Tag Archives: Birthday

Sharky Oven Gloves turns two!

Guess what?  Guess what?  Today is Sharky Oven Gloves‘ second birthday (in case you haven’t read the title of the blog post…).  Exciting stuff!  And what the blog title doesn’t tell you is that this also happens to be my 200th blog post.  I can’t quite wrap my head around both of those facts.  Two years’ of blogging and 200 blog posts.  Goodness.  That’s a fair bit of procrastination…

A fair bit has happened since my first blog birthday , so here’s a little re-cap:

One tamarillo & walnut cake.

  • I managed to make some rather spiffing stollen, which I must admit is my only ever successful foray into baking with yeast, so I’m still pretty chuffed about that.

Drip drip drop, little caramel… uhm… drips.  Uhm, ya…

  • One of our technicians doesn’t eat egg, so I’ve ventured into occasional egg-free baking over the last few months, which is not something I’ve ever actively done before – most of the egg-free baking I’ve done before has been by accident more than an actual decision to make a recipe egg-free, so it’s been interesting.  Learning about the banana substitution trick certainly helped.
  • I won “best-tasting” in a baking competition with some “radioactive” lemon macarons (ok there wasn’t a great deal of competition, but still…), which was totally exciting.

The irony of a French person bringing in nuclear-themed baked goods to a baking competition in New Zealand is not lost on me.

  • Something I decided to try for my Kir macarons ended up sparking a minor obsession with swirly-shelled macarons, and I’ve since tried the effect out in my Mojito macarons, the non-radioactive version of my lemon macarons and my Leiter Fluid macarons.  So basically all of the macarons I’ve made since arriving in NZ.  Perhaps I should calm down on the swirly shells a little.  (But they’re so pretty…)

When you've run out of wine… fill the glass with macarons.  Sorted.

  • A few months ago I started my weekly Sunday Smiles feature, a weekly recap of things that have made me smile or laugh through the week.  It’s something a little different and all about focussing on the positive things in life.

Drinking gin out of an Edinburgh Gin glass is as close as I can get to real Edinburgh Gin here.  Sad times.

Now, today is also St Andrew’s Day, which I feel is largely eclipsed by Burns’ Night by Scots actually in Scotland, but celebrated by many Scots abroad (at least that’s the case based on my experience – it’s funny how as an expat you suddenly latch on to any excuse to celebrate your home country).  So to celebrate Sharky Oven Gloves‘ second birthday and 200th post and St Andrew’s Day, I decided that I’d post a Scottish recipe but with a Kiwi twist as a nod to my current home.  Hokey pokey is a crunchy butterscotch honeycomb type thing and very popular here apparently (especially in ice-cream it seems), so I thought it would be a fabulous idea to make hokey pokey shortbread.  Now, if I’d thought about it, I’d have realised that putting hokey pokey, which mostly consists of sugar and air, in the oven was not a good idea at all, but I went full steam ahead (I hope I get points for enthusiasm).  Result: the hokey pokey melted in the oven leaving unattractive cavities of caramelised sugar all over the shortbread.  Bugger.

Oh…  101 Dalmatians-themed shortbread anyone?  Ahem.

Of course, I could have just glossed over this particular experiment and pretended that it never happened, but you know, I figured I might as well give you a laugh.  And hey, sometimes I have kitchen failures.  Well ok, the shortbread wasn’t a total failure because it still tasted good, but it certainly wasn’t presentable…  Anyway, I even made a shark fin-shaped shortbread biscuit especially for the occasion, which sort of morphed out of shape a little – perhaps failed shark fins could be a theme for blog birthdays.

So I fed the failed shark fin shortbread to Toothy.  Obviously.

Anyway, giggle away at my recipe mishap, and here’s to another year of blogging, of both successes and failures (but mostly successes).

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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An (utterly delicious) egg-free birthday cake!

It’s birthdays galore in the lab this week with both the technicians celebrating their birthdays – one yesterday, and one tomorrow, but she’s taking the day off so we celebrated today.  We’ve named it Technician Week.  Birthdays mean cake, and we don’t do things by halves in the lab so it’s been cake galore over the past two days.  Brownies and cake yesterday, and then two more cakes and biscuits today (plus all of yesterday’s leftovers).  We’re set for the week.  I was in charge of Monday’s birthday cake, which was for the technician who doesn’t eat egg.  The girl who was organising the present and card doesn’t like chocolate, so I needed to find a (reliable) cake recipe without egg and without chocolate.  Quite a challenge, particularly since I didn’t want to go down the vegan route – my limited experience with vegan baking so far hasn’t been particularly spectacular and a birthday is not the occasion to attempt to rectify that.

