Saturday, 26 June 2010

C'mon England!!!

Ok, so I'll admit it - I'm not much of a football (aka soccer) fan.  With the World Cup going on at the moment, I have to be pretty careful who I say that to.  People here take this game very seriously! Even though I'm not a big fan of football, I'll still take any opportunity I can get to make a fun themed cupcake.  Wednesday was England's last chance to make it into the 2nd round of the World Cup, so I decided I would bring some cupcakes into work to help the team England supporters.  

I found these cute - but slightly creepy looking little marshmallow England football players about a month ago, and immediately knew I would use them on top of my World Cup Cupcakes.  In keeping with the England theme I also tinted some of my vanilla cupcake batter red to create a two-toned cupcake in order to tie them in with England's flag.  

The end result - Success!!!  For both my cupcakes and team England.  Everyone at work loved my cupcakes, and they really helped to get everyone in a patriotic mood before our office gathered together to watch the match and see England win against Slovenia, and move on to the 2nd round.  I managed to take a quick picture of the whole "team" moments before the were devoured.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

French Crepes with Salted Caramel

A friend from work recently went to the Brittany, France and brought me back some salted caramel in a jar.  Salted caramel is quite common in certain parts of France, specifically Brittany.  I'm not quite sure how to describe the flavour of salted caramel, but it's delicious,  It's not really salty, and it's not overly sweet.  I've only had salted caramel in macarons before, so  I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to use my big jar of it.  Another friend recommended spreading it on some crusty French bread or dipping sliced apples into it.  Although both of the suggestions sounded good, I wanted to save my jar of salted caramel for something special. Hmm, what would go well with French salted caramel?  How about French crepes! Creperies are all over France, but admittingly I've never been to one.  In fact, the only time I've had a crepe outside of my own home was from a street vendor in Paris where it was served with warm Nutella.  Delicious!  

I hadn't made crepes in ages, and I'm not really sure why to be honest.  They're so easy to make because they only require a few ingredients that you've probably already got in your cupboards at home.  I had originally planned on making a crepe filled with sauteed spiced apples mixed in with a bit of the salted caramel, but I didn't have any apples at home.  Instead, I kept them really simple by folding the crepes into triangles and drizzling them with the warm salted caramel sauce.  They were delicious!  But because it had been so long since I'd made crepes I wanted to try them with a few different toppings.  

Salted Caramel 

Blueberry - these were nice and light.  They would also be nice with a little bit of whipped cream on them.

Nutella - these were also very good, but I should have heated up my Nutella first before putting it on the crepe.

I actually don't have a picture of my favourite topping, but it was a combination of the Nutella spread on the inside of the crepe and then drizzled with the warm salted caramel sauce on top. It was the prefect combination of sweet and salty.  It was fabulous, and I'm definitely going to be making crepes again with these 2 toppings combined together.  If you're interested in making your own crepes I used the recipe below. 

 I halved the recipe and it made 5 crepes.  Yes - I halved an egg...

French Crepes:

1 cup (110g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 cups (500ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons (30ml) melted butter 

1) Sift together flour, sugar and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk and vanilla together with an electric mixer. Beat in flour mixture until smooth; stir in melted butter. 
2) Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup (60ml) for each crepe. Tip and rotate pan to spread batter as thinly as possible. Brown on both sides and serve hot.  

Whenever I think of crepes I automatically think of dessert crepes, but there are so many savoury options out there as well.  Back when I lived in Canada there was a crepe place in the Vancouver BC ferry terminal.  I always wanted to try one, but they always seemed so expensive so I never bothered.  The one that stands out in my mind had ham, cheese and mushrooms in it. It was always so neat to watch them making their huge crepes and adding in the fillings before folding them up.  Sadly my crepe making technique isn't quite as refined, but I'm pretty satisfied with my results.  I have a feeling savoury crepes will be making an appearance at my dinner table in the near future.  If you'd prefer to make a savoury crepe rather than a sweet crepe simply omit the vanilla and reduce (or remove) the sugar in the crepe batter.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Ooh La La

