Swimming Pool Cake : Nutella Chiffon with Dark Choc-Nutella Ganache Filling

My litle girl turned all of four 2 days ago. I asked her over and over again what cake she would like for her birthday and her choice changed from day to day. She started out by asking for a castle cake (which I had made for her cousin last year), then changed her mind to a mermaid cake (whcih was the cake I made for her cousin 2 weeks ago) and finally settled on a swimming pool cake. Ofcourse, she also hesitated between a smurffette, princess and Dora cake too. As to the flavours inside, she was undecided till the very last moment. Strawberry or Chocolate? I practically took out the strawberry emulco and put it back a few times while she hesitated from one to the other. Finally she decided on chocolate. So back went the emulco into the drawer and out came the jar of nutella. Yeah, I figured that we should do a nutella cake for variety instead of the usual chocolate.

We decided on a nutella chiffon cake with a dark chocolate-nutella ganache filling and a fresh whipped cream frosting (ok I admit, I did most of that decision-making, but mainly in an effort to speed things up). I knew for a fact that she would love those flavours.

Tiramisu

Italian for a ‘pick me up’, a Tiramisu does just that with it’s robust coffee-drenched sponge fingers layered with thick lashings of mascarphone cheese and topped with whipped cream and grated dark chocolate.

There are many versions of this popular Italian cake but my favourite Tiramisu recipe is the one that I have created. It’s extremely simple but most importantly, it does not contain any raw egg yolks which most recipes include. Samonella poisoning can be serious and even life-threatening, and I have little children at home so I try my best to avoid using anything raw in my recipes.

For the Tiramisu cake, you can either use sponge fingers or a sponge cake. Ofcourse, Italians will tell you that a Tiramisu is made using only sponge fingers, and no other substitute will do. However, if you are not a stickler to rules or care too much about how authentic your recipe is, by all means use a sponge cake. I have done so many times with excellent results. In fact, it results in a much more presentable cake since it tends to be alot sturdier.

 

 

 

 

In this recipe, however, I have used sponge fingers, mainly because I had a whole packet lying around in the kitchen. You will need about 250g of mascarphone cheese, 200ml of whipping cream and a cup of icing sugar, divided. Whisk the cheese with half a cup of icing sugar till its smooth. Then, in a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream with the other half cup of sugar. You will then fold in half the whipped cream into the mascarphone mixture. Dissove 4 tablespoons of instant coffee granules in 2 cups of hot water and allow it to cool down. Briefly dunk the sponge fingers into the coffee and line the base of a deep container with them. Next, layer with a third of the mascarphone mixture. Keep layering till you reach the top level. Spread the whipping cream on the top and grate some dark chocolate over it. Presto, your Tiramisu is ready. However, it’s best to let it mature in the fridge overnight for the flavours to mingle. Ofcourse, that happens only if you keep your project a ‘top-secret’ and hide it really well in the fridge. If not, they will be devoured before you even know it!

Iced Lemon Tea

The weather here, as usual, has been unpredictable for the last couple of weeks. It’s been weeks of days starting out all bright and sunny and then exploding into torrential rain come afternoon, only for it to fizzle out and become warm and exceedingly humid by evening.

Today, however, at least till thus far has been scorchingly hot. And I mean HOT.  The sun has been glaring ever-so brightly, almost as if it has to give off all the excess heat and light for each of the previous rainy days. Now, in most temperate climates, it’s automatically a good thing when it’s bright and sunny. Alas, in tropical climates, it doesn’t really work in the same way. The intensity of the sun’s rays and the heat given off is pretty unbearable really. That is why I decided to prepare tall glasses of Iced Lemon Tea today. Not only does it quench your thirst, it’s extremely refreshing and tastes a million times better than the canned variety.

The preparation takes hardly 10 minutes. Just bring about 300ml of water to boil and then drop about 3 to 4 tea bags in there as well as a couple of tablespoons of sugar (according to taste) and simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes (or less if you prefer a milder tea). Meanwhile prepare tall glasses filled with ice-cubes. Pour the hot tea into the glasses, add a slice of lemon in each glass and serve. You can up the fancy quotient by fixing a slice of lemon on the side of each glass. Just put in a straw and sip away to a cooler you. It really is the perfect thing to beat the heat these days.