I searched for some tips on egg-free baking, and found several credible-seeming sites that suggested that you can often substitute half a mashed banana in cake recipes calling for just one or two eggs as apparently it has similar binding properties and still keeps the cake moist.  Obviously this won’t work if you need to separate the eggs or anything, but it’s a good to know.  The next step was to find a cake recipe that only called for one or two eggs (and didn’t have any chocolate), which was a little more elusive than I expected – most seem to ask for at least three.  A Treasury of New Zealand Baking came up trumps with a spiced date cake recipe requiring only one egg.  The original recipe was for a 20 cm cake, and that seemed a little small for a birthday cake so I doubled it.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% convinced that the banana trick was going to work, so I spent quite a while crossing my fingers whilst it was baking away.  The original recipe is supposed to be made in the food processor, adding ingredients as you go along.  Apparently my food processor had other plans, however, and instead of putting together a cake, it decided to make a strange noise, die and then emit a heck of a lot of smoke.  Marvellous timing.

So I reverted back to my trusty electric whisk to rescue the situation, which thankfully it did with flying colours (and no flying batter).  Luckily the taste of the cake wasn’t affected by the food processor mishap.  In fact, the cake was utterly delicious with the spices and the date flavours coming through wonderfully.  And it wasn’t at all dry, which is what I was most worried about (and had to wait until it was cut to find out whether it had really worked or not).  I covered it in cream cheese icing, piped some little fish on top and boom, a marine-themed birthday cake!  By the way, all the photos were taken on my phone and in the foyer or in our printer room (the only part of the lab we’re allowed to have food), so I apologise for the quality and slightly odd set-ups.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go claim the warranty on my food processor and then have a little lie-down after two days of cake…

Spiced date cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The un-iced cake will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight box, so it can be prepared in advance.  The iced cake will keep for about 2 days in an airtight box.  Any leftover icing will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge.  If you need the icing to be smooth for piping, I’d recommend using lemons extract instead of lemon zest.  The cake can also be decorated with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and a handful of toasted walnuts.

Ingredients

For the cake:
500g pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250 ml boiling water
220g caster sugar
220g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ mashed banana
300g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or ¼ tsp lemon extract

Directions

To make the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and place them in a heat-proof bowl along with the bicarbonate of soda.  Pour the boiling water over them, stir and leave to soak for 30 mins, stirring occasionally.  Set aside.

2.  Butter the base and sides of a deep (mine is about 5 cm) 24 cm round cake tin.  Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper (even if your tin is non-stick).  Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.  Add the mashed banana and mix well.

4.  Add the flour, baking powder, spices, dates and the soaking liquid to the butter mixture and whisk until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin and smooth the top with a spatula (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

5.  Bake for about 1h10 (start checking after 1h) until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is fully cooled, transfer it to a serving plate and prepare the icing.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl and add the cream cheese, cubed butter and the lemon zest or extract.  Whisk together with an electric whisk until white and fluffy (I kept aside about 2 tbsp for the orange piped icing), then spread over the top of the cake with a palette knife.  Decorate as you wish.

Enjoy!

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Sharky Oven Gloves turns one!

Today is an exciting day, because it’s my Blog Birthday!  (Blogirthday?  Blorthday?  Blirthday?  Who knows…)

One year ago today, I posted my very first post.  A very short one, which was clearly not a sign of things to come, since I think by now we’ve established that being concise really isn’t my strong point.

Sharky Oven Gloves was an idea that I first ran past Kat whilst queuing for Christmas Ball tickets at some stupid time in the early morning in the snow (oh St Andrews, how I miss your crazy ball ticket queuing strategies), and I thought I’d give it a go and see what blogging was like.  I’ll be perfectly honest – I started more or less out of procrastination whilst working on my Dissertation (of Doom).  It was a great way to get away from the frustration of data analysis which was telling me pretty much nothing except that some bycatch observers can’t tell the difference between certain shark and ray species (which is rather soul-destroying when your dissertation is based around observer data).  However, blogging rapidly became a new form of stress relief which conveniently incorporated my usual method of stress relief (cooking and baking).  It was so refreshing and almost relaxing to be able to just write something in a non academic context, and to not have to back-up every single statement with 56 references.  In the year that has passed since starting Sharky Oven Gloves, there have been several important (and not so important) milestones and events:

