Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cake Chic vs Planet Cake


Above is a gorgeous little cake-tester that I got for my birthday this year. How cute! The name "cake tester" also perfectly describes me last week, as I furiously baked cakes for my friend George's bday on the weekend. After reviewing the super-pretty Cake Chic for The Gastronomer's Bookshelf I was inspired to try the cover recipe for Cherry Blossom Bites - small squares of vanilla Victoria sponge layered with vanilla syrup, jam and marzipan, dipped in pink fondant and decorated with sugar cherry-blossoms. I'm not normally a fondant-girl, but the pictures were so cute, and the book so inspiring that I just had to give it a go.

On Thursday night, I made the vanilla syrup...
... and baked the 20cm square Victoria sponge, brushing it with a little of the syrup.
On Friday after work, giving the sponge a good day to cool down and slightly dry out so it wouldn't crumble, I sliced the sponge into 3 lengthwise and brushed one layer with vanilla syrup. (At this stage I was getting alarmed at the sugar so didn't brush each layer as the book suggests.) I made a buttercream with equal amounts of butter and icing sugar, and spread it in between the layers, and on top. (Even though the recipe asks for a layer of marzipan on top, I know very few people apart from myself who actually like it!) I hot-knifed the top of the cake to make it nice and smooth - a tip I picked up from Planet Cake, actually - then wrapped up the whole thing well and popped it in the fridge.


Whilst cleaning up, I decided to try some of the cake offcuts and holy **** they were sweet! I mean, tooth-aching, migraine-inducing sweet. Even without the buttercream. I couldn't believe that we were meant to eat the layered cake dipped in fondant - total sugar overload! How feral. There's another recipe for miniature cakes in the book with THREE layers of buttercream plus ONE layer of marzipan, and I don't get how anyone could actually eat it. You can't really cut down on the sugar in the cake or buttercream because it would affect the cake's texture, and unlike rolled fondant, dipping fondant can't be peeled off easily when eating. I just don't get it. There was no way I was going to bring that cake to my friends. What a waste of time!

I couldn't very well rock up without a cake when I'd promised one - even though I'm sure George wouldn't have minded - so on Saturday afternoon I whipped up a half-quantity of the Planet Cake chocolate mud cake in a 20cm square tin. This was in the midst of frantically getting changed and applying make-up, haha. I let it cool for as long as I could (which was about 20 minutes in the fridge), and carefully sliced it into 16 squares. Ideally you'd let this sit overnight so it firms up a bit before slicing, but I did not have time. I used my sharpest knife and used a great deal of caution.

I then made some ganache...

...then, using a jug, I poured the ganache over each cake...

... and roughly spread them flat with an offset spatula. I then squished them into muffin papers and thence into a 9-inch cake box. Ta-dah!


Aah... much more my style. Simple-looking, delicious and just plain GOOD.

For the record, I still like the Cake Chic book, but more for its decorating tips, techniques and guidelines. It's obvious that the base recipes are way too sweet for my taste. For the moment I'm sticking to simple cakes without the excess fuss.

Thermos!

Hello everyone! Finally, some time to blog! I've been super-busy the past week or so, and unable to work on my beloved little blog. Fear not, dear readers, there are many posts coming up this week, and much cooking planned for the next few weeks. In the meantime, check out this awesome Thermos I bought!


Just last week I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant, eating dumplings and drinking a lot of tea, and thought I to myself, "I could really do with one of these funky silver thermos thingies at work". It would (theoretically) stop me from drinking so much coffee - hah! - and prevent me from having to get up all the time to make tea. (I do drink a lot of tea as well).

Later that week I was out shopping, and noticed that Target were having a 20%-off special on flasks and thermal mugs, and really thought I should buy one.

I ended up choosing this funky brown Thermos-brand thermos, because it looked super retro-cool. It ended up being about $30 - eek! I figured that a proper brand name thermos might last longer and be more reliable than an el-cheapo generic "travel mug". I hope. We'll see.

I must admit I was drawn in by the cute 1950's style label...

