Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pupcakes – the main ingredient is imagination!

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When my sister said “Cake Sale... Next Saturday... For charity... Inspiration for the novice baker please?!”, it had to be Pupcakes.

These are my (current) favourites. They are a little fiddly to make but so worth it when you see the reaction they get. Both kids and grownups deliberate for ages over their choice. When I point out that each of these little cuties tastes the same, I often get the reply “But, Hester! They all have different personalities! I have to find the one that’s right for me!”

For 1 dozen cute pupcakes (each with their own personality) you will need...
... a small star-shaped piping nozzle such as a Wilton 22 and a piping bag (or a freezer bag with the corner snipped off to accommodate the piping nozzle).
1 dozen vanilla-flavoured plain cupcakes

Buttercream Icing
250g butter (not dairy spread), at room temperature (i.e. soft)
275g icing sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.                 Place the soft butter together with half the icing sugar in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer. Mix together slowly to avoid filling the kitchen with a sweet sugar cloud. When mixed, add the second half of the icing sugar and the vanilla essence and whip until light and fluffy – I usually mix this in my stand mixer, leaving it running for 5 minutes. This amount will decorate 12 cupcakes.

To decorate the pupcakes you will need...
6 red/pink Starburst sweets (or similar soft fruit caramels), for the tongue
6 marshmallows for the muzzle, snipped in half so you have two discs from each
a further 4 marshmallows for the ears, each snipped into 4 long slices then rolled out to make long floppy ear shapes
24 Smarties (or similar sweets) for the eyes (pairs of matching colours if possible)
12 Smarties (or similar) for the nose - pink or brown look good

a little imagination 
Mmmmm, I feel like a kid in a candy store!

2.                 First, make the tongues: Unwrap 1 Starburst (or soft fruit caramel) and place it in the microwave for about 4 seconds to soften it slightly. Roll it out to a thickness of about 2mm. Using a kitchen scissors, cut out rounded teardrop shapes about the size of your index fingernail. You should get 2 tongues from each sweet. Fold each teardrop gently in half, then unfold to create a line down the centre of the tongue. Gently bend to make natural-looking tongue shapes (as shown in the photo above). Ok, that was the difficult bit. The rest is an easy assembly job.
3.                 Next, If your cupcakes are domed, cut the tops off in line with the top of the cupcake cases to make a level surface for your icing.
4.                 Half-fill your piping bag with the freshly-whipped icing (piping bags are a lot easier to work with if not too full).
5.                 Cup a cake in one hand and, with the other, pipe icing all over the surface using little stabbing motions to mimic the appearance of fur.  It doesn’t have to be too neat.
6.                 Place a marshmallow half – with the sticky, cut side, down - off-centre to create the muzzle. Cover this with icing too. Place 2 Smartie eyes on the cake as shown in the photo below. Top the muzzle with another Smartie for the nose.
7.                 Press a pair of marshmallow ears either side of the eyes, making sure a sticky side is in contact with the icing as this helps it adhere.
8.                 Insert a Starburst tongue between the muzzle and the cupcake to secure.
9.                 Finally, pipe a cute little curl just over the eyes. Once you’ve done one, the rest are much quicker to assemble. Store in a cool dry place (not the fridge!)
Start with a level base; use half a marshmallow for the muzzle; add marshmallow ears
and candy eyes and nose; finally poke the tongue just under the base of the muzzle. 

The event, at St Matthias Hall in Killiney, Co. Dublin on Saturday, December 1st, 12 noon to 2pm, is in aid of the Intellectual Disability Association of Lesotho. Christmas music... mulled wine... tea, coffee, hot chocolate with marshmallows...  mince pies.... cakes, buns, cupcakes etc. as well as some Christmas crafts... Break Christmas in gently...

Come along on Saturday and meet the Ambassador of Lesotho and his family as you deliver a delicious donation, or simply take time out to enjoy one of the gorgeous creations on offer along with a cuppa and maybe even get some of your Christmas shopping done.

And, hey! Hands off! That one's mine!

Other bake sale ideas include:

Honey, Lemon and Almond Tartlets - this recipe makes 18
Banana, Pear and Coconut Loaf - excellent with coffee, improves if made ahead of time

If you have your own favourite bake sale recipe that you’d like to share with the bakers participating in the sale, please email me your link at simpleingredientsmagicalfood@gmail.com, and I’d be delighted to add it to the list. Pin It

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rosemary Garlic Sautéed Potatoes – pretty close to perfect

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As an Irishwoman, I am genetically predisposed to adore potatoes. Mashed... baked... fried... chipped... roast... steamed... you name it, I’m there, knife and fork - or just plain fingers - at the ready.
It is very hard to pick a favourite. A strong contender - and a simple classic dish that I’ve rustled up since childhood - is sautéed potatoes. Excellent with roast or grilled meats, with a delicious golden crust, and laced with garlic and rosemary, I think this version is pretty close to perfect (and if onions make you cry, read the simple tips at the end of the recipe).

