Fondant Aussie animals

Fondant Aussie animals

In August we got invited to a friendly Bake Off at a friends place in the Blue Mountains. This was their fourth one, but the first for us. They needed people to bake, and judge. Seeing as I love making and eating cake, I was totally in!

I’ve never done a bake off before, but having watched a lot of Great British Bake Off (which happened to have started again about the time of this bake off), I wanted to do something exciting. A few people I know have made some pretty impressive decorated cakes before. I’ve made a lot of cakes, but had never done sugar work before, so this seemed like a good opportunity to give it a try. Conveniently I also had a few days off from work, so had some time to research and practice my new skill.

I decided to go with a Great Aussie bake off theme. I particularly like animals, so decided to decorate the cake with fondant animals. I drew a very bad design on some paper, with a round cake, map of Australia and 5 Aussie animals I like around it. I planned to do them sort of to scale, with a big kangaroo as the centrepiece, along with a koala, wombat, snake (becasue its easy) and of course a penguin! I went to a local cake shop and bought some fondant, gel colouring (which doesn’t make the icing runny like liquid colour does) and tools.

I found some guidance about doing a kangaroo and a penguin on the internet which was helpful as I had no idea what to do! I started with the snake as it was basically a sausage! I made it a red bellied black snake, so two sausages stuck together. I bought black and white icing and coloured the white with the gels. Its better to buy black as its hard to get a true back colour with the gel apparently. After the snake I went for the penguin, and was really pleased with how well he came out.

Icing penguin

Icing penguin

The other animals were bigger, so I used something called tylose powder. This is basically plant cellulose, so totally edible. you mix a small bit into the fondant and it makes it harder and easier to work with. It holds it shape better, but also makes the fondant prone to cracking, so you have to be careful not to use too much. The wombat, kangaroo and koala were all made in a lot of stages, and left to harden up over night in various stages of creation. The koala and roo each had a cocktail stick in them to hold the heads on. I also used various things to keep them in shape overnight like little magnets, nail varnish pots and pots of herbs! I used edible glue for some of the limbs too on these ones too. You can use water or alcohol, but I was nervous about how well that would work. Seeing as I’d not done it before I decided to play it safe and use the glue.

Having opted for doing sugar work the outside of the cake was going to look pretty cool, but I knew it had to taste good too. I thought about doing chocolate, but decided this might be a bit obvious. I’ve only made one other cake in our new oven, and it is viscous so I decided to go for a recipe I’d made before. I went for a 4 layer cake, with vanilla, caramel, choc caramel and chocolate layers. I covered it in a chocolate butter cream which I left to harden a bit overnight before covering it with the fondant. The cake has ground almonds in which make it quite robust, so I thought it could cope well with the weight of the animals. You can read about when I made it before, and get the original recipie, here.

 

Sharks!

Sharks!

 

Originally I thought about making the top of the cake green for land, and the sides blue for sea, but I thought the join might be tricky. In the end I went for a blue marbled covering to represent the sea, and made the map of Australia light green. I don’t like really bright dyed cakes as they seem quite artificial, so I kept them pastel tones. I printed a map of Australia out and made a template for it with baking paper, complete with Tasmania.The cake itself was pretty tall, so I thought the sides needed some decoration. I through about ribbon, but then decided it would be better to make more animals! I didn’t want to go much more complicated with many different sea animals, so went for three big sharks circling the cake.

We transported the cake up to the mountains carefully wedged in the car foot well. I kept the animals separate, wrapped up in another tin and put them on when we got there. The bake off was really good. We started with roast lamb and pumpkin pie (also entered into the bake off), with lots of other yummy savoury things including a very nice pasta with yoghurt, pea and mint. The bake off then had EIGHT cakes. They were: my cake, chocolate brioche, lemon cupcakes, peanut butter brownies, sticky date pudding, pear and ginger cake, chocolate chip cookies and ginger cake. Matt made the penut butter brownies which came a respectable fifth out of ten. I had two lots of four cake, which was a lot even for me.

 

Winning cake

Winning cake

I loved the chocolate brioche which came second. My cake won by a pretty big margin – woo! There were actual prizes as well. I got a card with makes clapping noises, a lovely sparkly tiarra (which will be passed on next year) and a $50 Bunnings voucher! I was just happy to get to eat a lot of cake really.

I have a lot of blue icing left so need to think of something else to try next. I think I’ll try and make smaller decorations next time as they’re a bit big to be easily edible. Matt is gradually making his way through them now, part from the penguin which I’ve hidden!

Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge

If you want to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge it will set you back at least $300. On the other hand, you can go up on of the pylons for $13!

We’ll do the Bridge Climb eventually, probably when we have some visitors who want to do it. But in the mean time, we thought we’d go up the pylon.

Inside there is a lot about the history and building of the bridge, including a lot of facts about it and cool pictures from when it was built. The views at the top are pretty good, and you dont have the fence in the way like you do when you walk over the bridge itself. You also get a good look at the bridge itself from another perspective, and a good view of the people actually climbing it.

