A post all about sugar, what a surprise at this time of year! Today is horribly hot, and I’m sitting inside, obsessively tracking the cool change across Western Victoria via the BOM weather observation map, and there is no way I am doing any kind of baking right now. But as it happens, I have been playing with some very fun things recently, so this is basically a post about several things that aren’t long enough for a post of their own, but which I wanted to share with you nonetheless.
First, please let me draw your attention to the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook.
It is, in my not at all hyperbolic opinion, the best cake decorating book ever. I love it with every fibre of my being. It’s as though someone took the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book and then added the periodic table of the elements and blood cells and the moon landing and rainbow unicorn poo and twenty-sided dice every other bit of science fun or geek culture it could find and made it into a book. It is AWESOME. I have scientifically tested this on real scientists, and they agree that it is AWESOME, so we know that this is true.
So far, I’ve only made one recipe from it, but I have no hesitation in recommending it to basically anyone who likes cakes or science or just fun silly things.
One of the nice things about this book is that the decorations range from the super-easy (the moon landing cake is essentially a half-sphere cake with craters made by a melon baller, iced in gray with an astronaut toy; there are textbooks made from ‘smores with piped words and borders on them) to the outrageously complicated (the layered globe of the earth, with the geological strata in concentric spheres and a map of the world on the outside… is something that I am simply never going to make).
It’s just a heap of fun. And, incidentally, while Pansino provides recipes for cakes onto which to put your decorations, there is absolutely no reason you couldn’t make the cakes vegan or gluten-free. All the decorations are gluten-free, and many are vegan or could easily be made so. She does use US measurements throughout, but most of us living in Australia are kind of used to that sort of thing by now, aren’t we?
Also, it’s 21% off at the Book Depository right now. You know what to do.
Of course, the thing that instantly caught my eye when I looked at this book online (i.e., approximately ten seconds after I first heard of it and five seconds before I clicked ‘buy’) was the geode cupcake.
Behold. It is a thing of beauty.
Essentially, you make a shell out of fondant, fill it with heavy sugar syrup and wait for it to crystallise.
And wait. And wait. And wait.
And wait some more. Then you break the crust with a pointy knife, and turn the geodes upside down to drain for a few more hours…
And you’re done.
The recipe said to let the sugar crystallise for a minimum of 12 hours. I gave it 24, but wasn’t really happy with the crystal size – I think the hot, humid weather we are having didn’t help. Fortunately, I had decided to make 12 geodes instead of two, so I decided it was time to vary my experimental protocol. The first four geodes followed the recipe exactly.
Then I put four more in the fridge, and four more back on the benchtop. After twelve hours, I tried one from the fridge and one from the benchtop, and concluded that the fridge one had better crystals, so I moved the remaining three to the fridge for another 12 hours.
The final batch were finalised that evening, and they looked quite good, if I say so myself. Though I think moving them around didn’t help.
Next time, I’ll pay more attention to ensuring that the sugar is absolutely dissolved, and I’ll try to make them in cool, dry weather – the humidity in the fridge is not, I suspect, ideal for crystallisation, either.
This of course left the question of what to put them on. One of my favourite PhD students finished up last week and is moving to Cambridge, and so I thought his farewell was the perfect time to bring out the geode cupcakes.
As my Division currently has both people who can’t eat gluten and people who are vegan, I decided to make a gluten-free version of my old reliable chocolate, coconut and raspberry cupcakes. Because I was feeling lazy, I bought gluten-free flour rather than making my own mix, which turned out to be a mistake, because the cupcakes behaved in quite a peculiar fashion in the oven and didn’t really want to cook through. They also had an odd, sproingy texture.
At present, I have one solution for fixing inadequate cupcakes, and that solution is: add jam. Preferably home made jam. Everything is better with jam in the middle.
This is where you need to know about CSL’s Jam Setting Sugar, which is my new miracle ingredient of choice. It’s made from a combination of sugar, pectin, citric acid, and magic. It’s available at the supermarket, too, which is nice. Here’s how you make jam, at least if all you are aiming for is filling cupcakes, rather than bottling it properly.
1. Get 250g of fruit, such as berries or cherries. Mash it down a bit in the saucepan.
2. Add 250g Jam Setting Sugar. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves.3. Bring to a rolling boil for 4 minutes.
4. Pour into a jar or whatever to cool down and set a little. You’re done.
Obviously, if you are making proper jam, there is skimming and jam testing and all that stuff, but if you don’t need a specific hard or soft set, this method is incredibly quick and easy and makes really delicious jam and cupcakes that are absolutely to die for. Seriously. This stuff is unbelievable. And, of course, gluten-free and vegan.
Nobody is going to notice that your cupcakes are sproingy if you top them with geodes and fill them with homemade jam. And everyone will think the jam took a lot more effort than it did…