Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Baking: Fudgy Earl Grey Chocolate Cupcakes

Earl Grey has long been my favourite tea.  I love the delicate flowery taste, and it's perfect with just about anything sweet.  So when this recipe appeared in my Tumblr feed, courtesy of gastrogirl again, it sounded just perfect.  I'd never thought to put Earl Grey tea in a cake, let alone a chocolate cake, let alone a chocolate cupcake!  I spent a week trolling delis, health food shops, and  chocolate supply shops looking for lavender extract, but it seemed impossible to find.  Finally, I discovered the online baking supply store Baking Pleasures (to Dave's trepidation), and there I found my lavender essence.

The Earl Grey I used is Earl Grey Blue Flower from The Tea Centre.  This my favourite Earl Grey tea.  It's so beautiful and the flavour is smooth and not overpowering.  I was very excited to use it in my cupcakes!  You will also need 24 foil cupcake cases - the foil helps to insulate each cupcake and stops them from rising too fast and spreading all over the top of your tins (yes, I'm speaking from experience).  Because the surface of the cupcakes is quite delicate, I recommend piping the icing rather than spreading it with a knife.

My recipe is adapted from Semisweetie's recipe, who in turn adapted it from What We're Eating's recipe.  My icing recipe is from The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook, by Jennifer Graham.  Enjoy!

Fudgy Earl Grey Chocolate Cupcakes With Lavender Icing
Makes 24

15g      Earl Grey tea leaves (about 6tsp/6 bags)
125g     butter
1 1/4C   plain flour
3/4C     cocoa powder
1 1/2C   dark brown sugar (packed)
1 1/2tsp baking soda
2 1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp   salt
3        eggs
2C       buttermilk

200g     butter, softened
1/2C     milk
1tbsp    vanilla extract
8C       icing sugar, sifted
3drops   culinary lavender essence
2drops   blue food colouring
1drop    red food colouring

Preheat oven to 160C.  Line 2 12-hole muffin tins with paper and foil cases.

Grind the tea leaves into a fine powder using a spice mill or coffee grinder, or a mortar and pestle (what I used).  Place butter and tea powder in a small saucepan over low heat.  Cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the tea is infused into the butter.  Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Stir until evenly combined.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and buttermilk.  Add buttermilk mixture and the cooled butter mixture to the dry ingredients.  Whisk or beat until just combined - the batter will be slightly lumpy.

Divide the batter evenly between the holes of the muffin tins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool in tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely before icing.  The cakes will be slightly sticky and soft, not dense.

Cream the butter for 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the milk, vanilla extract, and half the sifted icing sugar, and beat for at least 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for a further 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy and of a spreadable consistency.  Add extra milk if the mixture is too dry, or extra icing sugar if the mixture is too wet.  Add the lavender essence and the food colouring and beat until evenly mixed.

Pipe the icing onto the cupcakes in whatever pattern you wish.

Friday, June 17, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 2

A Book That You've Read More Than Three Times

I have read a LOT of books more than three times.  My favourite books I read over and over, returning to them like old friends.  If I picked a book at random from one of my four overflowing bookshelves, chances are it would fall into this category.

In the end, I settled on Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder.  I was first given a copy of this book in my first year of university by my boyfriend at the time, whom I met through a shared philosophy class.  So Sophie's World, an introduction to Western philosophy, was an appropriate gift.

Whenever I'm feeling confused about my place in the world, or overly jaded and cynical, I read this book.  It always reminds me that the most important thing we should do is to cultivate our sense of wonder.  The world is an amazing place, truly amazing, and we are amazing too.  As noted in the book, we, too, are stardust.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sunday Baking: Spotty Ginger Buttermilk Cakes

My friend @agentK is visiting for work this week, so @BiscottiFairy had to do some baking to welcome him to the Gold Coast.  On today's agenda was a batch of Spotty Ginger Buttermilk Cakes.  Tomorrow will be Apple and Ginger Biscuits.  When I chose the two recipes I didn't connect that they both feature ginger.  Oh well, I like ginger!

Spotty Ginger Buttermilk Cakes
Makes 9 (but doubled to make 18 fine)
From Classic Cupcakes, in The Australian Women's Weekly collection

You will need: a 12-hole (1/3C) muffin pan; paper cases; an 8cm cookie cutter; and a 2cm cookie cutter.

