Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stained Glass Cookie Ornaments

All cookies call out to my inner child, but there's something special, almost magical, about stained glass cookies. I've been fascinated with them ever since I first came across the idea (and hats off to whoever came up with it!) I'd been wanting to try my hand at them for a long time, and what better occasion to do that than Christmas!

If you've never heard of stained glass cookies before, they're just regular cookies with shapes cut out from the center which is then filled in with crushed candy. As the cookie bakes, the candy melts, giving the center a glass-like effect.

You start by getting your dough ready. I used the sugar cookie recipe from Glorious Treats, enhanced with two generous tablespoons of orange zest (those would be the flecks you might spot in the cookies). While the dough is firming up in the fridge, get your candy (or lollies, as they're known in Oz) sorted out. You have to use single-coloured hard boiled sugar candies. Separate them by colour. Next comes the bashing.

Now, the way most sites tell you to do it is to place them in ziplocs, and then bash using a heavy rolling pin or mallet. However, I read a comment on one of the sites, where the candy was too hard and after multiple whacks, the ziploc tore, possibly leaving bits of plastic among the candy pieces. This is what happened with me. So I tossed that batch, and searched for an alternative. Which turned out to be close at hand - my mortar and pestle. This works equally well, and is safer than the ziploc method, especially if the candy isn't easily smashed.

Roll out the dough and cut the main shape. Then using a much smaller cutter, cut out a piece from the center. You can re-use this piece. Transfer the cookie carefully to a parchment-paper lined baking tray, and fill in the center with the smashed candy. This was the only irksome part for me in the whole process, as the candy pieces became quite sticky and spooning them in was a real challenge. This could be because it was quite humid, it might be easier in dry weather.

Anyway, here you have to be careful that no candy flecks fall on the cookie itself, as it will colour the cookie. Of course, if you're going to ice the whole cookie, it doesn't matter, go ahead and be careless! If you're planning to use these cookies as ornaments, use a straw to cut out a hole at the top. Once all your cookies are done, bake them for a shade under the stated time. Take them out as soon as they get the barest hint of brown at the edges.

The candy centers will be bubbly when you take them out, but settle down as they cool. Most places ask you to leave the cookies on the tray for 10 minutes, so that the candy has time to set. Move them too quickly, and cookie & candy will part ways. I left mine on till they were completely cool, before gingerly peeling them away from the paper. To store also, I kept them in parchment-paper lined tins.

My cookies didn't turn out perfectly, clearly glassy. Next time, I'd try bashing the candy (a different brand, definitely!) to smithereens, and then see how they turned out. Anyway, they were still a lot of fun to make. You can leave them as they are, or go nuts decorating them. I used royal icing and left them overnight to dry. Once dry, you can tie a ribbon through the hole at the top, transforming your cookie into a delicious decoration. Now, to eat, or decorate with .... tough choice!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Birthday Baking Part 2: Pooh-kies!

If there is a Tardy Blogger Award, I nominate myself for it! This one has been pending from the past few months. Here we are in December already, so I'm just going to get this done before the Christmassy posts. (New Year's resolution: blog on time!)

When my daughter turned 3 earlier this year, we'd celebrated with a Winnie-the-Pooh themed party. Along with this cake, I'd also baked sugar cookies to include in the kids' goodie bags. Now, I'm still a decorating novice; I'm nowhere as quick as I'd like to be. So given the amount of work I had to do for the party, I wanted a relatively easier way of decorating the cookies while still incorporating the theme.

The solution was simple: royal icing transfers. Royal icing is one of those brilliant things that is easy to make, and that you can create decorations with that will last indefinitely. My royal icing recipe is adapted from Sweetopia, over here. Since this makes quite a bit of icing, I scaled it down considerably so that I don't end up with too much left over. I will put up my version in a separate post (soon!)

So, about the royal icing transfers, or run-outs, as they're also called. You begin with a template of your desired shape, that you trace out quite boldly on a piece of paper. Or, to make things easier, that you print out all over a sheet of paper (so you don't have to keep moving the same piece of paper repeatedly). My template was the shape of Pooh's head.

Properly speaking, you need two consistencies of royal icing: piping icing, to outline the template, and flood icing, to fill it in. I'm lazy, so to spare myself the bother of having different sets of piping bags, I made an in-between consistency that would stay where I piped it, but could also be pushed around smoothly.

You then need to place a sheet of parchment / wax / greaseproof paper over your template. I actually cut out several squares of paper thinking it'd be safer to move each transfer individually without disturbing the others. But you know what, once they're fully dry, they lift right off. So you could just use a single sheet of parchment paper, especially if you've got your template printed out. Once you've secured the template below the parchment paper, go ahead and start piping on the parchment paper using the template as your guide.

