Friday, June 29, 2012

Sweet Potato & Green Tea Glutinous Rice Balls (Tangyuan 汤圆)

This is something that has been on my to-do-list for a long time and I finally did it last week. Tangyuan (汤圆) or chinese glutinous rice balls are typically eaten during Yuanxiao (15th day and 1st full moon after chinese new year) and Dongzhi (winter solstice) and also sometimes during chinese weddings. But I am making them now as comfort food for summer, hehehe.

I remember when I was young, I would help my paternal grandma roll the tiny white and pink glutinous rice balls, but they were tangyuan without fillings, which I didn't really fancy. Then when I started working, I used to go to Alexandra Village Food Market during lunch breaks to frequent a particular stall which sold fantastic Ah Balling, which is essentially glutinous rice balls with peanut, black sesame or red bean fillings served in a sweet peanut soup. There was also one legendary Ah Balling stall in Chinatown Food Centre called Hai Seng Ah Balling which unfortunately has closed down recently in Feb 2012.

However, the tangyuan which I prepared last week was not Ah Balling (tangyuan served in a sweet peanut soup base) cos I have not mastered the art of making Ah Balling Peanut Soup yet. Rather they were glutinous rice balls made using 2 types of dough, namely sweet potato (番薯) and green tea powder (绿茶粉), and the fillings were made of black sesame (黑芝麻). 番薯绿茶黑芝麻汤圆 Yummy yummy!

The recipe for the glutinous rice ball skin is adapted from Carol's blog.

Ingredients (sweet potato skin, makes 10 balls)
100g glutinous rice flour
130g sweet potato (steamed and mashed) *

* Note that the water content of different sweet potatoes will vary, so you should adjust accordingly.

Ingredients (green tea skin, makes 10 balls)
100g glutinous rice flour 
3/4 tsp green tea powder for baking
80g water

1. Remove the skin of the sweet potato and steam it for 10-15 min till cooked. Then use a fork to mash the sweet potato and set it aside to cool.

2. Put the glutinous rice flour in a big bowl and dig a hole in the centre. To make the sweet potato dough, add the mashed sweet potato into the centre of the flour and knead it slowly till it becomes a pliable non-stick dough. To make the green tea dough, add the green tea powder and water into the flour and do the same. You can add more water a little at a time if the dough is too dry, or more glutinous rice flour if the dough is too wet.

3. Pinch a small ball of dough (about 15g) from the sweet potato dough, flatten it and add it into a pot of boiling water. Do the same to the green tea dough. Scoop up the 2 little pieces of dough once they float to the water surface. Drain off the water, and let them cool down a little before adding each to the main dough. Each little piece of dough acts like a starter dough (粿粹). Add each starter dough to the main dough, mix and knead them together until it becomes a pliable non-stick dough. Add some glutinous rice flour during kneading, if necessary.

The starter dough (粿粹) will make the tangyuan more chewy in texture and less prone to breaking apart during kneading. You may skip this step if you wish.

4. Roll the dough into a long stick and cut it into 10 equal pieces. Each piece of dough should be about 2x the size of the filling.

5. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball, flatten it with your hands, add in the desired filling (black sesame, peanut or red bean paste), then pinch and seal the dough properly and roll it into a small ball.

6. Drop the finished glutinous rice balls into a big pot of boiling water (with pandan leaves, pieces of ginger and brown sugar or gula melaka added to taste). The tangyuan are cooked as soon as they start floating to the surface of the water.

The recipe for the black sesame filling is adapted from here.

Ingredients for black sesame filling (makes 20 small balls)
50g black sesame powder (I used black sesame seeds, ground into powder)
50g fine sugar (I used castor sugar, ground into fine sugar)
30g lard (I used butter)

The ideal ratio of black sesame powder to sugar to butter should be 1: 1: 0.7

1. Put the black sesame powder and fine sugar in a big bowl and mix well.

2. Add in softened butter and mix thoroughly into a smooth paste.

3. Roll into small balls and put in the fridge to harden for at least 30 min. Or you can put in the fridge to harden for 30 min first before dividing and rolling into small balls of filling.

