Thursday 30 September 2010

Tulip Time 2010

I absolutely love tulips, and until very recently I had never seen them growing in the ground. Ever since Mr Ladybird and I moved to Sydney around 2 years ago, I had heard about Bowarl Tulip Time but we had never got around to visiting the Southern Highlands. This year though, we pencilled the event into our diaries nice and early and we made a weekend of it.

It was absolutely wonderful, and I look forward to sharing some of the highlights with you over the next week or so. But of course, first I must share with you some more pitctures of the beautiful display of tulips at Corbett Gardens in Bowral.

Following our stroll through the gardens, we made our way to the market behind Corbett Gardens where we had some lunch and checked out the stalls showcasing local food and wines.

Some of my favourite food that I sampled came from two prominent berry farms in the Southern Highlands. From Montrose Berry Farm we try their award winning raspberry jam and I'm sold - it intensely flavoursome and not too sweet, so I snap up a jar for home.

At the Cuttaway Creek Raspberry Farm stall I meet Nicki who tells me about their farm and gives me a sample of their multi-award winning raspberry wine vinegar. It absolutely blows me away, and it's no surprise that Justin North speaks highly of this product. I have to have it, and the last tart for sale also looks gorgeous, so I take it too :)

We move onto the wines, and I am very impressed by the Southern Highlands wines on offer. It is as this point we decide we just can't leave the highlands without visiting at least one vineyard, but I'll tell you more about that in posts to come!

We sample some gorgeous white wines from the region, and our favourites of the day are the Eling Forest 2009 Verdhelo and the Tertini 2009 Arneis.

Tulip Time is still on everyone, so there's no better time to head to the Southern Highlands, only 1.5 hours south of Sydney! The weather's perfect for it at the moment, so if you want to get out of Sydney this long weekend I'd definitely recommend checking out the region :)

Tulip Time
21 September - 4 October 2010
Entry $8 for adults, $5 concession

Ladybird x

Monday 27 September 2010

Daring Bakers' Challenge - September 2010

So last month I had hoped to participate in my first Daring Bakers' Challenge. Alas, life got in the way and I didn't manage to complete the challenge. This time around, I was far more organised, and I completed the challenge!

Am I happy I did it? Yes, but my oh my.. I was in a world of pain with this challenge! Having never piped royal icing before it was rather tricky, made all the more so difficult by the fact I lost the piping attachment I needed. Without it, I decided to soldier on with a sandwich bag snipped in the corner. Not such a good idea, as it turns out, but oh well :)

September 2010's challenge was hosted by Mandy from What the Fruitcake?! Mandy challenged everyone to bake and decorate basic sugar cookies using recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. We had to give our cookies/biscuits a theme of significance to us in the month of September.

For me (and fellow antipodeans) September marks the beginning of Spring! Spring themed cookies seemed like a good idea, and I decided to take it one step further and create a spring themed cookie bouquet.

I did this by baking the cookies on bamboo skewers. I inserted the skewers carefully before refrigerating and then baking.

Basic Sugar Cookies

Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies

200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
a pinch of salt


Cream together the butter, sugar, salt and any flavourings you’re using. Beat until just becoming creamy in texture. Tip: Don’t over mix otherwise you’ll incorporate too much air and the cookies will spread during baking, losing their shape.

Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.

Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)

Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins. Tip: Recipes commonly just wrap the whole ball of dough in clingwrap and then refrigerate it for an hour or overnight, but by rolling the dough between parchment, this shortens the chilling time and then it’s also been rolled out while still soft making it easier and quicker.

Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. Tip: It’s very important you chill them again otherwise they’ll spread while baking.

Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan Assisted) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4. Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. Tip: Bake same sized cookies together otherwise mixing smaller with larger cookies could result in some cookies being baked before others are done.
Tip: Rotate baking sheets half way through baking if your oven bakes unevenly.

Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.

Royal Icing

315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ – 3 cups Icing / Confectioner’s / Powdered Sugar, unsifted
2 Large Egg Whites
10ml / 2 tsp Lemon Juice
5ml / 1 tsp Almond Extract, optional


Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. Tip: It’s important that the bowls/spoons/spatulas and beaters you use are thoroughly cleaned and grease free.

Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.

Beat on low until combined and smooth. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container. Tip: Royal Icing starts to harden as soon as it’s in contact with air so make sure to cover containers with plastic wrap while not in use.

I'm looking forward to reading all my fellow Daring Bakers' Challenge posts for this month! I'm sure there are some fantastic cookies out there :)

Ladybird x

Saturday 25 September 2010

Planet Cake Course - Basics 102

I headed to Planet Cake's headquarters in Balmain yesterday for their Basic 102 course. I arrived at 9:30 for the course's commencement at 10am with what felt like a hundred butterflies in my stomach. I was about to learn from some of the very best in the cake decorating industry, and I couldn't wait to get started.

