Thursday, December 29, 2011

Travel Turkey

Start from Istanbul, counter-clockwise to Canakkale, down to Antalya, up to Cappadocia and back to Istanbul

Singaporeans love to travel and December is the travel peak period.  After our free and easy trips for the last two Decembers, this year, we booked a packaged tour to Turkey during the NATAS fair.  

My strategy for booking at NATAS:  Do homework, stay focus and be early.

It is important to make a decision for the holiday destination.  Prior to the fair, flip through the papers for travel advertisements and do a quick read up on the travel destination.  This will gives a rough idea of the price and the itinerary.  If you go to NATAS with a "any-place-will-do" thinking, you are likely to waste time "ding-donging" from one booth to another.

Stay focus!  If you have been to a NATAS fair, you  know just how crowded it can be and so many brochures to look at .... Headache!  I usually focus on three travel agents, get their quotes/airlines/travel dates before making a decision. While we will try to get the best travel deal, price is not the deciding factor, since too low a price will either means sub-standard accommodation/food or lots of pushy sales at the destination.

Be early.  Oh yes, even parking at the Expo is tricky if you are late.  We waited at the queue for about 30 minutes before opening (not too bad ^_^) and for about another 15 minutes to get the tickets to the fair.  Travel agents usually throw in freebies for early birds - discounts, free optional tours etc, to attract enough people to form travel group(s) in the shortest time.  These freebies can be substantial.   For my trip to Turkey, it translated to a savings of US$220 per pax!  

1) Division of labour:  Where possible, queue at different counters to collect your free bags, luggage, lucky draws to cut down on queuing time.

2) Check the best credit card(s) deal for payment.  By the way, you can call your credit card company to extend your credit limit on a one-time basis.  

Here are some beautiful pictures taken during our trip:

Topkapi Palace Museum

Ruins at ancient Pergamon (current Bergama)

Trojan Horse

Ancient marble city - Ephesus

Spectacular cascading terraces of limestone deposits at Pamukkale

Aspendos Theatre -  the best preserved Roman theatre in Turkey

Beautiful sights at Cappadocia

One of the highlights of the trip - hot air balloon ride

Beautiful sunset in Istanbul

Except for the map of Turkey, these beautiful pictures were all taken by my hubby during our trip, and without any photo editing or touch up.  I think he is really good.  Thanks dear, for capturing all these beautiful and memorable moments ....^_^

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's a Butterfly!

A colourful butterfly for you

Cake Decorating Lesson 4: Cut-Out Cakes

What is a cut-out cake? Bake a cake using basic pan shapes like round or square, then you cut the cake to shape it into any alphabets, numbers, animals, insects or designs that you like.  For example, you can have a letter "A" for Amy, "B" for Betty or "C" for Carol.  Or if your little princess is celebrating her 5th birthday, you can cut and design a number "5" cake for her.  Such customised cakes are usually quite expensive, but if you prepare it at home, it only costs a tiny fraction of the price!  And, cut-out cakes are not that difficult to make once you know the trick!

The things to consider when preparing a cut-out cake are:
1) Keep cut-out to a minimum to avoid cake wastage (well of course, you can always munch on the cut-out pieces or even combine the small pieces for making cake pops).
2) Do not trim the cake surface area too small, or it will be difficult to add designs on it.

Planning and Preparation at home ...

I have no special birthday celebrations at the moment, so I thought of making a butterfly cake.  I saw a simple method at Betty Crocker by using a round cake pan.  I modified the method slightly as shown below:

How to cut and assemble the butterfly cake

After the cake pieces are assembled, trim the edges to make them look curved.  For ease of trimming, place a piece of cut-out baking paper (i.e. the pattern paper) on the cake to help in getting the right shape.  You can also draft your design on the baking paper.  

Next, how to transfer the draft design onto the cake?  One way is to use chocolate transfer method (as in Lesson 3).  But you need to freeze the cake to harden the surface cream, so that the chocolate will stick nicely onto the cake.  Another possible way is to use a toothpick or skewer to mark the outline of the design before piping in the cream.  This is a more difficult method than chocolate transfer, but you do not have wait to freeze the cake.  I thought of using tinted piping gel to trace the outline onto the cake, but was advised that it is not workable.  I thought I saw this method in the Wilton Decorating book???  Never mind, will try this piping gel method at home.

