Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye Cakes of 2010, Hello Cakes of 2011

So yet another year has passed. We all get a bit older, and hopefully a bit wiser. It's at this time of year that people like to reminisce and examine the year that has passed and what they have done. For me, I thought I'd write about all the cakes I've baked this year as I associate many memories with each cake. Actually, it's not even all the cakes I've baked this year, as I forgot to photograph many of them and some cakes I make over and over again. I had all the good intentions to write out the recipe for each cake throughout the year, but as is the common excuse "I just didn't have enough time" will be used in my case as well. I find it strange that as we get older, our lives seem to go by faster and time is a precious commodity that we just never have enough of. I wonder why this is? Is time actually accelerating faster than Einstein predicted? Are our minds hard wired to perceive time going faster for a reason? Do we over complicate things as we get older and hence we use up our time dealing with our numerous issues? Do we waste time being polite to preserve face rather than just saying no when we were children?

Too many questions that I'll never get the answers to, so enough of my philosophical musings, below are the cakes that I have managed to photograph for this year. I'll write some brief descriptions about them and I'm sure that with the power of Google, you can use these cakes as inspiration and either find the recipe yourself or develop your own cakes.

I hope that this year has been a good eating year, and that you managed to achieve some of your dreams. If not, it's still not too late. The new year brings yet more hope, and disappointment, which just adds another stitch to the tapestry of life. I'm wishing everyone a Happy New Year and lots of good eating in 2011. I hope to blog about more delicious things in 2011, and as always welcome your comments and recommendations.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Salted Peanut Caramel
Let me start off the cake review with one of my most used cakes all year, the Chocolate Buttermilk Cake. This chocolate cake is super easy to make, light but sturdy enough to support a generous frosting. In this instance, I decided to pair the cake with this year's latest trend, salted peanut caramel for my friend's morning tea. The cake actually tasted really good, and the salted peanuts were super amazing. I'd reduce the quantity of caramel next time as it was too sweet.

Chocolate Marsala Cake by Nigella Lawson
Hot on the heels of the Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, the next cake that I adore is Nigella's Chocolate Marsala Cake. It is divine in taste and again super easy to make. It's a bit more fragile so harder to work with when trying to frost, so usually I just put a chocolate ganache. Occasionally I will mix it up and frost it a bit and make it more special. On the left, you can see the classic cake with just ganache. On the right, I made three layers of it and filled with with alternating layers of chocolate fudge, whipped cream and dressed it with roasted hazelnuts for a friend's birthday.

Chocolate Cakes by Bill Granger
I was introduced to Bill Granger's cakes when we did the Cooking the Books meet ups. I've yet to blog the Bill meet up, but on the left is the cake I made for it. It's Bill's Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake. It's a super sweet and decadent cake. This is the type of cake that restaurants serve a tiny wedge of and give you a massive dollop of cream. I do like it but it's so sweet that I wouldn't eat more than a tiny tiny slice each time. On the right, we have Bill's Never Fail Birthday Chocolate Cake. It's one of the easiest chocolate cakes to make as you literally just mix everything. I paired the cake with a passionfruit buttercream and fresh strawberries. If in a rush, I might make this cake but otherwise I found the flavour and texture quite boring and would make the many other chocolate cake recipes I've tried.

And Even More Chocolate Cakes
So by now you may have noticed that I, and my friends, like chocolate cake. I have two never ending quests in baking, to find the best chocolate cake and choc chip cookie. On the left, I made a dense chocolate mud cake that I first read from Ellie's blog. It's my staple dense chocolate mud cake recipe. I tricked it up by adding dollops of peanut butter in it, then frosted it with whipped cream, but here is where the genius comes in. I put a second layer of frosting over the whipped cream, a butterscotch sauce. Ooooh this cake was delicious. Equally delicious is Stephanie Alexander's Whiskey and Raisin Chocolate Cake. This is so so so good that I'm thinking of replacing Ellie's mud cake with this one as my third favourite chocolate cake. This cake is moist while still holding its form so you can easily frost it. I love rum and raisin but whiskey and raisin work a treat too.

