Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Creative Eclairs


A few years ago, and a few months after I started this blog I also started to use Google Analytics.  There was a lot to learn, but I enjoyed seeing that my baking and blogging efforts were actually being viewed by people all around the world. It was really neat to see the number of people visiting my blog each day, as well as where they came from.  My inner geek was starting to emerge!

I'll always remember when I first began to notice that people were visiting my blog after being directed to it from another blog.  Not only were people reading my blog, but they liked it enough to actually link to it!  One of the very first people to link to my blog was Ruth Clemens who writes the baking blog The Pink Whisk.  I started following Ruth's blog after that, and it wasn't long after that I realised that not only did Ruth write her blog The Pink Whisk, but she also appeared on my TV screen each week in the very first season of The Great British Bake Off.


Over the next few weeks I was captivated by Ruth's creations on the Great British Bake Off, so it came as no surprise when she was crowned runner up in the very first season.  Ruth's bakes were so different from all the other contestants, they were polished and extremely creative.  Ruth's creativeness and her passion for baking, combined with her charming personality have allowed her to publish a string of successful baking books, the most recent  titled Creative Eclairs focuses exclusively on Eclairs, and choux pastry creations. 




I'll always have a soft spot for Ruth, so I was thrilled when I received a preview copy of Creative Eclairs to review.  The book is wonderfully written, and includes loads of clear and detailed step by step photographs - something I don't think enough recipe books include.  The real highlight of the book are the recipes themselves.  There are so many unique flavour combinations to choose from, you'll be able to make a new one each week for at least 6 months!  Just have a look at the recipe index pages below.



I couldn't wait to try my hand at making eclairs.  With so many different flavours to choose from it was too hard to choose just, so I opted for two instead - original vanilla creme patisserie and the mocha creme patisserie.  Both fillings were so easy to make, and tasted absolutely delicious.  I had to restrain myself to make sure I din't eat the whole lot with a spoon!


I will admit that I didn't have instant success with the choux pastry recipe though.  Ruth's recipe calls for 4 eggs to be used in the choux pastry, but I found that my choux dough was far too runny once the 4th egg was added, even with chilling.  This resulted in flat eclairs that deflated once out of the oven.  Luckily I had the step by step photos from the book to refer to.  It was clear that piped dough in the photos was much thicker and stiffer than mine, so I tried again using only 3 eggs.  This resulted in a choux dough that was much closer in consistency to the dough pictured in the book.  I ran into a similar problem the first time I tried to make choux pastry  last year to use in my Religiuese.  I combined the instructions in Creative Eclairs together with my previous choux learnings, and I was thrilled with the way my eclairs turned out.  They were absolutely delicious, and I can't wait to try a new flavour combination.  


Vanilla Eclairs
Recipe by Ruth Clemens from the book Creative Eclairs
Adaptations are shown in pink.

Vanilla Crème Patissière

Ingredients

600ml (20fl oz) Whole Milk 
Seeds scraped from 1 Vanilla Pod, 5ml (1 tsp) vanilla bean paste or 5ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract 
100g (31⁄2oz) caster (superfine) sugar 
4 large egg yolks 
50g (13/4oz) cornflour (cornstarch)

Directions:

1. In a large jug whisk together the egg yolks and caster (superfine) sugar until the mixture is light and foamy. Add the cornflour and whisk again until of an even consistency. Set to one side.

2. Place the milk and vanilla in a medium pan and heat gently until just below boiling point. Whilst whisking the egg mixture continuously, add the warmed vanilla- infused milk a little at a time until both mixtures have been fully worked together.

3. Transfer the mixture back to the pan and over a medium heat, whisking continuously, bring to the boil. Continue to cook the crème patissière for 2 minutes until thick and glossy.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Contact-cover the top of the crème patissière with cling film (plastic wrap) to prevent a skin from forming, and allow to cool. Refrigerate once cooled.

5. When you are ready to use it, transfer the chilled crème patissière to a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until it is a smooth and even consistency.


Basic Choux Pastry

Ingredients:

75ml (2 1⁄2fl oz) Water 
55ml (2fl oz) Whole Milk 
55g (2oz) Butter 
5ml (1 tsp) Vegetable or Sunflower Oil 
1⁄4 tsp Salt 
1 tsp Sugar 
100g (3 1⁄2oz) Plain (All-Purpose) Flour 
4 Large Eggs *I used 3
Sunflower or vegetable oil spray

Directions:

1. Place the water, milk, butter, oil, salt and sugar in a medium pan. Heat over a medium heat stirring frequently until the butter has melted. Bring to the boil and add the flour.  With the pan still on the heat, beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a ball.