Note :
- To make peanut filling, you can substitute peanut powder for black sesame powder. Peanut powder can be bought (I bought mine from NTUC supermart in Singapore) or obtained by grinding toasted skinless peanuts in a food processor.

- You can make a big batch like what I did, and if you can't finish them at one go, put the uncooked tangyuan in ziploc bags and freeze them in the freezer. Then a day before eating, take them out from the freezer and thaw them in the fridge, before boiling them in syrup.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

We went for a prayer weekend 3 weeks ago and during that weekend, the women got together to help the nuns harvest and process fresh rhubarb (called rabarber in Dutch) from the garden into rhubarb jam.

It was my first time seeing rhubarb in real life (no kidding!), I never knew such a plant exists. It was really funny cos when they were chopping the rhubarb in the kitchen, I happened to pass by and I asked the ladies if we were having celery soup for lunch. The ladies were pretty amused by my question, and they were probably too polite to tell me that there is no such thing as a red celery. :)

So I came back with a huge bag of rhubarb and a pot of rhubarb jam, thanks to the ladies. The rhubarb weighed 4 kilo in total and after giving away 3 kilos to friends and relatives, I still had 1 kilo left which I only managed to process them only 2 days ago. After removing the rotten pieces, there were just 500g left, which I combined with 500g of strawberries and processed them into 4 jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam. 

Rule of thumb which I learned from the nuns: 1 packet of pectin and 1 kilo of sugar are to be added to every 1 kg of fruit. That is easy to remember, isn't it? You need to add that much sugar because firstly, a lot of sugar is needed to sweeten and neutralise the sour taste of rhubarb; secondly, sugar is absolutely necessary to preserve the jam, the more the sugar, the longer the jam will last.

Luckily, there is this pectin product called "Imperial Pec PLUS" which I bought from the supermart. With this "Imperial Pec PLUS", you can make jams with half a kilo of sugar (instead of 1 kilo if you use the usual "Imperial Pec" without the PLUS), or even zero sugar for every 1 kilo of fruit, and you only need to let it boil for 1 minute, at least that's what they advertised on the packaging. Also, with the addition of sweet strawberries, I can safely reduce the amount of sugar by half without adversely affecting the taste of the jam.

According this website, strawberries belong to the group of fruits which require pectin for making jams. If you are making jams using other fruits, do check on internet if the fruit itself has enough natural pectin concentration to make into jams without the addition of pectin.

So here is my recipe for homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam :

Ingredients (makes 4 jars)
500g rhubarb, chopped
500g strawberries, hulled
1 ripe banana, chopped
500g fine sugar
1 packet of pectin

1. Wash and clean the rhubarb and strawberries. Chop the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces and use a sharp knife to remove the green leafy top of the strawberries (called the hull) and the pale flesh directly beneath it.

2. Place 500g of rhubarb, 500g of strawberries and 1 ripe banana into a big pot over low-medium heat. At the same time, pour in 1 packet of pectin (Imperial Pec PLUS). Stir constantly to avoid burning. (There is no need to add water as strawberries will soften quite easily and produce enough fluid to cook the jam. But if you are only using rhubarb, then you need to add just a little bit of water, about 1 cm, to cook the rhubarb).

3. As soon as the fruits start to soften and boil, add in 1/2 kilo of sugar slowly and stir thoroughly.

4. After 1 minute of boiling, you can pour the cooked jam into sterilised jars, screw them tight and leave them to cool to room temperature before putting the jars in the fridge.

Note that steps 2, 3 and 4 are the written steps on the packaging of the pectin, but I actually took 30 min to cook the jam. Reason? I didn't know that pectin will only set upon cooling, and as the strawberry-rhubarb jam was still runny and not thick enough, I kept stirring it and cooking till it was thick enough. I wonder how much vitamins have I killed in that 30 min of cooking? Anyway, good lesson learnt. :)

The nuns told me that this homemade jam will stay good if left untouched in the fridge for 6 months or so, and once opened they should be kept in the fridge and should be consumed within 2 weeks or so. I filled 4 jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam (370g each) and my little boy likes it so much that within 3 days, the 1st jar is already gone!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Steamed Ginger Milk Custard/Pudding (姜汁炖奶)

I have been having cravings for Ginger Milk Custard (姜汁撞奶) recently. I made it twice and failed both times. After 2 failed attempts at making this famous Hong Kong dessert, I decided to call it quits and try making the steamed or double-boiled version (姜汁炖奶) to stave off my cravings instead.

