Congratulations to Purdey & Ian for tying the knot. I had the honour of creating their wedding dessert tower to complement their theme colour blue and their quaint, medieval venue at Avalon Castle, Cockatoo. From the get go, Purdey and Ian wanted a tower; a tower filled not with cupcakes but individual desserts served in clear wine goblets (disposable versions). Black Forest was their choice of dessert following a tasting session with me and I found it delightfully apt that this continental dessert has medieval connotations owing to it’s Germanic origins so it was a very appropriate choice. However, I didn’t want to make classic Black Forest which was chocolate sponge, whipped cream and sour/maraschino cherries. I was after something more decadent that still stayed true to the chocolate cherry combination so the end result was a base of pastry cream, chocolate mudcake, luscious belgian milk chocolate ganache, black cherry compote and sprinklings of white and dark chocolate curls and shavings.
Crowning the tower is a top cake – a chocolate mudcake with vanilla italian buttercream covered in royal blue sugarpaste surrounded by a gold satin ribbon border. A bespoke sculpture perched on top -it is to date, my most challenging sugarpaste piece. Initially, the brief called for a horse since Ian was ‘knighted’ Sir “Stallion King” by his close friends from his uni days. Purdey in jest, showed me a photo of a knight topper and the light bulbs went a-blinking in my mind – robust horse, gallant knight in shining armour with his queen; although you could say the resulting topper was a modern representation (chuckles) of a bride queen/princess with her knight. Every inch of the topper apart from the bride’s dress (lace) was constructed out of edible materials, sugarpaste, chocolate paste and the frame of the horse was a base of rice puffs set with melted marshmallows, butter and golden syrup. A little Rottweiler pup represented their dog Roxie. Post-wedding, I have removed the topper, reattached it on a cake board, sprayed it with food glaze and it will serve as a display piece for many years to come (well, unless Roxie gets to it :P)
The wedding ceremony was beautiful, intimate and laidback, set in a picturesque venue albeit a fair distance to travel for me and J. It took us close to 90 minutes one way with 3 or so casualty desserts from the winding road. But fear not, I was prepared and we had spares. Phew! Thank you Purdey and Ian for letting me be a part of your wedding. J and I would like to wish you a long and happy marriage – Long live the King and Queen!
The castle’s coat of arms on a shield
The married couple taking a stroll on the castle’s front lawn
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Jerome and Emily are a couple within a group of mutual friends. When they approached me 9 months ago to ask if I could make their wedding cake and favours, I was more than happy to oblige. I was even more thrilled when they told me their idea for an edible terrarium; no doubt to wow and fool their guests into thinking that they have a living plant in front of them. This was in line with their wedding’s garden theme which also included plenty of pastel flowers, succulents, wooden stumps and soft green moss.
With the terrariums, Emily wasted no time in ordering the plastic containers so I can experiment. I tested my regular chocolate mudcake (predominantly made with dutch cocoa) for the base dark soil but soon found that it didn’t work well after the cake is crumbled as it dried out and lost its chocolate flavour after a day or two. I then experimented with Bourke Street Bakery’s flourless chocolate cake but found the process to be extremely complicated so I came up with my own flourless chocolate cake recipe using almond meal and melted couverture chocolate. Not only did it taste rich, it retained moistness so it was gooey. Next came the top ‘sand’ to introduce contrast in colour and texture, made with almond meal, brown sugar, butter and the magic ingredients of sodium bicarbonate and salt which brings out the flavour of the chocolate and imparted a subtle crunchiness or sandy feel in the mouth. To make this dessert even more luscious, hidden in the center, between the dark soil and top sand is a dollop of delicious ‘mud’ made of Belgian milk chocolate ganache.
