Mad about Ashley’s 1st Birthday Cake

March 26th, 2011

              Actual Birthday Cake

Birthdays were always a big thing in my family when my siblings and I were kids. The thing I remember most fondly from each of our birthday parties were the cakes that my mum made for us with the 4 most memorable ones being:

1. Cake in the shape of a butterfly.

2. Figure 8 cake for my 8th birthday with M & Ms neatly arranged like mosiacs on top. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken my mum to place every one of those small candy covered chocolate pieces.

3. Figure 6/9 cake for my brother’s 9th birthday and my sister’s 6th birthday (their birthdays are 4 days apart). They shared one cake, which could be turned one way to become a figure 6 and another to become a figure 9.

4. Cake in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

Having all these fond memories of my own meant that when it came to Ashley’s 1st birthday cake, I couldn’t in all good conscience simply order one from the cake shop, even though she’d in all likelihood not remember a thing about this first birthday party, not to mention the cake.

          Cake Figurines

I had a hazy idea on what sort of cake I wanted to make: 2-tiers, fondant covered with some cutesy figurines for decor. Working full-time meant I had to prep for the cake way in advance, especially when the cake plan included elements that I didn’t have much experience with. I eventually decided on a safari-themed cake and since I’d not attempted a large tiered fondant cake before, I decided to make a trial one first.

I’d found the designs for the animal figurines while exploring Flickr for decorating ideas and emailed Vania for permission to use her completely adorable designs on Ashley’s cake. With her blessing, I went ahead and made the figurines over a span of 8 nights, each one taking about 2 hours each night after Ashley had fallen asleep. I started with the polymer clay versions and later made the gumpaste ones since I wasn’t sure if the polymer clay ones would be safe to put on a cake.

              Assembled Trial Cake

With tips and advice from friends and other helpful strangers on Flickr whom I emailed, the trial cake turned out all right for a first attempt, except for a minor blowout on the top tier (which I later found out was caused by moisture which had nowhere to escape) and a wrinkly and slightly lumpy bottom tier (which was due to the iced cake not being at room temp when I covered it with fondant, too thick a layer of buttercream and too thin a layer of fondant).

          Birthday Cake Collage

With the lessons learnt from the trial cake, the actual birthday cake turned out much better than I’d expected. The bottom tier still had some wrinkles, but I think that may have to do with the italian meringue buttercream not being able to withstand the heat that is our tropical weather, despite air-conditioning. Otherwise, I was really happy with the cake, especially the design of the lower tier, which was really a last minute change; I made the gumpaste flowers only 2 nights before the birthday party compared to 3 weeks ahead for the figurines.

Most importantly, Ashley seemed happy enough with the cake. She went straight for the colourful figurines and the gleeful look on her face as she held the monkey and tiger figurines in her hand made all the effort and late nights that went into the cake completely worthwhile. :)

Mad about Macaron au Chocolate Amer

February 14th, 2011

              Macarons Au Chocolat Amer

It’s Valentine’s Day and I should really be posting something that has to do with roses or something pink, but this post is one about really dark chocolate, which I guess is still in line with the theme of the day.

When I learned about Pierre Hermé’s Macaron book near the end of 2009, it had long been sold out and no copies of the book could be found online for purchase. The other thing that held me back from going on an all out search for the book was that it was written in French. My french is really only limited to food ingredients and a few basic phrases, so I dropped the idea of getting the book.

Macarons Au Chocolat Amer

It was only recently, having sampled PH’s macarons from Paris and Tokyo (thanks to the generosity of family and a good friend), that I began to wonder if I could accurately reproduce the same flavours at home. The book immediately came to mind and I went on a hunt for the book, which I have to say is a most fantastic read. Each flavour combination sounds like a dream, except maybe the ketchup one. I feel compelled to bake my way through the book, Julie & Julia style!

Long before I’d received the book, I already knew that the first recipe I’d try from the book would be the chocolate shells which incorporate 100% cacao chocolate, reportedly one of the more difficult shells to master. There are several flavours in the book that use chocolate shells and I went with the Macaron au Chocolat Amer.

              Macarons Au Chocolat Amer

The next task was to find 100% cacao chocolate in Singapore. Following some leads from friends and a little googling, I finally located 100% cacao chocolate at Jones the Grocer. (I’ve been told that Cold Storage carries 100% cacao baking chocolate from Hershey’s).

I followed the recipe and instructions with some hesitation for 2 reasons. First, the batter was really thick and my hands ached from the macaronage, even though I’d made only 1/2 the recipe. Second, the instructions called for baking with the convection fan setting and opening the oven twice during the baking process. Really?? Wouldn’t the macarons end up overbaked and wouldn’t the feet sink if I opened the oven? I forged on.

Chomped

To my amazement, the shells were perfect in form (even with a power trip during the baking of the second batch!) Texture-wise, the shells were thin without a single dreaded air pocket in sight. The only thing was that the shells were a little crisp compared to what I usually get with my regular recipe. I filled them, keeping my fingers crossed that the shells would soften after 24 hours in the fridge, something I’ve not had to do normally.

Happily, the macarons came out perfect after the maturing process. The best part is that it’s been a week and the macarons are still good in the fridge, if not better. I’m hoping that this successful attempt was not a matter of beginner’s luck and am looking forward to trying out the next flavour!

Note: I have an extra copy of Pierre Hermé’s Macaron (brand new, in French only) for sale. Please email me if you’re interested. I will not publish any comments related to enquiries about the book. *SOLD*

Mad about Macarons 2011

January 10th, 2011

              Macarons

A post on macarons is long overdue on this blog and so it would seem most appropriate that macarons be the subject of my 1st post of 2011.

The flavours from top to bottom are vanilla caramel fleur de sel, mixed berries with mixed berries white chocolate ganache, green tea with chestnut buttercream and dark chocolate.

Macarons

I was very happy that I hadn’t lost the ability to churn out a good macaron, but I wasn’t too pleased with the chocolate ones. The feet were tiny and the shells were domed. Of course, it could very well have something to do with my having run into the kitchen and opening the oven door 5 minutes into baking, thinking that the timer had already rung. :( I guess this is what 9 months (and counting) of sleep deprivation can do to a person.

              Green Tea Macarons

My favourite ones from this batch were the green tea ones for several reasons. Pretty feet, flat tops (which made the last photograph here easy to take) and most of all, these tasted the least sweet.

I also experimented with a white chocolate ganache filling for the mixed berries macarons, which turned out tasting far from satisfactory due to the awful grainy texture of the ganache. I’m not sure if it had to do with the way I made the ganache or if it was the white chocolate itself (I used Valrhona) that had that problem. I sure could use a recommendation for a good white chocolate for baking!

This post (and this batch of macarons) would not have been possible if my mother-in-law hadn’t most kindly stayed home on Saturday to help watch Ashley, so thank you, Mami! :)