A Thorny Deception

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One of my special cake requests is the Durian Gateau, a standard round cake constructed from layers of genoise sponge, durian puree, durian panna cotta and durian whipped cream crowned with profiteroles filled with more durian cream. However, for the longest time, somewhere in the wacky recesses of my mind, I’ve bookmarked the idea of disguising a durian cake in its whole fruit form; thorns and all. It wasn’t until such a masterpiece appeared on my Facebook timeline last week by a friend that I was reminded of this long overdue project. My resolve lurched into overdrive; I ransacked the chest freezer for my stash of frozen Musang King and D24 durians (reserved for special orders) and debated whether I should sacrifice the precious commodity I held in my hands for the sake of this impulsive project. Whatever doubts I had were quickly shoved aside – I had to do this! And hubby J’s birthday gathering (second out of three) was just the perfect excuse.

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The durian cake would have to be a buttercake (not sponge)  in order for it to hold up and I was foolish to dive into it using a basic buttercake recipe with added durian pulp. I felt incredibly pained when the first cake failed; it was so dense that it looked uncooked despite it being baked in the oven for a long time. Pained because each box of Musang King durian here costs AUD$21.00 for 500g. Fortunately I reserved half of the pulp for my Italian Buttercream frosting. I reluctantly opened my box of D24 durian for the second batch of cake, messaged my mom for a good durian buttercake recipe and what a relief; the cake, baked in 2 large noodle bowls turned out as it should. The first batch had way too much butter and sugar and these had to be reduced to offset the richness and denseness of the additional durian pulp. Cake was sliced then layered and covered in durian buttercream. I then realised I didn’t have enough durian buttercream to pipe each individual thorn so it was on to plan B – sugarpaste tinted a khaki green, shaped and then individually applied onto the ball of cake. The thorn-application process took 4 hours but I found it oddly therapeutic. To give it a more realistic look, the stem and some of the thorns were brushed and painted with cocoa powder and corn flour.

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I am stoked with the result even though I could have made it less round with slightly more imperfections e.g. dips and dents. All the time delayed in cutting it, we made up with loads of photos and selfies with the prickly star of the day. But alas, it’s a cake; birthday song was sung and the cake was ceremoniously hacked into with you guessed it – a cleaver! The pungent and sweet aroma of durian wafted through the air at the first crack of the faux shell and the cake was destroyed and devoured in mere minutes. BURP – The End!

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Purdey & Ian's Wedding Dessert Tower

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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.

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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)

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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! :P

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Table Setting

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The castle’s coat of arms on a shield

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The married couple taking a stroll on the castle’s front lawn

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Jerome & Emily's Wedding Cake & Terrariums

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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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Flourless Chocolate Cake

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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.

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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!

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

A)
100 g Callebaut Couveture Dark Belgian Chocolate Callets 53.8%
100 g butter

B)
90 g caster sugar
30 g dutch cocoa powder – sifted
80 g almond meal

C)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp thickened cream
1 tbsp fresh full cream milk

D)
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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. Gently melt (A) in a saucepan over low heat; stirring continuously until smooth. Leave to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk egg yolks into cooled (A).
  4. Add the chocolate and egg yolk mixture to (B), then stir-in the thickened cream and milk. Whisk until thoroughly mixed-through.
  5. 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.
  6. Immediately pour mixture into lined cake tin and bake for 45 minutes.
  7. Cool cake in tin.
  8. 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.
  9. 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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Lavender Cookies

Spring time; my favourite season of the year where dormant buds burst into a sea of rainbow blooms amidst the drones of hard-working bees, clouds pour with rain then make way for the glorious sun against the endless expanse of azure. Of course, there’s also today-wild and unforgiving wet weather, perfect to stay indoors and work on my blog. On good-weather afternoons, I enjoy excursions with Joshua in his pram, walking anywhere and everywhere, pausing to admire the cherry blossom trees, the wild daisies that line the side-walks and the majestic pink saucer magnolia trees – absolutely stunning! I am stoked that walking has kick-started my sluggish metabolism and I’ve since shed 2 kgs off my stagnant, 6 months worth of baby weight in the last 2 weeks!

I know it’s ironic to have weight loss and buttery cookies in the same post but whilst I’ve been reserving any baking pleasure or opportunity for customised cake orders, I’ve had a lavender cookie craze for the last 2 weeks. I think it’s a nice way to welcome Spring by perfuming delicious butter cookies with culinary/edible lavender buds. I also toyed around with my new lettering stencil/stamp, pressing ‘foodsze’ into my dough cutouts which unfortunately due to uneven pressure, only half the alphabets turned out. However, these buttery and crisp gems are incredibly addictive and so easy to make so I gave most of them away to friends and hubby to take to work. I borrowed a shortbread recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly: BAKE but instead of chocolate shortbread stars, I substituted chocolate with lavender buds and played around with the amount of icing sugar. I found the original recipe which calls for 160g  of sugar way too sweet for my liking  so you may adjust this. Rice flour lends these shortbread cookies a crisp texture.

So make a cuppa, sit back, relax, smell the flowers and enjoy these buttery morsels. Oh and hello Spring!

Lavender Cookies

250 g butter, softened
2 – 2.5 tsp dried culinary lavender buds ( edible grade e.g. lavandula angustifolia or English Lavender)
140 g – 150 g icing sugar (140 g for less sweet, 150 g for sweeter)
185 g plain flour
100 g rice flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Beat butter, icing sugar, lavender buds and vanilla extract in medium bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in sifted flours in two batches – you may do this in  the machine until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll dough between sheets of baking paper until 1 cm thick; refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 160oC or 140oC fan force. Line oven trays with baking paper.
  3. With a 5cm- 6cm width/diameter cookie cutter, cut out shapes from the dough. Place them about 4 cm apart on oven trays. While cookies are baking, roll out remaining dough as per Step 1 and refrigerate to firm up dough before cutting out cookies for the next round of baking. 
  4. Bake cookies for 20 minutes. Cool in trays. Cookies will still be soft when taken out of the oven but they will crisp up when completely cooled.
  5. Store in an air-tight jar.

My amazing Strawberry Ruffles Lavender die every autumn to winter but spring back to life in its own pot (I should really transplant it to the ground)

100g of dried culinary lavender is enough to  make lots and lots of cookies!

lettering stencil/stamp

Lavender cookie hearts for a friend

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Ricotta & Spinach Filo Triangles

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 :mrgreen: ) 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 

Ingredients

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
1 egg
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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180OC.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all filling’s used up.
  7. Brush the top of each filo triangle with melted butter and bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes until brown and crispy.

 The filling

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Drop Cinnamon Doughnuts

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)

Ingredients

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)

Method

  1. Combine the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Place the milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to the boil, then remove from the heat.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. Combine the icing sugar and ground cinnamon and dust over the doughnuts.

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