Easter baking is some of my favourite kind of baking. Perhaps it’s because around this time of year everything is starting to get colder. The woolly jackets find their way from the depths of our closets, the heaters and electric blankets gets their first work out in months, and we start to crave comfort food. Warm dinners and mugs of hot drinks we can curl up with, while nibbling on hot cross buns fresh out of the oven. Everything just feels cosier. And then, of course, there’s all the chocolate!
Amongst all the Easter baking I’ve been planning the cake. I decided I wanted Easter egg-shaped macarons on top, so these little guys are destined to be a garnish, but they’re a delicious treat in their own right.
It’s no secret that I have about 300 fandoms too many. Ever since I was three years old I’ve had my head in a book. Novels have always been a favourite form of escapism: if I don’t have a book on the go I feel completely lost. Every so often a gripping story comes along that spirals quickly into an obsession. An obsession I feel the need to talk about. Constantly. A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones, is one such obsession.
My other half isn’t so big on reading. Mostly he feels like he doesn’t have enough time to read and never gets around to it. I know dragging him into my favourite worlds via the written word is a lost cause, so when a great adaptation comes along there is much prodding and poking to get involved. He’s endlessly lovely about it, so he always placates me by sitting through it. Often he enjoys it, sometimes he loves it. But rarely does he match my level of obsessive addiction. Until Game of Thrones.
By the time he watched it with me, all three seasons were out. His constant plot questions indicated he was getting into the show, and then randomly quoting his favourite lines. But I really knew he was hooked when he began requesting to watch the next episode until we were watching 6 in a row. And then when he wanted to watch all the seasons over again. And again. For someone who is usually a casual one-episode-a-week-is-plenty kind of fan, it was a huge deal. Now we watch it together all the time and chat about it constantly: it’s become our ‘thing’.
Yesterday, the first episode of season 4 premiered. The wait had been agonising and we were endlessly excited. It also happened that the episode was airing in Australia on my birthday. The occasion called for some celebratory cupcakes.
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.
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.
Whenever we’re having a gathering with Cam’s family, I always try to bring along a treat everyone can eat. With some of his family members being vegan, this means cutting out all the animal content. So far I’ve been turning to recipes that already have next to no animal products in them. But I wanted to try making desserts that are not far off what I would usually make.
I’ve tried a number of veganised recipes along the way with varying success. For this dessert I tried two different vegan pastry recipes and had them fail before I decided to do things my own way. The best way out of it was sticking with recipes I knew and just substituting the ingredients where necessary. The more I play with vegan recipes, the more I’m getting the hang of what substitutes work where. It’s really not as intimidating as it seemed at first. The substitutions come pretty easily once you familiarise yourself with the alternatives available.
I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve never tried pumpkin in a sweet dish before. With Halloween around the corner I decided it was a good change to change all that. I bought a stack of pumpkins on the weekend and started having some fun.
My first stop was incorporating pumpkin into cake. I absolutely love all the spices that make up pumpkin pie spice, so I just knew I was going to love these. But I also wanted to incorporate some of Halloween into them as well. Here’s where the ghosts come in.
Halloween is very much not a holiday celebrated in Australia. Yet we seem to go along with it anyway. We don’t really get into lantern carving thing, and Trick or Treaters are usually met with scorn, confusion or a mixture of both. I couldn’t even tell you what candy corn tasted like. Ask most Aussies, and they’ll tell you it’s an American holiday not to be celebrated here. There’s a clear divide between the lovers and loathers of Halloween.
But we still get a bit of the Halloween fever here. This is probably mostly driven by the commercial side, with supermarkets and retail outlets stocking heaps of Halloween merch and covering their stores in black and orange decorations. People throw Halloween parties, as will pubs and clubs. Some of my favourite local music events happen on Halloween, Creepshow at The Espy being my absolute favourite. It usually involves watching lots of my favourite Melbourne bands playing sets in crazy costumes to a mosh pit of us crazy fans in equally crazy costumes. Good times.
