Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Pinata Cake

Want an easy yet impressive birthday cake? This is the one for you.

I made this for my roommate who turned 20 yesterday. I am aware that it is decorated kind of like a kid's cake but we're all struggling with the fact that we are now expected to be pretty much adults all the time and so I figured a bit of peanut butter and messy frosting and M&Ms would help us all forget that Von is the first of us three roommates to hit this milestone (the rest of my friends are already 20 or will be within the next month).

This cake also helped me deal with finishing Arrested Development (has anyone else seen season four yet?).

This is a deceptively easy cake to make. It does not require extraordinary time or effort to make. It is easily adaptable to your favourite cake and frosting recipe, which means you can eat a cake you know you will love and enjoy the look of surprise on someones face when they cut into the cake and realise it is a pinata. It's really a lot of fun.

What you will need:

Cake mix / your favourite cake recipe - you need to make two cakes, so whatever cake mix or recipe you chose, make sure you can get two cakes out of it. I used Annie's Eats Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake recipe and baked it in two 10 inch tins. The choice of tin is up to you - a more rounded cake tin would work better in this instance, but regular shaped tins also work well. Additionally, make sure that whatever recipe you chose, the cake is rich - a light and fluffy cake will fall apart when sticking the two cakes together - you need a 'strong' cake, for lack of a better word.

Frosting - again, you need a decent amount of frosting, so make sure whatever recipe you chose (I would chose a thick buttercream-style recipe) it can cover two cakes - either double the recipe or use a recipe designed for layer cakes. You may have some leftover. I used the amazing peanut butter frosting from the recipe above. My advice would even be to use the recipe above - the cake held up well and was deliciously rich, while the frosting was sweet and stuck nicely to the cake. I also love the chocolate and peanut butter combination and would definitely recommend trying it.

Chocolate and candy for the inside of the cake and for decorations

What to do:

Bake the cakes. Do as recipe says. Allow to cool completely before moving on to the next step.

Cut a large circle out of the top of one cake. Using a spoon, scoop out the cake inside that circle, being careful not to cut through to the bottom or sides of the cake. Therefore you should be left with one cake completely in tact and the other with a large hole in.

Fill the hole with chocolate and candy - whatever you choose. I filled mine with a variety of M&Ms.

Make the frosting as per the recipe. Frost the top of the cake with the hole first. By this, I mean simply frost the outer layer of the hole. Next, frost the top of the other cake.

Very carefully flip the in tact cake upside down, so that the frosted top of the cake is facing the floor. Carefully place this cake on top of the hole cap, effectively sealing the candy in between the two cakes.

Using the remaining frosting, frost the rest of the cake, doing both the top and sides of the cake. This will ensure that candy is trapped in the cake and no one will know it is a secret layer cake.

Finally, using whatever you chose, decorate the outside of the cake. I used smarties (found in Australia and prettier than M&Ms) and some sprinkles. You use what you chose.

Place in fridge until ready to serve. Take out a few minutes before serving so the inside candy is not cold but not until the frosting starts to melt. When you cut into the cake, the candy trapped in between the two layers will fall out, like a pinata.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Maple Cheesecake Brownies

I know I've missed a few posts these last two weeks and I should say I have been studying because I have a week left of uni for the semester, but I haven't. I've been watching tv.

In good news though, I have one week left of this semester, followed by a week long internship at the Courier Mail (QLD's state newspaper where I will hopefully get to write some stories, so look out fellow QLDers) and then I'm going home to see the family for six weeks. It's going to be great.

I cannot believe I have not posted the recipe for these brownies yet. I really want to do them justice and tell you all about how wonderful they are, but as it is getting late and I have plans tonight, this will be short and sweet.

They are wonderful. I truly mean that. I made these a few weeks ago and I've been craving them since.

They are super rich, dense and incredibly fudgy. They practically melt in your mouth. The richness of the brownies contrasts with the tang and tart of the cheesecake - it's an amazing combination.

If you give these a go one day, you will not regret it.

Makes 12-16 brownies.

For brownies:
150 g dark chocolate
½ cup butter
1 cup maple syrup
½ cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda

For cheesecake:
200 g cream cheese
½ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla essence

What to do:

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius and grease a regular sized brownie pan.

