Sponge Kisses

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With Father’s Day imminent here in Australia, I thought I’d make one of my own Dad’s favourites for this month’s Cook Club – Mum’s Sponge Kisses. Now, mine didn’t turn out quite as soft and fluffy as Mum’s (what IS that phenomenon that makes your mother’s cooking better than anything, ever?) and they did collapse a little as they cooled…but hey, it was my first go and my family still gobbled them up, so I’m going to take small successes where I can.

Sponge Kisses are basically two small rounds of sponge cake sandwiched together with jam (any flavour. You pick) and whipped cream, then dusted with icing sugar. Kind of an old-fashioned treat, I guess. They’re quick, easy and make minimal mess in the kitchen.

WHAT YOU NEED:

1/2 cup plain flour

1/2 cup corn flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs, separated

3/4 cup caster sugar

Whipped cream and jam to fill

Icing sugar to dust

sponge kissesHOW IT’S DONE:

Pre heat oven to 200c, line oven trays with baking paper

With your electric mixer, whip egg whites until they have stiff peaks. Gradually add caster sugar, then egg yolks one at a time.

In a separate bowl, sift plain and corn flours together, along with the baking powder. Gently fold this mix through the egg mix.

Cooking in batches, spoon heaped teaspoons of mix onto lined trays allowing room for them to spread. They only take 4-5 minutes, or until you notice them beginning to change colour. Remove carefully using a spatula – they’ll still be very soft – and place on a rack to cool.

Sandwich together using jam and whipped cream (or just cream if you prefer). Some people like to add the Kisses to the fridge at this stage for a couple of hours to soften up. Personally, I prefer to serve immediately after adding the filling, with a generous dusting of icing sugar. If needed, you can store the unfilled Kisses in a sealed container until serving time.

Next time, I might try tweaking the recipe a little by adding a touch more plain flour and baking powder.

Raspberry Fudge Cake

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Okay, we all know the deal – you need a spectacular dessert, and no time to bake from scratch. If you’re anything like me and have a reasonably well-stocked pantry, you might even manage this one without a trip to the supermarket (I did!). I baked this one for my sister-in-law Kerrie, for her recent birthday.

rasberry fudge cake

Rasberry fudge cake

 

What You Need:

2 packs of Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix

1 tub of ready-made chocolate frosting

2 tubs of ready-made vanilla frosting

2 cups of dark chocolate melting buds

1 cup of frozen raspberries (you can use fresh, but frozen razzies are just as yummy and far more convenient)

1 pack of raspberry M&M’s

Baking paper

20cm round cake tin (even better if you have 2 of these!)

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Layering the cake

 

How it’s Done:

Prepare cake mixes according to the directions on the packet. I baked them in two 20cm round pans. Allow to cool, and then slice each cake horizontally in half – use a bread knife to do this – it makes life easy. Also trim the top of each cake so they are nice and flat.

 

While your cakes are baking, defrost your raspberries, then mix and mash them into the ready-made vanilla frosting. Pop the raspberry mixture into the fridge to help it firm up a little while your cakes are cooling.

 

Melt the chocolate buds using your preferred method – I use the microwave for small amounts like this – in two batches. On a long piece of baking paper laid flat on the bench, spread the chocolate as smoothly as you can. Allow chocolate to set for around ten minutes at room temperature, but not until it’s completely hard. With a sharp knife, score vertical lines right through the chocolate, to leave you with pieces about 5cm wide. I did mine on a slight angle for added effect. Allow the chocolate to set totally, then put aside for decorating.

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On the inside!

 

Spread approximately one third of the chilled raspberry and frosting mix over one of your cake halves. Layer another half cake and repeat with the frosting – and repeat again until you add the very top cake half. (Yes, I know that would technically make them cake quarters, but hey…) Spread the chocolate frosting over this top half, keeping some frosting in reserve. Use this frosting to ‘glue’ the chocolate pieces around the outside of your cake. You can use perfectly measured pieces that all match, but I liked the idea of it being a little more rustic. The chocolate slabs should stay put with the frosting, but I also added a tulle bow because – pretty! Then, cover the top of your cake with the M&M’s. I added a few left-over pieces of chocolate too, because I knew the recipient of this particular cake happens to be a chocoholic!

