Saturday, 27 October 2012

Raspberry Cheesecake

I love cheesecake and I love raspberries ... raspberry cheesecake = double love. Since I'll become the size of a house if I eat all the cake I make, I've resorted to making cheesecake in cupcake sizes - this was an idea that I saw in my Martha Stewart cupcake book. This batch was for Miss L's parents - Miss L told her dad the other week that she was eating my cheesecake... to which he mournfully replied that he had never eaten home made cheesecake. A sad sad story indeed, but at least it has been rectified now :-) (and it gave me an excuse to make cheesecake).

To be honest, making cheesecake doesn't excite me nearly as much as eating cheesecake (quite the opposite from regular cake!) The state change that happens to cheesecake in the oven isn't nearly as cool as regular cake, ingredients are simple, and you can make it without putting it in the oven at all!! My mum used to make a lower fat yoghurt cheesecake which I always found to be a bit strange in texture and I must say it wasn't my favourite.

Anyway, back to bog standard cheesecake. The ingredients are the same as any other plain cheesecake (quantities seem to be variations on a theme) and making cheesecake is THE easiest kind of cake to make, as there's no raising agent to be worrying about - and therefore a whole lot less things that can go wrong. Here are some guidelines for 12 cheesecakes (give or take):


Note: my pet hate is using digestive biscuits to make the base. I can always tell if its a biscuit by the salt content and it just seems to ruin the flavour when coupled with the cake filling... but that's just me! 

When I make a base I tend to make the same one you would expect to see in chocolate caramel slice. This one is taken from here (for some reason I still default to Australian sites and blogs when I'm looking for a recipe!) - again note that there is no need to be exact with these quantities. As long as the texture is cookie dough like there's really no issue.

  • 1 cup plain flour, sifted

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut

  • 125g butter, melted

Simply mix together and pat it in the bottom of the cupcake wrappers. Bake for 10min or so at 180 degrees until the colour is golden.


  • 2 packets of philly cream cheese (softened)

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 tub of sour cream

  • Spoon of vanilla

  • Around a cup of sugar (adjust to taste)

  • A spoon of cornflour

  • Splash of lemon juice

My way of making cheesecake is purely based on taste. Beat together the cream cheese with the sour cream, and slowly add in the sugar (keep beating while you do this and most importantly, keep tasting!), then the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Right before you finish, add a spoon of cornflour (stops it cracking so easily), and some lemon juice if you think the batter is too sweet and needs freshening up. Add some raspberry coulis and a fresh raspberry and bake at 180 degrees in a water bath (helps stop the cracking as well) for 20 minutes or so.

The filling will puff up but will sink again once the heat is off. Because I'm not normal I like my cheesecakes (and everything else) to be golden which I think by normal standards is a definite no-no. But, I do like all my food ever so slightly burnt or crispy and cheesecake is no exception!

Happy cheesecaking!


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes / Pink Ribbon Day / Hummingbird vs Kate

It was Pink Ribbon Day on Monday and on the weekend I was feeling motivated enough to make cake to celebrate the birthday of Penny bear (my Pink Ribbon bear). My friend Helen is doing Baketober so I thought I should participate too. Since I had two pairs of hands (Miss B was in town) it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a cupcake from the Hummingbird Book, and compare to a real Hummingbird cake. Miss B said red velvet is her favourite so that’s what I went with. It was SO hard for me to follow a recipe precisely but in I managed to measure ingredients to the gram (and include the whole quantity of sugar stated) and monitor my timings with herculean effort.

I have an interesting relationship with red velvet cake – I never know whether I like it or not. Its not quite chocolate but has cocoa, it uses a whole tube of food colouring per 12 cupcakes, and a has a cream cheese frosting which always seems to me to be a bit sweet. But nonetheless Miss B loves it so this was the one I tried. I used a half recipe (luckily!) and the wrappers were ones I had leftover from Diamond Jubilee season, purchased on a whim from Waitrose (choice of wrappers does matter in terms of size / shape / thickness!)