Melt chocolate, butter and maple syrup together. You can simply do it in the microwave in a large, heatproof bowl if you want.

Add the brown sugar, whisking it in to the liquids.

Add the eggs and vanilla into the same bowl, at once, whisking some more.

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda into the bowl together and stir together with a spatula. Stir very well, making sure to get rid of most of the lumps.

Now make the cheesecake mixture. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine the four ingredients and beat together with a stand or handheld mixer until light and fluffy. The mixture should be white and light.

To assemble the brownies, place half of the brownie mix in the prepared pan. Place dollops of the cream cheese mixture on top and then cover the mixture with the remaining brownie batter. Try to cover the cream cheese as best as possible. Again, dollop the second half of the cream cheese mixture on top. Using a knife or skewer, swirl the mixture around the top of the brownie to create a pattern.

Bake for 40-50 mins. Mine was in the oven for approximately 41 mins. When a skewer inserted into the edge of the brownies comes out clean and when inserted into the middle of the brownie has moist crumbs stuck to, the brownies are done.

Cool in pan for a few minutes. Place in refrigerator until chilled. These are best served cold. This will take at least three hours. You also need the rather soft cream cheese mixture to set before cutting, otherwise the brownies will split. Make sure the brownies are cold when you cut them!

Eat and enjoy.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Around The Web 3.0

In this week's around the web there is probably going to be a lot of TV talk, given that last week saw the cancellation of some brilliant shows and the renewal of some awful ones.

Firstly, I am upset Smash has been cancelled. Maybe I love it because I love musicals in general, but I love the show and am devastated that there are only two eps left for good. However, this list is pretty spot on. And if you want to see some cool choreography, this song from Smash's fictional musical 'Hit List' is fantastic. P.S. That death was devastating.

I watched The Following last week. Um, yes, all of it. And it was AMAZING. Except for a couple of nights now my dreams have been haunted by groups of serial killers trying to kill me. Of course, if they looked anything like the serial killers in The Following, it wouldn't be so bad.

Oh, Disney villains were given a makeover last week. This is Ursula (from the Little Mermaid) and Jafar (from Aladdin). Is this even possible?

Did you guys ever play the Sims? If so, I advise you to read this list of the 29 Weirdest Things to Happen When Playing the Sims (2). I will forever laugh at number 13.

I also found the cover of the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair. Literally every single idol of mine from when I was like 10 are on this cover. I say literally because my idols were Mary-Kate and Ashley, Hilary Duff, Lindsey Lohan and Amanda Byrnes. 

I did Pilates yesterday for the first time in weeks. I can barely walk today. Elijah Wood explains it best.

And finally, this picture of the Doctor and his companions is just creepy. Especially given Matt Smith and David Tennant kissed all of their companions.

And speaking of Doctor Who, I am desperately trying to avoid ANYTHING related to it this week because thanks to BBC America, the final episode of the season (UM, THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR) was leaked. Spoilers everywhere!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

New York Times Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Did anyone else absolutely love Archie comics when they were younger? (Ok, so I still read them).

If you haven't read any Archie comics, then you are missing out. They are comics about a group of friends who live in Riverdale (in America). They began in the 40s/50s and while the comics have adapted to modern day life, they still maintain a sense of that era - the teenagers in the comics frequent Pop's Chocklit Shoppe and have very 50s-esque values and relationships.

Riverdale, while fictional, was originally a town in Massachusetts but the location of the fictional town is 'what the reader chooses it to be'. I think it's in New York state. I loved the comics because they were reminiscent of not only another time, but of a country I had never been to (though I have now). The way the teenagers lived their lives was very different to how I grew up and it is a very American way of life (especially a very 50s way of life). It's hard to explain to people who grew up in America how different it is. When I was in America at the beginning of the year and I was staying with my friend's family, I feel like I really saw how different American and Australian teenagers are.

That aside, I still love these comics because they remind me of something I have never experienced. One of the main plots is the love triangle between innocent Betty Cooper, vixen Veronica Lodge and Archie Andrews (who, lets be honest, is a player). Betty is well known for her cooking, and especially for her amazing chocolate chip cookies. It's one of the only advantages she has when competing for Archie's attention.

