Happy Easter

Wishing everybody a Happy Easter weekend!
No packed lunch but just sharing this lovely Easter Cake I made last week.

It is a chocolate cake covered in fondant. The nests are made with (chocolate flavoured) fondant and all the little chocolate Easter eggs are attached with melted chocolate.

Obviously I had to do my research beforehand and test out the best mini Easter chocolate eggs to be used on this cake 😘…..

 

I now also share more (food) photos on Instagram

Merry Christmas!

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This year’s decorated Christmas Cakes:

 

 

This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. December is hosted by Rebecca from The Economic Foodie. Theme: Festive Feeds

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More (decorated) bakes

As you might have noticed, I changed the subtitle of this blog! It used to be Japanese and Korean inspired lunchboxes and some baking but as I have been baking so much lately – and as I want to show off my bakes 🙂 – I changed it to Bento and Baking.

I have already shown some of my bakes in previous blog posts (what about a Hamburger anyone? Or how about going to the farm?) but below are some more cakes I have baked and decorated this year:

Vanilla cupcakes with cute strawberry/rose decoration. A chocolate cake with sugar roses. Rainbow cake with chocolate buttercream and a Victoria Sponge.

A cake with spots! It was a vanilla sponge with caramel buttercream. And a daisy/rose cake with a checkerboard effect (vanilla & chocolate).

A woodland tree trunk – chocolate sponge with chocolate (fudge) buttercream. A gluten and dairy free vanilla sponge with vanilla “not-butter”cream. And two emoji cakes: a lemon one filled with lemon curd buttercream and a chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache.

Don’t worry, I have not been eating these all by myself :-). They mostly get shared with friends and colleagues. Obviously they’re not complaining…

I think my favourite of these cakes is the tree trunk one, I had so much fun making it and Iike how much it resembles a tree trunk. The most challenging one was the gluten and dairy free one, I made this for a colleague of my OH, as she hadn’t been able to enjoy any of the other cakes before. Measuring out all the pleats was a bit tricky and also because I had to adapt my recipe to be gluten and dairy free. Luckily it worked out well and she really enjoyed it.

Which one do you like most?

Halloween Pumpkin Bride & Groom (mini cake)

Mr and Mrs PumpkinLast weekend we went to a wedding. Or actually, we went to a party to celebrate a wedding.

The happy couple already had their wedding last month, outside the UK, but this weekend they wanted to celebrate with all their UK based family & friends. It was a great party, we had a lovely time, lots to eat & drink, plenty of laughing and dancing and it was wonderful to be able to share this special event with the newly weds.

As part of our gift, I thought it would be nice to make them something. Knowing me, the first thing that came to mind was cake! Of course there was already plenty of cake provided at the party – including some lovely gin & tonic cupcakes which came with their own little gin filled pipette to add an extra boost! (have to admit I emptied that directly into my mouth..not into the cupcake..),  but I thought that they might like a little mini cake, just for him & her.

And because of Halloween, why not a Mr and Mrs Pumpkin?

The mini cakes are actually made from cake pop mixture – chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream. I shaped the mixture into two pumpkin shapes about the size of a satsuma (his is slightly larger) and covered in orange sugarpaste. With the help of a cocktail stick and a veining (fondant modelling) tool, I then marked the “grooves” of the pumpkins. I also gave each a pumpkin stem.

After that I had much fun decorating him & her. Despite it being Halloween, I didn’t want them to look scary but happy so I gave them smiling faces. The groom was given a top hat – with white rose, and the bride has a veil, flower tiara and a small rose bouquet. The veil has some edible silver lustre on it, and I made a broderie anglaise effect with little cut outs. So funny, I only noticed later that these made the veil look like it had little ghosts (faces) on it 👻

Finally I decorated the board with some flowers, pumpkin plant trails/leaves and of course a red heart.

I was really happy how these turned out and the bride and groom seemed to like it 🙂

 

Cake pops

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So what do you do with left over cake?

Turn them into cake pops!

Cake pops are literally that, a cake ball on a lollipop stick. If you google cake pops you will find the most creative designs and versions. Often people will bake a cake to make these and you can even buy a special cake pop maker or molds which will bake cakes in perfectly round balls.

It’s much easier though to use cake left overs, and better as well as you won’t waste anything 🙂

I don’t have a recipe, but normally you crumble up a cake and mix it with some buttercream/frosting. As I had made a dark chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream, I used this for my version. The mixture needs to be moist but firm, you don’t want the cake pops falling apart.

