School Cake-stall Baking

I saw some really cute panda-face cupcakes on Housegoeshome,  so I decided to have a go for the recent Federal Election day cake-stall at school, because they were just so cute, and importantly, looked easy enough.

Still, when I was at the supermarket buying my ingredients, I bought a pack of ready-made cupcakes with brightly coloured icing, just in case I got lazy. I could always scrape the icing off and decorate them like pandas, right? But then I remembered we had to list the ingredients. How could I give the P&C a list with preservative numbers on it? So… I baked.

Small, but perfectly formed

Base applied, ready for panda makeover!

Base applied, ready for panda makeover!

Spider Boy and I mixed the dry ingredients, sending flour and cocoa everywhere. We mixed in the eggs, milk and hot water, exactly to the amount specified. But somehow, the mixture seemed too runny. I commented on this to Spider Boy, who said forlornly, “Oh no, it’s going to be another disaster!” dramatic much? Totally my fault.

“It’s all right,” I told him, “we’ll just add some more flour”, realising the powder spillage before might have had something to do with the runny mixture.

It all worked out in the end though – miraculously, the little cakes rose into perfectly formed little chocolate hills.

A face only a mother could love.

Facing facts: a face only a mother could love.

Big mumma

Big mumma


Mumma and Bubba

To decorate the cupcakes, the recipe called for “white confetti sprinkles” and a “black edible ink pen” for the eyes, but I couldn’t get those things in my little local supermarket so I used a bit of vanilla frosting with a dot of black writing icing that I had in the cupboard.

I also used dessicated coconut instead of “sanding sugar” (whatever that is) to create a furry panda effect. I thought dessicated coconut looked furrier than sugar, and anyway, did we really need the extra sugar on top?  (I know, I’m constantly surprising myself). The original recipe called for 1/3 cup of oil, but being a big fan of butter, I melted some of that instead.

In the end,  the cupcakes were probably the best I’ve ever made. Great chocolately taste, melt-in-the-mouth texture,  perfectly formed.  But because my vanilla frosting contained quite a bit of butter, it did have a slightly yellowish hue, giving my pandas a slightly jaundiced look, but still, they were cute and fluffy enough.

A long way from cupcake disaster indeed.


Now that’s what I call a six-pack

Click through to the recipe here.  Or to check out other panda-inspired food go to

Did you have any Election day baking success?

Nothing Like Nigella. Part 2

Finally: cheesecake success with a strawberry on top

Finally: cheesecake success with a strawberry on top

You might remember my cheesecake disaster from last week: the rubbery, salty garbage-tasting lump with flesh coloured gelatinous globules in it that actually made me dry-retch when I tasted it.

The big pictures and step-by-step instructions in a children’s cookbook borrowed from the library made it look so easyBut my cheesecake didn’t look like the pictures. And I didn’t look happy like the child in the step-by-step instructions. Oh how she mocked me, with her Cath Kidston-style apron and neat blonde plaits, holding her little tray of perfect, heart-shaped cheesecakes.
I tried but spectacularly failed my self-imposed “Cheesecake Challenge” last week. But this week, I’ve done it. I spent more money on ingredients and dedicated Saturday morning to it. After last week’s disaster, I couldn’t blame Spider Boy for showing no interest in helping me with this week’s attempt. Although he did deign to give the cream a bit of a whip with our 1970s egg beater later in the proceedings.
I bashed biscuits, melted butter, and simmered strawberries. And then it was time to face my nemesis: gelatin or gelatine or whatever it calls itself. This time, I decided to work with jelly crystals. Little diamonds of potential gelatinous glop. Since the recipe called for “strawberry gelatin”, I had looked for strawberry jelly crystals, but IGA only had “Strawberry Sundae” flavour.
The recipe hadn’t made it clear whether to dissolve the gelatin in water first, or to just put it straight into the strawberries. So I took a stab in the dark and dissolved the crystals in just over half the amount of water you would normally use to make 500g of jelly. The recipe said simply, 85g gelatin, and later, “add the gelatin” – see, nothing about dissolving it first, or “make up the jelly according to instructions on packet”. Anyway, it worked. Lots more stirring and whisking, and setting in the fridge for hours, but it worked!
I took two little cheesecakes over to Senorita Margarita’s house. “They taste good, but they’re a bit soft.” They’d only set for two hours, and unfortunately were in the car for nearly an hour of driving around before I got them to her.
The next day, after the remaining pink cheesecake hearts had been in the fridge overnight, I told Spider Boy to check them out.  When he saw the cakes were perfectly pink and heart-shaped, he asked if he could put the strawberries on top. Later, when he tried some, he said, “Mmm… delicious… it’s really nice.” But a short time later, he admitted, “Mum… it doesn’t actually taste very good… it tastes a bit sweet… and not very nice.”
Yes, the cheesecake was perfectly pink and heart-shaped. But the problem was, it tasted more like “pink” cheesecake than “strawberry” cheesecake. It tasted pinker than strawberry, pinker than pink. it was musk stick, creaming soda pink. The pink of fairy floss, ballerina tu-tus and sticky pink lip gloss. It was Barbie’s dream kitchen on steroids.
I asked Mum if she wanted to try some. “No thanks. I don’t really like pink food.”
I rang Senorita Margarita. Do you want anymore cheesecakes? “No!” she implored. “I’ve polished off the two you brought over already!” she said, muttering something else related to trying to lose weight, and eating too much, blah blah blah.
The cheesecake failure was probably due to me actually trying to follow the recipe, rather than feeling my way. Maybe it’s better to just know a recipe by heart, knowing by intuition developed from years of just doing it, or watching a loved one making a particular dish. Anything I make that is more complicated than boiling something in water, is the result of my studying a written recipe and dealing with each step as I go, a rather staccato way of cooking, there is no flow. I don’t “feel” my recipes, I think them. and sometimes the way the recipe writer is thinking, and my thinking, is not on the same page, literally. The only reason I persevere with baking (as opposed to just boiling things in water), is because I like to eat baked goods, ok? (or no-bake goods, like cheesecake, as the case may be) Yes, I could just go to a bakery, but I like to work for my treats. (Maybe I should just work for my treats in a gym? You know, actually burn some calories before consuming any more?)
But still, I feel I’ve succeeded in my Cheesecake Challenge. The flavour may have been over-pink, but the texture was good.  This recipe worked, with me NOT following the recipe step-by-step. So maybe I do have some cooking intuition after all.
Thank goodness I can now return that book to the library! And I’m never borrowing it again.
Have you had any memorable cooking disasters?
I should've just bought one of these and been done with it!