I do not have the time to freeze the cake during lesson time.  No choice, but to free hand draw the design onto the creamed cake using toothpick, then pipe in the cream using a star nozzle. 

A strawberry yogurt cake

This time, I did not prepare any special filling for spreading between layers of sponge.  I guess you can do so, before cutting and assembling the cake.  Instead of baking a basic plain sponge, I added some strawberry yogurt drink to replace part of the melted butter and also added 1/2 tsp strawberry flavour.  The cake turns out soft and flavourful, even without any filling.

As I was writing this post, I saw this site with lots of creative ways to make cut-out cakes.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Congrats ... You've Survived Preschool!

Congratulations Class 2011

During my times, kindergarten means one to two years of preschool education at PAP foundation.  Life is simple and straight-forward.  Most of us are born at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (more commonly known as KK hospital), fed with S26 infant milk powder and attended PAP kindergarten.  I still remember my sky-blue uniform with a little mock red tie.  The proudest moment of my kindergarten must be when I graduated at the top of my cohort.  Oops... sorry mum, I was never first thereafter and so lucky not to be at the bottom last ^_^   Anyway, I survived my years of school education, never failed any examinations (so-called "no red marks" in my report book) and my mum did not have to meet my teachers or the Principal (last time, there was no "parent-teacher conference", meet teacher means you have done something wrong in school!).  

Now, my little gal has graduated from her preschool.  Compared to my time, hers would be considered a premium kindergarten.  Teachers are all well-trained, good facilities, all-rounded education with enrichment activities like phonics, han-yu-pin-yin, drama,  music, ballet classes etc.  As expected, my little gal loves her school and looks forward to school everyday.  Hopefully, she will be equally enthusiastic and motivated when she starts her primary school next year.  

Making of owl cupcakes and graduation cake

For her preschool farewell party, I prepared an owl graduation cake with little owl cupcakes for her teachers and friends.  I tried these little owl cupcakes previously over here.  This time, I used walnut butter cake as the cake base, covered the top with fondant and decorated with Oreo cookies, royal icing and M&M.  

While there are extra steps for making this walnut butter cake, it gives very soft and fragrant cake.  I will certainly bake this again, as a whole cake, for the coming Chinese New Year.

Recipe for Walnut Butter Cake
(makes 10" square cake)

8 egg yolks
100g demarara sugar*
50g molasses sugar*
* or replaced with 100g fine sugar

450g butter
200g demarara sugar (or use 150g fine sugar)
170g Nestle cream (I used 100g evaporated milk)
2 tsp rum flavour (or use vanilla or coffee flavour)
400g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
200g walnut, toasted at 160C for 10 minutes & chopped
200g chocolate chips

8 egg whites
100g fine sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1) Whisk ingredients (A) for about 3 minutes till creamy with flowy consistency.  Set aside.

2) Cream butter and sugar at (B) till pale and fluffy (butter and sugar must be well-creamed at this stage, takes about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on mixer).   

3) Add in the egg yolk mixture from step 1, Nestle cream and rum flavour.  Cream for another 2 to 3 minutes to combine.

4) Add in the remaining ingredients at (B) and mix well to combine.  Set aside.

5) Whisk ingredients (C) till stiff.  Fold meringue into butter mixture from step 4 in a few batches till well-combined.  Pour batter into greased and lined baking pan.

6) Bake in preheated oven at 160C for about 50 to 55 minutes.  Test with skewer (reduced time for cupcakes, about 35 to 40 minutes).

[Recipe source: Richard Goh's baking class]

A triple-chocolate graduation cake

The main cake is a 10" triple-chocolate cake:  Chocolate-layered sponge, sandwiched with Nutella butter cream, frosted with plain butter cream and surrounded with Kit-Kat chocolate bars.  The owl and congrats message are made from marshmallow fondant.  

