Saturday, 29 March 2014

Naked Glamorous Chocolate Brownies


You know how I like to glam up my chocolate brownies, so they don't feel left out among all the uber gorgeous cupcakes, well, I was inspired by the trend for naked cakes, that seem to be so popular lately, to make a naked glamorous chocolate brownie. And here they are.


 I think these are the most glamorous of the glamorous brownies yet. I used the hand moulded fondant roses, that I have only just learnt to make and wrote about in this post.


I use these little star shaped flowers a lot as filler flowers or little extra decorations. There is a little mini tutorial on how to make them here. The leaves are just made with a standard rose leaf plunger cutter.


What do you think? Glamorous enough for you? Gooey and chocolatey enough for you?


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Little Star Blossoms

I use these little star blossoms a lot as filler flowers or extra decorations, they are super easy to make, so I thought I would share a quick tutorial on how to make them. My five year old son can make these competently, so there are no excuses for not having a go!

Equipment

To make them you will need

A little six petal flower cutter (this one is from the stephanotis set from sunflower sugarart, UK, USA)
A Dresden Tool
Something for the centre (I used a JEM daisy centre)

You will also need:

Some sugar flower paste / gum paste or some sugar paste with CMC / Gum Tragacanth mixed in to make it less sticky and more pliable. Colour your flower paste before you start. I have used Sugarflair's cream gel colour here.

A little vegetable fat (Trex / Crisco)
A little cornflower (preferably in one of those muslim pouches that sugar crafters like)
A board for cutting out on
A foam flower making board


Making the Flowers

Rub a little vegetable fat (Trex / Crisco) onto a cutting board. The vegetable fat helps keep the flower paste on the board, whilst you roll and also stops the flowers from sticking when you have cut them out. Roll out you paste thinly and cut out a few more flowers than you think you need. (Something usually goes a bit awry with one or two, so best to make allowances for that and then hopefully it won't happen)


Next dust your foam board with a little cornflower and use the Dresden tool to shape the petals, as shown below, by gently rocking the Dresden tool from side to side. Cornflour is every sugar crafters secret weapon, a lot of the techniques simply won't work without it.


Continue all the way around till all the petals are shaped


Make a centre for the flower, I have used this little daisy centre by JEM, sugar pearls make good centres too.


Finally, finished flowers on a floral bouquet cookie. This cookies is currently undergoing a design review. In my head it looked brilliant, when made, I felt the design doesn't quite work. I still like the idea, so it will get revisited, one day!


Projects that use these flowers, or very similar ones







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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sugar Roses


Is there anything that you are so afraid of doing, that you daren't even start, just in case, you are no good at it, and, if you were no good at it, that could be the end of everything that you are trying to achieve. Well, for me that is the sugar rose. The rose has always been my favourite flower and I see so many beautiful sugar roses, that I want to be able to emulate, but, I can't even begin to try for fear of failing.


I don't know whether you saw her, but a little while back Peggy Porschen was on Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds (a TV programme) and Peggy gave Paul a quick demonstration of how to make hand moulded fondant roses. Whilst they were chatting, Peggy mentioned, that when looking for new staff, one of the things she does, is get them to make these roses. The prospective staff make ten and Peggy looks to see if there is an improvement between the first and the last.

This little snippet was just the motivation I needed to have a go. I felt, I didn't need to make ten perfect roses, I just need rose number ten to be an improvement on rose number one. The next time I had a spare hour, I resolved to make 10 hand moulded roses, As it happened I ran out of time after the first six. I say six, I made quite a lot more than 6, but, most were scrunched up and started again. The first six I made, that survived, are these peachy coloured ones that you can see above and below. I have to say that I felt a little disheartened, they weren't really looking the way I wanted them too and I couldn't see much improvement. In fact the first one that I made was probably the best.


Rather than throwing a strop and chucking the lot out of the window, I decided to do a little research and do you know what? I discovered, that if you look closely and critically at the hand moulded fondant roses that others have made, they are not always that perfect, but somehow when combined with other decorations on a cake, they manage to look beautiful.

Some roses, do manage to always be beautiful and perfect and I started a new Pinterest board for different types of perfect sugar roses for when I need reference or inspiration.

These red roses are my second attempt at the hand moulded roses that I tried a couple of weeks after the peachy ones, I decided to make them smaller in size and just make a bud style of rose, that is, a centre and three petals. This lovely red colour is Beau sugar paste's "Vintage Rose", this is quite a soft paste, so I added a little CMC powder to help firm the paste up a bit.


I'm happier with these, I'm going to try them on some cakes and see how they look.


I think every cake decorator has their own style of hand moulded rose, it becomes a very personal thing and it is possible to recognise some cake makers from their distinctive roses.

Once you start to get the hang of it, the making of these little roses starts to become quite addictive. I had another go with these ivory ones.  I thought I would try them with a darker centre for a little variety.

When I have made another few hundred, I may have some roses to be truly proud of, hopefully, these are good enough for now.


just using a different brand of sugar paste /  fondant gives these roses a different look. These ivory coloured ones are made with Squires Kitchen sugar paste. This already has a little gum tragacanth in it, so I didn't add anything else. This sugar paste was softer than that for the red roses that I made above, so they have a softer frillier look to them.

