November 21, 2010

A charming refection...

Well, it seems all the latest blog posts have begun with an apology for not being around much, and I guess this one should be no different. But as I'm sure you can appreciate we're getting to that pointy end of the year, which means that some have exams to study for, others have new contract negotiations to work on, and at the end of the day we unfortunately have to devote most of our time to our proper jobs, rather than this amusing flight of fancy. Nevertheless, rest assured we are most certainly still here, and what I lack in frequency, I shall now attempt to make up for in overindulgence...

Something I've had in mind for some time is a supper club. I've always loved the concept - not so much the implied pretentiousness of thinking you can do better than the professionals, but more so that everything a proper supper club entails quite frankly suits me to a tee. I mean, I get to design menus and table sittings, spend some quality time in the kitchen, play hostess for an evening, and then share all of this in the pleasurable company of some very dear friends. And as far as I'm concerned, you can't get much better than that. So at long last I finally took the bait, and while admittedly some may be put off by the thought of trying to cook fifteen courses while simultaneously entertaining the eight guests you're attempting to fit comfortably into your teenie-weenie flat, I like to think that I am capable of most things, and figured it was about time for a new challenge.

So after a bit of planning, some furniture Jenga, and a little time in the kitchen, it was time to kick-off with A Charming Refection. Given the lengthy Carte du jour I'll spare you the usual preparatory ramblings, and instead launch straight into a pictorial walk-through of the evenings proceedings.

Guests arrived to the quintessential nibblings of bread, dukkah and some homemade McLaren feral olive oil courtesy of the generous D&B.

 Then, once everyone was settled and we'd covered the who's who six degrees of separation conundrum, starters began as a degustation-style affair commencing with tuna with Asian flavours

an asparagus vichyssoise

 some whisky-cured ocean trout

and finally, some Japanese-inspired oyster shooters, before the first chance for respite.

While the guests took their obligatory breather, I made the most of Miss Rose's meat expertise and cooked up a couple more things before launching the mains as a communal free-for-all. Featuring on our shared table was lamb cutlets with coriander and honey

A Turkish spoon salad

Cinnamon poached chicken

Barley and pomegranate salad

Baked salmon with a pistachio crust

And a clean and crisp fennel and radish salad

Another brief respite was graced by a herbaceous palate cleanser in the form of watercress, pistachio and orange blossom salad, and then we were on the home stretch.

Burnt honey and star anise creams were accompanied by some tangy passionfruit jellies and the springtime-essential bowl of strawberries

And guests who stayed the full course ended their intense dining experience with a small petit fours in the form of prune and brandy truffles.

It was a thoroughly delightful and fun evening, and I am so glad I finally took the supper club plunge. Many thanks to some of my nearest and dearest for their sewing, equipment lending and supply acquisition services, and for their immense generosity and assistance. And an especially big thank you to my guests for not only providing an excellent selection of beverages and some quality entertainment, but for making it such a wonderful night.

The idea has always been that if I could pull this off and that people genuinely enjoyed themselves then this would become a more regular occurrence. I think I did, and I think they did too, so if we're lucky we may just find ourselves here again soon. If you'd like to be considered for future guest lists then you may wish to advise post haste as I'm rather hoping that, should the desired reputation ensue, things are going to become rather exclusive...

October 24, 2010

High time for tea...

After much ado about wedding cakes and some mental recovery on both our behalves, Miss Rose and I finally managed to realign our calendars for a spot of Sunday baking. This time we both had wants. Miss Rose wanted to use her newly acquired cloches, I had a saucy cake stand begging for some attention, and with Melbourne temporarily settling on a glorious spring day it seemed only natural to call time for tea.

Summoning our inner ladies of leisure we stuck with tradition in the form of asparagus tarts, chicken, smoked salmon, and cucumber finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and, of course, tea...

As Miss Rose was "all donged out", our additional sweeties took the form of Delia's delightful preserved ginger cake covered in maple Swiss meringue cream cheese buttercream. 

Well I presume it was delightful, because having been absent from TPB-proper for some time I have evidently lost some conditioning and simply couldn't manage a single slice. However, if the spicy aromas wafting from the oven were anything to go by, I imagine it was rather heavenly indeed.