Key noteworthy things: 20mL of food colouring is needed for 12 cupcakes; buttermilk can be substituted with normal milk mixed with lemon juice (just under 1C milk: 1 tbsp lemon juice); cream the butter and sugar for at least 5 minutes in the mixer for a super light and fluffy mix; and do not fill each case more than 2/3 full. I was really happy with the height of the cupcakes when they came out of the oven.

Verdict: Miss L and Miss B indicated they liked my version better but they might have been biased. Mr T did a blind tasting and also liked my version better! In all cases they said that the cake wasn’t as dense as the real Hummingbird cake which was a good thing. Hmm...

The colour was the pretty close to the real Hummingbird cake though mine were still more brown than red. There is a whole lot less frosting on there too – whilst I like frosting I don’t think it needs to be a 3:5 proportion (though I guess I’m weird in this respect if bestselling cakes have piles of frosting!)

The frosting was a bit too sweet for my liking so I had to break the rules at the last minute and throw in some lemon juice to counter it. Obviously this made it less stiff so I didn’t swirl it Hummingbird style. It also wasn’t quite as cream cheesey as I liked so I added some additional cheese. The overall cake is smaller – the book recommends using 2” deep tins but I only had shallow cake tins.

Finally, it was Penny’s birthday so I had to go pink! I was a bit too heavy handed with the red food colouring so threw some white frosting back in and ended up with an unexpected swirl effect.

Also, ballerina bear Penny also got some home stitched shoes for her birthday from Mr T, complete with pink ribbons which match the rest of her outfit. Happy Pink Ribbon day everyone!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

M&M store - London style

I'll be the first to admit that I just don't get the M&M phenomenon (please don't kill me guys). I mean, its just chocolate and its not even like super duper awesome tasting chocolate. Is it the colours? The size? Do you remember the M&M vs Smartie argument when you were in primary school? I always preferred Smarties myself but I never admitted to it for fear of retribution from the cool kids (clearly I wasn't one of them). I also remember standing in Woolworths not too long ago debating what bag of mini chocolates I would buy as encouragement in op risk training sessions me and Mrs S used to give. For some reason I always thought that Smarties would be cooler since they were in boxes and M&Ms were in bags (not that it is of any consequence whatsoever, I don't think anyone ever cared... and most of the time I ever ended up buying mini Snickers and Twix anyway).

So going back to today - we had a spare hour to kill whilst my little sister Miss B was accompanying Miss L at a dance class in Covent Garden. Having eaten lunch already the logical option seemed to be do a small spot of window shopping and we found ourselves at the M&M store. I have been to the NYC version of the store before (Mrs A and I even bought the same souvenir tshirt) but I haven't been to the London store which I think only opened recently.We aren't usually one for touristy things - the novelty of living in one of the most visited cities in the world has definitely worn off - but thought it might be worth a look since its a cool shop even if I don't get what the fuss is about.

We went in, were immediately accosted by a smiling guy holding a shopping bag out for us, and were instantly overwhelmed with the number of people in the store. Nevertheless we perservered and discovered there are four levels of the place. FOUR. And of course its all been Londonised, as you can see from the Leicester Square bus which frames the store entrance and the M&M road! I'm not sure how much I'm sold on the "so much more than chocolate" although the volume of merchandise was pretty epic (and I did like the golf balls):

I also really liked the way the store was kitted out, especially these dangly things. Then there were of course the colors of the walls of M&Ms - this is definitely my favourite part of the store.

And for something nerdy but cool in the store - the periodic table.

I was really super sad that they don't have peanut butter M&Ms in the store (only regular peanut, plain, and crispy) so it looks like next time someone goes to NYC and pays a visit to the store I'll still be requesting the peanut butter M&Ms.

Finally, I did wonder why Mr T wanted white M&Ms, but then it all made sense... look who loves the Lakers too? I love how protective Dougal is of his Lakers coloured M&Ms, isn't he just the cutest?




Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Battle of Hastings

This weekend was the annual re-enactment of the 1066 Battle of Hastings - Sunday was the anniversary. I've been planning to go see this since I became an English Heritage member at the beginning of the year, as I think the idea of ~1,000 blokes dressed up in chain mail with swords, shields and horses etc. carrying on is completely and utterly awesome. Perhaps a little nerdy, but awesome. If I was a bloke I would totally be on the field and not just spectating - though I've since been told by Mr M that he spotted women in the re-enactment. I'd love to be a part of the cavalry, but can you imagine me with a lance and armour and shield?! The weight of the lot would mean I'd surely fall off it before I even got to the battle.

Anyway I was fortunate that 8 other people signed up to join Mr T and I and it made for a great day, despite the inclement weather (we were poorly prepared from a weather and food perspective), mud, and ruined shoes - read more about our day's fails and successes (and the Battle Abbey site) in Miss E's post here. Luckily it wasn't all bad and we were blessed with periods of sunshine, else it might have been a different story. And on a final weather note,  English Heritage actually cancelled the Sunday activities due  to safety issues from the mud so it was lucky that we went on Saturday.

The Battle of Hastings story 

Note: I have paraphrased this super brief high level summary from the voiceover man who did the commentary on the day. Given that the reenactment took place at Battle Abbey  I assume what he said is accepted as being fairly historically accurate (and hopefully I heard correctly!)

The Battle of Hastings occurred on 14 October 1066 - a pivotal day in English history where Duke William of Normandy defeated the Harold Godwinson and claimed the English throne (note that the battle actually occurred in a place now known as Battle, and not Hastings itself!). The story goes that Harold Godwinson crowned himself the king on the same day that Edward the Confessor was buried. William subsequently declared war, as he claimed that Edward the Confessor had promised him the crown.

William arrived unopposed in Pevensey and was making his way up towards London when he was met by Harold Godwinson and troops, who had hastily returned South after holding off a Viking invasion up North. Harold was fighting with a bunch of  hungry tired troops which would was an obvious disadvantage, nevertheless he did have the benefit of the high ground and a sturdy shield wall.

William on the other hand had the benefit of a blessing from the pope, a well disciplined army, and a cavalry with knights and lances. The cavalry was so unusual that the Normans were actually surprised that the English weren't up to speed with warfare etiquette and didn't understand that they were only supposed to attack humans, not the horses.

Back to the fight. William's men hit the shield wall again and again with minimal success, sending in the archers, infantry and cavalry in turn. There was plenty of "Nor-man-dy! Nor-man-dy!" cries which were matched by "Oot, Oot, Oot". At some point a rumour started that William had been killed and the men started to retreat. The English saw this as their opportunity and started to pursue them ... which left a hole (or holes) in their shield wall (you know where this is going right?)

It turns out that William was not dead after all and he subsequently rode up and down the lines of men to prove that he was still alive. His men regained their enthusiasm and broke through the English ranks. Harold's brothers are killed and then Harold himself gets an arrow in the eye. And so ends the battle with carnage everywhere and the spectators can all get out of the rain and head home.

Other comments and pictures from the fight

  • It may not have been a huge challenge for William to rally men to his cause as he had packaged up the fight for England as a crusade, complete with a papal blessing (though it could well have been a personal vendetta against Harold - guess we'll never know for sure!) It was quite difficult to gauge who is fighting for who, since the lower ranks didn't have uniforms and everyone brought weapons and armoury from home. Wonder how many people were accidentally killed as a result of this.

  • The axe was one of the most common weapons accessible to everyone - swords are too expensive for the common man to have lying around the place, but everyone needs to chop wood.

  • The Norman cavalry was well disciplined and there were knights that were professional soldiers and undertook horseback training 6 days a week (but never on Sundays of course). Here are some photos of the cavalry demo from the day. My favourite horse is the little fat looking one - could be a Shetland pony? I also heard a guy next to me say that he thought one of the horses was a dressage horse from the way he trotted.



Last time we went to Hastings and visited Battle Abbey, Mr T decided he *had* to have a mini bow and arrow. This time though we got to try archery with a full size bow and arrow! I was particularly pleased that I managed to hit the target board on all 3 shots, though JLO pointed out to me that I never hit the actual target. D'oh. And for some amusement here's a steamy owl, presumably drying off in the sun after the rain.