Sprigs of fresh herbs and sprinkling of chocolate rocks that I ordered over eBay provides some realism to the terrarium. The herb component gave us the most headaches. Initially I wanted the entire dessert to be edible with the herbs complementing the chocolate flavour. We discussed microherbs and pretty edible flowers but due to their fragile nature and the fact that I had 150 terrariums to make and deliver within a certain time-frame we needed a backup plan to avoid guests having to look at wilted, half-dead herbs by the time reception lunch comes around. So it was bye bye to the likes of regular thyme, lemon thyme, mint and basil and we considered the very hardy rosemary and aromatic lavender which was technically edible but not encouraged. The lavender and rosemary infused a lovely scent into the chocolate dessert which was surprisingly good and the herbs lasted overnight .
It was decided that the pièce de résistance, the showpiece wedding cake, would be a dummy cake constructed of polystyrene barrels. Emily and Jerome gave me a lot of leeway with their wedding cake design so it was a big relief as I could decorate the dummy cake in advance and concentrate on the 150 terrariums a day before the wedding. The only requirement they had was the tiers must be equal in height and feature their beloved pets – lop ear bunnies Barley and Winston. Naturally they were the cake toppers which I made with sugar paste. I decided on a 2-tier cake constructed out of 2 x 8-inch and 2 x 12-inch polystyrene dummy cakes brushed with edible gum made from water and CMC or Tylose powder and then covered in white sugar-paste. Decoration was minimal; just french lace, a big white sugarpaste flower flanked by pastel pink yellow roses and of course the bunny toppers. Fresh flowers, moss and wooden stump bases provided by their florist completed the look. When the florist told me I could pick ANYTHING out of all the flowers supplied I could hardly contain my enthusiasm; almost drowned the cake with fresh flowers. Haha!
Thank you Emily and Jerome for letting me be a part of your special day! On a somber note, while it was the happiest day of their lives, it was also the saddest as one of their pet bunnies, Barley of which the white sugarpaste bunny was modeled after, passed away on the same day RIP in Barley. May you continue to have a happy, hippety hoppety life in fluffy Bunny Heaven.
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Two kids; a toddler and newborn under the age of 2. No time to blog! However, I’ve been experimenting with a few chocolate cakes lately particularly of the flourless kind for a wedding assignment this coming March and I made one up today which turned out so well that I had to reignite my stagnant blog with the recipe. Fairly simple to put together, the results are as good and divine as the chocolate used so make sure to use quality couveture chocolate. I’ve used both the Dark and Milk Belgian chocolate callet (chip) varieties from Callebaut. For best results, do use the chocolate recommended especially with the glaze; the milk chocolate I used has a subtle hint of caramel and vanilla. However if you can’t get these, then you may substitute with other brands such as Lindt (either the cooking range, 70% eating variety or the ‘Excellence’ series) or Nestle Plaistowe range of cooking chocolate from the supermarkets.
The cake is dense, rich and moist and the milk chocolate ganache lends it a creamy texture. Absolutely decadent! This is one fluke I’m thrilled to share!
Flourless Chocolate Cake
100 g Callebaut Couveture Dark Belgian Chocolate Callets 53.8%
100 g butter
90 g caster sugar
30 g dutch cocoa powder – sifted
80 g almond meal
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp thickened cream
1 tbsp fresh full cream milk
3 egg whites
30 g caster sugar
Milk Chocolate Ganache
150 g Callebaut Couveture Belgian Milk Chocolate Callets 33.6%
90 ml thickened cream
extra cocoa powder for dusting
- Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease and line the base and sides of a 20-cm round loose-base cake tin or spring form tin with baking paper.
- Gently melt (A) in a saucepan over low heat; stirring continuously until smooth. Leave to cool slightly.
- Whisk egg yolks into cooled (A).
- Add the chocolate and egg yolk mixture to (B), then stir-in the thickened cream and milk. Whisk until thoroughly mixed-through.
- Place egg whites in a clean, dry bowl; with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy then gradually add in the caster sugar whilst beating the eggs until soft peaks form. Gently fold this into the chocolate mixture in 3 batches.
- Immediately pour mixture into lined cake tin and bake for 45 minutes.
