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Apricot Crostata

Apricot Crostata

What is that one cake or sweet that reminds you of your childhood the most?

If you asked me I’d say crostatas, the pie-looking tarts commonly filled with jam my grandmother used to make. Every Sunday morning I would go to my grandma’s house,  where I was welcomed by the smell of a scrumptious Sunday lunch. But what interested me the most was what was hiding in the dark living room, where all the cakes were left to cool down. And that’s where I would always find a crostata, its warm homemade jam tempting me have a taste, just a bite.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had a crostata, I’m not sure why I haven’t made it since leaving Europe. Maybe I never had enough people to bake it for, since it’s a tart I always shared with friends and family, or maybe baking it myself reminds me too much of when others used to bake it for me – and of how quickly time flies when your not paying attention, only to wake up one day and realise that you have to bake your own tarts.

Whatever it was, it’s no longer relevant because I made my first “Australian” crostata just last week and I intend to bake many more from now on! To my surprise, it was a lot easier to make than I remembered, and super-quick, too!

Crostata Recipe

Italian Shortbread Pastry (Pasta Frolla)
Translated from GialloZafferano.it

500 gr Cake Flour ( or All Purpose/Plain Flour)
250 gr Unsalted Butter (cold, cut in pieces)
Pinch of Salt
4 Egg Yolks
200 gr Icing Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Essence
500gr Apricot Jam (Filling)

1. Place the flour, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

2. Pour the flour on a flat surface and create a volcano (!), then add sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Quickly knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

4. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

5. Your Pasta Frolla is now ready to be turned in a Crostata!

Notes:
Plain flour worked well for me, however, for best results or more complex pies (for example a braided edge), I suggest you use a flour low in gluten (cake flour), as this will make your dough more elastic and easier to shape.
Crostata
Crostata

1. Preheat oven at 180°C

2. Grease a loose base tart pan (I used a 24cm, but there’s enough dough for a slightly bigger one). If using a tart pan without a loose base, line with baking paper.

3. On a floured surface, roll half the dough with a wooden rolling pin until 5mm thick. Line the tart pan with the dough, cutting the extra pastry with a knife and making sure there are no holes or air bubbles. Spread the apricot jam evenly with the back of a spoon.

4. Roll the other half of the dough, then cut 1cm/1.5cm strips. The more precise you are, the better the crostata will look once baked. Apply the strips on the crostata, horizontally and vertically, pinching the edges slightly to secure.

5. Bake at 180°C for 30/40 minutes or until the crust is a nice golden brown. Let it cool in the pan before attempting to remove.

Slice of Crostata

Does it look delicious? Because it most definitely was!
I’ve been working on my photography, I know I’ve got a very long (and probably steep knowing my luck) road ahead of me in terms of photographing food but I’m trying to improve bit by bit.

So, what is the food that reminds YOU of your childhood the most?
I’m curious, don’t keep me hanging!

Your excitable baker,
Sylvia

Flavours of China (Part 2)

Are you ready to be captivated by the beauty of China once again?

In this second (and last) part I will take you to Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, Guiling and Hong Kong: we’ll talk pandas, amazing waterfalls,giant statues and stunning city views! :D

Chengdu

Xi’an was the last stop I shared with my awesome travel buddy Rebecca, and when I got to Chengdu all alone…it felt weird. Add to that the fact that my hostel didn’t have a good common room and that the weather was rainy and grey and there you have my mood plunging to new depths. And that’s when I decided that I wanted to spend a day doing absolutely nothing but walking around with no rush, no place to go. I followed the river for quite a while, since water makes me happy and calm, then I stopped to watch a group of old men trying to fish – they were a bit confused by me at first, but we silently rejoiced together with smiles when there was some sort of catch and, when I got back to my hostel after some sort of socialisation, I was in a much better mood. I didn’t go sightseeing much around Chengdu, I spent one day at Chengdu’s Panda Base and another around Leshan, where I saw the amazing Giant Buddha.

Chengdu Panda

But let’s talk Pandas! :D Chengdu Panda Base can be reached both via expensive tours available at any hostel/hotel or by taking a couple of buses: you’ll see where you have to stop because there’s a huge panda statue in the middle of a roundabout right in front of the entrance to the Base. I had never seen a panda before, they are the laziest and cutest animals out there! I’ve seen so many eat laying on their backs and using their tummies as little tables…and yes! If you go early enough you’ll see them all active and moving around – so an early morning is definitely recommended. Otherwise you might end up only seeing sleeping pandas, which are surely cute but, trust me, looking at them wobbling around is quite a lot better.

 LeshanLastly, Leshan. Now, can you see the row of people up there, close to the Buddha’s head? No? It’s THAT big. More precisely, it’s a statue of a seated Buddha 71 metres tall carved in the side of a mountain overlooking two rivers. It’s not only the biggest stone Buddha in the world, but it’s also (by far) the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. It’s overwhelming, it literally takes your breath away (or maybe it was the terrible humidity of early July?). It was just beautiful. Leshan is also a beautiful city, and quite modern, and if you stop there you really can’t miss a hike of Mt. Emei. I was only in Leshan there for a quick bite before going back to Chengdu – I hadn’t eaten all day! If you visit the Giant Buddha, make sure you bring food with you unless you want to buy some overpriced, and probably expired, packaged food from some of the stalls inside the park.

