Sunday, 30 December 2012

An empty jar for 2013

This note is currently doing the rounds via social media. I'm not one for new year's resolutions, but this sounds like a great idea to me. What do you think?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Baker Man's scones

I am a big fan of scones and look forward to Cheese Scone Friday each week. Although I'm not so keen on dates, sultana or cheese scones really hit the spot for me. However, it is no secret at all that I am what some friends and I refer to as 'scone challenged'. While I can bake many other things with relative ease, including some things that are fiddly or require fancy decorating, scones are my nemesis. I know I'm not alone, as I have found at least two other scone challenged bakers like me, but one of them laughed at me yesterday by saying, "I can't believe you can do all these other things but not manage a simple scone." Hmm. A challenge? Ok ...

Another friend shared this 'non-fail' recipe from someone she knows who is a professional baker. This friend is also similarly scone challenged but proclaimed success with this recipe. This morning, I looked at the ingredients in my pantry (check!) and decided to take the plunge, adding sultanas for variety. Success! Although they were not quite as golden as they could be, they weren't dry and tasted great. Maybe I've found a way to break my scone challenged streak?

The Baker Man's scones

  • 600 g plain flour
  • 60 g sugar
  • 5 g milk powder
  • 2 g salt
  • 35 g baking powder
  • 100 g butter, softened
  • 360 ml water
  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Crumb the butter with the dry ingredients. (I started out using a scone rubbing tool thingie but reverted to mixing it with my hands.) Mix in the water but be careful to not overmix (approx 1 minute).
  2. Shape into a large rectangle and cut into 10-12 pieces. Arrange on a baking paper lined tray with a small gap between each scone.
  3. Bake at 200°C for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of your scones.
  • Add fruit like sultanas or dates for sweet scones.
  • For savoury scones, double the salt and remove the sugar. Add about 2 g black pepper for flavour.
Sultana scones straight out of the oven

Monday, 24 December 2012

Santa Claus is coming to town

Like Santa Claus, I've had a list and managed to tick most things off it. My baking platters are going out with ginger crinkle biscuits, chocolate truffles, shortbread and gingerbread decorations. I have a broken, undecorated decadent chocolate cake in the pantry that I simply ran out of time to decorate. That's ok - we'll enjoy eating the 'crumbs'. It's too hot to decorate the rest of my gingerbread men but I figure that the kids won't miss what they didn't know they were getting anyway.

Our presents have been bought and wrapped, sitting on the fireplace beneath our tiny Christmas tree. My sweetie has marinated a huge pile of chicken nibbles to bring to our various family engagements tomorrow. He also did a good job of marinading his t-shirt, the bench top and our kitchen drawers. ;-)

In a couple of hours, we have a pile of people coming around for homemade pizza and drinks. My little breadmaker has whirred away all day making a dozen pizza bases and I have chopped almost every topping imaginable, ready to assemble and cook once our guests arrive. I even managed to put together some mallowpuff Christmas puddings this morning. One guest popped in earlier with a bottle of sav for me, as he correctly figured I've had a busy day. Good man! Surprisingly, we're fully organised well before the event and the sun is shining - this is not how we usually do parties!

So now it's down to the business end of things and I'm feeling good about where we're at. My hammock seat is up and I'm about to go join it with a cold drink and a book. We're ready for Santa and the four places we need to go tomorrow. Bring it on!

If you've been nice, then keep an eye out for a visit from the fat man.
If you've been naughty ... well, I know you'll get what you deserve. Karma's great like that. :-P

Merry Christmas, everyone! Buon Natale a tutti! Meri Kirimihete!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Gingerbread men

This year's Christmas baking is going well. In addition to the Christmas sweet platters I plan to give as gifts this year, I thought it would be a nice touch for the kids to have an individually decorated and wrapped gingerbread man each. I used the gingerbread recipe from the famous Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. The recipe easily made 18 large gingerbread men with some mixture still left over, so I got out my fondant cutters and made about 50 miniature gingerbread decorations, cooking a tray of them for 6 minutes instead.

Although my piping skills are not yet expert, I was pretty pleased with how my collection of gingerbread men looked. Being a warm and humid evening, the chocolate dried up pretty quickly so I only managed to make a few at a time. Next year I might even substitute the piped chocolate with royal icing!

