Lolly Bag Cake

I often get told from friends and family, and sometimes even people I don’t know, that I should go on MasterChef. I kind of imagine that this is how people with voices like tortured cats end up on Australian Idol or X-Factor and end up embarrassing the hell out of themselves: well meaning people want you to follow your hobby to wonderful goals, but it takes more than a passion for singing or food to make the grade. I’m okay at baking, but I don’t have the skills in a lot of mediums necessary to avoid total annihilation. I’m also insanely indecisive, slow, messy and I always think I know better than the recipe. Knowing me, I’d be an hour into the challenge and still standing in the pantry trying to work out what to cook.

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But there is one thing that makes me entertain the idea for a moment: pressure tests. These contestants get to not only meet, but be mentored by the most accomplished pastry chefs in the world. They then get to attempt these wonderful recipes with every ingredient and tool right there at their disposal in a professional kitchen. I always watch those episodes with the deepest sense of longing. I’d jump at the chance to get to create all those stunning desserts that are practically impossible to make at home.

This year, one of the first such pressure tests was provided by Bernard Chu, an accomplished Melbournian pastry chef of LuxBite. It was Kids Week on MasterChef, and he bought in a cake that perfectly fit this bill: his Lolly Bag cake. This layered beauty was the perfect nostalgia trip of many of the lollies we grew up with as kids. As soon as I saw it, I knew I just had to make it.

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I’ve had moments like this after many Pressure Tests or other dessert challenges. The recipe goes up on the MasterChef website, I go to look at it and quickly become dismayed by the ingredient list. Or the required equipment. Or the cost. Or all three at once. I almost had that same moment while reading through this recipe and doing the maths. But no, I finally decided, I was not going to be defeated by it. I was going to save it up for a special occasion and tackle this beast of sugary goodness.

I don’t know if I wanted to bake it or taste it more. Mostly I was skeptical that all those flavours could go together and not confuse the palatte, so I had to try it. I suppose I could have made the trip to LuxBite and just paid $7.50 for a slice, but that’s just not my style.

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The post that is going to follow is going to be enormous, I should warn you. As you may have guessed from all those layers, it’s a long and involved multi-step process. It will look intimidating, but when you break it down you’ll find it’s really quite easy. It’s a relatively technical cake, though not the worst. Having experience with things like making sugar syrups, whipping meringue to perfect soft peak, making ganache and baking sponges will help a lot. If you’ve never done any of these things you may want to have a play around with individual components in easier desserts before taking on the whole lolly bag cake.

I made a number of changes to the recipe to make it home-kitchen friendly, as well as a few other preference changes. This is as specialty-equipment free as possible, but you will want a candy thermometer and a stick blender at the very least. You will also need enough freezer space to freeze at least one layer at a time, preferably enough for the whole cake to sit in later. I’ve documented every step along the way to give you a visual guide of what bits and pieces are supposed to look like and will be providing plenty of anecdotes in the hope of guiding even the most beginner of bakers through this challenge. So hit the jump to read all about it!

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Domo Cookies

Early this week was one of my good friends’ birthday. We have the misfortune of living on opposite sides of the country, so catchups are non-existent. She spent a long time encouraging me to join deviantART and has always been such a huge supporter of my work there since. She’s always telling me how much she wants to eat the stuff I post and I keep promising her ‘one day’. So for her birthday, I decided it was time I made good on my promise and attempted something I haven’t before: shipping baked goods across the country.

I sent her a gift box of various baked goods, which I’ll show you in upcoming blog posts, but these cookies were the main feature. Domo has always been this thing between us. I don’t remember how it started. It might have been some dancing domo emoticon we always used on chat. We’re so random and hyper when conversing it could have come from anywhere. But it developed into one of those ‘our thing’ things you have with friends. In-jokes you will cry with laughter over while everyone else stares at you like you’re insane. We’ve sent each other various domo paraphernalia and merch over the years, and receiving it has always made me cackle wildly.