2. Turn the heat down to low and continue to mix over the heat for 3 minutes.This helps to reduce any excess moisture and changes the paste from a rough shaggy texture to a much smoother, glossy paste. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 2 minutes to cool slightly.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the choux well after each addition until all the eggs have been incorporated. Continue to mix until the consistency returns to a smooth, glossy texture before adding the next egg.

When all the eggs have been incorporated, the choux pastry will be glossy with a thick, medium-firm texture.  Transfer to a bowl and cover with cling film (plastic wrap). Allow to cool fully then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This makes the choux pastry much easier to pipe neatly.

4.  Once chilled, transfer the choux pastry to a piping (pastry) bag fitted with an 18mm (3⁄4in) piping nozzle (tip). A serrated pen (French style) nozzle (tip) is ideal for éclairs as it creates ridges in the piped éclairs which allow the dough to expand evenly on baking, avoiding any cracking across the top. *I couldn't find my serrated nozzle (only the Wilton 1M tip which is too deep) so instead I ran a fork lightly down the piped eclairs. This worked great.

5. Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) /180°C /350°F/ Gas Mark 4.  Pipe the choux pastry into éclairs or choux buns of the desired size using an even pressure to keep the width of each éclair the same.  Any peaks or misshapen ends can be smoothed with a dampened finger once piped.

6.  Spray the éclairs lightly with a vegetable or sunflower oil. This light coating prevents the crust from forming on the éclairs too early in the baking process, allows the choux pastry to expand evenly, and helps prevent the top of the finished éclair from cracking.  Bake for 40 - 50 minutes until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.


To Assemble the Eclairs:

1. Pierce the base of the éclair once at each end using a small piping nozzle (tip) (for larger 15cm/6in éclairs, also pierce a hole in the middle of the base).

2. Add the filling to a piping (pastry) bag fitted with a filling tip – these are also known as Bismarck tips or cupcake filler nozzles (tips), such as Wilton 230.

3. Insert the filler nozzle (tip) into the pierced hole at one end and squeeze in the filling gently. Remove the tip and place it into the hole at the opposite end and fill again, just until you see a little movement of the filling at the hole in the opposite end.

4. Clean off any excess filling from the base of the éclair with your fingertip or by swiping it across the lip of a small jug.

5. Place the warmed liquid fondant (recipe below) in a shallow open bowl – big enough to fit the length of the éclair easily.  Dip the top of the éclair into the mixture. Then with one end leading and the rest following, moving in an arc to remove it from the bowl and allow the excess to drain from one end.  

If you're adding any sprinkles on top like I did, make sure to sprinkle them on immediately after dipping your eclair into the fondant before.  If you wait too long, the glaze will set and the sprinkles won't stick. Place each éclair onto a wire rack, glazed-side up to set.


Fondant Glaze

Ingredients:

300g (10 1⁄2oz) White Sugarpaste (Fondant / ready-to-roll icing) 
30ml (2 tbsp) water
*I added a tiny amount of pink colouring, and 2 squares of white chocolate which made the fondant glaze more opaque.

1. Break the fondant into small pieces and place in heatproof bowl with the water. *I added my colouring and white chocolate in this step.

2. Heat gently in the microwave in short bursts, or over a pan of steaming water, stirring frequently, until the fondant melts.

3. Mix with an electric mixer until the consistency is smooth and even and no lumps remain.The glaze will begin to set while it cools, so use while it is still warm. It can easily be reheated to pouring consistency if it cools too quickly for use.


To celebrate the launch of Creative Eclairs a special blog hop is currently taking place.  Why not check out some of the other blogs participating to see what they made? A full list of the blogs taking place can be found here.

Creative Eclairs is available for early purchase now through the Stitch Craft Create website now for  £13.84, and will be available through Amazon UK here when it's officially released the 25th of April.

If you're in the USA, Creative Eclairs is available now for $12.63 though Amazon.com here 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine's Day Quilted Heart Cookies


Over the past few years I've acquired a fair amount of baking and decorating paraphernalia.  OK, quite a lot may be an understatement.  It's actually case loads. I've got good intentions to use it all, but the reality is I rarely have time to sit down anymore and have a play around with all my decorating tools. 


Luckily for me there was a day this week when the stars aligned and what seemed like the impossible was actually possible. I've wanted to make fondant topped sugar cookies for ages now, so Valentine's Day was the perfect excuse to make some pretty heart cookies.  

