Chocolate cake with buttercream flowers

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This post is an homage to my how far I have come in my cake baking process. Every year, for the last 3 years, I have baked a birthday cake for my friend Shazu. And every year, I look to challenge myself and try new things when I am making the new cake. Also, Shazu’s birthday falls in spring, so I seem to have a floral, spring theme to my cakes.

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Lemon and Berry Friands

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I have surprised myself for even having time to write this down, after what feels like a marathon of baking! I am having a tea party for some friends from work tomorrow, and not only am I making a 3-layered unicorn cake, these delicious lemon and raspberry friands are baking away in the oven as I type. Usually after this much baking in a day, by now I would be just flopping myself down on the couch and asking my husband to help with the washing up. Not only have I done ALL the washing from my baking prep, I clearly have the energy to get going with my blog.

I actually have been planning for this weekend for a while. It helped that we had a public holiday (perks of living in footy crazy Melbourne) yesterday. I did all the shopping yesterday and it seems that I have just paced myself and got things done, one after the other.

You know how they say a professional athlete not only practices the sport physically, they also visualise how and what they are going to do? I think I managed to apply some of that here. Hence, I dragged myself to the gym this morning and did some negative chin ups (sorry, cannot help bragging about that one) and then came home, had brekky and boom, whipped out my cake batter. Then did some errands with the hubby (I did forget to buy some crucial ingredients) and got myself a delicious cup of coffee AND binge watched The Good Place on Netflix. I digress, but I absolutely loved that show! Specially the first season where you can see great character development. I was hating on Fake Eleanor at first and then started rooting for her! And two thumbs up for the diversity!

Anyhow, after some Netflix, I then got on to the friands. These gluten-free friands are a great addition to an afternoon tea. And they are so easy to whip up. I especially love them for work functions because there’s always someone who needs a gluten-free option and I can easily make it the night before if it’s a mid-week affair.

These turned out very lemony and soft. They didn’t rise as much as I hoped, and I realised my oven wasn’t hot enough for the first batch. My second batch was better, but it still didn’t rise as much, so I don’t know whether the shape of the moulds made a difference. What I do know is that they are very tasty! Perfect with a cup of tea.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 and 1/3 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup gluten-free flour, sifted
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon lemon rind, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 160 °C.
  • Place almond meal, icing sugar, baking powder, flour, egg whites, butter, lemon juice and rind, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Whisk until combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased muffin tray (friands are traditionally made in oval shaped moulds, but I used a standard muffin tray). Top with the frozen berries (I used raspberries).
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cooked when tested with a skewer.
  •  Remove form baking tin and place on wire rack to cool.

 

Chocolate mousse tarts

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Spring is here! But it is yet to feel like spring in Melbourne. Apart from the magnolia and cherry blossoms blooming, it certainly doesn’t feel like warmer weather is on the way. Mornings are cold, the winds are chilly and add to that the fear of being swooped by magpies!

I remember when I was first swooped. It was in spring 2011. I was riding a bike down a street in Broken Hill. I didn’t know what hit me when they first swooped. I just yelled out and wildly looked around to see what it was. Then I saw them, THREE magpies, sitting on a tree ahead, waiting for me to go by. Of course, I had no idea they were so crafty, so I just rode ahead and got swooped again. This was when I started to panic. They clearly had a plan. I pedaled that bike for my life, but the magpies weren’t done yet. They were just waiting there, ready to swoop. As I am writing this, I have a vision of poor Rickon. Every meme, every tweet yelled at him to run in zig zags, to avoid Ramsey’s arrow. I’m seeing how, maybe just a little, this could be applied to my situation. But I was no way skilled enough to ride my bike in zig zags. All I had was my helmet. Hence why, spring is my least favourite season, despite the promises of warmer weather and the sweet smelling golden wattles. So in the meantime, instead of venturing outside, I am comforting myself with rich desserts, cheerful dinner conversations and homemade pasta!