I piped the yellow first, let it set a bit before piping the red. Although in hindsight, I think I should've done it the other way; there's less chance of a lighter colour bleeding into a darker one. Either way, once you're done filling in the transfers, it's best to leave them overnight to dry completely. Once they're fully dry, you can add the features. I used a food colour pen, but if you don't have one, you could dilute a bit of black food colour in water or clear vanilla extract and paint the features on using a fine brush.

Once the features are dry, which should be pretty soon, carefully pack the transfers in an airtight container. Royal icing decorations will not spoil, however they are quite fragile. So you can make them well in advance, but always make extras in case some break. I made these ones a couple of weeks ahead.

A few days before the party, I baked the cookies (recipe from Glorious Treats). Then all I had to do was  cover each cookie with green royal icing, and immediately place the transfer on top. As the base icing dries, the transfer adheres to the cookie. Once the cookies were fully dry, I outlined them with yellow royal icing.

One lesson I learned from this project was to ensure that the icing on the transfers was spread thick and even. If you look closely, you can see where it's a bit thinner. These didn't come out perfectly flat, which may be okay if you're going to just serve them at home. But if you're after perfection, or your cookies need to be packaged and transported (which these did), it's well worth the effort to ensure completely flat transfers. Any bits that jut out (like some of Pooh's ears here) are easily breakable when you place them in goodie bags with other stuff.

Luckily, most of my Pooh-kies survived intact. I packed each cookie in a plastic treat bag. I sealed the bags with tags I made out of red cardstock, yellow paper and some stickers. Each child received one cookie along with a couple of other knick-knacks in their goodie bags.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rangoli-inspired Diwali cookies

While I enjoy all of India's many celebrations, Diwali has always been my favourite. To me, there's something magical about all those diyas and lights glowing from every home. That is one of the things I miss the most, being outside India.That, and the sweets!

I wanted to do something special for Diwali, but since mithai-making is not my forte, I decided to stick to my usual - baking - and go desi-style for the decoration.

These are simple sugar cookies (recipe from Glorious Treats), covered in home-made royal icing (I will post my version soon).

Of these three designs, my favourite is the blue-petal one.

I had really wanted to take step-by-step shots of these, but had to keep rushing between the kitchen (where I had my set-up) and the dining table (where the child had her set-up) to supervise. I'd been telling her about Diwali and how it's a special time. Since she loves decorating too, I thought I'd try to instil some of that Diwali-buzz by letting her decorate her own cookies.

I gave her four of the flower-shaped cookies, 2 piping bags and a plate of sprinkles. Unfortunately, she got so carried away ''piping" (read: dumping mounds of icing on cookies), that most of them set before she could get the sprinkles on, with the end result that the sprinkles meant for four cookies ended up on one, like so:

Anyway, here's wishing you a peaceful, prosperous and of course, sweet Diwali!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Cake Pops: Initial Observations

People's inventiveness never ceases to amaze me, especially in the sweet decorating domain. I mean, for years, bakers everywhere have ended up with crumbs & chunks of cake after leveling and carving .... what do some bright sparks decide to do? Bind the pieces with frosting, shape into rounds and voila, cake balls! What do brighter sparks decide to do? Poke lollipop sticks into the cake balls, and voila voila, we have cake pops!

The cake pop craze has been sweeping the world for a while now, but it was only a few weeks ago that I got around to trying my hand at them. Before starting, I read this great post and watched this short video by Bakerella, the lady who's widely believed to have pioneered pops. Thus prepared, I made my first batch for a friend and her kids.

For these, I used chunks of vanilla cake I'd frozen. I left the chunks to reach room temperature, crumbled and combined them with melted dark chocolate, instead of frosting. After chilling the rounds as described in the links above, I dipped them in melted white candy melts thinned with canola oil. Needless to say, with that much sugar, they were a resounding success especially among the kids.

For my second batch, I wanted a different flavour. I used the same vanilla cake crumbs, and I whipped up a small amount of buttercream, only it was enhanced with one of my favourite ingredients - orange zest. Instead of the candy melts, I dipped these rounds in melted white chocolate (I used Nestle's white choc melts). The orangey taste came through beautifully. The piping on these was with homemade royal icing.

So two batches down, I just wanted to share some thoughts on pops:

- You don't necessarily need frosting to bind the crumbs; melted chocolate works just as well. Only, use white chocolate if you want a light interior. I think condensed milk might work too.