Making the Roses

The only equipment you need for these is your hands and an A4 plastic wallet (the sort you normally use for filing things in ring binders). Start by cutting down the side and bottom of the plastic wallet, so that it is just joined down one of the longer sides.

Next, make three little balls of sugar paste and a sausage shape


Place them inside your plastic wallet and squash them flat. Then use your thumb along one edge to make it thinner


Roll up the flattened sausage shape to make the centre of the rose bud


Next, add the petals, overlapping them.


Some things I particularly noticed from my research:

- The spiral in the centre is the keystone to a good looking rose
- Keep the petals in close to the centre
- Don't let the petals rise too far above the centre



Roll the base of the rose between your fingers to achieve the bud shape and remove the excess sugar paste.


Use your fingers to gently tease back the tops of the petals and then place them on a foam mat to harden until ready to use



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Sunday, 16 March 2014

Vanilla Spice Latte Cupcakes Part Two - The Desirability of Buttercream?


I feel that our friend, the dear cupcake is fighting a defining battle. On the one hand we have the delicious looking scrumptious cupcakes topped with decadent towering swirls of buttercream and dripping with caramel or chocolate sauce and on the other the sophisticated smooth beauty of the fondant domes, understated and refined, beautiful and oh so wedding ready. These cupcakes above and all those below are the Vanilla Spice Latte Cupcakes that I shared with you last time. They are a coffee and cardamom flavoured cupcake topped with swirls of vanilla buttercream.


I'm a big fan of both buttercream swirls and fondant topped cupcakes and combined the two in this cupcake tower for John and Fiona's wedding, but, you know what? and it is really hard for me to say this, but, there is something about those fondant topped cupcakes, that, well, just doesn't make me want to eat them, at least not in that, I have to have that delicious swirl of buttercream, right now and keep eating them until I feel sick kind of way.

I know that I am not alone in this, I have taken batches of cupcakes to work and found quite often any fondant topped ones are left forlornly alone at the end of the day, their buttercream topped cousins having been devoured hungrily many hours previously. Maybe people see fondant and think of that cheap chemical tasting stuff that covers those cheap supermarket Birthday cakes? Or maybe they say, "Oh, those are too pretty to eat", but nothing truly delicious and scrumptiously tempting was ever too pretty to eat? Was it?


My husband thinks that this is just people's greed - they take the buttercream swirls because they look the biggest and I think there is some truth in this, but there must be something more behind this preference too. I don't know whether you saw it, but there was an episode of Horizon that aired in the UK at the end of January this year that featured some research by Paul Kenny of the Scripps Institute that discovered that foods that had about 50 / 50 ratio of fat to sugar, may stimulate the pleasure centre of the brain so much that we can't resist or stop eating them. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to read more about this.

And do you know what? buttercream just happens to be pretty much a 50 / 50 fat to sugar ratio. Well, whatever the reason, I decided to try prettying up my buttercream swirl cupcakes with some sugar flowers to see if they could compete in the looks department with those fondant tops and these iare what I came up with.


The large flowers are the same as I used on the Chocolate and Caramel Giant  Cupcake I made last year that was raffled for charity, except that I changed the flower centre to a coffee bean, I thought this was a minor stroke of genius and hope that you agree. I tried the flowers n two different colours, ivory to represent the cafe latte flavour and green to be reminiscent of the cardamom.

So what do you think? Do you want to eat one of these, or would you prefer the plain old buttercream swirl? 




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This is how the Express summed up the research referred to above
"Feeding laboratory rats with either high-fat and high-sugar diets did little to change their daily habits or health but supply them with chocolate, biscuits and cheesecake (a near 50-50 fat and sugar split) and behaviour changed radically.
They ignored other foods for the cheesecake, going back to it regularly rather than gorging, and put on weight. Their self-regulation system, that naturally stopped them eating too much fat or sugar, effectively switched off.

“It became their main source of calories,” Kenny tells Horizon. “They gained massive amounts of weight, became sedentary, slept a lot and did not move around.

He found that the allure of processed food was overriding the body’s natural hormones that regulate intake by alerting the brain that the body has enough calories. It is the same faculty that is impaired in drug addicts whose On-Off mechanisms are degraded by the release of pleasure hormones in the brain’s hedonic system, he says"

Read the whole article from the Express here if you are interested 


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Vanilla Spice Latte Cupcakes


Every new year, I'm sure, as many of you do, I make a mini resolution not to drink so many coffee house coffees. Not that my habit is that huge, maybe one or two skinny lattes a week. The past few years, this mini resolution has been scuppered by a certain, well known, international coffee house bringing out their vanilla spice lattes. This latte is flavoured with cardamom which is by far my favourite spice (well, today's favourite at least) and I find them completely irresistible. Each year , I intend to make a cupcake version of this velvety drink and this year, I actually managed it and today, I am going to share my recipe with you.


These Vanilla Spice Latte cupcakes are coffee and cardamom flavour cupcakes topped with a generous swirl of vanilla buttercream.

