Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Minecraft Creeper Cake

Last year, when 10 year old became 11 year old, I bought a coffee ├ęclair, stuck a candle in it and he was happy.
This year, going from 11 to 12, was a different story. I was on holidays, plus I had a big borrowed kitchen to work in, and also I was feeling sentimental because next year he’ll be going from 12 to the terrible teens, and who knows whether he will even want a cake or not.
So, something special. Something ambitious.
Minecraft is an Internet/computer thing he does for hours and hours. I’ve never studied it – I can’t even bring myself to read the whole Wikipedia entry – but as far as I can work out, it’s a bit like virtual Lego in a virtual world. You can build stuff on your own or you can collaborate with online friends and build stuff together. Pretty much everything looks like an Aztec temple.
I usually only engage when I am trying to get his attention but he can’t hear me because he has his headphones on and is talking to his friends. Our conversations go like this:
ME: Hey, that’s cool. Is that an Aztec temple?
HIM: No, mum, it’s a luxury hotel.
ME: Wow! That’s impressive. It looks like an Aztec temple.
HIM: No, mum, it’s a rollercoaster.
ME: Aztec temple?
HIM: Giant cat scratching-post.
You get the idea.
In among the Minecraft memes, you find the MinecraftCreeper. Once again, I display a wealth of parental ignorance and indifference about its origins and role. It looks like an angry pixelated caterpillar on a plinth (at least I don’t mistake it for an Aztec temple…)but in the game, it is a kind of kamikaze monster that ruins things for gamers by turning up randomly and exploding.
For Christmas, I bought him a Minecraft creeper t-shirt. For his birthday, I decided to make a Minecraft Creeper cake.
Creeper t-shirt
So – vertical cake. Dense chocolate sponge, 4 different shades of green marzipan, 2 days’ work. 10 minutes from presentation to destruction.
I got the recipe for the sponge from this blog. It’s a good sponge for cakes that need constructing. I made two ‘bricks’ of sponge to work with.
I used two blocks of marzipan and played with the colours until I got the greens that I wanted. Of course, I had ‘Incredible Hulk’ hands by the time I had finished.
The marzipan had to be rolled, then cut into strips and then cut into tiny square marzipan tesserae. This was the sweary part. I had to leave enough chocolate sponge uncovered to make the Creeper ‘face’ and ‘feet’ but the rest was sticking on the little squares with hot raspberry jam as the glue.
To assemble, I was just going to use jam and marzipan but, hey, gravity. Skewers became necessary.
Eventually, it all came together, if not quite as perpendicularly as I had hoped. Strangely, that didn’t bother 12 year old.
HIM: Hey, that’s cool! How did you get it to bend over like it does in the game?
ME: I didn’t. It’s called gravity. Now blow out the candle quickly before the whole damn thing goes over.
In the end, it’s all about the photo op.
See how it's tilting? That wasn't part of the plan...
This could well be the last ‘party cake’ that I make. Next year, it's more than likely that I'll be back to sticking a candle in something store-bought as we head into his teens, but I like to think that we finished on a good note and that this is one that he will always remember.
The image that I based the cake on and the cake itself.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Cake fail and cake find: Crostata di Mela

There were three attachments with the email. Two of them were work documents, the third was for Italian baked apple and honey tart.
It’s always a delight to find empathetic foodies and bakers within your professional network and I am very glad to say that on the occasions (not nearly frequent enough) when I get to catch up with @rich_tapestry any industry talk soon gives way to chat about restaurants and recipes. @rich_tapestry knows what it is to be too busy to get into the kitchen as often as one might like, and that “work first, kitchen second”, frustrating as it is, is the reality nine times out of ten.
On my recent Sydney trip though, @rich_tapestry and I transitioned effortlessly from a meeting to a bar – big thanks to her for also introducing me to Berta, I did manage a second visit during my stay – and that was when she told me about her success with the Crostata di Mela. When I arrived back in Perth, the recipe was there in the email when I was sorting through my Inbox on Monday morning, but I had to wait until the end of the working week to try it out.
Not only was it superb (and I will be using the pasta frolla recipe every time I make a sweet tart now) but it also saved my proverbial bacon as my Secret Cake Club project failed and the crostata stepped in to save the day. The theme was ‘Classics’ but my classic Indian pistachio and cardamom burfi failed to set, however I had my Italian classic right there in the oven. It was still warm when I arrived at Cake Club.
Failed pistachio and cardamom burfi - looked great, tasted great, but didn't set.
Several people have asked for the recipe – I am sure that @rich_tapestry won’t mind me sharing. Originally from a Stefano di Pieri recipe book, it really is a show-stopper.