- For coating the pops, I found that both candy melts and chocolate work well. You will have to thin them down to get the required dipping consistency. The Americans prefer shortening, however clear, unflavoured cooking oils work just as well; I used canola oil. Add it gradually to the melted coating till you get it flowing smoothly.

- I find white chocolate more economical than candy melts, for the simple reason that you can colour the chocolate using regular paste / liquid food colours. Whereas for candy melts, you must either buy them in the colours you want, or use oil-based colours that are specifically for candy. While candy colours are available here in Sydney, they are quite expensive.

- For dipping, I found it easier to put the melted candy melts / chocolate in a coffee mug instead of a bowl, as it provided the necessary depth. This is also preferable if you're only making a small number of cake pops; you don't need as much of the candy melts / choc as you would if you used a bowl.

- When shaking off the excess coating, I recommend Bakerella's method of tapping the wrist of the hand holding the stick. Tapping the stick directly against the bowl tends to make the cake ball wobble on the stick.

- Both the chocolate and candy coatings dry in minutes, so if you're going to put sprinkles on, do so quickly while the coating is wet. The other way to decorate is to let the coating dry fully, and then pipe designs on. I tried painting with food colours, but sadly, it doesn't work. Invest in the best quality food markers you can afford, to be able to draw on cake pops.

Well, that's all the tips I can think of at the moment. Do try these out. I used to wonder what all the fuss was about till I made my first batch: they were loads of fun to make, ridiculously cute to look at, and pure indulgence to savour.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Birthday Baking Part 1: Winnie The Pooh Cake

A tiger. A donkey. A pig. And a whole lot of flowers. The best part? They're all made in sweet, sweet fondant! And they all featured on my darling girl's birthday cake this year.

I began planning the cake a few months ago. I knew I would do a character-themed cake and that it'd be two-tiered. But my early ideas veered towards the Teletubbies, who were the child's obsession at the time. Fortunately fate intervened: we'd borrowed a Pooh DVD from the library, and she absolutely fell in love with all the characters! Me too, for that matter. I have to say, of all the current popular cartoons, Pooh and his pals are my favourites. The clincher was when we checked out a party supplies store and found this Pooh candle; the only Pooh candle in the store, and it was with the number three. Perfect!

 I had only briefly dabbled in fondant figures, prior to this. I had a rough idea of how to proceed, but wanted more guidance. So I went to Youtube looking for answers. I made Tigger more or less as per this, using the materials I had on hand. Watching this video helped me learn how to analyse a picture and break it down into smaller parts that I could create and combine into the final product. It took me a few tries to get Tigger reasonably ok, and then I decided to try the other two figures without watching any tutorials.

Of the lot, I feel proudest of Eeyore. I think he turned out the best. If you'd like to try your hand at fondant figures, there are plenty of good tutorials on Youtube for all sorts of objects / characters. Most figures will take at least a couple of days to dry out, so you should make them well in advance. I did these almost a month ahead, and left them on a plate dusted with icing sugar (so that they wouldn't stick to the plate), for 4-5 days before placing them in a box loosely covered with plastic wrap (fondant should never be refrigerated or frozen).

The flowers are absolutely straightforward: thinly roll out fondant on a surface dusted with icing sugar and cut out with cutters of your choice. This is a really fun process; I had a good friend help me out with them and she enjoyed herself thoroughly. You can either make centers with tiny fondant balls or just pipe them on with the icing of your choice. To secure them to the cake, I used water for some and royal icing for the others, and the moral of the story is use royal icing everytime. It's like cement in cake construction.

The cake itself is adapted from Rachel Allen's recipe for Marble Cake, except that I skipped the marbling part :) I love this recipe, especially for stacked cakes, as the cake is not too moist, neither dry, making it firm enough to withstand the weight of the fondant covering and decorations. The other advantage of this recipe is that it keeps fairly well at room temperature for nearly 10 days, perfect when you need to get decorating a few days in advance. (This cake was made during winter; in a hot and humid climate, it might not keep as long). I baked the cakes 4 days before the big day.

We'd invited a few friends to celebrate with us at a nearby park. It was the first time I had to transport a cake, and I'm relieved to say that minus a few flowers falling off (the ones stuck with water), the cake made it intact. I'd carried the fondant figures separately, and placed them on just before we cut the cake. One of our guests is a photographer and I owe him for these on-location shots :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Take on ABC Cake!

I am a passionate baker, always on the lookout for the slightest excuse to get baking. However, I'm also particular that my family eat healthy (for the most part ;D). So my usual everyday baking is not what I would call indulgent, with the heapings of butter and sugar that most baked goodies require.

