Cook this: “check every bulb” Christmas cupcakes

We’ve all got Christmas traditions. Some are pretty normal, like our tradition of baking scones on Christmas morning before taking Marley to the park for a run around. Some are not so normal, like watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation over and over and over again (not my tradition, originally, but husband has converted me). I didn’t like the movie much at first. But year after year, it’s been screened at our house on the 1st of December, and then almost every night thereafter until Christmas. Now I actually love the stupid movie. I find myself reciting the lines along with cousin Eddie and Clark. Damnit.

Anyway, we had our first family Christmas even for the season on a few weekends ago, and I took up the dessert task. I found inspiration in the most unlikely of places – the scene where Clark needs Rusty’s help to unknot some Christmas lights. Pinterest gave me a good idea on how to put them together. And I added my own touch by giving a few cupcakes “knotted” lights. It made me laugh. Simple things, I know…

Anyway, they’re pretty easy to put together! For the cupcakes, use your favourite recipe; I went with a thick chocolate brownie mudcake concoction. Then for the frosting:

Ingredients:
– 120g white chocolate
– 4 tbsp milk
– 50g butter
– 3 cups icing sugar
– m&ms and black writing icing to decorate

Method:
1. Combine the chocolate, milk and butter in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, and stir witha wooden spoon until combined.

2. Remove fromthe heat amd cool for a few minutes, then sift in the icing sugar a cup at a time, beating with an electric mixer as you go, until you have a thick, smooth frosting.

3. Pipe or simply spread the frosting onto the cupcakes in a cone shape, and use a black writing icing pen/tube to swirl circles up each frosting cone. Pop m&ms in at intervals as the bulbs.

And that’s it! Super easy and very do-able 🙂 Nothing like a Pinterest win to get you into the Christmas spirit…

Advertisements

Cook this: chocolate & Bounty cupcakes 

Happy Hump Day! How good is it when you’re given a box of chocolates? How much better is it when they’re your favourites?! Big thanks to my sibling’s legend of a boyfriend for the box of dark chocolate Bounty bars I used to make these fudgy, chocolatey, rich pieces of heaven, adapted from a Donna Hay chocolate cake recipe. If you haven’t got someone who’ll gift you chocolate, I suggest buying some for yourself so you can get involved in some mid week chocolate cake action, anyway.

Ingredients:
– 250g butter, softened
– 1 cup brown sugar
– 2 eggs, at room temperature
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1⅓ cup plain flour
-1½ tsp baking powder
– ½ cup coca powder
– ½ cup milk
– ½ cup desiccated coconut
– 3-4 king size bounty bars, chopped

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C and line 2 12-hole muffin tins with cupcake cases.
2. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 5 minutes, until light and creamy.
3. Add in the eggs and vanilla, and beat again until completely incorporated.
4. Sift in the four, baking powder and cocoa, and fold into the mixture.
5. Stir in the milk, then the coconut and Bounty pieces.
6. Spoon the mixture into the cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cupcakes comes out clean.
7. Once cool enough to handle, transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling before decorating; I’ll be honest, I cheated with the frosting this time and used the pre-made Betty Crocker stuff, along with a bit more coconut and Bounty pieces on top. Amazing!

Cook this: snow globe cupcakes 

img_4438

Tis the season for Pinterest fails. Epic ones. I was fully prepared for this to be one of them, and my first attempt was. But, practice and persistence (read: stubbornness) prevailed and I somehow managed to get out a batch of snow globe cupcakes for Christmas dinner!

img_4439

After reading the instructions, it actually seemed pretty straight forward…
• Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water.
• Melt the gelatin sheets in a small saucepan.
• Blow up water balloons and affix to skewers with tape.
• Rub a little cooking spray oil over the balloons.
• Transfer melted gelatin to small cup.
• Dip balloons in and poke skewers into styrofoam and leave to dry for 10 minutes.
• Re-dip balloons and leave to dry overnight.
• Slowly let the air out of the balloons and you’re left with a lovely little transparent bubble that you just need to trim the bottom of and plonk gloriously atop your cupcakes.

img_4376

Not that hard once you’ve made the mistakes the first and second time. When you give it a go, here were my main mistakes that led to my fails:
• 12 sheets of gelatin will just make 12 balloons. There is no room for error if you want a full dozen cupcakes. I’d suggest buying more to be safe.
• Don’t use too much oil to rub over the balloons or the gelatin won’t stick at all.
• Really secure those balloons tightly to the skewers or they’ll fall right off with the weight of the gelatin.
• If you don’t have a styrofoam block to stick the skewers in, grab a few tall vases or glasses and fan them out – if they bump and stick to each other, you’re screwed.

img_4440

Ready to give them a go?! I found my inspiration and the accompanying instructions here – if you’re brave enough to give them a try, let me know how you go!