When it came to the finishing touches, while Miss Rose had far greater intentions for her cloched creation, the Swiss meringue buttercream inevitably proved a fickle and near untamable beast, and for the sake of Miss Rose's sanity, let's just leave it that the less said about the cream cheese variety, the better. I suspect we won't be seeing the likes of it again in this town any time soon...

Nonetheless it was lovely getting back in to kitchen TPB, to spend some time enjoying the company of a dear friend at a gorgeous new coffee local, and to feel as though spring is finally on its way. I'm not sure what's next in store for we ladies of TPB, but if the last little while is anything to go by, I suspect it's going to be something rather good...

October 10, 2010

Happy birthday TPB...

Two years on and it's been crazy, it's been fun, and I most certainly couldn't have got here without you. Thanks for providing a light when it was needed, and for sharing the laughter, the love and a passion. We've done a lot these last two years, and I can't wait to see what we do next.


October 3, 2010

Cake week, take 2...

My apologies for it having been a little quiet here of late, but as you’re all no doubt aware it was wedding cake season, and so things have been a little busy.

A few months ago, as you watched Miss Rose unveil her incredible masterpiece I hinted as to what K&T’s wedding cake may comprise, and in saying that it would “involve an awful lot of this” I was by no means exaggerating. I’ve never bought five dozen eggs before, let alone the two kilos of butter, four kilos of white chocolate, three kilos of berries and the two and a half litres of cream that went with them. But it was certainly a sight to behold, and to think that it was my responsibility to make it all become cake was admittedly rather daunting. I suspect the providore who said “looks like there’s some serious baking going on here” didn’t fully appreciate how much of an understatement that really was... 

 This becomes cake…

Now I must confess I was a little nervous about this one, and for a number of reasons. It wasn’t until the first layers were in and baking that I actually stopped to think about the fact that I’d never made a four-tiered cake before, let alone dessert for seventy people. And even ignoring all fears of transport and structural calamities, personal standards of execution meant I wanted to deliver something that tasted good, looked good, and was frankly above and beyond everything K&T had hoped for. 

So there was a reasonably high bar to be met, but it wasn’t this pressure of expectation that was the only source of nervousness. You see, things had started to go a little awry in the pre-wedding lead-up, to the point where it seemed inevitable that something would go drastically wrong. I mean, how often is a football grand final replay scheduled for you wedding day? (For the record, only twice in the history of the game, and just this once for K&T.) Add to that the travel agent stuffing up the honeymoon booking, and the best man calling a week before the wedding to say that he’d just broken his ankle, and to my mind at least, this certainly did not bode well.

But there’s nothing like a bit of a challenge (I haven’t even mentioned my bridesmaid responsibilities yet), and since the plan was to deliver a four-tiered white chocolate raspberry cake, layered with strawberry white chocolate mousse and covered with white chocolate ganache, then that was exactly what I was going to do. 

 I’m sorry, what kind of chocolate?

Day one, and the cakes baked according to plan. A lusciously rich mix was spread between a number of pans, and while the resulting layers turned out without ado, I will most certainly be happy not to be double lining cake tins for a while. 

A quick visit to the fridge meant the cakes cut like a dream, and the double layers of strawberry mousse went in to each tier surprisingly uneventfully. At the day's close, the resultant mountain of dishes was conquered, the floor mopped and the dowel cut, and while evidently I had inherited my father’s talents for misadventure when it comes to home handiwork, barring a few minor incisions, the cakes were sent without fuss to chill out overnight, and all was in readiness for day two.

The following morning was met with perhaps the largest pot of ganache I have ever seen and the revelation that wedding cakes are indeed the mother of repetition, for not only must tins be doubly-lined for baking and then setting with mousse, but three or so coating of ganache are also required for the desired finish.

I did, however, manage to make it through the many tedious hours of palette work, at which point it was time to get serious. Already weighing in at over twelve kilos, my little lovelies were in need of a bit of support, and so the lower layers were measured and doweled, and I took great delight in performing one of the more enjoyable baking activities - that which requires a hammer.

