Category Archives: Baking

Wedding cupcakes

Wedding cupcakes

I made wedding cupcakes! These were for two really good friends who had one of the loveliest (and most fun) weddings I’ve ever been to. I was pretty proud of myself for these cupcakes, and I’m so happy for my friends. It was so exciting being able to contribute to their big day by way of baked goods.

I’ve blogged about this recipe before – Joy the Baker’s red velvet cupcakes. It really is just about the best cupcake recipe ever.

One day I’ll share the (slightly less elegant) cake I made for the hen’s party…


On grapefruit…

Grapefruit

Recently, I found myself in possession of a grapefruit. Not a lovely pink or ruby red grapefruit, mind you, a regular ol’ yellow grapefruit. It must be tough being a yellow grapefruit these days, living in the shadow of your pink and ruby red cousins. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly enthused by the grapefruit. Had there been gin in the house I may have been more enthused, given that my favourite way to have grapefruit is in a gin and tonic with a splash of Campari. But, my lack of enthusiasm was trumped by my hatred of wasting food, so I set about finding a way to use the grapefruit. I guess, at this point, it could have occurred to me to just eat it, but I’m really not a massive fruit fan. And why does such an ordinary tasting fruit have to be so comically large? Grapefruit are all like ‘Yeah, I’m bitter, but there’s HEAPS of me’. I don’t know… do they want to be eaten or not?

Grapefruit cake

If I can’t combine fruit with alcohol to make it palatable, I usually try to find a way to bake it. And this is what I did with the grapefruit. Remember my lemon yoghurt syrup cake disaster (of course you do, I know how religiously you follow this blog!)? Well, I swapped the lemon for grapefruit. Revolutionary, I know. Swapping one citrus for another has NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE. Until now… It’s probably a bit early on in the life of this blog to start rehashing recipes, but I can’t think of anything else to write about this turned out so well I thought I’d put it up. Anyway, I’m not reposting the recipe because I didn’t really change it, I just used a bigger pan, which I greased AND lined with paper, and I put grapefruit zest and a couple of tablespoons of grapefruit juice in the cake mixture, and grapefruit juice and some orange peel in the syrup, because I’d used all the grapefruit rind by that stage. The cake is actually really nice with the grapefruit, the vast amount of sugar cancels out the bitterness, and it goes splendidly with a cup of tea and a hangover. Obviously, it would be even better with a pink or ruby red grapefruit.

Grapefruit cake and tea


Apple crumble cheesecake

Apple crumble cheesecake

This cake is basically the best thing I make. I made it as a birthday present for my boyfriend, back when he was just a friend. It was possibly a turning point in our relationship… His favourite desserts were apple crumble and cheesecake (this cake is now the favourite), so I decided to combine them. To be honest, I expected it to be a novelty dish more than anything, so I was surprised when it turned out really well. The apples cut through the rich creamy-ness of the cream cheese, and with the base and the crumble topping the whole thing is encased by crunchy-ness.

This year he was at Burning Man for his birthday, so I made it before he left. The night before he left, actually, and I didn’t take any pictures of it. Ostensibly, I forgot. In reality, I figured it would give me a good excuse to make it again. He was already disappointed in how little of it he got to eat before he left (BTW, he did manage to get through about a third of it, and I did pack him some to eat for breakfast on way to the airport). My housemate Bec and I were left to eat the rest of the cake, and we were happy when it was gone because it wasn’t hanging over our heads any more. It was like some terrible chore – we knew, each night, that we’d have to eat some… First world problems are the WORST.

In an attempt to curb my depression resulting from not being able to go to Burning Man (read: to try and stop being a sook), I decided that I would make the cheesecake again for when he got back, but this time I’d make it from scratch. Well, scratch-ish because I didn’t make the sour cream, or mill the flour, or grow the apples… But, I did make something that approximates cream cheese and the biscuits for the base. While I think this went some way towards distracting me from not being on a crazy adventure in the desert, I don’t think it’s really necessary. The cake is better with store-bought cream cheese, although admittedly I didn’t make proper cream cheese, which would have probably been better but more work. The biscuits were good, but again, it doesn’t make much difference. The only reason you’d really bother is so you can say you did. I’ve included the recipes anyway, but don’t feel like you need to do this much work.