Well, the Steamed or Double-boiled Ginger Milk Custard (姜汁炖奶) is so much easier to prepare, since it requires the use of eggs and steaming or double-boiling to form the custard. The non-steamed version (姜汁撞奶) on the other hand (let's call it Instant Ginger Milk Curd in English to avoid any confusion), however does not depend on any artificial coagulants (no gelatin, no agar agar, no lactone or whatsoever). It only depends on the enzymes of the ginger juice which reacts with the hot milk at a certain temperature to form a layer of milk curd naturally. Note that the milk has to be stretched and poured at a certain height in a teh-tarik fashion so that the milk is cooled down to a certain temperature before it mixes with the ginger juice. And the milk has to be poured into the ginger juice and not the other way round. It all sounds pretty easy on paper, wait till you try it. The BIG question is what is the type of milk and what is the optimal temperature at which the instant milk curd will be formed? This is something that requires a lot of skills and a pinch of luck. Both of which I unfortunately do not have at the moment. :)

If you wish to read more about how the enzymes of ginger juice react with the hot milk to form the Instant Ginger Milk Curd naturally in the absence of coagulants, then check out this science experiment done by 4 Hongkong secondary students.

In the mean time, let's enjoy some Steamed Ginger Milk Custard instead. This is a very easy to prepare traditional chinese dessert which is very healthy and nourishing. There is not much sugar and it contains only egg-whites, so you can eat as much as you want without worrying about cholesterol.

Here is my improvised recipe:

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger juice
2 egg-whites
200 ml fresh milk
2 tbsp fine sugar

1. Remove the skin of a 2 inch thumb-sized piece of old ginger and grate it using a vegetable grater into a small cup. Sieve the ginger juice into another small cup and set it aside. You need to extract at least 1 tbsp of ginger juice.

2. Add milk and sugar in a bowl and mix well using a fork or egg-beater. Add in egg-whites and continue to mix thoroughly.

3. Pour the mixture into a sieve and use your finger to press it through the sieve to remove any curdles of egg-whites. What remains is a smooth milk/ginger/egg-white mixture.

4. Divide the sieved mixture into 2 tea cups or ramekins, cover it with a piece of clingwrap each, and steam or double-boil it at low-medium heat for 10-15 min. The custard is ready when the top is firm and no longer wobbly and you can put a teaspoon on top without sinking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mango Pudding 芒果布丁

I bought 2 fresh mangoes yesterday and used 1 to make a mango pudding this afternoon. I have 2 recipes on hand, one using gelatine and the other using agar-agar powder. In the end I decided to try out the recipe using the "Red Man" agar-agar powder which my sis brought along to Belgium recently. 

Reason? Well, agar-agar is healthier and sets faster. Gelatine or Gelatin, apparently, is made from the collagen found inside animal bones and skins, mainly pig skins or cattle bones, sometimes also from fish by-products. I know some of you may squirm or shudder, but yes that is true, I knew it was made from animals but I wasn't sure until I googled it. Agar-agar (which in Malay means jelly), on the other hand, is a gelatinous substance obtained from seaweed and is completely vegetarian and halal.

According to this article in dutch, besides being a vegetarian substitute for binding, agar-agar also has the advantage of being able to set at room temperature as compared to gelatine. Agar-agar coagulates at 37 degrees celsius whereas gelatine only starts coagulating at a temperature of below 20 degrees celsius. Furthermore, you need less agar-agar than gelatine to bind. For every one liter of fluid, you need approximately 10 sheets of gelatine whereas for agar-agar, you need only 4 grams of agar-agar in concentrated powder or 8 grams of agar-agar in strip or flake form.

But agar-agar is not without its disadvantages. It looses its binding force in liquids with high acidity. For certain products with high acidity, the stiffening process is more inhibited and you need to add more agar-agar to the recipe. In fact, there are some products such as chocolate, kiwi and spinach, which are known to prevent the stiffening process of agar-agar.Another disadvantage is that the binding force is of relatively short duration. It loses its binding power after 2 to 3 hours, allowing the moisture to loosen again.