So with construction near complete, and each layer suited with ribbons and bows, it was time to pack up and drive the few dreaded hours through the Victorian countryside to the home of the main event. Thankfully the journey concluded drama-free, and after a day filled with glamorous girliness, a beautiful ceremony, and more photo poses than I ever imagined were possible, it was time to stack up the tiers, rejoice at the lack of imbalance, and emit a little ta-dah!

Admittedly while I was a little disappointed the reception centre's choice of service meant the guests missed seeing each tier in all its layered glory, by all accounts it was delicious, and I could not have asked for anything more.


And so after a very long and happy day, the second of our wee wedding cakes had finally come to fruition. It was an honour to share in K&T's special day, not only as head cakestress, but as a friend and witness to their commitment to each other. Thank you, and congratulations. You are both beautiful people, in every way...

September 12, 2010

Dessert Series: Ice Cream Sandwich Take One...

Strictly speaking this wasn't a TPB effort, but as fuel for my other project, and in an attempt to think of something other than wedding cake (three week countdown, anyone?), I'd been wondering what would happen if you took some chocolate wafers...

Covered them with some rhubarb and strawberry vanilla jam compote...

And then sandwiched some gingerbread ice cream between them...

The answer? Something rather good...

September 5, 2010

Life is better with cake...

I know I have said this before, that life is better with cake. I may not always believe it, but it seems one of those things that if you don't keep telling yourself it to be true, something in the universe will go wrong.

Cakes are light-givers. We use them to celebrate happy occasions, to satisfy sweet cravings, and to bring cheer when things are looking a little down. To those of us who bake they represent enjoyable time spent in the kitchen - often also spent with good friends - and unless a veritable disaster occurs, are generally a monolith of great achievement. Sometimes that takes great effort, but the satisfaction in seeing someone's eyes light up as they take their first taste and emit a simple "Oh..." usually makes it all worthwhile.

Here at Team Pretty Bake we have been skewing towards the effort side of late. Last month Miss Rose finalised her elegant beauty, and in a few weeks time my wedding commitments will also be complete. It has been a hard slog, and as much as we have enjoyed the challenge and been honoured to help our lovely brides-to-be, I think we'll both be rather glad when it's all over. But for me there's still some way to go, and a few glitches needed sorting, so we weren't off cake duty just yet.

Having consulted The Oracle for guidance on icing some further testing was required, and so rather than give away the full plan for wedding cake extraordinare, we settled on a base of ding dong. Our go to for many occasions, the ding dong never fails (well, ok, maybe once...), and is perfect for those days when you just need to get in to the kitchen and find some baking cheer.

Well, that's what I'd been thinking at the start of the day anyway. You see, I have a slight problem with test bakes. I know things are meant to go wrong, after all the whole point of the exercise is to push boundaries to find out what works and what doesn't. And I know things won't look right if they're taken out of context or form just some part of the whole. But I also have the expectation that no matter how experimental we are being, I should still be capable of creating something presentable.

Things did get off to a reasonable start. Our little six-inch ding dongs were tres cute...

 And filled with some strawberries and cream, they were certainly on their way to being delicious...

Miss Rose had a Swiss meringue buttercream and some piping practice in mind for hers, and while a light and luscious icing and some gorgeous little curls did eventuate, a covering shortfall and some wonky cutting left her feeling a little underwhelmed.

I was up for some recipe fine-tuning, and although my white chocolate ganache lived up to textural expectations, what would form part of a larger construction and ultimately be covered in ribbons and bows did look decidedly mundane on its lonesome.

 So while we'd answered many questions, we were a little disappointed that our usual creative spark had been measured and found wanting. As such, my advice to those undertaking a test bake is this: (i) be prepared for disappointment, it is inevitable, but it does serve a purpose; (ii) don't listen to Miss Rose when questioning whether or not to whip things; (iii) persevere with the Swiss meringue, it will come together eventually; and most importantly (iv) always keep sprinkles on hand so that should you produce a lacklustre offering you can poorly decorate it and pretend you had some kids help in the kitchen.