 

There are a zillion variations you could use for a simple cake like this one. Instead of sticking with pinks, what about the bright multicolours of a traditional M&M pack? Blueberries instead of raspberries? Cookies and cream? Mint chocolate? Caramel, white chocolate? Hmm, white chocolate and caramel…might try that one soon actually. Anyone have a birthday coming up?

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Take a slice

 

 

Easy Peesy Chocolate Brownies

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Okay, so I’m going to try something a little different over the next week or two. It occurred to me that most of those amazing dessert recipes you find are really just a few simple recipes thrown together. So let’s do just that. I’m going to give you recipes for three sweet, simple goodies and at the end, put them all together for something special.

First up, we have ridiculously easy, and oh-so-chocolatey Brownies.

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Chocolate Brownies!

What You Need:

  • 1 ¼ cups of butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups of plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 cups of caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 cup of cocoa (use the best quality you can)
Exploded Mixer

Messy Mandy!

How It’s Done:

Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees C. Melt the butter in the microwave, being careful not to burn. Add to a large mixing bowl – I used my electric mixer with a stir attachment, but these could just as easily be done by hand, probably with less mess (see pic below!). Add cocoa, then sugar and eggs – one at a time. If using an electric mixer, give a quick blitz for a few seconds between each addition. Stir in the flour. If you are using an electric mixer, remember to use the spill guard, or, like me you’ll end up with flour everywhere.

Bake for aprox. 30 minutes in a greased slice tin – I used a pan about 15cm by 25cm. Remember, brownies don’t spring back quite like a cake when tested, so be careful not to overcook. Allow to cool on a rack for 20 minutes, then slice and serve…although they’re pretty delicious served warm!

I served mine with a sprinkling of icing sugar, strawberries from my garden and a little chocolate sauce.

Boys and bowls

My boys!

Celebration Cake Pops

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So, Christmas is done and dusted, and as has been the case for the past couple of years, it was a very quiet and relaxed day for us. All the action happens crazy-early morning when our three boys leap out of bed to discover what Father Christmas has delivered. After that, it’s all about doing as little as possible. Besides my Beloved and our sons, I only have my sister (and her family) and my Mum left on my side after losing my Dad and both my maternal grandparents in a short space of time. Christmas without them is still a bit weird. We call it ‘the new normal’. We don’t do the whole mega-meal in the middle of the day – and there’s definitely no hot oven making the kitchen an uncomfortable place to be (seriously, our Australian summer is enough to contend with!) So this year, in between splashing around in the pool, we adults munched on some gorgeous antipasto platters while the kids were able to choose whatever they wanted to eat – it is Christmas, after all – and they chose chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Why not, I say!

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Celebration Cake Pops

I did, however whip something special up for dessert. Again, totally non-traditional. Yes, more cake pops! They’re so easy, and suddenly everyone’s favourite – kids and adults alike. They’re easy to eat, don’t require a bowl or crockery, and, they’re FUN. While I served them up over Christmas and Boxing Day, there’s no reason why these can’t make your New Year’s Eve table centrepiece or any other special occasion.

What You Need:

1 packet of chocolate Tim Tams

1 packet of white chocolate Tim Tams

5 malt-style biscuits

2 x 80 grams of cream cheese

White chocolate melts

Dark chocolate melts

Chocolate transfer sheets in various designs. I used two – gold swirls and pink brushstrokes.

Small round cutter, aprox 2cm diameter (for biscuits, scones or icing)

Cake Pop sticks (you could use icy pole sticks)

CCake pops 3

The pops!

