Monday, July 25, 2011

Two tiered Christening cake for a little tiger

        I always love an excuse to bake and experiment in the kitchen. I like to do it anyway, special occasion or not. Sometimes I'll just bake a cake and bring it into work 'just because'. I seem to be a glutton to punishment at times though, taking on challenges to do something 'different', and driving myself insane in the process. But the end results are always satisfying, and I get to learn from my mistakes and improve on for next time.
        A few weeks ago, a good friend Anne had a Christening/Dedication Service for her baby boy, Zac. Me being me, I offered to make a cake in lieu of bringing a present. At the time though, I didn't know what I was going to get myself into. After some emails backwards and forwards my 10 inch round one tiered Christening cake covered in fondant had turned into a 2 tiered cake. She was worried about attendance numbers for the catering, which in turn got me worried that one cake wouldn't be enough. Mind you, I hadn't had that much experience working with fondant (never made figurines before) and I had never made a 2 tiered cake before either. But as I had made 2 cakes in the past few months for other people, I guess I was on a little confident cake making roll.

        One of my previous cakes was an order for a 60th birthday cake. My cousin in law's cousin is getting married later in the year and I was recommended to make the cake. The design they were after was a fondant covered chocolate cake with a garland of macarons cascading down the side. As I'm not a professional/practising cake maker I was asked to make this birthday cake as a bit of a trial. I made a rich dark chocolate mud cake and covered it with white fondant. To keep with the macarons theme I made some pink macarons and filled them with white chocolate ganache. Received good feedback but not sure if I'll get the wedding cake.

        My second cake was just a small simple cake (macarons were requested) ordered by a friend at work. I decided to make a coconut cake, with a lime white chocolate ganache. The macarons are lemon shells filled with the same lime ganache.

        So for my Christening cake, I decided to make two different flavours for the two tiers. As Anne is lactose intolerent, I wanted to experiment and create a cake that was completely dairy/lactose free so that she wouldn't have any issues eating the cake. The bottom tier was a 10 inch dark chocolate mud cake filled with and covered in a dark chocolate ganache. The top tier was an 8 inch almond and orange cake filled and covered with a lactose and dairy free white chocolate ganache. The ganache was made of a dairy free white chocolate and lactose free long life thickened cream.
        As I was working after coming home from regular work, it took me a little longer than what it normally would. I baked one cake a day, or else it would have been past midnight by the time I finished baking.

        The next day is the ganaching stage. Each cake was cut into 3 layers, filled and then covered. I had gone out and bought all sorts of tools but I still couldn't get the finish as smooth as I wanted to be - like how I learnt to do it when I did the Planet Cake course.

        Dark chocolate mud cake with dark chocolate ganache. The cakes are left overnight so that the ganache can set and harden.

        The next day I cover the cakes in fondant. I was making this cake during an extremely cold and dry week. It played absolute havoc with the fondant. Fondant can be quite temperamental depending on the weather, normally people have problems with heat and humidity. The cold dry air wasn't any good to me either, the fondant would just dry out as soon as I rolled it out which resulted in cracks and tearing. It didn't help that the layer of ganache underneath wasn't as smooth as I wanted it to be either, resulting in a bumpy finish with the fondant. I wasn't entirely happy but there wasn't much I could do.
        I left one layer white and the coloured the other one blue. The blue actually has a light marbelling effect through it (half intentional/half because I just couldn't be bothered blending in the colour any further).

        It's time to assemble the cakes. The cakes are quite heavy so I had to use some wooden dowels in the bottom layer to support the top layer and stop it from sinking into the bottom layer. I also cover the cake board in fondant to give it a more streamline look. 

        The next day I work on making the figuring to sit on top of the cake. I have never ever made a fondant figurine before so wasn't sure what I was in for. Originally I thought a cute little teddy bear would be simple and easy enough to do. After googling some images of Christening cakes online I thought I might attempt an elephant. Elephants have a bit of significance for me as it reminds me of the toy elephant Ryan and I bought little Zac when we first went to visit him. Anne did mention though that she was keen on a tiger as it's Zac's chinese zodiac animal. I thought a tiger would be too difficult so we both agreed on either a teddy bear or an elephant if I was game enough to do it.
        Being a gluten to punishment, I let myself experiment and make a tiger for the top of the cake. So I coloured in some fondant with red and yellow colouring gel (to get orange) and proceeded to mould by hand something that I thought might resemble a tiger (above). My brother walked past and asked me what I was making. He said my tiger just looked like an orange person. I was yet to put on some black strips and a face. Happy with what I produced so far for the base, I had to scrunch it back up and add some setting agent to the fondant to get it nice and hard. I then proceeded to remake my tiger.

