Monday, June 28, 2010

Cupcakes for my grandmother's 90th birthday!

My lovely grandmother, Sal, celebrated her 90th birthday on Friday 25th June.  My mum asked if I would make some cupcakes to celebrate the occasion, and I gladly complied.  I used the usual recipe (Nigella's from How to be a Domestic Goddess), and again cheated by using the Cake Mate icing that comes in a pressurised can in white and pink.  For some reason the icing didn't come out looking quite as nice as it did when I did the cuppies for DS2's 2nd birthday. 

Mum was going to make roses to decorate the tops, so all I did was load the iced cupcakes into my Cupcake Courier (the first opportunity I have had to use it!), along with some sprinkles in case we needed them.  At first Mum intended to do piped roses with royal icing because her plastic icing and gone a little dry, but she ended up only making one plastic icing rose plus some leaves, and bought some roses.  I have icing tips - I really should have a go at making some piped roses one of these days.  We didn't have enough flowers for the 18 cupcakes that my stand holds, so some cupcakes had just sprinkles on them (I used some pearlescent sprinkles in pink, white and yellow).  The overall effect looked pretty, and they tasted good too!  Thank you, Nigella! 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Baci di ricotta

This recipe comes from Nigella's book 'Feast'.  There is also a savoury version of the recipe in the book which I haven't tried, but I've made these sweet ones a few times now.  They have the flavour of donuts with the cinnamon, but I like to pretend they're healthier than donuts - the protein in the ricotta makes them healthy, right?!  I think they're also easier to make than donuts - no yeast, no proving.  I've only ever made these for my husband and kids, and it does take some time to get them done when you are only doing 5-6 at a time and you do need to pay attention with hot fat, so I am not sure if I would be game to try doing them for guests, but then again if you have someone over that is happy to chat while you attend to frying the baci, it would probably be fine.  If serving to guests, you might want to do a bigger batch, as these are pretty popular!   

Makes 30 (I only managed 22 this time - some were a little big)
  • 200g ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 15ml caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • vegetable or corn oil for frying (I used sunflower oil)
  • icing sugar to serve
  1. Beat the ricotta and eggs together until smooth.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, caster sugar and vanilla.  Beat until the batter is smooth.
  2. Fill a wide shallow pan with about 2cm of oil and heat until 160C (or until it sizzles when some batter is dropped in).  I normally do use a fry pan to make these, but this time I used my deep dryer.
  3. Drop rounded teaspoons of the batter into the pan, about 5-6 at a time.  Cook them until golden brown (about 2 mins), then flip them over using a slotted spoon and cook the other side for around a minute until brown.  I used 2 teaspoons to try and shape the balls a bit before dropping them into the oil, but as you can see, mine are never particularly round.  Once they have puffed up and are dusted with icing sugar, I don't think it really matters much.  They taste good anyway!                                          
  4. Use the slotted spoon to remove the baci from the oil, allowing the oil to drip back into the pan, and place them on some paper towel to drain.  Pile them onto a plate or bowl, and dust with icing sugar to serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Creme brulee

One of my friends adores creme brulee.  I have made it for her before, both a normal vanilla version and a Bailey's version.  Since watching George Colombaris demonstrate it recently in a Masterclass on Australian Masterchef, I have been tempted to make it again.  My friend and her new partner are coming over for dinner the day after tomorrow.  Perfect opportunity for some blowtorch wielding action, right?  I thought so.  The creme brulees would be served to both children and my pregnant self, so the Bailey's option was out, and I have misplaced my usual recipe for the vanilla one.  So I thought I'd give George's recipe a crack.  Then I read the comments - most people had had the recipe fail as their custards would not set (a little ironic given George was giving the recipe after the French challenge where the contestants making creme brulee had met with the disaster of unset custards).  I read through all the alterations people had tried to get their custards to successfully set - using an extra yolk, dividing the mix up into 6 ramekins instead of 4, and venting the foil covering.  Would I succeed where others had failed by using these alterations, or would I too fail?  I decided the safest option would be a trial run in advance.

I decided to research further, turning to two ever trustworthy Australian cooking icons  - Margaret Fulton and Stephanie Alexander.  Their instructions both started off with a stirred custard cooked on the stovetop.  This seemed to me less than authentic (but perhaps it isn't), and even to be cheating a little.  Nope, I wanted the cook-in-a-water-bath-in-the-oven recipe.  Many recipes had the exact same cream to eggs ratio George's recipe employs - 100ml of cream to 1 egg.  Some others had a substantially higher proportion of eggs to cream - 8 egg yolks to 500 or 600ml of cream - but wouldn't that be too eggy flavoured?  I decided to go ahead and use George's recipe, adding an extra yolk, 6 ramekins and venting the foil.  It is in the oven now, and so far is looking like a fail :( .  It has not set in the specified 30 mins, and we are now up to about 50 mins and it isn't even close to setting.  I am feeling pretty disappointed and lacking in confidence, when a baked custard has never scared me off before.  I will keep cooking it, and might turn the temp up and remove the foil top to see if that helps, but if it still won't set, I am going to go back and look at Margaret Fulton's recipe and Stephanie Alexander's recipe, and go with whichever of these sounds better and just do the stovetop method in the hope of having something I can serve to my visitors.

Hmmm... the custards are officially a fail.  After spending more than double the time specified in the recipe, and still being incredibly runny, I got sick of checking every 5-10 mins, so I took the foil off, turned the heat up to 140C, and left them to it.  They finally set, but I think I left them too long, and the custard has split a bit.  Thank goodness it was only a trial run!  Now debating whether to do the stovetop method, or make something else entirely for Wednesday...  Decisions, decisions...

Now, I was very tempted not to post any photos of my failed attempt, but I think I gave it a good shot, and there must be something missing in the recipe's instructions. Surely so many people wouldn't end up with unset custards unless there was something missing in the recipe?

Beaten egg yolks and caster sugar - in the segment, George says the lighter the yolk mixture, the better the custard will be, but I have my doubts about that.  I think I took this advice too far, as my custard mixture was frothy.
Scalded cream and vanilla beans seeds - love the speckle of vanilla bean seeds :).  I brought the cream to just under boiling point, because my understanding is if you boil the milk, you alter the proteins needed for the custard to set.

 The uncooked custard after the cream had been added to the yolk mixture - definitely too frothy, unless I was making a milkshake.

The uncooked custards sitting in their water bath.
 Covered with foil but vented over the custards - I also left the sides loose so that there wouldn't be too much steam accumulating under the foil to drip condensation back onto the custards.
cooked custard

Cooked custard - still soft in texture, and the mixture has split.