  • I finally tried making macarons.  The first few tries were rather dubious, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now!  I’ve definitely got the hang of stuffing them with alcohol.
  • I discovered how easy it is to make blueberry gin.  Cue plenty of alcohol infusion ideas (some of which have been carried out, some of which are on the waiting list).
  • I accidentally found out that there’s a World Nutella Day and a World Gin Day.  My life is complete.
  • The tradition of epic animal-themed birthday cakes appears to have been started.  We’ve had seal pupsmeerkats and killer whales.  What will next year bring?  Or will it be a different theme?
  • Blog challenges appeared on my radar and I decided to join in with some of them.  It turns out that it’s a fabulous way to engage with other bloggers and get involved in the community.
  • I finally made crêpes for the first time since an unfortunate incident involving my crêpe pan and some tuna steaks.
  • I went to the St Andrews Farmers’ Market for the first time.  I’d only lived there for three and a half years…
  • I stacked all the odds against myself and still managed to successfully make chartreuse soufflés.  Still not entirely sure how that happened.
  • There was a Royal Wedding which involved some pretty famous St Andrews alumni.  William and Kate – I don’t know if you’ve heard of them?
  • After somehow managing to survive for several months on 4-5 hours of sleep a night (I’m pretty sure that I’m still paying for this), the Dissertation of Doom was handed in.  On time and everything.
  • I graduated.  That’s right.  Sharky Oven Gloves BSc (Hons) if you please (not to sound pompous or anything…).  Oh and did I mention that I graduated with the national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough.  No biggie.
  • After four years of learning valuable life lessons, I moved from my beloved St Andrews down to Edinburgh, which is one of my home towns, but this is the first time I’ve lived here.  It’s only temporary though – I have an announcement regarding that, but I’m waiting until everything is finalised, hopefully soon…

I feel I should have some ground-breaking blogging revelations or something, but I’m afraid that I don’t, and I really don’t feel that I’m established enough as a blogger to venture into the “my tips for blogging” territory.  So I think I’ll leave it there for today (being the super-concise person that I am and all).  Oh except one little thing – I’ve set up a Sharky Oven Gloves facebook page!  And did you notice the little shark fin RSS button up at the top of the left-hand column?  I won’t tell you how long it took me to make it, but it was a long and arduous journey which taught me that I really suck at graphic design.  I’m still tweaking it a little, but please do let me know what you think!  There should be facebook and twitter fins joining it in the next few days, so look out for those…

So on that note, Happy Birthday Sharky Oven Gloves (is it weird to wish your own blog a happy birthday?  Seriously, what’s the protocol on this whole blog birthday thing?), here’s to another year of blogging fun made up of ramblings, recipes and general adventures…

In case you haven’t guessed, the grey blob is supposed to be a shark fin, and not a random rock poking out of the sea as my Mum thought.  The icing was pretty gloopy and uncooperative so it didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped (clearly).  I’ll aim to work on my shark fins for next year…

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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Zoosday Tuesday: Killer whale birthday cake

I’ve had a bit of a blog hiatus, mostly because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I thought I’d better sort that out, and it would seem appropriate to end the hiatus with a Zoosday Tuesday post (which I haven’t done in a while) in the form of a slightly epic birthday cake.  It seems to have been the year of the animal birthday cakes – we had the seal pup cake in January, Craig’s meerkat cake, and the latest offering…  A killer whale cake!  Before anybody panics, let me just make it clear that by killer whale cake I mean a cake shaped like a killer whale, not a whale cake that is lethal.

You may well be wondering why I decided to spend seven hours of my life making a cake in the shape of a killer whale (before anybody feels the need to point out that it doesn’t have a tail, the whale is surfacing, so the tail is underwater).  Aside from the fact that cake is awesome and killer whales are pretty awesome, thus the two put together would automatically be totally awesome, Kat happens to love killer whales and has just started the Marine Mammals MRes in St Andrews (she’s clever like that).  She also happens to love amaretto (an almond-flavoured liqueur), so when it came to making her a surprise birthday cake, an amaretto cake in the shape of a killer whale was a bit of a no-brainer…

Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really come across many amaretto cake recipes, so that was the first step.  I eventually found a cake recipe that involved apricots and amaretto which sounded promising.  In view of the epic amount of buttercream icing that was likely to cover the cake, I decided that attempting to be vaguely healthy with the apricots was a bit pointless so I substituted chocolate chips instead.  The next step was to work out how to make the chocolate and Amaretto cake into the shape of a killer whale.  I decided that baking the cake in a loaf tin was a good first step, and pretty much winged it from there.  So basically, I knew roughly what I wanted the finished cake to look like (a surfacing killer whale – to avoid faffing around and having to make a tail), but effectively made it up as I went along.  Thankfully it turned out to be fairly straightforward.  The final step was to get the cake from Edinburgh to St Andrews… on public transport.  Remarkably, we managed it to get it there in one piece.  All that remained to do was to stick a candle in its blowhole and all over Craig’s delicious chilli and lime chocolate brownies and celebrate Kat’s (slightly belated) birthday by spending two days eating cake…  In case you’re wondering, the cake not only looked pretty amazing (if I do say so myself…) but tasted rather good, too.  Phew!

