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.
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.
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.
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!
250g packet Choc- Ripple biscuits
125gram butter, melted
Pierre Roelofs’ classic chocolate mousse
170g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
20g icing sugar
4 egg whites
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
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.
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.
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.
– 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.
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.
When I started making this cake I thought I would be coming out with a delicious recipe. But despite recipe testing, due to the various trials and errors I faced, I ended up mostly writing about what not to do when baking a cake.
As my chef friend Fathun said ‘Cheffing or being a cook is about fixing disasters too, as you have learnt from Masterchef’. I had Fathun’s help throughout this cake-making process. I can say Fathun is one of the people who is most enthusiastic and supportive of my cooking adventures. She’s always excited about new ideas I have and we both have so much fun planning dinners together. We both tend to go over-board when planning these said dinners, and a simple catching up meal will almost end up with a main, sides and dessert.
I love doughnuts, but I hate frying things. So when I saw that I could make baked doughnuts with a doughnut tray I went on a hunt for one. It was actually quite hard to find it and stumbled on it completely by accident. I was shopping with a little friend E that day and the 6 year old was almost excited at the prospect of me buying it. Since E wanted to make it with me (she didn’t even want me to just make it for her, she wanted to help) I made sure to invite her to come help me decorate the doughnuts.
We decided to try and do galaxy doughnuts and they were so cool! E was very excited to help and she came up with different colour combinations. We had a lot of fun mixing colours, dunking the doughnuts into the glaze and licking the glaze off our fingers.
It was an interesting experience giving E free reign to decorate. I had certain ideas about what I wanted, but E too, had ideas about what she wanted. I think she was more eager to just try new things. I had set colours I wanted to use, but E wanted to try a little bit of everything and the colours turned out great! To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about putting the chocolate sprinkles on the galaxy doughnuts. I thought E would put them on a plain white one or a single coloured one. My mind was fixed on the Instagram pictures I had seen, but E was too happy to play with the chocolate sprinkles in new ways. A learning experience from E; letting myself have fun and experiment, rather than stick to what I know.
I made 7 doughnuts using this recipe.
– 1 cup flour
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 egg
– 65 grams brown sugar
– 1/2 cup milk
– 1/4 cup plain yoghurt
– 30 gram butter
– 100 gram dark chocolate
– 1 and 1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 2-3 tablespoon milk
– Food colouring and sprinkles to decorate
Chocolate sprinkles on doughnuts
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees (150 degrees in fan-forced oven). Grease a doughnut pan.
Break chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with butter. Sit over a saucepan of barely simmering water, until the mixture is melted and smooth (stirring occasionally). Keep a close eye on the mixture, you don’t want the chocolate to burn!
Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and leave it to cool.
Mix the flour, baking soda, bicarb, salt and sugar in a seperate bowl.
Mix the egg into the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. The mixture will seize up, but don’t worry, it’ll become nice and smooth when you keep whisking. Add the milk and yoghurt and whisk until smooth.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the chocolate mixture. Stir it until it’s just mixed. Don’t worry if the batter is thick, we want the doughnuts to be a bit doughy.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Alternatively, what I did was to put the batter in the piping bag (a makeshift one with a ziplock bag and cutting the corner) and piped it into the doughnut holes.
Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack. You can store these in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.
Make the glaze. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and whisk till smooth. Add more milk if you think the mixture is too thick. Dip the cooled doughnuts into the glaze and top with sprinkles.
As soon as I told my friends and family I was heading to Maldives for holidays, I was greeted by multiple requests for pavlova. In fact, I made more pavlovas in that month than I had in a year!
Making pavlovas was certainly an adventure. I have a fond memory for each and every pavlova I have made. When I made a pavlova with my younger siblings at my Dad’s place, I had to beat the egg whites with just one beater in the electric hand mixer. The kids’ enthusiasm to help me out made up for the missing beater though.
When I decided to make one for my cousins (whose requests had been the loudest), they told me it was too hard; they didn’t have all the equipment. I told them I would take everything: bowls, electric mixer, baking paper, etc., they told me to calm down, they didn’t even have an oven! In the end, they bought an oven (not just for my pavlova, but so my aunt could also bake her delicious fish pie). Never have I seen a pavlova being devoured so quickly than when I made it that day.
I also got to connect with a friend I had only really spoken on Instagram. We both had a food-loving mutual friend, and we bonded over delicious looking food photos. So when I headed back, we had a pav-date, so she could learn how to make it. Making the meringue worked like a charm (my friend had all the equipment ready to go), but I was trying to whip the cream and it was taking forever, and not getting any thicker! This was something I hadn’t anticipated. Due to the humid and tropical Maldivian weather, I was told by my friends to put the beaters and the bowl in the freezer to cool them down to be able to thicken the cream. Working in an air-conditioned room could help too.
The end product was always well received and the memories we made were always worth any hurdles we faced. My holiday did turn into a pavlova, as my friend mentioned and it was a lot of fun.
I went through my Instagram account and managed to find some of the pavlovas I had made over the last few years. I’ve included my go-to meringue recipe below. For the pavlova I made today, I steered away form the traditional passionfruit drizzle and made some lemon curd instead. I was inspired to use lemon curd as a topping when my friend from work, Paula, gave me some delicious lemon curd she had made. I had it with some berries and thought about how good it would be on a pav. Plus it is a great way to utilise those egg yolks.
My favourite toppings
I tend to stick to seasonal fruits when topping my pavlovas. I love berries hence, I usually make my pavlovas during summer. Mangoes are also perfect topping for a tropical theme and even stone-fruit like peaches and nectarines will be delicious, especially if you caramelise them first! Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries with a sprinkle of basil and drizzled with fig balsamic vinegar is the favourite topping I have made so far.
What are your favourite pavlova toppings? Feel free to share.
This recipe will make a nice little pavlova enough for about 4-5 people. If you want a bigger one, just double the recipe.
– 3 egg whites
– 150 grams caster sugar
– 1 teaspoon white vinegar
– 1 teaspoon cornflour
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 cup thickened cream
– fruits to top (strawberries, banana, kiwi, blueberries, mango, etc)
– Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees. Prepare a flat baking tray and line it with baking paper. Draw a 20cm disc (or however big your serving plate is) on the paper and place the pencil side down.
– In a clean metal bowl, whisk the egg whites using a stand/hand held electric mixer until soft peaks form.
– Slowly add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy. A test to see if the sugar has been incorporated is to rub a bit of meringue between your fingers. If it feels grainy, keep mixing.
– Beat in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla extract.
– Spoon the mixture onto the baking tray and smoothen the top. You can leave it rustic, or round the sides using a knife.
– Bake the meringue for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 110, and then bake for further 60 minutes or till the meringue shell is completely dry. Leave in the oven to completely cool.
– Whisk the cream till soft peaks form and spread on top of meringue. Top with fruits and enjoy.