Happy New Year!

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Wow. 2013 already! Didn’t 2012 just go by in a flash? It seems like only yesterday I was looking forward to 2012 and the changes it was going to bring, and here I am 12 months later thinking the same about 2013. For me, this coming year wont bring such drastic changes as 2012 has, but I still have plenty to look forward to – not the least of which being the completion of my business degree which has been in progress for too many years.

May 2013 bring you and your family happiness, joy and many batches of cookies fresh from the oven.

Baking Basics–Preparing your tins

OK, so not the most interesting of topics but I thought it would be good to get a series of baking basics posts together for absolute beginners.

I have detailed below the steps to preparing round cake tins as square ones are so much easier to figure out than the round ones with their curvaceousness.

The first step is to grease the tin. I prefer to use butter as the aroma that fills the kitchen is so much better than when you use an oil based cooking spray. I use a paper towel scrunched up with a small amount  of softened butter on it, like so. Or you could melt some butter and paint it on with a pastry brush. Your call.

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Then wipe all over the inside surfaces of the tin…

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Until it looks like this.

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Just a thin coating. Enough to hold the baking paper in place.

Ah… baking paper. That is the next step. Now there is one very important thing to know. Baking paper and greaseproof paper are two very different things. When it comes to baking, use B A K I N G  P A P E R! I cannot stress enough how important it is so don’t confuse the two. A big clue is in the name. Baking paper is for baking. Greaseproof paper is for, I dunno, I haven’t used it in years. Except that one time I had run out of baking paper so used greaseproof and it was a total disaster.

Baking paper. Got it?

If you haven’t, get some. Today. I don’t want you coming back here saying “oh Kate, your method sucks cos my cakes stuck to the paper”, OK?

Baking paper.

OK. Moving on. Place your tin on top of the baking paper and trace around with pencil, then cut out the circle. You don’t have to be super accurate so if you failed cutting and sticking in primary school there is hope for you yet. Now, you should have a circle roughly the size of your tin. Like this.

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This will be the base. Now we need to cut a long rectangle to line the sides of the tin. Cut a piece of baking paper long enough to wrap all the way around the tin on the outside, but no more than a centimetre longer than that as the circumference inside the tin is smaller so we will have enough overlap.

Then, we need a strip about 10cm wide. Because the standard width of baking paper seems to 30cm we fold the piece of baking paper lengthwise into thirds and cut – leaving us with three strips. We only need one, so you can save the other two for the next baking session.

OK, the strip you have cut should just wrap around the outside of your tin, and poke up a couple of centimetres above. Like so.

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Make a fold along one edge about 2-3 centimetres in. Like so.

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And then make angled cuts up to the fold line.

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Then place the strip, cut edge down, around the inside of the buttered cake tin, smoothing as you go. You should have a couple of centimetres overlap. Add a little extra butter here to seal the overlap. It should now look like this.

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Next, place the circle of baking paper you cut earlier into the tin and smooth it down.

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Voila! You now have a lined cake tin and angels will sing your praises when you turn your cakes out easily at the end of their cooking time.

Easy huh?

If you have any questions, or any other basics you want covered in a future post, let me know in the comments.

Happy Baking!

P.S. Baking paper!

grape sorbet

Sounds fancy, but it could possibly be the easiest recipe I ever put on this website.

Only one ingredient, and one step. Actually, with only ingredient it can hardly be called a ‘recipe’ can it? But here it is anyway.

Take some seedless grapes, any quantity, and freeze them. When you take them out of the freezer, wait 10 minutes for them to soften a little and develop that lovely sorbet texture. Then they are ready to devour!

Add them to dessert, put a few in a glass of wine to keep it cold on a hot day or just munch them as a snack.

Delicious! I am having a few right now…

 

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Enjoy!

‘tis the season to bake a christmas cake

About a week ago I was walking through town and passed a shop that was already decked out for Christmas. It was still October, but it got me thinking about how fast this year has gone by, and how quickly the next few weeks will disappear and it really will be Christmas!

I have not given a thought to gifts, Christmas Day plans or written a letter to Santa, but I had put some thought into the Christmas Cake. Last week, on our way back from an overseas trip I made sure I stocked up on booze in the Duty Free store. Purely for the Christmas Cake. Honest!

My mother has always made Christmas Cakes for family and friends but I never liked it as a child and consequently, never gave it another chance until a couple of years ago. Now, I love it. All that heavy fruit. And alcohol… well it is the season to be jolly!