Bridge view

Bridge view

Here’s some Sydney Harbour Bridge facts:

  • The bridge took 8 years to build, with 1,400 men. 16 sadly lost their lives. It cost $4.2m.
  • The bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, measuring 134m from top to the water. Is the second widest long-span bridge in the world. The Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver is wider.
  • The bridge has 52,800 tonnes of steel including the arch and approach. Only 21% of this was from Australia though. The rest was imported from England.
  • The bridge has about 6 million rivets. There were all made in Australia.
  • The bridge can expand and contract with heat by 420mm on the deck and 180mm on the arch.
  • The bridge was meant to be opened (on 19 March 1932) by the NSW Premier with some ornamental gold and opal scissors. But a Captain Francis de Groot from the New Guard parliamentary group beat him to it by riding up on his horse and cutting the ribbon with his sword! He got arrested, they tied it back together and then carried on with the official opening.
  • The bridge used to have a rooftop cattery in the 50’s and 60’s with lots of white cats.
  • You pay between $2.50 and $4 in tolls to drive south over the bridge. Its free to go north.

 

View of the Opera House

View of the Opera House

Giraffes pulling silly faces

Giraffes pulling silly faces

I’ve been working up in Brisbane a lot recently, and at the start of August got to spend a weekend there. Rather than hang around the city, I decided to go for a mini adventure up the Sunshine Coast.

I hired a car from the pace conveniently right next to my hotel and headed up the coast on Saturday morning. On my adventure I went to Australia Zoo, saw the Big Pineapple, stayed in Noosa Heads and headed back down the coast via the Ettamogah Pub and Glasshouse mountains.

Australia Zoo is the Steve Irwin zoo. There’s a lot of crocodiles, conservation messages and  ‘Crocoseum’ where that have a daily show with lots of birds (and crocs). ‘Crikey!’ Animal wise its pretty similar to Taronga, but with less variety and no harbour views. There weren’t any penguins.  My favourite animals of the visit were the tigers. They had two, and while I was there a man was feeding them (grass) and being filmed for a TV show. The tigers were eating out of his hand, getting patted on the head just like giant cats and they played together cheekily.

Big croc - Crikey!

Big croc – Crikey!

Big cat

Big cat

Australia has a lot of ‘big’ things. The Sunshine Coast grows a lot of tropical fruit, so it of course has a big pineapple. I went to see the pineapple. Sadly it was shut so you cant go inside any more and none of the shops there were open. There were people with vans selling fruit but I didn’t really want a whole pineapple to myself! It was worth a look as it was on my route, but I wouldn’t go out the way to see it.

The Big Pineapple

The Big Pineapple

On Saturday night I stayed in Noosa Heads. Its a pretty beach resort type place, which was surprisingly busy in winder, so probably rammed in the summer. I took a walk up to the lookout in the early evening. When I got to the viewpoint at the top, most people were actually looking the other way. It turned out there was a koala in the tree watching the sun go down too whilst having his eucalyptus dinner. Awww! 🙂

I made it back down the hill to the beach for the last of the sunset, and saw a dolphin swimming in the sea quite close to the beach. The up and down movement of its fin convinced me and the other spectators it was a dolphin rather than a s-h-a-r-k.

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

That evening I had some dinner at one of the well known Hogs Breath Cafe chains. My steak was OK, but I am a fan of rare which they don’t do because they slow cook them for 24 hours so they come out medium rare. It was a good texture, but my meal was fairly cold, with undercooked curly fries. I’ll probably need to give another branch a try.

The next day I headed back down the coast and went for some lunch at the Ettamogah Pub. Its a pub on the main Bruce Highway, which was built based on a pub from a cartoon strip dating back to 1959. It looks like a caricature and is very high, with massive beams inside from the trees they felled to make space for it. Ettamogah is Aboriginal for ‘ a good place to drink’. I had some nice squid and admired the cartoons on the walls. You can read more about the pub here. 

Ettamogah Pub

Ettamogah Pub

Between there and Brisbane I went to some lookouts and short walks to check out the Glasshouse Mountains. These are really very cool! Rather than being a mountain range they are 11 of spread out peaks which are plugs from extinct volcanoes. They were named by Captain Cook in 1770 becasue they reminded him of glass furnaces in Yorkshire. I really liked how they stood out from the flat and low coastal plain around them. I didn’t get to walk up any as the two I visited had tracks closed due to rockfalls, but seeing them was very cool.

 

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountains

Glasshouse mountains

CitySeaPlane

Sydney from the sea plane

In July we went on an ariel adventure over Sydney in a sea plane with my friend from the UK Ellie and her friend Jen. We spent a while trying to decide between going in a sea plane or helicopter and in the end decided given the amount of water around the harbour, it was most appropriate to go in the sea plane. We flew out of Rose Bay, in the south west of the harbour. The ride was $255 (about £125) for 30 mins of flying time. We actually got more than this which was good value. From when we taxied along the water to landing again was actually 45 mins. To get to the plane we got a ride in a little boat too.

There were two rows of seats behind the pilot, so 4 people was the ideal number. With 6 someone people would have been sat in the middle so the view wouldn’t have been so good. We got headsets to wear and the pilot gave us commentary about all the places we were flying over as we went.

Matt in the Sea Plane

Matt in the Sea Plane

Once we were all settled in with our life jackets, headphones and seatbelts we taxied along the water and took off. You could see the exact moment when we left the water from the spray stopping which was cool. We cruised up the coast at between 1000 and 1500 feet, pretty close to all the scenery and buildings so the views were very cool. We flew up the coast past Manly, Palm Beach, Barrenjoey and around the Ku-Ring-Gai NP.

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

On the way back we did a figure of eight loop around the city so got some very cool views of the city. It was a great experience, and would have been even better in sunny weather. It was a bit grey the day we went, but still awesome. It was a bit bumpy and my stomach did end up feeling a bit ropey, I think partly from the whiff of fumes before we took off and landed. It was fine within 10 minutes though, and all fine after a bacon and egg roll at the nearby cafe!

Our Sea Plane

Our Sea Plane