Saturday, 19 December 2015

Stark Realities: Life in Rural Bali

I am a fraud. I spend my days in my large rural home on an acre of idyllic land, in a village brimming with middle income commuters who feel hard done by having to spend their days in a cubicle to make a living to earn a wage that would be envied in a large majority of the world. I have an air-conditioned car, my choice of six bedrooms all unoccupied bar the one I choose to sleep in, a big screen TV, a home gym, a large Oak dining table where I read my cookbooks in the afternoon sunshine and two cats who live festively plump on homemade food.

I cook and write and feel somehow connected to the world by partaking in their traditions and cuisines. But I found out today it is all a farce. I found out that simply sharing in the flavours of a country doesn't mean you share in their experience. It doesn't put you in their shoes, in their homes or living their lives. I am like a spectator, looking in from behind safety glass just to be sure I don't get messy. None of it is real.

How do I know this, how can I be so sure that despite all my efforts to connect I am actually quite removed? I know this because today I stepped out from behind the safety glass and into the reality of life in a multi-generational family compound in rural Bali.

Barrelling down the narrow road on a mountain bike with no suspension I was certain I was going to die. Scooters, trucks and cars were all whizzing by me within inches of my wobbling uncertain wheels. Who's idea was it get on this thing anyway? Martin's of course. A number of years ago on a family trip to Bali Martin did a very similar bike ride with family. At the time I opted out just as I had been opting out of bike rides around the world my entire travelling life. But in the years since that trip Martin had not stopped talking about the family compound they visited on this particular bike ride and after initial refusal followed by foot stamping, crocodile tears and final submission I gave in.

Now Martin spent a number of years trying to convey to me what he saw and felt in this compound. I brushed it off. I am well travelled  I know how people live around the world, I know life in rural Bali is tough. So stepping over the threshold I was cocky, I knew what to expect. I was wrong. The realities of living in a multi-generational family compound in rural Bali is so far removed from life as I know it that I was confronted. Confronted by the smells, the penned animals, the flies and confronted by the sheer number of people living within one small space.

Martin likes to point out that this compound was much wealthier than the original one he visited. With four "kitchens" for four families and a money making bamboo business in the backyard this family in his eyes were well off in comparison. In my eyes I was taken aback.

Entering the compound and walking down the dirt track we were greeted by slow moving, mange ridden dogs. This is standard in Bali, street dogs seem to outnumber even chickens and I had already locked up my bicycle breaks that morning dodging one of these slow moving creatures who found a sudden spurt of speed to dart in front of my bike. As the yard opened up we saw that the whole back of the property was a bamboo forest in which a pair of leathery skinned Balinese men were whittling away at the bamboo to form large strips used to create matting and roofing. Unperturbed by the tourists they went about their work as we moved past and on to the pig pens the smell of which greeted us before the sight. We were presented with four cement pens around hip height the first of which contained the largest pig I have ever laid eyes upon. The great hulking grey and black mass lay on it's side stretching diagonally from corner to corner to fill the entire shit encrusted pen. As I watched it's breath move it's great stomach up and down I realised that there was no door to this pen and at a mass of at least 300 kilos there was no way for this creature to ever escape it's captivity. The thought (and the smell) took my breath away. Our guide, Eggy, explained that the pig before us was a breeding sow and that she was pregnant. Waves of bacon eating guilt washed over me. This pig was trapped up a pen no bigger than herself for the sole purpose of producing pork products. As we moved along the pens inspecting the spit roast suckling pigs to be, the free range roosters watched us with curiosity, I felt happy for a moment that at least the roosters were free to roam about until our guide informed us that they were used in cock fighting matches.

Rounding the corner from the animal menagerie we came upon the first of the buildings for human habitation, the kitchen. This is the room that had left the strongest impression on Martin and the one in which he had so tried to re-create through words for me. But there are no words that can bring this room to life for anyone who lives in the Western World where Ikea kitchens and their soft closing drawers exist. The room was around half the size of the pantry on the floor plans for the house I am about to build. Upon entering it took a few moments for the eyes to adjust to the darkness. Years of soot had layered the walls so thickly it was as if the room as been painted black. On one wall there was a small window with no glass, just a wide mesh covering the hole. On the floor there was a low cement pedestal with a hole to light a fire underneath and a pot of food sitting on top, the only method possible to cook on such a structure would to be to squat. On the bench sat a strainer of the days rice which was crawling with flies and Eggy described how Balinese families work together all day so choose to eat alone, entering the kitchen when hungry to help themselves to the days prepared food most of which was stored in a little cupboard to the side of the fly covered bench. As it slowly dawned on me that Eggy too came from a compound such as this I tried to wipe the horror off my face as to not cause offence. I can't imagine anything worse than seemingly wealthy white people coming into your home with judgemental faces of disgust.

