15 August 2013

"The Lord of the Rushie River" Birthday Cupcakes

One of my favourite childhood memories is of lazy holiday afternoons spent lying in bed, listening to the stories from Marshall Cavendish's StoryTeller series from the 80s. One of these was "The Lord of the Rushie River" by Mary Cicely Barker (creator of the"Flower Fairies").  Denise Bryer's sensitive narration of this poignant story truly draws out the beauty of this tale of the friendship between a lonely little girl and a river swan.  It is hard to put in words, the mixture of these feelings of sweet nostalgia and deep joy in being able to share these stories with my children, and the delight of reliving my own childhood wonder as I see them being enjoyed by mine as they used to by me. Over these stories of imaginary lands and people and tales of far-away countrysides and places, I feel I have forged a closer bond with my children, if that is even possible. 

How precious -  this legacy of beloved childhood tales being passed from one generation to the next. And reflecting on this, it seemed only natural to draw on our shared love for this touching English tale, as inspiration for Sugababe 1's 8th birthday. 

As far as themed birthday cakes go, this was fairly easy to pull off as we already had a swan-themed cupcake tree, cupcake liners and toppers. (A real relief, as I have no idea how one would go about making fondant swans). Fragrant orange baby cakes iced with an orange drizzle frosting were baked in English Rose patterned liners, and topped with a variety of edible flowers to evoke the wild English countryside. And to complete the look - a beautiful illustration of Susan and her dear swan displayed in an old Pottery Barn frame bought during my honeymoon. 

The best part of our display, however, would have to be the second-hand, 1976 edition of The Lord of the Rushie River - a surprise gift for her that I had scoured the net too long for, and ordered too late, but which still managed to arrive the day before just in time for her birthday celebration.  Its pristine pages (not a single yellow spot!) and impeccably timed delivery left me in no doubt that this was God's present to her too. 

There was magic this afternoon, watching my 8 year old's wide-eyed wonder as she took in the flower-strewn cupcakes ("Are these really edible Mummy?") and hearing her happy exclamation when she saw the framed illustration. She flitted admiringly from one side of the display to another in her sequinned dress, and I found myself wondering for the umpteenth time this week, how is it possible that she had grown so fast? I still remember her first day, her birth day (she lights up with joy whenever I retell this), the day I became a mother for a first time, how in love I was, how overjoyed. How I did not sleep for the entire first night despite the exhaustion of childbirth, because I could not believe that this, this beautiful baby, was mine. And now she is 8? I blink, still myself to capture her in this moment ... in the soft morning sunlight ... but like glints of light on a rushing river these moments flow through the fingers of my mind.  

Happy birthday, my 8 year old, and don't you grow up too fast. 

Recipe for Orange Cakes with Orange Drizzle Icing

For these regular sized cupcakes, I used a double recipe portion of Mini Paris Cupcakes from Epicurious, with 1 tablespoon of grated orange zest added after butter and sugar are creamed to fluffy consistency. Cupcakes are moist and tender, but care has to be taken to perform the creaming step properly for it to be at its best. For the orange drizzle icing, start with 175g of icing sugar mixed with 4 tsp of orange juice, add more icing sugar or juice as necessary for the icing to reach the desired consistency. The icing should be thick and spreadable or slowly pourable but not so runny that it would overflow the cupcakes.  

11 May 2013

Charlotte's Web Birthday Cake

Sugababe 2 was turning 6, and we were discussing what theme her birthday cake was going to have. As usual, I had my unspoken ideas about what kind of cake I wanted to make, and tried (I thought, cunningly) to steer the direction of the discussion in my favour. Basically, it was simple. I saw a picture a friend had posted on Facebook of piggies in a chocolate mud bath and wanted to do the same. The chocolate mud and kit kat bathtub slats kind of had me at hello.

