July 2009

Celebration Cakes

With lights dimmed, a cake is presented ablaze with candles.   A couple, surrounded by onlookers, eagerly clutch a knife that is towering over a cake.  A dessert table is spread end to end with elegantly decorated cupcakes.   These are celebration moments.  Birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.

Often my first recollection of a celebration is the cake.  (Somehow effortlessly), I remember what cake I created over the years for different birthdays and other occasions.  In my head, I can see the cake and ‘play back’ all the surrounding detail.  What was the event.  Who was there.  Where we were.  What we were doing.  For me, a celebration memory starts and ends with the cake.

This month has been quite a month of celebrations.  To commemorate these birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries, I have decided to put together some of my favourite celebration cakes.  There is nothing quite like a homemade cake to honour a special day.  What ever your flavour of choice – vanilla, chocolate, coffee, lemon, strawberry, caramel – hopefully there is something here for your next celebration. 

LM mini:: Lemon Meringue Cake ::
Simple yet striking.  I have made this cake numerous times.  If the lucky recipient adores zesty, tart sweets, this is for you.  Make sure you demonstrate the final blowtorching in front of a crowd for added effect!

FV mini:: French Vanilla Cupcakes ::
Understated yet complex.  Using the intense flavour of real vanilla bean, coupled with shiny Swiss meringue buttercream, this simple cupcake is revamped from everyday to special.

FCC mini:: Flourless Chocolate Cake ::
Chic and rich.  A more-ish cake to serve with the best thickened cream or homemade ice-cream.  Just the thing for any true chocolate lover.


 DFC mini:: Devil’s Food Cupcakes ::
Light and chocolately.  Ideal as a single serve cupcake or create a multi-layer cake – sandwiched together with lashings of Swiss meringue buttercream or chocolate ganache – for a more impressive presentation.  A true chocolate-on-chocolate experience.

CC mini:: Caramel Cheesecake ::
Stylish and sweet.  A foolproof recipe for baked cheesecake.  Use lashings of gooey caramel to fill the cake or your own flavour combination to make it your own.

W mini:: Wedding Cake ::
Impressive and inspiring.  A basic rich chocolate mud cake with seven minute frosting is transformed from an ordinary cake to a show stopper with simple tiering and an uncomplicated floral decoration.

R mini:: Rainbow Cake ::
Delicate and colourful.  Children will love the multi-coloured layers of surprise inside.  Chocolate.  Strawberry.  Vanilla.  It is like Neapolitan ice-cream, but better.  Light and dainty flavoured sponge cakes are encased in rich chocolate ganache.  Caution – there will be no leftovers.

coffee mini:: Coffee Cupcakes ::
Velvety and robust.  Any coffee lover will be mad for these cupcakes.  Create a layered cake with the same cake batter and frosting recipes.  Top with golden, roasted hazelnuts for an extra treat.

LACL mini:: Chocolate and Lemon Layer Cake ::
Zesty and creamy.  Lemon and chocolate are a refreshingly complementary union of flavours.  The multiple layers is impressive enough for impact, but not so overly sized to be out of place at an intimate gathering.


Party Cake

There is one celebration cake that I have seen published numerous times on various food blogs.  Dorie Greenspan’s ‘Perfect Party Cake’.  In her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie even suggests tagging the page so you know where to find the recipe in a moment’s notice.  (I think Dorie is on to something!)

This cake can be made with a multitude of flavour combinations.  Like my recent cupcakes adventures, I appreciate a recipe that you can tailor to make your own.

Even though I celebrated my own birthday recently, there was actually another in the family last week, too.  Assuming the role of ‘resident family baker’ for that celebration, there was no question which recipe to use.

I have never made a ‘sweet’ combining lemon and chocolate.  I have seen this flavour duo in a few places and incredibly eager to try it.  Given the versatility of Dorie’s recipe, I knew this was my opportunity.  So I made a zesty lemon cake (doubling the recommended amount of lemon zest), and paired that with a creamy chocolate buttercream frosting (similar to the buttercream frosting I made recently for my cupcakes here, here and here).

Which brings me to the photograph.  I believe I have successfully mastered coordinating my baking activities to ensure my tasty treats are ready for their requisite gathering, party or get-together.  What I have not quite mastered is extending that ‘timing plan’ to capturing a photograph or two.  In this case, the cake was set out….candles lit…..and subsequently (nearly all!) consumed before my camera was able to join the party.  So in this case, the photograph was taken après la soirée.  With less than half a cake left, I was limited in what I could capture.