Gingerbread men

  • 400 g plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125 g brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125 g treacle
  1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on a slow speed until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat in the egg and treacle, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. Turn the mixer back down to slow speed and slowly add the flour mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time, stopping often to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl. Once an even dough has formed, take it out of the mixer, divide into three balls and wrap each piece in clingfilm. Leave to rest overnight in the fridge.
  4. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 170°C. Take the dough out of the fridge and leave to soften for about 10 minutes. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the dough to about 4 mm thick.
  5. Cut out shapes with the biscuit cutters. Arrange the cookies on a lined baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Leave the cookies to cool slightly on oven trays before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Decorate by piping melted chocolate or royal icing.
Gingerbread people

Friday, 21 December 2012

Wine o'clock

It's that time of the year. I'm clearing out my bulging inbox and waiting for wine o'clock to arrive, along with the end of the world. Cheers!!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

It's been a while since I've read a 5 star book that has completely enthralled me from first word to last. Yesterday, I finished reading The Help (2009) by Kathryn Stockett. What an absolute delight! This quote came to mind:
"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."
~ Paul Sweeney
That's exactly how I felt about The Help. I simply couldn't put it down and wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen next. Some mornings, I was so engrossed in the story while reading it on the bus that I nearly missed my stop. At the same time, I didn’t want it to end, meaning I'd have to say goodbye to Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. And what about Celia Foote - would she sort herself out? How about Mae Mobley? Would she be alright? Does Hilly Holbrook get what she deserves?

Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help is the story of African-American maids working in white households. Told from three perspectives, it begins in a character-driven narrative style that gives way to a gripping plot. Relationships are established and, in some cases, forbidden. The drama inevitably unfolds in a manner resembling a train wreck; you know and fear what's going to happen but pray that something (someone?) will intervene and stop it. As a reader, you are truly drawn into the character's lives and situations, something that Stockett creates beautifully.

We have the movie of the same name on DVD ready for us to watch at home. I'm hoping it will capture the charm of these Southern women and do the story justice.

If you are looking for an excellent book to read during the holidays, make it The Help.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Irish coffee

Thought for the day:

The CFO has instructed that we stock up the ingredients for Irish coffee in bulk.

Make mine a double!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


It's 12:12 on 12/12/12. I think that is pretty cool - almost as cool as 11:11 on 11/11/11.

Have a great day!

Monday, 10 December 2012

The best friendships

Received from a friend:

Sounds perfect to me!

Saturday, 8 December 2012


*steps up onto soapbox*

Ask and you shall receive, or so the saying goes. It kind of makes sense. After all, how do you know what someone wants if they don't tell you (and you're not a mind reader)?

I learned a new word from a friend recently: chugging (charity mugging). Carried out by chuggers, they are what we would politely refer to as street fundraisers. Street fundraisers are mostly in town on a Friday, but chuggers seem to be everywhere all of the time.

Here's a true story:
Scene: Me waiting to cross the road at the traffic lights, iPhone plugged in and watching the traffic (as you do).
Random chugger: "Have you signed the petition to save the Arctic?"
Me: "Pardon?"
Random chugger: "You can save the Arctic."
Me: "Really? How?"
Random chugger: "Just sign this."
Me: "No, thanks."
Random chugger (shakes head, looks downhearted): "That's all it would have taken."
Let me get this straight. All you need is my signature on your piece of paper and the Arctic will be saved? Heck, why bother asking anyone else! If I sign it, will you go home and leave everybody else alone, safe in the knowledge that I have just saved a significant part of the planet and they don't need to worry about it any more? No, didn't think so. I also find it hard to believe that you weren't going to ask for money next, either.

There are particular brands of chuggers that are exponentially worse than others. I'm looking at you. And you. And definitely you. They are the ones that step in your path on a busy street so you have to walk around them, or wave in front of your face, ready with a great conversation opener like, "It looks like you're enjoying listening to some music." What gave it away - the iPhone, earbuds and glazed look on my face? I managed to escape that one unscathed and crossed the road. I walked about three steps ... there's another from the same charity standing in front of me and waving me down. Seriously. *sigh*

Now, I'm all for charity collections and have spent many a rainy day over the years (it always rains on the days I volunteer) rattling a collection box on a street corner before branding donors with a sticker or badge, letting them off the hook for another week. But I think chuggers take things a step too far. In fact, they turn me off those charities completely. I have no doubt that their charity work is (probably) very worthwhile. I just think there must be a better way to fundraise and gather support than annoying people as they go about their business every day of the week.

