Sunday, October 14, 2007

Drawing Inspiration

apple pie cupcakes - custard

Re-invention is a theme often on my mind. As a graphic designer, I often find myself drawing inspiration from a huge variety of sources, from food to fashion, people to literature, nature to architecture and so many more, because design would be boring if people looked only to other design for inspiration! It is these individual interests and influences that create difference. Even at college when 30 of us have exactly the same project, everyone’s solution is unique.

This is also why I love the food blogging community. I’ll admit, I’ve been lurking watching from afar for a little while at different events. It is incredible to see what you all come up with, that one theme can inspire so many different ideas in people. The food blogging world has opened up my eyes to so many different culinary possibilities that I would never have thought of in a million years, each inspired by different cultures, interests and talents.

I am very happy though, that my first blog event is cupcake related, it seems oddly appropriate, as they are quite an obsession for me these days. The dish that I have chosen to reinvent is apple pie. As simple as it sounds, it has always been a favourite of mine, and its infallible popularity suggests plenty of others feel the same way. It is also something that I’ve personally never seen done in cupcake form before.

I started with a cinnamon cake base, filled with a home made applesauce and topped with a custard cream. I really liked the way the flavours and textures came together here. The only thing I would have liked better is a stronger cinnamon flavour in the cake, or even in the applesauce.

I know there looks like a scary amount of steps here, but much of this recipe can actually be done in advance. The sweet pastry can be refrigerated or frozen (see note), and the applesauce and custard cream can both be stored in air-tight containers in the fridge for 2-3 days. The cupcakes taste best when served on the day, but one day (unfilled) in an air-tight container won’t be a problem.

Thanks to Cheryl and Garrett for hosting such a great event!

Apple Pie Cupcakes
Makes 12

Sweet Pastry
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup almond meal (optional, to make it almond shortcrust)
• 1 tablespoons caster sugar
• 150g cold butter, chopped
• 2-3 tablespoons cold water

1. In a food processor or stand mixer with a dough hook, combine butter, sugar, flour and almond meal (if using) until it becomes a crumbly mixture that resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Add water as needed, until a smooth dough forms and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
3. Roll 12 small balls of dough, of about 1.5-2cm diameter. Place them on a baking sheet covered with non-stick baking paper, about 5cm apart. Place another sheet of baking paper on top and press each down until it is about 0.5cm apart.
4. Roll the rest of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it until needed.
5. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
6. Peel off the top layer of baking paper and make holes in each pastry piece with a fork. Place in a preheated (180°C) oven the oven for 10 minutes until they are slightly golden.
Note: I wouldn’t recommend making the pastry crust just for these cupcakes. If you have some leftover sweet dough from another recipe, or have other plans for a pie or tart, then go for it, but these cupcakes are truly just as good without the pastry as with. Sweet dough can be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for a couple of months.

Cinnamon Cupcakes
• 115g butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 ¼ cup flour, sifted
• ¾ teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a standard muffin tray with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer
3. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition
4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon
5. Combine milk and vanilla
6. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture alternately, starting and finishing with flour
7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool in tray for 5 minutes then move to a wire rack.

Apple Sauce
Makes enough to fill 12 cupcakes, and probably a small apple pie or two
• 2 medium apples (I used Pink Lady), peeled, cored and cut into 1.5cm cubes
• 4 tablespoons water or apple juice
• 4 tablespoons sugar
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place apple pieces in a small saucepan with the water/juice and cook over a low heat, stirring often until apples are very soft.
2. Stir in half of the sugar until dissolved and then add the other half and the cinnamon.
3. Place in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Vanilla Custard Cream
• 1 cup milk
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 egg yolks
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons plain flour
• 1 tablespoon custard powder

1. With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale. Add the flour and custard powder and mix well.
2. Place milk and vanilla extract in a small saucepan and heat until milk is just boiling.
3. Pour the milk into the egg mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
4. Return mixture to the pot over a low heat and whisk continuously until mixture is starting to thicken. At this point it depends if you want a runny custard or a thick “pipe-able” custard, but remember that it will thicken slightly as it cools.
5. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl sitting in a dish of iced water. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until needed.

Assembly
1. Make pastry, if using
2. Prepare cupcake batter
3. Place 1 tablespoon of the batter in each of the cupcake liners. Add a pastry disc to each, and add more batter so that they are about three quarters full, and bake.
4. Prepare apple sauce while cupcakes are cooling
5. When cool, use a small sharp knife to cut a cone from each cupcake. (See this post at Cupcake Bakeshop for detailed instructions) Cut off the bottom and set the lid aside. Place 1 teaspoon of the applesauce in each cupcake, then replace the lid. Store in an air-tight container.
6. Make the custard cream.
7. Just before serving, remove paper cupcake liners.
8. Warm cupcakes in the microwave, and either pipe thick custard on top of each cake, or spoon runny custard so it dribbles deliciously down the sides.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Obsessed With

niche

As a graphic designer who loves to cook, it is seems like a natural progression to be interested in... fascinated by okay, obsessed with cookbooks and food magazines. I could spend hours in the cookbook section of a bookstore, and I have almost been glared out of a newsagency while browsing the magazines. I really am quite lucky that my local library has a good cookbook section, a sort of try before you buy when you find a book you've been curious about but would really like to just pore over.