For the cream cheese: strained yoghurt

Upon some internet investigation, I discovered that a sort of cream cheese could be made by simply draining yoghurt. I wrapped a litre of yoghurt in some canvas and hung it over a bowl for about 12 hours:

Straining yoghurt

Yep, sophisticated. The end result is really just a thick yoghurt. It works fine in the cheesecake, but it’s lighter and not as creamy as cream cheese, and I don’t think it’s quite as good. But you can also use strained yoghurt in dips and as a spread, and turn it into labna if you want to marinate scoops of it in oil and junk.

For the base: digestive biscuits

I thought I’d make graham crackers (who calls a cracker Graham? Was he white? Is that racist?) for the base, just because I have a book with a recipe for them in it, but then I realised that while I’ve seen them used in recipes, I’ve never eaten them – they seem to be one of those American foods that I know about but for some reason has never reached our shores. So instead I decided to find a recipe for digestive biscuits, my biscuit of choice for cheesecake bases. I love digestive biscuits, in no small part because of their humble name. They don’t claim to be anything other than digestible, which one would hope all biscuits are. Good for them I say, you don’t want people to start expecting too much from a biscuit, that’s bound to end in disappointment. I based my recipe loosely on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for River cottage spelt digestive biscuits. I say loosely because I didn’t have spelt flour or the inclination to source some, and I used half as much butter because I read the recipe incorrectly (I was tired – earlier that day I read ‘Optus’ as ‘Octopus’, making for a very confusing news headline).

But they came out pretty well. See if you can pick which one is homemade:

Digestives

Mine is the one on the right. Don’t feel bad if you got it wrong, I am pretty awesome. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

2 2/3 cup wholemeal flour
2 cups of oat bran
125 g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk

Heat oven to 150°C. Combine flour, oats, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and blend until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the milk a bit at a time until the mixture comes together. Roll the mixture out between two sheets of baking paper. Cut into large circles, about 8cm in diameter, and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Apple crumble cheesecake

250g digestive biscuits, homemade or otherwise (or other sweet plain biscuits)
100g unsalted butter, melted
3 granny smith apples
Juice of half a lemon
3/4 cup caster sugar
500g softened cream cheese, or strained yoghurt
2 eggs
250g sour cream
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
60g unsalted butter, chopped
2/3 cup plain flour

Lightly grease a 23cm diameter, round, springform tin, and line the base with baking paper. Sprinkle the base and inside sides with flour. Dust off excess.

Finely crush the biscuits in a food processor. Mix in the melted butter. Spoon mixture into tin and press firmly to cover the base and sides evenly. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes, or until ready to assemble the cake.

Peel and core apples. Cut roughly into 2cm pieces. Put in a heavy-based frying pan with 1/4 cup of the caster sugar and the lemon juice. Cover and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Strain and set aside, allowing to cool slightly.

Mix the cream cheese and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in food processor until light and smooth. Scrape down sides to ensure all is combined evenly. Add eggs and mix until combined. Add sour cream and mix until combined. The mixture will be runny and smooth.

To make the crumble, mix brown sugar, baking powder, and ground ginger in a small bowl. In a large bowl, rub butter into flour with your fingers to form pea-sized pieces that resemble bread crumbs (they don’t need to all be the same size). Add sugar mixture to flour and butter mixture and toss gently with your hands to combine

Preheat oven to 150°C.

Remove the base from the fridge to assemble the cake. Spread apples evenly over the base. Pour cream cheese mixture over the apples. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top of the cream cheese – gently so that the crumble doesn’t sink too much into the cheese. Cover the cream cheese evenly to the edges.

Bake the cheesecake for an hour or until set (feels firm, with only a slight wobble when you take it out of the oven). Cool in tin, and refrigerate overnight.