Sponge Type Cakes Covered in Chocolate
On the left, I made Nigella's Victoria Sponge Cake, and filled three layers with passionfruit curd. Then the whole cake was covered in a chocolate ganache. I love the passionfruit curd and used that in many other cakes since. On the right, we have Poh's Orange Chiffon with Vanilla Cream, Chocolate Ganache and Roast Hazelnuts. The chiffon and vanilla cream by itself was perfect and light, but the chocolate ganache and roasted hazelnut actually ruined the cake. They overpower the subtle flavours of the orange and vanilla. I would make this again without the need for the chocolate and roasted hazelnuts, which is a blessing since taking the skin off roasted hazelnuts is really hard.

Coffee and Caramel Cakes by Belinda Jeffery
My favourite baker Belinda Jeffery never fails to delight me. Some of her cakes from Mix and Bake are my staples and I make them again and again. Her banana cake, chocolate brownies and orange cakes get used for every occasion and just for eating in general. Below, her Mocha Cake with Caramel Shards is a definite winner. The mocha cake is dense and had a great mocha flavour. The shards are a bit of work and working with burning sugar is never fun, but the results are stunning, both in looks and flavour. If you leave the cake overnight in the fridge, the thinner shards melt into the cream and give the most amazing flavour. The fatter shards hold their form and still look amazing the next day. A definite fantastic cake. Belinda's bundt tin cakes are also very good. On the left, the Chocolate and Coffee Crumble Cake tastes good, although you can't really taste the coffee crumble. On the right, the near identical looking Caramel Crunch Cake works better, as you can really get the caramel crunch in the centre.

Green Tea
For a while, I was making green tea everything, from cakes to biscuits to slices and cupcakes. It was probably due to the 1kg pack of green tea powder that I bought. I've captured the Green Tea Slice and Green Tea Cupcakes below. The Green Tea Slice is super delicious and so easy. It's just the Women's Weekly Vanilla Slice with one teaspoon of green tea powder added for each portion of the recipe. I know this slice uses store bought pastry and custard powder and food snobs would turn their nose at it, but give it a try. I find that it's really tasty and better than 90% of slices you buy at bakeries. The Green Tea Cupcakes are just simple Vanilla Cupcakes, I prefer the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes, with a green tea buttercream. I like them but my work mates didn't really like the green tea and vanilla combo.

Fruit Cakes
On the left, we have a Women's Weekly Blueberry and Cinnamon Crumble Cake. I like the cake without loving it. The texture was ok and the flavours of the blueberry and cinnamon didn't come through as much as I would have liked. Instead on the right, we have Magnolia Bakery's Aunt Daisy's Fresh Fruit Torte. I love the texture of this cake, soft and smooth. However, instead of using pears which I don't like very much, I used peaches which I love. Baked peach just has the most amazing flavour. I sprinkled a few bluerries and strawberries for good measure as I had them around.

Cheesecake and Mousse Cake
I love my baked cheesecakes and have gone through so many recipes. A favourite of mine is the baked cherry cheesecake, and now I can also add this simple Baked Vanilla Cheesecake that I first read about on Agnes' blog. It's so easy and what really makes the cheesecake different to all the rest and taste really good is the sour cream frosting. Who would have thought that sour cream can be used for a frosting, genius. On the right, I made this cake for a friend's birthday. I decided to make a Jaconde, then layer it with vanilla mousses, sandwiching raspberries and finally finishing it off with a chocolate cream. The texture was beautiful and it tasted really good. I would put a thinner layer of chocolate cream next time and it slightly overpowered the delicate flavours of the vanilla mousse.