It reminded me of the Futurama episode where they (time)travel back to Roswell in the 50's, hehehe.

Ooh... shiny...


I've noticed that shops like Target often have hidden gems, that you'd expect to find at more expensive cookware stores. (I've seen Mario Batali-brand spatulas, teaspoons and chopping boards at another suburban bargain general store, but surprisingly at very few posh cookware stores). Keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Layout!

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to the new, improved layout of Sarah Cooks! I hope y'all like it. Big thanks to Sandra for her awesome web-design skills and massive efforts.

A few small changes:

Rather than having the labels in the sidebar, I've got them sitting just under the header, under the categories: authors, baking/sweets, restaurants, travel, cooking, entertaining, global and random. If you still can't find what you're looking for, then the Search Box in the sidebar will be helpful.

For interest, here's what the old layout looked like:


As you can see, the current header is just one giant choc-chip cookie. Blogpost to come soon! Mmm... cookies.

xox Sarah

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Puffed Apple Yorkshire Pudding


Quiet Monday night. A craving for a homey apple dessert. Ta-dah!

A year and a half ago, I made Bill Granger's puffed apple pancake from his book Holiday. (Blogged here). Not sure what went wrong with the recipe (or if the fault was on my end), but I was singularly unimpressed by it, finding it "bland and doughy". Blergh. However, the idea of a crisp, puffy dough baked with apples is a winning one, and I found myself making my own version of it last night.

I started by chopping up a couple of granny smiths, and cooking them in butter, vanilla sugar and half a scraped-out-vanilla pod (as I did with Nigella's Sweetheart Croutes). If you're planning on eating the finished product with maple syrup or honey, you could probably omit the sugar totally.

For the dough, I made a half-quantity of Nigella's batter for sweet Yorkshire pudding (and if you want to see a truly puffed-up baked pancake, then look no further than the time I made this pudding in March '06 - here!).

While the batter was resting and the apples were frying, I had the oiled pie-dish heating up in the 230C oven. When everything was ready, I tipped the apples into the sizzling-hot dish, and poured the batter over. (Tip - pour the batter from a jug to avoid messy spillage).


Then back into the oven it went for an agonizing 20 minutes. I love how when you make Yorkshire pudding, you can see the batter crispening up and rising, millimetre by millimetre.


Profile shot. Please notice my awesome coffee mugs in the background.

Immodest of me to say, I know, but the pudding was frikkin AWESOME! The batter had a tantalising contrast between crispy edges and doughy interior, and there were heaps of delicious, vanilla-flecked cooked apples throughout. It was easier to make than an apple crumble (no rubbing butter & flour between your fingers, just some lazy whisking required), and the generous amount of dough made it so much more comforting.

We had it with a thick dusting of icing sugar, but I think it would be perfect with a good quality vanilla ice-cream (Mövenpick for choice!). Just imagine the ice-cream melting oozily into the doughy parts of the batter. Yum..


It was a 20cm pie dish, and in ordinary circumstances, I'd say this pudding would feed 4. Last night, it only fed 2. Shhh...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Roadtrip!

View from The Verandah View Cafe

How lovely was the weather on Saturday? About 20 degrees and sunny, with only a gentle breeze during the day. (Those super-strong-almost-gale-force-winds came back at night, but the day was lovely!) I took advantage of the great weather to take an impromptu roadtrip up to the Dandenongs. It's only an hour away from Melbourne. (Or 30 minutes if you live in Zone 2 of the Eastern suburbs, heh.)

We went to Sky High Mt Dandenong tourist destination first, to look at the view of Melbourne and walk around the gardens, and then got peckish, so went to the town of Olinda. Pie in the Sky (best pie floater this side of Adelaide!) was tempting, but we were drawn into Immerse by the promise of a $16.95 chicken parma special, and the cute-looking produce store within. We went in, we were seated by a waiter, and given a menu. Then we waited... and waited... and waited...

... we tried in vain to get someone's attention, but they were either too busy or didn't see us. Other customers came in after us, got seated, and got drinks, but we got nothing. Oh well, after 25 minutes or so of waiting, we got up and left. No-one seemed to notice.

