April 24, 2010

ANZAC Biscuits

ANZAC - Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
ANZAC Day, the 25th of April, remembers the Australians and New Zealanders who gave up their lives for their countries; particularly in the Gallipoli siege of World War 1.
This fantastic recipe for ANZAC biscuits/crisps is from my Great Grandmother, and I think they're my Dad's favourite biscuits.  They're crunchy, sweet and satisfying - also easy to make!

ANZAC Biscuits
Recipe Source: my Great Grandma
2 cups rolled oats, unprocessed
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tbsp golden syrup - use more if you want them sweeter!
1 tbsp boiling water
Extra 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda and boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees C.
Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.

2. Melt butter in microwave or over a double boiler.

3. Add the melted butter, and the golden syrup to dry ingredients - mix well.  Make sure you coat all of the oats in the butter.

4. In a small bowl, combine the extra 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda with some boiling water.  Mix to dissolve, then add to the main mixture along with the 2 tbsp water.  Mix well.

5. Add more boiling water if the mixture is not wet enough.  (I had to).  Add more golden syrup if it's not sweet enough.  (I did).

6. Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls, then flatten them out with your fingers.  They need to be quite thin.  It helps if you wet your hands a bit, so that the mixture doesn't stick to you.

7. Cook until dark-golden brown in colour; about 25 - 30 minutes.  You need to make sure that they are crispy, and that they have cooked through.  If they aren't baked for long enough, the middle can still be a bit soggy from the water.

8. Transfer the baked biscuits to a cooling rack after they have cooled on the tray for a while.

9. Get the biscuits into a sealed box as soon as they are completely cool, otherwise they will go a bit soggy.  If you leave them out, just stick them back into the oven until they go crispy again.

10. Share with friends and family.

Have a good ANZAC day and a good long weekend!

April 21, 2010

A brush with Petits Four

Those darned little cakes, so small and so beautiful - decorated with all manner of things from royal icing to fondant to cachous.  You know what?  I really don't like them, even after giving them a second chance.

My first encounter with making petits four (meaning small oven - don't ask me why) was for my uncle's birthday last year.  Mum and I were going to make a cake, and hey, bakerella had posted about petits fours recently!  Let's have a go at that!
If only we knew how full of stress and angst it'd be.

The petits fours turned out great, but when the time came for icing them with poured fondant everything went pear shaped - or should I say messy and blobby?
In the end, they tasted good and looked alright.  However I still harboured a great disliking of petits fours, and just about vowed I'd never make them again.  All right, all right, I did vow I wouldn't make them again.

Yet here I am, vow down the drain with the dirty dishwater from my second ever batch of petits fours.

It was the birthday of one of my Mum's colleagues at her office; he's a podiatrist, and I wanted to make petits fours again.  To make the petits fours, I made some almond flavoured pound cake then sliced the cake into thin slices, piled them with jam in between layers, put marzipan on the top and sliced them into little rectangles.

I was pressed for time, so Mum told me to make royal icing instead of poured fondant.  The problem with this is that royal icing dries to a matte finish, while poured fondant dries shiny.  Oh well.

So, after a messy interlude while the little cakes were covered with royal icing and dried, Mum and I added little designs on the petits fours and they were finally finished.

But, hey, they are pretty cute - especially the feet.  They tasted

April 17, 2010

La la la la, Elmo's World

La la la la, la la la la, Elmo's wooooooooorld...
I made these Elmo Cupcakes for a 3 year-old's birthday.

Recipe Source: Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'
Ingredients - Cupcakes
125g butter
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 - 3 tbsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
2. Blend all ingredients except for milk in a food processor.
3. Add milk while pulsing to combine.
4. Add cocoa or other flavouring/colour if desired.
5. Line a 12 space muffin/cupcake tin with patty pans.
6. Spoon batter into the patty pans, make sure there is an even amount in each.
7. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

After baking the cupcakes, I whipped up some simple buttercream - a pleasant change from the more complex French version I've been making recently.

Ingredients - Buttercream
125g butter/margarine
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp milk

1. Beat butter until soft and white.
2. Add icing sugar and beat.
3. Add milk and beat until a spreadable consistency.  If needed, add more milk.
4. Add food colouring and combine.

Mum and I spread red buttercream onto the cupcakes, making sure that the icing looked fluffy and Elmo-like.

We then tinted some fondant black, and rolled it out thinly.  Using a circular cookie cutter, we cut out big circles from the fondant then cut them in half for Elmo's mouth.

Two other portions of fondant were left white and tinted orange respectively for Elmo's eyes and nose.  We rolled them into balls, making the orange ones a bit more oval-shaped.

Using my fantastic edible ink marker, Mum drew dots onto the white balls for Elmo's eyes.