I stayed at: Chengdu Traffic Inn – it’s basically a hostel using the back rooms of a hotel, so the rooms are quite good. Bathrooms are ok, but there’s not really a good common room so I found it difficult to meet people. Probably more suited to couples or groups. It’s extremely close to the long distance bus station.

ChongqingChongqing Food
Chongqing is not a city that attracts too many backpackers, although it’s a booming city with a lot to offer (I mean, their metro is in the sky!). Only a few hours’ train from Chengdu, Chongqing is special in many ways: it’s its own municipality, it’s one of five National Core Cities (with the likes of Beijing and Shanghai) and, as shown above, it’s where the Jialing River (left) merges into the Yangtze River (right) creating this beautiful contrast of colours.

While there I was also able to have a look at the Three Gorges Museum, a part of which is dedicated exclusively to the construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam. Although I do love a good museum, by the time I got out I was famished. But luckily Chongqing has a whole street dedicated to food, full of restaurants, dessert shops, fast food…anything you could imagine. And it’s only a short walk to the city centre, where all the classiest shops and best brands are located. I had lunch with a nice hot pot, with the hot side being particularly superspicy. Not a surprise, considering that Chongqing is only a short stroll from Sichuan, the region known for its mind-numbingly spicy dishes!

If you have the time and money, consider going on a cruise on the Yangtze river from Chongqing to Yichang: the Three Gorges are apparently some of the most beautiful sights in the area! You will also get a chance to see the Stone Sculptures of Dazu (in case the Giant Buddha wasn’t quite enough!) and, if you wanted to go further, you could cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai in only 7 days! It’s definitely on my to-do list when I go back!

I stayed at: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel – right on the Yangtze River, this hostel was nice. Bathrooms are good, although they can get quite busy, and the dorms are tiny but good enough for a short stay. The staff was incredibly helpful, and there are free activities in the common room such as making dumplings. It’s also relatively close to the railway station, which is great if, like me, you need to catch a midnight train!

GuiyangGuiyang Food

Guiyang is an AMAZING city. I don’t know why I fell head over heels in love with it, but maybe that has to do with it being the most challenging city I visited. How challenging, you ask? Well, the only hostel in the whole city is so hidden it took me a good two hours to find it (and two hours in the morning heat, after a 17-hour train ride and with a huge backpack…not recommended) and they don’t really have a 24/7 reception, so you really need to wait until everyone’s awake to get settled. It’s no-English challenging, with the receptionists being the only people that could sort of understand me. It’s the city where I got the most stares, where it was the most difficult to understand how the transport worked and where I really got to use my pocket dictionary. But it was so beautiful, so charming. It just breaks my heart to be here telling you to go visit because I know that when it will become the touristy town it deserves to be…it will change. And, did I mention that I had the most delicious food in Guiyang? I did, and it’s those little “crêpes” shown above. I don’t know what they were made of: probably rice, cornflour? You then got to choose your filling by combining fresh and pickled vegetables, fold the crêpe and bite a piece of savoury heaven.

Huangguoshu Waterfall

But why did I go to Guiyang in the first place? Well, there’s one thing abut me you don’t know yet : I LOVE WATERFALLS (you can see more waterfall porn on my Pinterest here). I love how the water falls (duh!) and how dangerous yet beautiful they are, how calming, how powerful…and just a few hours train/bus out of Guiyang is Huangguoshu Waterfall, one of the largest in East Asia! The whole Huangguoshu park actually comprises many more minor falls (of which I sadly only got to see a few due to time constraints) with Huangguoshu being the tallest (77.8 metres) and largest (101 metres). And that’s why I simply could not miss it! It is as beautiful and as amazing as it looks, and it was super busy when I got there. And did I mention that there’s a cave behind it and that you can walk behind this amazing wall of water? Yes, it was awesome.

I stayed at: Guiyang Backpackers Hostel - it’s the only hostel in Guiyang (as of Nov 2012), so you don’t have much of a choice. It’s a good place, the staff is super helpful and nice, the rooms are amazingly spacious and the mattresses are basically non-existant (although that’s a common feature of most Chinese hostels I stayed at). The bathrooms are a whole different story (but they’re clean)…

GuilinI was really tired when I got to Guilin, so my plan to got to Yangshuo (a little town in the middle of karst formations, extremely beautiful) went out the window. I just could not get myself to board another train/bus/boat so I just spent three days in Guilin. I don’t know why everyone says Guilin is not worth more than a day…I found enough to do in three days and could have wandered around for three more! I was lucky, too, because I met a friendly local girl with whom I went around quite a while after she finished work…late night shopping, restaurants, she even brought me to see Guilin’s artificial waterfall at Lijiang Hotel when I told her how much I loved waterfalls! The whole side of Lijiang Hotel is transformed in a waterfall at 8.30pm  every night, with lights, music and waterworks. It was so peculiar! But the best sight of all is portrayed above: a walk by the glistening water at night, stopping to see the Sun and Moon Pagodas’ while having shaved ice desserts.