On Tuesday I took the Eurostar to Paris with 5 of my work colleagues for a team building day.  Yes, we went to Paris for the day.  The day!  How cool is that!?!  We stopped off for an amazing lunch at Le Cafe de la Paix which is located in Le Grand Hotel before heading down the Rue Royale to one of the best pastry and tea salons in Paris - Laduree.  Laduree is probably most well known for their amazing selection of French macarons and pastries.  I can't remember how I first found out about Laduree, but I've been a bit obsessed with it ever since.  Probably for about 3 years now.  The pastry case in Laduree could easily be considered one of the most beautiful sites in Paris.  I ended up having the most amazingly rich and decadent little chocolate dessert called the CarrĂ© Chocolat, which consisted of a dark chocolate macaroon biscuit, thin black chocolate crispy leaves, smooth black chocolate cream, smooth black chocolate biscuit and chocolate zabaglione mousse.  It even had a few flecks of gold leaf on top.  But what I really went there for were the macarons.  Oh the macarons.  They are heaven.  

The Carré Chocolat dessert I got is on the far right. Mmm!

I'm sure most of you have heard of a macaron by now, after all they are being touted as the "new cupcake" and North American bakeries are only just now jumping on the macaron band wagon.   I'd been dying to get my hands on one of Laduree's beautiful macaron boxes ever since I saw them there last summer.  You see, Laduree has a huge array of macaron boxes, many of which are limited edition.  But because we were in Paris the macaron names and price lists were obviously in French.  And because I quit French class after grade 8 to take Spanish, I found myself starring at the case like an idiot really wishing I'd stuck with the French lessons because I couldn't figure out what the heck I was supposed to order.  I ended up choosing a selection of 8 macarons, but left Laduree a little disappointed because my macarons were in a thinner (but still pretty) light green cardboard box, and not the higher quality gift box I'd wanted.  I figured I'd probably just have to wait until my next trip to Paris in August before I got another chance at acquiring a coveted Laduree macaron gift box.   

 Laduree also has the most beautiful window displays.  Check out their signature macaron tower!

 Well, fast forward 4 days and what did I happened to spot while wandering around at the annual Taste of London Food Festival in Regent's Park, but a Laduree macaron stand!  Laduree actually has 2 locations in London, but I don't really get a chance to visit them much.  Besides, I seem much more oblivious to the fact that I'm spending £25 ($38 US) on 14 little "cookies" when I'm on holiday.  I decided to seize my opportunity to order in English, and finally purchased 2 beautiful boxes of Laduree Macarons!  Apologies in advance for the picture overload! I couldn't help myself.

Look at all the pretty boxes!

More pretty boxes

My purchases!

Above from left to right: Mimosa, Vanilla, Coffee, Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Coconut, Pistachio, RaspberrySooo delicious!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A mouth full of I mean mess

Eton Mess is a very popular and traditional UK dessert that is so simple to make - perfect for summer.  I don't know what took me so long to try this dessert, but I'm glad I finally did.  I went out for lunch with some work colleagues and we shared this dessert and I fell in love immediately.  It's like eating a mouth full of little clouds!  All you need are 3 main ingredients:  whipped cream, strawberries and meringue cookies.  Eton Mess gets it's name from the historic Eton College - one of the UK's top schools for boys aged 13-18.  Princes William and Harry went to Eton, as well as the UK's current Prime Minister and 19 former PM's.  Rumor has it that Eton Mess was first created in the 1930's and is still served today, particularly at their annual June cricket match against Winchester College. 

Start out with some fresh strawberries.  Wash and slice the berries before sprinkling with sugar. 

You'll need some meringue nests/cookies.  I was going to make my own, but decided I didn't want to wait 3 hours for the meringues to cook in the oven.  Instead, I bought some pre-made ones which was probably a much more sensible option given it was such a beautiful day.

Whip up some fresh cream, and then crush up several of the meringue cookies and fold them into the whipped cream along with the strawberries.  That's it!  You're pretty much done!  Spoon the whipped cream mixture into a glass or bowl and top off with a few remaining strawberries and the juice from the berries.  Enjoy!