The New York Times Best Chocolate Chip Cookies taste like what I think Betty's superb and man-attracting cookies would taste like.

I'm sure you've seen the recipe for these cookies floating around the internet. I decided to have a go at them last week and I'm pretty happy with the result. In general, I am not a lover of cookies, especially chocolate chip ones (not enough chocolate for me). However, these ones were definitely some of the best, if not the best, cookies I have ever tried. My roommates, who do actually eat chocolate chip biscuits, also said they were amazing. Marnie definitely agreed that these cookies are the best ones ever. These biscuits were gone within three days.

Before I post the recipe, I want to make a few notes on what I did with these biscuits. The recipe calls for a chilling time of 24+ hours. I chilled my dough for just over 24 hours, but it still worked perfectly. The recipe also makes 18 12cm (5 inch) biscuits. I wanted smaller biscuits, so I would up making 36 regular sized biscuits (using 1 tbsp of dough per biscuit). This meant a smaller cooking time of approximately 10 minutes. My advice would be to consistently check the biscuits - take them out when they are soft and only slightly golden in colour. They will still harden after taking them out of the oven and you don't want them to be too hard.

Recipe from: New York Times - Jacques Torres. I took the recipe with minimal changes, straight from their website.

What you need:

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt.

What to do:
Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 180 Celsius). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

Scoop at least 1 tbsp of dough (the size of a generous golf ball) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat for remaining dough, baking in batches if necessary.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

My Note: If you are Australian, you can do what I did and simply use Nestle chocolate melts (they're rather big oval shaped chocolates and work well for this recipe). I actually used a mix of melts and chocolate chips because I did not have enough melts.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Around the web 2.0

Things I've found this week (they are either interesting or funny or I just wanted to talk about them):

The Following. I know I'm late to the game, but wow. This show is all kinds of amazing. These three guys are just incredible. I mean, Kevin Bacon is always good, but these three are brilliant.
This article on Disney characters turned into modern day university students is amazing. My favourite two are Eric (The Little Mermaid) and Jim (Treasure Planet). Do you guys remember Treasure Planet? That was a brilliant movie.

Doctor Who is almost over for another season. Hasn't been the greatest season so far. But I am looking forward to the 50th anniversary. That's going to be amazing.
An oldie but a goodie - the greatest Harry Potter pick-up line yet.
This picture of the Big Four is fantastic. Djokovic looks like he is having the time of his life and Murray just looks a bit confused.

This is how I feel. Like, all the time. My friends need to read more.

And finally, Joss Whedon is fantastic.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Cauldron Cakes [Harry Potter]

Did you guys know that today (May 2nd, 2013) is the 15th anniversary of Voldermort's death? You know, if Voldermort was real.

That's ok, I figured you wouldn't know that. This also means it is the anniversary of the end of the 2nd Wizarding War. You know, isn't in nice that Voldermort waited to die at the end of the school year, so Harry could have holidays before going back to his final year at Hogwarts. He wasn't so bad after all - he always attacked Harry at the end of the school year, but before exams, so Harry only sat like three exams his entire high school life.

For those who don't know, I am a massive Harry Potter fan. I actually think it would be impossible to be my friend and not know this. I am definitely one of those obsessive fans. I have an insane collection of Harry Potter stuff, the picture below is just some of it. And yes, my books are pretty ruined. They have been read a lot.

I am sorry for the insane amount of pictures in this post, but I had to put them in. These cauldron cakes are just so gorgeous. I had an absolute blast making these. I was inspired to make them as I recently reread the series. Harry and Ron first shared cauldron cakes in the Philosophers Stone on their way to Hogwarts, and it became a ritual for the two of them to eat them every year on the train to Hogwarts.

I really wanted to make these as my first Harry Potter related treat because they were something Harry and Ron shared, and it helped them to become friends. Their friendship has to be one of the most enduring and amazing friendships in modern time, and I wanted to make these to memorialize it.

For those of you who have only seen the movies - Hermione WAS NOT Harry's best friend. Ron was. They took that away from him in the movies. Read the books and you'll know that Ron was way cooler than in the movies (poor Rupert Grint). Sorry to those who are aware of this, but it is a pet hate of mine when people say Hermione was Harry's best friend, or worse, that Hermione and Harry should have gotten together (blasphemous!).

