Category Archives: baking

Recipe: Almond biscuits with Davidson Plum Powder and Ruby Ganache

I know.  I know.  This is a completely ridiculous recipe to share because it’s basically all obscure ingredients.  And do you want to know how it came about?  It came about because we had a bake sale to fundraise for my Relay for Life team, and I’d made vegan cupcakes, and blueberry-lemon cupcakes with berry mousse (leftover from the Tentacle Cake), but I didn’t have anything gluten free in the mix.  And I have a lot of people at work who need gluten-free goodies.  So I decided to make one of my many trusty almond biscuit recipes, and thought, what do I have in my pantry?

And the answer was Davidson plum powder and Ruby chocolate.  Among other things.  So… this is technically a Pantry Special – but only if your pantry is full of *really* random things that you bought at farmers markets and specialty shops and then forgot to use.

On the other hand, if your pantry *is* full of such things, this is actually a pretty good recipe.  It’s not too sweet, it’s nicely acidic, and it’s gluten-free (and the only dairy is in the ganache, so if you are someone who can handle a little bit of dairy but not much, you can probably cope with this).  And it’s super fast to make!

Also, you get to feel like a super pretentious version of Arabella Weir and Richard E Grant on Posh Nosh when people ask you what flavour your biscuits are.  ‘We took a gracious handful Ruby chocolate from the very first shipment to reach Australia, and gently seduced it into a menage-à-deux with the cream.  Then we added some Davidson plum powder.  It’s acidic and a little bit demanding, and but it condoles perfectly with the almonds in the biscuits…’

Apologies again for the lack of pictures.  I was baking a lot of things in a hurry and forgot to pay attention to the photography side of things.  To make up for it, if you scroll down, I’ll tell you how to make a ‘lava lamp’ from kitchen ingredients.  Accompanied by a terrible photo, if I do say so myself.

Your shopping list

200g almond meal
50 g sugar
10 g Davidson plum powder
1 egg
40 ml cream
120 g ruby chocolate

Now what will you do with it?

Preheat your oven to 170°C, and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Combine the almond meal, sugar and Davidson plum powder in a bowl, then mix in the egg until you have a nice dough.

Roll into small balls – walnut sized, or thereabouts – and place on the tray, then flatten slightly.

Bake for 15 minutes or so, or until just getting golden brown underneath.

Now chop the ruby chocolate (or if you have it in tiny pellets, it will be fine as is), and put into a heatproof bowl.  Bring the cream to the boil, and pour over the chocolate.  Cover the bowl for 30 seconds to speed the meltiness, then stir until you have a smooth mixture.

Dollop the ganache onto each biscuit, and top with a few little purple edible glitter stars, if you have them.  Because why not?

Variations

Well, freeze-dried raspberry powder would work in a pinch.  You want something acidic but dry, so that the biscuit keeps the same texture.  Passionfruit powder might also work, but I’m not quite sure how that would mix with the ruby ganache.

As for dietary requirements, this biscuit is gluten-free and low-fructose, but full of nuts and rather dependent on the egg.  The dairy is only in the ganache – you could replace the cream with soy milk, but the only variety of Ruby chocolate currently available on the market contains milk powder, so if you are strictly non-dairy, you are going to be out of luck.

Random Science Experiment – Lava Lamp edition!

So, this made a lot of us happy at about 2 in the morning when we were trying to stay awake.  It was me, and one of the animal techs, and her non-scientist friend, and then we started demonstrating this for the Cancer Council volunteers and the teams next door to us.

So what I’m saying is, the picture may be crappy, and the experiment may sound really basic, but it’s more spectacular than you might think.  Especially at 2 am.

Your shopping list

Vegetable oil
Water
Food colouring
Alka seltzer

Extremely Scientific Method

Put a little water in the bottom of a glass jar and mix it with the food colouring.  Pour in vegetable oil to nearly the top.

Crumble an alka seltzer tablet into the jar.

It will start off just fizzing, but after 30 seconds or so, big, coloured bubbles will start floating down from the top.  It’s pretty awesome.

Also, when it stops, you can add more alka seltzer to get it started again.  After four or five times, it stops working so well, probably because the concentrations are off.  But it was great while it lasted!

Recipe: Walnut and Chocolate biscuits and a fundraiser

Every year, I organise a team of colleagues to do the Global Challenge, a pedometer-based challenge where you have to get a certain number of steps per day.  My team of seven has changed every year, but there are three people who have been in it every time, and more who have taken a year or two off and come back.  This year, we have my three regulars, someone who is back from last year, someone who is back from four years ago, and two newbies.

During the Global Challenge, there are certain weekends where we have ‘mini-challenges’, that encourage us to beat our personal best, or reach some arbitrary number of steps as a group, etc.  Traditionally, I try to organise long walks for these challenges – we’ve walked from Black Rock to Saint Kilda, up along Merri Creek to Fawkner for doughnuts, from Parkville to Williamstown to go on a ghost tour, from Brunswick to the CBD to go on a chocolate walk, and all the way from the mouth of the Moonee Ponds river up to Pascoe Vale, where we got caught in a thunderstorm. 