Leaving the kitchen we came to a central open air, raised floor structure where at least three if not four generations of women sat weaving small offerings baskets for an upcoming festival. The withered old ladies sitting on the hard cement floor crossed legged with no visible signs of arthritic joints or stiff muscles, the babies suckling at their mothers teet while they worked and the toddlers making cheeky faces at our group as we discussed the funerary rites of the Balinese (which involves leaving the body on display in the open air for a week with daily injections of formaldehyde to keep the humid air from causing the corpse to rot). Situated around this central pavilion was each families separate bedrooms. Within each room was one mattress for the whole family to sleep upon together (which was a vast improvement from the floor sleeping situation of the other compound Martin had been to). Eggy explained that the more ornate of the rooms was for the youngest son who in every family is set in inherit everything. Quite the opposite to the English tradition where the oldest son inherits and a seemingly unstable situation. Eggy goes on to explain that he was the youngest son "the special one" in his family, set to have it all and with the luxury of the private abode until his father remarried and had more children and he was superseded. If Eggy was sad about his situation he hid it well.

Standing out in the oppressive heat swatting flies, listening to the thunder roll in for the first of the days storms and watching this family work together in some ways I was jealous. Jealous of a family unit that stays living together as new generations come along and older ones pass away. Western families have mastered the art of keeping each other at a distance, even the closest of families will never experience what the families in Bali have. But looking longer reality sets back in, their emaciated bodies clearly hungry for proper sustenance, a lack of even the smallest of luxuries, no bathroom facilities to speak of and that ever present smell that seeps into your every pore I long for the comforts of home.

I didn't take many pictures in the compound, it felt intrusive to capture their lives in such a way and post it all over the internet without their permission. Instead I will leave you with some photos of Bali. Bali gets a bad reputation in many respects due to the party lifestyle of the Kuta beach area but look outside of that stretch of tourist beaches and you will find a stunning country full of the most friendly people. The lush coconut palms stretch tall and border vistas of active volcanoes and working rice paddies and your tourist dollar that stretches a long way is always an appreciated addition to the economy.














Originally posted on Saturday, 19 December 2015 by

Friday, 20 November 2015

Project United Kitchens: Croatian Cooking with Shari Wakefield



A little networking can take you places you don't expect. I recently attended a food bloggers conference where I met a great new wealth of people who all share my love of cooking and eating. This led me to find Shari Wakefield of Good Food Week. Shari's blog is a great resource for family friendly recipes and lifestyle advice and she has an intriguing story of marrying into a Croatian family. Through cooking Shari has embraced her husbands culture and now she is passing that love for Croatian cooking to me. This is proof that food can create bonds, open minds and with the sad news this weekend of the terror attacks in Paris we could all do with a little more of that in our lives.

Shari came to me with a recipe for Croatian doughnuts called Ustipci. Of course cooking these doughnuts for the pure pleasure of eating doughnuts is exciting but the story Shari told me about the doughnuts is what really intrigues me. She has inherited this recipe from her mother in law who came to Australia barely an adult and unable to speak English. On special occasions like Easter she cooks these up, Shari tells the story best "Now even though there is only about 15 of us she will make over 100 of these balls and some how at the end of the day - the majority of them have been eaten. I love arriving when she is frying off the doughnuts because she gives me the job of shaking the icing sugar over the top of them."

Shari from Good Food Week

Shari goes on to tell me more about her new family "Food is a massive part of their culture. And they cook traditional dishes to keep their connection to their homeland alive. Most Friday nights, we go to the Croatian Club in O'Connor (Canberra) for 'Fish Night' - they do the best whole snapper for $25. At big events, we will normally roast a whole goat on the spit - everyone stands around the goat whilst it cooks and it is a point of conversation as well as a way of bringing people together."