The ingredient list for this cake is long and it’s not exactly cheap to make if you don’t already have most of the ingredients (especially the alcohol) but the result is a dense, moist, rich cake totally unlike its dry counterparts for sale in supermarkets. It makes a large 10” square cake (about 80 – 100 servings as a small piece is sufficient) which will last for weeks or months afterwards when stored in a cool place. Which is a good thing because there is no way in the world one of these cakes will disappear in one sitting!

Also note, traditional fruit cakes such as this one are best made a few weeks in advance as they require at least 2-4 weeksbefore cutting to mature and develop that rich, decadent, christmassy flavour. So get cracking!

Now I would like to introduce the cast of characters.

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I did say there were a lot of ingredients…

In a big pot, mix the following ingredients and bring to the boil, stirring now and then.

250 g butter
1.2 kg mixed fruit
400 g sultanas
1.5 cup water
1.5 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 dessertspoon glycerine

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Once the mixture has come to the boil, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

 

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When cool(ish), add …
2 tbsp brandy
½ cup sherry
or you can just make it all brandy (like I did)!

Leave until cold (overnight if necessary), and then add the dry ingredients.

500 g flour
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp cinnamon

Stir well, then add the wet ingredients.

1 tsp lemon essence
1 tsp rum essence
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ tsp almond essence
5 well beaten eggs
1 cup thick custard

 

Decorate with cherries and almonds before baking if cake will be un-iced. Bake in a double lined 10” tin for half an hour at 180 C, then 3.5 hours at 120 C.

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Within half an hour of placing the cake in the oven your house will be filled with the most delicious aroma. Enjoy!

As soon as cake comes out of the oven, liberally sprinkle rum over the top. I used about 1/4 cup. I can guarantee, if you thought the aroma was great while it was cooking, you will be in heaven after pouring over the alcohol.

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Now we come to the most difficult part of the whole process – wait at least 2 weeks before cutting.

Just a few points about some of the ingredients. Firstly the mixed fruit. You can buy fruit mix especially for fruit cakes in the supermarket. It looks like this…

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It is a mixture of sultanas, mixed peel, and cherries but is heavier on the sultanas than the other fruits. As we are also adding another 400g of sultanas anyway, if you want to vary the fruit mix a bit with say, more mixed peel, cranberries or dried apricots, then put those in first and make up the balance of the 1200g with the standard fruit mix.

Then there is this.

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Glycerine. It’s not used a lot these days and although it is used as a baking ingredient (it sweetens, keeps the cake moist and also has preservative properties), some supermarkets do not stock it in the baking aisle. Due to its medicinal properties, it may be found in the first aid/medicines aisle. If you have trouble finding it in the supermarket, visit your friendly pharmacist. Even unfriendly pharmacists may stock it!

As far as the alcohol content is concerned, there are a few different variations you can use. I just used brandy to add to the pot after boiling the first lot of ingredients, but you could use sherry, or a mixture of the two. I actually made a second cake and used Cointreau in the mixture and sprinkled brandy over the cake when it came out of the oven.

For the custard, I used ready made custard from the supermarket chilled foods section, but feel free to make your own if you wish.

Simple! Fruit cakes are more time consuming to make than lighter cakes, but Christmas only happens once a year, although there is no law (as far as I know) about eating it at any other time of the year if you choose!

Enjoy!

(And thanks to my awesome Mum for letting me share this recipe.)

in the pink

Today I made a cake. You may not think that is unusual for me given past posts on this ‘ole blog of mine, but in recent months I have not ventured into the baking zone very often. Today though, I had the urge to create something pretty. And tasty. There was also the realisation that my mother’s 70th birthday is looming and I needed to test a couple of recipes before I inflict them on her party guests!

Also, Mr INTJ’s daughter turns 16 on my mother’s birthday and I have been informed cake will be required for that occasion too. So it’s time to get back in the kitchen.

Today’s efforts have produced this little beauty. Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

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It’s a double layer vanilla cake, sandwiched with Lemon & Passionfruit Patisserie Filling from Barkers and generously coated in Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

 

And then I added some sprinkles.

 

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Because sprinkles make me happy.

And I may, or may not, have sprinkled a little pink sugar on it as well.

It’s almost too pretty to cut!

 

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I said almost!

 

Now, down to the nitty-gritty. Although I have a lot of recipes, I still needed to find a good all-rounder birthday cake that wasn’t chocolate so I decided to try this one from Smitten Kitchen. Now, if you look at recipes from USA they often list ‘cake flour’ as one of the ingredients. I’ve looked in every supermarket I have been to for cake flour and never found it. But not to worry. Joy the Baker comes to the rescue and explains how to make it yourself here.

