Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brownies? Or blondies?

A year or so ago, a bunch of curators gathered for a brownie baking masterclass. And no, I wasn't the one supplying the brownies or doing the baking. That fell to Leah. Leah's an awesome baker, and makes her own chocolate truffles as well as her own line of spiffy accessories, Dressed for Sunday.

Anyway, one of the recipes she provided was for white chocolate brownies. And I decided, one year on, that it was about time I made them! Leah calls them brownies, but considering the lack of cocoa powder or dark chocolate, I think they're technically blondies. But when they taste as good as they do, who really cares what they're called!!

Right, let's get baking. Here's what you'll need:

Yes, that really is THREE blocks of white chocolate... Start by greasing and lining a baking tin, and preheating the oven to 180 degrees.

Dump 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a mixing bowl. It doesn't need to be a particularly large bowl, something I would have realised if I'd read more than just the ingredients list before starting!!

Sift 1.5 cups of plain flour in with the salt.

Then set the flour/salt mixture to one side.

Put three large, room temperature eggs into a mixing bowl. Now THIS time, you'll want to use a large bowl. Something I again would have realised if I'd read more than the ingredients...

Beat the eggs until frothy.

You'll need 3/4 cup of sugar, but the proportions of caster and brown sugars are up to you. The brown sugar gives them a fudgier (is that a word??) characteristic. So I used half brown sugar...

...and half caster sugar.

Beat the sugar into the eggs one tablespoon at a time.

Next, melt 3/4 cup of butter. I did weigh out how much it was, but now I can't for the life of me remember what it worked out to... I think it worked out to being just about the 3/4 cup line in the bowl in chopped chunks of butter.......

And chop up 1.5 cups of nuts. I used a combination of macadamias and cashews, but you can use whatever you like really!

And melt 300g of white chocolate. You can do it in the microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring in between. You don't want it to overheat, or it'll go completely feral and lumpy and you'll have to throw it out and start again:

Gently fold the melted chocolate and the melted butter into the sugar and egg mixture.

Then add 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla. Extract, not essence, obviously. Vanilla essence is the devil... If, however, you DO decide to use it, you'll need to use 3 teaspoons.

It may look a little curdled at this stage. According to Leah's recipe, this is normal and nothing to worry about.

Fold in the flour and salt mixture:
And stir gently until combined:

Finally, fold in the 1.5 cups of nuts, along with 210g of chopped white chocolate:

Mmmmm, lumpy goodness...

Pour into the prepared tin, and stick it in the oven. Leah's recipe says to cook them for 25 minutes, which will result in a slightly undercooked brownie/blondie. But mine were nowhere NEAR being slightly undercooked. They were just liquid. I ended up putting them in for 40 minutes, which resulted in the edge pieces being ever so slightly overcooked. So I'd go with around 35 minutes. Oh, and DON'T USE THE TOP TRAY OF THE OVEN! ;)

Cool in the tin, then cut into as many pieces as desired. I did 36, because that's what I do for my triple chocolate brownies and because I suck at cutting square things into five pieces. Six is much easier!! Check out how full of goodies they are! And no, those really white bits aren't feta cheese. That's the white chocolate. (Anyone else think they look like feta, or is it just me?????)

Mmmmmmmm, chunky...

Perfect little bite sized bits of deliciousness! I'm still torn over what to call them though...

They met with Leah's seal of approval, more or less. Five minutes less in the oven and putting them in the fridge before serving would have made them perfect! But I'll have to wait until next time to see how much of a difference that makes...

What do you think? Brownies? Or blondies???

K xx

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tricks for young players

Today was my little brother's 25th birthday. And when I rang him this morning to say happy birthday, he informed me of a rather surprising fact - he baked cookies! I'm fairly certain this was his first foray into baking, so I was more than a little impressed. Apparently what warranted this was that his work has a "If you don't bring some form of baked goods, we'll ignore your birthday" approach to things. And it seems that my "store-bought baked goods are a crime" theory has made some impact over the past 25 years!

We then proceeded to have a conversation that went approximately like this:

K: So are work giving you a cake?
C: Nah. We have to bring our own stuff.
K: Did you BUY something???
C: Nope. I made your cookies!
K: Seriously?? Which ones?
C: The usual ones.
K: The double chocolate chip ones from the kids' cookbook?
C: Yep, that's the ones!! They ended up a bit dry though...
K: That's strange. How much oil did you use?
C: I followed the recipe.
K: Hmm. Very odd. Wait - where did you put the oven tray??
C: Right at the top. Why?
K: *facepalm*

But then I started thinking about it some more. Baking with the tray on the top shelf of an oven is pretty much always a no-no. It's especially relevant with our oven in Melbourne which has griller functionality, so the heating element is located at the top of the oven. Meaning that the aforementioned cookies were placed right under the heating element...

But nowhere in recipes does it ever say that placing trays on the top shelf of the oven is a bad idea. It just says "Bake at 180 degrees for 20 minutes" or whatever. How are you supposed to know? Perhaps it's just supposed to be common sense. But when you're talking about someone who's baking for the first time - probably having only used the oven once or twice before - and they don't have someone there to TELL them not to use the top shelf of the oven, why is it assumed that they'll work it out? Especially when you're talking about a recipe from a kids' cookbook?? Okay, so in the case of a kids' cookbook, the expectation is probably that a parent will do the oven-related stuff. But that's totally not the point!!

