It was about a year ago that I tried making macarons for the first time. Intimidated by the horror stories, I kept putting it off. I learned then that they’re not as crazy difficult as they seem, and since then I virtually haven’t stopped. I’ve made macarons probably more than anything else this past year, and everyone here sure isn’t complaining. We absolutely love them. I love trying new flavour combinations, and everyone else loves devouring the spoils.
Christmas baking is getting into gear and I’ve made hundreds of the bite-sized treats already. but while I was making standard macarons, I wanted to make some a little extra festive.
This is the last cake from the month of cake madness. This is Grug cake requested for a kids birthday party.
I doubt anyone not from Australia will have any clue who Grug is, and even a lot of the Australians amongst you may not remember him. I’d, admittedly, forgotten all about him until I was asked to do the cake. Grug is a character from a series of illustrated children’s books written by Ted Prior. Though there have been no new books published since I was a little kid, you can still find them amongst the kids book section of most any book store or supermarket.
If you’re someone who bakes a lot, or are the recipient of home baked goods, you’ll know what I mean when I say store-bought cookies just don’t cut it any more. No matter how nice the brand is, nothing compares to fresh cookies right out of the oven. Which is always a problem when cookie-craving-hour unexpectedly strikes. You know buying cookies for the moment is just going to lead to disappointment, but baking an entire batch of cookies seems like so much effort. If you manage to conjure up the energy, then you have to work out what to do with the rest once the craving is satiated. If you live in a full household baking an entire batch of cookies mightn’t be an issue. But if, like me, your household is tiny, you’re left with more cookies than anyone has the stomach for. It’s often not long before I decide the effort is just too much and wallow in cookie-craving-self-pity instead.
Lately I’ve spent so much time making fancy stuff that it had been months since having anything simple, like cookies. Increasingly so, a little voice kept popping into my head going, “Ooh, cookies. Must have cookies.” It was always defeated by the effort involved when I just wanted one or two. Eventually I decided I needed a solution to the dilemma and dedicated an afternoon to what I call Emergency Cookies at home.
“What are emergency cookies?” you might ask. They’re pre-prepared packages of cookie dough that can be stored long-term and baked on an as-needed basis. Any time someone in the household gets hit by the cookie cravings, I can throw as many cookies as required in the oven with minimal effort required. The best part is the amount of variety you can get out of one or two batches of dough: definitely everyone’s favourite part of emergency cookies.
A few weeks ago I was commissioned to make this cake for a birthday party. The cake itself is nothing new. It’s my triple ripple joconde: a choc peppermint ripple cake, encased in chocolate mousse, wrapped in a joconde sponge and topped with chocolate ganache. It’s something I came up with for my sister’s birthday and has been labelled a favourite since.
I was making a bunch of hemispheres to adorn the cake with and thought it would be a good opportunity to show you guys how to get a metallic effect when chocolate making. I’ve seen lots of stuff around that involves painting the chocolate with lustre dust after it’s set, buts it’s messy and falls off any time you touch it. You can also use gold leaf, or the imitation stuff, but this is cheaper, easier, and is set right into the chocolate.
A few months ago, a friend of mine asked if she could commission me to make a cake for her birthday. I was, of course, incredibly excited to be given the task and promised to save the date. Little did I know at the time how insane November was going to be for commissions, but I was fortunate that they all fell on different weeks and I didn’t have to turn anyone down.
I know this friend through Uni. We did our Zoology undergraduate degrees together, and we also started our Zoology Masters degree at the same time. When she first asked me, I had no idea what sort of cake she was going to ask for. But when she later approached me with the idea, I figured I should have known. While all of us Masters kids have a passion for every animal, great and small, we all have our groups of fauna we navigate towards. We tend to think of ourselves as being in two groups: the terrestrial and the marine halves. Her passion, and her research, is marine biology, so I perhaps should have guessed that her cake would be along those lines.
As soon as she asked me for not only an octopus, but a blue-ringed octopus cake, I was practically bouncing with excitement. Given that I was on a tram on my way home from work it probably wasn’t the most appropriate time to become hyper, but I was thrilled at the chance to try it.
Once the excitement wore off, though, I had to work out how the hell I was gonna make this thing. Realism presents an exciting challenge, but it also terrifies the living daylights out of me. To the point I tend to actively avoid it in most forms of art I try. When you’re going for a stylised or cartoon version of something, you can get away with a lot. But when you’re aiming for realism, it becomes so much easier to miss the mark, and so much easier to pick out every fault.