- Cool cake in tin.
- Make milk chocolate ganache by bringing thickened cream to a gentle boil in a saucepan i.e. as soon as bubbles appear on the sides (do not over-heat the cream), pour into milk chocolate callets. Stir until smooth. Alternatively, place cream and chocolate callets in a microwavable bowl and zap in microwave for 30-40 seconds. Leave it for a minute or two and then stir until smooth. Immediately pour the ganache over the cake still in the lined tin, gently swirling to level out the glaze. Place in refrigerator until set.
- To serve, lift the cake out of the tin and gently peel away the baking paper; dust with more cocoa powder and slice with a hot knife.
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These Ricotta and Spinach Triangles were the very first things I learnt to make (sort of) when I arrived in Melbourne 12 years ago to begin my foundation studies (pre-uni) program. The orientation camp included 3 nights stay in one of the residential colleges and listed on the itinerary was ‘Cooking Class’. And you guessed it, these Filo pastries were on the menu. Back then, I had not heard or seen ricotta and I got very excited when they showed us sheets of paper thin Filo. What they then demonstrated was very basic as we were on a tight schedule moving from one program to the next (I remember playing croquet afterwards – yawn!) So, it was just ricotta, chopped spinach, salt and pepper, pre-layered filo pastry by the college chefs and bang bang bang ! Cooking class was over! All we did was spoon the mixture onto the pastry and fold them up into triangles! Haha
Anyway, I got an itch to make these after watching the return of Masterchef Australia 2012 series 4 and that meant the Perfect Italiano Man ad was back! Yes, I am obsessed with that ad campaign because the sensitive Romeo (who chops wood, knits and practices his ‘listening’ face ) selling the range of cheeses is so OTT (over the top). I mean, who comes up with ‘Sometimes When I Cook, I Weep’? It’s so hair-raisingly Cheesy (pun intended of course) that it’s awesome! I love it! To watch the videos, click on the following links:-
Right. Back to my Filo Triangles, I cut the pastry lengthwise into two so each triangle is quite large. If you prefer petite triangles to serve as appetizers, you could always cut the filo widthwise into thinner strips. I added pinenuts to the filling and this just imparts a sweet nutty bite to the otherwise creamy ricotta. The sharp parmesan and spring onions add a bit of contrasting tang to the filling as well. Brushed with melted butter between each filo layer and lastly on top (which imparts a burnt butter flavour when baked), these are so tasty, they make a meal on its own.
Ricotta & Spinach Filo Triangles
makes 7-8 large triangles
500 g ricotta cheese (you don’t have to use Perfect Italiano, fresh ricotta from your local delicatessen will do)
150 g – 200g baby spinach leaves
90 g pinenuts, toasted
120 g grated sharp parmesan cheese
3 spring onion/scallion leaves, chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
grated rind from 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
cracked black pepper to taste
1 box of Filo pastry
100g butter, melted
- Pour boiling hot water onto the baby spinach leaves; leave for about a minute; drain and refresh with cold water; squeeze out as much liquid as you can and roughly chop the spinach.
- Combine the chopped spinach with the ricotta, toasted pinenuts, grated parmesan, egg, spring onions, parsley, lemon rind and juice, salt and pepper and mix well.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180OC.
- Working with the filo 1 sheet at a time, brush the first layer of filo with melted butter, place the second sheet on top of the first and brush with melted butter; repeat until you have a total of four layers.
- Slice the layered filo sheet lengthwise into two; spoon a heap tablespoon of filling onto the left bottom corner of one strip; fan out the filling into somewhat of a triangle. Fold upwards to the right to form a triangle. Continue upwards in a zigzag pattern and tuck in, fold or trim off the excess pastry at the end.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all filling’s used up.
- Brush the top of each filo triangle with melted butter and bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes until brown and crispy.