But my daughter had other ideas. First, she wanted a Fibonacci birthday cake (thanks, but no thanks, Vi Hart).  Apart from the fact that that kind of cake crosses dangerously from geek to nerd territory, 6 is not a Fibonacci number, really. Next, she suggested a Flower Fairies cake (no way was I going to be able to make those figures ...).  Followed by a couple of other really impractical ideas. And then I slyly showed her the piggies ...

Me: OOOOHHHH look at those piggies they are SOOOOO cute!!!
Sugababe 2: Nope.
Me: C'mon, you're born in the year of the pig!
Sugababe 2: Nope!!!
Me: And I can, um, change it to like a CHARLOTTE'S WEB cake!! You like Charlotte's Web right??
Sugababe 2: But Wilbur was not in a chocolate bathtub!!!
Me: It's ok, I'll just add a spider! (More pestering on my part ensues ...."
Sugababe 2: (grudgingly) OKAAAY ....

I must admit I was kind of elated at having won her over to MY way. I could do the cake I liked and just plaster a spider web somewhere. Until ...

Husband: Have you read Charlotte's Web?  Wilbur wasn't in a mud bathtub!
Me: Noo ... I haven't but but but ... I am SURE he was kind of like in the mud??
Husband: I'm just saying it's strange.
Me: (Whine) Are you saying it's not going to look nice???
Husband: You know, I'm just saying it's a cute cake but it's not a Charlotte's Web cake. And how ARE you going to suspend the spider web? On the side of the wooden bath? Isn't that going to look odd?

He got me of course. Over the next couple of days I conceded that I had to do a proper true-to-the-story Charlotte's Web cake. It really didn't help that, not only did Sugababe 2 want a spider web, she wanted it to say "Some Pig", like in the story.

I had some rough idea of how I was going to construct the farm - green coconut grass, a biscuit barn house, fondant carrots in a cocoa-powder garden patch, pretzel sticks for the wooden fencing, and a fondant Wilbur.

But the spider web really had me stumped. What could I use to make a spider web that could suspend from the barn house? I tried making a fondant spider web which literally fell apart once I held it up. Piped white chocolate would be too thick and might also not hold up well.

It was past midnight before the day of the party, the cake was all done up, all except the dreaded spider web. We went through options like tying a thread spider web, cutting a paper web, etc. Until it hit me that we could just draw in the spider web with a white marker on a transparent sheet to give the illusion of a hanging spider web.

So voila! With that, I completed one of my most challenging cakes to date. The result was a 4 layered dark chocolate cake (made with the perfect birthday cake recipe, which my husband was most pleased to see me return to after my brief affair with another chocolate cake recipe), with alternating chocolate ganache and strawberry cream filling, painstakingly decorated with sufficient details and accuracy such as to leave no room for doubt that this was supposed to be a Charlotte's Web cake and not just a piggy cake. And just in case anyone needed some help in coming to that conclusion, I also constructed a huge banner with the words "Charlotte's Web".

A Herculean baking effort for a little girl's birthday. But then again, she is not just any girl, but SOME GIRL, to be sure.

Happy birthday my very special 6 year old.

28 April 2013

Lollipops & Ruffles

My Sugahbabe 3 turns 2!  She specifically requested for a yellow cake (as in a yellow-coloured cake - not a butter cake) with lollipops on top.

Frankly I was not too inspired by the little one's requests. I mean, YELLOW? And Lollies? For one, yellow is not a great colour for
cakes. Or clothes, or furniture. Or basically anything else for that matter. In my books at least. And then, lollipops?  How cliched could you get for a kids' cake? Being the good mother that I was, I showed her lots of pictures of OTHER cakes which I though were more interesting, to cunningly steer her into choices that would perhaps be more exciting and challenging for me to execute. But nope, she would have none of it.  Yellow it had to be. With swirly lollipops (she pointed to the picture on the iPad browser to make sure I got her point).  The only change she made was to specify that it also had to have many other colours, like "green" and "pink", but it had to be a YELLOW cake. Great, now I had to do a gaudy, multi-coloured cake? Then again, what was a Mamma to do but deliver?