        3 hours later and this is what I produced. It was such a cold day that my hands were absolutely shaking which made it tricky to make all the stripes and stick them on. I've already got shaky hands which makes fine detailed work hard enough as it is. It wasn't perfect, but I was quite happy with my little tiger.

        By the time I was ready to decorate the rest of the cake, I started to get stomach cramps which did not help at all. Again the cold dry air played havoc with my fondant and in the end I spent 2 hours rolling up individual beads to go around the edge of my two tiers. I kept trying to roll out long ropes but they would just snap when I got close to the required thickness and length. I probably wasted a lot more time trying to get the ropes rolled. Should have just given up earlier and gone with the beads. The rest of the cake was just decorated with shapes made by cutters, with the exception of the crosses which were hand cut by Ryan.

        Side view of the complete cake. I asked if Ryan could see all the imperfections in the cake that I could see and he said no. And then he said that if he wanted to be really critical it just looks like my cake has a case of cellulite.

Other side of the cake and tiger.

        I think my best piece of work sat on top of the cake. I was quite proud of my first ever fondant figurine. I even saved him for little Zac when I went to cut up the cake but apparently it got pinched from the bench while they were cleaning up. Some little girl pinched it and ran off with it. It's probably ended up in some garden or bin somewhere. I'll have to make another one for him, perhaps for his first birthday ;).
        The cakes also received great feed back. Even my critical uncle who tasted mud cake said it was one of the best mudcakes he'd had - 'very moist, as it should be'. And Ryan now has a new favourite cake, he loved the orange and almond cake. The only issue was that the white chocolate ganache was a bit too thick, only because of technical issues which made the layers separate and fall apart.
        I did walk away saying I'd never ever do this again. But reflecting back now, it was a good project to do, I learnt things which is the only way you can improve yourself.

        Photo of my cake taken at the Christening by someone with a very cool camera (hides the cellulite!). Added my watermark because I don't want anyone going around stealing the image.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

La Grande Bouffe (Revisited) - Celebrating 11 years (8th July)

       Ryan and I used to be quite content with picking a handful of favourite places to eat but ever since I've started blogging I'm always keen to 'try somewhere different', for research purposes of course though the photos and experiences don't always make it onto the blog.      
       La Grande Bouffe has been marked as a favourite though it has been a long long time since our last visit. As we are travelling overseas next month, Ryan and I didn't really make any plans to celebrate our 11 year anniversary, but decided last minute to have a nice little casual dinner out. So a revisit was a must.
       La Grande Bouffe is a little cosy French bistro in Rozelle. They also have a sister restaurant, Apres in Potts Point which Ryan and I also adore. Ryan and I love the food here, and it's convenient that it's not too far from (my) home. I made a booking for 6:30pm to take advantage of their dinner special where you can order 3 courses from the a la carte menu for $60 a person. The only catch was you had to be seated by 6:30pm, place your order for all 3 courses up front and be out of there by 8:30pm (Fridays and Saturdays) - easily done.

Can't resist a warm baguette slathered with butter.

        Amuse bouche - escargot in garlic and herb butter.
        Our first dinner here was when I had my first taste of escargot, and loved it! It's like eating mussels and clams, without the seafood taste. Am looking forward to the real deal when we visit Paris very soon.

Ryan's entree - Fennel soup with smoked trout.
        Ryan let me try a few spoonfuls of his soup. It was smooth, creamy and delicious. The trout added some extra flavour and smokiness to the soup and the roe added some interesting texture, loved how it popped in my mouth.

My entree - Bacon wrapped scallops with leek fondue.
        The scallops were nice and plump and cooked nicely, we've tried cooking them at home before and they either came out under or overcooked. These were perfectly cooked and I loved the balance of flavours between the bacon, scallops and creamy leek.
        The only issue I had was that towards the end of my second scallop I experienced a bit of 'gravel'. Not really sure what it was but I just sifted it out and kept eating my scallop. By the time I had my third scallop the 'gravel' was alot more noticeable and the bits I spat out were quite large and it was just unbearable to chew as every mouthful was just gritty.
        I alerted one of the waitresses who came back telling me that supposedly it was some sort of bones in the scallop. Never heard of that one before but perhaps I was just unlucky. I was however disappointed that I had left half a scallop behind and the kitchen didn't do anything to compensate for the fact that the scallop was totally inedible due to these 'bones'.