I whipped up a batch of cookies using my favourite recipe (here), and tinted my fondant while I waited for them to bake. After rooting around for a few minutes in one of my decorating boxes, I pulled out a quilted patchwork cutter, and a set of fondant crimpers.  I hadn't used either of these before so was a bit unsure how to actually use each of them but they were pretty easy to figure out.


The patchwork cutter (here) is really simple to use, and produced a really pretty effect.  I can see it quickly becoming one of my favourite tolls to use with fondant. Simply press the cutter firmly in the fondant, making sure to to press evenly all over the cutter and then gently lift up. Cut out a piece of the patterned fondant using the same (but clean) cookie cutter as you did with the cookies.  Once your cookies are out of the oven and cooled, brush a little water on the back of your fondant shapes (this acts just like glue) and gently press them on top of your cookies.  Leave them aside for an hour or so for the fondant to stiffen up.


The fondant crimpers took a bit of getting used to. I wasn't even sure if I was going to use them, so tested them on  piece of rolled fondant first, and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  The crimpers (similar to these) produced a really delicate frilly design, so I used them to work my way around the outer edge of the fondant heart, and then back around the inside to add a second frilly row.

It was my first time making fondant topped cookies, and using the tools too create the different effects. As is the case with most of the things I bake, I'm taking these into the office so they're not staring me in the face every moment of the day waiting for me to gobble them up.  But I did save a few of them so I could make a special batch of blue hearts for my two Valentines that will be home today.   

Happy Valentine's Day


Monday, 3 February 2014

Top 10 Valentine's Day Gifts For Foodies

I've always been a sucker for holidays of any kind. The shops are filled with cute limited edition holiday themed sweets and gift ideas. No sooner are we over one holiday before another limited edition themed product range hits the store shelves. 

Some people may find this overkill, and at times I do too (ie: seeing the Easter candy being put out on display on Christmas Eve!), but it gives me something to look forward to.

I've noticed that the Valentine's Day range of products has been slow to hit store shelves this year. They've been trumped by the Easter range which is still 3 months away. And perhaps it's because other holidays have a wider appeal, but the selection of Valentine's products never equals that of the other holidays (aside from St. Patricks Day - except maybe in the States where it's hugely popular). Over the past week or so I've really started to see some neat Valentine's Day products emerge, especially in the food / baking department. 

I've found a few new products that I really love, as well as a few favourites that have been seasonally rebranded. So without further adew, I give you my top 10 Valentine's Day gifts for foodies. Feel free to share these with your significant other, you know - just in case they need a little help ;-)











1.  Limited Edition Le Creuset Cast Iron Casserole Dish - What more can I say?  I seriously LOVE this dish!   Available exclusively online at Le Creuset  UK, this "chiffon pink" casserole dish is limited to only 100 pieces, and retails for £145.

2.  Peggy Porschen Valentine's Day Cupcake Gift Box - An assortment of my two favourite cupcakes, the Strawberry & Champagne, and Chocolate Heaven cupcakes are decorated with hand made sugar roses and mini heart biscuits.  £30 for six cupcakes.  You can also add on a bottle of Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rose Champagne if you wish. Available for pick up and delivery from Peggy Porschen.

3.  Charbonnel et Walker Truffle Kisses - How cute are these!  Perfect little pink lips flavoured with Marc De Champagne and Raspberry.  So much better than a Hershey's Kiss!  Available from John Lewis for £15.

4.  Pink Tuscan Cake Stand - An absolutely gorgeous pale milky pink 9 inch cake stand.   Other colours and sizes available. £65 from Liberty.

5.  Heart Ravioli Pasta Cutter - Instead of going out, cook your other half a romantic dinner to remember with this ultra cute ravioli cutter.  I first spotted this in Carluccio's a year or so ago, and I'm glad to see they still have it.  £4.95

6.  Mason Cash Hearts Mixing Bowl - You can never have enough mixing bowls.  Seriously.  This would also make a great popcorn bowl if you feel like watching a movie after dinner. It's the perfect size for sharing.  £13.99 from Dunelm.

7.  Laduree Macarons - Laduree has the best macarons, as well as the most stunning gift boxes.  They've always got seasonal flavours - this month it's a limited edition Nina Ricci Macaron covered in gold leaf that's filled with a raspberry jam, and a hint of lemon juice and rose essence.  Ah-maze-ing!  Assorted flavours, boxes and sizes available from the four London Laduree locations.

