Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sweet Eats :: Martha's Ice Cream Cake

Martha, Martha, Martha....what can we say?? We were just not impressed with August's Peaches-and-Cream Ice Cream Cake. Maybe it didn't help that neither of us were in enthusiastic baking mode when we made it. Maybe it didn't help that we actually made a Strawberries-and-Cream Ice Cream Cake cos there are no peaches this time of year in Oz. Maybe it didn't help that we had nothing to show for our baking efforts by day's end. Maybe it didn't help that we used low-fat ice cream and raspberry sorbet. Ok, more on that later.

So we started out with the cake layer. Very simple batter to make and the cake turned out nice and golden. But it was all a bit downhill from here. Lesson #1: Always read a recipe the whole way through. I'm usually quite obedient to this fact, but it just shows you we really weren't in the mood for it. Thinking the cake layer was to go on the bottom of the pan, Tiff gets out the ruler & starts measuring the cake. Oops...the cake's meant to go on top and we've cut the cake too small (since my loaf pan widens at the top). We'll need to add more cake bits! So here is our patchwork cutting in progress:

Oh well. Next came chopping up the strawberries while softening the vanilla ice cream...

After folding the strawberries through the ice cream, we spread it into the base of our multi-lined, multi-greased tin and then stuck it in the freezer. Recipe said it would take about 2 hours...but it took far longer, more like 4 hours! (meanwhile, Tiff has gone home!). And here's Lesson #2: Don't use low-fat ice cream for ice cream cakes - it doesn't re-freeze too good. Well, that's our take on it given the final result. We thought it would be ok, cos I always buy this ice cream that has a lovely creamy texture without all the fat!

After the ice cream finally solidified, I spread a layer of raspberry sorbet over the top. Yes, raspberry sorbet....not even a matching strawberry sorbet!! Oh, & we skipped a step...Martha said to use 2 different varieties of sorbet to get colourfully contrasting layers. Hmmm, wasn't keen on running all over the place looking for contrasting sorbets...Martha will just have to accept this incident of baking disobedience!

After the sorbet firmed up, I then pressed our patchwork pieces of cake over the top, then put it back into the freezer. You can see how enthusiastic we were about this whole thing when we didn't actually cut the cake til a week later! Here is us trying to cut the cake - it was rock solid. Lesson #3: Even a hot wet knife doesn't work sometimes....

So here is Martha's perfect 4-layered, colourfully-contrasting Peaches-and-Cream ice cream cake:

And here is our not-so-perfect 3-layered Strawberries-and-Cream ice cream cake:

This would have to be our worst effort so far in this Year of Cakes. It was our first ice cream cake...and possibly our last. And the taste?? Let's just say we weren't exactly shovelling the stuff into our mouths. The raspberry sorbet went nicely with the cake. In fact, the cake was the best bit. The strawberry ice cream was something else altogether. It had re-freezed a creamy-yellowy colour (we think this is the low-fat ice cream factor), it was icy and the strawberries were too crunchy. Tiff said hers tasted like garlic (!?)...ok, so something funny was going on with her tastebuds! Not sure what to do with the leftovers - think they'll sit in my freezer til the next Ice Age. Final lesson: Only make an ice cream cake if you have the patience...and the right ingredients!

Next up..."Bake Sale Cookie" Cupcakes...not just one variety, but three! Here's hoping this'll be more up our alley! N

PS. It's bye bye from us for a little while...we'll see you in about 10 days with lots of Tokyo tales to tell!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sweet Apologies!

Oh my! Nicky & I have to apologise for our complete slackness in the blog department... you would think with 2 of us that we could keep it all under control!

We have a bit of an excuse though... we have decided to go to Tokyo on Saturday! We are going to a massive Gift fair to see if we can expand our business horizons. So we are going to be a bit slack for a bit longer... hope you can bear with us! T

Sweet & Soft :: Henry

This little fella is Henry... Although he is currently hanging out at the play ground, in the future he hopes to be a sitcom script writer. Henry also especially likes a slice Banoffee Pie. He has gone to live with another softie called Lucinda who are waiting for their new owner to be born.

His lovely fabric is from France... various blues in a check with some bottle green detail.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sweet Eats:: Afternoon Tea anytime of the day!