English Scones

I decided that it was time for some wholesome scones. After all, we have been having cakes for weeks, thanks to the festivals and birthdays around this time of the year. In addition, I’ve been rather busy planning ouryear-end holidays, and after deliberating on three different continets (yes, not countries but rather continents), I’ve reached the decision that Australia it’s going to be. Our original choice was Europe (Paris and London) but the thought of handling two children in freezing winter made me decide otherwise. Then, Z, my teenage niece, wanted to visit Harry Potter World so we mulled over Florida. However, the thought of flying across the globe for one city did not appeal too much to my sensibilities. I could visit New York and some Eastern cities along with Florida if it was during the summer months but in winter, I dare not face the weather.

Hence, after eliminating the continents of America and Europe, we have settled on Australia. This particular country, as you know, has summer when the rest of the world is freezing and vice-versa, so it is the perfect choice. You know, talking about the UK and Australia, I always think of beautiful tea settings with dainty sandwiches, rich tea in porcelain teacups and….scones!

Since it has been a rather long time since I have last baked up one of these, I thought it was timely. The preparation for this simple yet delectable tea-time favourite is quite basic. All you need is some self-raising flour, sugar, butter and milk. Rub the butter into the flour. Add some raisins if you desire. Dissolve the sugar into the milk and add this wet mixture to the dry and form into a dough. Shape into little rolls and bake. It doesn’t take me longer than 30 minutes to get these ready and everyone, and I mean everyone, loves them! Serve these wholesome tea-time treat with some whipped cream, home-made strawberry jam and butter. Delectable :)

Chocolate Yoghurt Cupcakes

It’s quite amazing that you can use the same recipe, tweak it just a little and come up with something absolutely new. Yes folks, I’m talking about my chocolate yoghurt cake. This was the last of the four cupcakes I baked up for Eid al Adha last Sunday (I have already written about the other three in greater depth in my previous blogs).

No occasion or celebration is complete without some chocolatey goodness, don’t you agree? I’m a real chocolate lover, if you haven’t figured that out already and it’s difficult for me to ever get past a buffet dessert corner without sampling each and every one of their chocolate creations.

Which brings me back to my chocolate yoghurt cake. This cake, however, is suitable even for those people who don’t fancy chocolate that much (I wonder, do such really people exist?) because the flavor is subdued. That is due to the use of dark eating chocolate and minimal cocoa powder. If you prefer a stronger chocolate taste, feel free to increase the quantity of cocoa powder and reduce the quantity of self raising flour by the same amount. I opted for the milder flavour to cater to the taste of my guests.

The recipe as well as method for this cake is the same as the one for the almond cupcakes in my previous blog. The only difference is to include about a 100g of melted dark chocolate in the wet ingredients along with the butter, yoghurt, milk and teaspoon of vanilla essence. To the dry ingredients, add about 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder while eliminating the ground almond from it. Voila, that’s it, simple as anything. Just two bowls needed and some mixing required and you’ve got yourself some yummy goodness. All that’s left to do is round up a few close friends and enjoy, Bon Apetit!

Almond Cupcakes

One of the perennial favourites, I baked up a batch of these Almond cupcakes, among the four different types, for Eid-al Adha a couple of days ago. Almonds are use widely in baked goods, ranging from the delicate french macarons to crunchy almond cookies to buttery almond cakes. While I often bake almond loafs and cakes, I find that it’s best to make individual sized ones when it comes to serving for parties and dinners. Not only is it much easier and prettier to serve, it’s also much more convenient for guests to enjoy. In addition, the use of pretty cupcake cases eliminate the need for washing up of pans and the design/colour/motif on the cases can be picked to suit the theme of the party such that everything ties in perfectly.