Tea time: 8 places to enjoy a cuppa in Melbourne’s CBD this week 

Ohh Sunday arvo – that means the fun and freedom of the weekend is almost over, and we’re back to the offices tomorrow! Us Melbournians also faces an additionally fun start to the weekend when our public transport system once again went to shit and train staff went on strike; I was one of the lucky ones who got to work from home and avoid the debacle completely, but I know not everyone was quite so fortunate. What made me giggle the most, watching Sunrise on Friday morning, was the reporter who seemed a little baffled by the fact that there were hardly any people around Flinders Street Station and that the people who were around and spoken to were pretty calm. Wanna know why? We’re used to public transport being inefficient and frequently cancelled. We’re now masters of making alternate arrangements. It’s just a fact of life here – like you know not to trust the tap water in Fiji, you also know not to rely on Melbourne’s public transport. It’s just known.

Anyway, regardless of whether you were caught up in it or not, whether you had a fabulously relaxing weekend or a crappy, stressful one, Monday is still Monday. If you’re a city-working lemming like me, by the time you hit your lunch break tomorrow, chances are you really need that break. So you may as well head somewhere with a good book to read, away from all the other Monday grumps – here are my favourite eight places in the CBD where you can actually enjoy that time out with a good cup of tea. Or coffee. And by enjoy, I mean enjoy – in peace, all alone, with your book or newspaper or notebook and pen, or Instagram feed or whatever else you need to get you through those last few Monday hours!

1. Naked Espresso
390 Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
For: Tea Drop tea and their own blend of coffee, breakfast, jaffles, and a sexy pastry and cake cabinet

2. Manchester Press
8 Rankins Lane, Melbourne CBD
For: Coffee Cartel tea, 8oz house blend coffee, and bagels… oh my!

3.  Solarino
7 Howey Place, Melbourne CBD
For: tea and coffee and breaky in a cute undercover laneway location

4. Journal Canteen
253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
For: tea, coffee, simple but delicious Italian style panini in a lively atmosphere.

5. Good Ovening
200 Queen St, Melbourne CBD
For: crazy cute astro-turf and 70’s lawn furniture, kitschy decor and really good English Breakfast Tea

6.  Brunetti
214 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
For: that feeling of sitting out in an Italian piazza while you’re on your break. And amazing Italian biscotti to go with your hot beverage.

7. Berto’s
180 William St, Melborune CBD
For: A proper Italian lunch in a beautiful, classy, but friendly space before your afternoon macchiato kick.

8. Little Cupcakes
Degraves St, 4/118 Queen St, and 181 William St, Melbourne CBD
For: Best till last – these are, hands down, the BEST cupcakes in the city. If the idea of a hot cup of tea and a red velvet, peanut butter cookie crumb and/or cherry ripe cupcake doesn’t appeal to you, you’re beyond help.

Baby shower baking like a boss :) Cook this: orange blueberry tart

As a general rule, I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. I’m closing in on 30 and still feel no urge to procreate – I don’t think I have that “internal clock” so many women my age freak out about when they hear ticking. I’m not much at all into babies or kids, and don’t really enjoy spending time with them – don’t even think about asking me if I want to hold one. The only exceptions at the current time are my two nieces, who are deliciously cute, and pretty cool little monkeys, thanks in large part to their amazing mum/my sister-in-law. You know how some women just have it? Like, they’ve just got the whole mothering thing down pat, they make it look almost fun, even on the crappy days, and they somehow handle those crappy days with dignity and grace? She’s one of those mums, one of those freaky magical unicorns who you don’t think can actually exist in real life. What a star.

