Saturday, August 29, 2009

New tricks

WHEN it comes to non-fattening crafts, I've always been a cross-stitcher.

It's a wonderful craft, intricate enough to demand your whole concentration but simple enough to be relaxing. The only trouble with it is that it's not really very practical - all of my nieces and nephews have cross-stitched birth notices, and my mum has a vast array of pieces, of varying quality, but there are only so many pieces of cross-stich you can fob off on friends and family.

So I had to find a new hobby and, since I suck at knitting, I thought I'd try my hand at crochet. I bought a kit and optimistically signed myself up for a one-day Learn To Crochet class at a local needlework store so I would have some idea of how to follow the "easy-to-follow" instructions in my flash new kit.

After about an hour in the class, though, I was just about ready to fall back on my cross-stitched cushion and sob like a little girl. The room in which the class was being held was freezing, my hands were numb and while all the other women around the table were halfway through their first granny square, I was staring at a line of knotted yarn that looked like it'd fallen off HMS Endeavour.

What the hell was I doing wrong? Buggered if I knew. Buggered if the teacher knew either - she would unravel the chain of knots I'd spent the past half-hour working on, make a few complicated passes with her hands and return my yarn, magically transformed into proper crochet, then pat me soothingly on the shoulder and head off to the next bewildered student.

I honestly thought about just putting my mass of knots on the table and walking out, but then, almost like the magic rubbed off on me, something clicked. It clicked with five minutes until the end of the class, but there it was - I knew how to create a double crochet stitch.

And that's what is in the picture at the start of the post - a scarf, made entirely out of double crochet stitches. It's a bit wobbly at the ends, and the Wayside Chapel's winter appeal will probably benefit from the next few things I try to make, but I was so proud of my first attempt at crochet I had to mention it.

You have to cook this recipe

I HAD to drop everything and flick straight to Outlook when I got an email from my friend Edie with that subject line. You have to cook this recipe that I saw in a CWA cookbook - how could I resist?

Edie lives in Tasmania, two hours' flight from me in Sydney, but she knows me well, and sure enough my eyes lit up as I read this recipe for Malteser cake.

The original recipe called for vanilla Fruche, but I couldn't find it at the shop so I settled for a mixture of normal vanilla yoghurt and sour cream, which I had in the fridge and which had the added benefit of giving the cake a soft, light crumb. The Maltesers melt through for fantastic little pockets of moist, gooey goodness and the white chocolate on top just finishes it off nicely. It was very hard to stop at one piece!

The only problem is that Edie can't come over for a piece - emails and virtual cake and coffee just isn't the same.

Malteser Cake

Adapted from the CWA Cookbook
1 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
4 tbs cocoa
150g sour cream
150g vanilla yoghurt
2 eggs
2 tbs vegetable oil
165g Maltesers

Preheat oven to 175C and grease an 18cm square tin.
Sift flour and cocoa into a bowl and add sugar.
In a separate bowl, mix together sour cream, yoghurt, eggs and oil.
Add wet ingredients to dry and stir to combine. Fold through Maltesers.
Pour mix into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.
To decorate, melt white chocolate by microwaving it for a minute on 50% power. Stir and repeat until fully melted.
Pour into a plastic sandwich bag, snip the corner off and drizzle melted chocolate over cake before cutting into pieces.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A time of change, and cake

IT FEELS like I haven't had time to scratch myself the past couple of weeks.

You know how you go through times where it seems every second of every day has a task allocated to it, with at least three others piled up behind waiting for your attention? Yeah, it's been a bit like that for the past month or so. And it seems to have been the same for everyone I know - are the planets all lining up or something? Everyone seems to be going through massive change.

It's even gotten to the point where, when I do manage to get into the kitchen, I'm too harried or too tired to experiment with new and fun baking experiments, falling back instead on old favourites or stuff that I know I can make quickly.
Luckily, though, my mate Alice forwarded me a recipe that's been doing the rounds of the email lately - the five-minute chocolate mug cake, which is seriously perfect for sudden, late-night cake cravings. If someone were to be prey to sudden cake cravings, that is. I wouldn't know about that sort of thing.

Ahem. Anyway, I tried the five-minute cake on the spur of the moment, just before I had to start getting ready for work, so I can confirm it lives up to its name. It's not the best chocolate cake I've ever eaten - it's a bit like a big muffin, really - but hey, what do you want for five minutes' work? And don't discount the fun of watching it go around in the microwave (below).

Five-minute chocolate mug cake

Serves one happy woman, or two people if she is feeling generous

4 tbs flour
4 tbs sugar
2 tbs cocoa
1 egg
3 tbs milk
3 tbs oil
3 tbs chocolate chips (optional, although I thought they made this cake)
a bit of vanilla
a large mug (and I mean large - see how much it rose!)
Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well.
Pour in milk and oil and mix until combined.
Add chocolate chips and vanilla, stir to combine, and microwave for 3 mins on high (at 1000 watts; cook for longer if the microwave is less powerful).
Eat as soon as it won't burn your mouth.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top score!

I GOT into work the other day to find a cupcake sitting on my desk.

Obviously this was pretty damn exciting all by itself – it was chocolate, no less – but when I went over to thank the bringer of the cupcake, my lovely boyfriend, there was even better news in store.

The cupcakes, it came out, had been delivered in a massive cupcake courier that was now sitting, lost and lonely (and completely empty – it’s like a flock of vultures fighting over a carcass when food enters my office), on the mail desk.

Well! Forget the cupcake, this was far more important. A few polite inquiries about the possible future of the cupcake courier later (the office assistant was going to throw it in the bin! The very idea), I was lugging it back to my desk happy as a clam.

Later that night, when I pulled it out from under the desk to head home, my seatmates’ eyes nearly fell out of their heads.

As regular beneficiaries of my baking adventures, they were pretty excited about the courier in itself – but as blokes, it took them all of about five seconds to come up with a different use for it.

“You could fit 12 beers in there!” Danny said. “The ice goes in the cupcake hole and then the beer goes on top!”

For the moment, though, I think I’ll stick to cupcakes, and these carrot ones are one of my favourite cake recipes.

The carrot is a pain in the rear end to grate, I have to admit, but the end result is so moist and flavourful I always forget about my scratched knuckles as soon as the cake is iced.

Carrot and walnut cake

Makes 12 cupcakes

2 cups plain flour

2 cups caster sugar

2 tbs cinnamon

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarb soda

3 cups grated carrot (roughly four big carrots)

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Cream cheese icing

250g cream cheese

80g butter, softened

1 cup icing sugar, sifted

1 tbs lemon juice OR 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180C. Line cupcake tin with patty pans.

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well to combine.

Add grated carrot, oil and eggs, mixing until the dry ingredients are moistened and then beating eith an electirc beater for two minutes. Mix will be quite runny.

Fold in the walnuts and spoon into pans.

Bake for 25-30 minutes and cool on a rack before icing.

For icing, beat butter and cream cheese together in an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in icing sugar and flavour and beat until light and fluffy.