So much about agar-agar versus gelatine, let's enjoy some mango pudding or mango agar-agar now.

Recipe adapted from Rose Kitchenette

1 x 13g packet agar agar powder
150g sugar (reduced from 200g)
250ml fresh mango juice
250ml fresh milk
500ml water
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Note : The total amount of liquid for a packet of 13g agar-agar powder, is 1 litre. If your freshly-blended mango juice exceeds 250ml, then just adjust the milk and water accordingly to make it 1 litre in total. Note that my mango was 500g with skin intact, 400g after removing the skin, and 300g after removing the seed. So there was about 300ml of fresh mango juice after extraction. Also adjust the amount of sugar according to the sweetness of the mango and your own preference. I would say min 150g, max 200g of sugar is required for 1 litre of liquid.

1.  Remove the skin and seed of the mango and blend it in a food processor.

2.  In a small pot, boil sugar with agar agar powder in 500ml water over a low-medium heat till the agar agar dissolves.

3.  Add in 250ml fresh mango juice, 250ml fresh milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and stir well.

4.  Pour into a pudding mould or pour into wine glasses to set.  Chill it in the fridge to allow it to set, before serving. 

Note : The estimated time for the mango pudding to set in wine glass is about 30 - 40 min, and the estimated time for the mango pudding to set in pudding mould is less than 2 hours. This recipe allows you to make servings of mango pudding in 3 wine glasses and an additional small 6 inch pudding mould.

If you do not know how agar-agar looks like, here are some pictures to show you.
Red Man Agar-Agar Powder (12g) bought in Singapore.
Agar-Agar Powder (20g) bought in Antwerp Chinatown.
Agar-Agar is also available in strips as shown here. Bought in Antwerp.

I am submitting this to Aspiring Bakers #20: Asian Dessert Buffet (June 2012), hosted by Moon of Food Playground.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to make a Mama Cake for Mothers' Day

As promised, this is the 3rd part of the series of birthday cakes which I baked in May. The 1st one was an aeroplane cake and the 2nd one was a choo choo train cake.

I did not make this for myself for Mothers' Day. Rather, it was for a friend's belated birthday party which was held on the 3rd Saturday of May (Actually her birthday was in March). Needless to say, this cake was for a belated Mothers' Day and a very belated birthday. My belgian friend would become a first-time mother in November. Let's wish her many bundles of joy with the arrival of her baby!

This cake was made using Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting. I made 2 portions of the frosting as this cake was 9 inch big. I won't bore you with the details of the frosting and how to do the crumbcoating here, as I have already explained a bit and also listed a few helpful links in the aeroplane cake tutorial, just click on it and that will hopefully get you started on the journey of cake decoration. :)
I got my inspiration from the happy faces cakes I saw on Angies Choice Cakes website. Mine was no where close to those cute happy faces featured by Angies Choice. My hand was not steady enough, and the spectacles which I piped was pretty crooked.

Anyway, in terms of decoration, this cake was fairly simple. Just divide the frosting into 2 portions, a big portion to be coloured pink and a small portion to be coloured brown (by mixing with a little cocoa powder). It was very hot that day, and you could see that my frosting was on the verge of melting. I should have put the frosting back into the fridge to cool every now and then, but I didn't. Luckily it managed to hold up and it survived the 1 hour drive to her house.

I only used 2 decorating tips for this cake - Wilton Round Tip #2 for piping the spectacles and Wilton Drop Flower Tip #106 for piping the hair. As for the mouth, that was piped using Dr Oetker's decorating pens.

After this cake, I would probably not do any more elaborate birthday cakes for the next 3 months, that's way too much work for a mother with a naughty 3 year old toddler and a 4 month old baby. Instead I would like to go back to basics, and bake some chiffon cakes and swissrolls instead. :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Black Sesame Creme/Paste 黑芝麻糊

Sometimes when it rains, it pours.