Chocolate freckle cupcakes and a rant about competitive baking

chocolate freckle cupcakes

Last year I entered the Ekka baking competition. I didn’t expect to win, but it seemed like a fun thing to do. After months of testing recipes on friends, family, housemates and workmates, I figured my banana bread, pumpkin scones and jam tarts were as good as they were going to get. When the big day arrived, I dropped off my entries and anxiously waited for the results. I still didn’t expect to win, but I secretly hoped I’d be surprised. I wasn’t. But that was ok, I figured, I can’t have done that badly. Perhaps I came fourth? Then I got the feedback in the mail weeks later. It was harsh. Like, unnecessarily harsh. And vague. The feedback for my banana bread said ‘More attention to baking required. Maybe try a different recipe’. Ouch. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that terrible. Everyone who’d tried it seemed to think it was ok. I was disheartened, and decided that competitive baking was clearly not for me.

But then I received the entry forms for this year’s Ekka. For some reason this made me feel all warm and fuzzy, like I was part of a community. And what if these types of competitions died out? That would be sad, right? So I decided I’d enter again, but in the novice category. And I’d only enter one thing – cooking three things the night before entries were due had been a mistake. So I decided on the chocolate bar cake, sent off my entry form, paid the fee and promptly forgot all about it. Unlike last year, when I tested and refined my recipes for months, this year I did nothing by way of preparation. On the weekend before the entries were due I thought I probably should a) find a recipe and b) do a test run. So I did, and it came out looking like a giant turd.

Behold:

chocolate turd cake

Iced, it just looked like a shiny (polished) turd:

iced chocolate turd cake

This was no good.

I couldn’t decide if I should bother entering. At around 10pm on the night before entries were due, I decided I would give it crack. But when I tried to get the cake out of the tin and it left a huge chunk behind, I gave up. Imagine the nasty feedback I’d get about a cake with a hole in it? But the recipe itself was pretty good, so I played with it a bit more and decided it was better in cupcake form with sprinkles. I also decided that competitive baking is stupid and it was probably a good thing if it died out. It’s such an oddly prescriptive form of baking, with all the fun removed. I can never figure out exactly what they want – can I cook any kind of chocolate cake I want or does it have to be a ‘traditional’ one, and what does that even mean? I swear, some of the categories say you need to enter a cake with a ‘good flavour’. WTF does that actually mean? And I don’t really know what a ‘nice crumb’ is, or understand why having a domed or cracked cake or testing it with a skewer is so bad… In short, because I’d failed I felt like I could write off the entire concept of competitive baking. I figure I can make a perfectly acceptable ‘rustic’ looking cake if I need to and I don’t care if it doesn’t meet the high standards of some uppity CWA bitches Ekka judges.

But, I digress. The outcome of this whole adventure was a recipe for nice, light, simple cupcakes. They taste like old school chocolate cakes. There’s nothing new fangled and fancy in them, like, I don’t know, almond meal and real chocolate, which seem to be all the rage in chocolate cakes these days.

Chocolate freckle cupcakes
This recipe is an amalgamation of numerous recipes from the internets.
Makes 18

125 g unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup and 1 tbs cocoa powder
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
splash of rum (optional)
cupcake cases

Chocolate icing
Adapted from David Herbert’s The Really Useful Cookbook

50 g unsalted butter
1 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tbs boiling water
sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a muffin tray with cupcake cases.

Put all the cake ingredients in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Pour the batter into the cupcake cases. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until a skewer (that’s right, a skewer) stuck into the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool completely before icing.

For the icing, put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until combined. If it’s still a bit thick or not combining properly, add another tablespoon of boiling water.

Ice the cupcakes. Put some sprinkles in a bowl. Press the iced cupcakes in the bowl (one at a time) until the top is completely covered with sprinkles.

Done.