How it’s Done:

Add the chocolate Tim Tams to your food processor. Blitz for a few moments, just to break them up a little. Add 80 grams of cream cheese and continue blitzing until combined in a doughy ball. Remove and roll teaspoon sized pieces into balls. Place on a tray lined with baking paper, and pop them in the fridge.

For the white chocolate Tim Tams, the process is the same, except you’ll need to add the malt biscuits as well. This is because specialty-flavoured Tim Tams (white, dark, mint etc) are a few biscuits short in the pack. Sneaky, sneaky.

While your Tim Tam balls are chilling, cut a 10cm strip away from your chocolate transfer sheets. The sheets cost about $8 each and are available from all cake decorating shops, as well as online. There’s a huge variety of colours and designs and available, and I think they’re my new favourite thing! I melted a teacup full of chocolate buds in the microwave before pouring the liquid chocolate over the rough side of the transfer sheet. This bit is a little tricky, mainly because you need to smooth the chocolate to a thin layer with a spatula, but not too thin – about 2 or 3 mm is good. Now, wait a couple of minutes – don’t walk away! – until the chocolate is beginning to set, but is still pliable on the sheet. With your round cutter (mine is about 2cm in diameter), cut out circles just as you would for biscuits. If you wait until the chocolate has set too much, it will crack. If it’s still too wet, it just won’t work. Trial and error, folks. As you lift the remaining circles, you’ll find the transfer has done its job and err…transferred the edible design onto your chocolate disk.

CC pops 4

Melt Icing

Remove your Tim Tam balls from the fridge, melt a little more chocolate, dip the end of each stick in it before pushing gently into the ball. Place back on the lined tray upside down, not minding if a flat spot is created on the top on the ball. Give a few minutes to set before melting more chocolate (I use a deep mug) and dipping the whole ball inside. This isn’t the time to be stingy! Let the excess drip off, and while the chocolate is still wet, attach the decorated disk. Replace on the tray upside down to help the disk stay in place while setting.

CCake pops 1

Decorate however you like!

These quantities made 32 cake pops, and I was able to make them a day ahead of time. I served them in plain old household jars, in the middle of the table. Get creative! Try colouring your chocolate, and who says you need to stick with circles for your transfers? I’d love to hear your ideas. For me, I think I’ll try stars next time…

Under the Sea Cake Pops

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You might recall my recent post with the Big Blue Fish Cake that I made for my Mr 6’s birthday party. Well, it seems these days that the main birthday cake isn’t enough. You still need cupcakes (well, of course. D’uh, Mum!) and the latest trend in cakes – cake pops.

cake pops 1

The Ingredients! Muwhahahah!

I readied myself with a $12 cake-pop mould-tin from K-mart, though admittedly, I wasn’t too sure about it. Looked to me like the thing would leak and make a helluva mess, if it worked at all. But thankfully, I was saved by the Angel of Cake Advice, the owner of my local cake-supply shop. “Don’t bake them,” she said. “Cheat! Mashed Tim-Tams and cream cheese. That’s all there is to it!” And she was right. Gloriously, deliciously right. Here’s how:

cake pops 3

Scolpt

What You Need:

  • 1 packet of Tim-Tam biscuits. For those of you outside Australia who might have difficulty getting your hands on our national treat, apparently Oreos work too.
  • 80g of cream cheese. I used the Philadelphia brand.
  • Chocolate for dipping.
  • Chocolate food colouring.
  • Mouldable chocolate for decorations.
  • Ice cream sticks or similar. I used plastic ones from my Cake Shop.
  • cake pops 2

    Getting there …

 

How it’s Done:

I made a triple batch with three packets of Tim-Tams and 240g of cream cheese. All you need to do is throw the biscuits into a food processor, give them a bit of a buzz, then add the cream cheese and process until combined. That’s it. Truly.

