Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lover of themes

As you are all well aware, I love all things themed. Whether it be themed parties, cupcakes or themed parties with appropriately themed cupcakes – I just love themes! From my baking experience, I have noticed that when I bake cupcakes with a particular theme in mind, the end result ALMOST always looks great!

I am not very adventurous, I tend to go about decorating my cupcakes in a similar fashion. I always pipe the icing on top of the cupcake with my all-time favourite nozzle, the Wilton 2D, and I always, always, always “Top the Cupcake” with an appropriately themed handmade fondant topper.

These past two weeks, I had two themed cupcake orders: a ladybird themed 1st birthday party and a nautical themed 23rd birthday party. Although two very different themes, they both turned out fabulous (if I don’t say so myself)! But that’s enough of me blowing smoke up of my own buttocks, I will let the photos speak for themselves. 

Ladybird themed 1st birthday party

 Regular sized cupcakes

 Mini sized cupcakes

Cake pops

Nautical themed 23rd birthday party

 Regular sized cupcakes

Cake pops

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cheater, cheater, compulsive eater

So it was Zachary’s birthday last month and his parents decided to have a very small family celebration for his birthday. As always I was appointed with the important role of organising the all-important birthday cake or cupcakes.

Being the bad Aunty Tina and the time poor person that I am, I simply ran out of time and didn’t make Zachary a cake or cupcakes. He had even put in a special request for “Octonauts” themed cupcakes too! On the day of Zachary’s birthday, I managed to get out of work an hour early (by “get out of work”, I actually mean, I sneaked out of work through the stairwell hoping that no one would notice).

On the drive over to my parental’s house, I decided that instead of arriving empty handed and potentially upsetting my favourite nephew on his birthday (FYI, he is my favourite nephew by default as he is my only nephew. Nevertheless, I do believe in favouritism and making the children fight for your affection. What?! I love being loved!). I decided to drive to Coles and buy the premade cupcakes and to cheat and make paper cupcake toppers instead of fondant edible toppers.

I madly rushed into Coles and picked up a packet of their premade mini cupcakes. They were dirt cheap too - $6 bucks for 12 mini cupcakes! I then madly rushed home to make the paper cupcake toppers. Basically, in a word document using the drawing tools, I drew a bubble cloud (not sure whether that is the correct terminology) in blue and inserted the Octonauts characters into the centre of each bubble cloud. I printed the images on the cardboard, cut them out and stuck a tooth pick on the back of each bubble cloud. 

When I got to my parental’s house, I was so nervous that Zachary would be able smell the baking infidelity seeping through my pores. But thankfully he didn’t. He was just simply excited to hear that I had “made” him special cupcakes. So yes, I lied to my little nephew. I had ripped off the Coles packaging on the drive over to my parental’s house. I did it for Zachary’s own good or at least that is what I tell myself in order to get to sleep at night!

When it came to cupcake time, I stuck the Octonauts toppers into the mini cupcakes and we were all good to go. Zachary didn’t even seem to notice that the toppers weren’t edible. He was just so excited that they were Octonauts themed! Who knew kids were so easy to please. It did make me wonder why I spent all those sleepless nights in the past making such intricate cupcake toppers for him given how pleased he was with the paper toppers that I whipped up in a matter of minutes!

The next day when I picked him up from school, the following conversation took place:
Z: “Aunty Tina did you make my Octonauts cupcakes?”
A T: “Of course I did monkey! Why do you ask?”
Z: “Did you put dirt into the cupcakes instead of chocolate by mistake? Because the cupcakes tasted a little bit like dirt!”

Ahhh kids, bless their honesty! I guess there is a reason why the Coles cupcakes are dirt cheap (excuse the pun). But in all fairness, unlike Zachary, I didn’t mind the Coles cupcakes! The icing was quite nice but the cupcake base was a little too dense for my liking. But not dirt tasting in the slightest.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Move over Dora the Explorer, Hoot and Hootabelle are so hot right now!