I have found the most perfect chocolate mousse recipe here. It’s so easy to make and I like how you just need a few basic pantry ingredients. After I had made this a couple of times, I wanted to do something else with the mousse. This reminded me of a mocha mousse I had made once, where the mousse had turned out quite dense. So I was keen to make a tart with fluffy mousse and the tart base would be the perfect crunch element against the mousse’s creaminess.

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I was browsing pastry recipes and found one with lemon zest in it. I was keen to try this, but felt the mousse might be too wet for pastry and might make the tart cases soggy while the mousse was setting.

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I browsed chocolate tarts and almost 99% of them came with a biscuit base. I found one mousse tart with a pastry base, but the mousse recipe had gelatine in it so I wasn’t sure whether that made a difference. And I had a friend coming over for dinner, so I really couldn’t experiment around with different bases. So I stuck with a tried and tested biscuit base and added orange zest to it. Which worked perfectly! Tasting the orange cut through the richness of the tart!

The menu for the night was a joint effort by my husband and me. He made the sauce for the tasty salmon pasta and a pear and greens salad and I made the fresh pasta and dessert. And our friend just devoured two of the tarts without a second thought! Success!

Ingredients: 

Tart base:

  • 250g packet Choc- Ripple biscuits
  • 125gram butter, melted

Pierre Roelofs’ classic chocolate mousse

  • 170g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 80ml milk
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 egg yolk
  • a pinch of salt

Candied oranges:

  • Orange slices
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Method:

  • Place the sugar and water in a pot and bring to boil, until the sugar has melted. Add the orange juice and then add the orange slices. Keep the mixture on a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. I actually left the mixture on the stove while I was making the mousse, so my oranges would’ve been simmering for over an hour.
  • Place oranges on a cooling a rack. And allow to cool completely. (about 1 hour or overnight).
  • Make the tart base. Process the biscuits in a food processor until finely ground. Add butter and process until mixture has come together.
  • Press the mixture onto tart bases and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes or till firm.
  • To make the mousse, melt the chocolate over boiling water, in a glass bowl. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.
  • Gently bring the milk to boil. Slowly add the milk to the chocolate mixture, whisking slowly. Add the egg yolk and whisk. Once the mixture has combined, leave it to cool slightly.
  • In the meantime, whisk the egg whites into firm peaks. Slowly add the sugar and whisk until the egg whites are glossy and firm.
  • Add about a third of the meringue to the chocolate mixture and whisk lightly. Then gently fold in the rest of the meringue, with a rubber spatula till it’s incorporated. Spoon the mousse into the tart tins. Chill for about an hour.

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A seasonal affair: Rhubarb, Strawberry and Thyme tarts

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Rhubarb, strawberry and thyme tarts

We’re now well into winter. Now having passed the winter solstice, it means the days will get longer and eventually, warmer days will be here. I keep dreaming of the gorgeous berries and stone fruits that are in season during the warmer months. But right now, I keep seeing a lot of rhubarb.

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Milk and White Chocolate Chunk Brownies

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The last month has been a busy month. I am happy to see the back of May. For someone who had been working just a few days a week, starting full-time work has been a bit of a shock. Finding a balance between work, spending time with friends as well as giving time to other things I enjoy like cooking and reading has been hard. My pots of herbs and plants have been really neglected and in need of some serious TLC.

As a strong advocate for work/life/balance, last month has been too much on the go for me. My brain has not had the time to switch off. And when I had some time to do some baking last weekend, it was a much-needed me-time. I recently read this article on Huffington Post about how baking is a form of mindfulness. This had me thinking of baking in a whole new view. I spend a lot of time measuring ingredients, gently folding mixtures through, and planning what I would do next. Never am I more present in the moment, other than when I am baking or cooking. I have always found baking, calming. So after a busy month of back to back work and full-on weekends, thinking about how to make a recipe work, how to bake a cake perfectly and what else I can do to perfect a dessert, I found baking the perfect stress-release outlet.

