe rounds by holding your bag straight up and just about 1/4" away from the surface.  Don't place your tip too high or your dots will be fat!  Stop squeezing when you achieve the right size then pull away.  To flatten the mounds slightly, moisten your fingertip with a little water then pat them down gently.  Pipe as many dots as you need!



4. Place your tray in the freezer and use only when your dots are completely frozen and your cake has just been frosted.

5. To remove a dot from the baking paper, gently lift it out with a small spatula or just simply peel it away carefully.


6. Turn your dot upside down to reveal the flat side!  This is your right side now.


7. Now go crazy and place your dots on your freshly frosted cake! (Note: I say "freshly frosted" because the buttercream should be soft so the dots will stick and also, so you can push them down a bit.)


Hope this cool little tip helps!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rainbow (Colour Wheel) Chiffon Cake

I have made rainbow cakes before but never with chiffon. Unless the 6 cake layers are quite thin, I would imagine that stacking a soft and delicate chiffon cake would most likely result in the bottom layers being pressed down and squished. One alternative to doing a rainbow chiffon cake (that I have seen other bakers do) is to bake it in a single pan. The cake batter is divided into 6 and each portion coloured. The portioned batter is then carefully layered one on top of the other in the pan.  When this one cake is baked, it will already have all the rainbow colours in it!

Yesterday, during one of those rare times that I had a bit of extra free time, I thought of doing a rainbow chiffon cake but in a different way.....

Something like this basic colour wheel....


Which, translated into cake will look like this....

Pretty cool, right?

The cake above is an 8" vanilla chiffon (recipe here).  Simple enough especially if you have been making this cake over and over again like me. To do this colour wheel effect though, the process is unfortunately not as simple.  It is actually quite tedious (and there is so much washing involved!). Doing it once in a while can be quite fun though........so......if you are interested in trying it, here's what you need to do.

Before you can begin making the cake, you first need to prepare your pan by making the cake batter separators.  No need to buy anything special here - we are improvising!

Cut out three 8" by 3" rectangles from thin cardboard.  Wrap each piece in foil to make it food safe. Fold two of them in half.


Insert the unfolded cardboard upright into the center of your 8" cake pan.


Position the two folded pieces above and below the center divider such that you will get 6 equally-sized wedges.


As my cake pan has a removable bottom, I did not line it anymore with baking paper.  I pretty much eyeballed the placement of my dividers.  However, if you need to line your cake pan, you can create creases in your baking paper to serve as a guide in placing the dividers. To do this, fold your 8" baking paper circle in half and then into thirds.  Open it up to reveal the partitions created by the creases.  Line your cake pan then place the foil dividers on top of the creases.


To make the cake batter, simply follow the vanilla chiffon cake recipe.  After you have made your eggyolk mixture, divide it equally into 6 bowls. (Weighing your cake batter will give you more accurate results.)


Colour each mixture with rainbow colours.  You will only need tiny amounts of gel paste (like a drop) or powdered food colour (a pinch).


Proceed to beating your eggwhites till stiff.  Divide this equally among the six bowls.  Again, it is best to weigh the mixture for accuracy.


You need to work fairly quickly in folding the meringue into each eggyolk mixture.  Be gentle but deliberate.  Spoon each mixture into your divided pan and push the cake batter into the corners. Give the pan a gentle tap to level the cake batter and to release any air bubbles.


Carefully remove the dividers by lifting them straight up. Do not bend them sideways or any other way - just pull straight up. Some of the cake batter will stick to the dividers in this process.  Don't attempt to put them back into the pan as you might risk messing up the colours!  You can reuse the cardboard pieces for next time.  Just remove the foil wrapping!


Bake and cool the cake inverted as per usual.  (My 4-egg chiffon cake recipe usually bakes up to the top of the pan.  However, in this case, as some of the batter was lost, my cake was slightly shorter.)


As with any cake, there will be some browning on the cake top and sides.  I find that simply rubbing my fingers gently back and forth against the cake removes this caramelized layer rather easily.  When you do this, you will reveal all the vibrant colours! Yey!


I wasn't planning on frosting this cake but here's one idea of what you can do.  Cut the cake horizontally in half.


Spread your filling on your bottom layer.  Before topping with the other cake layer, rotate it one colour to the right so that the top colour will be different from the bottom.