We placed the eyes near the top of the cupcake, the nose partly overlapping onto them.  The mouth was placed below.  Here is our first Elmo with his face put together:

He's a bit cute, huh?  Mum tweaked the rest of the black semicircles up at the corners so Elmo would look more smiley.

[Insert frenzied fondanting here]

Hooray, it's...many Elmos!

After admiring them for a bit and snapping some photos, I loaded them into a big box and stuffed them in the fridge.  It was pretty difficult to put them all in the box without getting red-coloured sugary goodness all over my fingers, because the buttercream went right over the edge of the cupcake; difficult to grab.

That aside - apparently everyone liked the cupcakes at the birthday girl's party, and they were recognisable as Elmo.  (Phew!)

April 12, 2010

The Elusive Macaron

Ahhh, the elusive macaron.  Frustrating, temperamental, inconsistent, and oh so delicious.
Macarons seem to be the latest 'in' sweet after cupcakes, and have caused me much grief.  These French egg white based biscuits are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, with a shiny shell and 'foot' below it.  They are traditionally sandwiched together with a filling such as jam, buttercream or ganache.

I've made macarons what seems like a hundred times and have had many fails - but the scrumptious, sugar enhanced glow of success that comes with the perfect batches makes up for it all.

Now, after many a test and trial, I think I've got it right.
But now, the recipe.  Follow it to the letter and you have a much better chance of success.

Recipe Source: David Lebovitz
Macaron Batter
1 cup powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 cup powdered almonds or hazelnuts (almond/hazelnut meal)
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tbsp white sugar

1. Using a food processor, process the icing sugar and almonds/hazelnuts until combined and well pulverised.  For this batch, I'm using almond meal.

Before pulverisation
2. Separate the eggs.  It's important to bring the eggs to room temperature before using, it makes them easier to separate and apparently it's better for the baked good.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape (soft peaks).  Add the white sugar 1 or 2 tbsp at a time and beat in well.  Be careful not to overbeat your eggs!

3. Fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a rubber spatula.  (If you don't know what folding is, click here to view a helpful video).  You don't need to be too gentle (but don't be too rough!) - in fact, there is a technique called 'macaronnage' that calls for the mixture to be smeared across the side of the bowl with the spatula.  I do it, and it doesn't seem to harm the macarons.

If you are adding food colouring, do so now and combine well.  For this batch, a bit of orange colouring was added.

4. When the mixture is smooth and there are no streaks of egg whites, scrape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a small circular piping tip.

5. Pipe small rounds of mixture onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.  Make sure you leave quite a bit of room in between them because they spread.

If there is a blob of un-combined nut mixture stuck in your piping tip, remove it with a toothpick.  Do not just squeeze harder.  If you're using a piping bag that isn't super strength, the bag will be in danger of bursting.  Bursting is messy and a severe blow to your baking ego, trust me.

6. Leave them out so their surface begins to harden up.  This will help the macarons form their shiny shell and 'foot'.  Rest them for as long as it takes to heat up the oven to 180 degrees C.  You can leave it on fan forced as it heats, but when you put the macarons in turn it off fan.

After the oven is heated, place the macarons into the oven.  If your non fan forced oven element is at the bottom, don't put the macarons in the bottom rack as it is too hot and they crack.

7. Bake the macarons for 10 - 15 minutes.  Remove them from the oven then let them cool completely before peeling them gently off the baking paper.  (When they are warm, they stick).
Here's where you get that glow of success I was talking about.

8. Sandwich the macarons together with ganache, jam, buttercream or whatever you've got sitting around.  For these macarons, Mum and I put orange flavoured buttercream in them.

The alternative is leaving them separate, then smearing filling onto an individual macaron and eating it straight away.  This works well too.

We made some hazelnut meal macarons too.  These have a stronger nutty taste than the almond ones.  They turned out to be very crunchy and cracked, without a foot; we suspect because the oven was too hot.  However, when sandwiched with coffee buttercream, they still taste fantastic.

Tips and Suggestions
 - Bring the eggs to room temperature before using
 - When transferring the batter to the piping bag, attach some sort of clip just above the piping tip to make sure the batter doesn't drip out the end.  Then stand the bag in a measuring jug or water glass so it stands up, and off you go scraping!
 - When using hazelnut meal, turn oven heat down to 165 - 170 degrees C
 - Heat oven on fan then turn to normal.  (Quicker this way)
 - Don't use the oven rack right next to your heating element
 - If you want to make many macarons, just do one batch at a time.  It works better, believe me.
Edit: I have found that the best base for baking the macarons is a silicon mat with baking paper on top.

April 2, 2010

Easter Chick Biscuits

Happy Easter!

Make sure you get your dose of Easter eggs and perhaps some biscuits as well.
*Chomps away*