I've noticed food has played a big part in my creativity this year. There was the corporate identity, style guide and 12 page brochure for a cupcake café called Carpe Diem in term one. And the self promotional piece that combined my love of baking and packaging in term two. There was wine label design which I might speak about later, and at the moment I'm working on an annual report for an organic food supplier and a set of menu icons for a Sydney restaurant.

The magazine that you see above was a term three editorial project. We were given a title, Niche and were required to conceptualize and design a viable magazine. My Niche was a magazine purely about desserts, and the fancier the better. Does anything like this actually exist any where in the world? I have never seen it in Australia, but our magazine market is fairly small. It was a fun project to design, thinking not only about what would suit the style of the current issue but others too. It would be wonderful, one day, to be able to combine these two loves in a career of designing cookbooks or magazines... or maybe if the graphic design thing doesn't work out I'll just open a bakery!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Looked Greener

pesto

On my birthday last year, my parents took me out for lunch. We went to a small, local Italian restaurant called Savanas. The food is good, however seemed kind of unimaginative. I am a big fan of the chicken schnitzel (more about this crazy obsession later), and Savanas does it well, but this time I chose the chicken penne, with a creamy pesto sauce and sun dried tomatoes. I quite enjoyed it, and over a year later, I decided to try and recreate the dish at home.

I used fresh basil from my plant (it is a little bit naked now!), to make the pesto, with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil. It seemed though, that there was a bit too much oil, so I drained a little bit out and used this to pan fry the chicken.

basil

My version was a little different to how I remember it served at Savanas, but it is still delicious. I am sure the pasta sauce at the restaurant was a little creamier, and perhaps looked greener, but mine seemed to be more fragrant, and interesting taste-wise. It is a quick and easy meal, perfect for summer. Serve with crusty bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic, parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper.

Edited 24/3/08, to make recipe serve 4

Chicken Penne with Basil Pesto
Serves 4

Pesto
• 1 cup basil leaves, rinsed, roughly chopped
• ¼ cup parsley leaves, rinsed, roughly chopped
• ¼ cup pine nuts
• ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Sauce
• Olive Oil
• 3 small chicken breasts
• 1 cup thickened cream
• cracked black pepper
• ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (optional)

To serve
• 500g (dry weight) penne, cooked
• Grated parmesan cheese
• Cracked black pepper
• Basil leaves

1. Put a pot of lightly salted water on to boil, for the pasta.
2. To make pesto, place ingredients into a food processor and pulse until combined to taste.
3. Heat some olive oil in a fry pan. Add the chicken, cooking for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Remove from the pan, and cut into thin slices.
4. Over low heat, add the pesto to the frypan with the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Return the chicken and sun-dried tomatoes to the pan and stir until chicken coated.
5. Drain the pasta and then return it to the pot. Stir the pesto sauce into the pasta and serve, garnishing with basil leaves.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Picnic Season

mini cakes

This time of year inspires me, because there is beauty all around. It is a kind of epiphany I had a little while ago, that beauty can be found in unexpected places. I need only to open my eyes and find it, because I’m positively surrounded by wonderful and beautiful things. It makes me want to create things; tangible things that I can look back on and smile about. I am contemplating a project to combine my love of food and my love of design, but more about that later.

The weather is warming up beautifully, and summer is just around the corner. It’s a great time of year to be in Sydney, to watch the sun glittering off the water in the harbour, to eat strawberries, and for it to be fully light outside at 6am! I love my morning walk to the train station, noticing my neighbours’ flowers starting to bloom. It is also prime picnic season, the best time to be outdoors – before it gets too hot!

These little cakes would make great spring picnic food. The coconut gives the cakes a dense and almost chewy texture, and would be wonderful for afternoon tea, while their small size makes them perfectly portable. The strawberries can be switched for other fruit of course; raspberries, cherries or even slices of peach or apricot would be great as well. They are easy and quick to make, and a great way to use up leftover egg whites (which was incidentally how I came across the recipe).

Little Strawberry and Coconut Cakes
Recipe adapted from Marie Claire Dining
Makes 12

• 125g unsalted butter
• 1/3 cup almond meal
• ¾ cup desiccated coconut
• 1 2/3 cup icing sugar, sifted
• ½ cup plain flour, sifted
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon lemon rind
• 6 egg whites
• about 6 strawberries, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease a 12-hole muffin pan.
2. Place butter in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until it is melted and very light golden in colour.
3. Place almond meal, coconut, icing sugar, flour and baking powder and lemon rind in a bowl and stir to combine.
4. Add egg whites to bowl and mix, then add melted butter and continue to mix until combine.
5. I used an ice cream scoop to divide mixture into the muffin pan. Press the strawberry pieces gently into the tops of the cakes.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the cakes are golden, springy to the touch and moist in the centre.

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