Chocolate & amaretto cake

Serves 8-10 people
Adapted from Waitrose

Since I was making a whale cake, I made the cake in a loaf tin, but obviously a round cake tin works perfectly, too.  I’ve given the instructions here on how to make the cake into a whale, but if you’re not making a killer whale, but still want to ice the cake, use about ⅓ of the icing ingredients and sprinkle with flaked almonds and cocoa powder to decorate.  Just a warning, the killer whale cake did take me about 7 hours from start to finish, though most of that time was the cake’s cooking time and waiting for it to cool – the actual shaping and icing maybe took about 1 ½ hours since I faffed around quite a bit.  The cake keeps well for a few days in an air-tight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
25g self-raising flour
165g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
110g ground almonds
115g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
100ml amaretto (this is a bit of an approximation)
3 eggs
125ml sour cream
125g dark chocolate chips

For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
200g butter (softened to room temperature)
5-6 tbsp amaretto
Blue and black food colouring paste/gel
Edible blue sparkles (optional)

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Butter and flour a 21 x 11 cm loaf tin (or if you’re not making a killer whale, you can use a 23 cm round cake tin), and line the bottom with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

2.  Sift the two flours, the bicarbonate of soda and a large pinch of salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Add 75g of ground almonds and mix together.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the cubed butter and golden caster sugar together using an electric whisk.  Add the remaining ground almonds and about 4 tbsp of amaretto, and whisk together.  Beat in the eggs one at a time before adding the remaining 65 ml of amaretto and mixing well (don’t panic if the mixture appears to separate – I don’t know if that’s normal, but it happened to mine and the cake turned out perfectly fine.  Adding the dry ingredients in the next step will sort the mixture out again).

4.  Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the amaretto mixture, alternating each addition with folding in a spoonful of sour cream.  Make sure not to let the mixture get too dry.  Fold in the chocolate chips and spoon into the loaf tin.

5.  Bake for 1h25 (1h20 if using a round cake tin).  A toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean, but make sure not to overcook the cake (or it will come out really dry).  Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To turn the cake into a killer whale:
6.  Once the cake is completely cool, using a sharp knife, cut the ends of the cake into a rounded shape (try to keep at least one of the corners in one piece to make the fin with), making one end slightly more pointy than the other (this will be the whale’s head).  If necessary, trim the top edges of the loaf at an angle to try and make the overall shape more rounded and whale-like (if none of that made sense, hopefully the photo below will explain better).

7.  Using one of the corners that have been cut off the cake, trim it into a fin shape (again, see the photo below if you’re not too sure).  Stick a toothpick or two through the fin and into the cake to secure it into place, and use a toothpick on either side to make sure it doesn’t fall over.

8.  To make the buttercream icing, cream together the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl until smooth (be prepared for an icing sugar explosion).  Place 1-2 tsp of icing in the centre of the underside of the cake and place the cake onto the cake board of plate that you’ll be presenting it on, pressing it down gently (this is to vaguely stick the cake to the cake board/plate so that it doesn’t slide around in transit).

9.  Transfer just under half of the remaining icing to a medium sized bowl, add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a dollop (very technical term) of black food colouring gel/paste.  Mix well until the icing is smooth.  Add a tiny bit more black food colouring if necessary and mix until the icing has turned very dark grey.  Using a small tapered spatula or knife, spread the dark grey icing over the whale, making sure to leave space for the white icing under the mouth (alternatively, cover the entire cake in dark grey icing and then pipe the white icing over the top as with the white bits over the eyes).  Use icing to cover the toothpicks on either side of the fin, and shape it a little if necessary.  Try and make the icing as smooth as possible.  Refer to the photos of the cake, or to photos of real killer whales as guides.

10.  Prepare a piping bag with a 5 mm round tip, and spoon 2-3 heaped tbsp of the white icing into it.  Pipe the white spots over the top of the killer whale’s eyes, and the the white parts of its belly under its mouth (see photos of the cake or real killer whales to use as guides).  If there is any icing left in the piping bag, return it to the rest of the original white icing in the large bowl.

11.  Dip the end of a toothpick into the black food colouring paste and draw a small eye between the white patch above the eye and the white belly under the mouth.  Use the other end of the toothpick to do the eye on the other side.  Use another toothpick to shape a blowhole in the centre of the top of the whale’s head (the blowhole I made was about 6 mm across).

12.  Prepare another piping bag with a tear-drop or rose-petal tip (or if you don’t have either of those, a 5 mm round tip would probably work, too).  Add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a tiny bit of blue food colouring paste to the remaining icing and mix well until the icing is smooth.  Spoon the icing into the prepared piping bag and pipe squiggles across the cake board or plate to make the waves of the sea.  Sprinkle some edible blue sparkles across the top of the “sea” to finish off the cake (optional).

Enjoy!  (And remember to warn people about the toothpicks in the fin…)

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May I present… My oven gloves!

Would you believe it, this is actually my 50th post!  Yes, 50th!!  For some reason, I feel that this is some sort of milestone and that I should post about something special.  So I thought I’d introduce you to my amazing oven gloves, the inspiration behind my blog name: Sharky Oven Gloves.  (Yes, I’m writing about my oven gloves, and no, despite the past few weeks of intense dissertating, I haven’t completely lost the plot, I promise!)