You really can’t miss a walk by the Li River, as well as going to see  the Elephant Trunk Hill (you can pay to get up close, or you can go along the Li River and see it from afar for free). A day or two in Yangshuo should be a must, as it’s much more scenic than Guilin, but the city has enough to offer to keep you quite entertained.

I stayed at: Ming Palace International Youth Hostel - great little hostel, they have cats!! I had been missing my two furry babies so much, it made my day when I got there and saw these two cute little kittens :) Bathrooms are also really good, and you can choose to have a female-only dorm if you want. Quite close to all amenities, convenient location. I recommend this place 100%.

Hong KongAnd then I got to Hong Kong, my final stop before going back to Sydney. To be fair, I had been to Hong Kong before, but I never seem to be able to fully enjoy it because I was super tired both times! This time around though, I did go around a bit more – I went to The Peak, for example, which is where the above photo was taken. I went to Mong Kok markets, I did some shopping (finally!! I had been using the same two outfits for almost 5 weeks!), bought make up, had my hair done…if I was to die on the plane back home, at least I wanted to die pretty! :)

Hong Kong is a city that always leaves me wanting more but at the same I could never be there for more than 3/4 days at a time, it’s just stressful and not green enough for my inner nature-loving self. I also noticed (and this is in no way meant to offend anyone) that people in Hong Kong seem to be a lot less open/friendly than their Mainland counterparts. I think it’s due mainly to the how quickly things seem to happen in Hong Kong, how busy everyone is/seems to be. And then again, I wasn’t there long enough to get to know anyone too well so this is purely my first impression. I missed the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, but I’m planning to have at least another stopover in HK  (and possibly Macau) so I’ll make sure to check it out next time!

 I stayed at: Yesinn Hostel (Fortress Hill) -what an awesome little hostel! I was in a dorm with amazing beds, an awesome bathroom, great furniture …I couldn’t have asked for more! Highly recommended!

Home

And with a photo of home, the northern suburbs of Sydney, I conclude this not-so-brief account of my backpacking adventure through China! This journey taught me so much about myself, about others, and about the amazing world out there! I hope you will consider China as the destination for your next adventurous holiday, you will not regret it :) And especially you, prospective solo woman traveller reading this blog – GO! Don’t let your gender or fears stop you from travelling alone, you will be amazed by the things you’re capable of!

Keep being awesome peeps!
Sylvia

Flavours of China (Part 1)

When I got back from Italy last February (you can read more about it here), I felt ready to take over the world. I had finally challenged one of my deepest fears: flying. I had taken a long haul flight alone and, although the fear will never leave, I learned to accept it and deal with it.

Now, I must have liked the adrenaline a lot because, not even three months later, I was yet again on flight all alone. Yet again it was an impulsive last minute decision. This time though there was no family waiting for me at the airport, no familiar faces, not even the same language because….

I went to China for 5 weeks!

Shanghai -Zhujiajiao
Beijing
Pingyao
Xi’an – Terracotta Army
Chengdu – Pandas & Leshan
Chongqing
Guiyang – Huanggoushu
Guilin
Hong Kong

Background: I don’t speak Chinese, I’d never been to China before.
So, why China people ask (as if there must be a good reason behind that choice)? I’ve always been fascinated by China, ever since a huge Chinese family moved near my house and their children became my playmates. I’d go to their house, where there were all these things I’d never seen before, all these  hieroglyphics…after all, living in a small town in Italy meant having almost no connection with anyone but Italians, so my first encounter with this new culture sparked curiousity. They invited me, my grandma and grandpa (this was back in the early 2000s) to one of their Chinese New Year celebrations where there were black eggs and all sorts of delicious yet mysterious stuff. Can you imagine an elderly Italian couple at a Chinese New Year celebration?  It was awesome. They’re still friends to this day. Plus, last year, when it was time to choose my minor at university, I choose Sociology, although Chinese would have been my first choice. It turned out Sociology was the wrong choice, because I’m going back for summer courses and I’ve changed my minor back to Chinese…

It was the best trip of my life. I’ve felt alone and vulnerable at times, yet I was able to prove myself that I can do it, that I can be alone, that it’s ok not to have a plan…life sometimes shows you the way. Being a very controlling person, very anal, very precise…it was like a breath of fresh air. I landed in Shanghai and realised that I had no idea what I was doing, that for the first time ever I was in a place so completely different from anywhere I’d been before. I hadn’t had time to contemplate what would be waiting for me on the other side until I actually got there. It was also the most tiring and draining 5 weeks of 2012, and when I got back to Sydney I was exhausted. Backpacking is mentally and physically exhausting, but so so so worth it.