*steps off soapbox*

Friday, 7 December 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

It was with nostalgic sadness that I learned about the death of jazz legend DaveBrubeck yesterday. Not only was Dave Brubeck an amazing musician, but he was a pianist – and it's rare for a keyboard player to headline a band in almost any genre. As a keyboard player, I know this!

Let me paint a little musical picture. I took School Certificate Music in fifth form when most 'bright' girls had long given up the subject. My school let me take performance music in sixth form, but then asked, "haven't you taken this music thing far enough?" when I wanted to take Bursary music. To this day, I am glad my mother took on the school principal by saying, "I don't think you understand: my family are musicians." It worked. Music went on to become a degree subject, a career and a lifelong passion.

'Classical' music was pretty new to me at school. A tiny part of the School Cert prescription (yes, they were prescriptions in those days) was about jazz music and the set piece was none other than the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s legendary Take Five. I didn't know much about jazz music either at the time, other than it was something my rock and pop music family were generally wary of. I remember listening to the crackly record player in the music room and was instantly caught out by the 5/4 rhythm. That was different. Challenging, almost.

Take Five became a suite of musical works whose every note is engrained into my memory all these years later. We had to listen repeatedly to the music we studied and analyse musical scores in great detail, but I don’t remember there being a score for Take Five. That's because it was made up of this thing called improvisation. I knew about jamming, but this took things to a whole new level. How can you improvise on a theme in 5/4 timing, playing 'freely' while concentrating so intently on such an unconventional time signature?

A few years later, I remember hearing Pink Floyd’s "Money" for the first time on the radio while driving home one night. I had to pull over and listen to the rest of the song at the side of the road. How can you drive to a song with 7/4 timing interspersed with 4/4? It took me right back to Take Five all over again.

RIP Dave Brubeck. You leave behind a lengthy back catalogue and an impressive contribution to music. I can't begin to thank you enough for introducing me to my love of jazz music and the world of polyrhythm.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The taste of summer

We had summer on Monday. (Ha ha - this is an in-joke in Wellington, where all four seasons are known to be temperamental and likely to keep you guessing.) Although we got off to a stormy start can look forward to a wet and windy week, we have been promised a warm, dry summer. Bring it on!

With each season comes seasonal food or tastes that just seems to match perfectly. I'm not really one for Pimm's, but there is something about a cool Pimm's cocktail in a tall glass that conjures up images of summer garden parties. In fact, almost any drink in a tall glass goes well in summer, much like roast dinners being synonymous with cold, wintery weekends.

Here are some of the tastes I'm enjoying (and looking forward to) this summer.
  • Strawberries. It goes without saying that I will be gorging myself on these at every opportunity. Raspberries are also good, as is summer fruit in general.
  • Cherries. Delicious, dark red cherries with flesh that falls off the pit.
  • Cider, especially if it's Isaac's pear cider or Old Mout feijoa. So crisp and refreshing.
  • Scallops. I'd forgotten how good these are. More fleshy than oysters and far more tender and tasty than paua, I think scallops are becoming my seafood of choice.
  • Watermelon. Long hot days were made for cool, juicy watermelon. Vodka optional.
  • Gelato. Although this is a year-round treat in reality, Bon Bon Rocher gelato from Kaffee Eis is always a winner.
What's on your summer tasting list that I should add to mine?

Friday, 30 November 2012

Decorating with chocolate at Martha's Pantry

I was very excited to celebrate my 5th blog birthday last night at a Decorating with chocolate at Martha's Pantry session. What a delightful evening - complete with chocolate blog birthday cake!

Hosted by Martha's baker and decorator, Maria Moran, we got to practise a range of simple yet effective chocolate decorating techniques.We began by making a piping bag out of baking paper. Luckily, Maria had taught me how to do this a few years ago when I learned cupcake decorating at Tempt so I had a slight advantage. It is a really useful skill to have; chocolate filigrees have became my emergency decorating solution when time is tight and chocolate melts are in the pantry.