I was looking for some activities for us this year, and after getting a hard no on my belly-dancing plans, and establishing that several of our walkers couldn’t do really long walks this year for health reasons, I started looking around for more sensible options.  Which is when I spotted the ad for the Cancer Council Relay for Life… which just happened to fall on one of our challenge weekends.

This is a 24-hour relay to raise money for the Cancer Council, but it’s also about remembering people lost to cancer, and it has a fair bit of symbolism attached, in that nobody walks for 24 hours straight, but teams try to have someone on the track at all times.  If one person can’t continue, someone else will carry on for them.

I suggested this, only half-seriously to my lot. (Fine.  You don’t want belly-dancing.  How about a 24-hour relay, then?)  They were in.  And I mean, IN.  I was… appalled.  But also the team captain, so I got us signed up, and went recruiting for more team members.  My feeling was that we wanted two people rostered on at all times, in case someone needed a break, and ideally, I wanted the shifts to be offset so that someone was always fresh.  Fortunately, I was able to recruit 13 people, with two more joining us on the day, which meant that we each did two 2-hour shifts, and most people stayed on a bit before or after their shifts to help out.

Teams are encouraged to have costumes, themes, etc.  I was still recovering from the conference I’d just finished organising, so I was pretty much planning to just make sure people showed up and leave it at that, but I organised a bake sale to fundraise, and during the bake sale, our team plan evolved.  We would wear lab coats!  We would Engage With The Community!  We would have a science fair booth, with experiments that people could participate in!  We have a purple and yellow dragon onesie which is the same colours as the Cancer Council’s logo!

And we did.

I have to say, the day was a lot more fun than I had expected (I had not expected it to be any fun at all – I have dodgy knees which were playing up that week, so I knew it was going to be painful, and that’s about all I knew).  Cancer Council was delighted to have medical researchers participating.  The other participants – especially the children! – were delighted by our activities.  There was a silent disco overnight, which was hilarious to watch – between the people singing along and the people dancing to music only they could hear as they went around the track, it was quite something.  The lab coats turned out to be both warm and highly visible.  We realised early that we wouldn’t be winning the 4x100m sprint activity, so we turned it into a onesie costume relay with the costume having to be worn by each successive participant – and lost convincingly, dramatically, hilariously, and to sustained commentary from the organisers, who found the whole thing hysterical. 

Me, pretending to be a scientist. You should see me pipetting!

There were also some serious moments – the carers and survivors lap at the start, and the candlelight ceremony in the evening, which remembered people who were fighting cancer and people who had passed away from cancer recently.  It was very moving.

And I was very proud that, while other teams slowly shrank in size over the course of the event (I felt bad for one team where almost everyone went home at 9pm, leaving three people to carry the subsequent 13 and a half hours alone), my team mates all turned up on time, full of energy and enthusiasm, and walked, ran or danced their shifts, no matter what hour of the day or night. 

You probably didn’t come here for an extended report on Relay for Life, and I promise that the recipe is coming up next.  But while you are here… if you are currently feeling inclined to support a really good cancer charity in Australia, I’d love it if you’d sponsor meOr my team, who really were fantastic.

My awesome team, who totally deserve your sponsorship

And now for the recipe!  Which is linked, tenuously, to this post by the fact that I invented it for our fundraising morning tea.

This was a bit of a pantry special – I needed something for the people who couldn’t eat lactose or fructose or gluten (of which I have quite a few at work), and I needed something that was quick and wouldn’t require me to go to the shops.  I had half a packed of crushed walnuts and half a packet of cashews.  I had cocoa, and cinnamon.  And I had leftover vegan chocolate ganache from making Sachertorte cupcakes.

So that was easy.  This is basically my almond biscuit recipe in yet another iteration, but I found that without almonds, it made a pretty sticky, sloppy dough, so I added some rice flour to help hold it together.  I did find that I needed slightly damp hands to shape it, even so.  But the results were really delicious, so it was worth the minor hassle.

Very few pictures, I’m afraid – I was too busy trying to make the biscuits in time after a very long day at work – but if you scroll down to the bottom I *will* tell you how to make a rainbow carnation. 

Your shopping list

100 g walnuts (crushed is fine, you will be pulverising them anyway)
100g cashews (ditto)
50 g cocoa
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
75 g caster sugar
1 egg
1-2 tbsp rice flour, if needed
1/4 cup soy milk
125 g Lindt 70% chocolate
30 ml maple syrup Continue reading

Recipe: Vegan Sacher-cupcakes

Calling these cupcakes Sacher-cupcakes is probably an insult to Austrians everywhere and they will never let me go back to their country, let alone that hotel, but I do think it’s a fair description. 

Sachertorte is a light chocolate sponge covered with apricot jam and chocolate glaze.  These cakes are also light and chocolatey, filled with apricot jam and covered with chocolate ganache, and they are really delicious.  I’ve made this recipe quite a few times in the last year or two for work events, because it’s incredibly easy and fast to make, works with gluten-free flour mix if it needs to, and once you fill it with apricot jam and load it with ganache nobody will believe that it’s vegan.

