Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ash Wednesday?

Have been away a lot lately. Being away on my own as is a bit lonely but had lovely experience on Saturday when busing around distant city.

Love the bus! so much more fun than driving and so much less terrifying than flying. Also get to talk to interesting people.
Lady sitting next to me on return trip was utterly charming, youngish and somewhat quirky. She kept putting fingers in her mouth. I wondered if like me she had problem tooth so asked. Teeth fine actually, just having a good "poke around". Happy to engage in conversation she asked where I was from. I replied from Auckland, just away for a few days working... New friend was shocked as she could never live in Auckland because of all the snow. I tried to assure her that in my 40 odd years as an Aucklander it has never snowed nor come remotely near it but she was convinced saying "No too much snow, all the time, I couldn't bear it"! Think maybe she had confused Auckland with Alaska??
I learnt many interesting details about her, including fascinating detail about her hair - which she said she could feel growing and was clearly annoying her. (hair was quite short actually). Apparently it grows an inch a night, amazing! She planned to grow it down to her knees. I said was good as wont take long at all at that rate! She plans to use long long hair to tickle a boy she likes. Was really disappointed when conversation had to end at my stop. Every moment was pure delight!
Last night was telling family about bus friend while making dinner and hot cross buns when realised my diary and other paperwork had caught fire from gas hob. Diary was merrily ablaze - a sight that made me surprisingly happy. Also daughters birthday wish list, now burnt down to 1/4 its original length - also a happy sight.
Husband was really cross but kids and I in hysterics, only made him crosser actually and us more hysterical with laughter. Hot cross buns seem even more appropriate. If you look closely you may see ashes in the top of the picture.

Hot Cross Buns (way better than bought ones!)

This recipe makes around 24 great buns. You can use granulated yeast or instant yeast. I made these using 1 ½ sachets instant yeast, mixed into the flour. Then add the warm liquid. If using granulated yeast follow the instructions in the method.

2 cups warm water
¼ cup Condensed Milk
2 tbsp Dried Yeast granules
5 cups Plain flour
3 tsp mixed spice
3 tsp of cinnamon
½ tsp of salt
1 cup currants or raisins or a mixture
½ cup of mixed peel
50 g of softened Butter
2 eggs

Blend the water and condensed milk together and stir or sprinkle on the yeast, set it aside for about 10 minutes, the warm sweet liquid will gently bring the yeast to life, when it is frothy looking it is ready to use. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl, mix in the dried fruit and peel, then make a hole in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture along with the softened butter and eggs. Stir until combined then turn out onto a floured bench and knead it lightly. This is a moist dough so add extra flour as you knead until the dough is smooth. Put it in a greased bowl and cover with greased cling film (I spray the inside of a supermarket bag with cooking spray and then pop the bowl in). Leave in a warm place till dough doubles in size this should take around 40 minutes. Punch the dough then give it a quick knead. Divide into 24 portions and roll into balls. Place on a greased oven tray and cover with the greased plastic from before. Leave them for around half an hour or until doubled in size.

To make the crosses
½ cup Plain Flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp butter
About 3-5 tablespoons of water

Blend the ingredients together; the mixture needs to be soft enough to be piped. If you haven't got a piping bag, put the mixture into a plastic bag, squeeze it down to one corner then snip a tiny bit off the corner of the bag so you can squeeze the mix through the hole making crosses on the top of each bun.
Bake at 200°c degrees for 15 minutes then brush with sugar glaze and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes or until they look cooked.

Sugar Glaze
2 tbsp Sugar dissolved in ¼ cup warm water.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

a sense of perspective

Haven't blogged for a while as have had builders in. Sooo exciting!
We could finally insulate the fridge we refer to fondly as home.
Also retaining walls, so can access veggie garden without crampons, and other general repairs to stop rotten bits are falling off carport onto visitors.
Builder started 3 weeks ago. Half the house is in bits, teenage daughter living in garage in tent, hallway and 3 rooms gutted, dust and dirt everywhere - me trying to work in mess and noise.
Progress slow.
Serious concerns arose last week when Gib went up. Much tension- finally we called assessor in and all work halted.
Assessment says everything has been done wrong - thousands of dollars already spent. Builder incompetent. Retaining has to be removed and re done, all interior work has to be re done - sigh.

Was very upset - depressed, and stressed, as also have dodgy tooth thing going on - never one thing at a time!
Had visit from new - lovely highly recommended builder who came to NZ as refugee from Cambodia. In course of looking at sorry mess that is our house, he told his story.

When 8 years old whole village was force marched to killing fields - told they'd be executed ...mass graves ... only just saved from execution by arrival of Vietnamese Tanks...

Decided then and there not to cry about my broken house. Have never had to march my children to anything worse than dentist appointment!
Is only house and am lucky to have one. We have roof -(OK - not many walls -but that can be fixed). We have freedom and we have food in cupboard. Also now have sense of perspective. While there are some things that even cake cant fix, it could be a lot worse.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Carnival Cupcakes

This is a really easy, all in together mixture that makes light golden cakes that are firm enough to decorate, makes a tin full.

1 1/3 cups self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
100gr soft butter
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
Grated zest of lemon
Dash of milk

Pre heat oven to 190°c.
Line mini muffin pans with paper patty cases.
Combine all the main ingredients together in a bowl and beat until absolutely smooth - about 1-2 minutes.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for 15 -20 mins or until well risen and golden.
When cool, combine the glace icing ingredients, using only as much water as you need to make a spreadable icing. Ice the top of each cup cake with icing and decorate as desired.