My son was down with viral infection and was out of school for 3 days in a row last week. We deliberately kept him out of the kindergarden because there was scarlet fever (roodvonk in dutch) going round in the kindergarden and at first we thought he was also down with scarlet fever, but luckily it was just a false alarm.

Needless to say, both hubby and me didn't sleep well as we were interrupted quite frequently by his midnight crying episodes. Just as I thought everything was over, I am down with presumably the same viral infection as my son since yesterday. You know, I was just thinking to myself yesterday morning that I have not had a fever for a very long time. In fact, I dun recollect having any fevers since I was a child, what always bugs me though is a persistent cough that won't go away. True enough, I had something very close to a fever yesterday, my whole body was trembling in bouts of hot and cold, and I know that's it. High fever for somebody who has never had fever before.

I took a paracetemol tablet last evening and this morning, the "fever" is gone but what remains is a painfully sore throat and what looks to be a crackling cough. Despite aching bones that threaten to fall apart any minute, I still have to breastfeed my baby, and cook dinner on a portable stove. Our electric stove short-circuited and died 2 days ago, after a pot of stew overflowed and flooded the whole stove top. It wasn't me but it is useless pointing fingers, what was done was done. Now we have to hunt around for a new stove. :)

Now unhappy things aside, what brings a smile to an otherwise dreadful midweek is this traditional chinese dessert or tong shui (糖水) which I prepared this morning on my portable stove. I am not sure if eating black sesame will aggravate my cough as I have heard that sesame oil is heaty according to TCM, but I couldn't care less. I really need something to perk up my day!

This is a very easy to prepare dessert and the ingredients are pretty simple too. If you are residing overseas, you can get the black sesame, white sesame and rice flour from the shops in Chinatown. I got mine from Antwerp Chinatown.

I adapted this recipe from Fenying's blog (which has ceased to exist online, but still viewable on my google reader) and halved the ingredients accordingly to make 2 servings of black sesame paste

Ingredients (makes 2 bowls)
75g black sesame
75g white sesame
500ml water
15g rice flour mixed with 60ml water
80g sugar (reduced from 100g)
50g thick canned coconut milk or fresh milk

1. Stir fry the black and white sesame till fragrant in a non stick pot, for about 10 min. (Do not grease the pot).

2. Using a food blender/processor, blend the sesame with 500g water until it forms a smooth paste.

3. Filter the sesame paste through a sieve so that the larger particles of sesame are removed and you get a smooth sesame creme.

4. Pour the sesame creme back into the pot and bring to boil using medium heat.

5. Mix in the rice flour solution and continue to stir till it thickens.

6. Add sugar, continue to stir to dissolve the sugar and then remove from heat. Lastly add in coconut milk. Best eaten while hot.

Look how I managed to cook this dessert using a portable stove.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nonya / Peranakan Lemon Curry Chicken

Here is a picture of the nonya/peranakan lemon curry chicken which I cooked nearly 2 weeks ago. I have been too busy to post it until now. This dish was loosely adapted from Mrs Leong Yee Soo's recipe and was as delicious as the Ayam Kleo which I made in April. Btw, believe it or not, I am still using the same pack of lemongrass which I kept in the fridge since April. The lemongrass stalks have dried out a bit but I believe I can still put them to good use. :)

This dish is similar to Ayam Kleo in the sense that it used almost the same key ingredients such as candlenuts (also known as buah keras), lemongrass and tamarind juice. The only difference being, the Ayam Kleo dish was first grilled in the oven and then cooked and simmered on the stove together with the gravy, whereas this lemon curry chicken did not require grilling, you first had to fry the chilli paste and then cook and simmer the chicken, just like a normal curry dish. And of course, the star ingredient here is freshly squeezed lemon juice which gave this dish a lemony tangy taste (from the lemon and lemongrass) and a rich nutty taste (from the candlenuts). Very delicious dish indeed.

The preparation method was not that complicated either, I had already simplified it by using canned coconut milk, as the original recipe was quite detailed, and talked about squeezing fresh grated coconut for No. 1 coconut milk, and adding water and squeezing again for No. 2 coconut milk. 