Coming from a big family with a love for food Shari has embraced the cooking of her new family she says "I've learnt to cook a few of my husband's favourite dishes Sarma, Schnitzels in sauce (he's actually not even sure what the actual Croatian name for this dish is) and Blitva. He thinks that my schnitzels are actually better than his mother's however his Aunt (Teta) makes the best Sarma. She has shared her recipe, but I think she has left out an ingredient or two - because it can't be that simple."

All this talk of food led to one thing of course. I spent the weekend not only cooking up Shari's Ustipci but a number of other Croatian dishes and what I found was a diverse cuisine with amazing depth of flavour. It is a cuisine that is clearly influenced by it's many bordering neighbours as well as a long history of ever-changing rule. To guide me through further Croatian cooking I turned to Rick Stein whose most recent book "From Venice to Istanbul" has a large selection of Croatian recipes as well as Maeve O'Meara's "Food Safari" which also covers the food of the region.


Sporki Macaroni

To get things started I cooked up Sporki Macaroni Courtesy of Rick Stein. This dish originates in Dubrovnik. The hero of this dish is the slow braised beef which simmers for hours in a rich dark sauce comprising of red wine and chicken stock with background notes of cinnamon, garlic, onion and a hint of tomato. I love braised carrots and once slow cooked with the beef in this dish they are meltingly tender and add a sweet note to cut through the beef. Once the beef is starting to fall apart you toss the whole lot with penne so the sauce coats the pasta to create a rich and hearty meal that would be ideal for feeding the masses.

Prawns Alla Busara
Next up I wanted to delve into the famed seafood that is so popular along Croatia's extensive coastlines. Again Rick Stein provided the inspiration with his Prawns Alla Busara. I had the plan to use Scampi as per the original Croatian dish but once I saw the $80 per kilo price tag I decided that jumbo prawns at $40 per kilo would suffice. And boy did we find some seriously Jumbo Prawns. These things spanned a dinner plate when stretched out straight and weighed in at nearly a kilo for 8 individual prawns. This recipe changed the way I look at Seafood. Cooking up the Vermillion red sauce with bold flavours of shallots, garlic, tomatoes all set off in a white wine base and highlighted with chilli and saffron I knew it was going to be unlike any prawn dish I have eaten to date. Serving up the dish in the centre of the table alongside crusty home-made bread we dived in hands and all. Tearing the prawn heads from the bodies released an ooze of juices which at first was a little confronting but when mixed with the sweet, rich sauce and mopped up with a hunk of bread it was a flavour explosion. With my front wrapped up in a bib to protect me from the red sprays released when tearing apart the prawns I ate these things like I was the King of Siam. It was decadent, dirty and just a little bit sexy. The red juices ran down my palms as I dunked the flesh back into the sauce for that extra coating. The bread became a vital part of the clean up to ensure not a scrap of sauce went to waste. When all was said and done and I surveyed the carnage both on the table and on myself I felt nothing but satisfaction.

Sarma
For a change of pace my next dish was Sarma courtesy of Food Safari. Lumps of meat wrapped in fermented cabbage leaves this dish is far more Granny than King of Siam. Sitting at the table wrapping my meat mixture in these slightly rank smelling, soggy leaves I was worried. What was I getting myself in for here? This dish clearly has Hungarian roots with the sauerkraut and sweet paprika and it was well out of my comfort zone. Piling these little cabbage logs into the dutch oven and submerging in stock I was pondering what else was in the cupboards for dinner if this was an epic fail. As the house filled with the fumes of stewing meat and sauerkraut I could also see Martins enthusiasm turn to concern. Funky smelling Eastern European food featuring rotting cabbage is not really our idea of a gourmet dinner. To distract myself from the impending dinner failure I focused on making a creamy buttery mash of potato's, if that was going to be the only edible thing on the plate then it better be good. As the clock ticked over to 7pm I knew the hour was at hand. I served the Sarma with large helpings of the mash and tentatively took my first bite. All my fears were swallowed with that first mouthful of moist meat. The huge quantity of speck both within the rolls and used to flavour the sauce had made for an unexpected smoky quality and the sweet Paprika was the perfect backdrop for what turned out to be one of the best dishes I have cooked and eaten for some time. Thanks to SBS you can get that recipe on their website along with the Food Safari video to see how it is made.