Eton Mess

This desert is so simple to make you really don't need a recipe, but as a general guideline you can follow the one I concocted below - this is how I made mine.

20 fresh strawberries + a few to garnish
2-3 tbs sugar
250ml (1 cup) fresh whipping cream
4-5 tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp strawberry flavoring

5-6 meringue nests - If you can't find pre-made meringue nests you can make your own using this recipe

1) Wash and chop the strawberries.  Set aside a few to use as a garnish at the end.  Put the remaining strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar.  Set them aside for 15-30 mins to allow a nice syrup to form.

2) Pour the cream into a bowl, add the sugar and vanilla, and whip until it's nice and fluffy.  Take 1/3 of the cream and put into a separate bowl, and fold in either:
    a) 1/2 tsp of strawberry flavouring (mine was pink, so it added a nice pink tint to the cream as well)
    b) some of the strawberry syrup that has formed in the strawberry bowl
    c) a hand full of the strawberries that have been pureed.

3) Crush up the meringue nests.  Make sure not to crush them too fine.  It's good to have some larger chunks for texture, as well as some smaller ones.

4) Gently fold 2/3 of the strawberries and 2/3 of the crushed meringues into the plain whipped cream mixture.  Fold the remaining strawberries and meringues into the strawberry whipped cream mixture.

5) Spoon some of the white cream mixture into a serving dish so it fills up 1/3 of the dish.  Spoon the pink cream mixture on top so it forms a 2nd layer, and finally top off with a remaining layer of white mixture before garnishing with the fresh chopped strawberries you set aside earlier.  *You can also drizzle a bit of strawberry syrup or puree on top as well.

Note:  Serve this dessert immediately so the meringues stay nice and crunchy.  If you leave it too long the meringues will start to soften and you won't even notice they're in there!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Time to Celebrate - Part II

What I didn't tell you in my post below was that I made 2 cupcakes for the Iron Cupcake competition. I couldn't decide which ones I wanted to make, so I just made both.  My second entry (which was almost my only entry) is one of my favorite cakes.  I just call it birthday cake.  It's basically a regular vanilla cake with a hint of almond flavoring, but I LOVE it.  As I mentioned below, I came home and sketched out this cupcake immediately after returning home from last month's Iron Cupcake Challenge.  For me, this cupcake was all about decorating and experimenting with new techniques.  I'm always looking for new excuses to decorate cupcakes and try out new ideas.  I purchased some fun confetti sprinkles during a recent visit to the US, so I knew I was going to use them on my cupcakes but they needed something else to really tie in with the celebration theme.  I had originally planned on making edible birthday candles out of twisted fondant, but luckily I  came across some pink candy sticks in a bulk candy store and thought they would be the perfect substitute.  They were, and they saved me a lot of time as well! In order to make the candles a little more real looking I added a sugar paste twist and topped each of them off with an edible orange glitter flame.  And in case confetti and a birthday candle didn't give off the "Happy Birthday" vibe enough, I decided I'd make an edible sign that said so. You know, just in case someone who had been living in an underground bunker without any human contact and interaction decided to show up to the Iron Cupcake event.  Surely, I should spell it out for them to make sure I got my point across!  So off I went, and made little sugar paste plaques with "Happy Birthday" written on them using my new edible marker pen.  When I was done making all of my plaques I had a few little bits of sugar paste left, so I decided to take my decorations one final step further.  I added a bit of coloring to the sugar paste, and began twisting the long flattened bits around a pen.  Ta da!  Instant party streamers!  After that I decided to quite while I was ahead, and left the decorations at that.  After all, there's only so much "party" the top of a cupcake can take.  Luckily for me, a few days before the competition, and after I had already made all of my decorations, an additional prize for the best decorated cupcake was announced.