I have hesitated to post about Afternoon Tea in the past because I am not sure that I can do it justice... this mecca to everything sweet & nostalgic is as close as I have ever been to my idea of perfection. I think it is all captured in the name, Afternoon Tea... the luxury of a pot of tea, a slice of cake and wasting the rest of the day daydreaming some where comfortable.

You wouldn't think it, but this place is a Japanese chain... Apparently in its early days Jamie Oliver was involved, which might account for the yummy food. Every morning my boy & I head to the one in Roppongi Hills (we have been there so often now the staff say they remember us!). The basic menu never seems to change, but there are always seasonal specials. The ice tea with orange juice was a hit with me (the mint leaf is such a nice touch!) to combat the Summer heat.

The service is also something else... always a glass of iced water, a basket of soft & juicy freshly baked bread with a main and your tea pot always gets a cozy even in the middle of Summer. Being half English there is nothing I dislike less than a luke warm cup of tea!

Every morning almost without fail I order the eggplant, bacon & chili pasta. Does that seem a bit much for breakfast? I can only use the time difference as my excuse! And that it is so tasty!

Once all the eating has been done the shop finally opens! I can't show you everything I have bought there as it is a bit embarrassing! They have the balance just right sweet & cute, but not overwhelmingly so... it all seems still stylish! There is some stuff which is a little bit on the chintzy & flowery side, but this means I can also shop for my mum there too!

The glass in the background is actually 3 stacked together. If you turn one the girl's outfit changes. If you turn the other the background changes from sea shells to gardens to more! I can't bring myself to use them yet! It usually takes a year! This is my favorite purchase this trip... other than the collection of classic French songs. Yep they have their own collection of feel good music for cooking, relaxing... even cocktailing! T

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sweet & Soft :: Sayuri

This is little Sayuri here. She wants to be a geisha when she grows up and hopes to be able to sneak in some green tea tiramisu in between her training in the Japanese arts.

As you can see, she's made from some rescued Japanese floral fabric. T

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sew Sweet :: Shibuya how I luv ya!

Shibuya I luv ya for your fabric store... and your air conditioning. Oh yes folks the fabrics were every thing I salivated about on the net and more. Six or so levels (got a bit overwhelmed) of crafty goodness exists at Maurnan. It was 35 degrees Celsius in Tokyo so we waited until the evening to venture out of the airconditioning to this store.

The outside of the shop is surrounded in swathes of enticing fabric and I squeezed through the door to find lots of older gentlemen with aprons ready to help. I don't know why I headed to the basement first... but I found these treasures there...

Red Riding Hood & Baby chick canvas and red & green tulip cotton fabric...

And some beyond belief cheap spotty fabric & little lamb fabric...

There was so much more! I was torn... when will I be back? There was so much to buy, so many more levels! My boy was waiting outside in the heat with all our other purchases. So I ran out and gave him the fabrics... explaining I had to get upstairs. I am not sure about you but there is something about having your husband waiting outside (in the heat) that makes me nervous, especially when he lifts the bag and an eyebrow and says "Heavy". Yikes.

I scooted up the stairs and discovered a whole range of linens that are in the craft books. So beautiful... and really expensive. I made the hard decision that my sewing skills weren't up to the cost... maybe next time with a bit of practice.

I did make it to one other crafty store with great buttons... but other than that it was hot, hot, hot and I found myself wilting & disoriented! I am not sure how those Tokyo girls manage to look so cool & composed. Their hair looked fabulous! Hopefully I can go back when there is a nice cool breeze! T

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sweet Eats :: From one foodie to another

A dear friend of mine, Leona is a true foodie and an amazing home cook. Her dinner parties are legendary...hubbie & I would reminisce about her 4-5 course dinners for days. Leona & I are Francophiles and can talk for hours about food, travelling, France, foodie moments while travelling in France...and more food! We often swap travelling tips and recipes and she is passionate about Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine...I think she has been subscribing since the late 1990's! This is a very gourmet mag, and I was amazed how she'd whip up weeknight meals from it! While we have a current subscription to the magazine (a Christmas gift), I actually spend most of my time drooling over it, instead of cooking from it!

A few months ago though, Leona got her dream opportunity to work overseas, when she was offered a job at the Basel headquarters of her Sydney office. So along with her hubbie, she packed up her life in Sydney & sent it to Switzerland!

