Thursday, January 31, 2013

Basket of Roses: Mini-Sponge Cake with Buttercream

Do you know how sometimes things you've seen as a child can leave a lasting impression on your mind? For me, some of those things are the pictures from my mother's cake decorating books. My mother is an avid baker. She baked and decorated most of the birthday and special occasion cakes in our house. She didn't have the benefit of classes; what she did have were these gorgeous books my father would get, and she learned from those.

As a child, I would pore over those books, the pictures of one stunning cake after another holding me in thrall. One of the images that has gripped my imagination all through the years is that of a basket cake with chocolates on top. Attempting something similar was on my to-do list for a long time. And I finally got the opportunity for our anniversary a few days ago.

The cake itself is a simple sponge cake. I prefer using this type of light, fat-free cake, especially when it's going to be smothered in luscious buttercream, so that it's not too rich overall. I cut out two rectangles from a regular 9" cake for my 'mini-cake'. (If you're a smart one like my sister, you might wonder why I didn't just bake a rectangular cake; answer: I don't own a rectangle pan!) And why a 'mini' cake? Simply because this was the first time I was trying basketweave piping; I've learned the hard way, to start small when you try something new.

Sponge Cake (adapted from Taste.Com)

25g cornflour
25g plain flour
25g self-raising flour
2 large eggs, at room temperature
75g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a 9" round cake tin with parchment paper. Sift the flours together three times (the original recipe includes a pinch of salt, which I omitted; add if you prefer).
2. Using electric beaters, beat eggs and sugar on medium-high for 6 minutes, or till pale and tripled in volume.
3. Sift flour mixture over egg mixture in small batches, and carefully fold with a metal spoon. Be gentle with the sifting and folding, so that the air that has been incorporated in step 2 is not knocked out. Fold in till the flour is just combined.
4. Pour the batter carefully into the tin. A great tip from was to spin the tin gently to level the batter. Bake for 20 minutes, or till the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides and springs back when gently touched. It's really important with sponges to know your oven, as over-baking can result in a dry cake, instead of a light, fluffy one. My oven is hotter, so I took the cake out at about 18 minutes.
5. Turn the cake onto a wire rack, and peel away the parchment paper. Leave to cool.

Buttercream Frosting / Filling (adapted from Wilton)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar, approx
1 tsp vanilla extract (or flavouring of choice)
2-3 tbsp milk or heavy cream

1. With electric beaters (or in a stand mixer), cream butter to get it smooth. Add icing sugar a cup at a time, and work in gently before turning beaters on so that you don't get a snowstorm of sugar in your face.

2. Add milk and extract and beat to combine. The amount of milk you add depends on what the buttercream is for. If it is to cover a cake, you might need more than 3 tbsp to get a spreading consistency. If it is for piping, different types of consistencies are needed for different patterns. I make a sort of master batch of stiff buttercream (like you need to pipe roses), and then take out smaller amounts and add enough milk to get thinner consistencies. I find it easier to add milk to thin down buttercream, than to add sugar to thicken it, but that's me. Store the buttercream in an airtight container in the fridge.


I actually made the cake a few days before I needed it, cut out my rectangles and wrapped each first in parchment paper and then in cling film, and stuck them in the freezer. I haven't worked with thawed cakes, and wanted to see how they turned out. Pretty well, in fact. I just took them out of the freezer, unwrapped and left them to reach room temperature before decorating.

Once at room temperature, sandwich the two layers with buttercream. Then apply a crumb coat - which is simply a thin layer of buttercream all over the cake to seal in the crumbs, so that they don't get into your final icing. Refrigerate the cake till the buttercream has set. Then transfer to your serving platter before beginning the basketweave.

For the basketweave effect, Wilton's instructions are pretty straightforward; I followed it exactly. And once I got into the rhythm of it, it turned out to be quite easy. The only hitch in the process is that as you pipe, the warmth of your hands warms up the buttercream, making it droop instead of holding its shape; so you'll need to periodically chill the piping bag. Ideally, two bags would be best, so that you can work with the other while the first is cooling down and so on.

For the top, I just dolloped some green buttercream and spread it over. I had wanted to pipe leaves as well, but a bad back got in the way.

For the roses, while I did use the Wilton method, the written instructions left me hesitant. Youtube was more helpful. Of all the rose-making videos I watched, I found this one to be the most complete.  You can make buttercream roses and place them on the cake immediately. I made mine out of royal icing; once they've air-dried for a couple of days, store them in an airtight container and they last almost indefinitely. I prefer doing this as you can have the flowers ready weeks in advance.

I loved this because most of the elements - the flowers, the cake and the frosting - can be made well ahead of time. Even the crumb-coated cake will sit well in the fridge for a day. That leaves you with only the piping work for the day before you need the cake. This would be a lovely cake to gift someone special .... just imagine, a basket of roses that's entirely edible!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Easy Chocolate Chip Mini-muffins

Post the festive season baking / decorating frenzy, I had thought to take a break for a few days. But sure enough, once a 'few days' had passed, I felt the urge to get the oven up and running again. Since we'd just come through the richness of all the Christmas sweets, I had to pick something that would appease my conscience as well as satisfy my tastebuds. When that's the case, I find that muffins are usually the answer.

I love muffins for their effortlessness. Just a few simple steps get you warm yumminess in minutes, perfect when you really want some baked goodies but can't be bothered to go to a lot of trouble. After searching the net for recipes, I chose to tweak a Nestle regular muffin recipe to get the mini-muffins. The added attraction for this particular recipe was that it had the lowest amount of fat, just two tablespoons - that's the conscience appeased!

These are also great picnic snacks, very easy to carry and munch when you're out, about and on the move. I ended up taking a boxful of these mini-muffins to a play date at a nearby park, where they were enjoyed by the kids and us bigger kids in disguise.

Easy Chocolate Chip Mini-Muffins

(Makes 36)

1 1/4 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp melted butter (I substituted canola oil here)
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 - 3/4 cup chocolate chips (depending on how chocolatey you want them)


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare mini-muffin trays by greasing, or lining with cases. I always use the cases.
2. Sift the flour into a bowl; add the sugar and chocolate chips.
3. Mix the wet ingredients in another bowl; you don't need beaters, just use a whisk, or even a fork.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the flour, mix gently till just combined.
5. Spoon the batter into the cases to about 1/2 cm from the top, to leave room for the muffins to rise.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or till a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Turn the muffins out onto wire racks to cool. Once fully cooled, store in an airtight container. These are best consumed in day or two.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Christmas 2012 Cupcakes and Cake

Wrapping up 2012 with the cakes I baked.
Red velvet mini-cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and handmade fondant Santas, that hubby took to work.

Orange mini-cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and chocolate button reindeer.

And last but not the least, 2012 Christmas fruit cake. 

And now, looking forward to another year of baking & decorating!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Christmas 2012 Cookies

A wonderful 2013 to all who read this! I can't believe we're here already, Christmas week seems to have gone by in a sugary flash. Not much to say in this post, except that I'm truly grateful for all the people and occasions that allowed me to indulge in sweet mayhem. Here are the cookies I made this festive season. They are all orange-flavoured sugar cookies, except the candy canes and trees, which are chocolate sugar cookies.

Thrilled that I managed to get these trees standing for the shot!

Since it is summer here after all, I gave these candy canes below a flowery touch.

Jingle Bells and Silver Bells!

I don't own any snowflake cutters at present, but a simple star cookie works out just as well. The smaller stars are simply covered in royal icing and then sprinkled with sanding sugar.