Ustipci
To wrap up my Croatian Cooking Journey it was time to make Shari's Ustipci. Something sweet after all that savoury was well need. It has been a while since I was a cake decorator and I had forgotten the simple pleasure of mixing flour, sugar and fruits. There is something meditative about baking. This recipe being a yeast risen dough I popped on the heater as it was an unusually cold November day and our draughty house was not going to activate the fermentation to rise this dough. The recipe calls for a half hour rise but being temperature dependent it may take longer to get the dough to double in size. As I got a little distracted with my Sarma I waited around an hour and a half and the dough was perfect. Fluffed up full of air and ready for deep frying. To cook I used my deep fryer. I have a history of setting the stove top alight and prefer the safety of the machine. Experimenting with size and temperature I decided that ping pong sized balls of dough cooked at 160 degrees for 5 minutes was just the ticket. Any larger and they puffed up to a tennis ball that was uncooked and doughy in the centre and dark brown on the outside.

Recipe- Ustipci (Croatian Doughnuts)

Ingredients


2 cups of plain flour
20 grams of fresh yeast or 7 grams dry activated yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp of sugar
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp brandy
200 mls of warm water 
1/3 cup of raisins
1/3 cup of walnuts
1 grated apple

2 cups of oil for deep frying
icing sugar - for sprinkling


In a large bowl add flour and yeast and mix. Then, add salt and sugar, egg, brandy and water until you get the mixture to dough consistency. Mix through the raisins, crushed walnuts and grated apple and then leave to stand for about half an hour until the dough has doubled in size. 

Once the dough has doubled in size, pinch ping pong ball sized pieces of dough and shape into rough balls. Deep fry in a pan with enough oil to submerge the balls or use a deep fryer at 160 degrees. Fry until just golden brown. As the balls cook they will float to the surface. You will need to rotate them to cook both sides evenly. Place on paper towel to dry excess oil and then toss in icing sugar.


Originally posted on Friday, 20 November 2015 by

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Unique Journey's: Foodie River Cruising

Being in the travel industry and talking travel all day gives me some unique insights. I am constantly surrounded by the latest travel trends, get first hand feedback from hundreds of travellers every year and am bombarded with industry reps touting their travel products and don’t forget the familiarisation and personal travel I undertake every year. 

All too often I see people fall into the trap of taking uninspired holidays. In this Series “Unique Journey's” I am focusing on bringing you unique experiences worldwide. One of a kind getaways and fascinating experiences to get you seeing travel from a new perspective. 

The experiences and properties you will see recommended here are not sponsored they are brought to you from my many years experience as a travel consultant. 

I have spoken in the past about the emerging trend of travel specifically designed with Foodies in mind. It started as a murmur with adventure orientated tour companies bringing out a small program of foodie departures which is growing rapidly and now we have the big players in the Australian luxury touring market jumping into the game. Australian company APT have a number of departures for 2016 that are bringing together food, wine and travel, just the way life should be.


APT are taking the concept one step further. Their hosted trips will bring experts right to you, on location, what could be better than that. Being the obsessed world food cook that I am I think the Mekong River Cruise hosted by Vietnamese/Australian chef Luke Nguyen is genius. There is no better destination for travel from a foodie perspective. I have said on many an occasion that if there was only one cuisine left in the world to eat I would want it to be Vietnamese, all the fresh herbs, steaming broths and complex flavours it is a foodie's nirvana. Starting in Saigon, Luke will escort you through the neighbourhoods to be a part of the hustle and bustle. Watch locals cooking up street food, meet Luke's extended family and participate in a cooking class with Luke himself. Finish up day one with a degustation dinner inspired by Luke. What a personal experience, so unique I have never really seen an itinerary like it. Luke will spend two days with guests in Saigon and another three days on the river cruise as you float through this fascinating country and on to Cambodia. Luke will also participate in a "get to know Luke" session where you can learn more about him and his passion for food, unique access to a public personality.  Anyone who knows Luke Nguyen's SBS television shows and his quality cookbooks will know that this will be a top class trip.