There was a fabulous falconry display on the day by Raphael Historical Falconry. The star of the show was the Peregrine x Gyrfalcon hybrid (one of the fastest creatures on the planet) which did a number of swooping moves and laps around the place before catching his dinner mid air. Did you know that hybrids can't reproduce? So apparently you will never see a second generation hybrid. Anyway, I was really really pleased to be able to snap these pics:

There were also the owls. Its actually only been the last century that people have been able to get better value out of owls after figuring out they hunt by sound and not sight. Oh, and by the way, don't bother buying a plastic owl from the garden centre to drive the seagulls out of the garden - it doesn't work! I'm loving the expression in these pics; I can't decide whether its suspicious or thoughtful or something else.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Easy egg whites

Anyone who is into making desserts will know the value of egg whites - macarons, fluffy sponges, meringues, pavlova, mousse etc. just to name a few. Egg are the one of the most versatile foods I know of, and egg whites enable wonderfully light and fluffy textures to be achieved in desserting and caking.

Problem: what to do with the egg yolks? There's only so much ice cream and custard I make, and if I'm completely yolked out, even chucking it into fried rice or instant noodles seems unappealing.

Solution: egg whites in a tetrapak - genius! I was so excited to see a flyer about this at the Cake & Bake show last month and when I saw it quite by accident in my local Waitrose when I was looking for something else, my day was completely made. The packet was even kind enough to rattle off some of the health benefits to me...

I can't wait to be able to weigh out egg whites for macarons without having to worry about how many dozens of eggs to buy. In fact, whats even better is that the pack has 15 liquid egg whites and the expiry date for the unopened pack isn't for another 4 weeks so I can go completely nuts on the desserts next weekend (have still yet to pick up a macaron piping tip and print out some templates for piping them).

Update - Two Chicks is awesome for desserts. It whips up superfast (like 30s vs 1-2 min for freshly cracked eggs), its easy to measure to the gram, and there's no wastage. Brilliant!

On a less eggy note, my friend JLO has a few food allergies (including eggs), so whilst this has solved the egg yolk wastage problem and facilitated easier dessert making, I've still got to hunt around for an alternative before doing some vegan style baking experiments with his partner Miss E. I've found that vegan cake has tended to have a heavier and denser texture and lack the springiness and lightness that eggs provide. I think its the "glueyness" of eggs in the batter that makes a difference, and there's no ingredient like it! I have read about the Ener-G egg replacer which I've never seen in shops (but is apparently on Amazon) and see how it goes.

In the meantime, any other suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Modern Pantry dinner - Clerkenwell

I've been wanting to go to Modern Pantry for a long while now, ever since I discovered a) chef Anna Hansen (formerly of Providores in Marylebone, and another delicious place) is a New Zealander, and b) its down the road from my house.

English vs Australian cuisine 

a) is important as English cuisine doesn't sit so well with me (English friends forgive me please), despite being partial to the desserts here and Sunday roasts. According to wikipedia, English cuisine involves bread, cheese, fish (cod and haddock everywhere), shellfish, pies and pastries, sausages, sandwiches, and stuff that is salted, smoked, pickled and preserved.

I've never been sure what exactly is defined as Australian cuisine (even wikipedia is far less definitive in this area) but in my experience it definitely doesn't involve having cod / haddock / salted & smoked stuff, pies etc. on menus all the time. Its always felt to a bit "fusion" with a lot of Asian flavours and I recall that pork belly seemed to be particularly in vogue by the time I left. Actually now I think about it I have a bit to say on food at home, will leave that for another post. By the way, I'm so not a food connoisseurI'm just someone that likes to cook and eat!

Anyway back to the food - I was particularly excited about Modern Pantry since the sample menu looked like it had things I love to see and eat on a menu. In fact, it gets printed daily so I assume it must change subtly (or more obviously) every day. The day we went happened to be my birthday and I certainly wasn't disappointed!