I travelled by train and bus, only flying Sydney-Shanghai and Hong Kong-Sydney…which meant I travelled a total of more than 110 hours by train, mostly overnight, with the longest being over 18 hours straight. I travelled in hard sleepers, which made me feel like merchandise on a shelf, but it was oddly enjoyable. I want to go back so badly because there’s so much China I haven’t seen yet!

I’ll try and quickly give you a overview of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, Beijing, Pingyao and Xi’an in this first post, and I know it will be a very long post. But hey, if you’re planning a trip to China anytime soon, it’s worth a read.

Shanghai Shanghai FoodShanghai, you charming yet cloudy cloudy city! I was in Shanghai for 5 days and not once you dared show me the sky, let alone the sun. Not once! I loved Shanghai, I did. But it was possibly the worst city to be welcoming me to China, because it was so hot and humid, and so terribly smoggy, that by the end of my 5 days I was wondering weather I would see the sun at all in 5 weeks. I sometimes felt as if there was not enough oxygen in the air, no joke. But I met the most awesome people there (yes, you Miami Pilot Guy & Seraph!) and ate delicious food from food stalls…yum! I love street food, and this loves comes from my childhood trips to Venezuela where I learned that delicious food is not supposed to be of the sanitised kind. I’m lucky, too, because I can digest anything and everything (the only time I ever got a sick from food was after having a Wendy’s milkshake. Go figure.). Noodles, dumplings, Uyghur dinner (middle photo), fried veggies on the corner of the street, spicy lamb that was supposed not to be spicy…it was all amazing. And my first hot pot in China (first photo), where I discovered my love for needle mushrooms and sesame sauce! You really can’t miss a walk from Nanjing Rd to The Bund at night, a day in the History Museum, Old Shanghai, the French Concession (although it’s damn expensive to eat/drink there) and, why not, the Sculpture Park!

I stayed at: The Phoenix Hostel, Shanghai - highly recommended, very close to the city centre, the Bund, Museum, and the bus station.

ZhujiajiaoZhujiajiao FoodIf you go to Shanghai, you really can’t miss Zhujiajiao. Or you can, depending who you ask! It’s a couple of hours’ bus from Shanghai and it’s quite difficult to find the right bus and to understand how it all works but it’s worth it. I met zero foreign tourists there, as apparently it’s very popular with Chinese tourists rather than foreigners…a big plus for me. Zhujiajiao is also called “the Venice of China” and as it’s a city on water just like its European counterpart. Small streets, little houses…it’s great to get lost in there. However, you might want to hurry up as there were some really nasty huge buildings being constructed at the edge of town, and the whole place might lose its’ charm to skyscrapers someday. Now, as with every tourist attraction in China…it’s touristy, you can feel it in the air that it’s somewhat artificial. This doesn’t mean it’s not nice, but don’t expect the traditional little village sort of thing. If it’s on Lonely Planet (I hate LP with a passion), then forget about the “traditional Chinese experience”. Greg, my American foodie friend, found this place to be really sad, although I quite enjoyed it, if only because it made for some nice photos…it really depends! But hey, Zhujiajiao is the only place where I got to try snails, mashed with unknown herbs…well, to be honest, I have no idea what I was eating most of the time while in China, so definitely not recommended to people that are afraid to get out of their comfort zone. Another note on eating in Chinese restaurants, especially if not in the main cities, is to get used to people staring. And by staring I mean having restaurant staff sit in the table beside yours, turn their chairs towards your table, get comfy and watch you eating. I believe we might have been quite entertaining because those old ladies were smiling and laughing the whole time…but they were so cute and tried to their best to please us, so I didn’t really mind.

Beijing Beijing FoodAfter taking the first of many trains, a trip that revealed to be much more pleasant than I expected, and finding myself in a crowd in front of Beijing Railway Station with no clue where I was supposed to go, I got to my hostel in the Hutongs early in the morning and was welcomed by, you’d never believe it, sun and a clear blue sky! I’ve been told it’s not very common but, for the entire 8 days I was in Beijing, it was sunny and hot and beautiful. Shortly after getting to Beijing I met Rebecca, an awesome British girl with whom I ended up sharing a good 1/3 of my journey, and was lucky enough to join her and her friends for a walk around the 978 Art District, a hike on Badaling Great Wall and dinner in a delicious hot pot restaurant.Great Wall of China

Did you notice that, although I was theoretically travelling alone, I was always eating and sightseeing with people? That’s probably the most amazing part of the whole backpacking experience, the fact that the things that keep me from talking to people I don’t know in Sydney don’t seem to apply to travelling-me. The normal boundaries I’d put up with people I meet at uni just don’t exist when I’m  “out there”. Yes, sure, there’s always a degree of suspicion at first because, after all, you don’t know these people, but it disappears pretty quickly. Travelling makes us all more genuine, maybe because of the tiredness, or maybe because we don’t have any of the social restraints we experience at home – no one knows you there, right? You can be exactly who you are.