Anyway, my other sister-in-law is also pregnant, which I predicted would happen when I booked my trip to Japan, and we’re going to have another little lady joining the family soon!

Side note: How was I able to predict a baby with travel? Simple; every time I whip out my passport and book a trip overseas, someone in the family has a baby. Niece #1 was born on our honeymoon. Niece #2 was born a few days before we went to Egypt/Europe. Cousin’s baby was born a few days before America. So when I booked Japan, it was pretty obvious someone was going to be getting knocked up, and true to form, niece #3 is due the day before I’m due to fly back to Melbourne. So, sisters and sisters-in-law, upcoming trips I’m planning include one either October-ish or Christmas time-ish 2016, and another one around the same time in 2017. One or more  of you will be having babies over the next 2 years. Consider yourselves warned.

IMG_4767

But back to my lovely sister-in-law currently carrying the newest addition to the family – she’s going to be just as amazing a mum as her older sister. Again, calm beyond belief, so very level-headed, and very drama free, she’s a totally amazing woman; I couldn’t be happier for her 🙂 And, despite my dislike of baby related things and gatherings, I was stoked to be asked to do some baby shower baking for the day, which went off beautifully yesterday, hosted by my mum-in-law and with my sister-in-law surrounded by a whole lot of happy, supportive friends and a few pink balloons!


I arrived armed with freshly baked mini lemon meringue tarts, raspberry pistachio blondies, chocolate fudge cupcakes and a blueberry orange tart (can’t even tell you how exhausted I was after baking all that between 6pm Thursday night and 3pm Friday afternoon)…

While I’m generally a chocoholic, I surprisingly really love the blueberry orange tart, a super quick and easy recipe I found months ago in one of those freebie supermarket recipe magazines that sit at the check out. Actually, that’s a lie – the recipe I found was for a lemon blueberry tart, but I like orange blueberry better, so (as usual), I made some changes. Anyway, it’s a delicious one that’s pretty easy to throw together, especially if you need something relatively last minute, got heaps of flavour (the orange zest always comes through so well), and you can play around with it a little, using other berry/citrus combinations – I’m thinking of trying raspberry and lemon, or maybe strawberry and lime next…

Ingredients:
– 2 sheets of frozen shortcrust pastry, or 2 serves of this homemade stuff
– 2 eggs, at room temperature
– ⅔ cup caster sugar
– finely grated rind of one orange
– ½ cup plain flour
– ⅓ cup milk
– freshly squeezed juice of half an orange
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
– icing sugar to dust (optional)

 

Method:
1. If you’re going to make the pastry from scratch, follow the link above and make that first. Once it’s rested for half an hour in the fridge, pre-heat the oven to 180°C and roll out the pastry. Then, carefully lay the freshly made or pre-made frozen pastry into a large greased pie, tart or rectangular cake tin.

2. Place a sheet of non-stick baking paper over the pastry and throw in some pie weights or rice, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the baking paper and weight, and bake for another 10 minutes.

3. While the tart shell is baking, make the filling – whisk the eggs, sugar and orange rind together, then sift in the flour and whisk in until completely combined.

4. Whisk in the milk, orange juice, and vanilla. Then, once the pastry is baked, pour the mixture in, sprinkle the blueberries over the batter and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden and just set.

5. Let the tart cool enough to handle before removing from it’s baking tin to cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if that tickles your fancy.

Cook this: Best ever red velvet chocolate button cupcakes

IMG_7816

I’ve recently started a new job, and one of the biggest perks is that I once again get to work with one of my best friends. Monday mornings are now SO much more bearable knowing that I’m walking into an office where I know I’m getting a quick weekend gossip re-hash and a hug from a familiar face 🙂

Anyway, this particularly fabulous lady just celebrated her birthday, and red velvet cupcakes are a favourite of hers. So, red velvet cupcakes were exactly what I made her! I based my recipe from Brown Eyed Baker’s, and I’m not sure where she got hers from – she said she did her research and I’m glad she did, because this recipe is truly spectacular! As usual, I played around with it, going mostly by feel and instinct than precision and instruction, and I could not have been happier with how they turned out! Honestly, if these aren’t some of the best cupcake I’ve ever made, then I just don’t know. I reallllyyy hate this word, but they are so moist and fluffy and amazing. Fair warning, I’ve tried to re-write the recipe as best as I remember doing it, measurements may be a few grams off here and there, though!