Ryan's main - Twice cooked beef cheeks, carrot puree, winter vegetables and cepes.
        Soft, melt in your mouth goodness these cheeks were thanks to them being twice cooked. The perfect dish on a cold winter's night, loved all the flavours coming together in one mouthful.

My main - Roasted Salmon fillet with potato scales, cauliflower puree and school prawns.
        It's been a while since I've had salmon so thought it would be nice to follow my seafood entree with a seafood main. I love the detail of the 'potato scales' on the fillet of salmon. It was perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside, still soft and opaque on the inside. I loved the capers which added a little zestiness to the dish.

Ryan's dessert - Pear Tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream.
        Originally he said he was just going to get petite fours with coffee for dessert, which totally disappointed me, how can someone pass on dessert? In the end he changed his mind and ordered the tart tatin, something that he wants to make but hasn't quite mastered yet (burnt toffeed apple/pear anyone?). The pear was nice but we found the pastry a little on the soggy side rather than crispy. The ice cream was DElicious, generously flavoured with vanilla bean.

My dessert - Sour cherry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream
        I've seen numerous recipes for clafoutis (cla-foo-tie), which is normally made with cherries, but whenever cherries are in season I can't help but down them by the handful just as they are. So this makes it my first taste of a clafoutis. I've imagined it to be almost like a frangipan tart, but it was more like a dense eggy and custardy pancake. I liked how sour cherries were used as it was a welcome tartness to counteract the sweetness of the batter and ice cream. Will have to try another one when I get to Paris ;)

        All in all it was a wonderful evening to mark the occasion. Still can't believe it's been 11 years! We have practically grown up together, and no one knows me better than he does. And I am the hand that feeds him =p. Looking forward to our first big trip together, let's see if we survive past the 11 years after this hey ;)

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Glass Brasserie (Hilton Hotel) - A suprise for my birthday lunch, and my birthday weekend

        My parents have returned from Vietnam which means my life *somewhat* goes back to normal. With 3 weeks to go until my big overseas trip it's all feeling a little hectic at the moment, finalising stuff for the trip, social events in my calendar every weekend until I go, it's crazy!       
        So it was my birthday a couple of Fridays ago and I took the day off work to spend the day and have lunch with Ryan. The lunch location was kept a suprise and I did my absolute best not to ask too many questions or even try to figure out where we were going (unlike last year). As soon as we were in front of the Hilton Hotel on George Street I knew exactly where we were having lunch.
        Glass Brasserie has been a place I've had my eye on for a while now, though I'm not sure Ryan even knows about my ever growing wish list. It just so happened that Ryan had been wanting to try it out too. It was nice to see owner chef Luke Mangan walking around the restaurant during lunch chatting to guests and just keeping an eye on everything. I was tempted to ask for a photograph but was just too shy to, and I didn't want to intrude on him.

        We start off with the complimentary bread, and we do love our bread when it's made well. This bread is seasoned with zaatar (a spice blend) and served with Luke's own brand of extra virgin olive oil. I know shouldn't fill myself up before the food but the bread is so good it's hard not eat it all. I am the most indecisive person when it comes to choosing, especially when there is good food involved. To eliminate the dilemna of constantly changing my mind between dishes I let Ryan take charge of the ordering. 

        We started off with two of the tapas style dishes from the menu to share, the first being the Pan fried goose foie gras, scallop, quince, hazelnuts, spiced bread. It was only small but this piece of foie gras was the most decadent, rich, smooth and silky thing I had eaten. I've had foie gras before but generally it's been more of an element to a dish rather than the main star. It paired perfectly with the scallop, quice and hazelnuts on the side as well as the spiced bread that came with it. It helped to cut through the richness of the foie gras.

        The spiced bread. Ryan called it ginger bread, which in essence it almost did taste like it. And he said it was the best damn ginger bread he had tasted.