First you roll the cake mixture into balls, approximately the size of a walnut/golf ball (I actually weighed them to make sure they were all equal). If you make them too large, they will get too heavy and will fall off the stick. Plus, you can’t really easily pop them into your mouth! After rolling the balls, I placed them in the fridge to harden up, this took about 45 minutes. I meanwhile prepped my drying board, a piece of foam in which I pierced some holes to fit the lollipop sticks.

I also melted a small portion of candy melts, I used these from Wilton which were supposed to be red but turned out pink! Not sure what candy melts are exactly, I suspect sugar with vegetable fats and colouring, but they smell and taste vaguely chocolaty as well. You can melt them in the microwave. Just take care to stir often and heat in short burst to avoid burning the candy melts!

Once the cake pop balls had hardened up, I inserted the sticks by dipping the top part in the candy melt mixture and inserting this halfway into the cake ball. This helps the stick to “stick” to the cake. Popped the tray bake into the fridge for another 30 minutes so that the candy melt “glue” could set.

I then melted some more candy melts for dipping the cake balls. Aside from the colour failure, I also felt that the mixture was quite thick. This was the first time I made these, so I wasn’t sure of the consistency, but I thinned it out with some Trex until smooth and a bit runny.  I had read somewhere that you should not dip an ice cold ball into a hot coating mixture, to avoid cracking. Makes sense, and I took out the pops from the fridge again and waited for another 10 minutes for them to warm up and the mixture to cool down before dipping the ball into the mixture and carefully tapping off any excess. Not really sure how to best describe it, but there are lots of videos on Youtube that show this. You sort of want a thin, smooth coating all around the cake ball.

After dipping, I either dipped the top half again in some hundreds-and-thousands before the glaze had set, or I stuck them immediately into the foam board to dry.  I had one or two accidents, when the ball threatened to slip of the stick, so I dried these upside down and used them for quality control check 😛

Finally, I wrapped them all up individually in little cellophane bags.

 

 

They look pretty, and are nice – if a bit sweetly- to eat, but also quite a faff to make, so not sure if I would make them very often. I guess I have to find some more ideas for using left over cake… any suggestions?

 

CowParade Cake

Surrey Hills is currently hosting a CowParade event and in the last few weekends we have been #followingtheherd! Ie driving around the beautiful Surrey country side and admiring the cows that are being displayed.

Some cows seems to have paraded onto my cake!

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CowParade is a huge public art event in the world, where life size cows are being painted by local artists, “paraded” around a town or area, and afterwards auctioned off for charity. CowParade was born in Switzerland in 1998 and since then has been staged in more than 80 cities and towns worldwide including New York, London, Mexico, Istanbul, Paris and Buenos Aires.

The cow sculptures are made of fiberglass, reinforced with steel and come in three basic positions – standing (head up), grazing (head down) and a reclining postion. From each CowParade event, 8 to 12 cows will be reproduced and become collectible art items (CowParade’s line of figurines).

We have been collecting the cow figurines for some years now, they are fun reminders of places we visited and pretty artworks to display around the house.  The two in the photo are my favourite ones, one is inspired by Klimt and the other by Dutch Delft Blue tiles & flowers.

I thought it would be fun to make a cake inspired by the cows parading around Surrey Hills. 

The cake is a 3 layered vanilla madeira sponge – sandwiched with caramel buttercream, and I first covered it in blue (for the sky) and green fondant (for the Surrey hills). I didn’t have a cow fondant cutter and I wanted to make the cows as identical as possible to the CowParade version, so I printed off some pictures and used that as a template to cut the fondant.

I really enjoyed creating different designs for the cows. In a way I felt like the artists must feel who create the life size ones. Unfortunately it was an extremely humid day when I made this cake, so the fondant was a real pain to work with and I had to keep the designs quite simple but I think they look pretty good!

Which one do you like most?

 

(no real cows were harmed in any way when creating this cake)

Farm cake

FarmcakeThis week I made a farm cake!

As you know, aside from making lunches, I love to bake! I learned baking from my mum, I can recall standing next to her (on a stool) in the kitchen rolling out pastry for an apple pie or mixing cake batter (and licking the beaters). She used to bake every Friday, and I can still visualise how the baked goods were stored on a plate in the china cabinet under a cover of foil and pinching thin slices of cake when she wasn’t looking (and of course acting very surprised when it got discovered there was much less cake than there should have been) >*<

The bakes were all quite straight forward, marble sponges and lemon cakes, butter cake or apple pie and in the summer we would make no-bake cheesecakes. We didn’t use buttercream or icing/fondant, although sometimes we would have sweetened whipped cream. These were also the kind of cakes that I made during my student and later years, and it wasn’t until I moved to the UK that I really discovered the world of cake decorating 🙂

I think it was a Christmas 4 years ago, or better said, the months before that Christmas, that I made my first Christmas cake, using a pre-measured baking kit from the supermarket. The kit came with marzipan/fondant included and also simple tips on how to decorate it. I can’t actually remember what decoration I made, I think something with stars, but anyway, since that moment I have been totally hooked on cake decorating!

