Walnut Cake single

When I was young, a family friend had a macadamia nut tree in their yard.  Even though the macadamia is native to Australia, it is not common to have your own tree.  So it was a treat to occasionally come home with a handful of macadamia nuts after a visit.

Opening a macadamia nut, however, requires patience, persistence and most importantly, brut force – often necessitating a hammer, or some other blunt object, to crack open the stubborn shells.  The macadamia shell is a stark contrast to the softer shell of the walnut.

Majestic groves of walnut trees are common landscapes that grace the valleys of the Périgord region, in the southwest corner of France.  Walnuts feature strongly in cakes and desserts from this area, and this light, nutty Gâteau is one such example.

This recipe comes by way of French food authority, Anne Willan.  It is quick to put together.  And except for the last minute addition of caramel, can easily be made ahead.  It would be a very elegant dessert, and perfect for entertaining.

What a pleasure it would be to see the transformation of the humble walnut from the tree, into this not so humble cake.

On those lucky days as a child, returning home with a handful of macadamia nuts, there was no such dessert, cake or pastry created.  Though admittedly, I am not sure if there was adequate collective patience to crack sufficient nuts required for an entire cake!

Walnut Cake set

This was a very simple cake to bake.  Made easier with the introduction of a new attachment.

Recently, when profiled on the Daring Bakers website (‘Daring Members on the Spot’), I spoke about my favourite kitchen gadget and kitchen appliance.  They were my indispensable silicon scrapers and my KitchenAid mixer respectively.  So imagine my surprise when I got the chance to combine my two favourite kitchen tools, in one!

I recently had the opportunity to trial a BeaterBlade.

The BeaterBlade replaces the flat beater / paddle attachment for your KitchenAid.  It includes a rubber ‘wing’ along each the side of the beater that provides superior mixing – and means you have to stop the mixer fewer times to scrape down the sides and bottom!

To ensure a precise feel of the beater, I tested this blade on three different cake batters (to varying degrees of viscosity).  This was the final batter.  The result?

I relived that feeling of mixing a batter, for the first time, with my very first bench top mixer.  That feeling when you are standing back, watching and listening to the low hum of the machine do all the work – no pesky bowls and handheld beaters involved – while you get on with something else.  That feeling was back, and it was a joy to bake with this attachment.

The flat beater that came with my KitchenAid?  Well, that is now my back up!
I know they have been available in the USA for a while time (as I had read reviews from American pastry chefs including Dorie Greenspan and Rose Levy Beranbaum), and they are now available in Australia through FullyBaked.

{ Gateau aux noix } by Anne Willan

* Ingredients *
2 slices day old white bread
1 cup/150 grams/5 1/2 ounces walnut pieces
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons/140 grams/5 ounces butter, more for the pan
2/3 cup/140 grams/5 ounces sugar
4 eggs, separated
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup/75 grams/2 1/2 ounces sugar
1/4 cup/60 mls/2 fluid ounces water
8 walnut halves
9-inch/23-centimeter cake pan

* Directions *
Heat the oven to 325˚F/160˚C/Gas 3. Toast the bread in the oven until very dry, 6 to 8 minutes. Let it cool, leaving the oven on. Break the bread in pieces and grind it to crumbs in the food processor. Add the walnut pieces and salt and grind to a coarse powder (the dry bread helps keep the walnuts light). Butter the cake pan, line it with a round of parchment paper, and butter the paper.
Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add half of the sugar and continue beating until light and soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl to be sure all the ingredients are mixed. Beat in the lemon zest. With a spoon, stir in the ground walnut mixture.
Using the mixer with another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. With the whisk turning, gradually add the remaining sugar and continue beating until this meringue is stiff and glossy, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Fold about a quarter of the meringue into the walnut mixture to lighten it, and then add all the mixture to the remaining meringue. Fold the two together as lightly as possible. Spoon the batter into the cake pan and bake until the cake pulls from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean when withdrawn, 40 to 50 minutes. If the cake browns too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminium foil. Let the cake cool 5 minutes, and then turn it out onto a rack covered with a sheet of parchment paper. Strip the lining paper from the cake and leave it upside down (so it has a flat top) to cool completely, at least an hour. 
For the topping, put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently without stirring until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil until the sugar cooks to a golden brown caramel. Turn the cake top upwards and set it back on the rack. Take the caramel from the heat, let the bubbles subside and at once pour it over the cake, spreading with a metal spatula to make a very thin layer, letting it drip down the sides.  Take care as caramel can burn badly. Decorate the cake at once with walnut halves so they stick to the caramel. The caramel will become crisp as it cools. When starting to set, mark portions in the caramel with a knife so the cake is easy to cut in wedges.