Cardamom is the mystery spice that makes the vanilla spice latte one of the lushest things you have ever tasted, it is often used in curries and if when eating a curry you have found your mouth suddenly filled with fragrant bliss, then the humble looking cardamom pod is most probably the cause.


These cupcakes are made using a crumb cake method, if you haven't made a cake or cupcakes like this before, it might require a bit of a leap of faith for you to have a go, believe me it will be worth it, this method of making the cupcakes, makes it less likely that you will overwork the gluten in the flour resulting in a lovely light soft textured cupcake. It also uses a lot less fat than the more conventional creaming method and this could really work in your favour if you have been suffering with the dreaded peeling cupcake wrappers.

Recipe

Ingredients

Double shot of espresso or strong instant coffee powder
10 cardamom pods to give about 1 teaspoon ground or crushed cardamom
120g plain / all purpose flour
140g caster / superfine sugar
40g margarine or butter
1 and a half teaspoons of baking powder
1 egg
About 100ml double cream or milk

Pre heat the over to 170 F / 325 C

Method

Start by making or buying a double espresso coffee. If you can't get this then mix at least three teaspoons of strong instant coffee powder with enough boiling water to dissolve it.



Next put the 10 or so cardamom pods into a pestle and mortar, crush lightly to separate the husks from the seeds and then remove the green husks. The husks are edible, so it is OK if some bits get left behind.


Now grind up the black seeds, to release that lovely aroma.


To make the cupcakes, start by putting the 120g flour, 140g sugar and 1 and a half teaspoons of baking powder with the 40g margarine or butter into your mixer with the K beater and mix on a low to medium speed until the mixture become sandy.



Now put one egg into your well used, scratched up and indispensable measuring jug, preferably pyrex. If you don't have an old beaten up one, a new and shiny one will do the job, but, of course your cupcakes won't taste quite so good ;o).


You will probably find that your egg measures about 50ml and this is perfect if it does. If it is more or less, it doesn't really matter either. Add your coffee infused with the cardamom seeds into the measuring jug and then top up with enough double cream to bring the total amount of egg, coffee, cardamom and cream to 170ml. I use double cream to give the cupcakes that milky latte flavour, but, if you haven't got it, or don't want to use it, substitute whatever milk or cream you have to hand. Give your liquids a good mix together with a fork and take a good sniff and you'll be immediately transported to your favourite coffee house.


Set your mixer going on slow speed and start to pour your liquid onto the edge of the crumby mixer to to incorporate. As soon as the mixture turns from dry crumbs to something that looks wet, stop pouring and turn up the mixer for a minute or so, until you have a smooth batter. Turn your mixer to slow again and add the rest of the liquid.


You should end up with a lovely smooth and glossy divine smelling batter. Fill your cupcake cases half to two thirds full and then bake at 170 F 325 C for 20 to 25 minutes.


This batch made nine medium sized cupcakes for me.

Buttercream

Buttercream is traditionally half butter and half icing sugar. I find this a little soft so use 250g butter and 350g icing sugar. It is a good idea to start with equal amounts of icing sugar (confectioners sugar) and butter (never margarine) and experiment a bit, till you find what works for you. I added a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to add the vanilla flavour.

These swirls are piped with the legendary Wilton 1M nozzle (tip). I went around four or five times to give these lots of height and be reminiscent of that swirl of whipped cream on top of your latte.


Obviously, lovely as a buttercream swirl is, I couldn't leave them like this, could I? More soon .....



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Sunday, 9 February 2014

Valentine Bling Chocolate Brownies


I recently showed you these sophisticated black lace chocolate brownies that I made, today we have some more glamorous brownies, with a little more bling. Maybe quite a lot more bling? I am loving the look of these! I think they would look great as a cupcake too. 



These brownies are baked in a lovely little heart shaped pan using my favourite traditional brownie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. You can also find the recipe here. The decoration uses a quilted effect on the palest peachy pink fondant which is then bling-ed up with gold pearls and gold painted hearts.



Baking the Brownies

These brownies start off with this lovely little tin from Wilton, when using it, I find it best to fill it a little over half full, so that the brownies rise above the tin and then you can trim them neatly down to size.


One tray of lovely fudge baked chocolate-y-ness, you can see how they have risen up and over topped their tins.



Its best to let these cool, till properly cold in their tins, as if you try and pop them out before, they are likely to break into little pieces. When completely cool and popped out, you can trim off the excess to these dinky little hearts. The lovely thing about this tin, is the domed shape it gives to the top of the brownie.


The Decoration

I used this lovely heart mould from sunflower sugar art to make the moulds and picked my three favourites to use on these brownies. They look lovely as they are, but even lovelier when painted to bring out the details.


I made the gold paint for these my mixing gold lustre dust with a little clear alcohol. What a difference a little lustre makes?


I achieve the quilted effect using this simple but effective quilting embosser from patchwork cutters.


This gives such a beautiful quilted effect, so sumptuous.


Then simply lift the fondant over one of those dinky little brownies, trim off the excess and add some gold pearls and one of the little decorated hearts.


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