I ate THE best tasting corn fritters I've ever eaten in my life. According to the menu it did had dates and feta as well as corn and was accompanied by rose and molasses yoghurt.

At my request, Mr T tried the spring rolls filled with crab and lemongrass which came with a coconut and green chilli dipping sauce. Alas, the spring rolls tasted like western made crab that had been put in a spring roll rather than an Asian spring roll - not sure whether that was the intention. Didn't rock my world but tasty nonetheless.


We had fairly contrasting mains afterwards, with a roasted haddock on congee and sambal (I'm not sure why on earth I've never thought to do this) and a tamarind marinated onglet steak. I think this was my least favourite part of the meal, though I was excited that the side of cassava chips came with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce! Just like wedges... but not.

Something sweet

The dessert menu looked awesome and I was super excited by the variety in frozen flavours. But me being me, I couldn't settle for a scoop of Modern Pantry style frozen since it seems such poor value when I can try and replicate this next time I do an experiment (thats the Asian in me talking).

So I went the whole dessert hog and came out with a chocolate pudding of sorts with a white miso caramel and a matcha syrup.

And a pecan meringue which was surprisingly creamy and chewy rather than meringue like. I was particularly happy that it came with rhubarb! A favourite of mine but perhaps a little old fashioned.

I think I mentioned I'm partial to the puddings in this country; one of the things I love about eating desserts is adding new stuff to the ideas bank and trying to use them my way. In this case, the new kids on the block courtesy of Modern Pantry:

  • New ice cream flavours

  • Miso in my caramel

  • Rose and molasses yoghurt (and an enhanced corn fritter)


PS: Mr T and I liked this Modern Pantry so much we did go back for breakfast a couple of days later... more on that another day.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Beer festival, world’s largest fair, agricultural show … and a mecca for Australians. Even if I’m not a beer drinker - or any drinker really - Oktoberfest has always seemed a rite of passage for any Australian (or is it only talked about at uni as a cool thing to do?). While I am happy I went, I was equally glad to be home after a whirlwind 48 hours. In fact, I think the most enjoyable part of the whole trip was the walking tour of Munich, and the stories told to us by the lovely tour guides at Sandemans (mostly beer related, but justifiably so given its starring role on Bavarian history). But more on that in another post, today I’m being an Australian and talking about beer! Well, at least the things that stood out to me from my beer experience anyway.

Fortunately for us we had a Sydney-turned-Munich local with us who reminded us that the window for Oktoberfest beer tent space reservations is in December the year before. Basically, unless you know someone (who may know someone), forget about a reserved table. Problem: No table = no service = no beer. Solution: Queue up by 8.30am for a 9am start. QED.

We were staying about a half hour train ride from Theresienwiese and since the flight was delayed we didn’t make it to bed until 1am. Being the least fond of mornings of anyone I know, watching people down steins at 9.15am was somewhat disconcerting, but amusing at the same time. I think there is also some sort of rule where if you’re inside at a table you must be drinking, so you can imagine the sinking feeling I got when the beer put down in front of me (needless to say, someone else drank it).

Eating pretzels and weisswurst (the Munich white sausage) mid-morning was a bit of a novelty too, especially the bit where deskinning of the sausage is required as the skin is indigestible.

A few other interesting (to me) things I was told about beer / Oktoberfest:

  • There are only 6 local brews that are allowed to be sold at Oktoberfest: Hofbrau, Augustine, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, Lowenbrau. The seventh Munich brew is Airbrau – yes, the airport has its own brewery. And why ever not?! Kumulus is such a cool name for a beer. Unfortunately I forgot to check whether stratus, altostratus or cirrus were on the list.

  • The pope is from Munich and Augustine Edelstoff is his favourite beer. It is so prized that the Vatican is the only place that it gets exported. We did try and get our hands on some pope’s beer but alas as the wrong time of year… the only Augustine beer on offer was Oktoberfest flavour, presumably created especially for this two weeks.

