Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eggsellent Egg Conversions for the Home Chook Owner

I love chooks. I even love the word "chook" - which is the name we give to chickens here in Oz. If you are lucky enough to live in a council area that condones the private ownership of a handful of gorgeous, feathery, egg-bearing yard-fowl, you might very well be a "Chook Fancier" too.
Having free-range chooks is one of life's simple pleasures. You put in veggie scraps and a handful of chook pellets every day, plus lots of fresh water to drink, and you get perfect little protein-and-vitamin-filled gifts in return. Plus, in case you didn't know this, chooks have personalities all of their own. So they are productive and interesting pets!


I have been a chook owner in the past, but since we last moved house, we've not as yet had the time to set up a new chook enclosure. In the mean time, I have been vicariously (and, okay, enviously) enjoying my friend Mandie's new chook ownership stories. Mandie's girls started laying in dribs and drabs, but now that they are a bit older and spring is approaching, she is becoming 'ova-run' with eggy goodness.

Mandie rang me a while ago, wanting a bit of advice about how many eggs to use in a flourless orange cake she was making. She had been saving up some eggs, but given they were not standard sizes, she needed to know how many eggs to add to match the recipe's specified egg count.

Mandie thought it was a good topic to share on the blog today. So let's discuss Egg Conversions.

Why are Eggs So Darned Good?

First of all, eggs play an important role in baking. They bind, add structure, act as rising agents, and affect the moisture level of your baked goods. They can be separated and the parts within used for different purposes, eg. whites for meringues, royal icing, marshmallows, macaron shells, white cakes and Swiss Meringue Butter Cream, and the yolks for making custards, hollandaise and bernaise sauces, creme patissiere and enriching brioches and many rich cake batters. And of course, eggs can be used whole (without the shell, of course!)

Commercial Egg Standard Weights

When you buy eggs from the supermarket, you will have noticed that egg cartons have a weight listed. In Australia, 600g eggs are classed as "large", 700g are "extra large" and 800g are "jumbo" sized (and often double yolkers!)  These stated weights refer to the minimum total weight of all 12 eggs in the carton, including the shells.

Unless specified otherwise, Australian standard recipes generally call for the use of eggs with an average weight of 60 grams each. Often, recipes state these are "large eggs", when in fact, 60 gram eggs are classed as "extra large".

If you have your own laying chooks in the backyard, how can you make sure you have the right amount of eggs for your recipe?

Beautiful home-grown eggs - aren't chooks brilliant?


Gauging the Sizes of Your Chooks' Eggs

This is where having a set of scales becomes important. Anyone who likes to bake should invest in a good quality set of digital scales, as relying on volumetric or unit measurements never really yields as perfect a result as weighing your ingredients.

So, the first thing you can do, is weigh your own chook eggs. An "extra-large" egg (remember, those that come in a 700gram carton) will have a MINIMUM weight of 58.3 grams each - with their shells on. But let's use an average weight of 60 grams.

Mandie's cake recipe called for six eggs, meaning six eggs with an average weight of 60 grams each, which is a total weight of 360 grams. Mandie therefore needed to weigh her various free-range homegrown eggs to reach a total weight of 360 grams.

What if you have some bantams and/or really big bongo-sized egg-laying chooks?

You may need to adjust your egg numbers to make up the required total weight. Recipes will call for a number of eggs, so it helps to calculate the total weight of the required eggs, remembering the standard as 60 grams per egg, and adjust your egg quantity as necessary.

What happens if you need less than a whole egg to make up the weight required? Simply break an egg into a cup, whisk it gently, and pour the mixed egg to make up the total required weight.


What are the relative weights of shell, egg white, and yolk?

Many recipes will call for the use of egg white, or yolks. Simpler, small-scale recipes will call for a number of whites, or yolks. Larger-scale bakery/patisserie recipes will often call for a weight in grams for egg whites or egg yolks.

Once again we need to first consider the standard egg size as 60 grams. Then, we can consider the ratios of the egg components.

According to Pace Farms, the ratio is 11% shell, 58% white and 31% yolk.

An extra-large (60 gram) egg will have a shell weight of 7 grams, a white weight of around 35 grams, and a yolk weight of around 18 grams.

So, the contents of six whole eggs would weigh 6 x (0.58 + 0.31) x 60 grams = 320 grams.

However, say Mandie's recipe said to use 6 egg whites, and she had a bunch of different-sized eggs. Six standard egg whites would average 6 x (0.58) x 60 grams = 209 grams.
Therefore, Mandie would need to crack and separate her eggs, adding whites to her bowl that is sitting on her scales (tared to zero), until the reading was 209 grams. 