I got the idea for these cauldron cakes from the books themselves and from the cakes sold at the Wizarding World in Florida, which I have yet to go to and cannot wait to go to. I actually wanted to take a year off between high school and uni and work there. I am that crazy about Harry Potter.

The recipe is actually incredibly simple. And I have, somewhat, step-by-step pictures so it is easy to follow along. These guys are amazing - delicious, relatively easy and gorgeous to boot. I would definitely have these at a Harry themed party (hint hint, my friends) or just any day of the week.

Makes 12 cakes

What you need:

One chocolate cupcake recipe – you need a decent, rich, thick cupcake recipe. While fluffy cupcakes are nice, you need a thick base for these cakes. I used this Martha Stewart recipe, but you could use your favourite recipe or a box mix.

Cauldron Bottoms:
1 cup milk chocolate melts / chopped milk chocolate
4 tbsp butter
36 (1/3 cup) chocolate chips (milk or dark, your choice)

¾ cup of caramel from a tin (I used Nestle Top’n’Fill caramel)

Buttercream icing:
100 gram butter, make sure you soften it to room temp first
200 gram icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cocoa
1 tbsp milk

1 cup chocolate melts/chocolate (your choice as to type of chocolate – I went for dark/bittersweet)

Beads, sprinkles, other edible decorations to place in centre of cauldron as if it were filled with ingredients.

What to do – how to assemble cauldrons:

Makes the cakes however you chose (see above). Allow to cool completely.

Turn cupcakes over so the bottom is facing up. Using a knife, cut holes into each cupcakes – make sure the holes are relatively big and deep.

Turn cupcakes back so they are standing the normal way.

Make the chocolate glaze for the cauldron bottoms by melting the chocolate and butter over low heat until thick and well combined. Allow to cool slightly off heat so it thickens slightly. Then, dip the top of each cupcake into the glaze. 

Once all the cupcakes’ tops have been covered in glaze, place three chocolate chips on each cupcake, making the shape of a triangle. These chips act as the cauldron bottom’s feet.

Place the cupcakes in the fridge and allow the glaze to set completely.

Once the glaze has set, turn the cupcakes back around, so they are sitting on their cauldron bottoms.

Using a spoon, place caramel into each of the holes in the cupcakes, making sure the caramel piles up on top of the cupcake. As the buttercream will be going around the outside of the caramel on the leftover cupcake top, you want to caramel to pile high above the buttercream.

Once each cupcake hole has been filled, place cupcakes in fridge while you make the buttercream. Simply combine all of the buttercream ingredients together and cream with a mixer until smooth. The mixture should be a light brown, very smooth and creamy. 

Using a flat knife, gently frost the remaining top of the cupcakes with the buttercream. The buttercream should simply make a circle around the caramel filling, with the caramel piled above the buttercream. Then, sprinkle whatever decorations you please over the caramel. I used a variety.

Place the cupcakes in the fridge for another few minutes while you prepare the cauldron handles.

Place a flat tray in the freezer for no longer than five minutes. When removed, cover in wax paper and lightly coat the wax paper in oil spray. Melt the chocolate melts together and place into a piping bag. If you don’t have a piping bag, place the chocolate into a sandwich bag and squeeze the chocolate into one corner. Cut off one end of the bag and pipe the chocolate out that way.

Before you pipe out the handles, measure the distance you need between each handle (I need a 4- 4 ½ cm distance between each side of the handle. Using a rule, measure out the correct handle width and then pipe out the handles on the cold wax paper. Simply make a U-shape in the necessary width with the melted chocolate.

Using a cold tray helps the handles to set faster.

Place the handles in the fridge to set. Once set, remove both the handles and the cupcakes. It won’t take too long. The buttercream should be slightly set by now.

To complete the assembly, gently pry the handles from the wax paper and place into cupcakes. As you will be placing the handles into buttercream and then into the cupcake itself, to make the handles stay in place, make indents into the buttercream and cupcake with a knife. Place the handle into the small indent you made with the knife. It will help to keep the handles up straight.

Once the handles are in, return the cupcakes to the fridge to set once more. Again, this will not take long.

Serve the cupcakes cold and store in refrigerator.