These cupcakes were made using the mixing of wet ingredients to dry ones. By far, this is the simplest method of making cakes because all you require are two bowls. Absolutely no need for electric mixers or whatevernot gadgets.

Simply sift about 1.5 cups of self raising flour and mix it well with about 3/4 cups of sugar, 140g of ground almond and a teaspoon of baking powder. In another bowl, melt 140g of butter and add a cup of full-fat yoghurt as well as about half a cup of milk. Mix the mixture well. You may add half a teaspoon of almond extract. I prefer a mild almond flavour that is provided for by the addition of the ground almonds and a deep buttery smell so I often omit the extract. If you prefer a stronger almond flavour, by all means go ahead and add the almond extract, but don’t over do it since the extracts can be over-powering. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix till well combined. Do not over mix the batter because this might overwork the gluten in the flour and you will end up with a cake that has a tough crumb. Spoon the mixture into the patty tin lined with patty cases, sprinkle the top with thinly sliced whole almonds and bake for about 20 mins at 180deg Celsius or till golden brown on top.

 

 

 

Even if you have never baked before, you should still give this recipe a try, simply because it’s so simple and quick to mix up, and yet scrumptious till the very last bite!

Mermaid Birthday Cake

The star of this evening was my little niece and her gorgeous cake. I must say I had a ton of fun designing, baking, crafting and finally decorating this cake. She had already told me that she wanted an oreo cheesecake for her birthday about 3 months ago, the only thing is that she had originally wanted an Ariel Mermaid cake and then she changed her mind to a Smurfs cake (all thanks to the movie she watched) and then finally about 4 days ago, she decided on a Mermaid and Ocean cake.

So I rolled up my sleeves and baked up two Oreo Cheesecakes for the first 2 tiers of the cake. And since I was already baking some chocolate chip cupcakes (read previous blog), I used some of the batter to bake up a small cake for the top tier of the Mermaid Cake.

The decorations included royal icing roses (in bright red, pale pink and orange) as well as a few other types of flowers in various shades as well as leaves, a royal icing swan and assorted candies and chocolates. The mermaid was created using a barbie doll which was dressed in a bikini top and fish tail, both moulded from marzipan. It was also accessorised with a pearl necklace, some bangles and earrings, all of which were again made using marzipan. I would have used sugarpaste/fondant but the only thing I had on hand was marzipan. Although it tastes a lot better than fondant, it’s a bit trickier to handle. The trick, however, is to use generous and frequent dustings of icing sugar while rolling/working with it.

All three tiers of the cake were frosted with fresh whipped cream which I tinted a light blue to mimic an ocean/water look. After frosting the entire cake, I used a much darker shade of blue and swept it across randomly over the light blue icing to create different shadings of blue and make it look more realistic.

The whole process of decorating the cake was enchanting, it really brought out the child in me. Even the birthday girl helped out by rolling the marzipan into tiny balls to make a pearl necklace for the mermaid. I get such joy in making and decorating every single cake and I get even greater joy when I see the look on tiny faces when they see their special cakes.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Today has been one of those days where I hardly have had time to catch my breath. Before I’m done with what I’m doing, it’s time for something else. The day began with baking a huge batch of cupcakes. Approximately 70 cupcakes in all. Given that my oven is not large by any standards, you can imagine how much time was spent there. Although I’m not complaining, because any work that involves cakes and baking is always a pleasure for me. Even if current logistical problems present some inconveniences.

It has not always been like that I assure you. My kitchen used to be equipped with a nice, large, built-in oven, one that many a baker would be envious of. Huge and numerous drawers and cabinets contained my never-ending supplies of baking and decorating tools. Alas, all that is no more and no more is my kitchen nor my home. No, I’ve not sold my home in an attempt to pay my gambling debts. It’s been broken down to make way for a bigger, better home and I can’t wait for it to be ready. Meanwhile I’ve to make do with the equipment I’m provided with. Nope, not complaining.