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Mmmm..Cinnamon Doughnuts…Me likey, makes me feel warm and fuzzy
I don’t usually deep-fry anything as I find clean-up a hassle but once in awhile when doughnut craving takes over (which is quite rare), I’ll take that original style thank you: fried not baked. I wanted to bypass all the kneading and cutting of the usual ‘O’ shaped doughnut so a quick perusal of my cookbook collection landed me Karen Martini’s no-knead drop doughnuts! Perfect! I decided to omit the chocolate cardamom custard that accompanies the already delicious cinnamon sugar treats but just to take sinful up a notch, I doused half of the doughnuts with melted dark chocolate! It’s called drop doughnuts because you literally drop spoonfuls of rested dough batter into the hot oil. Keeps well for 2-3 days but best enjoyed warm and fresh! If you have an injection nozzle or pastry syringe, you could even pipe in some strawberry jam/jelly and oooooohhh salted caramel or just enjoy them plain with warm cinnamon and sugar like I do; whatever tickles your fancy.
Chocolate-drenched doughnuts says ‘Eat me!’
Drop Cinnamon Doughnuts
(adapted from Cinnamon Doughnuts with Chocolate and Cardamom Custard by Karen Martini: Cooking At Home)
1 tsp dried yeast
4 tablespoons warm water
50 g castor sugar
400 ml milk
60 g unsalted butter
pinch of salt
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
580 g plain flour
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1/2 cup pure icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon ( I used 2 tsp cinnamon)
- Combine the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
- Place the milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to the boil, then remove from the heat.
- Place butter, salt and remaining sugar in a large bowl and pour in the hot milk.; whisk until all the ingredients have dissolved, then set aside to cool.
- When cool, add the yeast mixture and eggs, and stir in the flour until the mixture is smooth; cover and rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Heat the oil to 170oC in a deep-fryer or large saucepan and deep-fry tablespoons of the doughnut mixture until golden and cooked through. Drain on paper towels
- Combine the icing sugar and ground cinnamon and dust over the doughnuts.
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A bag of oranges laid on the kitchen floor. I juiced some and they were pretty sour; very juicy but tart! So I decided to make orange chicken the same way I would lemon chicken. The dish turned out really fantastic; the interplay of sticky sweet, tangy and spicy flavours coating the juicy pan-fried chicken made it a mouthwatering dish. In fact I think I now prefer this to lemon chicken, the depth of flavour from the orange juice and zest was simply delectable. Reduced with sugar, chopped garlic and bird’s eye chilies, it almost resembled chili jam. I coated the chicken with a salt and pepper cornflour mix before frying them as this creates a crispy outer layer which the orange sauce will adhere to nicely.
Sticky Orange Chicken
4 chicken thigh fillets ( approximately 650 g)
60 g cornflour
2 tsp salt and pepper mix (click here for the salt and pepper mix)
1 cup oil, for frying
Juice from 3 navel oranges
Grated zest from all 3 oranges
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bird’s eye red chilies (chili padi), finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp raw sugar (add 1/2 tbsp more if you like it really sweet)
- Trim off the excess fat from the chicken.
- Add the salt and pepper mix to the cornflour; mix well. Heat the oil in a 9-inch pan/skillet until hot (180oC); coat each chicken thigh fillet well with the flour and shake off excess before adding to the hot oil.
- Reduce to medium heat and fry the first side for 7 – 8 minutes. Turn the chicken fillets and cook the next side until golden brown; this might take less time than the first side
- Transfer chicken to a clean chopping board; wait for them to cool slightly before cutting into chunks in thirds or fourths.
- Discard most of the oil from the pan (you may reserve this for future use) but leave around 2 tablespoons of the pan drippings ( oil + residue from frying the chicken); reheat this, add the chopped garlic and chili and fry until fragrant. Add in the orange juice, zest, light soy sauce and stir in the sugar; bring to the boil then reduce to medium heat and cook, continuously stirring until the sauce is thick and sticky.
- Add the chopped chicken to the pan and coat evenly with sauce.
- Serve (goes well with steamed rice)
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