Even though it was sad to see her leave, before she left we decided we'd send food parcels to each other. And this week, I was the lucky recipient of the goodies above. Thankfully, our strict quarantine service didn't need to remove anything! Inside were some Pierre Marcolini (amazing-looking stores both Tiff & I have been too intimidated to go into, at least in Paris!) and Godiva choccies she bought in Brussels; a little jar of Bonne Maman cherry jam from France; some Lackerli-Huus Basler Leckerli (sweet biscuits from Basel) packaged in a little cone; a packet of marzipan; marzipan carrots (perfect for decorating a carrot cake!) and a little bunny cookie cutter to go with it; some dried cranberries (apparently, widely available in Basel); and finally, a gorgeous little tin of Oliviers & Co lemon-flavoured extra virgin olive oil...a brand you can't get in Australia! To top it off, a Swiss handmade card of Basel's marketplace. Thank you so much Leona!

Here were the goodies I sent off to her last month in time for her birthday. I tried to make it Aussie-themed & to include things that she couldn't get in Switzerland (or were too expensive!), but got a little sidetracked! Inside was the July issue of AGT (a very timely French issue); Vegemite (of course!); macadamia nuts and pine nuts; Herbie's Spices vanilla beans, Morrocan tagine spice mix, and za'atar; A Taste of the Bush Tasmanian pepper & lemon myrtle tea; saffron; demerera sugar (apparently, the Swiss don't have much variety in the sugar dept!), lavender strawberry jam; Maggie Beer blood plum paste; lemon sherbets (Leona loves lemons!); Golden Boronia cappucino nougat and a cookie cutter of Australia. I also threw in a couple of biscuit recipes...and along for the ride was one of our rescued softies, Chloe. Her dream is to be a food stylist & she loves lemon tart!

Both of us made a deal not to be precious about our I hope you've started digging in Leona...I'm already dreaming up your next package!! N

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sweet & Soft :: Taki

Little Taki wants to be a Zen Master when he grows up... whilst keeping his Yin & Yang in balance he also likes to nibble on Lychee Jelly.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sew Sweet :: Patchwork passion

In continuation of easy straight-line sewing projects for myself, here is the first patchwork cushion I made this week. It's made from some lovely thick turquoise fabric Tiff & I picked up at a recent fabric sale. Turquoise is my favourite colour at the moment! Anyway, I was surprisingly patient with myself while sewing and although it probably took longer to sew than it should have, there were no major dramas and I was quite happy with the final result.

The cushion was inspired by my new book Machine Made Patchworks 2 (ISBN 457911082X). I don't even have the first book in the series, but this one is lovely, full of nice little projects and colour combinations. Here's a pic of the cushion I tried to emulate, although I made a few changes...using only 4 patchwork panels and leaving out some of the decorative stitching and corner embellishments...

Cushions have always been my weakness whenever I'm in homewares stores. Just the other day I was stroking and admiring a cushion when Tiff said "But I just can't see what it will go with in your place?!" Yes...suddenly praticality sets in and Tiff saves me from making unnecessary purchases!

And after showing him my cushion, I told the hubbie that I'm saving us money by making my own homewares! I think this was music to his ears! Thanks to this sewing milestone, my confidence is slowly building up to tackle more sewing projects. Am really loving this patchworking thing....and last week, I was even considering taking up quilting! Time will only tell if this all pans out....N

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sweet Eats :: The one & only...Bernachon

If this display of chocolate confections makes you go "Whooaaaa!", then you should have seen my face when I saw it for real! Look at the ruffles on those do they do that?! This amazing display is at Bernachon in Lyon, where the hubbie & I visited while in France last year. Bernachon is a world-famous family-run chocolate house, started by Maurice Bernachon in the 1950's. They make their chocolate from scratch, from roasting and grinding the raw cocoa beans to the final goodies you see above. It was a must-stop for us because their Lyon store is the only one in the world. Their stuff is so special they only stock their chocolate in one store in Paris...the amazing A L'Etoile D'Or run by the eccentric Denise Acabo, a lady in her fifties who dresses like a schoolgirl!