  • The biggest proportion of visitors to Oktoberfest are from Australia. Over time, drunken Australians with lost passports became such a problem that a guy was sent from Berlin every year to set up a temporary consulate (embarrassment much?!) for the duration of Oktoberfest. Though I presume this was awhile ago though since a quick check of the DFAT website gives an address of a consulate in Munich.

Back to the Oktoberfest experience. By 12pm myself and a couple of others had had enough and ventured outside. The number of people and the size of the place was intense, apparently it was like Sydney Royal Easter Show on steroids (not that I can comment since I’ve never been to the Easter Show). In any case, the fair ground was as packed outside as it was in a beer tent, and it started to rain, but fortunately I had a giant fairy floss to make everything better. In fact I was feeling so uplifted by the sugary goodness that Miss E and I decided to go on a baby ride as well. Before you laugh, we did briefly consider the adult version of the ride but as we got closer the I'm-too-old-for-this factor crept in. Besides, can you imagine how cold it would have been swinging around ~20m or so up in the air?

I'd love to be able to say that we finished off the day by going back for another beer, however there was no possibility of that given the rain and crowds at the beer tents (and the lack of desire by this point!)

Rite of passage complete, the next crowd battling effort was going to be at the train station back to the hotel, where I promptly went to the land of nod for the next couple of hours and spent the rest of the night recuperating.

Fortunately for me, there was gingerbread on hand to help, thanks Mr T! More on the rest of Munich (and the food there) another day...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Cakey things

This has been a week of shopping excitement when it comes to cakey things. I feel like I haven’t shopped for ages, so when Amazon sent me an email recommending I buy the Hummingbird cake days book, I couldn't resist.  Being sucked into the website by then I also saw the Magnolia book so I got that too. And a new cranked handle spatula. And flower modelling tools. And piping tips. And.... do you reckon I could buy some time as well to now to put all these things into action?

On a side note, I’ve found it really bizarre that its so difficult to shop for caking stuff in London, and on the odd occasion that I have managed to get something I need its been really really expensive. £4 for a balloon whisk at Sainsburys? £10 for a 8” round cake tin? No kidding. We went to the cake and bake show a couple of weeks ago (more on that another day) where I had hoped to find some inspiration and stuff to buy, but found myself more than a bit disappointed by what was there. Guess online is still the best!

I am particularly excited about the piping tips, I finally have a replacement 2D Wilton! Hurrah for fast roses on cupcakes (rather than individual buttercream petals) and no more plain boring swirls. Here’s a quick snap of the 2D.

Next step: go get a Hummingbird cupcake to analyse look and taste, make cupcakes and a big batch of buttercream / whipped cream to pipe, and find someone who needs to overload on sugar. Volunteers anyone?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Raspberry rapture

Did I mention my over excitement at the epic amount of fresh food and veg at Parkside the other week? (see here) I managed to drag Mr T back to Parkside after I saw on their website that they had RASPBERRIES. I'm a self confessed raspberry monster and it was the last chance I had before raspberries go out of season. So we rugged up and made the trek, and it was totally worth it. Here are the spoils (yes, the products got shared out and were put in desserts! No way even I could eat them all)

If I had to choose a favourite to eat forever it would definitely be raspberries. Heck, I even like raspberry leaf tea. Everything from the gorgeous shades of raspberry (pun intended) on the exterior and interior, the squishy yet unsqueaky texture, the completely uniform crinkles in the leaves ... suffice to say I was in raspberry heaven this morning. Check out these morsels of deliciousness - Waitrose raspberries eat your heart out. What's your favourite way of eating raspberries?

Monday, 1 October 2012

Beary best friends

Its been so grey this last week that  its time for remembering sunshine and smiles. On a rare sunshiny day in summer I took Dougal bear and Penny bear to one of the squares down the road from my place to practise full sun photography (Aussie friends, you might have a flicker of recognition as you look at these - Dougal is a daffodil day bear and Penny is a pink ribbon bear), rather than the usual weekend of eat and drink.

Here are some of the snaps from the afternoon of Dougal and Penny picnicing, telling stories and even going for a walk. I think they look super sweet and I hope they make you smile too.