APT are also embarking on a number of European River Cruise departures aptly named the "Wine Ambassador Series" . Now I can't pretend I am a great lover of wine but I have had the privilege of cruising the waterways with APT and I can vouch that it is a unique way to see Europe and a once in a lifetime trip. These special river cruise departures incorporate expert vintners from across Australia with some of Europe's premier wine destinations and should be top of the bucket list for any curious wine connoisseur. The departures are spread across a wide selection of destinations including France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Australia and Hungry and all aboard APT's luxury 5 star river cruise ships, your floating hotel.


Still on the European River Cruise theme APT also offer a French itinerary on the Rhone River with a Gourmet Traveller host where the activities are geared towards food enthusiasts. A decadent gourmet feast at L’Abbaye de Collonges, a restaurant owned by the famous Michelin-starred chef, Paul Bocuse should be enough to pique your interest or how about an exploration of Lyon's food markets, something I have done and can highly recommend. Just check out these to die for photos I took in the markets in Lyon, you would never see food presented this way in Australia.




From the perspective of an avid epicure and keen world traveller these moves to cater for the foodie market is thrilling. It is something I have seen slowly growing for a few years now and can only hope it is here to stay. Based on the reaction from customers when presented with a unique travel option such as these I think it just might have some staying power in a ever fickle industry.


Originally posted on Wednesday, 4 November 2015 by

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Getting Up Close With Spices

Spices are a big part of my life, I have containers overflowing with spices from all corners of the globe and their abilities to enhance if not create a dish is not quantifiable. I came home this week to find Martin rifling through the spice containers and capturing them under his new macro camera lens. At first I was only vaguely interested. I handle these spices all the time so I know what they are all about or at least I thought I did and then I saw them up close. Zoomed in on they take on an entirely different character. Hidden details, textures, shapes and forms are highlighted and magnified. I was so impressed I though you might like to see some spices up close as well. So here they are. I won't go into detail about where they are from and what you can do with them, just enjoy them in their magnified glory.



Fenugreek

Star Anise

Bay Leaf

Cardamon Seeds

Green Cardamon Pods

Chinese Brown Cardamon Pod

Szechuan Peppercorns

White Peppercorns

Cumin Seeds

Poppy Seeds

Cloves

Mace

Cassia Bark

Coriander Seeds

Fennel Seeds

Nigella Seeds

Originally posted on Sunday, 1 November 2015 by

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Brylcreem and Pipi's


Memories of childhood trips to my fathers homeland of New Zealand are punctuated by two things, two smells to be exact. The first my pop's brylcreem, the thick emulsion applied liberally and daily seemed to preserve my grandfathers hair well beyond it's used by date. Black long past when hair should be black I am certain the cream created a time vortex in which the hair, forever hardened could not age. The second smell of steaming piles of pipi's I found pungent and vile. Their soft formless bodies freed from their shells appeared and re-appeared on the dinner table for what felt like an eternity, their fishy aroma offending me to the core and their consumption by my parents and grandparents defined the utter aliens that were adults.

Memories can be inexplicable. As a child our trips to see relatives in New Zealand were rare, scrounging the airfares for a family of four was a major undertaking and it has been many decades since the smell of brylcreem and pipi's have crossed my path but there it is, branded on my memory like the initials on a cows hide.

The smell of the hair product made famous the world over by air force pilots and Ronald Reagan was so synonymous with New Zealand for me that at one point in time as a child there was no distinction between the country and the smell. The smell I thought was the "scent of New Zealand" That smell that was with us from the time we arrived at the airport in Auckland, in the car trip to Morrinsville, in every room of my grandparents home and burnt into my nostrils for weeks afterwards was only identified as brylcreem when my grandparents visited Australia and the smell came with them. Turns out this was not the scent of New Zealand, this smell was my pop's slick head of hair and after weeks of them sleeping in my bedroom (myself sent to sleep in my parents unfinished en-suite amongst the exposed plumbing) the stench permeated my bed, my carpet and every absorbent surface in the house. As a man wearing brylcreem well past it's heyday I have no other associations for it, my pop and the smell of brylcreem are forever entwined.