A potentially dodgy gingerbread man
Next, we experimented with piping melted dark chocolate onto a gingerbread man biscuit shortbread snowflake biscuit. Here is where less is more: it doesn't matter if you still have more chocolate in your piping bag. Sometimes it's better to just stop and step away from the table, otherwise decorating disasters can happen. I had to give my gingerbread man striped pants as his buttons started to look very dodgy once I piped him a belt! ;-) Thankfully my snowflake was a lot less risqué.

Shortbread showflake
We had a go at piping white chocolate outlines onto baking paper and flooding the shapes with dark chocolate. This is something that I know works well in theory but I simply haven't developed the knack for. Maria then showed us how to dip chocolate truffles and end up with round balls instead of slightly oval slabs with the chocolate all congregating towards the bottom. Her Pandoro brownie, cranberry and nut truffles are something I'm keen to try making this Christmas.

We finished up with Maria effortlessly showing us how to cut a cake into three horizontal layers before filling and icing it with a deliciously glossy dark chocolate ganache. She made it look so simple, but I can assure you from experience that there is no way I can cut a cake into straight layers without making a terrible mess and/or breaking one or more pieces, meaning I have to glue it together again with buttercream or ganache. I look forward to my cake leveller arriving from Kiwi Cakes!

Maria expertly piping chocolate onto a biscuit
We got to take home a goodie box of treats with our names beautifully written on them. And, finally, the icing on the cake was getting to harass meet Mrs Cake on our way out the door. Her Tim Tam truffles are legendary in our household!

Many thanks to Donna from Feast and Vine for organising another great foodie event and Martha's Pantry for being such welcoming hosts.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Happy 5th birthday to Café Chick

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday dear Café Chick
Happy birthday to me

Five years old today! On 29 November 2007, Café Chick joined cyberspace and hesitantly started blogging with a few self-indulgent posts. Things grew gradually and before I knew it, blogging regularly became something I really enjoyed, especially as I got to 'virtually' know others in the blogosphere. Twitter followed a year or so later and then things really took off ... and here we are, five years on. Woo hoo!

No birthday would be complete without birthday cake, and a chocolate cake makes it even better. As you will have worked out, I love baking and have really stepped up with my baking and decorating this year. I still love coffee, reading, music and taking time out to enjoy the little things in life. Sure, I had to apologise to my poor, neglected blog a while back and promise that all is not forgotten. To steal a thought from John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." I try to live by the philosophy that life is for living and life is good. Thank you to everyone who regularly reminds me of this when I get sidetracked, either virtually or in real life. :-)

My trusty Clustr map has once again let me know where people have been visiting from during the year - more than 33,000 from 188 countries! Numbers dropped off quite a bit after Blogger changed my domain to a suffix, but that just means there is more coffee and cake to go around so everyone is welcome to have a second or third helping. I am still thrilled to see little red and yellow dots build up every day and absolutely looooooove it when people leave comments, either here or on Twitter.

So what's in store for the next year? Probably more of the same, or maybe something different ... that's what I love about blogging (and tweeting). I never know where it will take me but enjoy going along for the ride. Thank you all so much for joining me. Please help yourself to more cake.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hospice Strawberry Festival

It's the start of strawberry season and, to celebrate, I plan to indulge by eating them almost continuously until the price doubles at Christmas time. Heaven food at nature's best!

To get things going, the annual Hospice Strawberry Festival is on today at Midland Park. Head on down between 8 am and 3 pm to indulge in delicious strawberries and ice cream in the sun while supporting a worthy cause. The Wellington event is a fundraiser for Mary Potter Hospice. There is also entertainment around lunch time.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Shoe fetish

Apparently there is something about women and shoes that go together like peas and carrots. As I write this, I am barefoot and my shoes are discarded somewhere on the floor with no feet in them - just how I like them to be. But for some people (not just women), shoes are as coveted as diamonds or riches in almost fetish proportions.

A couple of months ago, a friend posted this message on Facebook:
It's a start... 35 shoes (depending on the style - high & low heels, sizes 7-1/2 to 8-1/2) looking for a new owner for free, some even not worn & others less than 5 times, good condition. If you're keen, let me know before next weekend or else they will go to Sally! I'm shoe size 8.
A start?? I don't own anywhere near that number of shoes, let alone have that many 'spare' to give away! We didn't realise at the time that our friend was planning to move overseas, hence 'making a start'. She is a very stylish woman and some of the shoes she was giving away were exquisite - we're not talking about $10 second hand shoes from Trade Me here. I'm not sure how many more donations it took before she had culled enough to move overseas, but she said she would still be taking "quite a few" with her.