Makes a 9-inch/23-centimeter cake to serve 6 to 8


Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

How did Fleur de sel attain such widely held admiration?  One minute it was a speciality product celebrated only by those in the know, next minute it became practically mainstream.

Like many people, I grew up with plain, old table salt. Then, over the years, I have been exposed to sea salt, kosher salt, pink salt, black salt, and Fleur de sel.  I understood the necessity of incorporating salt into baking.  But not until tasting Fleur de sel did I fully appreciate the virtues of salt – and value how extraordinarily well it enhances taste.

From the very first punch of flavour, I was sold.  Hook, line and sinker.  Sprinkled on an indulgence such as caramel or chocolate, one bite and you are simply captivated.  As the taste of the sweet starts to dissolve in your mouth, you are exposed to the light, salty overtone of the salt.  The flavour is aromatic, smooth and distinctive.

These cupcakes are no exception.

During my caramel or chocolate vote, although caramel was crowned the clear victor, there were many requests for a chocolate and caramel combination.  Chocolate and caramel is like a marriage made in heaven, and so caramel month would certainly feel incomplete without it.

All frosted up, these cupcakes are deceptive.  The generous pool of caramel remains concealed until that first, unanticipated bite.  The salted caramel harmoniously melds with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate frosting.  Lightly sprinkled to finish, the grey flakes, light and almost pearlised, look misleadingly innocent.  When you savour the taste, the irresistable flavour faintly lingers urging you to immediately go back for more.

With ample supply of Fleur de sel de Guérande in the pantry, I suspect there will be more baking experiments to come.

{ Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes } recipe by Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water

* Directions *
Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F. Line mini muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add eggs, buttermilk, oil, extract, and the water; beat until smooth and combined.

Spoon the batter into liners about two-thirds full. Bake approximately 15 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Transfer tins to wire racks and allow to cool for 10 minutes; turn cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 1 month in air tight containers.

To finish, use a paring knife to cut a cone-shaped piece (about 1/2 inch deep) from the centre of each cupcake and throw away the pieces. Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons warm Salted Caramel Filling into each hollowed-out cupcake. You will notice the caramel will sink into the cupcake a little, just fill it up a bit more. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over filling.

Use a pastry bag with a medium open-star tip and pipe Dark Chocolate Frosting onto each cupcake, swirling tip and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Garnish each cupcake with a pinch of salt. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are filled and frosted. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

Salted Caramel Filling

* Ingredients *
2 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, preferably fleur de sel

* Directions *
Heat sugar with the water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over high, stirring occasionally, until syrup is clear; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan and stop stirring.

Cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. Boil, gently swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is caramelised and just reaches 185C or 360F. Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in salt.

Use immediately; if caramel begins to harden reheat gently until pourable.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

* Ingredients *
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

* Directions *
Combine cocoa and boiling water, stirring until cocoa has dissolved.

With electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture.

Frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month in an air tight container. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth again.

Caramel cake

There is no mere hint of caramel.  And no token caramel decoration.  You certainly will not find a subtle caramel flavour in this cake.  It is bold.  It is unashamedly rich.  And it superbly showcases caramel in many forms. 

From the caramelised cake, to the soft caramel sauce infused buttercream, to the crisp hazelnut praline that crowns this four layer wonder. 

Each component is a lesson in the versatility of caramel.  Each blends harmoniously to bring you the ultimate caramel cake.  This caramel extravaganza comes from the book, Caramel, by Trish Deseine. 

It never ceases to amaze me how the simple variation of an ingredient in baking can produce a drastically different result.  In this recipe, the simple use of brown sugar results in a sweeter, richer cake than its white sugar counterpart.  The sweetness of the cake is amplified with a caramel sauce laced buttercream frosting.  Lastly, the hazelnut praline provides the perfect crunch to this caramel cake, complementing the rich, creamy caramel cake and frosting.

This triple caramel feast certainly promises a very sweet start to caramel month.  Down to the last caramel bite.

Caramel cake (set)

{ Caramel Cake } by Trish Deseine 


* Ingredients *

3 ½ cup plain flour
1 ½ cup less 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white superfine sugar
8 eggs
2 cups salted butter
2 teaspoons baking powder

* Directions *

Preheat oven to 180C or 350 F. Spray and flour 2 x 22cm or 9” cake pans.  Put all cake ingredients into bowl of mixer, mix until you have a smooth, creamy batter. Divide mixture equally into two cake pans.  Smooth with spatula and bake 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Toothpick or tester should come out clean.


