Friday, September 28, 2007

Christmas Cupcakes - Classes at Shermay's Cooking School

I'll be teaching Christmas Cupcakes, a demo class, at Shermay's Cooking School on 17 November 2007 (Saturday) and 18 November 2007 (Sunday) - the November schedule has all the details. The school has also recently opened bookings for the month of December (check out the December schedule here) - Christmas Cupcakes will be held on 1 December 2007 (Saturday), 2 December 2007 (Sunday), 15 December 2007 (Saturday), and 16 December 2007 (Sunday). For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or email

As I'd mentioned earlier, thanks to this and Decorated Christmas Cookies, I've been breathing, sleeping and baking Christmas for the better part of this year! To say I'm really psyched about this series of festive classes would be an understatement.

The 4 cupcake recipes in luxurious holiday flavours are:

White Chocolate, Macadamia, Sundried Cranberry & Vanilla Blondie
The secret to the richness of these Madagascar Bourbon vanilla-perfumed buttery yellow beauties is Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate melted and folded right into the batter. And to bring it completely over the edge, it's seriously studded with goodies like toasted macadamias, sundried cranberries, and yet more morsels of white chocolate. Blondie batters, being so rich, are perfectly suited to being presented as the blissful two-bite wonder known as a cupcake. This one's a treat for lovers of chunks and add-ins.

Sticky Medjool Date & Guinness Stout Gingerbread with Crystallised Ginger
The smouldering, dark spiciness of this sticky gingerbread owes its heady depth to a generous slug of stout. The addition of Medjool dates makes these cupcakes moreishly moist whilst tempering their bittersweet nature. Meanwhile, tiny bits of crystallised ginger lend spicy zip.

Spiced Chocolate & Sour Cream
Sour cream makes for the most divinely tender cake crumb. This elegant chocolate cupcake batter is flavoured with Valrhona's peerless cocoa, underscored by a touch of pure coffee extract and Christmassy with the warmth of cinnamon.

Pumpkin with Pecans& Rum-Soaked Raisins
Possessing all the festive allure of pumpkin pie, but much faster to put together. Pumpkin puree ensures a soft and delicious cupcake. The pecans add welcome crunch and the raisins - plumped in a boozy bath of dark Jamaican rum - a lovely, succulent fruitiness.

I do think these cupcakes have enough personality to stand alone. But somehow, a naked cupcake is simply not very in keeping with the spirit of things - another time of the year perhaps. This time of the year, those sweet domes are just crying out for a thick blanket of white frosting, like so many snowcaps. To that end, 2 very versatile and useful toppings - a Classic Royal Icing (this snow white icing has many marvellous applications, as will be demonstrated at class), and a Rich Cream Cheese & Sour Cream Frosting (which, while not snow white - it's more ivory - is utterly delicious and very accommodating of different flavouring variations).

In terms of embellishment, I'm a big believer in keeping to the usual suspects - snowmen, Christmas trees, stars, holly, you get the idea - because I feel Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas if it weren't more about tradition and less about innovation. That said, trad emphatically does not have to mean boring. (And of course, it goes without saying that the various decorative techniques covered during the class can be practically applied to fashion edible ornaments as minimalist and modern as you please.)

The holiday cast of handmade fondant toppers includes


snowmen, igloos and Santa hats.

I adore the look of holly.

So holly - be it in the form of leaves, berries or wreaths - makes a star appearance.

I don't think anything heralds the advent of the winter solstice quite as beautifully.

And because cupcakes would make a wonderful gift and addition to the holiday table, I couldn't help but add a beribboned present (even better, a pile of presents),

and a voluptuous red bow or two.

Amongst the aforementioned multiple applications of royal icing, chic decorations with the delicate appearance of lace. Snowflakes,

Christmas trees, stars...anything you can draw, really, you can render as a royal icing design.

Of course, you may not be in the mood for the fiddly stuff - and frankly, between brining the turkey and the eleventh hour shopping scramble, few are. In which case, opt instead for one of the various easy-yet-effective decorative ideas. No fuss, no muss. These ideas prove that the super simple can also be very stylish.