Recently, a colleague spotted a shoe rack for sale that holds up to 30 pairs of shoes. I could see her doing a mental count in her head to check whether she would need one rack or two. She thought one might do for now. Besides, "I don't have to keep all my shoes in the same rack. Some of them, like my boots, won't fit so they'll just stay in the wardrobe." However, she was adamant that she was long overdue buying a decent shoe rack to protect her precious vessels from harm. Just look at the tragedy that struck some of Imelda Marcos' shoe collection recently. Oh, the horror!

Where do you sit on the shoe fetish scale?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Iron maiden

Ahh, Sunday. A day of rest and tackling things left undone during the week (housework, study). But not before coffee and the Sunday papers. In today's Sunday magazine, there was a story in the grooming section called Throw down your irons, a reprint of The tyranny of the iron by Seth Stevenson. With a title like that, it naturally grabbed my attention and I found myself nodding my way through this tongue-in-cheek piece that actually makes a heck of a lot of sense.

For me, ironing falls in the 'should' category. I grew up believing I 'should' iron clothes because that's what my mother spent hours doing. Clearly it wasn't an activity she enjoyed because all it took was for the dreaded ironing board to be set up in the kitchen or corner of the lounge and suddenly a dark cloud would descend over the entire household. Everything became a chore and nothing was funny while school uniforms, shirts, sheets, hankies and other items of clothing were being subjected to subversive heat (the behaviour of some even resulted in steam!), with Mum shackled to the wall by a frayed power cord that she took care to dance gingerly around. Thankfully she never ironed underwear like I've heard some people from her generation and before did, but pretty much everything else made it into the massive ironing basket, ready for regular heat torture that we all had to endure as a result. She was glad to offload some of this endless task once we were old enough to start ironing for ourselves. It was then that I decided there had to be a way around this.

While I was at secondary school and everybody was starting to take on part-time or odd jobs for pocket money, one friend would go up the road every weekend and get paid $5 an hour to iron her way through a young family's laundry basket. In those days, $5 was 'good' money and sometimes she would be ironing for three or four hours. It sounded like purgatory to me. No thanks.

Seriously, who irons these days? I openly admit that I don't actually own an iron myself and I think the last time I ironed something was about four years ago. I can't be certain of this, but do remembering ironing my ball dress once, so that makes the timing about right. I make sure I buy clothes that don't need ironing. Those that do, I take care to hang in shape on the clothes line and hang them up as soon as I can after they are dry. Business shirts? I don't wear them. It works for me.

It could be worse. A friend reported that her pre-schooler had asked her kindy teacher what this toy in the Wendy house was - she had never seen one before and didn't know how to play with it!

Do you still iron?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Philanthropist's Danse - Paul Wornham

The Philanthropist's Danse is an independently published ebook by new author Paul Wornham. It is a different kind of mystery novel that doesn't follow the whodunnit formula I expected. A seemingly random group of twelve people are assembled after the death of a wealthy philanthropist, each lured by the prospect of getting their hands on an unexpected windfall. Everyone has a connection to the deceased man; some connections are obvious while others seem rather obscure, but that's where the story gets interesting. Their coming together has been highly orchestrated by the deceased philanthropist in his very own Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death.

We quickly come to see that most (but not all) of the characters share the same primal motivation: greed, coupled with an almost vulgar entitlement mentality. While some try to hide their greed behind masks of caring and concern, most of the time their eyes are on the prize. However, we learn that everyone in the Danse has a secret they thought they had kept deeply hidden and that their promised riches will come with a cost attached.

With every twist and turn of the plot, The Philanthropist's Danse becomes a study of human character, or lack thereof, as the prospect of serious wealth comes tantalisingly close - never mind that it is expected and not necessarily 'earned'. The mystery and intrigue increases as the clocks ticks while this ugly human trait bares its teeth, bringing out the worst in almost everybody. Just when you think things are about to be resolved, another complication is added to the mix and events flare up again.

The Philanthropist's Danse is a really enjoyable, character-driven light read and a bargain for your Kindle.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


It is three months until Round the Bays hits Wellington and I am putting a team of walkers and runners together to enter this event. As a walker, I really enjoy the scenery around our coastline and look forward to three months of summer walks, so long as the weather behaves!