The smell of pipi's cooking on the other hand brings back a different set of memories from the same locale. As memories so often do mine are faded. I have no recollection of how many times we went pipi'ing I just know we did, I don't know how old I was I just know I loved it. Led by our deeply tanned heavily brylcreemed pop and his side kick my father, who at five foot five was the tallest in his family, my bespectacled older sister and myself were sent out on a seaside hunt in the coastal community of Thames, a thrilling prospect for two inland dwellers. Who knew the ocean held creatures beneath the sand, hiding and waiting for curious little hands to dig them out and trap them in a vessel like Hansel and Gretel in the gingerbread house. As that bucket filled I felt triumph with a side of competition. Each pipi caught held glory for the hunter and as the youngest my sketchy memory of the event leaves me certain I was the champion pipi hunter. Catching the pipi's for me was the whole mission, beyond that the washing, the boiling and the eating was the domain of the adults. I had no interest in consuming these creatures and once cooked their smell was so pervasive that it masked the smell of brylcreem for some time, no small feat I can tell you.

It is interesting what brings these memories to the surface. I have started seeing pipi's everywhere. Anthony Bourdain munching away on them in Mozambique on an episode of "No Reservations", Rick Stein feasting on pipi's in his series "From Venice to Istanbul", bottomless tubs of pipi's for sale in the local fish markets and recipes in food magazines like the latest issue of Delicious which has a concoction from Lennox Hastie of the restaurant Firedoor which combines pipi's with garlic shoots and chilli. These strange beings from the deep which were so foreign to me as a child are eaten the world over. Who knew.

The photo accompanying this story is the only existing evidence that these events occurred. It's blurry people, my family, are far clearer in my memory than what was preserved on film so often the case from those days prior to digital photography. That brief moment in time captured on film, converted to digital, posted on the internet, read and re-read by friends, family and strangers has now taken this memory and immortalised it.

In memory of Reginald Pekin


Originally posted on Tuesday, 27 October 2015 by

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Cultural Cookbooks For Christmas

This is my absolute favourite time of year. Not because I am a total sadist who loves the jingle of Christmas carols in the mall (which I kind of do love) but because there is a massive influx of cookbooks on the market...which I might get some for pressies if I drop the right hints (Yes Martin this is your hint).

It may be 9 weeks till Christmas but I am chomping at the bit for the upcoming cookbook releases. There are so many titles that tickle my cultural cooking obsession that I felt I had to share them with you.



The absolute top of my wish list is the Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson. Until recently I was unawares of Magnus. Enlightenment came through an episode of Chef's Table a magnificent Netflix Original series that is a must watch for any foodie. Magnus Nilsson may be the demi-god of Nordic cooking bringing foraged food to fine dining at his restaurant Faviken but the cookbook promises us Nordic cuisine for the home cook and I could not be more excited. At a whopping 768 pages with 600 recipes and abound in gorgeous photography this cookbook better be in my stocking this Christmas....you got that message Marty?


Next on my list is Hartwood by Eric and Mya Henry. Their restaurant of the same name is the most popular restaurant in Tulum, Mexico. Fully open air and serving fresh, local produce Hartwood has resonated with tourists who frequent the area. The book intrigues me as I have holidayed in Tulum and it has to be one of the most stunning locations on earth and has not been compromised by big business tourism like it's neighbor Cancun. If you want to find out more about the backstory of Hartwood you may enjoy this article By Lucky Peach called Bare Necessities.


Who wouldn't want a piece of our very own Aussie George Calombaris this Christmas. Being voted into the "Top 40 Chefs of Influence in the World" George has something to say and you can find it right here in his latest cookbook Greek. Delving into the flavours of his childhood but adding a modern twist this book is sure to be a valuable tool for the home cook who wants to whip up a cultural creation relevant in today's modern world.


For sometime now Peruvian food has been touted as "the next big thing". I don't think it has quite gained the traction aficionados had hoped for but it has made a splash. Fire of Peru by Lima born Ricardo Zarate with Jenn Garbee looks like it will be a new take on Peruvian cuisine bringing us modern dishes like Peruvian Burgers as well as traditional dishes like Ceviche (lets be honest it would not be a Peruvian cookbook if it did not cover Ceviche). The cover also promises stories from his Peruvian kitchen and you know I am a sucker for a good cultural connection.


It seems you can't have a foodie thought these days without hearing about Ramen. It is the new hot food taking over from last years reigning champion Sriracha. Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota can be your bridge this Christmas to demystify Japanese food. Maybe you could even swap out the stodgy Chrissy roast for a fresh and vibrant Japanese spread.