8.  Light My Fire Matchstick Biscuits - These are just so cute and unique.  Perfect if you're not into heats and pink!  Available from Not On The High Street for £10, although I'm pretty sure you could make your own with minimal effort. 

9.  Emma Bridgewater Heart Mug - I'm not a massive fan of Emma Bridgewater, but I do love her heart pattern collection.  These mugs are so classic, and beautifully British.  You can also order a personalised version for £18 from the Emma Bridgewater website.  I have one, and it's great. No one can steal your mug at the office! 

10.  "I Love You A Latte" Coffee Stencil - These are actually personalised coffee stencils that you can customise to say whatever you want, but there's a great selection of pre-made ones suitable for Valentine's day. Really great fun for a Valentine's Day breakfast in bed. £12.50 from Not On The High Street


* My Top 10 Picks were independently chosen by me without any compensation or influence from the manufacturers.

Friday, 31 January 2014

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake Topper Tutorial

Earlier in the week I showed guys some pictures of the Very Hungry Caterpillar Party I thew for my son's 2nd birthday.  The positive response and the lovely comments that everyone gave were a welcome surprise, and really just confirmed why I love to do these parties! 



I loved creating all of the desserts for Jayden's Very Hungry Caterpillar party and I was really pleased with the way they  turned out, especially the caterpillar cake topper I made.  I know from my many hours on Pinterest that Very Hungry Caterpillar themed birthday parties are pretty popular, so I thought I'd show you all how I made the Very Hungry Caterpillar cake topper.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Cake Topper Tutorial


Materials:

- Green fondant in a variety of different shades  - I used at least 4 - 5 shades of green totalling about 200g, and a variety of colourings from Wilton and Americolor
- Red fondant - about the size of a golf ball
- Purple fondant for the antenna
- Yellow fondant for the eyes
- Black fondant for the nose
- Edible glue** (recipe below)
- Cocktail sticks
- A non-stick mat such as a silpat or a cutting board covered in cling film
- Tylo powder* - optional (see note below)
- A picture (or a copy of the book) of the Very Hungry Caterpillar to refer to

Instructions:

1.  Take a small chunk (about the size of a small grape) of one of the green fondants, roll it into a ball and set aside.  Next tear off some small pieces (about the size of a pea, or slightly larger) from 2 - 3 of your other green fondants. *You can knead a little bit of tylo powder into your fondant to help it harden - this will help reduce the overall drying time, which can take 2+ weeks.

2.   Take the small pea sized pieces and stick them randomly around the outside of your larger green fondant ball.  

3.  Roll the ball in the palm of your hands a couple times so all of the shades of green are stuck to themselves. Then start to pinch the ball carefully, pulling and twisting out with your fingers before pushing the pulled part of the fondant back onto the ball.  Do this once or twice, and then continue roll the ball so the colours blend slightly to create a marbled effect.


Follow the example above with the exception of the last picture which has been rolled out 
flat so I could use it for the pear cupcake topper. 

4.  Refer to your picture of the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and form the marbled ball of fondant into a similar shape to the end tail piece of the caterpillar.  Set aside on a non-stick mat.


5.  Take another chunk (just slightly larger than the previous one) from one of your green fondants, and repeat the process from step 3.  Gently squeeze the sides of the marbled fondant ball between your thumb and index finger and shape so that it's slightly flat on each side.  Brush a small amount of edible glue on the right edge of the first fondant piece you formed, and stick it to the second piece you've made so the two pieces are stuck together.  This will start to form the tail end of the caterpillar.  Lay the fondant pieces that you've stuck to dry on your non-stick mat, and pat down the tops lightly so they're just slightly flat.



6.  Continue repeating the process from step 5 with slightly larger pieces of fondant each time.  Vary the shape of each piece slightly before attaching it to the previous piece.  Use the picture / book as a guide, making sure to follow the shape of the caterpillar body as well.  Take two cocktail sticks and push them about an inch into the fondant, leaving at least 2 inches sticking out. This is how your caterpillar will stick in your cake. 

7.  To make the head take a piece of red fondant and roll it into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly so it's the same width as caterpillar body pieces.  Cut the left 1/3 off of the flattened circle, and round the edges with your fingers making sure to leave a flat side to attach the body to it.  Brush the flat side of the head with edible glue and attach it to the green body.  

8.  Poke two holes in the top of the caterpillar's head (make sure they're not too big!).  

9.  Take a two small pieces of purple fondant and roll them so they're about an inch long, leaving one end pointer than the other.  Set aside to dry.