If you have Dorie’s book, tag the recipe now (p250).  If you do not have the book, consider buying it.  Or bookmark the recipe here – I provide the standard recipe below.  Try this cake for your next celebration.  Create your own flavour, and make it your own.  You will not be disappointed.
{ Perfect Party Cake }

* Ingredients *
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

* Directions *
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 180 C or 350 F. Butter two 20cm or 9 in round cake pans and line the bottom of each with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.  Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter, and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and will aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch- a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

{ Buttercream }

* Ingredients *
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

* Directions *
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate-just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

Makes 12 to 14 servings

Serving: The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room-not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it is cold. Depending on your audience, you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slice it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well- it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Mallow cookies

I have never left a Daring Baker challenge so late.  But with all the birthday festivities, I somehow managed to let it slip.  With time short, I opted to only make the chocolate covered marshmallow cookie.  They actually reminded me of the Hi-Hat cupcakes I made with my niece B. – which I loved!

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

These cookies were delicious.  They reminded me of my childhood!

{ Mallows – Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies }
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

* Ingredients *
3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
3 eggs, whisked together
Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

* Directions *
1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

{ Homemade marshmallows }

* Ingredients *
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 egg whites , room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

* Directions *
1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

{ Chocolate glaze }

* Ingredients *
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

* Directions *
1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Makes 2 dozen cookies


I am usually the resident baker of the family – and that customarily extends to baking my own birthday cake, too.  But this year, I was in for a treat.

A homemade birthday cake, baked by my mother.

Knowing I love anything chocolate, it was no surprise she prepared a chocolate-on-chocolate indulgence.  And to exhibit (read: show off!) the neatness of her ‘penmanship’, she also meticulously added a few words on top to commemorate the celebration.

I had a wonderful family BBQ for my birthday.  Perfect weather.  Lovely food.  And great company.  Even if I did not manage breakfast in bed (despite my not-so-subtle hints), A. cooked up a storm producing many of my favourite foods…haloumi and strawberry with mint and basil…chorizo and squid…spiced swordfish with fennel.

A birthday is not a birthday without a cake – and decorations!  Here are a few pictures from the day.  Thank you Mum for the lovely cake.  And thank you A. for all the beautiful food! xxx

Fruit Buns

I adore waking up on the weekend to freshly baked bread.  Unless someone else is taking the baking task in hand (so I can selfishly sleep in while they are beavering away in the kitchen), it does require a little pre-planning. 

You really need time when baking bread. You cannot rush the proofing process.  I find if I do, I am guaranteed tangy, yeasty bread that is absent of any smooth, robust flavour.  The extra time is certainly worth the result.

This is my own basic sweet bread dough that I have adapted over time.  I use it for fruit buns, cinnamon swirls, spiced bread, everything.  It is simple and can be prepared a day ahead ready to bake on a lazy weekend morning.

You can adjust the sugar to taste but I find this quantity does not produce an overly sweet dough but one with a satisfying hint of sweetness.  The butter and egg both enrich the dough, and sometimes I supplement with extra butter if I want to inject more moisture to the final bread.  (Which I will do when I enter these into the upcoming Royal Show.  Yes, yet another category I am entering.)

How quickly freshly baked bread stales is a bit of a challenge.  So once I bake a batch of buns, I quickly freeze a portion straight away once they have cooled.  That way, they stay fresh, and I always have something in the freezer to enjoy.

As an aside, it is my birthday this Sunday.  I love when my birthday falls on the weekend.  I have hinted strongly to A that I would be most agreeable to breakfast in bed.  A fresh bread or pastry with a side of seasonal fruits would be extraordinaire!  (Wonder if he will see this?…)

{ Fruit Buns }

* Ingredients *
250 ml warm milk
5g dried yeast
500g plain flour
75g white sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
50g melted butter, cooled
100g dried fruit

* Directions *
Warm the milk to 100F or 40C.  Mix in the yeast and sugar and set aside for 5 minutes.  Measure out the flour into the centre, add the yeast mixture.  Add in the remaining ingredients and knead by hand or with a mixer (dough hook) until the dough is smooth and glossy.  Oil a bowl and once the dough has come together place in the bowl and cover.  Set aside for about 45 minutes to 1 hour in a warm spot.  Knock the dough back and gently knead again for 5 minutes.  Let rise for another 30 minutes.  After the second proofing, divide dough into 16 pieces and knead into balls. Place balls 8cm apart onto oiled oven trays.  At this stage, you can either put the buns straight into the refriderator overnight or stand in warm place about 10 minutes or until buns have risen.  Brush with egg or milk and bake at 200C or 400F for 15-20.