* Ingredients *

675g or 1 ½ lb powdered sugar
1 ½ cup unsalted butter
5 tablespoons caramel sauce
4 tablespoons marscapone

* Directions *

Beat powdered sugar and butter until smooth. Add caramel sauce and marscapone and beat together. Allow to set up for a few minutes in the fridge.  Save about 1/3 of butter cream for top layer of cake. Use remaining buttercream to frost the other 3 layers.

Hazelnut Praline

* Ingredients *

1 cup toasted hazelnuts
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water

Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake at 180C or 350F for 8 minutes until they start to turn golden.  Let cool.  Heat the sugar and water in a pan over medium heat.  Continue to stir until mixture turns an amber caramel color (10-15 minutes). Pour hot caramel over hazelnuts. Let cool, then break caramel into small pieces.

* Assembly *

Cut two cake layers in half horizontally to make 4 layers.
Spread buttercream on tops only, of first three cake layers, stacking them, and saving 1/3 of buttercream for top of fourth layer. Let frosted cake chill.
Top with hazelnut praline.  Optional – before serving, heat some caramel sauce and drizzle over the top, letting it run down the sides.

Dobos Torte

My baking book wishlist never seems to subside.  I add new books quicker than I can buy them.  So I was excited that for my birthday, I was lucky to reduce my wishlist down by quite a few books.  One book in particular I had been eyeing off for some time was Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers.  I felt the time had come to bring this one into my home (oh, with a few other baking book orphans at the same time!).  No sooner had my books arrived, then the August Daring Bakers challenge was posted.  I just shook my head.

The book is a delicious journey through some of the most famous Austro-Hungarian desserts, including the Dobos Torte – five thin layers of vanilla sponge, filled with chocolate butter cream icing, and topped with wedges of caramel glazed cake.  The cake was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties.

I took the liberty of steering away from the typical round cake, opting instead for a more linear, rectangular version. 

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus:  Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Thank you ladies.  A wonderful selection!

Dobos Torte set

{ Dobos Torte } from Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers

* Ingredients *

Sponge cake
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping
1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

* Directions *

Sponge layers
NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.
1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don’t have a mixer.)
4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Chocolate buttercream
NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.
1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Caramel topping
1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn’t just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

My jaw dropped.  Then my hands flew to my mouth in surprise.  I was stunned.  Almost immediately I broke out into a childish grin, clapping my hands in glee.  I quickly turned around to search out my mother.  She was there with me.  I quickly located her.  Now, almost jumping up and down like a five year old, I thrust out my arm, pointed proudly and declared, “I won a place….I came third….my little fruit buns came third!”

I could not believe it.  One of my entries into the Queensland Royal Show cooking competition won a place!

Ekka AnimalsImages from Animal Boulevard @ The Ekka 2009

It all began a few months back when I entered into five categories.

:: Date Loaf
:: Chocolate Loaf
:: Scones
:: Small Cakes
:: Fruit Buns

Immediately, I started collating recipes to commence my trial runs straight away.  Admittedly, I was not sure what the judges were looking for (as the instructions were extremely limited), but nonetheless, I figured I would just give it my best shot.  As this was my first ever baking competition, however, I was actually a little nervous.

Fortuitously, I started my practise early.  Very fortunate indeed because all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, the time had come to bake and submit my entries! 

Ekka CookingImages from the Cooking Display @ The Ekka 2009 :: Top left image: Julia’s Entry

On entry day, I carefully took my baked treats to the RNA showgrounds.  There were some serious contenders dropping off tray upon tray of entries.  I handed over my five little items, and headed to work.   Judging was happening that day.  I did not expect to hear anything.

The following week I went to The Ekka with my mother.  We had not been in about 15 years, but decided this year was a good time to go.  Go explore the exhibition and displays – and, of course, the cooking entries!

I had resigned myself to the fact that it was a long shot to win a place in the Queensland Royal Show cooking competition.  For me, just entering my very first baking competition, and the whole experience, was rewarding enough.  But I wanted to see all the winning entries, not expecting mine to be among them.

I was slowly wandering around all the winning entries on display.  My eyes naturally darting to the categories I had entered.  I was calmly taking notes in my head, observing some uncanny similarities between the winning entries.  Detail that was not at all included in the original instruction.  And it was then, in the display, when I noticed I had won. 

Ekka DogsImages from the Royal Championship Dog Show @ The Ekka 2009

After the excitement had died down (I was pretty excited!), I noticed how irregular my fruit buns were compared with the other winning entries.  Soon after, I was speaking with one of the stewards.  I pointed out my ‘non-standard’ fruit buns.  Based on appearance, she seemed surprised they won a place, but offered “the judges must have been very impressed with the texture and taste”.  With a coy smile, she then said, “next year, make sure you change the size and you could be looking at 1st place”.