I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned my love of sharks, but in case you’re not up to speed on it, basically, I’m fascinated by them.  Ultimately, I’d like to go into academia and study sharks.  My friends have realised that anything shark-themed makes me totally happy, which makes buying presents for me fairly straightforward (aside from the minor detail of actually finding shark-themed gifts).  About three years ago, my flatmate gave me a shark-shaped oven glove for my birthday – a truly amazing present!

Through a series of totally unexpected circumstances, Kat ended up living with me last summer (2010) and Craig, who was also in St Andrews over the summer, spent quite a lot time with us.  Our summer involved baking a lot, eating a lot and drinking a lot totally responsibly.  Craig and I introduced Kat to the old James Bond films (we worked our way through the entire set).  We also discovered that a shark-shaped oven glove has a lot of potential for hilarious photos.

By the time we watched The Man with the Golden Gun, shark oven glove photos were a fairly permanent feature of our evenings (not as sad as it sounds…), and we’d decided that we wanted to name the oven glove something Bond-related.  Christopher Lee plays Scaramanga (the “bad guy” with the golden gun), and he’s just a fantastic actor and we also happen to be Lord of the Rings fans, so we decided to name the oven glove Toothamanga, or Toothy for short.

I don’t know how familiar you are with the James Bond films, but they contain a lot of dreadful innuendo, which is, of course, incredibly hilarious (did I mention that we’re all really mature, ahem). We paired a few of the photos up with various Bond quotes (hover over the photo for the quote), and just in case you weren’t sure about our (im)maturity level, here is one of my favourites:

In case you think your eyes might be deceiving you, yes, there is an actual street in St Andrews called Butts Wynd.

Here’s another, rather more mature photo-quote pairing:

Kat and Craig took Toothy on a proper tour of St Andrews one day, made him a facebook profile and put all the photos up whilst I was in the lab – I didn’t know about it until I got a friendship request from my own oven glove.  It must have taken me about 10 minutes to stop laughing (thank goodness my professor wasn’t in the lab at the time).  Here are some of my favourites (it was difficult to choose!):

Now, it’s all very well having a shark-shaped oven glove, but sometimes you need two oven gloves.  Most times, actually.  Since we spent a lot of time baking, I complained about this a lot over the summer.  So Kat, being the amazing friend that she is, gave me a second shark-shaped oven glove for my birthday (it’s in September, so at the end of the summer).  We named it Toothy-Two, or Twothy (see what we did there?)  Being working oven gloves, they have of course accumulated various stains, and that’s how we tell them apart (though Twothy also seems to be made of slightly thinner material – possibly on account of the recession?).  So there you have it – the rather long-winded story behind Sharky Oven Gloves!

Here’s a final selection of photos, all golf-related – after all, I hear that St Andrews is famous for it…!

Hmmmm…  Perhaps I have lost the plot!

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Zoosday Tuesday: Meerkat birthday cake. Simples!

Today is the first Tuesday of April, which means that it’s Zoosday Tuesday, and I’m excited about the cake that I’m about to share with you…!

I’ve just realised that I could have done a Cakes for Craig mini-series of posts – last week I told you about the Gin & Tonic macarons that were his birthday present, then on Sunday I shared the chocolate délice that I attempted for his birthday dinner.  Today is the final installment (so I guess that makes it a trilogy?): the surprise cake that Kat, his housemate (who I shall call H for now, as I forgot to check if I could use her name) and I made for his birthday party, which was about ten days ago.  Kat and I previously ventured into the world of animal-themed cakes back in January with a seal pup cake.  We had so much fun that we wanted to make another animal-themed cake.  Now, Craig loves meerkats, so this is the cake we made for him…

Here’s a little secret: Kat and I have actually been planning this since January.  Before you accuse us of having too much time on our hands, let me just say that it’s amazing the amount of procrastination you can get out of designing a cake (and we’ve had a lot to procrastinate from – exams, review essays, practical reports, our dreaded dissertations…).  H helped us make it, and most importantly, was in charge of hiding it from Craig so that it would be a total surprise.  Since we didn’t want to arrive at the party with the cake, thus giving the game away, we took it round whilst he was out and H did a brilliant job of hiding it, because he clearly had no idea.  SUCCESS!!!

The cake itself was straightforward enough – we used the same chocolate cake and glaçage as the seal cake, but sprinkled it with gold sugar to resemble sand (meerkats live in the desert).  In keeping with the general chocolate theme, the meerkats were chocolate rolled cookies.  We scoured the internet for meerkat cookie-cutters, but to no avail.  Which is surprising, considering the whole meerkat craze at the moment.  I mean seriously, I have a shark cookie-cutter – do they really make shark cookie-cutters and not meerkat ones?!  It would appear so.  Astounding.  Anyway, I digress.  So Kat drew out a stencil instead and we used that to cut out the cookies by hand.  The icing was originally going to be a straightforward (American) royal icing, but well, we’re alcoholics students, and this was a birthday party, so the obvious thing to do was to lace the icing with kirsch (to go with the kirsch in the cake and in the cookies, the recipe of which we’d already altered to include some kirsch).  And by lace, what I really mean substitute kirsch for water.  We then used some edible glue to attach toothpicks to the backs of the meerkat cookies to so that they would stand up on top of the cake (this also made it easier to transport because we just stuck the meerkats into the cake once at Craig’s).  The cake was served with kirsch-infused whipped cream, well, actually, I may have surpassed myself and accidentally made cream-infused whipped kirsch (oops).