I am cheating here a little. Gelato Messina is not a cultural cookbook but Ice Cream needs no excuses. The Sydney store Gelato Messina is known for it's over the top flavours like Apple Pie and Dulche de Leche and Poached Figs in Marsala. Gelato Messina, The Creative Department is bound to bring a smile on Christmas day and bring out the ice cream loving child in all of us.

Originally posted on Thursday, 22 October 2015 by

Monday, 19 October 2015

R2D2 Cake Step By Step Tutorial with Templates and Sound Module

This blog post originally appeared on my Stacked Cakes website. As I no longer make cakes for sale and the site is being shut down I thought I would move it over here. It also seemed very timely with the imminent release for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Now you have a step by step guide to create a cake that will delight all the Star Wars Geeks out there.

Since the blogs original creation back in March 2012 I have seen so many re-creations of this cake all over the internet, it is great to see all those ambitious cakers taking on a big cake project. At the time I made this cake I could not find a single example of a free-standing R2D2 cake that did not have a support underneath the main body of the cake and it is exciting to see so many of these on the internet today. I feel my templates have gone some way in creating this design that so many people have loved and enjoyed which was always my main aim in sharing this type of instructional blog post. You will find the downloadable templates at the end of the post so make good use of those.

I have had a few people contact me asking for tips and tricks for this cake and my biggest tip would be that if you have far to transport this cake that I would recommend assembling it on site. As the cake is up on legs it is top heavy and I would not recommend driving any distance with it if you want it to arrive intact. I also wouldn't recommend this cake for beginners but I did originally make this cake with no instruction on heavily constructed cakes so don't feel you have to be an expert either.

The other big question I get asked is where I got the sound module from. We ordered these from Ebay, I couldn't tell you the original seller now, it has been many years. They are the sound modules that you get in greeting cards but you specifically want the ones you can record onto yourself. They are very cheap and quite small so a great little trick that you can add into so many cakes. I have known decorators to mount them under the cake board in an indented space so the recipient gets their own personalised birthday message with their cake.

I have also expanded on the descriptions that go with the photos, the more information I can give you the better position you will be in to get this cake built.

I know some people are purists and do not want to make cakes with any styrofoam in them. If you wish you can replace the styrofoam on the legs with cake, the ganache should hold it in place even though it is vertical. In my opinion it adds a lot of uncessessary weight to the finished cake which can make transportation even more difficult and in the end most people just don't need that much cake. It will be thrown out in the end so I recommend saving yourself the trouble and using styrofosm. Let's be honest, 95% of this cake is made from real cake and that should be enough for anyone.

So here is the original post, enjoy!

We finally got a request for an R2D2 cake.  We have enjoyed making our previous sci-fi themed cakes and were looking forward to making a Star Wars favorite.

We decided we wanted him to be able to stand up properly without a support under him. This necessitated making his legs and feet out of non-edible, structural materials (wood and polystyrene). His body and head is made entirely out of choc mud cake and icing.

R2D2 was the perfect opportunity to add a sound module to one of our cakes. These modules allow the cake to make any noise you can imagine with the push of a button. Music, sound effects, engine noises, talking, anything at all is possible. Please let us know if you want to add the special touch of sound to your next stacked cake.

You can watch a video demonstrating R2D2's sound module below, and keep reading for step by step photos of the construction of this mega cool cake. Templates are available for download if you want to have a go at building your own R2D2




Planning Stage

Templates we created and you can download below

Legs and base board cut from MDF with a jigsaw

Support assembly (interlocking)

Installation of sound module on underside of base board

Bottom taper attached

Underside of base covered in icing and details added
Feet carved from styrofoam

Styrofoam attached to legs and carved with details

Fondant icing added to the legs (use piping gel for adhesion)

Body of cake stacked and ganached. This is done on a separate board with centre pole then transferred to the real structure

Fondant added to body and details pressed into the icing


R2D2's body, head and stand nearly ready for assembly

Main structure assembled over centre pole and head added

Details being painted on with a mix of icing cut outs and edible paint
Battery pack and cables added, again carved from styrofoam
The finished cake





Originally posted on Monday, 19 October 2015 by