Press a smartie or other coloured sweet into the glace icing.
Sprinkle with hundreds and thousands and silver balls.
Sprinkle with decorator shapes – available in supermarkets and cake decorating shops
Make a thick butter icing, from 175 g icing sugar and 25 g soft butter beaten together, colour and flavour as desired and roll out between two sheets of non stick baking paper, refrigerate till firm then cut out shapes and designs using cutters, stick on with a dab of glace icing (alternatively you could buy a pack of ready made fondant icing from the supermarket and use instead.)

Butterfly cakes
When cool take a knife and cut a cone shape out of the top of each cake and fill the cavity with lemon curd or jam. Cut the little cone of cake in half and place it at angles on top of the lemon curd like butterfly wings then dust with icing sugar.

Dana's Chocolate Cupcakes

You know this recipe already, but you might not know that it makes great cupcakes
We believe this recipe is now one of the most frequently made recipes in the country. When people bring their cook books to dg cooking classes for me to sign, the page with Dana’s chocolate cake is always the most splattered and tattered, I even had a lady tell me she made it for the Sultan of Brunei’s household while doing a stint as their cook! It cuts neatly and freezes well too.

Preheat oven to 180°C

1 2/3 cups flour
1½ cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda – yes baking soda! (see cooks tips)
1 tsp salt
1½ cups of trim milk
100 g melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Pour into the prepared patty cake cases and bake until firm and springy, this will depend on the size of the cases but probably at least 20 minutes.

Classic Chocolate Frosting
250 g icing sugar
100 g butter
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
milk to mix

Place butter and dry ingredients in processor, pulse to combine then add a dash of milk and pulse again, continue until you achieve a soft spreadable icing then add vanilla.

Cook's Tips

We get so many emails from people who believe we have mistakenly said baking soda when we mean baking powder. Some have been so sure they have made it with baking powder.

Why use baking soda not baking powder?
Both baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents added to baked goods before cooking to produce carbon dioxide and cause them to 'rise'. Baking powder contains baking soda, but the two substances are used under different conditions.
Baking Soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (e.g. yogurt, chocolate, cocoa, buttermilk, honey), the resulting chemical reaction produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand under oven temperatures, causing baked goods to rise. The reaction begins immediately upon mixing the ingredients, so you need to bake recipes that call for baking soda immediately, or else they will fall flat!


If you find your cupcakes come out a bit “wonky” on top, here are some suggestions to help produce lovely rounded ones

Cupcakes overflow while baking – try only filling your baking cup ¾ fill.

Cupcakes crack on the top – your oven may be too hot

Cupcakes are uneven on top – eg higher on the left hand side – this may be caused by the fan in your fan-forced oven pushing the mixture as it rises, some batters are very delicate (gluten free for example) – try turning off the fan and cooking them on the classic bake setting.

Rolled Icing

The white cup cakes show stamped icing – to achieve this effect we used Pettince ready-made icing which we rolled, cut to size using cookie cutters and stamped. We used a a stamp sheet as well from a cake decorating specialist supplier – this is a silicone sheet with a pattern – ours is all circles, impressed on it. You simply place the sheet on to the icing and roll with a rolling pin.
We also used wooden stamps from Trade Aid for the pretty paisley pattern.

We used pink food colouring in a variety of strengths for both the butter cream icing and for colouring the rolled icing, and we also used glace icing on some of the cup cakes.
If you don’t have any flower cutters you can purchase ready-made icing flowers and edible glitters etc from cake decorating suppliers

Making your own Icing

Glace icing

1 cup icing sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice or a drop or two of artificial colour and flavour such as raspberry or peppermint

Butter Cream icing

100 g unsalted butter
175 g icing sugar
Flavour and colour as required
Beat the butter until it is light and fluffy then add the icing sugar a little at a time beating well until it is all incorporated. The finished butter cream will be stiffer than whipped cream but a light and pale so can easily be coloured.

Monday, March 1, 2010


We are renovating – Grrrr. Hate hate renovating.

I have builders in drinking copious coffees and generally clogging up car parking area with many many more vehicles than there are actual builders.
Have been baking for them each day in vain hope they’ll appreciate effort and put walls back in house. Kids rooms previously had no insulation, now situation Far Worse – no walls!

Teenage daughter is currently residing in tent in garage. Tent is to prevent crud falling on her when asleep. Living conditions very poor, but teenage daughter emerging from garage in shorty pyjamas each day at least ensures presence of builders, and lively if brief, spurt of hammering type activity.

Have fed them brownie, caramel pecan slice, chocolate berry muffins and today was scones - as nearly out of everything else and is shopping day but not till later.
Scones, cheap and easy and builders not particularly discerning. Not like judges on NZ’s hottest baker show on telly. Am mystified though that contestants had trouble with scones as soooo easy!

Here is good recipe – bad scones? No excuse!

Scones take only around 20 minutes to make from scratch. They cost less than $2.00 to make and provide 12 – 15 filling fresh scones. They will provide energy from carbohydrate, and are not high in fat like pies or biscuits. You can top them with butter, jam, marmite or cheese (leave out the sugar and add grated cheese to the mixture too if you have it.) If you have a processor then they’re even easier to make.

Pre heat the oven to 210˚C
3 cups plain flour and 3 tsp baking powder or 3 cups self raising flour
3 tbsp butter or table spread
A pinch of salt
A dessert spoon of sugar
Approximately 1 cup of milk (sour it with a squeeze of lemon juice if you have it)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl then rub in the butter so it resembles bread crumbs. Add the liquid and mix quickly and gently to form a soft dough – do not knead as this will make the scones tough. Pat the mix together and roll out to rectangle roughly 2.5 cm thick. Slice into squares or use a cookie cutter or glass to cut out rounds.

Place on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10 -12 minutes until well risen and slightly golden. Scones are best eaten fresh, leftovers can be frozen