We thought we'd splurge and have afternoon tea in the adjacent tea salon first, appropriately named Bernachon Passion. Along with some tea, we chose a plate of 4 petit-fours, where a man came around with a tray and we picked the ones we wanted. Oh, to have to choose! We eventually decided on a mini coffee eclair, lemon tart, almond tart and a pistachio macaroony thing. They were divine, especially the eclair! I'm a sucker for those...

Afterwards, we headed next door to the store where there was a vast array of chocolates and pastries on display. Bernachon is most well known for some chocolates called palet d'ors, made with fresh cream, dark chocolate and topped with flecks of gold leaf. Well, since we had indulged already, we bought a couple of chocolates to take away (some delicious nutty toffee numbers) along with a bag of cocoa powder...a steal at around 5 euros for a 250g bag...especially when I later saw it in the above-mentioned Parisian store for 11 euros!!

I decided long ago not to be too precious about the goodies I buy from overseas. Now that I am the recipient of Pierre Herme's Chocolate Desserts book, there's no shortage of things to make with my Bernachon cocoa. So with it I made this Italian panforte, a rich and chewy cake made with spices, honey, cocoa, fruit and nuts that is sliced thinly and served with coffee. For this particular one, I used glace figs, pears and apricots and roasted hazelnuts and almonds. It was my first time making this & it tasted dense, chewy and sweet...great in small doses, so you don't feel bad having more!

I made it for the Christmas in July dinner my mum recently had. For those not in the know, this is an excuse by some of us Aussies to do Christmas again, cos we're usually sweltering in the summer heat at Christmas....far too hot to stomach all that rich and heavy food typical of a wintry Christmas! So there we were gorging on roast pork, glazed ham, duck...followed by a line up of desserts including my sliced up panforte, Christmas pudding and mum's fruit mince pies:

Something tells me I don't need to work on my winter fat stores anymore...thank goodness the warmer months are on their way! N

42, cours Franklin-Roosevelt
69006 Lyon
T: 04 78 24 37 98
Open: Tues-Sat 8.30am-7pm, Sun 8am-5pm
Tues-Sat 9am-6.15pm (Bernachon Passion)

A L'Etoile D'Or
30 rue Fontaine
75009 Paris
T: 01 48 74 59 55

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sweet & Soft :: Felix

Say hi to Felix. He wants to be a set designer when he grows up. He plans to start out in small productions to get his foot in the door, and then work up to the Hollywood big time! Any chance he gets you'll find him chilling out with strawberries and cream.

He is made from some lovely Japanese shell cotton fabric. N

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sweet Inspiration :: Handmade Style Interior

Since latching on to this addiction that is Japanese craft books, I've been quite intrigued at the Japanese's fascination with all things French. There's a whole vintage French aesthetic going on behind lots of these books...fabrics, trimmings, furnishings...the kinds of things you'd see in a Parisian flea market. Being a bit of a Francophile myself, I completely appreciate it! Plus...when you see that the only outposts of top Parisian patisseries are in Japan, you gotta think there's something going on there! (Tiff, I hope you're having a Pierre Herme millefeuille for me!)

Recently I picked up this lovely book called Handmade Style Interior (ISBN 4072500569) full of inspiring images of the living and working spaces of some very creative Japanese. There's little profiles on them (if only I could read it!) and it's full of handy hints you can recreate at home/work too. It's so nice seeing their personalities come through in the decoration of their places and creative ways in which they make use of small spaces. And they still manage to keep that Japanese sense of kitschy quirkiness and ingenuity they're so known for. Here's a sampling:

That French thing I was talking about comes through here...

I love this little workspace...and the tatami mats keep it quintessentially Japanese...

Some more lovely images...

A nice little corner...

There's also a mail order section, with pictures and prices of selected goodies...

Finally, in the back are a big list of stores in east and west Japan where you can pick up lots of crafty and homeware treats. I photocopied practically this whole section for Tiff before she left for Tokyo! There's quirkily-named places like Socks Ciao!...full to the brim with fabrics, trimmings and the like. Oh, I'd love to have a rummage in there!

Meanwhile, we're both still fantasising about our dream least there's no shortage of inspiration! N

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sew Sweet :: Not sew brilliant yet...

I admit I was a little reluctant to do this post. You may have noticed that Tiff has done almost all of the "Sew Sweet" posts thus far. That's cos I'm a sewing newbie and she is far more talented in the sewing department! But she is living it up in Tokyo, and I have to post!