Makes 16 buns

{ A few ideas … }
:: Flavour this dough with anything you like.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, lemon zest, orange zest … or even cardamon.  It is up to you.
:: For buns, loaves and rolls, towards the end of kneading, add a handful of any dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate or butterscotch chips etc. if you fancy.
:: If you wish to make scrolls, roll out each piece and spread with a flavoured butter (e.g. cinnamon), and then sprinkle with filling of choice.

Scones single

Back in May, when I hastily entered the baking competition at the upcoming Royal Show (aka, The Ekka), I did not expect the time to roll around so quickly.  (Not sure why?  It always does….)  In just a few short weeks, I need to front up at the RNA Showgrounds and present my goodies.

One entry is in the ‘scone’ category.  Interestingly, I selected that category even though I do not often make scones.  The last time was back in January (pumpkin scones to celebrate Australia Day).  So with limited practise under my belt, I reached for my trusty Belinda Jeffery baking book – and to the Lemonade Scones recipe that I knew worked well.  Around the same time, I read Y’s post for sarsaparilla scones (using the same basic recipe) and knew this would be the version I use for my entry.

I am quite partial to scones recipes that incorporate cream to replace butter and milk.  As I am fairly heavy-handed, the cream allows me to mix the dough more quickly with less risk to over-working – the #1 hurdle to making light, fluffy scones.  The recipe uses a blend of plain and wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour.  I may incorporate only plain flour for my entry.  The wholemeal flour introduces a different texture, crumb, taste and finish that may not be what the judges are looking for.  Though do not get me wrong, they are still delicious with that plain/wholemeal flour combination.

The scones are light (thanks to the lemonade), and take on a nutty flavour (from the wholemeal flour), and with the addition of fruit, you may be fooled into thinking you are eating something moderately healthy – just ignore the cream quotient!

If you are creative like Y @ Lemonpi, try your own flavour soft drink (soda) or stick with Belinda’s classic formula.  You will not be disappointed.  Perfect with a lovely cup of tea!  Very British.

Lemonade scones set

{ Lemonade Scones }
Recipe by Belinda Jeffery

* Ingredients *
2 1/2 cups or 375g self-raising flour
1 cup or 160g wholemeal self-raising flour
1/3 cup or 75g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g dried fruit
1 cup or 250ml cream
1 cup or 250ml lemonade

* Directions  *
Preheat oven to 200C or 390F.   Combine both flour, sugar, salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the cream and lemonade.  Stir everything together with a wooden spoon and then use your hands to bring the dough together.  Tip out onto a floured surface. Pat the dough out to a 5cm / 2 inch thickness, and use a scone cutter to stamp out the scones.  Brush tops with milk or cream and bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Makes 18

Lemon cupcakes

Lemon.  It is zesty and refreshing.  I love how the sharp citrus flavour bursts in your mouth.  These lemon cupcakes are the last of the “40th anniversary” series.  I wanted to balance the sweeter coffee and chocolate flavours with something that had a little more bite.

These were made from my basic cake batter recipe.  I used buttermilk instead of milk to increase the tangy flavour, and replaced vanilla with the zest of two lemons.

So now the ensemble is complete.



Happy 40 years in Australia.

To my kind and loving father, who passed away too soon, and too quickly, these are for you.  (I think you would have liked the lemon! xxx)

To my beautiful and generous mother, happy 40th anniversary.  Thank you for moving to a warm and welcoming country.  To my birth land.  My home.

{ Lemon Cupcakes }
Add more or less zest depending on your taste.

 * Ingredients *

1 1/2 cups of plain / all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125g unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
100 ml buttermilk
Zest of two lemons

* Directions *

Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F.  Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Set aside.  Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the side of bowl as necessary.  Beat in the zest.  Mix in the flour in three parts, alternating with the milk.  Spoon into cupcake wrappers and bake for 20 minutes or until cooked.  Allow to cool, and then top with your favourite frosting or ganache.

Makes 12 cupcakes

{ Lemon Butter cream }

* Ingredients *

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
250g or 2 sticks of unsalted butter
Zest of one lemon

* Directions *

In a bowl over simmering water, whisk the eggs whites and sugar.  Cook until the sugar has dissolved and the temperature reaches 160F or 70C.  Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer and on a medium speed, beat until you reach firm peaks, about 5 minutes.  Slow the speed and add in the room temperature butter one piece at a time.  If the mixture appears to curdle, keep beating on medium speed until smooth again.  Add in zest or any other flavour combination until smooth.

Makes 4 cups

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