I have been playing around with MapMyWalk and went for my first walk with it today. MapMyWalk is a free multi-platform mobile app that uses a GPS tracker to stalk you while you are out walking. In return, it provides you with statistics about your workout, including the distance travelled, your speed, how long you have been walking, minutes per kilometre, as well as records of other stuff like food and nutrition, calories burned etc. Your stats are recorded within the app and you can also access them online, keeping a cumulative record of each workout or editing them to build up a picture over time. You can link your account to automatically brag about your workouts on Facebook or Twitter (I haven't) and even create a walking club to compete with your friends, if you are that way inclined. (I'm not.)

Although this morning's walk was not particularly remarkable, I enjoyed keeping track of my walking distance and statistics as the blue line tracked me down the road and back home again. Let's see what my account looks like in three months' time!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Flower making at Stiletto Studio

Following on from a great cake decorating class at Stiletto Studio a couple of weeks ago, a friend and I spent Wednesday night learning how to make pretty flowers out of gum paste and fondant. I have got back into making decorations for cakes and cupcakes since going to a session on gum paste flower making a few months ago. I have a box full of silicone moulds, gel colours, plastic palettes and various tools for decorating that all need using. Just as well Becs came along with her awesome cake decorating classes to get me inspired!

Frangipani (before applying yellow lustre)
We started out by making one of my favourite flowers: frangipani. For me, the beauty in these tropical flowers come from their simplicity - plain white with a smattering of yellow (or pink) and they positively radiate sunshine. Frangipani will definitely become part of my flower making repertoire. *happy sigh as I reminisce about my trip to Samoa several years ago*

An evil looking chrysanthemum 
Next, we used a daisy cutter to create endless layers that would form a chrysanthemum bud. These flowers are too 'busy' for my liking, but it was good having a go at creating them. This one needs several more layers and I imagined it coloured in deep orange and burnt red tones ... but I am seriously reminded of Little Shop of Horrors when I see flower petals folding in on themselves like this one. Don't you think it looks a tad evil? ;-)

A beautiful, elaborate rose in egg yellow
By far the fiddliest flower to make was an elaborate rose. It involved building up three layers (and a few extra petals) around a bud attached to a wire and ruffling the edges of each layer with a ball tool. The finished product is simply beautiful but this will take a lot more practice for me to master - very much a 'special occasion' decoration.

Much simpler to make, but just as effective, is the anemone. I don't know if they come in this shade of blue but I was feeling bold and loved how the colour looked on such a big piece. We finished off by learning a much simpler technique for making roses out of seven little balls of gum paste. Although mine looked like a set of rolled up towels (maybe the white colour didn't help?), I think this is a rose I can master in time.
Flower collection.
From the top: blue anemone,
chrysanthemum, fancy rose, easier rose
Once again, Becs was in fine form as our teacher - endlessly patient and great company during a four hour hands-on session. She has really helped me unravel much of the mystique around cake decorating and I have come away with lots of ideas to try, given my very limited skills and creativity. I have most definitely got the cake decorating bug and had yellow and blue hands the next morning to prove it!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Three little words

A while ago, a colleague met me in town for a working lunch. As we walked back to her car, we continued chatting in the street as people hurried by on a cold day. Suddenly, mid-conversation, my colleague called out to one particular woman. "Excuse me ..." The woman turned around and then my colleague uttered three little words: "You look gorgeous."  And she did. Naturally, being from Wellington, she was dressed all in black but she did look stunning. I hadn't noticed her at all but my colleague, herself quite a stylish dresser, did and took her observation one step further.

The woman seemed really surprised. "Thank you!" she gasped, clearly shocked and thrilled all at once. She walked away with a straighter stride and a huge grin - and all it took was three little words from a stranger.

My colleague also noticed the look on my face. "Well, she did look gorgeous," she repeated to me. I agreed but realised that I didn't think I'd ever performed the simple act that clearly made this woman's day: complimenting a stranger. It seems so easy, so why don't we do it more often? Is it because we get so caught up in our own worlds that we don't notice those around us? Or do you think it could be because we kiwis tend to stick to ourselves and our inherent reservedness stops us from vocalising some of the things we should?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sour cream lemon tart

A rapid succession of events with family and friends has meant plenty more baking this week - yay! I found this sour cream lemon tart recipe in the newspaper a few weeks ago and thought I'd wait for a special occasion to try it out. Created by Alison and Simon Holst, it is really easy to make with a food processor and kitchen mixer.