Recipe loosely adapted from Mrs Leong Yee Soo's The Best of Singapore Cooking

Ingredients A
6 shallots, chopped finely
3 candlenuts, chopped finely
2 stalks of lemongrass, cut into thin rings

Ingredients B
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp curry powder

Ingredients C
2 tbsp lemon juice (squeezed from half a lemon)
1 tbsp tamarind juice (from bottle)

Other ingredients
600g chicken, chopped into small pieces
1 can of 400ml coconut milk (you will use between 300ml-400ml depending on how thick you want the gravy to be)
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp chilli paste *
1 stalk of lemongrass, bashed

* I first used 1 tbsp of ABC brand extra hot chilli sauce and 1 tbsp of thai garlic chilli sauce. Towards the end, I found it not spicy enough after adding more coconut milk, so I added 1 more tbsp of the extra hot chilli sauce. But even then, it was still okay for my 3 year old boy who gobbled up all the rice with the curry with no problems.

1. Grind Ingredients A to a fine paste using a food blender or simply using mortar and pestle. (Note it will be easier if you chop the ingredients finely before putting them into the blender especially for the lemongrass which is quite hard.)

2. Mix about 100ml of coconut milk with Ingredients B and marinate for 30 min. 

3. Heat up oil in a wok. When the wok is very hot, add in the 2 tbsp of chilli paste to stir-fry, quickly lower the heat and fry it until the oil starts bubbling through. Add another 100ml of coconut milk, stir-fry for 1 min. Then add paste A and 1 stalk of bashed lemongrass. Mix and fry the ingredients till fragrant.

4. Add the marinated chicken and Ingredients C, stir fry until the chicken is cooked. Then add the remaining 200 ml of coconut milk and bring to a boil.

5. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer in covered pan till the chicken turns tender (about 1/2 to 3/4 hour).

6. The original recipe did not include potatoes and carrots. But I added 2 chopped potatoes and 2 chopped carrots as I like to cook my curry with vegetables. Adding potatoes also has the added benefit of thickening the gravy since potatoes are full of starch and starch is actually a form of soup/gravy thickener. However if your gravy is already too thick and not enough to cover all the ingredients, then you need to add extra coconut milk/water, as there has to be enough liquid to simmer and cook the chicken.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to make a Choo Choo Train Birthday Cake

This is the 2nd part of the series of birthday cakes which I baked in May. The 1st part was an aeroplane cake tutorial which I posted a day ago.

After presenting the aeroplane cake to my son on his actual birthday on Saturday, I had to rack my brain to come up quickly with yet another cake for his classmates on Monday. My son didn't quite like the aeroplane cake despite me putting in so much time and effort into it. In fact, he didn't eat a single bite at all! Even though I consulted him and involved him every single step of the whole decoration process, I couldn't get his stamp of approval. Kids nowadays are so picky!

Anyway, I asked him again what he wanted as the design for his birthday cake. He thought that it was his birthday again, and he was so happy and said he wanted a choo choo train cake. So I had to come up with one, by hook or by crook.

Here is how it goes :
1) First I baked a 9 inch cake using my favourite chocolate cake as the cake base. You need to double the ingredients as the recipe is for a 8 inch cake. Then I cut and levelled the cake, removing any humps or uneven surfaces, to prepare for crumbcoating.

2) Next I crumbcoated the cake using American Buttercream instead of Swiss Meringue Buttercream as I wanted to try out a different frosting/icing this time. However I was quite disappointed with this American Buttercream icing as it was terribly sweet even though I only used 2 cups of icing sugar instead of the recommended 3 to 4 cups. So I am not gonna share the recipe here, I would recommend that you use the Swiss Meringue Buttercream which I used previously for my aeroplane cake. It did not involve using icing sugar and was less sweet.

As usual, I had some problems with finishing off the crumbcoating nicely. So I decided to use a different technique. I used a metallic side scraper with special serrated edges that could create grooves on the layer of icing. The effect was rather neat, I think. It kinda helped me cover up the flaws of my crumbcoating.