Knowing these percentages allows you to use your very own multi-sized chook eggs, and be assured you are putting the correct quantity of egg, egg white or egg yolk as is called for in the recipe. Best of all, you are making use of the absolute freshest and yummiest eggs you can get anywhere - those of your very own chooks.

One last tip: it is better to be a little bit over than a bit under when adding eggs to most recipes. So don't be too obsessed with hundredths of grams!

I will write about some more egg-related baking tips in a future post :-)

Happy baking!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Long Lost Favourite: The Coffee Scroll.

Did you grow up with a family favourite bikkie*? I'm sure we all have at least one of these favourites.

I grew up with a mother that made everything from scratch, including biscuits and cookies. Those packets of biscuits at the supermarket were a rare treat...making them that much more enticing!

As I was grew up and spent more time at friends' homes and then after flying the nest, I became something of a bikkie aficionado. Arnotts were the reliable favourites - from the Butternut Snaps to the Monte Carlos, to the Lemon Crisps, to the Kingston Creams. And the Tim Tam. But there were also lesser known goodies to be discovered...particularly the perfect morsel that is "The Coffee Scroll".

The coffee scroll was a crisp, round flat biscuit embossed with a scroll pattern, that contained cinnamon, allspice/cloves and maybe nutmeg, as well as tiny black currants. Each biscuit had a dollop of hard pink icing in the centre top.

In fact, it was only after we were engaged that I discovered my husband also had an appreciation for this lovely bikkie. Legend has it that Arnotts once made these, but my memories are that they were made by Lanes or Nabisco. Whenever the husband and I would set off on a road trip, I would make sure that we had packed at least a couple packets of these pink-topped, scrolly delights! We even ate them up and down the east coast of Australia on our honeymoon in 1998.

Whilst I had by that time (back in the Nabisco Coffee Scroll era) expressed my inevitable genetic tendencies to make everything from scratch, I was more than happy to buy them off the shelf and delight in their spicy, crunchy, currant-y goodness from time to time.

You can imagine how unhappy I was when I found the 'Big Two' had stopped stocking them. For a while I could find them at the questionable discount stores (what I call the $2 shops), no doubt imported from Asia.

Then, just like that, they were a thing of the past.

Instead of lamenting the loss of this classic, I set about creating the same taste sensation from scratch. And because I know that there are other people who miss this bikkie, I am now sharing my tried and true recipe so that you too can recreate this perfect coffee accompaniment.

Read on!

*"Bikkie" is a typically Australian contraction of the word "biscuit", which is the thing that Americans may call a "cookie". They are usually crisper and smaller than a typical American-style cookie.

 RECIPE: Coffee Scrolls, Reincarnated

Makes around 48 completed biscuits

3 cups plain/all purpose or cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 
1 cup brown sugar
1 large free-range egg (at room temperature)
1/4 cup small dried black currants^
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tsp  ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice or 1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt (omit salt if using salted butter)
Egg wash: 1 free-range egg whisked into 1/4 cup milk
375 grams (13.5oz) white chocolate
Red/pink oil-based powdered food colouring (optional, available at cake decorating stores)

(^note: it is tempting to add more than 1/4 cup of currants. I know. Trust me, you will cause your bikkies to break apart as the currants expand in the oven, so keep it to a maximum of  1/4 cup. If you must, eat a handful of currants as you're waiting for the bikkies to bake).

Special equipment:
Egg whisk - spiral style (while not great for whisking eggs, this tool remains in my tool drawer only for making these biscuits)
Silicon (non-stick) baking paper - use each sheet more than once with successive trays going into the oven.
2 1/4" (57mm) or thereabouts cutter

Step 1:
Using a mixer, beat (with paddle) the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and spices until light and fluffy. Use a hand whisk or wooden spoon if you do not own a mixer.

Step 2:
Mix in egg on low speed.

Step 3:
Add in flour and baking powder, mix on low until blended. Scrape down bowl, mix again.

Step 4:
Add currants, fold or knead in. Dough will be soft. Let rest for 30 minutes in fridge, covered in cling film in a flattened round shape.

Step 5:
Preheat oven to 160 deg C/320 deg F.
Roll out around 1/3 of the dough between two sheets of baking paper until around 4-5mm thick.

Step 6:
Cut out 2 1/4" (57mm) rounds, place on silicon-papered biscuit/cookie baking sheets. Each unbaked biscuit should weigh about 20 grams maximum (0.7 oz)

Press spiral egg whisk into top to emboss your spiral.