Across the street was The Ivy, which offered wood-fired pizza, a mozzarella bar, and reasonably prompt service!

The Ivy Cafe and Restaurant
540 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd
Olinda 3788
(03) 9751-2388
Website

Parmigiana melanzane - san marzano tomatoes, D.O.P buffalo mozzarella, chargrilled eggplant, parmesan and basil - $17.50

The eggplant pizza, or as I like to call it, "Sarah's favourite everything on a pizza". I could have done with a couple more slices of eggplant, but then again I absolutely adore eggplant. The base was a great mixture of crisp and billowing, and was covered in a delicious tomato sauce.

Porcino - Porcino mushrooms, mozzarella taleggio parmigiana reggiano and white truffle oil in bianco - $22.50

The mushrooms, although being button mushrooms, not "porcino mushrooms" as the menu stated, still had a deep mushroom-y flavour. We loved the crispy, inflated parts of the pizza covered in finely grated parmesan - rather like a cheese Shape biscuit, hehehe.


The Ivy on Urbanspoon

Following that we took a drive to the Mt. Dandenong lookout point, and grabbed a coffee at The Verandah View cafe, before making the (not-too-long) drive home.


The Verandah View Café

Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd (Directly opposite Mt. Dandenong Lookout Point)
Kalorama
9761 9902

Cappuccino - $3.30

What a lovely way to spend a lazy Saturday!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Kreativ Blogger Award

Hi Everyone!

Jenny from Panda & Cakes has awarded me with a "Kreativ Blogger Award", which I was very happy and surprised about! Yay! Thank-you very much Jenny!


Ok, as part of receiving this award, you have to list "7 things about yourself that people might find interesting". I've decided to list things that are both food and non-food related, to mix things up a bit.


1. I love musicals. If you've read my last post, you'll be thinking "duh" right about now. But it's not stage musicals that I mean. The ones I really love are the classic Hollywood film musicals - West Side Story and Singin' In The Rain are my favourites. I generally don't like modern ones (Moulin Rouge - blergh), but I unreservedly adore Dancer in the Dark. (However, this film is so incredibly depressing that I often forget it's a musical until I sit down and watch it).

2. I love The Simpsons, Family Guy and Futurama, and quote them endlessly (even at work when I should be concentrating... shhh!). When I quote The Simpsons, I put on a raspy Marge voice.

3. I enjoy economics and finance. (Promise you won't tell anyone!) I loved economics at school, hated it at uni, and like it again, now that I realise how relevant it is to daily life.

4. I adore pampering indulgences, including but not limited to: facials, massages, and hot spring baths. I would do this more if it weren't so expensive.

5. I am really into make-up, especially MAC, and different types of foundation (any brand). From memory I have at least 10 different foundations in varying brands, shades and formulations, and 3 foundation brushes.

6. I don't eat MacDonald's (just don't like the taste or the smell), but I love KFC.

7. I drink a lot of tea, only English Breakfast. I can't stand Earl Grey.


And here are the 7 bloggers I would like to pass this award onto...

1. Laura - Hungry and Frozen
2. Happy Home Baking
3. Cat - The Catty Life
4. Norm - It's The Norm
5. Su-Lin - Tamarind and Thyme
6. KY - KY Speaks
7. Stephanie - A Whisk and a Spoon


The Kreativ Blogger award comes with the following rules:
1. You must thank the person who has given you the award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link the person who has nominated you for the award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on which of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Wicked Supper


On Sunday night we went to see the final show in the Melbourne season of Wicked at the Regent Theatre. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I love, love, love Wicked. Including the final show, I've seen it 7 times. (The majority of viewings have been on cheap $30 lottery tickets, so it's not *such* an extravagant habit... right guys? Right??)

I know that I don't tend to write about non-food related topics here, so I'm sure you'll forgive me while I gush.