Getting the whole cake together took us about six hours.  But the cake nearly rendered Craig speechless (quite a feat) and he clearly deeply appreciated it, which makes the effort totally worth it (and we had so much fun with the icing).  He actually mentioned it in the sweetest post, and after a recent episode of somebody very obviously not eating a cake that I made them (despite it being tasty according to everybody else who tried it), cake appreciation means a lot to me.  I have to admit, I’m still amazed at how realistic we managed to make the meerkats, so here’s another photo (all photos thanks to Kat, by the way):

Chocolate rolled cookies with kirsch icing

Makes 5 meerkat cookies and a lot of stars
Cookies adapted from Glorious Treats
Icing adapted from Joy of Baking

If you want to make the whole cake, then follow this chocolate cake and chocolate glaçage recipe, and sprinkle gold sugar over the top of the cake before the glaçage hardens (so that it sticks to the cake). The cookie dough makes a lot of cookies – we only made 5 meerkats but we used the rest of the dough to make star cookies.  Luckily the dough freezes quite well in a zip-lock bag, just thaw it out in the fridge before using it (otherwise it will be too hard to roll out).  The icing would make enough to decorate at least 8 meerkats.

Ingredients

For the cookies:
375g all-purpose flour
45g cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
135g granulated sugar
110g brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp chocolate liqueur (I used dark crême de cacao)
1 tsp kirsch

For the icing:
1 large egg white
Kirsch
250-280g icing sugar
Food colouring pastes (we used hazelnut & black)

Directions

To make the cookies:
1.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together into a bowl, and mix them together.

2.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and two sugars together using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  Mix in the egg, chocolate liqueur and kirsch.

3.  Gradually add the cocoa powder and flour mixture to the butter mix roughly 100g at a time, making sure that it was been well incorporated before adding the next 100g (the mixer may slow up a bit towards the end).

4.  Once fully incorporated, split the dough into two or three balls (this makes it more manageable to work with later on), and put each into a zip-lock back and chill in the fridge for 1-2h or about 20mins in the freezer (don’t forget about it in the freezer or you’ll have to let it thaw out after).

5.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.  Line a few baking trays with baking paper.  (This is a good time to make stencils if that’s what you’ll be using.)

6.  Remove one ball of dough from the fridge (if you’ve chilled the dough in the freezer, move the other balls to the fridge so they don’t freeze completely) and place it on a lightly floured surface.  Place a piece of baking paper over the top of the dough (this minimises the amount of flour that you have to use) and roll out to a thickness of around 4mm.  Use cookie cutters (or cut around the stencil you’ve made) to cut out the cookies and place them on the baking trays.  Make the excess dough back into a ball and roll it out again, making sure that the surface you are rolling it out onto is lightly floured.

7.  Once you’ve got a full baking tray, chill it in the freezer for 5 mins (to help the cookies keep their shapes), then place it directly into the oven and bake for 7-10 mins (this will depend on the thickness and shape of your cookies).

8.  Allow the cookies to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

To decorate the cookies:
9.  As the cookies are cooling, prepare the icing.  Set out small bowls or tupperware boxes for the number of different colours you need (we had two – one large to make the icing in, and a small one in which to mix the black), and prepare the tips and icing bags that you will need (we used a Wilton #2 for the lining, a syringe for the flooding, and a Wilton #5 for the brown stripes and shading).

10.  Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white and 1 tsp of kirsch together until just mixed, before adding the sifted icing sugar.  Whisk until smooth and the correct consistency for lining the cookies.  If the icing is too runny, add a little more icing sugar.  Pour as much of the icing as you need into one of the bowls, and cover the big bowl so that the rest of the icing doesn’t dry out.  Add some black colouring to the small bowl and mix well (add more as necessary).  Spoon the black lining icing into a piping bag with a thin tip and outline the cookies.  You can extend the lining to define the paws, too.  Once done, put the icing bag aside, in an airtight box if possible – it will be required later for the eyes and nose.