I should’ve just bought one of these and been done with it!

Nothing Like Nigella. Part 1


Success: buttery biscuit base


Seconds before cheesecake disaster

It should have been so easy. It was a no-bake cake. I had borrowed a cookbook from the children’s library. Five-year-old Spider Boy and I had chosen a strawberry cheesecake recipe to try. From a children’s cookbook.

We followed the instructions to the letter. The recipe called for “I package (85g) strawberry gelatin” (spelt gelatin without the ‘e’ – it was an English cook book). I went to the supermarket and asked for gelatin. “You cook with it” I helpfully informed the man. But they didn’t have strawberry gelatin, so I just bought a pack of “gelatine”  (spelt with the ‘e’) – “clear and unflavoured” it said on the pack. The fresh strawberries in the mix will be enough to flavour it, I reasoned.

Things began smoothly. Spider Boy and I smashed plain Nice biscuits in a zip-lock bag and rolled them with a rolling pin. We melted butter and poured it over the biscuits, then smooshed it together.

My packet of gelatine had five sachets each containing 10g gelatin. I had bought two boxes so poured eight sachets into my simmering strawberries, sugar and water mixture.

The fact that the spoon I used to mix this strawberry mixture stuck to the plate after the glop had cooled down, should have served as a warning of the no-bake disaster that was to follow.

As I poured the rapidly-becoming-rubbery mixture into the whisked cream cheese, and started folding rubbery-strawberry-sauce-with-gelatinous-lumps into the cream cheese, I knew things had gone horribly, horribly wrong. It was at this point I stopped photographing the steps of this recipe. It was like how I imagine half-set lumpy concrete to be. I tasted a bit on the tip of my finger. It felt like rubber, it tasted salty. The texture was a bizarre rubbery, lumpy mess, concrete-coloured peppered with flesh-coloured gelatinous strawberry blobs. It looked like offal, and tasted how garbage on garbage day would taste, but with salt. I had a sinking feeling it had something to do with all those sachets of gelatin – clear, flavourless, undissolved gelatin.

But, optimist that I am, I thought maybe the texture and taste of the mixture would somehow improve after it was spooned carefully into heart-shaped little tins that were already lined with buttery biscuit base. But no, it looked no better. Oh well, I thought, let’s see what happens after they’re “set” in the fridge for a couple of hours, as the recipe dictates.

An hour-and-a-half later, Spider Boy called out to me, “Mum, look at the cakes.”  I went to the open fridge where Spider Boy was crouched by the bottom shelf,  peering and poking at the cakes.

It was a cheesecake disaster.

“It’s a total disaster!” declared Spider Boy.

A vastly different story to the food on Lorraine Elliot’s Not Quite Nigella blog. I’ve marvelled at her recipes, I’ve been impressed by the photographs of the outcomes of said recipes. For example, one spectacular recipe post about Cronuts (a donut-croissant hybrid), stated the degree of difficulty was hard, with six to eight hours of work – I do admire the culinary commitment displayed on Not Quite Nigella, but I could never cook something that took six or eight hours. The results of Elliot’s cooking are impressive, if the photos are anything to go by, and I’m sure she is a lot more like Nigella than “Not quite”. It is the people like me, those who love food, and try to emulate those delectable cookbook photographs with our cooking, but somehow miss the mark, who are not only “Not quite Nigella”, we are “Nothing like Nigella”. In fact, some of us are “Nowhere near Nigella”, as far away from Nigella as it is possible to be. The only culinary thing I have in common with Nigella, is that I love food.

I had so been looking forward to cool creamy strawberry smoothness over a buttery biscuit crumb base. How bitterly, bitterly disappointed I was.

I showed my mum the recipe and she pointed out that when the recipe called for “gelatin”, maybe that actually meant jelly crystals

So now, a week later, armed with a fresh packet of strawberry Aeroplane jelly, I will try again. I will keep you posted.