It is my fault for not taking an interest in sewing when I was younger...I'm sure Mum was keen to show me. And the funny thing is...I have all these friends I've known for years who've only recently revealed to me that they can sew! "You can sew???" I ask in envious disbelief! Obviously, some of us did listen to our mothers! I've also been finding all those creative blogs and Japanese craft books so inspiring and petrifying at the same time. Does that make any sense??

So instead of just dreaming about being a brilliant sewer, I thought I should just sit down in front of my newly purchased sewing machine & give it a go. I told Tiff that I needed to start with simple stuff...anything with straight lines! That means things like coasters, placemats, cushions etc. And so here are the results of my very first projects...some bookmarks and coasters made with some of the fat quarter fabrics we picked up at the craft fair recently...bit of a blue, red & white theme going on:

As simple as these might seem to you folk out there, the bookmarks caused me a bit of grief. The poor hubbie has been the recipient of cries like "If I can't even sew a bookmark, how am I ever going to sew something more difficult??" I'm not sure if it's beginner's frustration, but I'm hoping other people sometimes want to kick their machine...oops, did I really say that...I don't want to condone any violent behaviour here!

Anyway, I was quite happy with how the coasters turned out & the hubbie has been very encouraging. I even managed to step out of straight-line sewing to make the pin cushion at the top. Circular sewing...big accomplishment for me. I made it using the pin cushion tutorial over at whipup using blue wool felt & some spotty cotton fabric. Just noticed my friend Soo's done the very same tut - check out her lovely efforts here.

I'm not sure what I'll be sewing next, but I'm starting to amass a fabric I better put them to good use! Any simple sewing project suggestions are welcome! N

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sweet Eats :: Martha's Berry Pound Cake

We can't believe we're more than half way through Martha Stewart's Year of Cakes challenge. This challenge has seen both of us step out of our baking "comfort zones", attempting endurance-testing layer cakes and using heart attack-inducing quantities of butter and sugar. So it was with relief that July's Berry Pound Cake with Whipped Cream was going to be a fairly simple feat (as others have attested here). Unfortunately, Tiff was sick last week & sensibly opted out of baking so she could recuperate in time for her trip to Tokyo this week. So for the first time, I was on my own.

Luckily for this cake there was no major new equipment required, although my Mum lent me a loaf tin from her stash of cake tins, so that I could at least have similarly sized cakes. But just cos it was a simple cake to make doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of butter and sugar involved. After last month's inventive butter spa in an attempt to soften butter, I decided to be a bit more organised and left the butter out overnight to soften. Worked a treat. Here is a pic of the butter & sugar prior to beating:

After beating the butter and sugar together, adding the eggs and then mixing in the flour, the result was some thick gooey cake batter:

I popped the cakes into the oven and after about an hour, they came out puffed and golden brown. Here is a pic of the naked cakes hot out of the oven...I couldn't wait to trim those crusty tops for a taste test!:

So far all of Martha's cakes haven't been seasonal enough to affect us here in the southern hemisphere. But given it's the middle of winter here and this cake was very summery, some berry substitution was in order. Raspberries and blueberries are preposterously expensive this time of year, but I did manage to find some sweet juicy strawberries that were reasonably priced. I'm glad I found these cos it wouldn't be much of a berry pound cake if I had to find some other fruit!

After letting the cakes cool for a few hours, it was time for them to get dressed. I whipped up some cream, piped it on the cake and decorated it with the strawberries. Since Tiff wasn't with me, I only decorated one cake and gave her the other plain pound cake the next day to share with her family.

Here is Martha's Berry Pound Cake:

Our Berry Pound Cake:

And here is a cross-section of it:

Due to the whipped cream, I imagine this cake is best eaten soon after decorating. Thankfully I was able to take it that night to a gathering of friends. And the verdict? The cake had the tight and dense texture typical of a pound cake and it tasted very buttery and quite sweet. The strawberries and cream complimented it perfectly - I think it would be a bit plain without them. Everyone loved it. All in all, a yummy cake which I'd be happy to make again...maybe in summer when I can get my hands on all those berries!

Next up for August...the divine sounding Peaches-and-Cream Ice Cream Cake. Hmmm, the only question is...where are we gonna get our hands on some peaches?? N