The article also spoke about how baking feels rewarding when it is for other people. This made me think of the brownies I make. I bake it almost always on someone’s request or to share with a group of friends. For a long road trip or as a go-to dessert, these brownies are always welcome.

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My favourite thing about these brownies is the caramelised white chocolate chunks that give it a hint of nuttiness. I spruced it up by adding some cream cheese and walnut praline crumb. This turned an already tasty brownie into something quite fancy; something you might find on a dessert table at a party. Adding the edible flowers made it look absolutely gorgeous, specially when brownies are not desserts that photograph well.

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Ingredients:
Brownies:
– 300g dark chocolate, chopped
– 150g butter, chopped
– 1 1/2 cups (315g) caster sugar
– 4 eggs, lightly whisked
– 1 1/4 cups (190g) plain flour
– 1/2 cup (125g) sour cream
– 200g white chocolate, chopped
– 100g milk chocolate, chopped

Walnut Praline:
– 50g walnuts
– 250g caster sugar
– 2 teaspoon ground coffee

Cream Cheese Frosting:
– 60g cream cheese, softened
– 30g butter, softened
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
– 3/4 cup icing sugar mixture

Method:
– For the brownies, pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees and grease a 23cm cake pan. Line the base of the pan with baking paper, allowing the paper to hang over the sides of the pan.
– Place the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring until the chocolate and butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to burn it. Remove from heat and leave to cool slightly, for about 5 minutes.
– Add the sugar into the chocolate mixture and combine. Add the eggs, and stir to combine. Add the flour and sour cream and stir until just mixed. Gently fold in the chopped chocolate chunks and fold gently through the mixture.
– Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour or until it’s cooked through. When a skewer is inserted, it might have crumbs on it, but that’s okay. We don’t want the brownie to over cook and harden.
– To make the praline, first, roast the walnuts in the oven at 200 degrees for about 5 minutes. Then wrap the walnuts in a tea towel and rub the skins and chop them up. Add the coffee and mix to coat the walnuts. Warm the walnuts and coffee on a baking tray for one minute while you’re making the caramel.
– To make the caramel, add the sugar to a small saucepan. Keep shaking the pan to cook the sugar evenly. Add the coffee coated walnuts into the caramel and stir. Ad the hot caramel onto a baking paper and allow to cool.
– Break the praline into pieces and crush it using a motor and pestle or whizz it in a small food processor.
– For the cream cheese, place the cheese, butter and vanilla in a bowl and beat until pale, using an electric beater. Gradually add the icing sugar, beating until combined well. Pop the cream cheese in a piping bag and pipe it on top of the brownie slices. Sprinkle the praline crumble on top of the brownies. Decorate with edible flowers if desired.

Lavender: to eat and smell!

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Vanilla cupcakes with French Buttercream

Making the perfect cupcakes make me happy. Eating the perfect cupcake makes me even happier. Cupcakes are the beautiful balance of tasty cake and gorgeous, but still delicious, frosting. Aesthetics are a big part of cupcakes but one can never sacrifice taste for looks. This is probably why I prefer buttercream over fondant. It wasn’t until I had started making the French buttercream did I feel like my cupcake game had peaked. I had managed to master a lovely vanilla cupcake thanks to taste.com.au. But I kept struggling with the buttercream.

I’ve had many struggles with buttercream. Buttercream that split or cream cheese frosting that would not thicken. French buttercream is the only one that has never failed me.

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Macadamia and Dark Chocolate Cookies

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Macadamia and dark chocolate cookies

I like my cookies chewy and doughy. I used to work at a bookshop that was right in front of a cookie stall. The lady working at the cookie stall was very nice to me. She would sneak in a few extra cookies for me if I made it to her at the end of the day, before they closed. When I stopped working at the bookshop, my regular cookie supply also stopped.

Baking my first batch of cookies, I remember smelling the cookie dough for the first time. (more…)