10.  Make the eyes by taking very small pieces of yellow fondant, roll them into tiny balls and flatten them.  Brush the backs with edible glue and stick them onto the red caterpillar head.  Next take 3 tiny pieces of green fondant, roll them into tiny balls and flatten them.  Brush with edible glue, and place two of the pieces on top of the yellow eyes you just made, and the other one as the caterpillars nose. 



11.  Leave the completed caterpillar and loose antenna to dry for at least two weeks (the longer the better).  The fondant needs to be completely dry to ensure that it will not bend and buckle when placed standing up on the cake.

12.  Once the antenna are dry, brush the pointy tips with edible glue and place them into the holes you poked in the caterpillars head.  *Save this until you are just about to place the caterpillar on the cake to prevent the antenna from snapping off.


Edible Glue Recipe

Ingredients:

1/4 tsp Tylo Powder
1 - 2 Tbsp Water

Method:  

1.  Pour the water into a very small plastic container or jar with a lid.  Mix the tylo powder in with the water (I usually place the lid on the container and shake vigorously) and leave in the fridge for a few hours or overnight until the powder is fully dissolved.  




Make sure to transport your caterpillar very carefully if you're not serving your cake at home. Place it on the cake just before putting it on display.  I recommend placing the cake in it's final spot on the table before finally putting the caterpillar topper on the cake, and then attaching the antenna.

Hopefully I explained everything clearly, but feel free to leave a comment underneath if you need clarification on anything.  

Also, a few of you have asked how I did my fruit cupcake toppers, so I'll be telling you how to make those in a separate upcoming post.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party


When you're a kid the day of your birthday party is pretty much the most important day of the year (ok, maybe aside from Christmas, and Halloween).  There's always such a build up of anticipation leading up to the big day.   What presents will you get?  What will your birthday cake look like?  And worst of all, what if you're friends forget to come?

My favourite thing to do in the days leading up to my birthday party was going to the cake decorating store with my mom to pick out a Wilton character cake pan.  There were dozens of pans to choose from, and they lined the walls of the shop.  I'd stare at the walls for ages choosing my pan, carefully studying the designs over and over.  I'd choose a different pan each year, and over the course of my childhood I had cakes that ranged from disney characters, to dinosaurs, to a big orange Garfield.  

The pans would come with a full sized colour decorating guide that my mom would carefully follow, ensuring that the final cake looked equally as perfect as the one in the guide.  When it came time to make the icing I'd sit in the kitchen while she'd whip up a big batch of buttercream.  Mom would hand me a beater to lick while she divided the icing into tupperware bowls so she could mix up all of the individual colours that were required for the cake. 

The decorating technique for these cakes was simple but effective, and consisted of piping hundreds of little stars in various colours all over the cake.  Thinking about it now, this technique is actually quite similar to following a cross stitch pattern. Nothing could beat the taste of those birthday cakes, with their crusted buttercream icing and a scoop of ice cream on the side.

Even after all the years that have past since my childhood birthday parties a level of excitement still remains whenever a birthday cake is brought out and presented to everyone at a party - no matter what their age.    


And it's that level of excitement that I love to re-create when I decorate cakes for other people - especially my little boy.  He turned two this year, and although he's not quite old enough to choose the design for his cake, I was pretty sure a Very Hungry Caterpillar cake would make him a very happy boy indeed.  And a Very Hungry Caterpillar themed dessert table would make me even happier!  Instead of only featuring a variety of shades of green, I also opted for a rainbow theme to tie all my desserts  together.  


The decorations were just as fun to put together as the desserts were.  I made good use of my elementary school craft skills by making an ombre green tissue paper "2", and accordion fan circles which I turned into a Very Hungry Caterpillar.  I also made some little menu cards to label all of the yummy desserts which included:

- Rainbow Birthday Cake with a Very Hungry Caterpillar on top
- Chocolate Cupcakes with matching fruit and leaves from the book
- Vanilla Cupcakes
- Rainbow Jello
- "Caterpillar Food" aka mixed fruit candy
- Lemonade 



One of my favourite little details were something I didn't even make!  The folks over at DotComGiftShop were nice enough to send me some red and white paper straws, and some adorable little vintage style 1/2 pint milk bottles to display my drinks in.  The bottles were the perfect size for little hands to hold.
In the coming days I'll be posting the recipes and tutorials for some of the desserts I made, but for now I'll leave you with a few more pictures of the party. Enjoy!







 



That's the end of the party.  Time to clean up!

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