Anyway, so those 70 cupcakes were not for myself. They were actually commissioned by my niece as a treat for her friends and classmates on her upcoming birthday. My little madame was very specific on what she wanted. Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Buttermilk flavored Buttercream. The buttercream should be either in a shade of English rose Pink or a shade of Pink violet. All this from a yet-to-be 7 year old.

I decided to use pretty pink polka-dotted cupcake cases to show off the English rose pink buttercream. The chocolate chip cupcakes themselves were quite simple to mix up since the recipe holds up extremely well to multiplying the quantity. I increased the quantity by four times and it still turned out perfect. Even the resting period outside the oven, waiting for the batches of cupcakes to be baked, did not affect the quality. I used the vanilla cake recipe I’ve provided on this website and all I did different was to multiply the quantity by four times and stir in about 2 cups of chocolate chips right at the end. If you want to bake a normal quantity, use the recipe as it is and stir in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips at the end.

The buttermilk flavored buttercream was not only super delicious, but it was also super easy to mix up. All you need to do is beat a cup of butter (about 225g) for a minute and then add 3cups of pure icing sugar to the mix and beat for about 2 to 3 minutes at low speed. Add in a teaspoon of buttermilk flavoring and beat for a few seconds. The buttercream is now ready to use. At this point you can divide the buttercream and mix in different colouring as desired. I used 1.5 times the quantity to frost all my cupcakes.

A simple swirl of buttercream on the cupcake looks not only sophisticated but also very professional. Do read my page on piping techniques for guidance on creating the swirl.

With that, I wish you best of luck and my little niece, a very Happy Birthday in advance!

Banana Cupcakes

In my home, there is a clear, distinct division: Those who like bananas and those who will have absolutely nothing to do with the fruit. It’s extremely surprising, then, that everyone wants  their share whenever I bake up these banana cupcakes. It’s a feat, really, because these very people who wax lyrical about these little goodies are the very same people who would not touch a fresh banana. I have no idea, maybe the final baked taste of the bananas in the cakes is a lot more palatable to them. Needless to say, those who already like the fruit can’t wait for these to come out of the oven so that they can get their hands on them.

The recipe for these banana cupcakes uses the basic vanilla cake recipe that I have provided on this website as a base. To mix up a batch of these, you will need about 3 to 4 medium sized bananas that are well mashed. Its best to use bananas that are over-ripe. When they reach that state of ripeness where you don’t feel like eating them anymore because they are too soft, don’t throw them away: It’s the perfect time to use them in your baking. The riper the fruit is, the richer and stronger the flavour of the baked goods will be. You will also need half a cup of buttermilk, which basically replaces the milk required for in the vanilla cake recipe. The use of buttermilk gives a more intense and creamy flavour to the final product.

It’s a simple enough recipe. Follow the steps of the vanilla cake till step 4. Then, add in the mashed bananas and beat the mixture well, till well combined. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to the sifted flour before folding it in alternately with the buttermilk (instead of milk as required in the vanilla cake recipe) into the banana and butter mixture. Follow the rest of the steps as per normal.

This recip provides a great way of getting some fruit into your child’s diet plus you feel less guilty eating it because of the fruit content in it.

Orange-Chocolate Chip Cake

“What can be better than a chocolate chip cake?,” I wondered out aloud and the answer that came at me was fast but firm. Z, without batting an eyelid, stated that it would have to be an orange flavoured choc chip cake. Well, I’ve always been one of those people who picks out the orange flavoured chocolate first from the assorted chocolates packets so the moment she suggested it, I knew that it was going to hit the right notes. Indeed I had no doubts that the addition of orange would heighten it’s flavor to a totally new level. And were we right!

The recipe itself is really quite simple. I used the basic vanilla cake recipe that I’ve provided on this website and  tweaked it just a tiny bit. Instead of vanilla essence, add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of grated orange rind. Follow all the steps till the very end. Then, just before pouring the cake into the cake pan/cupcake cases, stir in about a cup of chocolate chips. Bake as per usual. There, simple as ABC but a flavour so superior and addictive that you just won’t be able to stop once you start. Hmm..on second thoughts, I wonder if that’s such a good thing after all ;)