Pasta Frolla

200 g unsalted butter

100 g castor sugar

1 egg

300 g plain flour

The butter and sugar need to be creamed until pale yellow. Add in the egg (I was lucky enough to fetch one straight from the chicken coop) and then fold in the flour. For fun and authenticity, I had nipped next door to the Italian grocers and bought a bag of high grade Italian flour. It was very fine and made for a gorgeous short pastry. Don’t overmix the dough – when it is just combined, pop it into the fridge to chill for 15 -20 minutes.
When you are really to use it, remove from the fridge, knead it to soften, and roll out on a lightly-floured surface


Crostata di Mela (Baked Apple Tart)

1 x 24 cm tart case lined with 2/3 pasta frolla pastry (the other 1/3 will be used to make a lattice)

5 medium sized golden delicious or granny smith apples

50 g unsalted butter

1 vanilla bean

4 tbsp honey

a pinch of cinnamon (if liked – although an Italian baker at Cake Club told me that real crostata di mela doesn’t use cinnamon at all!)

The tart shell will need to be baked blind in a 180C oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Allow  another 10 – 15 minutes to dry completely and then wait until it is completely cool before using.
Peel, core and quarter the apples. I ended up using 6 apples instead of 5.  Possibly I would use as many as 8 next time to really be able to fill up the tart shell.
Melt the butter in a frying pan then add the split and scraped vanilla bean. Turn the heat to high, and, as the butter browns, add the apple pieces, tossing occasionally, allowing them to colour slightly and cook. Spoon over the honey (I used WA Redtail Ridge organic honey) and continue to toss with the cinnamon. This process will take 10 – 15 mins. The resulting apples will be partially cooked and caramelised. Allow to cool and retain the juices.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Place the cold apples and juices in the pre-baked tart case. Cut the remaining pasta frolla into strips and use to form a lattice over the apples. (My lattice didn’t really work – no matter, it’s all about the taste!)
Bake the tart for 35 – 40 mins until the lattice pastry is golden and the caramelised honey bubbles around the fruit. Eat hot or allow to cool to room temperature. Delicious with cream, creme fraiche, or ice cream.
On the table at Secret Cake Club!

Subterranean Reds and Sunken Evenings: Red Door

Many thanks to Red Door for permission to use their website photographs.

A few steps below street level and the noise of the city dissipates, the gusty breeze from the dark street abates. There’s a sudden, intense stillness and quiet. In that moment, you escape the real world.

All part of the pleasure of the underground bar.

What happens next can go two ways. As you push the door open, the silence could give way to the buzz of gathered voices and the chink of glasses. Then again, you might step through into the murmur of muted jazz beats and hushed conversation.

With Perth’s Bobeche and with Lalla Rookh you will experience the former.

Red Door, however, is the latter. Off the beaten track  in the less populated part of Sydney’s Surry Hills you’d walk past if you weren’t looking carefully. The eponymous red door is recessed. You have to step off Foveaux Street and into the alcove. Carpeted steps take you down into a plush, private space of leather sofas,  curtains of gauze and of velvet, tasselled lamplight, and amber candles.

It’s a red wine world where, strangely inverted, the ‘cellar’ is above and the bottles are brought below.  A cocktail world, clandestine, reminiscent of a  1920s' speakeasy. A whisky world where gold swirls around diamonds in a crystal glass.  A brandy world where the spirit flames and fumes at the touch of a match. It’s my cosy, east coast oasis. There, with carefully chosen company,  there I welcome the sunken evenings where conversation and confidences flow with the wine.

Photograph used with the permission of Red Door. Thank you, Darrell.