So while we’re not huge on Halloween and while there’s seldom an occasion to bake for, I find myself following my American friends and baking Halloween-themed stuff anyway. It’s well and truly Spring here, but I love being inundated with all the Autumn colours you Northern Hemisphere-ians are experiencing right now. Any excuse to pretend it’s Autumn.
Another thing we don’t do in Australia is sweet pumpkin food things. Pumpkin is the kind of thing we have with a Sunday roast. It’s a savoury fruit. The prospect of making it sweet seems utterly foreign. I keep promising myself I’ll try some sweet pumpkin dessert soon to see what all the fuss is about, but in the interim I thought I’d start with something more familiar inspired by the pumpkin pie.
Last week I blogged all about the footy and mentioned that it was finals time. Last Saturday was the biggest event on Melbourne’s calendar (in most of our potentially biased books): the AFL Grand Final. On the Friday I had to travel through the city to get to work and walked past the massive crowds of brown, gold and purple buzzing with excitement during all the pre-final celebrations. It’s one of those moments that make me swell with pride and want to just hug Melbourne in general. I love our game and I love everyone who loves our game. Whether my team has made it or not, I just love footy finals fever.
Despite my attempts to persuade him otherwise, my partner is not a Carlton supporter. While he’s now a Carlton member and is gradually falling in love with my team, and while I keep telling him he really should switch teams, there’s no luring him away from his. Melbournians, and loyal footy fans elsewhere across Australia, are more likely to part with a limb than their life-long team, and so it is with Cameron. He comes from a family of almost all Hawthorn supporters, a family that had a lot to celebrate this year as their team made the grand final. Getting tickets to the AFL grand final also usually requires losing a few limbs. He, his uncle and brother are all Hawks members but still missed out, so we all headed to his place to watch it on telly together.
Cam asked me if I was going to make something for our gathering, and if I’d make him something Hawthorn. I always said I’d never bring myself to make anything opposition-team themed until I’d at least first made something Carlton. With the Carlton cupcakes made for our last final a few weeks ago, I had to oblige. Coming up with the what was effortless once I factored in everyone’s likes and requirements. Cam’s brother and sister-in-law are vegan, so I wanted to make it accessible for everyone. Which, honestly, didn’t require many adjustments at all.
By way of cake, a lot of my loves and obsessions end up making their way onto the blog. One that has yet to much such an appearance is my fierce love of football. And by football I mean Australian Rules Football, the only real football. Just ask any Melbournite. I’ve always been a fanatical Carlton supporter and am now also a Carlton member. I’m not sure where my love of the Navy Blues came from, as no one in my immediate family follows them. My dad’s a rabid Essendon supporter who tried but failed to get me on side, and most everyone else was just apathetic. I don’t remember ever making a decisions to follow them, it was always just the natural conclusion. When I got older and saw my birth certificate for the first time I discovered I even get to utter the ‘born and bred’ saying with extra gusto as I was actually born in Carlton, so perhaps it’s always been innate. AFL is my religion, and Carlton Football Club are my Gods.
It’s September and September here means footy finals fever in Melbourne. It’s been a pretty exciting finals series thus far. Even so for my team. We’ve been fairly average and frustratingly inconsistent all year. We’ll have quarters where we look as though no team in the contest would stand a chance against us, then follow it up with a quarter that brings us completely undone. We won and lost by small margins, and wins and losses were often a matter of a few seconds or a few centimeters difference. We were set to just miss the finals this year, but when a drug cheating scandal saw our historic rivals Essendon scrapped from the finals this year, we got a second chance.
I’ve been baking a lot of things that needed egg yolks lately, so to use up all the leftover egg whites I’ve been on a macaron baking spree. I’ve been having a play with sizes and flavours and have baked so many macs I don’t even need to look at a recipe any more. This week I decided to have a little fun with the look of the macarons.