OMFG it was totally awesome!! We had fantastic seats, about a third of the way from the front, so we could still see all the performers' faces, but still view the stage as a whole (unlike when you get the $30 lottery front-row tickets - you're so close that the impact of the stage and effects can be diminished).

The crowd went nuts, with every major character getting huge cheers when they came on, and after every song (and during some songs too!). During For Good I could hear heaps of people around me sniffling and sobbing. Awww!

Apparently, Amanda Harrison (Elphaba) had been unwell for 2 and a half months, and unable to perform, only coming back for the final week. We happened to catch her performance on the Wednesday night during the final week (lottery tickets - yay!), and had no idea she'd even been ill. It was only after that night (but before the last show) that I did some internet research and realised what a Huge Deal it was for her to be back on stage and kicking ass. Gooooo Amanda! As for the final night, even though she was still recovering, Amanda totally nailed The Wizard and I. In her other two big songs, Defying Gravity and No Good Deed, she missed, like, half a note in each song, but still brought the house down with her performance. She's such an amazing performer. Having listened to the official Broadway soundtrack a million times, I've decided I like Amanda's voice even better than the original Idina Menzel (who also rocks).

Millsy is, well, Millsy, and his charm, good looks, and decent voice more than make up for his wooden acting and dancing. His persona also happens to be perfect for Fiyero so you kinda forget everything else, hehe. Lucy Durack is such a cute Glinda - the "ga" is silent - and you could see she was so excited and happy. I am so glad we got to see the final Melbourne show!

Well, all that standing and clapping and cheering sure does build up an appetite.

We were going to go to Caboose, but by the time we got there (about 9:45pm), we were informed that the kitchen was about to close, and we could eat, but we'd have to leave in half an hour. However, our waiter also let us know that 2 doors down was La Vita Buona wine bar (same owners, same kitchen), which was open til a bit later so we'd be able to relax and spend some proper time there.

La Vita Buona
7 City Square
Melbourne 3000
Ph: (03) 9654-7855

La Vita Buona lists itself as a cellar, bar and delicatessen.


I loved the atmosphere - all dark and cosy, with an indoor fireplace, and loads of wine bottles (on shelves, and empty ones for decoration). There are a few small tables on one side of the space, and a large communal table on the other side, which is where we sat.

When we sat down, our waiter informed us that there was a caviar special for the month of August, as it's La Vita Buona's 1st birthday. You get 25g of avruga caviar, with all the trimmings and a glass of Henriot champagne for $30. SOLD! I didn't know if this would be filling enough, so I also ordered the "marinated cheese with bread and crackers" to share.

Oooh... bubbles.

Asparagus risotto - $22

The risotto came out first, and our waiter informed us that the kitchen had "stuffed up" our order, and there would be a short wait on the caviar. It didn't bother me at all, but he was extremely apologetic and offered to deduct the champagne from the bill. Very generous! I literally only waited 5 minutes, and probably wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't said anything.

I'm told the risotto was full of fresh, crunchy asparagus, but did have a rather strong sour taste (not sure if this was un-evaporated wine or lots of lemon).

Marinated cheese with bread and crackers - $8

I'm not sure what type of cheese this was, but it was very tasty, in a garlicky oil with rosemary and peppercorns. It came with slices of good baguette, white (Turkish?) bread and oatcakes. Mmm.... oatcakes. Cheese for supper is not traditional - there's that old wives' tale that it gives you nightmares. I've read somewhere that a study has proven that it's false (funded by the Cheese people, no doubt), but I happened to have weird dreams that night, hahaha!

Now, the caviar.
Caviar plate! Clockwise from top - egg yolk, chopped shallots, chopped spring onions, capers, cornichons. Centre: 25g of avruga caviar. Bottom: 3 blini. $30 with a glass of Henriot champagne during August.

I don't know anything about caviar, or how to judge if it's good or not - beluga, avruga, whateva. Many years ago I read Jeffrey Steingarten's caviar article in It Must Have Been Something I Ate (a wonderful book), but found it so frightfully complicated that I was too intimidated to try eating any. Then of course, there's the price factor. This dish, however, was delicious! All the different tastes and textures - salty, rich, sharp, soft, crunchy. The blini were still warm, and very nice. I noticed that they were all a uniform size, possibly using a cookie cutter to cut them from a much larger blini. Ooh... now imagine that giant blini they'd have in the kitchen... I soooo want a giant blini.