And since all cakes are deserving of an occasion, I would like to wish all the dad's out there the happiest of father's days, as you mean the world to the people who love you. To those who have gone, we love you lots, miss you more, and hope against hope we turn out just like you (although I might pass on the beard). 

You gave us life, love and laughter, and more than you could possibly know, and while we can no longer tell you this, we are ever so grateful, and know you will always make us smile... 

August 16, 2010

Cake week...

My goodness, it's been one hell of a week in the kitchens of Team Pretty Bake. For starters, I was up for a weekend of pre-wedding shenanigans for my championed bride-to-be, which meant a test-bake of wedding cake #2 was in order. All went reasonably according to plan. Problem areas were identified and some tweaking will likely be done, but all approved of the concept, and given how quickly it disappeared, I think were happy with the taste of it too. There's still a bit of time until the big day, so while I don't want to give too much away, let's just say it's going to involve an awful lot of this...

The weekend's pre-nuptial celebrations also happened to coincide with Miss K's birthday, and since you can't have a birthday without cake, sleep was foregone to ensure all party necessities were completed. For safety reasons I stuck with an old favourite, but given the hen-like nature of the occasion, it seemed only fitting to present her with a 12" ding dong.

 So it was most definitely cakes a-go-go and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the baked bounty, but despite already being two cakes down, this simply pales into insignificance when compared to what Miss Rose achieved this week. You see, while I was down in the country helping Miss K and her ladies celebrate, S and D were having their big day, and so was Miss Rose.

Serving as honorary kitchen minion this week, I now have a much greater appreciation for the amount of effort that goes in to making a wedding cake. The sheer mass of ingredients alone alerted that this would be a significant undertaking. And as the cakes themselves were baked weeks in advance and then fed at regular intervals to keep them nice and tipsy, I knew there was a great deal of planning involved. But I'd had no idea that as the big day drew ever closer I would, among many other things, be spending much of the week leading up to it filling fruity holes and polishing icing (yes, seriously).

Now I won't lie, I'm not a fan of fondant. Its physical properties are indeed fascinating, but I find considering this together with the fact that people happily consume it as a foodstuff positively frightening. But each to their own, and since the request had been made, we were determined to deliver.

Covering a four tier wedding cake in fondant is a serious workout, and while I'm sure I will be scarred for life from all the inappropriateness that went on, watching someone as petite as Miss Rose knead, and then roll, a three kilogram slab of fondant is admittedly rather amusing. But she never gave in, and so after much filling, rolling, buffing and more tiring hours than we care to remember, her babies were completed and ready for the most dreaded part of proceedings, transport.

Thankfully their journey was uneventful, and come Friday afternoon, all was in readiness for the big day. I should just take a moment to acknowledge The Oracle for all her advice and equipment, S and D for being on call for last minute errands, S's brother for safely transporting Miss Rose and her babies, and my favourite florist for providing such beautiful blooms. I want to do this now because while this support was greatly appreciated, I don't want to take anything away from how amazing Miss Rose is.

I was so disappointed I didn't get to see the monolith in all its towering glory, but by all accounts it was simply spectacular. I am in awe of the effort involved, intimidated by the expectation that's now fallen on my shoulders, and just so, SO proud of Miss Rose. It was beautiful, gorgeous, elegant and simply stunning. 

Congratulations m'dear, you are the greatest.

I was also disappointed to have missed the final construction, as this was a story in itself. Those of you who know Miss Rose well will appreciate that she is not always a proponent of etiquette, but when the occasion calls is quite capable of frocking up, and has even been known to get her hair done for events such as these. You will also be aware that she is the shorter side of petite, so when it came to adding the final touches, she encountered a few vertical challenges. These were in no way aided by the long flowing gown, complete with even longer flowing sash, and so I am simply left to imagine the hilarity in witnessing the glamorous Miss Rose adding the final touches to her beautiful cake, teetering on a chair in four-inch stilettos, sash thrown over the shoulder and her gorgeous silk gown tucked in to her undies...

Lady, I love the way you work!

And so all that remains is to wish S and D the happiest of futures together. A gorgeous cake for a gorgeous and glamorous couple. Congratulations!