3) Next I did a fondant train cake topper following this tutorial. The fondants were bought at an Aveve shop with the thuisbakken (home-baking) section. They are called suikerpasta or rolfondant in Dutch (sugar paste or rolled fondant in English). Each pack of 250g costs about 2.50 euro or so. I bought and used colours such as brown, yellow, red and blue. I didn't buy any tylo glue so I just used a bit of water each time to stick the different parts together. Additionally I also used a couple of toothpicks to secure the parts of the train together.

4) When I was done with the train cake topper, I started rolling thin strips of brown coloured fondant to make the train tracks. The tracks were then laid on top of the icing, you could just use water to make it stick or you could just press it down slightly just like what I did. Then I laid the train cake topper on top of the track and again pressed it down slightly. If you are afraid the trains are not steady enough and would topple, just use a toothpick to pin it down onto the cake.

5) The train was almost done, and I decided to add some "cargo" in the form of M&M chocolates. I piped some icing onto the 2nd and 3rd train cabins and stuck the M&M chocolates onto them. Voila, the choo choo train was finished! :)

6) As the trains and tracks had covered only 1/3 of the cake, and there was still some empty space left in the middle and the front part of the cake, it dawned on me to make the number 3 with M&M chocolates. I piped some icing and stuck the chocolates onto it to form the number 3. Then what was left was just my son's name. I made a mistake in piping his name, the writing was pretty slanted so I had to use fondant to cover it up and re-piped his name again using decorating pens on top of the fondant. You could see that it was not very neatly done. I am still an amateur after all. :)

7) Finally, to cover up the edges of the cake, I used Wilton Tip #106 to pipe some dropflowers.

That's all for my tutorial on how to make a choo choo train cake for a kid's birthday. It was my 2nd attempt at cake decoration, thank goodness it didn't turn out too badly. In fact, except for the little mistake I made in piping my son's name, I was pretty satisfied with the overall result. The colours were a bit off though, blue turned out to be green and pink turned out to be orangey-pink, no thanks to the lousy food colourings that I had. I would make sure I go buy some good quality wilton colourings the next time. Coming next, I still have another mama cake which I decorated for my friend's party....stay tuned!

Just a short note on my son's reaction to this choo choo train cake. He was very ecstatic and he went completely gaga over it. He kept telling us that we should not forget to bring the cake to school. When we finally brought the cake to his school on Monday morning, he ran all the way from the car to the classroom, telling every child and parent whom he met on the way that he had a choo choo train cake for his birthday. His fellow classmates also marvelled at the cake and all of them wanted to touch the train, so much so that the teacher had to tell them to keep their hands off! It really made my day seeing how happy he was. At least all my efforts did not go to waste. :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to make an Aeroplane/Airplane Birthday Cake

As promised in my previous post, here is a short tutorial on how to make an aeroplane/airplane birthday cake for your kid. For the purpose of making this cake, I specially ordered a set of Wilton 29 Piece Cake Decorating Deluxe Tip Set from Ebay. You don't have to use the whole set, just 3 decorating tips will do.

This was something I had prepared for a long time. I had been feeling very guilty that I did not bake a nice enough cake for my 3 year old son for his 1st and 2nd birthday, so this time round, I did a lot of research on the internet. In fact, I went through the whole SDLC (system development life cycle) just as if I was designing a software program (btw I was an IT professional before I became a professional homemaker ^_^). I selected the picture that I was gonna draw on the cake and presented it to my son for approval, once he gave the nod, I "prototyped" it by drawing it on a piece of paper, and again showed it to my "customer". I know all these took away the elements of surprise and excitement from the birthday celebration, but I wanted to involve him as much as possible so that he knew that he is important to mummy (and daddy) and mummy was taking the extra effort to bake him a fancy cake for his birthday. 

The concept of birthday is perhaps still a bit fuzzy for my boy, every other day he would come home to say that "Ik ben jarig" (It is my birthday) probably because another kid has celebrated his/her birthday that day. Unfortunately or fortunately, his birthday fell on 19 May, a Saturday and the preceding Thursday and Friday were school holidays, so we talked to the teacher and told her we would like his birthday to be celebrated in school on the following Monday so that it would be indicated on the weekly school agenda the following week. Thank goodness, that actually gave me more lead time to prepare the cake. The kindergarden which he is enrolled in is a very good school with very caring and dedicated teachers. Every Monday of the week we would receive a piece of paper with the school agenda of that week, describing what the kids would be learning, and even which kid is celebrating his/her birthday on which day.