There are lots of tutorials on YouTube or blogs and websites, and I have learned a lot from watching and just doing, but recently I have enrolled on a cake decoration course to learn the tips & tricks of the trade. During the 10 week course we will be learning about the different types of icing, using modelling tools, colouring fondant, creating flowers and of course decorating cakes. We didn’t have to bring in an actual cake until this week, as up to now we had been practising on (fondant covered) cake boards but this week our mission was to create a novelty themed cake using the skills learned so far.

We had to prepare the cake before class, and also make the buttercream and any decorations used, but during class we learned how to level and layer a cake (aka torting), to fill and re stack evenly, to crumb coat the cake and how to cover in fondant.

After some deliberation (and input from friends) I decided to make a farm cake and chose green fondant to cover my Madeira cake. A Madeira cake is denser and firmer than a Victoria Sponge so therefore more suitable for covering with heavy fondant. I had never made a Madeira cake before, but mine turned out pretty good with only a slight dome. After slicing that dome off,  I turned the cake up side down so that the flat bottom became the top. Because the cake had risen very well and was quite high, I decided to cut it in three layers which I re stacked after filling with green – to match the outside – buttercream and some strawberry jam.

After crumb coating and chilling, I applied a second thin layer of buttercream before attempting to cover the whole cake in fondant. This was rather challenging! The green fondant that I had chosen was very soft and sticky and a nightmare to roll out. It didn’t help that the class room was quite warm so the fondant kept sticking to the counter and I had to use quite a bit of icing sugar. Also, my rolling pin was too short and I had to borrow the one from the tutor, but eventually I managed to cover the cake without too many ripples, bubbles or other fondant disasters.

To turn my very green cake into a farm cake I used brown fondant to make a fence around the cake, with a few flowers and grass tucked in. The fence was made by cutting small strips of thinly rolled paste and attaching these to the cake with some edible glue. I added the wood grain texture and nails with a modeling tool and deliberately made it all a bit wonky looking (in case you’re wondering…). The mud pool for my piggy was also made from brown fondant  and I coloured some more paste to create the pool, rocks and a tiny duck. I also attached some flowers to make a field of flowers for the sheep to eat.

I had made the piggies and sheep in the weekend before, using modelling paste as this is firmer and dries up harder.  The piggies were a bit of a nightmare as the legs and heads kept falling off and various bits broke off during transport so I had to make some emergency repairs with royal icing.

Unfortunately I didn’t make any photos during any of this because I was way too busy kneading and rolling plus had hands covered in icing sugar, but I will try to write a blog post one day on how I created the pigs and sheep. I especially love the sheep and he has been a big hit with everyone that has seen (and eaten) the cake. And don’t worry, he and his friends did not get eaten!

Below are some photos that I did manage to make before and after, and also some tips on how to cut a cake in slices instead of wedges (although as you can see from the photo this method was only partly used)

 

 

Roses for the weekend

It is May Bank Holiday this weekend here in the UK, Orthodox Easter in some countries and I am sure there are other holidays or special days all over the world. Thought it would be nice to “give” you some flowers for whatever occasion you might celebrate/enjoy this weekend!rose-smiley

(I learned this week how to create these sugarpaste (fondant) roses.)

Am away for the weekend so there won’t be a lunch blog post on Monday, but am planning one for Tuesday.

French Macarons

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Some more baking. Not sure if anyone noticed but I changed the subtitle of my blog to better reflect what I am blogging about. Next week it will be back to bento lunches again 🙂

Sometimes I can get a bit obsessed with something and macarons has been my latest obsession. I just wanted to be able to make them, not for any particular reason, but they look cute, they are ridiculously expensive to buy and of course because I love eating them.

So I googled and read lots about French macarons, Italian macarons, eggs aging, whipping, over-whipping, folding, over or under folding, feet, hollow shells, cracks and ….sigh…it got all very confusing. Lots of websites and bloggers seem to have their own fool-proof recipe but unfortunately lots of them also seem to be contradicting each other…

Anyway, I thought, let’s just give it a try and made some a few months ago…total failure. Never mind, try again… and again failure (luckily the good thing is that even failures taste very nice)…I think the problem, or my problem was, that although I followed a recipe, I didn’t make proper notes of what I did – and consequently of what went wrong (no feet, over-baked, cracking all over).