So here are my 2 cupcake entries all ready to go in my cupcake caddy.  I love this thing!  The cupcake caddy can safely hold up to 36 cupcakes at once - perfect for my rush hour train journey into London.  A journey that I don't recommend anyone make unless absolutely necessary.  If you've ever been on the London tube at 5:30pm on a weekday then you know what I mean!  It was really funny to hear the comments and see people's eyes bulging out of their heads as I walked through the station with my cupcakes.  "OMG, look at those!", "Where did she get all of those cupcakes?", "She's even got her own special carrier". The looks on people's faces were priceless!  Especially on the tube - there were a lot of subtly downward drifting eyes as they oogled my cupcake carrier that was sat on the floor beside me.  

Upon arriving at the event more oogling occurred - partly by myself and a friend who came with me.  There were so many yummy looking cupcakes!  Last month I forgot to bring my camera because I was in a rush to get out of the house and catch my train to the competition.  This month I remembered my camera, but neglected to ensure the batteries were charged before leaving.  They weren't.  So I don't have any pictures of the other cupcakes, but trust me there were some really nice ones there.  Some of my favorites were a lime margarita cupcake with a cute little paper umbrella topper, Gem's brownie cupcakes and her sister Tamara's hazelnut praline cupcakes.  I also really liked the creme de menthe cupcakes and the apricot rice pudding cupcakes. 

After everyone had stuffed their faces, and we were all about to collapse due to a sugar coma it came time to announce the winners.  The winner for best decorated cupcake was announced first, and guess what - it was me!  My Happy Birthday cupcake had won!  All my hard work had paid off - well ok, I don't think of it as hard work but they did take a lot of time.  The prize was a smaller version of the Iron Cupcake prize bag, and a few other lovely goodies that were tucked inside.   Then it was time to announce the overall winners.  The runner up was an Ice Cream Cone with Chocolate Flake cupcake - very similar to the ones I made in April.  And then to my complete surprise my Pink Champagne Cupcake was announced as the amature winner!!  And to think I wasn't even going to bring them to the competition!  So lesson learned, even if you think it's a complete disaster, it's worth a try!

Above is my winning cupcake ribbon, and below are the fabulous prizes I won. The best decorated cupcake prize:  small Iron Cupcake bag, cupcake lipgloss, cupcake pot holder and a cupcake candle.  Overall winning cupcake prize: large Iron Cupcake bag, cupcake display tower, cupcake lipgloss and the cutest little cupcake eraser!  I'm a happy girl!

On a much less celebratory note, I was saddened today to hear that the Iron Cupcake London challenge has been put on hold for the foreseeable future due to some attendees not behaving themselves and basically offending the bakers.  It takes a lot of hard work and effort by both the organizers of the event and the bakers to put on the Iron Cupcake London challenge, and I'm really hoping that the issues can be resolved soon so we can all get back to what we do best - baking and eating cupcakes!

I already had my next 2 Iron Cupcake entries planned for next month ,so I will likely still go ahead and bake them and post the results here in a few weeks for you all to see.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Time to Celebrate - Part I

This month we saw Iron Cupcake London celebrate it's 1st birthday.  Of course there was no better theme to choose for this month than "Celebration".  As soon as I found out what this month's theme was, Pink Champagne and Birthday Cake immediately popped into my head.  I had a vision!  (I get those a lot.)  Immediately upon returning home from May's Iron Cupcake challenge I began drawing out my entries for June.  I can't draw nearly as well as I can bake, but I knew if my cupcakes looked as good as they did on paper the final product would look and taste amazing. The inspiration behind my pink champagne cupcakes was the elegant and luxurious Charbonnel et Walker Pink Marc de Champagne truffles that have unfortunately become one of my new obsessions.  Unfortunately, because a meager 3 truffles packaged in a pretty little pink heart box will set you back almost £5 (US $7.30).  