Congrats again to all my little friends.  Wishing each of you a smooth transition to Primary One and an enriching school life ahead!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A little birdie says ... "Love is in the Air"

My #3 cake for cake decorating class - Blueberry Fresh Cream Cake

Cake Decorating Lesson 3: Cartoon Drawing by Chocolate Transfer

Lesson 3 is a test of our artistic flair.  Choose your favorite drawing or cartoon design, pipe the design using melted chocolate and transfer the design onto the cake.  Sounds easy?  Ho.... I soon realised that it was not so easy to pipe melted chocolate without your hands shaking away....  And yes, do make sure that the cream on the cake has indeed hardened before transferring your chocolate design onto the cake......... else, there will be "pot-holes" on your cake!

Planning and Preparation at home ...

I wanted a design that is unique, simple enough to execute and presentable.  Finding a simple and unique design is tricky.... I avoided all popular cartoon characters as I foresee there will be many such designs in class.  Since lesson 3 is about arts and drawing, I "borrowed" an idea from scrap-booking design.  Instead of playing with design layouts and embellishments on scrapbook papers, I will have them on a cake!  As for presentation, I decided to use a combination of pastel colours - blue, pink and green.  For a touch of romance, I added a wavy border (i.e. using finger sponge), a few jumbo hearts sprinkles and a soft pink ribbon to tie around the finger sponge.

Making blueberry jam for the cake filling

I love to buy fresh blueberries whenever they are on sale and use any leftover for making blueberry jam.  You can spread the blueberry jam on toast, scones, pancakes or use the jam as filling for cakes, muffins, or even add to your favorite milk shake.  100% blueberries with no preservatives or food colouring.  For this 10" square cake, I needed two punnets of fresh blueberries (about 250g) for making the jam filling.

Ingredients for 10" square cake

To make the sponge cake:
1.5 times of basic sponge cake recipe (i.e. 6 eggs, 125g flour, 125g sugar, 125g butter/oil*)
*I used a combination of 50g melted butter, 50g oil and 25g milk for the liquid portion

To make blueberry jam:
250g fresh blueberries, juice from 1/2 lemon, 1 to 2 tbsp water, sugar to taste

1) Place the blueberries and lemon juice in a pot and cook over medium heat.  Stir frequently to prevent burning.
2) Once the blueberries turn soft and start breaking down, add in sugar and continue to stir.  Add 1 to 2 tbsp water (if too dry).  
3) The jam filling is done when the mixture thickens (Note: The jam will further thicken when cools completely).  Cooking takes about 8 to 10 minutes.  
4) Let the jam cools completely before spreading on the cake.

Adding a "border" to my little birdie drawing with home-made finger sponge!

To make finger sponge 
A: 3 egg yolks + 40g fine sugar
B: 3 egg whites + 40g fine sugar + 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
C: 90g plain flour, sifted

1) Whisk (A) till thick and creamy.
2) Whisk (B) till stiff.
3) Fold (A) and (B) together, then fold in (C) to combine all.
4) Pour batter into piping bag and pipe strips of batter on baking paper.
5) Bake in preheated oven at 175C for about 10 minutes or till golden brown.

To assemble the cake:

1) Cut the sponge cake into 3 even layers.
2) Place the first layer sponge, spread a thin layer of fresh whipped cream, pipe or spread blueberry jam on the cream, and follow with another thin layer of fresh cream.  Repeat steps with another layer of sponge, cream, jam, cream and finally place the last layer of sponge on top.
3) Cover the whole cake with fresh whipped cream.  Chill the cake in freezer till cream hardens (about an hour).
4) Place a piece of baking paper over chosen design.  Pipe melted coating chocolate to trace the design on the baking paper.  Place the design in fridge for about 2 minutes (so that the design is not runny when you flip it onto the cake).
5) Flip the chocolate design onto the cake surface.  Gently rub the design to transfer the drawing onto the cake.
6) Pipe tinted piping gel or cream to fill in the drawing.
7) Place finger sponge around the cake and secure with a ribbon.

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