Rebecca and I pretty much went to all the temples and other historical attractions of Beijing ( Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, History Museum, Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, Summer Palace, and, last but not least, Mao’s Mausoleum where we got to see the man himself!) as well as going for a stroll on Wangfujing Street and sampling food from the awesome Wangfujing Night Market. What food, you ask? Well scorpions and starfish, of course! Although it was really difficult to say no to the likes of sheep penis, spider king, centipedes and beetles, let me tell you. Scorpion tasted just like popcorn, it was actually quite good and I had two. Starfish, on the other hand, was pretty awful: it was salty, had a weird consistency and smelled/tasted like dead fish. Weird food apart, I really loved Beijing, all its temples and gardens…there was so much more to discover, I will definitely go back soon!

I stayed at: Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel – cheap accommodation in the hutongs, quite good (although the common bathrooms are not so special, if that’s your main concern consider another hostel) and Lucky Family Hostel - brand new hostel in the hutongs, awesome bathrooms, good location (bit difficult to find the first time) – highly recommended!

PingyaoPingyao FoodHalfway between Beijing and Xi’an is the old town of Pingyao, a nice stop-over that will make your train trip to Xi’an a little less endless. Also known for being one of the best ancient cities of China, this walled town is definitely a good change from the busy Shanghai and Beijing! However, it’s also the mother of all tourist traps and I wouldn’t recommend spending more than two days there: first, it’s expensive, and second, once you have a walk around the city, it gets pretty boring and depressing. At least, that’s how I felt after a while…but that might have been because of the terrible experience of seeing a group of dying kittens in the street. See, I don’t cry. But damn, I cried like a baby after that, and I still get all teary thinking about it. Nothing hurts more than meowing kittens standing in a corner…ok ok ok, I was sad. But the city was nice, just a bit repetitive (the menus were basically the same everywhere) and quite expensive (I would have gone on a walk on the town wall but it was more than 100RMB, too much for my broke self with another 3 weeks of travel to go!). We had cold meat, a specialty of the area, plus buns and dumplings, as well as fried braided bread (not in photos). And that first yellow crepe-like thing? I’m not too sure myself, it tasted egg-y and it was filled with seasoned cold meat. Interesting.

I stayed at: Yamen Hostel – nice common room, good shared bathrooms (much better than the Beijing ones, and by Pingyao my standards had plummeted anyway…)

XianXian FoodThe last place I’m going to talk about in this first part is Xi’an. After spending one day too many in Pingyao, going back to a bigger city felt good and I really liked Xi’an ( by now you should have noticed that there is not one single place I didn’t like, I really did love China!). Rebecca, whom I had been travelling with since Beijing, and I even found a Walmart! What a treat. Anyways, Xi’an was a great place and I would have spent even a bit longer if I could have. The main attraction in the area is, of course, the Terracotta Army (well worth the 150RMB entrance fee) and the feeling one gets upon entering the first of three hangars of 6000 life-size statues and horses is indescribable, overwhelming to say the least. Can you believe they’ve been unearthing and working on these statues since 1974? And there’s still so many that are being reconstructed as we speak.
Terracotta ArmyBut Xi’an has other things to offer beside the Terracotta Army, like the Muslim Quarters, Bell Tower (pictured above) and Wild Goose Pagoda (which I only got to see from a distance). Although by this stage I was a bit over markets full of overzealous sellers, I still enjoyed the smells of spicy street food (lamb, especially) and roasting nuts. I even succumbed to one of those delicious peanut crisps that were made before out eyes, which I stupidly didn’t even take a photo of. Although it was surely one of the most crowded markets I went to, the Muslim Quarters were not that bad – I just didn’t have the money to enjoy all I would have wanted to try! :) Another little gem that I quite liked exploring was an underground market (close to Walmart) selling all things cute and sparkly and pink, plus clothes, perfumes, shoes …everything. You need to bargain, no doubt, but there’s quite a few things I found really hard to say no to! But what about the last photo? That’s a single package spicy boiled egg and a packaged chicken foot. It’s not too uncommon to find these in Sydney (I quite like hot chicken feet when I have yum cha) but I know my friends and family in Europe would find it extremely weird. Worth a try, you might be surprised!

I stayed at: XiangZiMen Youth Hostel – NOT recommended. Firstly, they gave us only one key to share between the two of us, which was ok but, especially  since we were in a dorm, I would have expected two keys, but whatever. But then, the toilets were dirty as hell. And by that (don’t read if you’re easily disgusted) I mean there was blood on the toiled bowl and it wasn’t cleaned for as long as we were there (5 days)… Lastly, because of some mix up at check in, we both paid a deposit of 100RMB and got back only 50RMB each, which I was especially not happy about. Oh well.
And we finally got to where I tell you that you’ve done such a good job reading this whole thing, I’m so proud :) I’ll reward you with a sneak peak to Part 2 of my backpacking adventure to China. Are you ready?