So, here we have the warning I would have given my brother had I known he was braving the wonderful world of baking: unless the recipe specifies it (which I've yet to see), NEVER use the top shelf of the oven...

And yes, Cam - that applies even if there are other trays already on the shelves lower down.............. ;)

K xx

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Experiment 3, Part 2 - cake decorating

We've finally reached the last installment from my baking extravaganza of a week off work - cake decorating. After a fair bit of thought, I decided that I'd make cupcakes rather than a single cake - more possibilities for decorating techniques that way!

I may have gotten a wee bit carried away with the amount of cupcakes I made...

I decided that I'd try doing half of them with butter cream frosting, and half with dark chocolate ganache. I started with the butter cream frosting. Which contained strawberry flavouring and a good chunk of pink food colouring... But which was delicious, I might add!

I started out with the basics - an oddly grape shaped blackcurrant flavoured candy. Not particularly imaginative, but the raspberry candies I was planning on trying just made it look like a boob... And I just couldn't bring myself to leave it like that!

Next up, I tried making a marshmallow flower. Technically, I should have used an M&M or Smartie in the middle instead of a the white chocolate chip. But I forgot to buy them... It didn't turn out too badly, but I really don't think six petals works very well!

Then it was onto decorating with white chocolate chips. Again, not particularly imaginative, but I think it works.

Here we have some chocolate shavings, done with a vegetable peeler:

Then I figured I'd try the marshmallow technique again, this time with FIVE petals. It worked much better.

Here we have another basic one - some desiccated coconut.

Something slightly more original - some slices of Milky Way...

Then I broke out the piping bag. I started with the star tip. I did the stars around the edge and then decided it looked a bit bland. So I did the one in the middle. And then realised it was off-centre. Oh well...

A smiley face. I don't really know why. Probably I was running low on ideas by this point...

This was meant to be a heart. I think I still need to work on my piping skills...

Then it was onto the writing tip - this one was for Sara.

This was pretty much the most disastrous of the lot - although it looked better as time went on, weirdly. I have a set of stencils designed for use on coffee or cookies or whatever. I'm sure they're much easier to use if you have a small shaker of the cafe or coffee shop sort. But I only had a teaspoon, so it was somewhat thicker than it should have been... For the record, they're meant to be hearts...

This one started out okay, but then the tip clogged. And then I ran out of icing in the piping bag and had to refill it. So it wound up looking a little messy. But if things hadn't gone wrong, I think it would have been okay.

This one was for me. This tip really wasn't ideal for writing with in hindsight...

This was my favourite. It got piping overload. I think it looks like either a hedgehog or Dennis the Menace from the Beano. And I can tell you now, it was delicious... ;)

Mmmm, icing overload... I think an entire batch of these would be pretty cool. Although you'd need to make about three times more icing than usual!!

Then I decided to make some chocolate curls. The process is fairly simple - melt some dark chocolate, and spread it onto a flat surface. Ideally, it should be a marble slab. But I don't have one so I used the bottom of my square cake tin on the basis that it's not a non-stick tin - nothing worse than Teflon in your chocolate curls!! Then stick the tin in the freezer for 30 seconds or so, or however long it takes for the chocolate to mostly set.

I used a melon baller to make the chocolate curls. It worked pretty damned well, I have to say!

And that brings us to the end of the butter cream frosted cupcakes:

Then it was onto the chocolate ganache!

I started with the basics again - white chocolate chips.

The raspberry candy worked better on the ganache than on the butter cream...

This one got chocolate curl overload. And it, too, was delicious. I took most of the cupcakes to work with me, and everyone was too scared to eat this one, so I wound up with it...

Some nice slices of after dinner mint.

Some white chocolate shavings, again with the veggie peeler.

Some granulated peanuts.

Some random marshmallow decoration...

By this point, I was starting to run out of ideas, so dug through the freezer and found some frozen berries. After thawing some of the raspberries out, they made quite a nice decoration, I think!

Then I tried piping with white chocolate. This was much trickier than piping frosting. I didn't want to let the chocolate cool too much in case it decided to set into a solid blob in the piping bag. These were meant to be stars. As you can see, that didn't turn out so well... But I think it still worked okay. Just not as expected!

I was really running low on ideas by this time, and resorted to a dusting of icing sugar.

Another white chocolate piping disaster. I'd left the piping bag sitting for another couple of minutes in the hopes that it would get slightly more solid. It really didn't...

This one just got the one chocolate curl.

More playing with frozen berries - sliced strawberries this time. If I'd been more organised, I would have cut up another couple of strawberries and overlapped them somehow.

More unfortunate white chocolate piping...

I was *really* scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas by the time I pulled out the hundreds and thousands!!

Then I tried slicing the after dinner mints in a different way.

And finally, I tried topping off some piped white chocolate (again, rather unsuccessful) with a chocolate curl. This one turned out better than the others with white chocolate piping, that's for sure!

And that's the lot - thirty four cupcakes, all decorated differently!

I'm already looking forward to an excuse to make a full sized cake to try out some of the techniques on the large scale!!

And that's the end of my week of baking experimentation - three experiments, three success stories!
K xx :)
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