Last week I had some time off, and dedicated a full day (!) to macaron making. A friend of mine gave me two very useful links  (here and here) and her own recipe, and with a few small twists, I managed to make some pretty perfect macarons! There are still a few bumps, some pointy tips and a few cracked shells (obviously I chose the prettiest ones for the photo) but they have feet (!), are nicely risen and evenly sized, and they taste good!

I made three small batches, noting down for each batch the ” what/how/how much/temp” which resulted in those lovely macarons of the photo.  The ones with stripes was the first batch which coloured a bit too brown in the oven. For the second batch I added some food colouring to make them light pink and for the third batch a bit more), to make them pink(er).

I can’t promise this recipe works for you (or whether it will work for me next time*), as everyone’s kitchen, equipment and technique will be slightly different, but this is what I did:

  • Blitz 60 gr ground Almonds with 115 gr icing sugar in a food processor (use pulse option to avoid overblitzing) and sieve. Repeat this twice. With the last sieve, discard the big lumps.
  • In a spotless bowl, whisk (I used the balloon attachment on my hand mixer) 70 gr of egg white (I used pasteurised eggs at room temperature) with 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar for 30 seconds on low speed until frothy. Up the speed to medium high for 2 minutes whilst slowly adding 35 gr castor sugar. If you want to add colouring, add now. Whip for a further 3 or 4 minutes until stiff peaks.
  • Add your almond/icing mixture to the egg whites and fold in carefully with a spatula. I added the mixture in 4 batches and used about 10 folds for each batch plus a few more until the batter drops like lava from the spatula. Under mixing is better than overmixing! Read my notes on folding further down.
  • Transfer to piping bag with a 1 cm round tip and pipe your macarons on your baking sheet covered with baking parchment. Using a template is recommended, it’s much easier and makes even size shells… I used the one provided here.
  • The recipe above makes for 40 shells, so I piped 1 large sheet with 32 and a smaller sheet with 8.  (I baked the smaller sheet first, this helped me to check the oven temp and timing).
  • RAP/TAP those sheets. Whack the air out of your shells by rapping/tapping your baking sheet against a flat surface. This helps to get rid of air bubbles.
  • Rest your macarons. Whilst resting the macarons (until the tops are no longer tacky) I preheated my (fan)oven to 140C.
  • I baked the macarons for a total of 15 min, on the lower rack.  First I baked them for 8 minutes, then I turned the sheet around and baked for a further 7 min.
  • Remove from oven and let them cool down on the baking sheet for 10 min, transfer to a rack for further cooling down.
  • Fill with filling of choice…and wait….
  • and wait…
  • Unfortunately, after all that work, macarons are at their best if you let them mature with the filling for at least 24 hours. (Best to do this in an airtight container in the fridge).
  • When you want to eat them, take them out of the fridge and let them get at room temperature.
  • Enjoy!!!

Some notes:

  • I couldn’t seem to get my egg whites whipped until super stiff peaks, mine kept being a bit “droopy”. I read somewhere that this is partly because of using cream of tartar which apparently stops over-whipping. I whipped until the egg white had semi stiff peaks and “clumped” in my balloon whisk;
  • Colouring macarons. My first shells coloured slightly brown, so for my second batch I added a heavy baking sheet on the top rack, which seemed to help. Better yet, I added some food colouring paste to my second and third batch. I am happiest with the colour of my third batch, they turned out really pretty.  (After baking, I used some raspberry coulis to add some colour stripes to the first batch of shells).
  • Folding: I felt this is the trickiest part. Make sure you watch a few videos to see what the consistency should be. I found the description and video of Joy of Baking very helpful.
  • Filling: I filled mine with raspberry buttercream. Just make a plain buttercream but instead of using milk to “loosen up”, add some raspberry coulis.
  • Maturing and storing: macarons taste best if you let them mature with the filling for at least 24 hours… They keep very well for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge and you can also freeze them.
  • I didn’t make many photos during the process but below a few photos of the  “peak” and “clumped” stiff egg whites and of the mixture when ready for piping. (I just noticed I made the photos at different batches so the colours don’t match..)

 

* I actually made 3 more batches after this day, with mixed results. For one batch I doubled the ingredients and I used a non stick liner instead of baking parchment. Both were not a good idea. Firstly, despite doubling the ingredients it made less shells, partly because it was more difficult to handle the fuller piping bag. And non stick liner…perfectly fine for other stuff but my macarons shells stuck! They were still nice (filled with chocolate ganache) but not photo worthy.

The other two batches I made were better, although the Violet food colouring I used faded a bit whilst baking and the shells didn’t want to rise fully, but the pink batch turned out perfectly. I packed some of these in a gift box I made for friend.