I don’t remember when the idea of domo cookies popped into my head, but once it did the idea was just so obvious and perfect it began to feel like it had always been my intention.

Then I just had to hope they survived the trip…

Mille Feuille Gateau

On Sunday Cameron and I spent Mother's Day with his mum and immediate family. We started the day early, catching breakfast at a gorgeous cafe called Earthly Pleasures. It's situated in a stunning, heritage listed stone manor. The beautiful gardens, medieval architecture and the manor's removal from the surrounding roads and buildings lent to a relaxing atmosphere for the morning. Coupled with the lovely food and pleasant company, it made for a wonderful morning.

We went back to their place after breakfast and spent the afternoon chatting and munching on goodies. The time of gathering had me searching for lighter options for the cake. I wanted to avoid anything too rich or too sweet. The last thing you feel like after breakfast is a dessert that's going to make you feel like slumping on the couch for the rest of the day. So I looked to flavours that would feel a little lighter on the palatte.

Cherry and Coconut seemed like a night place to start…

Spicy Rose Cupcakes

With Mother's Day just around the corner it's a time for making all things pretty and elegant. The first thing that comes to mind for this occasion is roses. The rose has been used as a symbol in most societies throughout human history. And it's little wonder. It's a beautiful, and varied, flower. Qualities that make them a lovely way to say thanks this Mother's Day.

The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose…

Cook Book Challenge: Week 38

One thing that's delightful about this challenge is that I'm starting to run out of books. And when I say run out, I mean I've used all my regulars. I'm starting to delve into books I've shelved and have never picked up after that first flick through. This weeks book, "Cadbury Chocolate Cookbook," is one I have little memory of. Perhaps that's because there's very few pictures in the book. I'm drawn too books with mouth-watering pictures. I'm also what's called a VAKs learner: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic. It's great because I have no weaknesses, but then no strengths either. I need to hear or read the instructions, I need to see how it's done, but I don't truly learn anything until I dive in and try it myself. When a recipe lacks a photo, when I can't see what the end product is supposed to look like, I feel like I'm flying blind. Or at least one third blind.

A lot of people often argue that a good cook book doesn't need pictures to be a good cook book. So I attempted to shove my picture-snobbery to one side and pick a recipe from how it sounded. There were a few recipes that sounded alright. Many I had tried before, or were just too simple for this challenge. There was a mocha bread recipe I liked, but lacked ingredients for. I'd almost given up hope of finding something I could make today when I stumbled upon on of the last recipes: the roulade. It's a thought that still intimidates me. I almost skipped that, too, when I reminded myself that that is the point of this challenge. To challenge myself. I took a deep breath and collected the necessary ingredients.

French Chocolate Roulade…

Orange and Cinnamon Macarons

I'm addicted to making macarons lately. And I have no intention of stopping until I iron out the little creases that are the imperfections in my biscuits. As if I'm going to stop when I do finally get them perfect. Ha!

They're so addictive and so appealing to make. It's becoming and\ obsession. There are so many colours and flavours and possibilities just begging to be explored.

My major challenge at the moment is getting the biscuits all the same size. No matter how carefully I drew the circles and how carefully I piped, they'd always be different. I'd spend ages trying to match up same-sized biscuits, getting grumpy about the misshapen ones. So I thought it was time to try something new.

Breaking habits…

Cook Book Challenge: Week 37

This week's challenge comes from one of my many Women's Weekly books simple titled 'Chocolate'. This is one of my books that has a lot of overlap with others, each of which people have gotten me as presents. They all offer something different, though, so I don't mind.

I bake from these books a lot, and some of my favourite cake recipes come from or have been adapted from these books. The part this book has that the others don't is a cookie section. It's all about the old and classic in these ones. I've been wanting to try Pinwheel Cookies, on Choc-Vanilla Spiral Cookies as they are called in this book, for a while. The challenge was the perfect excuse.

hit the jump for more…