I'm always browsing for healthier alternatives, but more often than not, the results are just so-so. They're not bad per se, but nothing worth mentioning, certainly nothing worth blogging about. So you can imagine my delight when one of my healthy baking attempts produced this gorgeously moist cake!

I came across this recipe for Low Fat Banana Cake, which was easy enough. One hitch: it called for three bananas, and I only had two at the time. So what to replace the missing banana with? The answer was right there in my fruit basket, next to the bananas: apples! Or more precisely, applesauce.

That issue settled, a vague memory surfaced: I'd read somewhere about an ABC cake, which had apples, bananas and carrots. I thought, there are two fruits in this already, do I really want to add carrots to this? No! There's only so much healthy eating you can do. Then it struck me, I could still do an ABC cake; only chuck the carrots, and bring on the choco-chips! And by using dark chocolate chips, I satisfied the health criteria too :D

Here are the stars of the ABC cake. I deliberately left one banana with the peel on. I know it looks unap'peel'ing (sorry, couldn't resist :D), but when you bake with bananas, the riper they are, the better. They mash up well, and the end product goes deliciously gooey.

Low Fat ABC Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup low fat milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce*
2 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup choc chips


1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pan (I used the square one), or coat with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl.

3. Place brown sugar, egg in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Add oil, milk, applesauce, mashed banana and vanilla extract and mix until well blended.

4. Gradually mix in flour mixture until just moist. Fold in chocolate chips gently, taking care not to overmix.

5. Pour batter into cake pan and bake for 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

* For the Applesauce

You can use store-bought sauce if you can get it, but it's easy enough to prepare yourself. I peeled, cored and diced two medium apples, placed them in a saucepan and covered with water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat and then simmer 15-20 minutes or till it's easily mashable with a fork. You might need to replenish the water in between, but add a little. You should end up with a thick, smooth sauce, not something too runny. With two apples, I got 1 cup of sauce. This cake recipe requires only 1/2 a cup, so once it's cool, you can refrigerate the remaining half in an airtight container. It should keep upto a week. I used my leftover sauce in pancake batter the next morning :)

Quite a homely looking cake, but don't judge it by its appearance. I had just managed to get one quick shot of it, before a couple of unexpected guests dropped in. As they themselves noted, their timing was perfect ..... there is nothing quite like walking into a home filled with the scents of baking. A third of the cake disappeared in the next few minutes :)


Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Zest for Life

So here goes my modest little foray into the world of food blogging. I have blogged about food before, but those were casual one-offs, not written with the intention of making Red Moonrise a food blog. But that is what I'd like to focus on now, for the most part - my love of food, specifically all things baked, and even more specifically, all sweets decorated.

More on the sweet decorations later, though. For now, I'm going to go on about one of my favourite ingredients. Yup, 'ingredient', not recipe (I did say this was a modest foray :D).

Citrus zest! Or the peel, or the skin, of citrus fruits. Pictured above are the three most commonly used in cooking - orange, lemon and lime. I love them all, but am especially partial to orange zest. I toss a couple of teaspoonfuls of it into almost every cake, cupcake, pancake, muffin or cookie that I make, whether the recipe calls for it or not.

I use a zester to get those fine shreds, and you can see the tiny droplets of oil being sprayed into the air as you zest away. The fragrance at that moment is just heavenly! I love the extra dimension the zest adds to my food. Its not an overpowering taste (unless you use heaps of it!), but more of a subtle presence.  

You can coax even more flavour out of the zest by following this one tip I came across recently over here (ha! at least I can direct you to a good recipe!) While baking, mixing the zest with the sugar before creaming it with butter greatly enhances the zesty flavour in your final product. I tested it out with two batches of sugar cookie dough: introduced orange zest after creaming butter & sugar in the first, and then before creaming in the second. The orangey-ness was definitely more intense in the second.

It might seem weird, but I try to ensure that I'm never out of oranges. I always feel a blissful contentment whenever I glance at my fruit basket and see them nestled there. Whether its pancakes or muffins for breakfast, cookies for teatime, I know I can always give them a delicious boost with a bit of zest.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Revival, Revamp

Yup, a heart still beats in this space. This isn't a proper post, more like a mini-post to pave the way for the future proper posts (I hope!) I almost gave up on this space, almost decided to start afresh altogether. But I have roots here, and the Red Moonrise name is just too dear to abandon. So I will be back, and I hope you will too as I attempt to take this blog in a new, delicious direction!