Ingredients to make a 24 cupcake mega batch (because when it’s a birthday cupcake batch, you just have to go crazy and over cater!):

Cupcakes
– 8 tbsp butter, softened (this was the original measurement, so I just diced my butter into little bits and measured tightly packed tablespoons. Forgot to weigh them though. Oops.)
– 1½ cups caster sugar
– 2 egg, at room temperature
– 3 tbsp cocoa powder
– 3 – 6 tbsp red food coloring (This was kinda hard to measure. I had industrial strength food colouring, the stuff that’ll almost permanently stain your bench top, so I only used about 2 tbsp. Regular food colouring will require a lot more. It’s a bit of a trial and error thing.)
– 1 tbsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup buttermilk
– 2 cup + 4 tablespoons plain flour (again, as per original recipe!)
– 1½ tsp baking soda
– 2 tsp white vinegar
– 1 cup dark chocolate buttons

Frosting
(I made this up as I went along… not terribly precise, sorry!)
– 1 package (250g) Philadelphia cream cheese, roughly diced and softened slightly
– 60g butter, diced and softened slightly
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– roughly 4 cups icing sugar. I didn’t actually precisely measure this, so it’s a guesstimate more than anything. Taste as you go!

 

Method:

To make the cupcakes
1. Preheat oven to 170°C and line two cupcake tins with cupcake cases.

2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer to high and add the eggs, one at a time, and mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter and mix on medium speed until completely combined – you might need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl occasionally to make sure it mixes through evenly.

4. Add half of the buttermilk and mix on slow speed to combine. Add half of the flour and mix again until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour, then beat on high for a few minutes, until smooth.

5. Add the baking soda and vinegar, beat on low speed until just combined, then turn to high and beat for another couple of minutes until completely combined and smooth.

6. Fill the cupcake cases to around a third full, add a few chocolate buttons and add some more batter to top the cases to around three quarters full. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

7. Cool for 5 minutes and then remove cupcakes from the tins and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

 

To make the frosting
1. Beat the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low/medium speed until combined, then add the vanilla and beat for another few minutes on high, until smooth and creamy.

2. Add the icing sugar, half a cup at a time, beating on medium/high speed until completely combined – scrape down the sides as you go to ensure it’s all mixed in evenly.

3. Taste the frosting as you go; when it’s sweet enough, you’re happy with the consistency and thickness, then stop adding icing sugar. Simple!

4. Smother your cupcakes with frosting and decorate as you wish. Enjoy!

IMG_7825

 

Hamburger cakes :)

Thought this needed a quick little post of its own… There’s not much I do that I’m really proud of, but I’m damn proud of my hamburger cakes! I first made them a few years ago for a cousin’s birthday – mini ones, like the size of a really little cupcake, and they were a MASSIVE hit! My grandfather particularly was quite partial to them once he overcame his initial confusion as to what exactly he was eating (he couldn’t understand why we were being served little hamburgers with tea and coffee) and polished off more than a few. Since then, I’ve also made them as big, full sized cakes for family and friends, always met with big smiles.

This week, we have a birthday at work of my colleague and manager. Like me, she loves cakes. Also like me, she loves hamburgers. I offered to forgo the usual buy-a-cake-from-a-bakery thing and make one myself. I hope she likes it!

IMG_2988.JPG

I also had a heap of batter and dough left over, so I made some smaller ones (regular sized cupcakes) for husband to take to work and share. If they don’t get eaten tonight. Which they might.

IMG_2984.JPG

They’re actually pretty easy to make… it’s just really fiddly and time consuming. Basically, what you’re looking at is…
– Burger bun: vanilla buttermilk cake topped with sesame seeds
– Pattie: a chocolate fudge brownie cookie
– Lettuce: shredded coloured coconut
– Cheese: coloured royal icing
– Sauce: runny vanilla icing

Then you just kinda build your burger! They’re really fun to make, but the best part is seeing the smiles on the people who get to eat it. That’s the best part of baking and cooking for me; when what I can create brings a smile to someone, helps them recall a really good memory from childhood or travels or a good time past, that’s what makes me the happiest 🙂