1/2C   firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2C   plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2C   self-raising flour
1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1tsp   ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
90g    butter, softened
1      egg
1/4C   buttermilk
1tbsp  golden syrup or treacle (I used treacle)

250g ready-made white icing
     yellow food colouring
1/3C apricot jam, warmed and strained (I didn't strain)

Preheat oven to 170C.  Line 9 holes of the muffin pan with paper cases.

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl (I sifted the sugar too), add remaining ingredients; beat mixture with electric mixer on low speed until combined.  Increase speed to medium; beat until mixture has changed to a paler colour.

Drop 1/4 cups of mixture into paper cases (don't worry about smoothing - they will level as they cook).  Bake about 35 minutes.  Stand cakes in pan 5 minutes before turning, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool.

Divide ready-made white icing in half.  Tint one portion yellow (you only need a few drops), leave remaining portion white.  Roll each colour, one at a time, between sheets of baking paper until 5mm thick.  Using 2cm cutter, cut 2cm rounds, quite close together, from both pieces of icing.  Place white rounds in the wholes left in the yellow icing, and the yellow rounds in the holes left in the white icing.  Re-roll both pieces of icing between sheets of baking paper to ensure the rounds are in place.

Brush cold cakes with a little jam.  Using 8cm cutter, cut rounds from each piece of icing; position rounds on cakes.

I couldn't find a tiny 2cm cutter anywhere.  I have set of round cutters, but the smallest was 4cm.  In the end, I used the base of a piping bag nozzle, which worked just fine.  Once I'd rolled out the two sheets of icing, I only had enough to cut about 13 rounds before I had to re-roll the remaining icing - but to keep the spots, I'd have had to painstakingly remove each one and then do the process again.  That was far too much work, so I just kneaded all the remaining icing together until it was evenly yellow, and iced the remaining cakes with plain yellow icing.

The cakes were a tiny bit dry and could probably have done with slightly less cooking time.  They rose nicely but flatly so I didn't have to worry about levelling them or anything - I could just ice them.  If you don't have apricot jam to stick the icing to the cakes you could use another mild flavour (marmalade perhaps), or just make a sugar syrup (which is what the icing packet recommended).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 1

The Best Book You Read Last Year

Well, last year was a while ago now, so I had to think long and hard about what I read.  In the end, I settled on The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins.  The book was given to my by my in-laws for my birthday: I gave them a list of books I wanted and they chose this one.

I'm a bit of a fan of Richard Dawkins.  Not a raving fan, but I enjoy his books.  He can come across as aggressive, but I can understand his pain: when you are trying to convince people that they are wrong, no matter how many facts you have people are going to push back.  No one likes to admit they are wrong.  When what is being discussed is something as personal as religion, it can be even more frustrating.

The first book of Dawkins' that I read was The God Delusion.  It really opened my eyes, and hatched me from an agnostic to a full-fledged atheist.  I've read several more of his books since then.  The Greatest Show on Earth was the most recent of his that I've read.

The Greatest Show on Earth discusses why evolution is classed as a "theory", then goes on to describe the evidence for evolution in detail.  The book was released in 2009, 200 years after Charles Darwin was born and 150 years after he published On the Origin of Species.  There was a flurry of evolution-oriented publishing at this time, but it was Dawkins' book that was most interesting to me.  Sometimes Dawkins can be a little obtuse, but he does try to make his books accessible for people with little background in the subject.

While I'm fairly protective of my books, Dawkins is one of the few authors that I happily lend to others, simply because I find his books so influential and I want to share them.  I already have this book lined up to lend to someone soon, but if you ask nicely, I might lend it to you when he is done with it!

The 30 Day Book Challenge

The lovely @missRBit today gave me a link to a 30 Day Book Challenge.  I'm not sure where she found it, and it isn't a blog I've read before, but the challenge certainly sounded like it was right up my alley.  I'm not going to pressure myself into doing it in 30 days, however - I'd just like to get through the 30 posts!