To be truly Wicked, one must order a decadent dessert. We shared a vanilla Crème brûlée, which from memory was about $12, and beautiful!


The dish was rather large and deep, but the custard wasn't overly sweet or rich - I was very impressed.

La Vita Buona was a good find - despite being cosy and intimate, it's in an accessible location. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable about their wines, and overall the food was good, and very well priced.

La Vita Buona on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Saturday Night Baking: Taiyaki!!!!!!!!

One taiyaki.

I repeat: TAIYAKI!!!! I made my own taiyaki last night, having bought a funky pan on the internet. (I just did a search on Amazon.com, it was $AUD80 including shipping from the US).

Taiyaki is a super-delicious Japanese snack. It's made of a pancake-type dough filled with an pan (e.g. red bean paste) or other fillings, and cooked in a fish-shape mould. They're generally available in street stalls, and food courts, and at festivals. We had similar kaitenyaki (round shape) from a roadside vendor in Osaka whilst in Japan in '07, and fell in love with them!

Two taiyaki. Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun!

Taiyaki also feature prominently in my favourite anime, Azumanga-Daioh, when the impossibly cute Chiyo-chan takes a walk with the spacey Osaka-san during the cultural festival at their school. Because she is wearing her penguin costume, Chiyo can't eat the taiyaki herself, so Osaka-san has to feed her.

"Do you wanna start from the tail or the head?"

Kawaii~~~~i!

I haven't found taiyaki in Melbourne, and whilst I think you can get round kaitenyaki in packets at Japanese grocers, they're never quite as good as fresh ones straight from the pan. The ones here are also pretty much always red-bean filled, and whilst I love red-bean, certain people I know can't stand it, and have to have custard in their taiyaki.

Here is the pan.

The instruction on the box were in Korean, so unfortunately I could not read them. Googling recipes for taiyaki wasn't much help either, so in the end I just made my favourite waffle batter from The Roux Brothers on Patisserie. For fillings we had red bean (from a tin), and custard (a quick crème pâtissière I made).

Because I couldn't read the instructions, I brushed the mould with melted butter before cooking each one, but I then discovered that the mould is crazy-non-stick - no oil or butter required!


When I was halfway through cooking them, my Dad came home, and I had the brilliant idea of making kaya-filled ones for him and mum! Just like the kaya balls you can buy in foodhalls in Malaysia. Yum yum. For those of you who don't know, kaya is Malaysian coconut & egg jam, flavoured with pandan.

Kaya makes me proud to be Malaysian.


Kaya-filled... sedap, man!

Red-bean filled!

Custard filled. And yes, those are flecks of real vanilla - I still have a huge stash of cheap and fabulous vanilla beans that I am slowly working my way through.


And the next morning... we used the leftover dough to make waffles! I really liked the fluffy dough of the previous night's taiyaki, so I made some plain ones in the taiyaki pan too.

The breakfast of champions: waffles, taiyaki, red bean, creme patissiere and strawberries!

Interesting fact: strawberries + creme patissiere + crunchy waffles tastes like a French strawberry tart.

Ooh... fluffy.

I really, really liked the plain waffles cooked in the taiyaki pan, even better than waffles made in the waffle iron. They were soft and fluffy, compared to the crispy regular waffles. I also think that domestic electric waffle irons don't do waffles justice - they don't get hot enough and you don't get that wonderful contrast between crispy outside and fluffy inside. Until I can justify splurging on a stove-stop waffle iron, I'll be using my trusty taiyaki pan for waffles.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Melbourne Foodie Weekend


This heart-stoppingly beautiful piece of cake is, my friends, a piece of Bienenstich. You may remember it from such posts as "Germany 2008: Kaffee und Kuchen". It is my favourite cake in the whole world. Sweet yeasted dough, fluffy custard, and crunchy sugary flaked almonds. It is very hard to find here in Melbourne, and the few times I have seen it at cafes, it has been just crap - stale dough, garishly bright yellow custard and the meanest sprinkling of un-sugared almonds on top. (That's right Hootsen's on Glenferrie and the European bakery in Vic Market, I'm looking at you!)