Each truffle has a lightly dusted pink strawberry flavored chocolate shell and a milk chocolate center infused with marc de champagne.  I could just stare at these truffles all day long - they are that pretty!  I still have the box from the pink champagne bar (also by Charbonnel et Walker) that my mom and I shared when she was here 3 months ago.  I can't bare to throw it away.  I'd made a test batch of the champagne cupcakes a few weeks ago, and they turned out great.  I topped them off with a whipped strawberry white chocolate ganache and pretty shimmery pink sugar bits.  The batch I made for Iron Cupcake didn't turn out quite so perfect.  In fact, they started out as a bit of a disaster. As I opened my nice bottle of pink cava (Italian champagne) that I purchased from Marks & Spencer, it immediately began spraying everywhere!  And I mean everywhere.  All over my counter, my wall, my fridge, the floor, inside my toaster and all down the front of my shirt.  Once I had cleaned up the mess and made the cupcakes which were safely in my oven, I began to whip the white chocolate ganache I had made the night before.  I whipped it, and then I whipped it some more but it just wasn't getting stiff enough to pipe into pretty swirls as it had done the time before.  It turns out the good quality Swiss patisserie white chocolate that I'd splurged on wasn't behaving the way the other white chocolate did that I used previously.  I'm thinking this was because this chocolate wasn't tempered, and the brand I used before was.  By now panic had start to set in - what was I going to do with my un-usable white chocolate ganache?  I had naked cupcakes, and there's nothing worse than a naked cupcake.  By now it was 3:00 and I had a train to catch at 4:40, so I told my husband that I wouldn't be bringing them to the competition.  Then my voice of reason set in, and I decided I couldn't let the cupcakes go to waste.  I'd spent too much money and effort on them to turn back now.  I quickly made up a batch up strawberry buttercream icing, replacing the milk with some left over pink champagne to create a pink champagne and strawberry buttercream, and then used the white chocolate ganache as a filling in the cupcakes.  I had done it.  I had salvaged the cupcakes, and made them look quite presentable at the same time!  I managed to take a few pictures of the cupcakes before I left the house.

The pink champagne I used - half of which ended up all over me and my counter top.

And here it is!  My Pink Champagne & Strawberry cupcake in all it's glory.  I think this is one of the prettiest cupcakes I've ever made.  Simple, but elegant.

A cross section of the cupcake.  Notice the white chocolate ganache filling!

Come back tomorrow to find out how my cupcakes went down at the competition!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Not Fit For Human Consumption

I had a lot of fun making these.  Mainly because my husband left the house, which meant I could play my Michael Buble CD as loud as I wanted.  I could even snap my fingers along to the music, except I can only do that on my right hand.  I've never mastered the left hand.

Now I know these cupcakes aren't as pretty as my regular cupcakes, but that's because these are NOT regular cupcakes.  They're doggy cupcakes!  Roxy - my little Yorkshire Terrier had her 2nd birthday last week, so what better way to celebrate her birthday than with cupcakes.  My mom had actually sent Roxy this cupcake kit for Christmas all the way from Canada, but I hadn't had a good excuse to use it until now.  

The cupcake kit comes from the Seattle based bakery Petit Four Legs, who specialize in gourmet doggy treats.  The kit contains natural gluten free peanut butter chip cupcake mix, yogurt frosting, and the most adorable little dog bone decorations - all beautifully packaged and tied up with a bow. 

Above photo courtesy of  Petit Four Legs

Making these was really easy.  No electric mixer needed.  Just a spoon and a mini muffin tin.  I was hoping to use the Wilton 24 mini cupcake pan I'd purchased while visiting Texas, but it was too big to fit in my tiny UK oven.  Now, usually when I tell people back home just how small our UK ovens are, they don't believe me.  Just to show you all how small they are, I've taken a picture of me trying to cram the US pan into my UK oven.  NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!   In the second picture you can see the size of 12 mini muffin pan I had to use instead.  According to the instructions the mix makes 18 mini sized cupcakes, but I was able to get 24.

After the cupcakes are baked and cooled it was time to frost them.  The cupcake kit comes with white yogurt chip frosting, but after topping a few of them off with the little white bones, I thought the cupcakes needed a little something. Something pink.  

As I said previously, I had a lot of fun baking these, and Roxy LOVES them.  I will definitely be making more dog friendly cupcakes and treats in the near future, so stay tuned!

The birthday girl with her cupcakes.
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