Old Skool Cakes by Women's Weekly
Seeing as they've been around forever, there's a lot of old skool recipes in the Women's Weekly books. But just because they are old, doesn't mean they aren't good. The Lemon Meringue is one of those old skool recipes and I made this for a friend's birthday. He loves lemon merinuge and thought it was fantastic. I'm neither a fan of lemon cakes or meringue, so wasn't a big fan of this cake. The Sticky Date Cake with Butterscotch Sauce was totally to my liking. I thought I would be sickened by the sweetness of the cake, but since I only made one quarter of the butterscotch sauce recommended, it was actually really nice and you could taste the dates. The texture of the cake was also quite light and moist surprisingly. I really liked this cake and have made it quite a few times.

Non Cakes
So these aren't technically cakes that I baked in 2010, but the title would have been rather lengthy if I had written "Goodbye Cakes, Cupcakes, Slices, Mousses, Biscuits and Pancakes of 2010, Hello Cakes, Cupcakes, Slices, Mousses, Biscuits and Pancakes of 2011".

On the left, you have the most amazing sweet breakfast ever. It's Bill Granger's Ricotta Hotcakes. Bill normally just serves it with a Honeycomb Butter, which I also add. But, to make it the best ever sweet breakfast, you need to also add caramelised banana, roasted walnuts, two scoops of good vanilla ice cream and then drizzle it all with proper Canadian maple syrup. Heaven. On the right, we have Magnolia Bakery's Chocolate Cupcakes, which are the most divine cupcakes with their super smooth frosting. You must follow the instructions for making the frosting to the letter in order to achieve the beautiful velvety consistency. Finally, below is my third attempt at Kourabiedes, or Greek Almond Cookies. They were good, but just nowhere near as nice as the ones that our company secretary's mum made. Unfortunately, before I could get the recipe, the secretary had moved onto another workplace. So now I shall forever be left in search of the perfect kourabiedes. So please, please dear blog readers, if you know of a delicious kourabiedes recipe, email it to me so I can try it out.

And that, was the year that was. Hopefully I'll get round to blogging future cake recipes in more detail and finally finish updating the recipes index on this site. Again, I hope you all have a Happy New Year and may your eating dreams come true.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Vue de Monde - Part 3, Still Perfect

430 Little Collins St
Melbourne, 3000
Ph: 96913888
Website: Vue de Monde

I love Vue de Monde. I think the previous sentence best encapsulates my feelings towards dining at what I believe is still Melbourne's premier restaurant. I've had the pleasure of dining at Vue de Monde twice before, and each experience is still ingrained strongly in my mind. Not every dish of food may be mind blowing perfect, but the overall experience transcends the food. For one night, dining at Vue de Monde makes me feel like a king. Some may think that it's pretentious, and I would agree. But what's wrong with feeling important for one night. It's not often that you get to feel so important, so I thoroughly enjoy it.

My most recent visit at Vue de Monde was yet another perfect night. Some dishes are so amazingly delicious, such as the Marron with Radish, with the contrasting textures of radish just truly spellbinding. The Duck with Potato, again dazzled me with the different textures of potato combining perfectly with the duck. There was one dish that didn't work for me, which was the Venison with Chocolate, where the venison alone was tasty but didn't combine well with the chocolate. This did not diminish the experience at the least since I was enjoying myself so much.

Service here, as I keep saying, is just spot on perfect, with the right level of attention and friendliness whilst still being professional and not crowding you. And on the topic of space, the tables are positioned so perfectly in the stunningly decorated space such that I still got all the ambiance from the other diners but felt like I was on an island. This enabled me to feel all the other excited diners while still fully concentrating on my riveting conversation with my dining companion. We were so carefree in our discussions as it didn't feel like anyone else in the room could hear us, yet did not feel isolated or uncomfortable. I was fortunate enough to be seated directly in front of the kitchen and mirror and it was just an orgy for the senses. I got to see what the chefs were making with meticulous precision, smell the amazing aromas from the plethora of dishes, hear the sounds of the food being cooked and finally taste the creations that were being assembled before me. If possible, I would recommend asking for that table directly in front of the kitchen as it's a better view than the chef's table I think, without the imposition of having to order the gourmand meal.