So you can imagine my total delight and surprise when I saw that gorgeous specimen at Dench Bakers on the weekend.

Dench Bakers
109 Scotchmer St
North Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9486-3554
Website

I suggested Dench for a weekend lunch date with my favourite uni friends because I wanted to try their famous breads. When we got there at about 1:45, it was still quite crowded, but we managed to score a spot inside. I have forgotten the exact prices, but they were all in the mid-to-high range.



From top: Full-sized veggie Soup; Pork chop on mash with apple sauce; Poached egg on rosti with smoked salmon.

My friend An got the pork chop, with a 1/2 & 1/2 soup for $9.50 extra (not photographed). He thought this meant you'd get a half portion of the main meal, with a half portion of the soup. But this was not the case - he did get a half-soup, but the pork chop was normal (massive) size. And yummy. An rocks because he lets me try all his food.

Sandra ordered a full portion of the soup - bizarrely the same price - which was a tomato-based vegetable soup, hearty and full of chunky vegetable pieces. I, being totally ditzy, ordered a dish with no bread! D'oh. However, my poached egg on rosti with smoked salmon and mayo was very nice, so I'm not complaining. The rosti was softer and less crispy than I'm used to, but it was good regardless.

An, being superhuman, had a 2nd latte and a super-dense ganache-covered flourless chocolate cake. I tried a little bit - almondy and delicious.

Adri bought a selection of cakes to take home, including the flourless chocolate.
Clockwise from back-left: Banana cake, crumble, bread and butter pudding, flourless chocolate cake.

I wasn't going to buy any cake, just breads, but then I saw the tray of proper-looking Bienenstich in the fridge. Yelp! Just had to buy 2 to take home.

And below is the bread I got:
From top: ciabatta, light rye, baton (French white with the cute pointy ends).

I actually only bought the rye and the baton, and they gave Adri and I a loaf of ciabatta each for free because it was closing time. Score! And more importantly, thank-you! We tried the bread later that night for supper, and it was amongst the best bread I've found in Melbourne so far. It was crusty, and the light rye had a lovely hint of caraway in it. It wasn't quite like German bread (das beste Brot in der Welt!), but I was still pleased with it, and would return for more!

Following this massive lunch, we were planning on going ice-skating at Docklands (now that the Southern Star Ferris Wheel is out of action, they've got to put some kind of activity there). By the time we found the rink - I always get lost at the Docklands, and get sooo confused by the parking - it was booked out and we couldn't ice-skate. Oops.

So we had a walk around the harbour town shops, which seem to consist mainly of discount shoe shops... and came across a Mövenpick ice-cream parlour! Such delicious Swiss creamy goodness. I didn't even know they had parlours here - when I was younger, my Dad used to buy Mövenpick for us in tiny but expensive tubs from Leo's as a treat. I dragged the group inside and we all ended up buying ice-cream, hehe.

Dench Bakers on Urbanspoon

Movenpick Ice Cream
36 Star Crescent
Waterfront City
Docklands VIC 3008
Ph: (03) 9670-7994
Website
Top Left: Caramelita (OMG best ice-cream flavour ever!) and cappuccino
Top Right and Bottom Left: Chocolate and Mango
Bottom Right: Raspberry


I personally love the creamy flavours the best. The cappuccino was a coffee-flavoured ice-cream containing a generous amount of fine chocolate flakes, and the caramelita had both caramel-flavoured ice-cream and a decadent ribbon of caramel (with some delightfully grainy pockets of caramel). The mango and raspberry had impressively pure, fresh flavours. Yes, $6.95 for 2 scoops is extremely expensive, but this was a time that I felt it was worth it.