If, like me, you were lucky enough to be given an amazing cupcake holder for your birthday by an awesome friend, you can pop one (or two) of these suckers in it and take it to work with you.

cupcake holder


Cracker, please

Rosemary and olive oil crackers

I made my own crackers the other day. I was was going to a picnic, and I decided that if I made my own stuff I wouldn’t have to go to the shops. It’s kind of reverse laziness because going to the shops and buying crackers would have taken far less time. Still, it was pretty easy and the crackers were just as good as any I’ve ever bought. They’re hardly a main feature anyway; they’re really (if we’re honest) just a vessel for carrying dips and cheese. If cardboard were crunchier you could probably just cut it into squares and sprinkle salt on it and no one would notice. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good cracker, I’m just realistic about what their function is… and perhaps I tend to overload them.

These crackers did actually taste nice though, and if you have the time and want to boast to your friends that you made crackers from scratch (don’t tell them it’s easy), they’re worth making. Or if you’re on a tight budget and/or don’t like leaving the house more times in one day than absolutely necessary or interacting with the wider community, these are for you.

As a side note, crackers always make me think of this:

Rosemary and olive oil crackers
Adapted from the book Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects by Karen Solomon
Makes about 70 crackers

1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt, plus extra to sprinkle on the tops of the crackers
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbs rosemary leaves, chopped finely
1 egg
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water

Put all ingredients, except water, in a food processor and blend until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Slowly add water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture starts to form a ball, like this:

Cracker dough in food processor

Pull the dough out of the food processor and shape it into a ball with your hands. You might want to cover them in a bit of flour first.

Cracker dough

Cut the dough in half and shape into two square-ish pieces, kind of like this:

Cracker dough squares

Wrap each of the pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Take the dough out of the fridge, and, one piece at a time, roll out on a floured surface until thin. I made mine pretty thin, about a couple of millimetres, but you can make them thicker if you want – you’ll just need to bake them for longer. Try to keep the dough relatively square. If you don’t have a rolling pin, I find a wine bottle works just fine, and luckily, there’s always one on hand…

Rolling pin

When you’ve rolled it out, cut it into squares (or whatever shape you want). I used a pizza cutter and the baking paper box to make somewhat uniform crackers. Prick each cracker with a fork a couple of times.

Measuring cracker dough

Carefully transfer the crackers onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. They can be pretty close together when you bake them.

Crackers on baking tray

Sprinkle each cracker with a little bit of salt and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. This can take up to 20 minutes if you have thick crackers. Remove from the oven and let cool on a baking rack. Once they’re completely cool you can store them in an airtight container. Apparently they last up to a week, but mine were eaten in three days.


Chocolate raspberry brownies

Chocolate raspberry brownies

Who doesn’t love brownies? No one, that’s who. These ones have raspberries AND chocolate chips in them. They didn’t last long enough for me to try them with ice-cream, but I reckon that would have been pretty good, especially if the brownies were warmed slightly.

The recipe is from The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander. I made some slight modifications by adding the raspberries and cooking it in a smaller tin to make the brownies thicker.

Chocolate raspberry brownies
Makes 16, or however many squares you want to cut

180 g unsalted butter, melted
3/4  cup of cocoa
1  1/2 cups caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup plain flour
50 g dark chocolate, chopped
handful of raspberries (I used frozen)
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 160°. Grease and line a 20 x 20 cm cake tin with baking paper.

Mix butter and cocoa in a small bowl, then add sugar, vanilla and eggs. Mix in remaining ingredients.

Pour into prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until firm but still moist. You need to keep an eye on it, and I erred on the slightly underdone side, just because I like really soft brownies. If you use a bigger tin it might only take 20-25 minutes.

Allow to cool in tin completely. Dust with (lots of) icing sugar and cut into squares.


Lemon yoghurt syrup cake

Lemon yoghurt syrup cake

This is a deceptively delicious cake. It sounds like it’s going to be really simple and a bit whatever, but it’s really lovely – lemony and syrupy and moist.

The recipe is from Sweet Food (you know those short fat books, there are heaps, Bowl Food, Fast Food, BBQ Food etc). I was looking forward to making it for the blog, and since I’ve discovered some tricks for getting slightly better food photos with my little camera (I find food frustratingly unphotogenic) I was hoping that I’d get some good shots as well.

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