This way, you will have six different colour combinations in your cake slices!



You can also combine slices to make up a taller slice with all the rainbow colours!


As with most rainbow cakes, the "wow" factor lies mostly on the appearance.  The cake itself is pretty much very basic.  To take this cake up a notch, you can flavour each colour differently - strawberry for red, orange for orange, lemon for yellow and so on and so forth.  Alternatively, you can fill each cake segment with something different.  Maybe different fruits or different flavoured frostings?  I know it will even be more work than it already is, but it will add some element of surprise to eating this cake, don't you think?

Hope you learned something new today and get to try this yourself! Enjoy the rest of your week :)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Coffee Crunch Cake

I KNOW...I KNOW.  I have been missing in action for a while now.  I am aware that many of you have already been wondering what has become of me.  Well, I'm still here! Just way too busy to stop or even pause to post something new! I have a little time to kill at the moment (while waiting to pick up my daughter from work so late at night) so I thought of doing some updating. Not that much time to write something entirely new BUT the good news is, I actually have a completed post that has been sitting in my drafts folder for months now! I don't really remember why I never got around to publishing it. So better now when I have the chance, correct?

It's another cake hack!

Image credit: Red Ribbon Bakeshop website
That's Red Ribbon Bakeshop's coffee crunch cake (of course, you knew that already).  Here's the copycat I made for my husband's birthday last November.


Now here's how to make it. (Sorry for being so direct.  Told you, I didn't have that much time on my hands.)  Anyway, enjoy!

COFFEE CRUNCH CAKE (makes one 8" cake)

This cake has four components: the vanilla chiffon, the whipped cream frosting, the caramel sauce, and the coffee crunch. Don't be intimidated! Save for the frosting, the three other elements can be made ahead so that's less stress! 

Make days head:

1. 8" vanilla chiffon cake - recipe here.  Freeze then thaw about an hour before you plan to frost it.

2. The COFFEE CRUNCH:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup strong black/brewed coffee
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted

Line a baking tray with baking paper or silpat.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, coffee, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. Cook over medium heat to just below the hard-crack stage (310 deg F or 155 deg C).

Remove from heat. Sprinkle the baking soda evenly over coffee sugar syrup. Whisk just until combined. 

Pour immediately onto the prepared baking sheet. Do not spread. Let stand until cool and hard, about 30 minutes.


Break into approximately 1/2" pieces.  Keep in an airtight container until ready to use.


3. The CARAMEL SAUCE:

Ingredients:

3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons thickened cream (or heavy whipping cream)
pinch of salt

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and over medium heat, melt the sugar until it is golden amber in colour.  You can move the pan from side to side to ensure even melting but do not stir the sugar.

Slowly pour the cream down the side of the pan.  The mixture will bubble up and splatter.  Mix with a spoon until smooth. Add in the salt.

Transfer the caramel sauce to a container.  Let cool completely, cover, then refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before using.



To assemble this cake:

1. Make a batch of stable whipped cream frosting (recipe here).

2. Cut your cake horizontally in half then place top layer, cut side up on your cake board.  

Fill a large piping bag fitted with a large star tip with some whipped cream frosting then pipe a dam around the cake edge. Spread some whipped cream on the space inside the dam.


3.  Fill the cake center generously with coffee crunch pieces.


4.  Cover the center with more whipped cream.


5.  Top with the remaining cake half, cut side down.  Frost the entire cake then run a cake comb around the cake side.


6.  With the same bag and star tip you used for making the dam in step 2, pipe large stars around the cake top, about 1/2" in from the edge.


7.  Put some runny, room temperature caramel sauce in a small piping bag. (If your caramel sauce has thickened too much from refrigeration, take a small amount and microwave it for just a few seconds to make it more liquid BUT not hot.)  Cut a small bit off the tip of your piping bag then drizzle all around the cake edge.


8.  Fill another small piping bag with thick caramel sauce.  Snip a little bit off the end again then pipe spirals on top of each star on the cake top.


8.  Just before serving, fill the cake center with lots of coffee crunch. (Once the coffee crunch is exposed to air and moisture, it will shrink and melt and become a sticky mess so DO NOT place it on the cake until you are ready to serve.)