Chengdu Panda

Cuteness Overload!
(Chengdu Panda Base)

Want to see more pandas, more waterfalls, more pagodas?
You better check out Part 2 next week!

More Halloween Goodness!

I haven’t been very organised with the Halloween posts, have I?

Typical!

But I just realised that I had been waiting a whole year to post last year’s Halloween sweets as I didn’t yet have a blog then…and then, this Halloween, I promptly forgot. Damn, Sylvia!

Halloween Vanilla Cupcakes

Halloween 2011 was fun, but it was more because I got to bake Halloween sweets for the first time than because of the actual party. Last Halloween I still shared a house with a family with 3 kids, and these kids had all their friends over for trick-or-treating and a jump in the heated pool – which makes me realise that the only pool I had growing up was the little inflatable one…yeah, kids these days have all the good things in life.

Pardon the orange-ness of the photos, I was still getting used to having a proper camera and was apparently colour blind!

Halloween Mars Bar Slice

I made Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream and little Witch Hats…and a Mars Bar Slice with Chocolate Spiders! The Vanilla Cupcake recipe is quite straight forward, so I will leave it to you to decide which one to use. However, the Mars Slice comes from an Italian website and it looks a bit different from the usual Mars Bar Slices with a thick chocolate coating…so I’ll write down the recipe for your convenience :)

Mars Bar Slice 
(makes 20)

80gr Unsalted Butter

300gr (7) Mars bars

200gr Rice Bubbles (Krispies)

For the spiders:

200gr White Chocolate Melts
100gr Black Chocolate Melts

1. Line a medium rectangular (brownie) tray with baking paper. Chop the Mars bars up in little chunks to aid the melting process.

2. In a saucepan and over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter is completely melted, add the Mars chunks and stir frequently until melted.

3. Put the rice bubbles in a big bowl and add the melted Mars, mixing slowly with a big spoon so as not to break the bubbles.

4. Once the rice bubbles are all coated and well mixed, put them in the brownie tray. With the back of a spoon, pat the bubbles until they’re evenly distributed.

5. Put in the fridge for min 30 minutes before serving.

6. Melt the white and black chocolate melts in separate bowls. Once melted, quickly put the chocolate in two piping bags and  begin decorating. Once finished, refrigerate until the chocolate sets before serving!

Halloween Mars Bar Slice

And that’s it for the Halloween posts from me this year :) Promise!
But wait, aren’t you curious about my Halloween costume?

I was…

Sylvia the Zombie Baker

…a zombie prom queen with a nosebleed. Scary stuff, you guys! 

Sylvia

Happy Halloween Cake Pops!

Photo by William Pearce

Well…guess who’s back?

I got overwhelmed by my own creation, this little blog. I started it being so precise, and making sure my photos were up to some imaginary standards of cuteness and yumminess, wanting to bake amazing goods while having way too many things to deal with…and I got overwhelmed. I thought that it would be better not to post, than post something that would not really be up to those imaginary standards. And I realize now that I was wrong because I really wanted to keep posting the cakes and sweets I created…just sometimes one doesn’t really have the time to stage a perfect photo shoot. And I had this awful feeling of letting people down, which I probably did anyway by altogether disappearing.

Does anyone else feel like that sometimes? And how do you deal with it?

Eyeball Cake Pops

Back a month or so ago, a close friend (we’ll call her Rar) invited me to her Halloween Party/Anniversary Party (because only cool people can say to have met their soulmate on Halloween!) and asked if I could make some gory, bloody eyeball cake pops.

Now, this is not any Halloween Party. My friend Rar takes Halloween seriously, and I had already heard how awesome her Halloweens were…I was more than ecstatic to be baking something for this great occasion! Plus, I had never experimented with fake blood…I just couldn’t wait!

I choose a Red Velvet Cake recipe from Bake Your Heart Out as I had never made one before and was a bit taken aback by the amount of food colouring the other recipes advised to use. But this recipe is awesome! And check out her blog, because that’s awesome too! :)

Stage 1

Cake Recipe (makes 30 Cake Pops)
from BakeYourHeartOut

2 ½ cups Plain (All Purpose)Flour

½ tsp Salt

1 cup Buttermilk

2 tbsp Cocoa Powder

2 tbsp Red Food Colouring

1 cup (250 gr) Unsalted Butter

2 cups Caster Sugar

2 Eggs

1½ tsp Baking Soda

1 tbsp White Vinegar

0. Preheat oven at 170°C (medium), grease two 20cm cake pans and line with baking paper.

1. In a bowl, beat the butter with a mixer at low speed until creamy and fluffy. Add the caster sugar and beat for an additional 3 or 4 minutes at low/medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between additions. In another bowl, mix the flour with salt.

2. In a small bowl, mix the red food colouring with the cocoa powder. The result will be a thick dark paste (resist the urge to add extra colouring, trust me, it’s ok if it’s really thick).

