Champagne, White Chocolate & Strawberry Cake

Can I start by saying how much I love my mum? A mother of five, qualified architect, marathon runner, domestic goddess, party animal and all round wonder woman – there’s plenty to admire here, but I think you could sum it all up in her life motto – “Champagne fixes everything.” How could you possibly disagree?

I don’t mean to imply that this cake is in some way defective without the addition of some cheeky bubbles – but the champagne gives it that extra oomph and sparkle. This cake was made to celebrate the birthday of one of my mum’s closest friends; and how better to celebrate than with champagne, strawberries, cream & white chocolate?  Full recipe and instructions after the jump.

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The Apple of My Eye Cupcakes

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The term fruit-lover, in our family lexicon, dates back to something that happened when my sister, X (who agreed to me sharing this story on condition that she remain nameless), was around twelve years old. My parents, being sensible and caring people who attempted to instil in us healthy eating preferences, did not make a habit of serving dessert after dinner (we did have it on special occasions, but never if we hadn’t finished our main meal). Usually when one of us expressed a desire for something further once dinner was done, we were encouraged to ‘have a piece of fruit!’. None of us especially loved to hear this. The general consensus was that fruit wasn’t an appropriate substitute for dessert – fruit was HEALTHY! What an outrage. What a joke.

One evening, the well-meaning exhortation to ‘have a piece of fruit’ tipped sister X right over the edge. She nagged and wheedled, wanting ice-cream – but still the reply came, firm & fair – ‘have a piece of fruit!’. She was not persuaded. She started to beg. Her ‘please’ grew a few extra syllables, becoming “PUH-LEEH-HEEH-HEEEEEEAAASE!”, the word no longer a polite addition to a reasonable request, but in and of itself a full-blown whinge. Within moments a Category 5 tantrum descended. Ranting and railing against the tyranny of our parents’ insistence on fruit, she stormed out of the kitchen towards the sanctuary of her bedroom. As she reached the stairs, she paused briefly and turned on her heel for one parting shot. Eyes blazing, she screamed the line that would go down in family history:

“I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! YOU – YOU- YOU FRUIT LOVER , YOU!”

I know it’s a bit of a stretch to go from pre-teen dummy spit to Father’s Day, but I really wanted an excuse to tell that story. And if you think about these cupcakes it actually makes perfect sense – whether you are a hardcore fruit-lover, or conversely if the thought of fruit for dessert is enough to make you incandescent with rage, you will love these sweet apple cupcakes. They have real fruit in them, as well as a very (un)healthy dose of butter, sugar, more butter and more sugar. I was inspired to make them to celebrate Father’s Day, as my Dad is both a fruit-lover and a dessert-lover.

The cake recipe is inspired by smitten kitchen’s spiced applesauce cake and uses homemade applesauce. Don’t be put off by the extra step this adds – this applesauce is easy and this recipe uses it for both the cake and the curd filling. If you have any leftover applesauce, it is perfect as baby food. Alternatively you could do what I did and, once you have portioned out your required amounts for both cake and curd recipes, stand over the saucepan greedily spooning warm applesauce into your mouth.

Recipes and instructions below. I have also included some process pictures to show how I assembled these cupcakes. I apologise in advance for the picture quality – my kitchen is in many ways a lovely place to be, but it gets nearly no natural light.

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Pear & Almond Tart

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This is just a very brief post to share with you the apparently steal-worthy tart I made on the weekend, for my friend Bree (of Orange Ombré Sprinkle Cake fame) to share with her family .

I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe, found here, and adapted it so very barely that it would be disingenuous to reproduce it, as I would hardly change a thing (except to note that I thinned out the apricot jam glaze with a little of the pears’ poaching liquid).

All I can do is add my seal of approval to this recipe – and I KNOW you’ve been hanging out for that prestigious honour, Dorie – and encourage you to make this, as I am reliably informed that it was so good, on Sunday morning Bree’s brother ran off with what remained of the tart (and no, that’s not a euphemism).

Blooming Marvellous Cupcakes

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Every time I see these cupcakes, I have to forcibly restrain myself from breaking into song (specifically, from breaking into Rogers & Hammerstein’s “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Carousel). There are a number of things making that restraint somewhat easier – it’s not June, the song’s about summer when clearly these cupcakes scream springtime, and people outside of the Glee universe tend to frown upon (or, if I’m being honest, laugh unkindly at) impromptu musical renditions of show tunes.

However, these cupcakes are seriously bustin’ out all over. These are not ‘whip up in an hour for an after-school treat’ cupcakes. These are plan-ahead cupcakes, like a fabulous but high-maintenance friend who is coming to stay with you for the weekend – you know it’ll be a lot of work, you’ll probably have a headache on Monday, but you do it because you love her and DAMN it’s fun when she comes to town! There’s two types of icing, three if you count the fondant – there’s rolling, chilling, cutting out, baking, cooling, piping, trimming bamboo skewers, and don’t even get me started on transporting these from one place to another … but they are worth it! They are gorgeous and if you bring them some place people will be IMPRESSED. People will love them. And it’s not so much work if you do it in small doses. As my grandfather used to say, you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.

Recipes and instructions after the jump.

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I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For … Chocolate Cake!

One of my biggest personality flaws is getting way, way ahead of myself.

Mention to me that you’re thinking of one day moving to Paris, and the next time we speak I will have already decided which hotel I’m going to stay at when I come to visit you, and how you’ll take me to your local boulangerie where we’ll dip flaky croissants in our milky morning coffees before wandering picturesquely along the Seine, glamorously insouciant as we laugh and reminisce.

Ask me if I’d like to come to a beginners’ swing dancing class with you, and I will for the rest of the day be indulging in visions of my future self as an expert swing dancer, attired fetchingly but practically in a very flattering 40s-style outfit, lindy hopping with panache and enviable grace.