        Second dish was the Beef tongue char grilled with four spice, green tomato,  radish & shaved fennel. Ryan and I are not offal lovers but we first had (veal) tongue at District Dining as it was part of a set menu there. It was the most amazing dish we had tried. And this beef tongue at Glass was even more amazing. I've always imagined tongue to be quite tough and chewy, and the thought of even eating tongue just really put me off. The tongue here is cooked beautifully, it's actually quite soft and smooth on the tongue (excuse the pun). I do find it slightly over seasoned but find relief in the garnish that comes with it.

        Ryan suggested we have one of the mains to share, which I happily agreed to. We chose the Roast lamb rack, hay-baked & glazed shoulder, carrots, leeks, green beans, white bean skordali.

        The main was served table side and we had two very friendly waiters looking after us. One was more photogenic than the other.

        That's a plate for one! The servings are absolutely huge, I'm sure there was enough food there to feed four. We probably could have skipped the entrees, but they were a nice start to the meal. The lamb rack was not too fatty and cooked to perfection. The shoulder was just so soft and tender to eat. We enjoyed every little morsel that we could fit in. I absolutely struggled to eat my half but there was no way Ryan was taking my leftovers because he didn't have any room left either.

        Sides Truffled Mash, White Bean Puree. I'm not sure if the truffled mash was suppose to come with the lamb as it wasn't on the menu. We originally did request for it with our mains but were told that we wouldn't need it as the lamb came with plenty of sides. We were so happy to have it though. It was almost like a puree, the most smoothest, silkiest potato puree I've ever had. And I just love the aroma of the truffle oil blended into it. Even better than the mash/puree we had at Quay. I would have been happy eating just a bowl of it. It actually outshone the white bean puree which I thought was nice, but nothing like the potato puree.

        Macarons (spelt macaroons on the menu): Mixed berry, Choc Mint. We really truly did not have room for a full blown dessert. But I managed to talk Ryan into getting a couple of macarons, as they are our weakness. We were a left disappointed though as the shells were a little on the too hard side for our liking. The choc mint was okay flavour wise but the mixed berry filling was just way too sweet.

        The stunning interior of the resturant. This photo doesn't really capture the essence of the dining space, you'll just have to have a look for yourself ;) After lunch we walked (rolled) down to Event Cinemas on George Street and watched Kung Fu Panda 2 (and we actually watched the first one with some friends for my birthday the year it was released). I absolutely loved it as much as I loved the first one.

        On Saturday, Ryan offered to cook up a feast for me to celebrate with some friends. I did come over early to give him a hand, and there was alot to do.

        There were two legs of lamb, which he roasted with some garlic and rosemary. Even though they were a little raw in the middle when it came time to carve them, they were delicious (nothing a frying pan can't fix). There was also a saffron cashew sauce that went with the lamb (no photo). Everyone loved the sauce.

        Roasted winter vegetables - pumpkin, swedes, celeriac and shallots. They could have done with a few more minutes in the oven too, dear boyfriend underestimated his time and everyone was getting hungry and anxious with anticipation too which didn't really help.

        One thing that can't really go wrong. Ryan made truffled mash and even went and bought real (brined) truffles to mix through it. He surely knows my weakness.

        To top off the night - best ever ricotta cheesecake in Sydney! And everyone agreed after they had a taste. I had to go to  Pasticceria Papa at Haberfield in the morning to pick up my own birthday cake because Ryan was too busy to ;). He had actually wanted to make dessert but seeing as it wasn't his specialty he thought he would take the safe option. It had actually been a long while since we've had this cheesecake so a birthday was a great excuse to indulge. I also served up some macarons I had made a few days earlier. It was a great night, spent with some great food and great company.

        On Sunday I cooked up a feast for my family but didn't take any pics apart from this one of my dessert stand. We had nem (thanks to Mum's frozen stash), sausages, buffalo wings, pork ribs, salt and pepper calamari, roast potatoes, garden salad, and garlic fried rice. Plenty of leftovers but it was all put to good use the next day with my parents and also Ryan's parents being overseas. For dessert I had chocolate dipped vanilla profiteroles and cinnamon & milk chocolate macarons. I also decided to make use of the Christmas present Ryan's mum gave me - the cake stand.
        And just when I thought birthday festivities were over I return to work on Monday and have a morning and an afternoon tea (both with cake!) organised for me. Turning 27 this year wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be. And it has and will be a great year ahead, I just know it =).

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