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.