Sour cream lemon tart

  • 250 g sweet short pastry (1 sheet pre-rolled or see recipe below to make your own)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • thinly peeled or grated ring of 1/2 lemon (see below)
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup (250 g) sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons custard powder or cornflour
  • 3 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Spray a 20 cm pie or flan dish (with a removable base and fluted sides) with non-stick spray. Gently press the sheet of pastry into the pan and trim any excess.
  2. Measure the sugar into a food processor.
  3. Using a potato peeler, thinly peel the rind from the lemon or grate it finely. Vary the quantity according to taste.
  4. Add the rind to the sugar then process until the rind is cut finely through the sugar.
  5. Mix the lemon juice with the custard powder (or cornflour).
  6. Add the sour cream and lemon juice mixture to the sugar then process until smooth and the sugar has dissolved.
  7. Add the eggs one at a time with the processor running.
  8. Pour the filling mixture into the pastry base. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown around the edges. (The middle may still jiggle a bit, but this is ok.)
  9. Remove tart from the oven and allow to cool. (The middle will probably sink a little and become firmer.) Cut into wedges to serve.

Sweet short pastry

  • 100 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  1. Soften (but do not melt) butter. Add the sugar and egg then beat until well combined. [I used a dough hook but probably didn't need to - the paddle attachment would have been fine.]
  2. Add the unsifted flours and mix well to form a dough. If too dry, add a little milk (teaspoon by teaspoon). If too soft to work with, refrigerate rather than adding more flour.
  3. Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured board before trimming to a round 3-4 cm larger than the baking tin.
Note: this will make more pastry than is required. The extra can be frozen or refrigerated for later use.

Serve with lightly whipped cream or creme fraiche. We had it cold with ice cream but it would probably taste great warm, too.
Sour cream lemon tart

Monday, 5 November 2012

How to Meet Girls from a Distance

Some people are shy. Others are quiet and reserved. That can make it really hard to meet dating prospects, something most people could probably sympathise with. So how does someone overcome this? Well, the simple solution would be to find out a little bit about your object of affection before making an approach, but where does background research end and stalking begin? This fine thick line is the subject of a locally made film, How to Meet Girls from a Distance, which we got to see at a special preview screening last week thanks to

Made on a tiny budget, How to Meet Girls from a Distance was the winner of this year's Make My Movie competition. It was great to be able to spot well known locations and scenery from in and around Wellington, as well as some extras in the cast, and this made the anachronisms easier to overlook. Genuinely funny and cringe worthy all at once, there were many moments when I wanted to yell "noooooo!" at the main character or just take him aside for a 'quiet talk'.

How to Meet Girls from a Distance is on now in selected cinemas. It makes for a hilarious night out as well as providing practical tips on what not to do when stalking getting to know a romantic interest.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Cake decorating at Stiletto Studio

I had a weekend of almost non-stop baking last weekend – just how I love it! Fifteen spicy vanilla cupcakes for a Halloween party, two small madeira cakes to decorate and 1.5 kg of buttercream frosting to cover everything in sight. Icing sugar was everywhere!

A while ago, a friend and I came across a Grab One deal for cake decorating sessions at Stiletto Studio in Johnsonville. Naturally, the classes sold out really quickly so we felt lucky to be able to buy vouchers for a beginner's cake decorating course as well as a session on flower making. Check out some of the display samples made by Becs Lake, the owner of Stiletto Studio.
Stiletto Studio display cakes
We began by learning how to make a bow out of gum paste. Each half is formed separately by folding a rectangle of gum paste like a concertina then folded over so the ends meet before being left to dry separately. Now, I don't know why but I all I could think of as I was shaping my bow (and watching it dry) was "ears" – the resemblance was uncanny. The middle of the bow was formed later once the sides had firmed up enough to place on our cakes. This simple technique would look great in any colour and will now become part of my limited (but growing) decoration repertoire.

Now it was time to throw some buttercream around. It’s not as easy as it sounds! We learned the correct technique to layer our levelled cakes (mental note: must buy a leveller) with buttercream before covering them with fondant. I got to play with a cake turntable, which has now been added to my *want* list. I’ve already had experience with colouring fondant and gum paste (and sporting multi-coloured dyed hands afterwards to prove it) so decided to stick with a white base and ribbon, adding colour and texture with the decorations I was creating. This time, the fondant didn’t fall off my rolling pin in the dramatic way it did during the last decorating class I attempted and I was pleased to have a (relatively) smooth finish.