Tall swirls of frosting can stand in for trees.

OK, I cheat. The above royal icing tree is not exactly the fastest one to do. But its sophisticated look belies the sheer simplicity of the technique - anyone who owns a leaf tip, can squeeze a piping bag repeatedly (and has a moment to spare), can whip up this number.

In case anyone's missing the fruitcake, here's the faux fruitcake - bejewelled with gleaming pieces of fruit and nut, and swaddled in baking parchment.

Snowballs are another easy choice.

As is a dusting of icing sugar.
Quite a handful will already be covered in class. On top of the above, the recipe pack also includes 4 bonus cupcake recipes (Espresso & Candied Orange; Chocolate & Marmalade; Tea-Infused Gingerbread; and Spiced Honey). I won't be demonstrating these during class (for all their deliciousness, they are a breeze to make), so will put up a post in the near future with more details on these extra recipes.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Decorated Christmas Cookies - Classes at Shermay's Cooking School

Call me a lucky girl; it's Christmas come early around these parts. In fact, it hasn't just come early, but I've had occasion to celebrate it quite a few times since May whilst testing recipes for new seasonal classes. So while it may appear premature to be talking about Christmas, it sure seems after the fact in this kitchen! At any rate, I think many avid (and well-organized) home bakers prefer to get a headstart on their festive baking (while not well-organized but just plain antsy, I certainly do, but won't bore you with the story of how one memorable year I actually started anointing fruitcake with dark rum the Christmas before Christmas), so I imagine advance notice can't be remiss.

I'll be teaching Decorated Christmas Cookies, a demo class, at Shermay's Cooking School on 2 November 2007 (Friday), 3 November 2007 (Saturday) and 4 November 2007 (Sunday) - the November schedule has all the necessary details. There are also some places left in the classes held on 19 October 2007 (Friday) and 21 October 2007 (Sunday) - please refer to the October schedule. For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or email To all the wonderful (and well-organized) individuals who had booked earlier on, I am deeply appreciative, and can only hope that you'll enjoy the experience as much as I have the planning process.

The type of cookies known as rolled cookies is the decorator's preferred choice of canvas. Unlike say drop cookies or bar cookies, however, they do take a bit of care to get right. Quite aside from sleights of hand to facilitate the procedure, there's the recipe itself - it needs to be a dough that's sturdy enough to withstand repeated handling, yet not bake up so dense and hard as to result in mediocre eating. The Luscious Lemon Cookies (butter cookies with a hint of zest and real lemony depth) and Classic Gingerbread (given just a touch of molasses and judiciously spiced) are both favourite recipes - while I find them a real joy to handle, what's more important is that taste is not compromised for looks.

Once you have your canvas, you'll need to choose your medium. To that end, there's Rolled Fondant (the ready made product is extremely convenient and useful for large batch baking, but homemade has a flavour that you may find worth the extra effort), and Meringue Powder Royal Icing. The latter is a cookie decorating essential, and distinguishing between stiff, soft peak and runny consistencies and knowing the different decorating functions they serve form the foundation of cookie decorating. An understanding of just a handful of Core Decorating Techniques - such as outlining, flooding, drop-in flooding, overpiping, flocking and gilding - opens up limitless design possibilities. The class will cover the practical application of these techniques as can be seen in the decoration of:

Christmas Stockings
Gingerbread People


Christmas Tree Ornaments

(which, incidentally, make a lovely gift for friends who are passionate bakers when twinned with a handsomely crafted copper cutter)

Christmas Trees

(which, in the right size, can be embellished in an endless variety of styles)

3-D Christmas Tree
Much simpler (and faster) to construct than a gingerbread house, but certainly no less stunning as the perfect holiday table centrepiece.

You've home-baked them. You've hand-iced them. The self-respecting Martha Stewart fan (I'm one and not afraid to admit it) won't let them down with anything less than thoughtful packaging to create the ultimate heartfelt and one-of-a-kind holiday gifts. If you're so inclined, hopefully one or two of the various ideas that round out the class may prove useful.