So I will wrap my latest Vue de Monde meal with photos of the dishes I sampled that night. The meals are on a constant rotation so you never know what wonders awaits. I cannot wait till I go back again, hopefully before they move out of the current premise. It may get a lost costlier to dine at Vue de Monde in future, but I shall try to return as it's a perfect dining experience.

Above: Stunning room with the perfect level of class, lighting and ambiance.
Left, Right: Exquisite cutlery and glassware.

Above: Great birds eye view of the chefs working.

Above: Heidi Garden Salad.
Left, Right: Amuse Bouche, Salmon Eggs.

Above: Marron and Radish.
Left, Right: Venison and Chocolate, Celery Plate Cleanser.

Above: Duck and Potato.
Left, Right: Waygu Cheeks and Potato, Lemonade Fizzers.

Above: Rhubarb and Cream.
Left, Right: Cheese, Chocolate Souffle.

Above: Candy Cigarettes.
Left, Right: Marshmallows, Meringues.

Overall Rating: 20/20, A dining experience so perfect it transcends the food.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Green Goose

7 station st
Malvern, VIC 3144
Ph: 9576 0044

When breakfast king Adrian contacted me about trying out a new cafe, how could I resist. With his extensive research on cafes, he would be able to tell me whether the food was good or not. It was excellent to catch up with Adrian and Chris over a very relaxed brunch.

I was surprised to find Green Goose near the Princes Highway end just off Glenferrie Road. I didn't really think there was a cafe culture there, but it was quite full so I guess if you build it, they will come. Adrian, Chris, Ling and I were seated at a very comfortable booth table towards the back of the restaurant. We weren't sure if it would rain so didn't sit outside in the outdoor area but on a sunnier day, I'd definitely eat outside as I find the inside space a bit dark for my liking. The cafe is a long narrow space and had a slightly crowded feel, which I don't particularly like during lunch as I like it light and breezy. However, the same long and narrow space used at Izakaya Den used for dinner is very much to my liking. Go figure.

From the fairly diverse menu, Adrian picked the Poached Pear with Cinnamon Brioche. It sounded really good and definitely had the wow factor in terms of appearance, but Adrian thought it only tasted ok. Ling go the Eggs Benedict with extra Chorizo. It looked very good and she said the eggs were good, although the Chorizo was a bit burnt. Chris and I both go the French Toast, which neither of us really liked. I found it neither here or there. The toast component had a bit of egg on it but I would have preferred more. The bacon could also have been crisper for me if they are going to pair it with maple syrup. The syrup was just tasteable so the dish felt like a savoury dish with a weird sweetness. The balance just wasn't right.

Luckily, dessert was really good and brought everyone's mood back up. The Hazelnut Cake was very moist and beautifully creamy with the buttercream. I absolutely loved it. The Pannacott with Wine Jelly was also a great mix of the two flavours. And surprisingly for me, I absolutely adored the Flourless Organe Cake. Flourless cakes tend to be a bit dry, but this one wasn't, and was even better combined with the cream. This was when Chris told us about his food phobia and how he would not eat any type of sauce. So he would eat a burger without tomato sauce and not have cream with his cake. It's strange what people will refuse to eat after bad experiences. Ling doesn't eat Roast Duck because she got really sick from it once. I don't eat mussels ever since I got sick from the two times I tried it, and that was over 10 years ago. Yet I will eat more equally pungent seafood such as raw oysters that I adore, sea urchin, blood clams, pippies etc. Do you stay away from eating any particular foods due to bad previous experiences?

The service was serviceable, with a guy who looked like the owner and one of the waitresses being warm and friendly. Another waitress was like an ice queen and quite direct and sour faced. I didn't feel it in the ambiance stake, with the back end being too dark for my liking. Food wise, the savoury breakfast items were not that good, but the lunch menu looked far more promising on paper and I would go back to try as I know I can reward myself with ultra delicious desserts afterward if the savoury dishes aren't too good.

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