Continue reading

Recipe: Lavender Butterfly Cakes with Blackberry Jam and Whipped Ganache

These are really quite basic cupcakes with a little bit of lavender in them.  If you’ve ever made a plain butter cake, you probably used this recipe, but without the lavender.  The only slightly complex part is the whipped ganache, which is a bit fiddly, but actually very easy. Once you’ve made the ganache once, you’ll probably want to make it again, because it gives you a delicately flavoured cream that holds up much better than whipped cream if it needs to sit around for a few hours.

The only thing to remember is that you need to start the ganache at least 7 hours before you plan to serve the cupcakes.  Making it the day before is fine.

Also, I just love the flavour of lavender, but usually I make it either too strong or not strong enough.  For me, this whipped ganache is in the magical Goldilocks zone – noticeably lavender, without making you think about soap…

Your shopping list

75 white chocolate
125 + 160g cream, both chilled
3 blackberries, crushed
1 tsp dried culinary lavender + 2 tsp for the cake
12g liquid glucose (yes, I know, I know.  This recipe is usually made in a much larger batch.  This is about 1 1/2 teaspoons, I think.  Just think how much worse it would be if I’d only made a dozen cupcakes!)
250g butter, softened
300 g caster sugar
4 eggs
370 g self-raising flour
160 ml milk
500g blackberry jam

Now what will you do with it?

First, make the ganache.  Chop up the white chocolate and put it into a bowl.

Put 125g cream in a small saucepan with the blackberries and 1 tsp of lavender, and heat until boiling point.  Switch off the heat and leave for five minutes.

Pour the cream through a seive into another bowl.  Press the blackberries into the seive with the fork to make sure their juice comes through.  Return the cream to the saucepan.

Add the liquid glucose, which is, yes, a pain to use, but it does somehow make the ganache more stable.  What I recommend doing is rinsing a teaspoon and your hands in cold water, then using the teaspoon to scoop out the glucose and your finger to push it off into the cream – the cold water makes the glucose stick less.  And I’m sorry about the quantities.  This is the halved version of the recipe, and even with 24 cupcakes, you are going to have more than you need…

Bring the cream and glucose back to the boil, and pour the mixture over the white chocolate in the bowl.  Stir until the chocolate melts.  If you’ve made ganache before, you are probably worried about these ratios, because this is a very thin ganache and about to get thinner.  Don’t worry – think of this as whipped cream thickened with chocolate, and it will make more sense.

Stir in the rest of the chilled cream.  You might add a drop of purple colouring to the mixture to make it more inviting if you like, but this is optional.  Cover the ganache with clingwrap, which should be directly on the surface of the cream, and refrigerate for at least six hours or up to two days.

When you are ready to make the cupcakes, preheat your oven to 180°C, and line two twelve-hole muffin tins with paper cases.  (Or do this in two batches, one tin at a time.)

Grind the lavender in a mortar and pestle (you can grind it with some of the sugar if you find this easier) until it is somewhat broken down.

Put the lavender into a medium-sized mixing bowl with the butter and sugar, and cream together.  Add the eggs one at a time, then mix in the flour and milk, alternately.

Divide the mixture between the muffin tins, and put into the oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cakes feel soft and springy when you poke at them gently.  You might want to swap the trays around at the 15 or 20 minute mark, depending on how they are doing.

Remove from their tins, and let cool on a rack.  Get out your ganache, and whip it as you would cream.  The ganache has a higher fat content than cream, though, so it will whip up much faster – don’t put on a stand mixer and wander off to hang out the washing or something, this is probably only going to take a couple of minutes.

Use a small knife to cut a conical circle (I’m sure that is terrible geometry, but the right words escape me) in the middle of each cake – basically, you want a nice, round, section of cake, slightly pointed in the middle, which you are going to cut in half to make the butterfly wings, so don’t eat it!

Place a small spoonful of blackberry jam in the centre of each hole, and pipe or spoon the lavender ganache over the top of it.

Gently place the two ‘wings’ into the cream, pushing slightly inward as you do, to help raise the cream.

Dust with icing sugar or little purple stars.

Feed to the people you love.

Variations

Well, there’s no reason this has to be a lavender cake, I suppose, but isn’t that rather a waste? You might make the cakes with raspberry jam and a little rosewater in the ganache (add half a teaspoon with the cold cream, then taste and see if you need a little more), in which case I’d keep the cakes plain vanilla, because it is far too easy to wind up with overly-perfumed rose cakes.

You could replace 50 grams of the flour with cocoa, and then fill the cakes with cherry jam and add kirsch to your ganache.  Apparently, I’ve decided that black forest is the variation I want for every cupcake I’m doing.  Or just go ultra-chocolate – I bet this would be amazing with dark chocolate whipped ganache and a caramel filling, or a raspberry one, or maybe you could add peppermint essence to your whipped chocolate ganache, and have a choc-mint cupcake.  At which point you should probably decorate it with shards of Peppermint Crisp, because that is the law.

In terms of dietary requirements, I don’t think you are going to be able to avoid dairy here, but if you have a good, basic vegan vanilla cupcake recipe you could certainly make this ensemble eggless.  It is obviously free of nuts.  It would work just fine with my gluten-free self-raising flour mix, and the result should also be low in fructose, though certainly not in lactose.