If, one morning, I happen across a newspaper article profiling a charming suburb I’d never before thought about living in, by lunchtime I have mentally moved myself in and located the shortest distance (on foot, with a pram) between my new dream home and my new favourite café.

Some people might think that this behaviour is just the tiniest bit insane. I accept that viewpoint, but would like to add that this particular brand of insanity can have rich rewards. Case in point: this gorgeous cake.

For background, I made this cake for the Loreto Kirribilli Spring Fair cake stall. The Spring Fair was, when I was growing up, a fairly reliable indicator that winter was finally loosening its long-fingered grip on the year. And although it is not quite sundress and icypole weather here in Sydney yet – more like (long-sleeved) t-shirt and picnic rug weather – the semi-regular sunlight has been turning my head. I have been dreaming, just a little, of summertime. And specifically, of icecream.

Even I am not so unhinged as to think that an ice-cream cake was in any way a viable option for a cake stall, but I still wanted to do something that shouted ‘Summer!’ (yes, I know it was the Spring fair, but I refer you again to my tenuous grip on reality). After searching the internet for inspiration (and in the process realising that for maximum Proustian impact, nothing could ever really top the McDonalds Ice-Cream Cake served at the birthday parties of my youth) I drew my visual inspiration from this whimsical confection over at One Charming Party. I wanted to see if I could make something that looked as cool as theirs did, without needing to be refrigerated (Ba-boom-tish! I’ll be here all week!).

Recipe and detailed instructions below!

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From the Vault: Hamburger Cake

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This is the first true trompe l’oeil cake that I attempted and it was in honour of my sister Claire’s 21st birthday a few years back. Even though I know I’ve come a long way in terms of technique since then, I’m still really proud of this cake – it looked awesome at her party and she loved it – which is the most important thing. I also made some sugar cookie ‘fries’ and raspberry coulis ‘ketchup’ to go with it – because who wants to eat hamburgers without fries?

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The burger bun was a plain white cake, iced with a beige tinted buttercream frosting and with white fondant ‘sesame seeds’ scattered over. The burger patty was a giant chocolate crackle, to which I added just the tiniest little bit of red food colouring to make it look a bit more realistic. The lettuce, cheese and tomato were fondant, coloured and rolled out, and cut into shapes.

In all honesty, it was two years ago, so I can’t remember precisely what recipes I used – but below are the recipes I would use if I had to do another one tomorrow. Detailed instructions below.

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Two Tarts

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My brief for this particular birthday celebration was ever so slightly more challenging than usual. My sisters’ boyfriends share a birthday and so we celebrated them on the same occasion. As they have fairly divergent tastes in sweets – one preferring lighter, fruit-based confections and the other seeing anything that isn’t chocolate-drenched or caramel-soaked as an insult to dessert- I had to find a way to satisfy two very different sweet teeth at the same time, bearing in mind that we’d have at least eight mouths to feed, and did I mention we were having a mid-week dinner celebration? A Tuesday, to be precise: smack bang in the middle of my three day work week. The solution? Tarts. One very rich, chocolate-caramel-coronary-inducing; the other lemon-tang-toothsome.

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Orange Ombré Sprinkle Cake

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I’m going to have to think of a better way to name my posts – five in and already ending everything with ‘cake’ is making me go cross-eyed.

I made this for my friend & colleague Bree, whose sweet tooth knows no bounds and whose favourite colours are orange, yellow & aqua. It’s an almost direct rip-off of Raspberri Cupcakes purple ombre sprinkle cake, at least visually, but I used my favourite 1-2-3-4 cake recipe for the layers, filled and frosted with whipped white chocolate ganache.

Recipe with detailed instructions after the jump!

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Pink Pink Pink!

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Another one from the archives – this is another one of Juliet’s birthday cakes, this time for her 9th birthday.

This was the cake that tipped me over the edge in terms of a new outlook towards cake-baking for children. After killing myself to make a perfect Pink Lady cake, the girls at her party ended up just eating the icing and fondant decorations and more or less ignoring the cake itself. Even though all the adults in attendance swore black and blue that the cake was actually delicious, my wounded pride made me vow never to go to that much trouble for a kid’s cake again. From then on, I would focus all of my attention on delicious sugary decoration, and waste no more time on faffing around with the cake base (or as I came to think of it, the ‘icing support system’).

In any event, even with the strawberry puree in the batter and the attendant alterations to keep the correct ratio of liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, this wasn’t a terribly complicated cake to make. I used buttercream to frost the layers and decorated with marshmallow fondant, coloured in two shades of pink, rolled thin and then stamped out with cookie cutters.

Ladybug Cake

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I made this Ladybug cake for my sister Juliet’s 10th birthday. She’d just done a unit on bugs for school and loved it, so I used that as my inspiration. Ladybugs seemed like the most toothsome insect, and I was really happy with the result.

This cake was made a while ago so I don’t actually recall what cake recipe I used … But it was most likely this chocolate cake from Smitten Kitchen. With a cake for a 10-year-old, everyone knows the most important thing is the icing, so the cake doesn’t need to be super fancy, a basic recipe will work perfectly!

So for the decorations, they were actually very simple, though a little time-consuming. The ‘dirt’ was made out of Oreos blitzed in the food processor (I love my mini Cuisinart food processor for jobs like this – it’s perfect for small quantities and doesn’t take up too much space in the dishwasher!). The ‘grass’ was made from cream cheese frosting, tinted green and piped with the Wilton piping tip #233. The ladybugs and leaves were made out of marshmallow fondant, tinted with gel coloring.

To keep the ladybugs looking shiny, I brushed them with a little melted raspberry jam before adding their spots with food coloring. They stayed shiny even after being in the fridge for a day!