So much of talking, let's get started. This aeroplane cake was made for his actual birthday on Saturday, while the choo-choo-train cake (the tutorial will come next) was made for the celebration with his classmates in the kindergarden the following Monday.

Here is how it goes :
1) First you must bake a 8 inch round cake for the cake base. It is recommended to use a sponge cake as it would make the crumbcoating easier. However I used a chocolate cake as my cake base. It is quite crumbly but very yummy. 

2) Cut and level the cake with a sharp serrated knife so that the surface is completely flat for crumbcoating. Crumbcoating means putting a layer of icing or frosting on the cake to seal in the crumbs. Here is a nice video to show you how to do crumbcoating. I inverted the cake so that it was bottom-up since the bottom of the cake was nice and flat, and I coated the cake with a layer of Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting. I like this frosting very much since it was less sweet and held up quite well under hot summer weather. Now since I only have a handheld mixer (and not a KitchenAid Standalone Mixer) which would be kapot if I let it run for 5 to 10 min at one go, hence I only prepared one serving of the buttercream frosting (in between resting my hand-held mixer every 3 min or so). It was barely enough for both the crumbcoating and piping, therefore I would advise you to prepare 2 servings of the buttercream frosting in advance.

3) Usually you are supposed to crumbcoat the sides of the cake, but as I told you my hand-held cake mixer was not sturdy enough to make 2 servings of frosting and I was too lazy so I only crumbcoated the top. As you can see, the coating is cream colour, which is the actual colour of the Swiss Meringue Buttercream without additional colouring. After crumbcoating, I put the cake in the fridge to harden, together with the other portions of frosting set aside for piping, which I placed in bowls covered up with clingwrap.

Then I outlined the picture of the aeroplane using one of Dr Oetker's decorating pens which came in a set of 4 tubes of shimmering pastel colours. It was all done using freehand. You just have to squeeze the tube with a steady hand. Why did I use blue? Because I didn't have a choice of black or brown! Later you would see that I had to use a decorating tip (Tip #2) to pipe a brown outline over the blue one to provide a stronger contrast. I should have done that in the first place!

4) Now is the time to start using my wilton decorating tips. For this cake, I used only 3 wilton decorating tips : Round Tip #2 for doing the outline of the plane and writing the words; Open Star Tip #16 for piping the green part (dropflowers) of the plane; and Drop Flower Tip #106 Closed Star Tip #30 for piping the pink dropflowers on the edges of the cake. I used the same buttercream frosting which I had set aside for doing piping, divided it into several portions and coloured it with the desired food colouring.

Actually this was supposed to be a blue aeroplane and I had actually used blue food colouring but even after adding so many drops of it into my frosting, I could only get an ugly green colour. And the orangey-pink colour on the edges of the cake was also not exactly what I wanted. I had wanted a bright red or at least a nice pink colour. Anyway I had to make do with whatever food colourings I had since I only had 3 (orange, red and blue). 

You can refer to this wilton link on how to use a coupler with a decorating tip and how to fill a decorating bag. Fyi, I only used a normal ziploc bag of which I cut a hole and slip in the decorating tip and secure it with the coupler. You can also refer to this video and this video for tips on how to do piping, which I found very useful for beginners such as myself.

5) Here is the finished cake. Doesn't it look much better than before with the brown outline? This was done by mixing some cocoa powder into the frosting and piping it using Tip #2. Since I still had some leftover frosting, not enough to coat the sides fully but enough to plaster on some cookies. These were actually stroopwafels which is one of my favourite cookies, a type of thin wafel cookie that you can only find in Belgium and Nederlands, I think. I dunno what is the English name but stroopwafel is the Dutch name. Btw, this is not belgian waffles if that is what you are thinking!

Okay, so much for my "short" tutorial. This is my very first attempt at cake decoration. Just as I have learnt a lot from other online blogs and videos, I am sharing this tutorial on my blog in the hope that others can easily learn how to decorate a simple cake. It is not so difficult as long as you plan it beforehand and do it step-by-step. :)

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