Dip the flat spiral end into flour before pressing into the top of each cookie.
Don't worry about the "e" shape in the middle of the bikkie; it will be covered up later.

Step 7:Continue rolling out dough and cutting rounds, and embossing scrolls.

Optional: glaze top of biscuit with egg wash. (NB: I did not glaze this batch).

Step 8:
Bake at 160 deg C (320 deg F) for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown. Let sit on trays a few minutes before cooling on racks completely. These biscuits should be crunchy when cooled.

The Icing
Clearly the iconic part of the biscuit, but also an essential part of the Coffee Scroll experience when eaten all together. It took me a while to work out the best way to replicate this hard pink icing, and this is what I came up with.

Step 1:
Melt your chocolate.

Microwave method: Place your 375g of white chocolate (chopped or buttons) into a large pyrex bowl or microwave-safe jug. Heat at 100% for 30 seconds, stir. Repeat until chocolate completely melted and smooth.

Double boiler method: Place white chocolate into a pyrex bowl, a metal bowl or the top saucepan of a double boiler. Place over a saucepan containing 1cm of simmering water, ensuring complete seal around edges of your top bowl/pan. Don't let bottom of your bowl/pan touch the water. Do NOT let steam condense and run into chocolate; it will seize. Stir occasionally until melted.

Step 2:
Add in a smidge of red or pink oil-based powdered food colouring. Truly, just about 1/8 teaspoon. Mix thoroughly. If you only have water- or alcohol-based liquid or gel food colouring, leave it out.

Step 3:
Using a teaspoon or disposable piping bag, place a blob of pink-tinted white chocolate in the centre of each bikkie. Do not go to the edges. Actually, to be authentic you don't even have to put as much as I have shown in the photo below (what can I say? I like chocolate).

Step 4:
Allow to cool completely until icing has set hard.

Enjoy with your favourite hot bevvie beverage!

Do you have a long lost favourite? Have you ever tried recreating it from scratch?

Please feel free to comment, or ask any questions about my Coffee Scroll recipe!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

A New World Record? (Welcome to This Blog)

I'm not referring to the 1976 album by the British electro-pop geniuses, E.L.O, I'm talking about myself. I'm wondering if my Sweet Perfection Cakes blog actually holds a world record.

I'll explain.

When I began the long road towards this full-time obsession that is my business, one of my first concerns was to find a business name that said something about not only my business, but me as well.

At this point, I will share with you with my first piece of wisdom. For any dewy-eyed home baker wishing to join the masses in this glamorous world of making specialty cakes, be prepared: all the good names are taken. My advice? Think laterally.

Find a large empty question mark in which to think laterally.

(photo by  Master isolated images,

I chose "Sweet Perfection" not because I have some huge ego problem and think my cakes are the epitome of perfection. It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the one thing that defines me; my perfectionist tendencies.

Okay, I can see you're rolling your eyes. Because you know how there are those people who say, "Oh, I'm such a perfectionist..", like it's a clever, self-deprecating way of giving themselves a high-five for being so damned good at everything they do. Yeah, you do. Well, that's not perfectionism.

I called my cakery "Sweet Perfection" because I aim for perfection in my work, play, organisation and even in everyday minor choices...everything. Doesn't mean I get there. The number one thing that stops me is a paralysis brought about by too much choice, too many ideas and a huge fear of not getting it perfect. So the business name, in a way, is my goal. Striving towards (sweet) perfection. Think of the name as a verb and you're with me.

Which leads me to the first post in my blog today.

Do you know how long ago it was that I set up this very blog?  Literally years have elapsed, chock-filled with procrastination, fiddling with templates, planning posts, researching and reviewing, and reading up on expert how-to's. Years, I tellya.

Perfectionism and procrastination are happy, but self-sabotaging, bedfellows. I wanted to get it perfect right from the start. Now you can see how this blog never took off when I set it up with all those good intentions.

So today, I'm closing my eyes and taking a dip into this inky pool of bloggy goodness. I hope as I continue adding to my blog that I'll make some sense to someone who is interested in the challenges of making custom cakes when the western world is drowning in reality TV baking and cooking shows.

It's a platform for me to talk about the cake business, weddings, wedding cakes, baking from scratch, client care and that which lies at the heart of this profession: art.

I doubt that I did set some kind of a new world record for longest-running blog without a single post. My chances now are blown, anyhow. But I hope you'll read on and enjoy the blog in any case.

Welcome :-)