Having long been sold on the miracles of silicone moulds to create decorations, I wanted to experiment with techniques that I hadn't tried before. The bow was a good start and it got me thinking about creating a kind of 'present' look for my cake. I had a go at using a cute rolling tool to create ribbons out of some Regalice ready rolled fondant I'd bought. I loved the result and so had to buy the tool – yes, more stuff for my baking collection.

Then came assembling the decorations on top of the cake and setting them in place with water. Tylose paste could also be used (depending on what you are sticking down). I discovered it wasn't as easy at it looks to paste down a straight ribbon of fondant!

Becs is great teacher, allowing just the right balance of demonstration and hands-on practice time. She's patient and happy to respond to cries of "help!" during class. It was great to be able to play with all her decorating tools and experiment with new techniques. We are very much looking forward to the flower decorating class in a few weeks’ time and would highly recommend her decorating classes for everyone from absolute beginners to those who have already had some cake decorating experience.

The finished product!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Chocolate class at Bohemein

Imagine being locked in a chocolate shop for two hours on a long weekend surrounded by irresistible chocolate treats. That's exactly what nine of us did on Saturday with a hands-on chocolate class at Bohemein.
Bohemein make amazing fresh chocolates with mouth watering truffles and great gift ideas. Owner and chocolatier Jiri Havlik (better known as George) also runs weekend hands-on chocolate classes in their Featherston Street store. Apart from being an experienced end-user of the product, my chocolate making skills have only ever extended as far as remelting chocolate melts to set in various moulds. I had a lot to learn!

We started out by learning how to make dark chocolate ganache correctly. Although I have made ganache a few times for cake and cupcake decorating, my success has largely been hit and miss. George showed us some good techniques for combining the chocolate in cream that had been brought to the boil. I learned what it means to 'split' the ganache (you don't want that to happen) and think that is what might have been the problem during some of my ganache disasters. This ganache was to become the filling for the 70% truffles we made later.

George helped us unravel the science of chocolate making and make sense of the process. I knew that tempering involved raising, lowering and then raising the temperature of chocolate again to make it workable but never really understood why this was necessary. If I'm honest, I actually thought you could probably skip this step - but now know why it's essential and how to do it! (This article is a good guide to chocolate tempering.) It is all about creating type V (5) crystals which allow you to work with the chocolate at its best, leaving a glossy finish and a delightful snap.

Temperature is all important when pre-crystalising (tempering) chocolate and some tools of the trade are necessary. Firstly, a digital infra-red thermometer was recommended for its accuracy. I knew my sweetie (gadget man) had one of those and we laughed about what else he might have that I could commandeer for chocolate making at home. Melting the chocolate is done on a bain-marie (double boiler) and cooling is easy with a cheap fan. Reheating, however, is different. A heat gun with a variable thermostat is best, but most people don't have these on hand. Although a hair dryer could suffice, George laughed that he didn't own one. (Check out his picture to see why.) Concerned that I also don't own a hair dryer, I wasn't sure what I could use at home but suspected that, once again, my sweetie would have the required equipment in his garage. Yep, he does, and so my friend and I will now make chocolate at our place. :-) 

Truffle assembly line
We created a kind of truffle assembly line, dropping the ganache pieces into the tempered chocolate then draining off the excess with a special chocolate fork. Then, it was into the pile of chocolate shavings before rolling the completed truffle forwards to set on baking paper. We got to make six of these 70% dark truffles each and they were bagged up for us to take home. They looked very professional!

Truffles to take home
Although there is a lot more science involved in chocolate making than one would initially imagine, it is obvious from George that the essential ingredient is passion. You can see by just looking at his amazing chocolate creations that this is far more than just a commercial interest. I was blown away by the creativity of this kiwi sculpture. The marble slab, egg and flowers are all made from chocolate. Impressive!

I highly recommend this chocolate making class at Bohemein for chocolate lovers and bakers alike. I now have some great ideas for making Christmas presents and will top them up with goodies from the shop. In the meantime, practice makes perfect so that gives me a great excuse to eat make a lot of chocolate.