We will see.

So until (perhaps!??) next year, I leave you with a sprinkling of photographs from the Queensland Royal Show 2009.

Ekka CraftsImages from the Craft and Quilting Displays @ The Ekka 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.

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

Coffee Cupcakes

It was a few months back when I thought it would be a marvellous idea to detox.  Rid my body of all those nasties lurking within.  There was one catch.  It required me giving up my beloved caffeine ritual.  Since drinking coffee back I late high school, I could not remember a day when it has not helped to facilitate consciousness of a morning.  How did I think I could manage without it?  How was I going to wake up?  How was I going to function?

Sometimes I display a fierce strong will, and this was one of those times.  I managed to push away any coffee urges.  Ignore them.  Turn my back on the cravings.  I was anticipating one of those hideous coffee withdrawal headaches, but surprisingly, none came (quite astonishing given there was quite significant daily consumption).

But towards the end of the week, I began to ponder how I would deal with this long term.  Would this mean I may no longer drink coffee – at all?  I actually like the taste of coffee.  In moderation, why would I not drink it?  So, as quickly as I stopped, I was back to my coffee consuming ways.

And I have not looked back!

My mother is also quite partial to coffee.  Especially in dessert form.  So as part of my “40th anniversary” cupcakes, I knew I had to features a coffee version in the mix (along with chocolate and vanilla – and lemon, to come!).

I adapted this cake from my basic vanilla cupcake recipe.  The substitutions were limited and simple.  1) Brown sugar instead of white sugar.  2) Including a shot of strong espresso and reducing the milk by the same volume.

I also used my basic butter cream frosting.  I added, once again, a shot of espresso during the final stages of beating to not only finish with a lovely latte colour, but subtle coffee flavour. 

{ Coffee Cupcakes }
If you love coffee desserts, you will love this little cupcake.

 * Ingredients *

1 1/2 cups of plain / all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125g unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar, packed tightly
2 eggs
100 ml milk
30 ml strong espresso

* 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 espresso.  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

{ Coffee Butter cream }

* Ingredients *

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
250g or 2 sticks of unsalted butter
30 mls espresso

* 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 espresso or any other flavour combination until smooth.

Makes 4 cups

Vanilla Cupcakes

Most people are well aware of my macaron obsession.  So imagine my excitement at work when I discovered there was a ‘new hire’ in the department.  A lovely young French girl from Paris.  Needless to say, the charming Ms Couzelin has become one of my key macaron taste-testers since.  She shares the love of Ladurée macarons and has tasted many in her lifetime.  I am always grateful for her feedback on my macaron efforts (usually positive, which is always encouraging!).

I arrived at work yesterday to find she had been baking over the weekend in preparation for Bastille Day.  This is her first Bastille Day away from home.  So she could share the festivities with us all, she emailed around a little invitation to come try her delicious pies, with a little background on Bastille Day.

  “220 years ago, the French people were starving and were really angry cause they had to give all their wheat to the monarchy…
The queen asked: “Why are they so upset?”
The servant answered: “Because they don’t have any bread to eat”
The queen replied: “They should eat brioche then!”
The people didn’t appreciate the joke and you know what happened to the Queen!

Come eat my lemon pie, pear-chocolate pie and a Brittany specialty!”

The first thing I had to do was make a bee-line for her desk and sample each of her French offerings.  (All exceptional!)  Next, I needed to beg for the recipes – particularly for the secretive ‘Brittany specialty’ that her Grandmother used to make.  (With luck I will be able to bake these myself one day soon!)

Hopefully Ms Couzelin will not be offended by the little cupcakes I made in honour of Bastille Day.  Cake is probably a little insensitive, all things considered.  The vanilla cupcakes though are actually part of my trial baking for the upcoming “40th anniversary” celebrations.  I used quite a strong vanilla flavour through the use of pure vanilla seed extract, so consequently termed these French Vanilla Cupcakes.  All things considered, these little cupcakes just screamed to be posted today, Bastille day, or La Fête Nationale!

{ French Vanilla Cupcakes }
This is my most basic cupcake recipe.  It is easily adapted and invaluable to have in your baking repertoire.

 * Ingredients *

1 1/2 cups of plain / all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125g unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla seed

* 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.  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

{ Vanilla Butter cream }

* Ingredients *

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
250g or 2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* 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 vanilla or any other flavour combination until smooth.

Makes 4 cups

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