11.  As the black lining dries on the cookies, prepare the flooding icing.  Uncover the large bowl of icing, add 1 tsp and mix well.  Add another 1 tsp of kirsch and mix well once again.  Continue adding a little bit of kirsch at a time until the icing is of the correct consistency (scoop some icing out of the bowl and drop it back in – it should disappear within 5s).  Add a tiny amount of hazelnut colouring and mix it in well, to achieve a beige colour (add a tiny bit more if necessary – err on the side of caution with quantities as it’s easier to add a tiny bit more than it is to remove any!).  Once the correct colour is achieved, spoon about ⅔ of the beige icing into a piping bag (or syringe) with a medium-sized tip, and cover the rest of the icing so that it doesn’t dry out.  Flood the cookies within the lining, using a toothpick to spread the icing as necessary.

12.  Once the cookies have been flooded, add more hazelnut colouring to the remaining icing and mix well to make a darker brown (you may have to add a sliver of black colouring, too).  Once the correct shade of brown is achieved, spoon the icing into a piping bag with a small tip (but not as small as for the lining), and pipe on the stripes on the back.  Each stripe consists of 3-4 dots, joined together with a toothpick, and mixed a little to make them less defined.  Add a few dots at the end of the tail, paws and around the nose, and blur them slightly with a toothpick.  Draw ears, too.

13.  Get the icing bag with the black icing back out again and draw the nose and eyes.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always add a tiny bit of shading to the ears with a toothpick.  Allow the cookies to dry a little before attaching the toothpicks to the back using edible glue and a fine paintbrush. Be careful when handling the cookies (to avoid smudging the icing)!  Allow to dry fully (this may take several hours) before decorating the cake or storing in an airtight box.

Enjoy!

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White chocolate & lime cheesecake

This month’s We Should Cocoa is hosted by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, and the special ingredient is “Lime“.  Now when I think of limes, my first thought is Gin & Tonic, and my second is tequila shots (make of that what you will), neither of which have much to do with chocolate.  I considered making something chocolatey based around the idea of a G&T, but as much as I love gin, I wasn’t really convinced about how well the taste would go with chocolate.  And then I realised that I had been totally side-tracked by the thought of gin, and that the challenge ingredient was supposed to be lime.  Lime, not gin.  Lime.  Right, got it: lime.

So I scrapped the G&T idea (I made myself one to make up for it.  With a giant wedge of lime, just as a reminder), and started thinking about what kind of chocolate I thought would go best with lime.  I decided on white chocolate – the tartness of the lime should cut through the creaminess of the chocolate.  The next step was to work out what to actually make using this combination.  Cheesecake seemed the really obvious choice.  There’s just one minor detail: I don’t like cheesecake (shock, horror, etc.).  Whether baked or not, my issue is with the texture – it just grosses me out and makes me shudder.  This upsets me, because I always think that cheesecake just looks so good.  I occasionally manage to trick myself into thinking that maybe if I try it this time, I’ll like it.  So I order it.  And taste it.  And get grossed out and shudder a lot, and then somebody else has to finish it whilst I sit there feeling slightly miserable about missing out on dessert.  So whilst white chocolate and lime cheesecake sounded like a great idea, A) I don’t actually know how to make it, and B) who was going to eat it?  Certainly not me…  (Shudder shudder.)

Then suddenly it hit me: my flatmate loves cheesecake.  And she has a March birthday (it was yesterday).  I would make her a cheesecake for her birthday!  And of course, because there would be loads of people at her party, it would get eaten up (provided it tasted ok) and I wouldn’t be simultaneously tempted/grossed out by cheesecake leftovers in our fridge.  Genius!  Well, it would have been a genius plan, but she decided to go out for tea instead of throwing a party.  However, I’d made up my mind to attempt cheesecake, and wasn’t about to be thwarted by such a tiny detail, so I made her a mini cheesecake.  (Actually I made two, in case one went wrong and also because I wanted to try some, and it would be bad form to pinch cake off the birthday girl.  Guess what?  I still detest cheesecake.  The tester cheesecake went to Kat and Craig, who loved it.)  My flatmate proclaimed that it was tasty though, hurrah!

White chocolate & lime cheesecake

Makes 2 x 9cm cakes
Adapted from BBC Food

As you can see on the photo, the cheesecake comes out quite thick, but since it is a small cake, that’s fine.  According to my flatmate, it’s quite a rich cheesecake, so one mini cake would probably be enough for about 3 people.  I originally wanted to decorate it with lime green edible glitter, but I couldn’t find any, so I used green sugar instead.

Ingredients

35g unsalted butter
6 Digestive biscuits
50g white chocolate
1 unwaxed lime
12oml double cream
240g cream cheese
40g icing sugar
Green sugar or edible glitter, to decorate (optional)

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with baking paper, and also cut out two strips of baking paper to line the insides of two 9 cm chef’s ring (make sure the paper is a bit longer than the inside circumference of the ring so that there is some overlap). Crush the digestive biscuits (putting them in zip-lock bag and using a rolling pin works really well).

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the crushed biscuits.  Stir until all the butter has been absorbed by the biscuits.  Remove from the heat and split the biscuit mixture between the two rings.  Press the mixture down into the bottom of each of the chef’s rings, making sure it is compacted and even, and then refrigerate for 1 hour, until set.