Here is the list of topics:

Day 1: The Best Book You Read Last Year
Day 2: A Book That You’ve Read More Than Three Times
Day 3: Your Favourite Series
Day 4: Favourite Book Of Your Favourite Series
Day 5: A Book That Makes You Happy
Day 6: A Book That Makes You Sad
Day 7: Most Underrated Book
Day 8: Most Overrated Book
Day 9: A Book You Thought You Wouldn’t Like But Ended Up Loving
Day 10: A Book You Wish You Could Live In
Day 11: A Book From Your Favourite Author
Day 12: A Book That Is Most Like Your Life
Day 13: A Book Whose Main Character Is Most Like You
Day 14: A Book Whose Main Character You Want To Marry
Day 15: The Longest Book You’ve Read
Day 16: The Shortest Book You’ve Read
Day 17: The Book You’re Most Embarrassed To Say You Like
Day 18: Your Favourite Book Turned Into A Movie
Day 19: A Book That Turned You On
Day 20: Favourite Book From Your Childhood
Day 21: The Best Book You Read At School
Day 22: A Book You Wanted To Read For A Long Time But Still Haven’t
Day 23: A Book You Tell People You’ve Read, But Haven’t (Or Haven’t Actually Finished)
Day 24: A Book That You Wish More People Would’ve Read
Day 25: Your Favourite Non-Fiction Book
Day 26: A Book Everyone Hated But You Liked
Day 27: Your Favourite Title
Day 28: The Last Book You Read
Day 29: The Book You’re Currently Reading
Day 30: Your Favourite Book Of All Time

Feel free to join in if you also love your books!  Let's get started, shall we?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

OOTD: It's Not Easy Being Green

(The title is a lie, I found it quite easy, but how could I resist a Kermit reference when I'm wearing a green-toned outfit?)

Cardi: Ezibuy
Tank & Mini: Torrid
Tights: We Love Colors (Mint Green)

I should also mention that We Love Colors has free shipping to NZ and Oz on all orders over USD$30 until 31 August 2011.  Just use the gift code WELOVENZAUS when ordering!  I've gone back and updated my previous OOTD posts that featured We Love Colors tights with the colour of each pair, if people are curious.

Another day, another outfit with my Docs.  They are, of course, the most-worn shoes in my wardrobe now.  I have them mostly worn in - I still wear tape on my heels to guard against blisters but I think I'm nearly at the point where I can stop doing that.  Today I didn't even wear socks, just the tape and tights, and my feet held up just fine.

I know this is going to sound corny, but when I wear my Docs, I really feel like a different person.  I feel stronger, more empowered and confident.  I feel like nobody can screw with me and that probably comes across in my posture and attitude.  I love my Docs.  I'm going to leave you with a song dedicated to Dr. Martens Boots.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Recipe Monday: Banoffee Cheesecake

After we bought the MiNDFOOD Christmas issue and scored some delicious recipes out of it, I signed up for their daily recipe email.  The recipes seem to be whatever is featured in that month's magazine, and so far I had been a little disappointed - the recipes were, well, a little poncy.  But when a recipe for Banoffee Cheesecake landed in my inbox last week, I knew I had to make it, as soon as possible!  So we decided to make it this weekend - not for any special reason, just because we could.  And it turned out absolutely divine.

Banoffee Cheesecake

250g  packet plain sweet biscuits (such as Nice biscuits)
125g  butter, melted and cooled
750g  cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4C  caster sugar
2tsp  vanilla extract
2tbsp plain flour
3     eggs
1     egg yolk, extra
300ml carton sour cream
300ml carton pure cream
125g  white chocolate melts
1/2C  Caramel Top'n'Fill
2     small bananas, sliced

Grease and line the base of a 22cm springform pan with baking paper. Process biscuits in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Add butter; process until combined. Press mixture over base and sides of prepared pan, finishing 1.5cm from top of pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 160C. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until combined. Add flour; beat to combine. Add eggs, 1 at a time, plus extra yolk; beat after each addition. Stir in the sour cream.

Pour mixture into prepared shell. Place cake pan on baking tray and bake for 50 minutes or until the outer 3cm of cake feels quite firm and the centre is wobbly like custard. Cool in oven with door ajar. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Combine 1/4C cream and chocolate melts in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don't let bowl touch water). Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in caramel. Cover and refrigerate for 25 minutes or until thickened. Spread caramel mixture over cheesecake. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Whip remaining cream and dollop over top of cheesecake. Place slices of banana over cream and serve.