Part of my reason for the nerves was that I was about to learn things that I had never before attempted: ganaching and covering a square cake, making a big bow, and making a figurine. Clean, straight lines are very difficult to achieve, with even many seasoned decorators in the industry opting for round cakes instead to avoid them. This was not a challenger to shirk away from. It was going to be a big day, but I was ready :)

Under the friendly guidance of our teacher, Jessica and Planet Cake apprentice, Adam, myself and around 8 others set about our task of creating the present box with a figurine.

At each step Jessica demonstrated the technique required , and we then had a go with our own cake back on our benches. We also had notes to refer back to, but Jessica and Adam were on hand throughout the class to encourage and supervise our work, lending fantastic tips and advice along the way.

An unexpected bonus on the day was meeting Planet Cake's Paris Cutler, who joined us for a quick chat during our lunch break. She offered us some encouraging words about cake decorating, as well as some advice on the realities working in the industry.

At the end of the class, we had some time to take pictures of our work, as well as a group shot. Tired but happy, it was so satisfying to see all of the beautiful cakes we had created.

One of my favourite aspects of the class (which is difficult to decide, because it was all so amazing!) was learning how to make figurines. I decided that a fabulous cake called for some fabulous attire on my figurine. With a full length evening gown and pearl earring and necklace, she was oh so ladylike :)

I also painted on a little red colour for lipstick and gave her a stylish updo with a side-part to complete the effect. A lovely lady ready for the opera, or any other such posh occasion :) It was just like playing dressup - I felt like a kid again!

I must say, I am still on cloud nine after my class at Planet Cake. It was an incredible experience. I learnt so much and had so much fun in the process, that I have no doubt that I will have very fond memories of the day for a long time.

The difficulty, however, lies in deciding the fate of my chocolate mud cake... As I type this my cake is carefully boxed up and in a cool dark place at home. Whatever happens, I'm just not sure that I'll be able to bring myself to cut it... I might have to get someone else to do the deed! It really is incredibly how emotionally attached you can get to food when you put your heart and soul into it!

Since posting this story, this cake was donated to the families of Ronald McDonald House in Randwick, NSW. Ronald McDonald House provides support to seriously ill children and their families. To learn more about Ronald McDonald House, click here.

Ladybird x

30 Days of Fashion: a behind the scenes exlcusive

On Wednesday, September 22nd, I had the privilege of being the one and only food blogger selected to attend World Square's exclusive Spring / Summer fashion event, hosted by Shop Til You Drop and MC Nikki Phillips. The event was officially part of 30 Days of Fashion & Beauty.

Guests enjoyed drinks and canapés courtesy of Din Tai Fung, the internationally-renowned restaurant exclusive to World Square. Din Tai Fung catered the event, putting together 6000 canapés in three hours. The restaurant was also open for normal business, leaving the chefs rather busy in the kitchen all night!

But well before all the guests arrived, I was granted access to the Din Tai Fung kitchen to check out the preparations for the night. Here are some photos of the chefs at work, busily preparing hundreds thousands of dumplings to feed the hungry masses. I was amazed to learn that preparation had only commenced 2 hours prior to the event!

After the preparations guests in the VIP area enjoyed drinks and dumplings.

Man, those dumplings went fast! There was frenzied descent on the waitresses bearing the canapes, it was quite a sight to behold! It was quite crazy, so hence the blurry pictures!

Of the one or two dumplings I managed to try, they were very nice. This green vegetable one was delicious, and I especiallly liked it along with the soy sauce with ginger.

There was also live entertainment for the public at World Square from DJ Danny Clayton, followed by two fashion parades featuring both men’s and women’s fashion.

To find out more about 30 Days of Fashion, head to their website.

Ladybird x

Wednesday 22 September 2010

How to make individual cupcake stands

In my recent post about the hat themed birthday cupcakes I made, I also showed you this individual cupcake stand. I also promised you I'd be telling you how to make this yourself at home. It is so easy, and it looks just adorable. So get your "arts 'n' crafts" hats on - here's how it's done!

Here are the materials you will need...
1 small saucer/shallow bowl (pictured left)
1 egg cup or similar (pictured right)

These materials are readily available and very inexpensive from most discount shops like 'Hot Dollar' here is Sydney.

Run a thin line of superglue around the base rim of the eggcup and place onto the centre of the inverted dish (as pictured below).

Leave to dry for a couple of hours, and you're done! You've made an individual cupcake stand :)

I must admit, I'm not usually a very craft-oriented person. I don't think you'll ever catch me whipping up a collage in my spare time, or becoming anything remotely close to a scrapbooking addict. You're far more likely to catch me in the kitchen, or not far away urging someone to eat another slice of cake! It's not that I don't like arts and crafts... I just don't really have the patience for it to be honest. And... I'm also afraid of gluing my fingers together! :P

Despite this, I did discover my inner Martha Stewart rather unexpectedly of late. After I made a couple of these cupcake stands I started thinking about how to decorate them. I think they look great plain, but you could jazz them up a little, especially if they were for use in a themed party. Before I knew it, I was in a craft shop hunting down ribbons, cut-out felt shapes and scrapbook borders with adhesive backing. Here are just a few ways I decorated mine...

So tell me, are you into arts and crafts?

Ladybird x
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