Next, roll teaspoon sized scoops of the Tim Tam mix in your hands to make ball-shapes. I kept some as balls, flattened others out into disk shapes (for the crabs) and then for the turtles, just flattened the bottoms. Place on a tray or plate with baking paper. Refridgerate.

cake pops 5

Taking shape

While your balls are chilling, melt a small cupful of chocolate. I use the microwave. Remove the chilled balls, dip the end of a stick into the chocolate, and then into the ball shape. I found it easiest to place upright in a glass, then back in the fridge to set.

While your shapes on sticks are chilling again, it’s time to make up the accessories that will turn your balls into sea creatures. I used mouldable chocolate, which is kind of like plasticine – but waaay yummier – for mine. This stuff comes already coloured, so it makes your life much easier. Fins and tails for the fish, nippers for the crabs, heads, feet and a tail for the turtles. Oh, and eyeballs for all of them. Don’t forget the eyeballs!

cake pops 6

Almost party time

Working with one type of creature at a time, melt more chocolate. This time, use a bowl and don’t skimp on the amount. You need to be able to dip your shapes so that they’re entirely covered. For the turtles I used dark chocolate, the crabs and fish I used coloured white chocolate (make sure you use chocolate-friendly colouring). It’s easiest to make one creature at a time – dip it in the chocolate, wait for the drips to stop, then add its accessories. After setting, I added smiley faces and pupils in the eyes with an edible marker pen.

And the cupcakes? Yeah, they were a cheat too. Packet mix (both chocolate and vanilla), commercial frosting – vanilla – piped on top, then with blue spray colour (just like spray paint in a can) gave them a quick whiz over, and added store-purchased candy sea creatures. Too easy! And yes, the birthday boy was thrilled.

cake pops 4

Doneski! Under the Sea pops  to go with a Giant Blue Fish Cake

The Big Blue Fish Cake

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or … Surviving a Kid’s Birthday Party at Home!

My littlest treasure recently turned six years old. Six is a big deal when you’re five and three quarters. Big enough to want to invite twenty-eight five and six year olds to your party. And then there’s the grown-ups. Mr Just-Turned-Six is the youngest of three boys. Any parent of more than one child will tell you that you go all out for the first few birthday parties (if you’re that way inclined anyway) but then reality sets in. Big parties drop off to every second or third year. By the time number three child is around, crunch time has well and truly hit and it becomes a ‘you get one or two big parties and that’s it’ kind of thing.

Big Fish_8

Da Big Blue Fish!

Throwing the birthday party of your dreams is back-breaking hard work. It’s stressful. Expensive. And – notice where I said ‘…the party of your dreams…’ – yeah, well, while the birthday child might be thrilled with the result, they’re not necessarily going to curl at your feet every day for the rest of their lives thanking you for making their childhood the magical, imaginative experience that it clearly is. In other words, kids parties can induce a sort of post-event emotion-dive.

Big Fish_1

It all begins with this …

Well, that’s how it is for me anyway. Obviously, I over-think these things.

So, with all this in mind, I sat down with Mr Six to work out a theme for his party. Monsters? I suggested. Nah, he said. Superheroes? Nope. Not interested. Minecraft, he says. Too tricky, I say (calculating in the back of my mind how few Minecraft party supplies are available). Lego? Nope. Adventure Time? Arghh no! I had visions of crafting teeny tiny Ice Kings and Princess Bubblegums from sticky bits of fondant. And then, in a moment of either brilliance or laziness – because I’ve done this theme before – I suggested ‘Under the Sea’. He said yes. I said yippee!

Big Fish_2

Shaping the cake

The Cake

With today’s post, I’m just going to start with the main birthday cake. We’ll talk cupcakes and cake pops and decorations soon. The fish cake is one of those things that looks amazing and complicated and like you’re a super talented cake decorator, when, in all honesty – it’s seriously simple.