3. Add the colour+cocoa mixture to the butter mixture and mix until well combined. Add the flour by alternating 1/3 of the flour to 1/3 of buttermilk, mixing just enough to make the ingredients disappear in the batter.

4. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and the baking soda (it’s fun!) until the latter has disappeared, and then quickly add it to the batter. Mix with a wooden spoon until well combined, making sure there’s not leftover colouring around the edges and not lumps in the batter.


5. Divide the batter among the two greased and lined cake pans and bake for approx. 30 minutes or when the cake passes the toothpick test.

6. Let it cool down completely before proceeding with next step!

Stage 2

You’ll need:

120gr Unsalted Butter

100gr Icing Sugar

2 packets (750gr) of White Chocolate Melts

Fondant in Green (or any other colour, for the eye)

Black Food Colouring for the Iris

1. Once the cakes have cooled down, crumble them with your hands, each in a separate bowl. Because I have a tiny electric oven, I found that the top crust of the cake was slightly burned and removed it. Make sure you taste your cake before crumbling it, especially if some parts are harder/more cooked than others.

2. Prepare one quantity of buttercream icing (120 gr butter, mix until fluffy, add 100gr icing sugar, mix until buttercream) and flavour with a teaspoon of chocolate essence (the taste is quite different from chocolate buttercream with cocoa powder, but it works much better with the red velvet cake than normal chocolate buttercream which would be a bit too strong!).

3. Add half the icing to one crumbled cake, and half to the other. Stir and mix with your hands until there are no buttercream lumps and the cake holds together quite well. If the resulting mixture is a bit too soft, pop it in the fridge for 20/30 minutes.

4. Create nice little balls of cake, then return to fridge.

5. Melt white chocolate melts, I melt them in a long, thick glass to make sure the cake pops don’t touch the bottom. Make sure NO WATER enters the glass/container as you melt the chocolate or it’s very likely it will ruin the melting and you’ll have to throw all the chocolate out and start again.

6. No get your cake pops out of the fridge, stab them with a fork (just like you’d stab an eye) and dip them into the white chocolate. Then put them on a tray lined with baking paper and hold them until they are stable enough for the fork not to fall.

7. Once completed the dipping process, add a fondant circle to your eyeball by brushing the back of the fondant with a tiny bit of water. Then pain the iris with your black food colouring.

Time to add the fake blood! Because I couldn’t find corn syrup (and golden syrup tastes bad), I decided to use honey as a substitute. It worked really well and tasted amazing on the cake pops!

Fake Blood

2 tblsp of  Honey
2 tsp of Red Food Colouring
1 tsp of Cocoa Powder

Have fun adding blood to your cake pops! I advise serving the cake pops on a platter with a base of fake blood, so the blood drips as people pick the cake pops up and it’s super gory!

And now, from the land of no Halloween (Australia)…

Happy Halloween!

Petit Fours: A Sweet Apology

Dear Friends,

I owe you an apology for my negligence in updating this blog. It was all going so well until university started and I got sucked in a million commitments, leaving my readers wondering about the fate of My Lovely Bites. If it wasn’t for my husband’s support, the one that loved this project from ever since it was just an idea in the back of my mind, I would probably still be too ashamed to post after such a long absence!

So I apologise, and I want to do it with a sweet, sweet treat: Petit Fours.

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But what have I been up to in the past months?

I got back from Italy and felt different.
Going back to Italy was also a very interesting experience, mostly because it made me challenge, quite radically, one of my worst fears: flying. Oh, how shaky and terrified I felt at the gate before taking that first flight alone! How I wished I had never taken such a sudden decision.

But the flights went quite well, and just as I was about to almost enjoy flying (about 1 hour from my destination, on the way back to Sydney…) the pilot announced that we would be flying over Sydney for some time, since a huge storm had caused the airport to deny any landing. That was scary for me, I-am-going-to-die scary. And the actual landing in between lightnings and dark, dark clouds (Even I couldn’t see the airport, how would the pilot know where we were going!?!?) was terrifying, I cried and cried for the whole last half hour until we actually touched ground and stopped moving.

And you know what?? I want to do it again! Ok, not the storm and lightning part…but when I had been home for a few days it finally occurred to me that “I did it, I took a plane and I survived!”. I thought about all the flights and the overall experience and I realised that it hadn’t been so bad, and that’s what re-ignited my wanderlust. So yes, I might be taking another plane, to an even more challenging experience quite soon…stay tuned!

 I got through most of the first semester of university.
Starting university was…a new experience. I had all these expectations about university, years and years of dreaming about how different it was going to be from anything I had experienced before.  I thought I would fit in straight away, make heaps of new friends, live the crazy university life!

Well, I was wrong. I didn’t fit in straight away, everywhere I looked I saw people hanging out with their old high school friends, circles already “at capacity” where I wouldn’t find a comfortable place for my weird self. It didn’t depress me thought, it just made me realise how wrong I was to think that university would change me and make me the party girl I never really was.