Once I got over the initial disappointment of having to work with a colour I wasn't crazy about and a cake theme that was not really a theme, I started to plan. Along the way I found a way to make it interesting for myself by exploring how I could turn her birthday cake into a ruffle-ly one. In the end, I settled for these pretty and unique ruffles piped from buttercream (no fondant please!). Sugahbabe actually has a baby swimsuit that has ruffles just like these and in the same colours too.  

The birthday cake base is taken from a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum for a chocolate layer cake.
Four layers of chocolate cake interspersed with strawberry buttercream (inspired by Sweetapolita - such an awesome blog!) with outer layers frosted and piped with plain vanilla buttercream.   My decision to use a RLB recipe for the chocolate cake was a departure from my usual preference for a chocolate buttermilk cake base.  I have to say that the chocolate buttermilk cake is a superior cake in every way - in terms of flavour, crumb and moistness.  I found RLB's cake too crumbly and not sufficiently moist and springy.  On the other hand, what it has going for it is a good fudgey flavour and (what made me try it in the first place) the fact that it really is very easy to make. For those who are inclined to try RLB's recipe, I would just say that ensuring that the cake is thawed completely before serving makes a world of difference.  If it is just the slightest bit cold, it tends to be very brittle, dry and crumbly. At room temperature the texture improves dramatically and if you don't mind buttercream that is a bit runny, microwaving it just a little bit improves it even more.

Finally, lollipops were fashioned out of fondant, as that would ensure I could colour them to match the buttercream. The little one got her wish after all! Yellow cake with lollies. But kids are hard to please. 2 days later, she is now asking me to make another BIG cake.  I have to find a way to make her 2 year old mind understand this is a once in a year affair.

25 February 2013

Caramel Drenched Date & Rum Cake

Haven't found much time to bake these days what with a very active toddler and my decision to homeschool my middle child this year. The hubs has been looking longingly at this brown beauty on my Donna Hay magazine for the longest time so I decided to surprise him one day. It's a phenomenal cake. The combination of Medjool dates, raisins, prunes and a generous pouring of rum results in a soft and moist cake with rich rum and toffee notes. Since the ingredients (Medjool dates, rum, brown sugar, etc) are all known for their subtle caramel or toffee flavours, eating this cake is like tasting 4 different variations of toffee in one bite. The salted caramel sauce just takes it over the top. 

Within a few hours after my greedy family polished off this cake, my eldest daughter was asking for me to make another. While I do love Rachel Allen's Sticky Date Pudding with black tea ... this recipe might just have sent it into permanent retirement! 

Recipe for Rum and Date Cake with Caramel Sauce
(Donna Hay issue #62)

1 1/2 cups (210 grams) dates, chopped
1/2 cup (90 grams) prunes, chopped

1/2 cup (75 grams) raisins
3/4 cup (180 ml) boiling water
1/2 cup (125 ml) rum
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
1 1/2 cups (225 grams) self-rising flour**, sifted
1 1/3 cups (235 grams) brown sugar
225 grams butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 eggs
Caramel sauce:
100 grams butter
3/4 cup (135 grams) brown sugar
1/2 cup (175 grams) golden syrup***
1 cup (250 ml) single cream
1/4 cup (60 ml) rum
- Place the dates, prunes, raisins, boiling water, rum, and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and leave for about 10 minutes. Process the mixture until smooth. Set aside.
- Place the flour and sugar in a bowl and mix to combine. To this add the butter, vanilla, eggs, and the date/rum mixture. Mix well to combine.
- Pour the batter into a well greased bundt pan (3.5 liter capacity) and bake in a pre-heated 160C (325F) oven for 55-60 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- While your cake is baking you can make the caramel sauce. Place the butter, sugar, syrup, cream, and rum in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until thickened.
- Allow both the cake and sauce to cool completely before pouring the sauce over the cake. 


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