3.  Whilst the biscuit mix is setting, prepare the filling.  Grate the white chocolate, and zest and juice the lime (it should give 2-3 tsp of juice).  Whip the cream into soft peaks in a medium-sized bowl.

4.  In a large bowl, whip the cream cheese lightly until soft, then add the icing sugar, and the lime zest and juice.  Mix until incorporated.  Gently fold in the whipped cream and the grated chocolate, until smooth.  Spoon the mixture equally over the two bases, gently pressing it into the sides of the rings so that there are no gaps between the filling and the base.  Refrigerate for a further 2 hours until the filling is set.

5.  Transfer the cake (still in the chef’s ring) to a serving plate by carefully sliding it off the baking paper on the tray.  To remove the chef’s ring from around the cake, wipe the outside with a hot cloth and gently work it off.  Then carefully unpeel the baking paper from the sides of the cake.  Decorate with edible glitter, coloured sugar or even cocoa powder (or all three), and serve.

Enjoy!

PS – Ya, I decided to make something that I know my flatmate loves and is picky about, that I’ve never made before, and that I can’t eat so I couldn’t check if it tasted good or not.  And I decided to make it as a gift.  I’m well aware of the many fails in logic.

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Fun fact: It takes 3h to make a seal pup out of grated chocolate…

A friend of mine had his birthday last week and, well, let’s just say that he’s not a huge fan of the cute and fluffy variety of animal.  I had to do a presentation with him last year, and I deliberately added pictures of cute baby seals to every single one of my slides, just for a laugh.  He made me take them out (to be fair, the presentation wasn’t even particularly related to seals – it was about biodiversity and climate change, so they were only briefly mentioned), but I managed to convince him to leave this baby harp seal on the title slide:

How adorably cute is it?!  Since then, we’ve had a bit of a running joke about cute baby seals, so when Kat and I made a surprise birthday cake for him, we just had to somehow include a baby seal.  It took us about 3 hours to decorate, but we managed it, and I think we did quite a good job, even if I do say so myself…

What do you think?  We modelled it on the harp seal pup photo from the presentation.  Thankfully, Kat can draw and so she drew the outline of the seal into the icing with a toothpick (actually, I don’t have any toothpicks, so a cocktail umbrella made a wonderful substitute – we’re students, what can I say?)  We made the eyes, nose and mouth with dark chocolate chips, used roughly grated white chocolate for the fur, finely grated dark chocolate for the shading and some random little square chocolate sprinkles for the eyebrows and whiskers.

Rich & decadent chocolate cake

Serves 10-12 (using a 26cm cake tin)
Recipe from Je Sais Cuisiner

This recipe can be multiplied by 1.5 and it still works fine, but has gone wrong whenever I’ve doubled it – I think there might be too many eggs or something.  It’s quite a rich and compact cake, so you don’t need massive slices, and I definitely recommend serving it with whipped cream – we made kirsch-infused whipped cream (since we used kirsch in the cake) and it went rather fabulously.

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour
140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
140g caster sugar
70g unsalted butter
4 eggs
2 tbsp of liqueur (rum, kirsch, etc) or orange flower water
Chocolate glaçage (recipe below)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 120°C, and butter a 26cm round cake tin.

2.  Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter in a heat-proof bowl sitting over a saucepan filled with water and heated (you can also just do this in a saucepan heated over very low heat).

3.  Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks one-by-one, followed by the flour and then the sugar (if you want the texture of your cake to look like the photo above, and be quite “grainy” then use a wooden spoon, but if you want it to be smoother, use a hand whisk.  Both are scrumptious – it’s entirely a matter of personal taste).

4.  Whisk the four egg whites up into firm peaks, and fold them into the chocolate mixture along with your chosen liqueur.

5.  Pour the mixture into the buttered cake tin, and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (or a cocktail umbrella…  I should really invest in some toothpicks!)

6.  Invert the cake onto a cake platter or plate or whatever you want to present it on, and cover it in chocolate glaçage (see recipe below) before decorating (use white chocolate chips, hundreds and thousands, cherries, etc).

Dark chocolate glaçage

Makes enough glaçage to cover a 26cm cake (and then some!)
Recipe from Je Sais Cuisiner.

Ingredients

60g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
60g unsalted butter
2 eggs

Directions

1.  Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter in a heat-proof bowl sitting over a saucepan filled with water and heated (you can also just do this in a saucepan heated over very low heat).

2.  Remove from the heat, and with a hand whisk, mix in each of the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites into firm peaks and fold them into the chocolate to make a smooth mixture.

3.  Spread onto the cake using a palette knife, making the top and sides as smooth as possible (don’t worry about getting chocolate all over the plate – it is fairly easy to clean up with a bit of damp kitchen roll).  The glaçage will set as it cools.

Enjoy the cake with liqueur-infused whipped cream!

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods