Monday, September 27, 2010

September 2010 Daring Bakers Challenge - Decorated Sugar Cookies!

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

This month Mandy from What the Fruitcake?! challenge us to make sugar cookies but not with a few random squiggles and dots she was talking about beautifully decorated cookies that are given as a gift, made for a party or given as wedding favours. Wow! What a challenge! Honestly I thought sugar cookies simply had sugar sprinkled on top! Yeah, I know, I must have been living under a rock or something to not have noticed the many blogs and sites dedicated to this wonderful creation! In Australia, we don't have a cookie tradition as such so it's not something that is easy to come by particularly living in rural areas. that I know..... I will never stop decorating sugar cookies.

Before I started I checked out some sites like this one and especially this one that Mandy recommended because I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. Was I blown away? These cookies are almost too good to eat. Truely works of art! I knew I was out of my league but I fell back on my cake decorating knowledge and the equipment I had.

Another specification for this challenge was that it should show what September represents to us. For many in the Northern hemisphere that was Fall (Autumn, to us Aussies) or in the Southern hemisphere Spring. For me, I thought of Father's Day which in Australia falls on the first Sunday of September. 

The recipe given had no baking powder which meant the cookies didn't alter in shape during baking but it was delicious and tasty.

Basic Sugar Cookies:

Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies

200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

• Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming
creamy in texture.
• Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during
baking, losing their shape.
• Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
• Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.
• Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)
• Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins.
• Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an
hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and
then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.
• Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
• Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.
• Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour.
• Tip: It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking.
• Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
• Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
• Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies.
• Tip: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in
some cookies being baked before others are done.
• Tip: Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly.
• Leave to cool on cooling racks.
• Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.
• Tip: If wrapped in tinfoil/cling wrap or kept in airtight containers in a cool place, un-decorated
cookies can last up to a month.

Now to decorate! If you've had a peak at the two sites I linked above you will now have heaps of ideas. Since I was doing Father's Day Cookies I limited my colours to blue, green, yellow and white which I knew were favourites. I used packaged fondant and coloured small portions with the desired shades. I also made up half the quantity of royal icing, divided it into four bowls and coloured each portion in my chosen colours.

Royal Icing:

315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ - 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
• Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and
grease free.
• Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
• Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.
• Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.

Using extra sifted pure icing sugar for dusting, I rolled out the coloured fondant one piece at a time and cut shapes to fit my cookies. I used the cutter a size smaller so that I had the edge of the cookies showing. You could use the exact cutter to cut the fondant for a different effect.

 Also many decorated sugar cookies use royal icing not fondant and the flooding technique which you can follow part 1, here and part 2, here. It is easy to stick the fondant on the cookie by brushing the cookie with corn syrup. Then I used different colour and icing tubes to create messages and effects on each cookie. Once dry, each cookie was brushed with edible shimmer dust.

My husband,

 father and father-in-law

 were the lucky recipients of the cookies and were all thrilled with their cookies and their special messages of love.

This was a fabulous challenge which I loved very much and I know there are many more decorated sugar cookies to come out of my kitchen. I'm not sure I will ever be able to produce such beautiful cookies as some of my fellow Daring Bakers but I'll keep trying. Thanks Mandy for a fantastic challenge! You really should see the cookies at Mary Mary Culinary, Bubble and Sweet and Happy Cook plus more Daring Bakers cookies.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nigella's Eggplant Involtini

Are you the type of person who loves to relax with a good book - a good cookbook, that is? I love reading cookbooks and invariably there is always a collection of my lastest reading by my bed and on the coffee table. I particularly love reading Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. I can almost hear them talking to me, guiding me through the recipes. Their books are written almost like a novel with so much information and entertainment value. However, I don't always end up succeeding with their recipes. Much of the time I'm dissappointed with the results. Not quite as luscious or tasty as described. But this recipe has surprised and delighted me and my family.
This year I have discovered Vanella Cheese Factory situated in Cairns, North Queensland which is producing award winning cheeses. Most exciting is the buffalo milk cheese varieties including luscious mozzarella and delicious fetta.
mozzarella (left) and fetta (right)

The buffalo milk arrives fresh from the Cairns Highlands and is expertly used to create traditional cheeses according to Italian cheese making techniques.  I know they distribute in Brisbane and Sydney as well as North Queensland, so if you do come across the Vanella brand cheeses do try them.  