As a side for 2 greedy people, or 3 – 4 more restrained appetites you will need:
500g floury potatoes such as Rooster, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes (of about 1.5cm)

25g butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, halved from top to bottom, then sliced thinly into half moons
1 teaspoon of very finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped

50g butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt (I prefer Maldon for this dish)
1.                 Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Carefully drain off the water and set the potatoes aside for a couple of minutes to allow the steam to evaporate. You want the potatoes to be as dry as possible. They will still be a little firm but that’s perfect. You don’t want them to break up when you start to fry them.
2.                 While you are waiting for the potatoes to cook, place 25g of butter together with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the sliced onion. Lower the heat and cook gently until the onion starts to turn golden (about 7 minutes). Add the rosemary and garlic and cook for a further minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.
3.                 Wipe out the frying pan with kitchen paper before adding the remaining butter and olive oil. Place over a medium-high heat and when the butter has melted and stopped sizzling, add the potatoes cubes. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the sides of the cubes touching the pan have started to turn golden. Gently turn the potato cubes and continue cooking until gloriously golden all over.
4.                 Scatter the cooked onion mixture over the potatoes, sprinkle with a little sea salt and continue cooking for a minute or two to heat through. Serve as soon as you possibly can, although this dish will relax happily in a warm oven for 20 minutes if necessary.

Note: If preparing onions makes you cry, read on for some simple tips to avoid weeping into your sautéed potatoes...
When you cut into an onion, it releases a volatile compound that irritates nose and eyes. Use a sharp knife to avoid excessively crushing the onion cells, releasing less of the compound in the first place. Breathe through your mouth to avoid the onion vapours going up your nose and lean slightly away from the onion so that the vapours don’t rise into your eyes.
Or wear some stylish goggles like my lovely assistant, Naomi...
(Photo by Veronica Casey)
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Apricot and Almond Scones – easy, lazy, delicious !

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I’m a brunch kinda gal. I’d rather skip breakfast than breakfast in a hurry so my cupboards are usually bare of boxed cereals (unless specifically bought for a recipe). So when my nieces and nephew come for a sleepover, there is usually a mad scramble to find hungry tummies something to eat in the morning. Luckily they are used to this routine by now and know that empty cupboard breakfasts can produce French toast (in about 20 minutes); buttermilk pancakes, (about the same); and that scones, while taking just a bit longer, are a fun hands-on activity, and open to all sorts of flavour customisation: apple... nutella... chocolate chip...
My latest favourite is Apricot and Almond. This mixture is easy, lazy, and delicious. Kids (of all ages) love to get involved in cutting out and glazing.  Guaranteed a big hit with little and large tummies alike.

For 8 or 9 scones you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 200
150g plain flour
75g wholemeal flour
50g ground almonds
10g baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine table salt
50g butter, cut into small cubes
100g ready-to-eat dried apricots, very finely chopped
½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
150mls fresh milk 

To glaze
1 egg, beaten (or a little milk for a less glossy finish)
a little brown or white sugar for sprinkling  

1                    Place the white flour, wholemeal flour, baking powder, ground almonds and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour, lifting and crumbling the mixture between your index and middle fingers and your thumbs, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2                    Add the chopped dried apricots.
3                    Mix the almond extract (if using) with the milk, and pour into the bowl. Mix gently until the ingredients have formed a soft dough and no dry flour remains.
4                    Lightly flour your hands then turn the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead gently to form a ball. Pat the dough out into a round approximately 2cm thick (you could use a rolling pin for a more professional finish but I’ve found that hungry kids don’t much care for perfect symmetry).
5                    Using a 6cm (3”) cutter, stamp out scone shapes from the dough reforming any scraps into a ball and once again patting into a thickness of 2cm. This mixture yields between 8 and 9 scones.
6                    Place the prepared scones on a non-stick baking sheet and brush the tops with beaten egg. Sprinkle each with a pinch of sugar and bake in the preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes until risen and golden brown.
7                    When cooked, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes before serving with butter and jam. Scones are best served the day they are made but generally there are no leftovers so this won’t be a cause for concern J

Note: You could use your food processor for the first 2 steps, using whole almonds for better flavour and simply roughly chop the apricots, letting the processor do most of the work. I prefer to mix in the milk by hand as overworking the dough can make it tough.

It's called the fastest bread in the West because one moment it's there and next it's scone ...
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