I also found myself in rooms full of newly independent 18-year-olds that are just starting to ponder leaving their little nests, and can’t wait to take advantage of their freedom. And seeing all this sometimes saddens me: yes, I was so eager to leave my home, too. But it’s been a few years now and I sometimes wish I would have appreciated more my life at home, being a kid, having no real worries, having my mom and dad so close. Because what you don’t realise then it’s that, once you have left, it’s never going to be the same again.

But overall, I am enjoying it. I like my courses a lot and, although I am a chronic procrastinator, I have received some good feedback so far which makes me want to do even better. Fingers crossed!

One of my recipes got published on my university’s cookbook!
Ok, ok, it’s not like I got the cover of a famous magazine or anything…but it was super exciting nonetheless! The recipe I submitted was an easy Apple Cake recipe that was handed down to me from my mom and that reminds me a lot of my childhood. Don’t you worry, in a few weeks the cookbook will be published and you will get the exclusive :) For now, here’s a few photos of the photo shoot…

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What have you been up to? I shall catch up with my favourite blogs soon!

Petit Fours Recipe

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Now, I must admit I don’t usually like the over-sweetness of some French pastries (e.g. Macarons…) so I wasn’t sure about Petit Fours. Their cuteness was what convinced me, I suppose :)

Basic Sponge Cake 

8 Egg Whites
8 Egg Yolks
190 gr Sugar
95 gr Flour
55 gr Cornstarch
45 gr Melted Butter
1 tsp. Vanilla Essence

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C

2. Place the egg yolks into an electric mixer and mix  on high speed until creamy. After 1 minute add about 2 tbsp. of sugar. Continue to mix for a few minutes until the mixture becomes thicker. Add vanilla extract and keep mixing until the mixture doubles in volume.

2. Beat the egg whites until white and frothy while adding the remaining sugar a little bit at a time.

3. Combine the yolks and the whites, making sure you don’t over-mix them.

4. Combine the flour and cornstarch and slowly sift into the mixture. Again, make sure you don’t over-mix it.

5. Add the melted butter.

6. Transfer the mixture into a square cake tin, giving it a few good shakes in order to it to settle, and bake for approx. 30 minutes. Let cool completely!

Tip: You can also use different kinds of cake (e.g. madeira cake, vanilla tea cake, …)ù

From videojug.

Assembly

You will need:

  • Strawberry Jam
  • Vanilla Buttercream, of spreadable consistency (I thin mine with milk if it gets too thick).

1. Slice the cake into three layers (Hint: a long bread knife comes in handy!)

2. Fill the layers with a veil of strawberry jam and buttercream. You don’t want to put too much filling here, otherwise it might disassemble when covering it in icing!

3. Put the cake back together and cut into desired shape with a knife or cookie cutter.

Icing Your Petit Fours

Icing Recipe

60 gr White Chocolate
9 cups Icing Sugar
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup  Glucose Syrup
3 drops of Rosewater Essence

1. Melt the chocolate on a double boiler, which is just a saucepan filled with water about halfway and a heatproof bowl on top (making sure it doesn’t touch the water, the steam has to do the job!).

2. Once the chocolate is melted, add the glucose syrup, water, icing sugar and rosewater essence.

3. Mix until everything is melted and well combined.

4. Pour the icing on your little cakes, which you previously placed on a cooling rack, so as to avoid creating an icing ocean. A big spoon helps reaching all the sides evenly, however you have to be quick since this icing sets very quickly once the heat is off. Once covered, decorate as you please.

5. Let cool the Petit Fours for about 20 minutes before moving them, and use caution: the icing might still be soft and you don’t want to leave any fingerprints, do you?

From NQN

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Where am I?

1.
It’s a romantic country, they say.

2.
It’s somewhere you wouldn’t want to visit on a cruise.

3.
It’s in the northern emisphere, in fact it’s freezing cold here.

4.
Its food it’s…well…very famous.

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What happened, you might wonder, how come we didn’t know?
Truth is, until Thursday, I didn’t know either!

I woke up on Thursday, looked up the first flight and said to L.
“I am going to Italy tomorrow”
even if I had never flown such long distances alone before.

25 hours later my family picked me up from Milan Airport,
everyone quite shocked and surprised to see me back after two long years.

nullWhat’s more romantic than fog?

I can’t even describe what I am feeling right now,
two years is a bloody long time!

Nothing has changed very drastically in my foggy little town,
however everything seems smaller in size than how I remembered it.

And, yes, the food is still amazingly tasty and delicious!

nullTortelloni di Zucca col Ragù – (Homemade) Pumpkin Tortelloni with Bolognese Sauce

I will try to keep you updated with my Italian cooking adventures,
although instead of baking amazing Italian sweets,
people here would rather have me busy with cupcakes, a novelty for most Italians!

Roasted Banana Cupcakes with Caramel and Buttercream

Is there something you always wanted to know about Italy/Italians?
Go on, ask me anything!

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