Recipe: Rainbow cake

So, judging by the reaction I’ve had every time I’ve shown anyone any photos of this cake, this is probably the first recipe I ought to be sharing. Because, let’s face it, that was one spectacular-looking cake.

It’s also a lot easier than it looks.  Seriously, if you can make a passable marble cake, and have access to good-quality food colouring, you can make this.

I actually found the prototype for this recipe online, and I’ll share the YouTube video below, because I didn’t actually take photos of the various steps, being as I was engaged in just trying to get the thing to work.

I changed a handful of things for this recipe.  For one thing, I made it gluten-free, using a modified version of my gluten-free flour mix.  For another, I decided to flavour it with orange flower water instead of vanilla.  Using orange blossoms in the bouquet or bridal wreath is a very old bridal tradition, and I thought it would be nice to give a nod to that, especially given how interested one of the brides had been in my use of rosewater and lavender in cupcakes.  I kept the flavour pretty subtle, because too much orange flower water can be very much like eating soap.

But you know what was the big thing I did that changed this cake into a proper rainbow cake?

I baked it in a smaller tin.

That’s it. 

And the smaller tin meant that the arch of the rainbow was raised, giving a much more impressive rainbow effect than it might otherwise have had.

I’m going to suggest two different decorating ideas for this – the one I used in my practice run, and the one I used for the actual wedding cake.  It really depends how formal you are feeling…

 

Your shopping list

150g butter
160g sugar
3 eggs
270g gluten-free flour mix
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
120g yoghurt
60g milk
1 tsp orange flower water
red, yellow, green, blue and purple food colouring pastes (these are far more vibrant than liquid food colouring)
200g white chocolate
65 ml cream
500g white icing OR lots of hundreds and thousands

You will also need a 5 inch (12.5cm) round tin with tall sides.

Now what will you do with it?

Grease the tin with butter, and line the bottom and the sides.  You really don’t want all your good work to come to nothing when you turn the cake out! Preheat oven to 170°C.

(Also, you need to know now that you are not going to use all this mixture in a cake tin this size.  You need somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4.  You can make the rest into really psychedelic cupcakes, if you want.)

Cream the butter and the sugar, then beat in the eggs one by one.

Beat in the dry ingredients, then the yoghurt and the milk.  Mix in half a teaspoon of orange flower water, and taste to see if it’s strong enough.  Add the other half teaspoon if you think it needs more (I’ve found that some brands are stronger than others).

Divide the mixture between six bowls, and colour them red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.  Orange requires only a tiny amount of red compared to yellow, and I strongly recommend that you buy a purple colour if you can – you can never get a really vibrant purple from red and blue colour.

Make sure the mixture is super-bright.  Now is not the time to worry about the chemicals in food colouring – you don’t want a pastel rainbow, and baking will bleach the cake slightly.

Now for the fun bit!  Get a big dollop of the red mixture – about 2/3 – 3/4 of what’s in the bowl, and plop it carefully into the middle of the tin.  Bang the tin really hard on the bench to make the red mixture spread out a bit.  It won’t go all the way to the edges yet, and that’s fine.

Get a similarly sized dollop of the orange, and plop it carefully into the very centre of the tin on top of the red.  Bash the tin on the bench again – the orange will spread out with the red spreading out further under it, so you have concentric circles.  Well, circle-ish things.

If this is confusing, have a look at the video below.  This is where I got the recipe from – so thank you Emma, for this fantastic method.

Dollop the yellow on top of the orange, and repeat the banging bit, then do the same with the green, then the blue, then the purple.

If you are miraculously good at this, you should be able to see a little bit of red, a little bit of orange, a little bit of yellow, a little bit of green and a little bit of blue, all in concentric circles under the purple.  I wasn’t that good, but it still worked pretty well.

If you are about 2/3 of the way up the tin, you can stop here.  If it’s only half full, go for a double rainbow.  The next layers will be a bit smaller, but that’s OK.

Put the tin in the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.  If, after 45 minutes, it’s browning too fast but still wet in the middle, reduce the temperature to 165.  It will bake eventually, I promise, but deep cakes are a bit tricky.  This one should pass the skewer test when it’s done.

Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.

Once the cake is cool, your next step is to make the cake nice and flat on top, because you want to serve this cake upside down from where it was in the tin, so that you have a rainbow rather than a series of colourful smiles. I have no tips for this.  My cakes almost always turn out looking drunk.  I fluked the wedding cake, and it was still a tiny bit crooked, frankly.  Just do your best.

My practice cake looked very drunk, but nobody cared once I covered it in sprinkles.

Now you are going to cover the cake in ganache and then either white icing, or sprinkles.

To make the ganache, chop the white chocolate finely and put it into a bowl.

Bring the cream to a boil, and pour over the ganache.  Cover the bowl with a lid for a minute or so, to start the chocolate melting, then stir the mixture until it is smooth.   Use a spatula to coat the cake thinly in ganache.

If you are looking for a nice, formal cake, you want the white icing.  Sprinkle your work surface with icing sugar, and knead the icing firmly until it is soft enough to work into a smooth ball.

Use a rolling pin to roll it out.  It wants to stick to the surface, so what you do is this.  First, sprinkle more icing sugar on the work surface, and roll the rolling pin over the ball twice, away from you, so that you have an oval.  Pick it up, and turn it over, and then rotate it 90 degrees and roll the rolling pin over it twice more.  Turn it over and rotate it again, and keep going until the icing is about 3-5 mm thick, and big enough to cover the cake with several centimetres to spare on each side.  So about 35cm diameter, maybe?  The reason you are turning it over constantly, by the way, is that this helps the icing not to stick to the work surface, so don’t forget to do that bit.

Now you need to drape it over the cake.  This is a pain, and the trick is not to stretch it.  Pick it up carefully and place it gently over the top of the cake.  Use a spatula or smoother (or your hand…) to smooth down the top of the cake only.

Now smooth the cake down the sides with downward strokes, a little at a time.  If you are about to get wrinkles, gently pull the bottom of the icing outward, being careful not to stretch it, while you smooth down the side from top to bottom.  If you are lucky, this will result in no lumps or wrinkles.  I strongly suggest watching some YouTube videos (look up ‘covering a cake with fondant’) until you think you can replicate the method.  That’s what I did…

If this sounds like way too much faffing around, go with the sprinkle topping instead!

To do this, cover the cake with ganache again, but this time, get out a big metal skewer and skewer the cake from bottom to top.

Make a layer of 100s and 1000s or other coloured sprinkles on a long, flat tray or your working surface, and use the skewer to place the cake on its side at one end of the sprinkles.  Carefully push the skewer all the way through the cake, and use it to roll the cake along the layer of sprinkles until it is completely coated.

Now draw back the skewer a little, and use it to lever up the cake and place it face down into the sprinkles (or alternatively, get the cake back onto a cake plate, and leave the top white, or cover it with sprinkles by the more traditional, sprinkling method).

Carefully lever the cake up onto a cake plate.

Serve to someone who needs more colour in their life!

Variations

This is a gluten-free cake, obviously, and it is also low in fructose, and nut-free.  You could probably make a vegan version – just start with a vegan cake recipe that has a fairly wet, but not liquid, consistency.  You don’t want something that is too pancake-batterish, but you don’t want something really stiff, either.  I’m sorry – I don’t have any recommendations for this one.

If you just need it to be gluten and dairy free, you can, of course, use a good dairy-free margarine like Nuttelex, and a soy or coconut milk and yoghurt.

I’m sure you could use natural food colours for this, but I think you’d have to work hard to stop your rainbow from being too pastel – though that could be pretty, too, in the right circumstances.

Cake for a rainbow wedding

Hello!  It’s been a very long time, hasn’t it?  There were several reasons for this – I got interested in fiction writing, which meant that I had less time to spare for food writing; my wrist kept getting worse, which made baking and typing both painful; I discovered Indian cooking, which meant that I was using recipe books a lot, and not creating many new recipes.  Also… I’ve had kind of a bad patch in the last year or so where I haven’t felt like doing anything creative at all, but this seems to be getting better.

Anyway.  None of this is important compared to the much more exciting fact that I got to make my first ever cake for a same-sex wedding yesterday!

(I’ve been calling it my first Big Gay Wedding Cake, but since I do not, in point of fact, know what the cake’s personal preferences are, I should probably stop calling it that.)

Much has been made in the media (ooh, alliteration!) of gay weddings and Christian bakers and how it’s terrible, awful, so bad, that we might be forced to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings.

But I have to say, I was so incredibly thrilled when the sister of one of my dearest friends was finally able to get engaged to her long-time partner, and immediately asked my friend to relay the message that I’d love to bake their wedding cake, please, pretty please…

I mean, those of you who have met me in the flesh know how I feel about bright colours.  I have rainbow glasses.  I have rainbow ear-rings.  I have rainbow tops and rainbow skirts.  My wedding dress had rainbow chiffon on it.  Let’s just say that when I went to a marriage equality rally last year, I really had no difficulty whatsoever in finding something appropriate to wear, and indeed, at the rally I looked around me and thought, now, THIS is my aesthetic.  I want to go to more rallies like this one.

Anyway, to my great delight, they said yes, and that they would love a cupcake tower, with a cuttable cake on top.

At which point I got super nervous because what if the cake wasn’t PERFECT enough for this very special wedding, and warned them that while I could guarantee cakes that were pretty and delicious and catering to all allergies, I couldn’t promise something that looked, you know, like a perfectly smooth, white, professional wedding cake.

But that was OK, because they wanted rainbows too.  In fact, I was specifically told to make the cakes as bright and colourful as possible.  OK, then. I could do that.

The saturation adjuster on photoshop (or, as I like to think of it, the oversaturation button) was made for occasions like this one…

(And I have to note in passing that while I’m sure there are Christian bakers out there who don’t want to do gay wedding cakes, I suspect that they are in the minority.  Every single cake decorating place I spoke to, without exception, was as excited at the idea of gay wedding cakes as I was.  A couple of people told me that they absolutely couldn’t wait to do their first gay wedding cake – all those colours!  So I think that even if you wanted a proper, professional looking cake, you wouldn’t have trouble finding one.)