When I picked several shiny purple eggplants (aubergines) from the garden I knew instantly what to do with them. This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast.
Firstly I like to peel and sliced the eggplants into about 5mm slices. Then if the seeds a large and hard they could be bitter so salt them if that's the case. To do this , sprinkle the slice with salt and layer into a colandar. Leave for 1 hour. During this time the bitter juices will be released and drain away. Wash and dry well before proceeding.
Brush slice with olive oil and grill.

While they are cooking mix up the filling. Into a bowl mix -

 100g  crumbled fetta,
100g finely chopped mozzarella,
 25g grated parmesan,
4 tablespoons olive oil,
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs,
1 crushed garlic clove,
 2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley,
salt and pepper,
1 beaten egg. 

Place a tablespoon or so of filling onto a slice of grilled eggplant.

 Roll up and arrange into a baking dish. This is obviously a recipe that can easily be adjusted according to how many guests you have.

Pour 700g tomato passata over the the rolls and sprinkle with 200g chopped mozzarella, a little dried oregano, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake at 180C for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and the cheese is melted and golden. By this time your house should smell heavenly. Once out, let the dish stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Beautiful with crusty bread and a salad.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Coca Cola Chocolate Cake

When my daughter was in Grade 6 she embarked on her first school camp and I volunteered as a parent helper. This was to be a study camp focusing on the tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland.  The camp site was quite a luxurious one complete with cabins, a dining verandah with gorgeous cathedral ceilings and a cosy meeting area with a fireplace. Yes, it does get quite cold in the mountains of the tropics. This beautiful "resort" is run by  Catholic Education up in the lush rainforest of the Paluma Ranges where the students are able to walk into the rainforest to observe the rainforest floor and right up to the canopy. By night, the rainforest comes alive with glow worms and the sights and sounds of the creatures not heard in the day.
Of course, all this walking makes for a huge appetite. So, there amid the ancient trees and cool mountain air we were treated to a wonderful array of homebaked treats by the cook. Home made icecream, muffins, apple crumbles, salads, lasagna and hamburgers were all prepared on site from fresh good quality ingredients. The students didn't realise how lucky they were - camp wasn't always going to be like this.

The Cook was strict! Children were to eat everything on their plates - "What do you mean, you don't like eggs?" And cleaning and washing up was done by groups of students - "Carefully now! Don't chip the plates!" 
My daughter, now 15, still fondly remembers that school camp as the "one with the best food, it's all down hill from there." I remember it because the Cook and I exchanged recipes. She gave me this excellent recipe for chocolate cake which  contains Coca Cola. Apparently, Coca Cola chocolate cakes were popular in the 60's complete with Coca Cola Icing. Actually, I'm no a big fan of the drink but it make a delicious,  moist Chocolate cake. I have added a Coca Cola Icing that is smooth over the hot cake.

Coca Cola Chocolate Cake

2 cups plain flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
250g butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Coca Cola
2 tablespoons rum

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line 20 cm square cake tin.
Sift all dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
Melt butter and cool off a little. Carefully add coke to melted butter.
In medium bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, milk and rum until well mixed.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well until smooth. The batter will be thin.
Pour into prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour.  Remove from the oven but do not turn out. 

Coca Cola Icing ( adapted from here)

1/4 butter
3 tablespoons Coca Cola
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa.

Heat to boiling point butter, cocoa and Coca Cola. Add icing sugar and vanilla; stir to blend. Using a skewer make holes in the hot cake  and pour the hot icing over it.