Anyone who has a child under the age of five would be able to tell you who Hoot and Hootabelle are. For the nonparents who are reading, let me put it into perspective for you, Hoot and Hootabelle to kids is the equivalent of One Direction to a teenage girl! The kids are obsessed with these talking owls and there is merchandise everywhere to prove it. I would go as far as to say that Hoot and Hootabelle is the new Dora the Explorer (I know, big claim).
I was first introduced to Hoot and Hootabelle by my little niece Livy who absolutely adores Hoot and owls in general. Her impersonation of an owl is particularly cute – "hoot, hoot"!
This weekend, I had a Hoot and Hootabelle cupcake order for a 1st birthday party for a set of beautiful twins. When I accepted the order, I thought it would be a particularly easy bake job. But as expected, I know very little, and was in fact very wrong. I had to make Hoot and Hootabelle stencils and make each topper by hand. It was a time costly affair, but the end result was pretty darn cute.

I made the stencils out of cardboard and had to individually hand cut each shape out of fondant and stick each layer of fondant on top of each other. As you can see, the Hoot and Hootabelle characters are quite intricate (something I clearly did not considered). Nevertheless, it was all worth it - HOOT HOOT!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

To bean, paste or extract?

I have been meaning to blog about this for a while but seem to always run short of time. I am eager to hear other bakers's opinions on the matter, so please do not be shy as this is an issue close to my baking heart.  

My dilemma is this: when it comes to making vanilla cupcakes, do you use vanilla bean, vanilla paste or vanilla extract? These are the sort of hard hitting questions I have to deal with on a daily basis. I know, I live a tough existence.  

To be entirely honest, I have made vanilla cupcakes using all three vanilla forms (not all in the same cupcake batch) and I am undecided. Well that is not entirely true, I prefer vanilla bean and paste over extract any day. However, I use vanilla extract in my buttercream icing, so I don't want to go bagging vanilla extract out too much!  

So, why am I so hating on vanilla extract? I don't know how to explain it without sounding like some crazy over protective mother (which FYI, I am not - I don't plan on having kids for another 40 or 50 years, i.e. until someone creates a machine that can teleport babies out of one's stomach)! But here goes nothing, I feel as though I am cheating the system by using vanilla extract because it is not really "vanilla", it is vanilla flavouring. And as you know (from previous posts), where ever possible I try to avoid using colouring and artificial flavourings in my bake goods.  

Vanilla paste, on the other hand, is great. One teaspoon of this bad boy or girl (I feel the need to be PC (politically correct) on my blog) is the equivalent of one whole vanilla bean with vanilla seeds. However, being ten dollars (AUD) a pop, it can prove to be a costly affair. But I guess the more important question is: is it worth it? Absolutely! The vanilla paste really packs a punch and is worth every cent. It adds a real vanilla flavour kick to cupcakes. Personally, I love a good vanilla cupcake and I believe vanilla paste provides you with that strong vanilla flavour. Also, it's awesome that you are able to see the vanilla seeds in the cupcake itself. Flavour you can see - literally!   

I must admit, I used seeds from real vanilla beans for the first time a few weeks ago. I had these vanilla beans sitting in my pantry for a few decent months before actually putting them to use! They were given to me from some dear friends, Jules and Trista, who had returned from Bali and gave me a bag. Apparently, they are cheap as chips in B-Town (B for Bail or Bingtang - read it how you will). And the verdict? In my opinion, it was no different then using the vanilla paste. The only difference was I had to cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the batter, oppose to just simply pouring the paste in. A little more effort, but the same result, at a slightly more cheaper price.  

So in summary, for fantastic vanilla cupcakes use either vanilla paste or actual vanilla beans. If you are somewhat lazy, like me, I would recommend the paste. If you are more eager, unlike me, I would recommend the real deal and go with the actual beans (as it might be a tad cheaper).