One of the brides can’t eat gluten, and we had the usual array of vegan guests and guests with egg allergies, nut allergies, etc.  But that’s what cake towers are for – you can have a different flavour on each layer, and make each one cater to a different set of dietary requirements!

(When I first asked one of the brides what flavours they had in mind, she seemed taken aback and said… “Vanilla…?”  To which my response was equally taken aback.  “Well, I could do that, of course.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever done a plain vanilla cake…”  I then brainstormed a list of flavours.  Needless to say, we did not go with vanilla…)

With at least six colours in the rainbow and only four layers in the tower, some doubling up was required.  I decided on red and pink for the bottom layer, orange and yellow for the next, green and blue for the next, and purple for the layer below the cuttable cake.

Ready to start baking…

This necessitated a remarkable amount of sourcing of cupcake holders – anywhere that stocked orange did not stock purple, and if they had purple, they didn’t have green.  It was bizarre.  I also spent way too much time at Spotlight looking for the right coloured ribbons with which to decorate the cake boards, and then half an afternoon carefully glueing the ribbons to each other to get a two-coloured effect, and then to the board.

I wanted to make sure that at least half of the cakes were gluten free, so the bottom layer was raspberry, pistachio and rose cupcakes.

I made roses out of marbled red, pink and white fondant in fondant molds, and a pale green lemon icing to hold them in place.

The second layer was lemon meringue cupcakes, which I made gluten-free with my standard gluten-free flour mix.  I have made these cupcakes many, many times before, so while I was a little concerned about their structural integrity with the gluten-free flour, I was pretty confident that the rest would be easy.

Ha. The day started well – I successfully separated twelve eggs in a row, which is practically a miracle, and the lemon curd and cupcakes came out beautifully.  And then the meringue failed.  Repeatedly.  It took me an hour and five bowls to successfully make my meringues, and I ended up with meringue all over the walls and myself.

But they were done, so that was good.  I thought.

Then the weather changed overnight and when I got up on the morning of the wedding, all my meringues were weeping.  I had been planning to decorate them with little rainbows, with the meringues representing clouds.  I momentarily considered pretending that the weeping meringue represented entirely intentional raindrops, but I couldn’t do it.  I scraped all the meringues off and started again.

There aren’t a lot of photos of these cakes. This is because they were very naughty cakes and did not deserve to be photographed.

Suffice it to say, this made my nice, relaxed cake baking plan for the morning of the wedding a little bit less relaxed – in the end, by the time I’d got everything done or re-done, got to the venue, assembled everything on the table, and hidden away the rest of the cupcakes, I was just squeezing out from behind the table when the first guests walked in.  (And this is why I always add two hours of contingency time into my planning for events like this – I needed every second of them!)

See that box on the side of the table? Yeah. I basically heard the guests coming and chucked it off the table right after taking this photo. This was really, really down to the wire. Never trust a meringue, that’s my advice.

Layer three was my vegan sachertorte recipe, which I’ll share on this blog next week.  This, thankfully, is a tried-and-true, nearly failproof recipe, and it worked just fine.

I topped these cakes with vegan chocolate ganache, and little buttons that I’d made out of bright blue and green gum paste.

The gum paste was a bit of a surprise – I hadn’t used it before, and when it arrived in the post, I realised that it contained egg-white, which wasn’t going to be great for my vegans and egg allergies.

So, since I had four people who couldn’t eat eggs and 48 cupcakes, I decided to keep the green and blue buttons for 36 cakes, and make twelve lots of buttons out of pure white fondant, which I painted with gold lustre dust.  That way the vegans would have something that was clearly identifiable, but in a way that looked extra special rather than sad…

When I’d been throwing out ideas for flavours, one of the brides had been very interested in the lavender and blackberry cupcake idea.  I was initially planning to just make lavender butterfly cakes with blackberry jam and whipped cream, but when I was at the Ruby Chocolate demonstration at Savour a couple of weeks ago, one recipe that was demonstrated was a whipped ganache – a whipped cream enriched by white chocolate, which made it a little heavier and more stable.

So I decided to see if I could make a blackberry and lavender-infused whipped ganache for these cakes, and it worked really beautifully.  (Recipe here!)

For the cuttable cake, I was a bit anxious on several counts.  For one thing, I have done precisely one white wedding cake in my life, and it was the first wedding cake I did, and frankly, it wasn’t very good.  I had a lot of trouble rolling out the icing, and it showed.  But I really did want a proper wedding-cake looking cake if I could manage it.  Fortunately, while I haven’t rolled out icing in the last eighteen years, I’ve somehow improved in the interim – just more cooking experience generally, I suppose, plus the magic of YouTube videos, and it covered the cake beautifully.

I also wanted to make figurines out of fondant, something else I hadn’t done before.  Alas, my first attempt was not auspicious.  The brides started off tall and elegant, but sank, slowly and inevitably, into themselves, and then began tilting drunkenly to the side and backwards.  And their lips protruded like fish lips.  And their arms kept falling off.  It wasn’t a good look.

(Nope, you’re not getting photos of those ones.)

I decided that I could get away with a perfect white cake with rainbow ribbon, and would have another crack at the figurines on Friday and see how that went.  My second try at the brides was informed by the first attempt – I made each batch of colour before I started, and made the bodies short and sturdy, like pawns from a chess set.  I then refrigerated them after each step, to make them get more solid.  The faces still weren’t quite right, and I accidentally switched the heads so that the wrong bride had the wrong dress, but the arms stayed on almost entirely – I had to re-attach one at the venue, and then reattach it again after we removed the brides from the cake for cutting.

But this was a rainbow wedding, and it had been a very long time coming, so I really wanted to make sure that when the brides cut the cake, they got something really special.

This was rather nervewracking, because as you can see, the rainbow is baked into the cake, and I had no way of knowing until they cut it whether it had actually worked.

But it had, and it was a great hit, both with the brides and with everybody under the age of five.  I made this cake pretty plain – and gluten-free – and flavoured with with orange flower water, since orange flowers are traditional for a wedding.

I have to say, I am very, very proud of this cake.  I do think it’s the most beautiful wedding cake I’ve done yet, and one of the tastiest, too.  And I am so extraordinarily happy to have been part of this wedding – I missed the ceremony due to the meringue disaster, but when they got us all lined up to form a living rainbow based on our outfits, and the brides came dancing in to the reception hall the strains of ‘I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’ with their son running ahead of them trailing a rainbow ribbon, I had tears in my eyes.  I have tears in my eyes again writing this.

I mean, this is a food blog, so this post has been all about the cake and how delighted I am with it.  But I am so very thrilled that my LGBTQIA friends can finally have the weddings they’ve been waiting for, that their relationships are recognised by the government (and even by the Uniting Church!), and that we can all come together and celebrate that.

It really was the most joyful gathering I’ve ever been a part of, and it was such a privilege to be there.  Congratulations, Kathryn and Rachel!  May your years together be many, and as full of joy as yesterday was.

P.S. – I don’t know if I’m going to be back here regularly at this stage.  A lot of the factors above still apply, in addition to the fact that dealing with photos on my computer is becoming increasingly time consuming and annoying – and you can’t really have a food blog without photos.  But there will definitely be recipes up for various bits of this wedding cake over the next few weeks, as well as some recipes for the things I did with the leftovers.  After that?  Who knows.  We’ll just wait and see what happens…

Wedding cake without a top layer, representing the uncertainty of the blogging existence…

 

Recipe: Vegan Cheeseburger Cupcakes

This is the time of year when bloggers do their retrospectives, but I don’t feel like doing a blog retrospective for 2015.  For one thing, I did hardly any blogging, and barely kept up with reading other blogs.  For another, the end of 2015 was made absolutely horrible for us by the disappearance of our beloved cat, Mystery.  She slipped out on the evening of December 22nd, and has not been seen since.  We’ve letterboxed and doorknocked and rung vets and visited shelters, but to no avail, and at this stage, we hold out little hope.  It’s been a painful and distressing way to end an exhausting year, and it’s very hard to look ahead and come up with plans, resolutions, or even hopes for 2016 at this point – because right now we are all too aware that life is uncertain and cannot truly be planned for.

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So no perspectives from me, just a remarkably silly recipe, inspired by Rosanna Pansino’s Nerdy Nummies Cookbook.  She has a very fun recipe for a cupcake that looks like a cheeseburger, with a brownie patty, coconut lettuce, and buttercream piped to resemble cheese, tomatoes.

It’s very cute, but it also looked terribly sweet.  Also, I was cooking in part for Steph, so I needed a vegan recipe, and frankly, I found the idea of a vegan cheeseburger cupcake absolutely hilarious and thus irresistible, so off I went.

To avoid the excessive use of buttercream, I decided it would be more fun to give the burger a fruity sort of theme. Mango fruit leather strips make an excellent (and truly revolting-looking) substitute for plastic cheese, jam makes a fine substitute for tomato sauce, and tinned plums replace the beetroot that is a necessity in any Aussie hamburger. Mint leaves made a delicious substitute for lettuce, and at that point, you’re done.

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Angelique’s Banana Bread

This is a gluten-free banana cake I put together for a friend of mine.  It’s a nice, easy cake to put together, and good for afternoon tea, as it’s solid, but not too sweet.

I must admit, I had my doubts about this cake initially.  You see, I used quinoa flour, and I used a different brand from usual (McKenzies, if you’re wondering), and it turns out that this particular brand has quite a strong taste.  I could still detect it in the final, baked recipe, which was annoying.  But in fact, it grew on me pretty fast, and I actually rather like it.  Though not enough to use the same brand next time.

Looking around, it turns out that quite a lot of people don’t like quinoa flour.  If this is you, don’t despair – more rice flour would work.  Alternatively, I note several food writers suggest ‘heat treating’ or toasting quinoa flour before use – apparently the trick is to spread out your quinoa flour on a baking sheet and bake it at 100°C for two hours.  I’ll be doing this next time – quinoa is a useful flour because of its high-protein ways, and this is an advantage worth keeping.

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2 over-ripe bananas
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup (approximately one drained tin) crushed pineapple
1/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp gingerbread spice mix, mixed spice, or ginger
1 cup rice flour
1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup almond meal
2 tsp baking powder

For the icing:
250 g light cream cheese, softened
zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 cups icing sugar

 

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Recipe: Christmassy Almond Butter Cookies (vegan and gluten free and almost healthy)

Ah, December.  No matter what I do, it seems to get away from me, and this year, more than ever.  I wound up doing most of my Christmas Baking last weekend – all day on Sunday, in fact – and only got my Christmas letters written and posted this morning.  Oops.  But since I am now officially On Holiday, I can actually start writing down the recipes I bookmarked in my head to put on this blog before Christmas.  So long as I’m quick about it…

This recipe was one I made last week.  I have what I would like to call an annual tradition, though in fact I don’t manage it nearly often enough, of baking up a storm a bit before Christmas and then going around to all the departments on Levels 1 and 2 (the professional services departments), delivering goodies and thanks to all and sundry.  And writing this, I’ve just realised that I never did get to Engineering.  Drat.  I dropped by twice and they weren’t there.  But that’s still a bad miss. 

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Anyway, I tend to try to make things that are large on output and low on effort, which is to say, lots of shortbread and mince pies and ginger biscuits.  But I also like to make sure there are some things in the mix which are vegan and gluten-free, and others that are nut free (so far, fortunately, I have not acquired any individual colleagues with more than two of these three requirements).  This year, the shortbread was egg and nut free, so my gluten-free and vegan biscuits were my chocolate tahini ones, and these little bites.

These almond butter biscuits are just barely sweet.  They really only have three main ingredients, after which you can flavour them according to your liking.  The quinoa flour and almond butter make them high in protein, and the agave nectar makes them fairly low in glycaemic index.  But they do, I think, want that little bit of glacé or dried fruit, or something sweet, to take them out of the health food category and into a more festive arena…

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150 g almond butter, unsweetened
100 g quinoa flour2-3 tbsp agave nectar
glacé cherries or glacé ginger or jam, or see variations for more suggestions

Now what will you do with it?

Pre-heat the oven to 165°C, and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Combine the almond butter and quinoa flour in a bowl.  Add two tablespoons of agave nectar and mix in.  Taste for sweetness, and check the texture – you will find that it is extremely crumbly at this stage, so you will probably want to add another tablespoon of water or another tablespoon of agave nectar, according to taste.  Basically, you do want a relatively crumbly dough, but it needs to be something you can form into a little ball and make a thumbprint in it.

Do so, making the biscuits fairly small – if you make a circle of your thumb and first finger, that’s the size of the ball you want.

Press half a glacé cherry, or a sliver of glacé ginger, or a little dollop of jam into the thumbprint in each biscuit.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and firm.

Serve to your deserving colleagues!

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Variations

I have so many ideas!  Firstly, if you were someone who liked peanut butter, I’ve seen an amazing looking honey and cinnamon peanut butter at the shops.  Now, I think peanuts are basically demonic, and honey isn’t very vegan, but if this is your idea of fun, I suspect it would be a great substitute for the almond butter.  You may need a little more or less quinoa flour to get the texture right, so fiddle around and see.  Macadamia butter or pistachio butter would also work.

You could roll these little biscuits in cinnamon sugar instead of doing the thumbprint thing – teeny, tiny almond snickerdoodles.  Or you could put a whole dried cherry in the middle of an almond ball (surprise!).  Or both at once!  Dried apricots would be nice, too, but you wouldn’t fit a whole one.

You could also choose a different flour, but bear in mind that this would affect the texture of the dough.

Allergy-wise, this is obviously useless if you are allergic to nuts, but it’s good for the gluten-free and the vegans, and if you swap out the agave nectar for maple syrup – which would be delightful, by the way, I just didn’t have any that day – you would be doing OK fructose-wise, I think.  And, as mentioned, they are not too bad in the glycaemic index department.  Quite a handy recipe to have in one’s repertoire, I think.

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Recipe: Strawberry, Pomegranate and Lemon Herman Cake, with Vegan potential

“Vegan potential?” I hear you ask.  Well, yes.  My Herman cake can never be vegan, because he was drinking cow’s milk when I got him, and even if I started feeding him almond milk or soy milk now, he would always be some tiny portion dairy.  But this Herman cake is egg-free, so if you have a Herman that was raised on non-dairy milks, you could make a vegan cake from him. 

And if you are going to make a vegan Herman, I can really recommend this one.  It’s lovely and tangy from the lemon and pomegranates, but is also lushly strawberry.  Also, you get to play Superfood Bingo, because I’m pretty sure chia seeds, pomegranates and anything sourdough is superfood-ish.  If you used coconut sugar instead of raw caster sugar, all the better.

What more could you want from a cake?

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2 tbsp white chia seeds
6 tbsp water
1 cup of Herman sourdough starter
2/3 cup raw caster sugar or coconut sugar
2 cups self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup canola oil
zest and juice of two really good lemons
500 g strawberries, hulled, and either halved or quartered, depending on size
2/3 cup (about 50 – 60g freeze-dried pomegranate seeds
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