Big Fish_4

More Shaping

The Day Before the Party

I started with eight (yes, EIGHT!) commercial packet mixes. I used the cheapest vanilla cake mixes I could find. My big tin is approx. 18cm by 28cm and 8cm deep. It took 4 mixes, and you’ll need two cakes. Mix and bake according to instructions. I did add a little extra vanilla essence – because I can’t help myself – and a few drops of blue and green food colouring. Give yourself plenty of time – a cake of this size needs plenty of time to cook, and you need two.

*My star cake tip is always, always take the time to grease and line your tin properly.

Big Fish_6

Big beautiful tail!

 

Scales and Fins

You’ll need a couple of packets of white chocolate melts, edible glitter, baking or parchment paper and some specialist chocolate food colouring. Using normal water-based food dye in chocolate will result in a nasty seized-up mess of bleugh. Powdered food colouring is fine, as is oil-based. I used a specialist product called Flo-Coat. It’s made by AmeriColor, and available at any cake decorating shop, or online. All you do is mix 5 drops of Flo-Coat to one drop of water-based food colour. I found it easiest to do this in a small glass with a wooden skewer, making sure I had plenty of pre-mixed colour for when my chocolate was melted. I quantities I used were aprox 40 drops of Flo-Coat to 8 drops of colour.

Big Fish_7

Icing on the tail

Next, lay out a large piece of baking paper on a flat surface. Melt white chocolate using your preferred method. I did mine in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between. I don’t like to work with much more than a cup and a half of chocolate at a time. Once melted, add your colour. Working quickly, add teaspoon-sized scoops of chocolate to the baking paper. Smooth with the back of the spoon to an elongated disc shape, at least 1mm thick. While it’s still wet, sprinkle glitter (or pearls, or any other embellishment). Make sure you make a few different sizes with each colour. With each batch of chocolate, I also varied the colour a little. You’ll need approx. 50 scales of varying sizes. Set at room temperature, and then carefully lift from the paper (it’ll come away easily) and store overnight in an air-tight container.

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Front view

For the fins and tail, draw the shape you’ll need onto a piece of baking paper. Flip the paper (so you don’t get any lead in your chocolate!) and fill in your template with the desired colour of chocolate, using the back of a spoon or a spatula to smooth. Don’t forget the glittery bits! I made two dorsal fins and two tails. You’ll need eyes too, made using plain white chocolate in the same way, with the detail added later by either painted food-dye, or using edible markers (textas).

Party Day

Hopefully you’re so organised the morning of the party, all you need to do it put the cake together. First step is to place one of the already baked cakes on a cooling tray. With a skewer, draw the shape of a fish. Use a sharp bread knife to carve the cake to your desired shape. Basically, you’re just taking off the corners at this point. When you’re done, place the first cake on top of the second, and follow your own lines so the cakes are now the same shape – kind of an oval. Now, you need to use those sculpting skills. Carve your cakes into a more football-shape by taking a little bit at a time. Remember – a little bit.

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Back view with party cakes

Once you have the basic shape, transfer to the board or dish you’ll be serving it up on. Smoosh the two layers together using your choice of frosting or cream. As usual, I used Betty Crocker brand pre-made vanilla frosting. It’s yummy and reliable. This cake took 3 tubs of frosting. Once ‘smooshed’, tint the remaining frosting to a colour similar to your scales (or you could go for contrast). Cover the entire cake with a decent layer of frosting, paying particular attention to the rough carved areas where it doesn’t stick quite so well. Once covered, make small cuts with a sharp knife to the top of the cake, where you’ll wedge in the dorsal fins, and the back, where you’ll add the tail. Once they’ve been added, gather up your scales and starting in front of the tail, work forward, slightly over-lapping each one. I used the smallest scales near the tail, and the bigger ones near our Fishy’s face. Leave approx. the first third of the fish clear of scales for what will soon be the face. Add eyes, and mouth. The mouth in this case was made from red mouldable chocolate (also available at your cake decorating shop). After adding a couple of extras – some red and yellow M&M’s to fill in the gaps – you’re ready to wow!

Big Fish_8

Done!