The Lemon and Passionfruit filling was easy – it’s a store bought one from Barkers that I have been eyeing up for months. When I went to get some yesterday it was on special (yay!) but unfortunately it appears Barkers may be deleting it from their range as the links on their website no longer work. I hope I am wrong as it is delicious and so much easier than making passionfruit curd from scratch.

And the Swiss Meringue Buttercream… ahhhh. It’s soft, and light, and fluffy, and not overly sweet like regular buttercream. I had been avoiding trying to make it for years thinking it was doomed to fail – I had read about people giving up because it just turned into a curdled mess. But apparently the secret it to whip it. Whip it good! And it comes back together beautifully. Mine seemed to just work without the curdled stage. Thank goodness for my Kenwood mixer! Anyway, the recipe is here – again from Smitten Kitchen.

Now that the taste testing has been completed, I can confirm today’s efforts have been a success and I will be making this again. And again.

And again.

dulce de leche

dulce de leche

Dulce de leche is a sweet caramel which is popular in South America. Literally translated it means “candy of milk” and is prepared by slowly heating and stirring sweetened milk until much of the milk liquid evaporates and the mixture caramelizes. This can be a long process and we all have better things to do than stand at the stove stirring constantly for an hour or more.

But there is an easier way, and you only need one ingredient – sweetened condensed milk.

Actually, there is another ingredient. And that is time. But fear not, you do not have to stand for hours over a hot stove! You can get on with other things while the magic happens.

As this is a slow process I tend to make a few cans at a time. That way, any that are not required immediately can just go back into the pantry until they are required. Or until they are discovered by marauding teenagers.

It’s as easy as this. Place as many cans of sweetened condensed milk as will fit in the base of a large saucepan. Cover with hot water and bring to the boil, then reduce heat so the water is simmering slowly.

Leave for 2.5 to 3 hours, checking regularly to ensure the cans remain completely covered with water as allowing the pot to boil dry could result in the cans overheating and exploding. This has not happened to me but I imagine it would not be a good thing!

The length of time left simmering determines how runny the end product will be. For a runny caramel sauce, one and a half to two hours should be sufficient. For a very thick spread, up to 4 hours. When the desired time has elapsed, take the pot off the heat, carefully pour the water off, dry the cans and place them in secure storage away from marauding teenagers.

It can be used anywhere a sweet caramel sauce is required. Warmed up and poured over ice cream, as the caramel in banoffie pie, as a filling in caramel muffins or just eaten off a spoon… apparently. Not that I would know anything about such behaviour!

pumpkin and bacon soup

Soup is the epitome of winter comfort food. Quick and easy to make, delicious and nutritious, and versatile…there is always something in the fridge and pantry that can be turned into a flavoursome, soul warming comfort food. While the beauty of soup is the ability to use leftovers and items in the refrigerator and pantry that may otherwise spoil, when you are setting out to make a memorable dish, head to the supermarket and purchase fresh ingredients.

Soup makes a wonderful addition to any meal, or can be a meal in itself with some fresh crusty bread or toast. Once you have made it once or twice, you’ll realise it isn’t really that hard to make. So what are you waiting for?

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Last weekend, with the recent onset of cooler weather, and only half an hour before the arrival of self-invited lunch guests, we took to the kitchen and conjured up a pot of the most delicious pumpkin soup I have ever tasted!

And it went kinda like this…

Ingredients

1 largish Pumpkin – we used Butternut.
1 large Onion
50 grams butter
1 large handful diced bacon pieces
2 cm piece of fresh Ginger, grated
1 litre vegetable stock
Boiling water
Cream for garnish
Salt & Pepper

Sauté the diced onion and bacon with the butter in a large saucepan or stock pot. When the onion is soft, add the cubed pumpkin and grated ginger. Sauté for another 5 minutes then add the vegetable stock one cup at a time. Depending on how thick you like your soup, add 2-4 cups boiling water, then simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Once pumpkin is very soft, use a stick mixer to blend the soup. If you don’t have a stick mixer, you can use a blender or food processor to blend half or all of the mixture – again depending on whether you prefer smooth slightly chunky soup.

Season to taste.

Serve in warm bowls with a swirl of cream. Add some cracked pepper, croutons or crumbled, crisp, streaky bacon – just in case you didn’t have enough bacon in the soup (you can NEVER have enough bacon!).

The secret ingredient here… well, not such a secret now because I told you… is the ginger. I was unsure when Mr INTJ added it, but it added the ‘WOW’ factor to this soup without overpowering it, as ginger can sometimes do. If you are unsure, just add half the amount of ginger suggested, but don’t skip it. It just wont be the same.