Milk Bar Style Funfetti Layer Cake

I’ve been a huge fan of Christina Tosi for years, ever since I tried her famous Crack and Candy Bar Pies at Ma Peche on my first trip to New York in 2012.

So, naturally, I had to visit one of her Milk Bar stores on my most recent trip to the US in 2019 and it did not disappoint! I tried a slice of her vanilla birthday cake and it was like no cake I’d tried before – somehow both nostalgic and completely innovative. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to bring a taste of Milk Bar to Adelaide, especially as travel is not on the cards for a while. With this recipe, I think I’ve succeeded.

I’ll be honest, this cake is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a labour of love and requires some unusual equipment: a 9 by 13 inch “quarter sheet pan”, a 6 inch cake ring, 6 inch wide acetate to make cake collars and thick high-quality sprinkles/”jimmies”. I managed to source all of these from eBay relatively cheaply, but it is an investment – I guess I’ll just have to make lots more of these cakes to justify the purchases!

Start this cake at least the day ahead of serving. I actually spread it out over 3 days to make it far less intimidating, I made my crumbs on the Thursday evening, the cake on the Friday evening and then the buttercream, milk soak and assembly on Saturday.

Ingredients (serves 14-16)

Crumbs
¼ cup white sugar
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
¼ cup grapeseed oil
½ tablespoon vanilla extract

Cake
230g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, room temperature
2¼ cups plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup full-cream milk, room temperature
¼ cup full-fat greek yoghurt, room temperature
¼ cup rainbow sprinkles

Buttercream
230g butter, roughly chopped, room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons full-fat greek yoghurt, room temperature
1-2 tablespoons full-cream milk, room temperature
⅛ teaspoon baking powder

Milk Soak
60ml full-cream milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

Crumbs
Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Combine sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in a medium bowl and beat with electric beaters on low speed until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and beat again to distribute. The wet ingredients will help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue beating until that happens. Ideally, you want a mixture of large-medium and small crumb clusters.

Bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely and store in an airtight container (they will keep fresh for a week at room temperature or a month in the freezer).

Cake
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan-forced. Spray the base and sides of a quarter sheet pan with cooking oil and line the base with baking paper.

In a large bowl, add butter, sugar and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until pale and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Add half of the flour mix and all the milk to the butter/sugar mix and beat on a low speed until combined.

Add remaining flour mix and greek yoghurt and continue to mix on a low speed until just combined. Gently stir in sprinkles with a silicone spatula.

Pour cake into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set on a wire rack to cool completely.

Buttercream
Beat butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1-2 minutes until butter is pale and creamy.

Add vanilla and 1 cup of icing sugar. Beat on a low speed to combine, then turn up to medium and mix for 30 seconds. Add an extra 2 cups of icing sugar, along with the greek yoghurt. Beat on medium speed until combined. Add the final cup of icing sugar, milk and baking powder. Beat on medium speed until the buttercream is light and fluffy.

Milk Soak
Add milk and vanilla to a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Assembling the Cake
Ensure all of your components are in easy reach. Set aside 12-14 large, roughly even-sized crumbs to use to decorate the top of the cake.

Place your cake on a large chopping/bread board. Using the picture below as a guide, use a 6 inch metal cake cutter to cut out 2 rounds of cake and then two half pieces.

Place the 6 inch cake ring onto a plate or cake stand. Line the inside of the cake ring with a ‘collar’ of acetate.

Place the two half pieces of cake at the bottom and press down firmly. If there are any gaps, use extra cake scraps to fill in the holes and press down very firmly to make one even layer. Carefully remove the cake ring (but leave the acetate). Enjoy snacking on any residual cake offcuts while you work, or make into cake pops later.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of the milk soak over the cake layer. Add a few tablespoons of buttercream and spread into an even layer. Scatter over a handful of crumbs. Add a couple of extra tablespoons of buttercream on top (you don’t need to completely cover the crumbs) and smoothe with a spatula to ensure the layer is (roughly) even.

Repeat this process for the second layer: cake, milk soak, buttercream, crumbs, buttercream. If you need to, attach another layer of acetate on top of your current cake collar to ensure it is tall enough so that all cake will be supported.

Add the final layer of cake, spoon with 2 tablespoons of the milk soak and add the remaining buttercream to the top. Top the cake with the large crumbs you set aside earlier.

Place cake in the fridge for at least 1 hour to set. Gently peel away the acetate strip/s. Refrigerate until approximately half an hour before serving. Because the cake is so rich, cut into very small pieces (I use this method) to serve. Enjoy!

Cake inspired by Christina Tosi’s ‘Vanilla Birthday Cake’. Crumb recipe from Milk Bar Store. Cake, buttercream and soak recipe adapted from The Sweetest Menu ‘Milk Bar Birthday Cake’.

Passionfruit Soufflés

Last year my family and I visited the d’Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale and had an incredible 3-course lunch at the award winning d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant. Everything was delicious, but a particular favourite dish was the passionfruit soufflé. While we’re looking forward to dining at d’Arry’s again soon, in the meantime we’re enjoying this copycat version that’s pretty darn close to the real thing.

Soufflés have a reputation for being difficult, but please don’t be afraid of cooking them at home – they’re really very easy. Just make sure you serve immediately as they start to ‘deflate’ quickly.

Ingredients (makes 4)
20g melted butter, for greasing
Caster sugar, for dusting
⅓ cup passionfruit pulp
1½ tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons corn flour
2 teaspoons water
3 eggwhites
2 tablespoons extra caster sugar
Icing sugar, for dusting
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve (optional)


Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced).

Brush the inside of four ¾-cup ramekins with the melted butter, dust with caster sugar and place on a baking tray. 

Place the passionfruit pulp, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil. Combine the cornflour and water in a small bowl and mix to form a smooth paste. Stir the cornflour paste into the passionfruit mixture and whisk continuously for 30 seconds or until the mixture has thickened. Cool the passionfruit mixture in the fridge for 5-10 mins. 

Place the eggwhites in a large bowl and beat with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually add the extra caster sugar and beat until glossy. Gently fold cooled passionfruit mixture into the eggwhites until just combined. Spoon into the ramekins, smooth the tops with a butter knife and bake for 10 minutes or until risen and just golden.

Serve immediately dusted with icing sugar and with ice cream or cream. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay’s ‘PASSIONFRUIT SOUFFLE’ and inspired by d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant

Chocolate, Date & Ginger Slice

This slice always reminds me of my wonderful grandparents. Whenever I stayed with Grandma and Grandpa as a kid, in between playing shop in their walk-in pantry, dress-ups, cuddles and “helping” in the garden or kitchen, this slice made an appearance and never lasted long! I’m very lucky to still catch up with them regularly and can confirm that a piece (or two) of this slice is as delicious as I remember.

Ingredients (makes 48 pieces)
1 cup dates, chopped
½ cup uncrystallised ginger, chopped finely
½ cup white sugar
115g butter, cubed
6 Weetbix, crushed (approx. 2 cups)
225g dark chocolate

Method
Line a 28cm x 18cm slice tin with baking paper.

Cook dates, ginger, sugar and butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat until the butter is melted and the dates are soft. Stir in Weetbix and ensure the mixture is well combined.

Press firmly into lined slice tin and refrigerate 30mins or until set.

Melt the chocolate. Spread a thin layer of chocolate over the top and leave to set at room temperature.

Cut into approximately 48 pieces. Enjoy!

Recipe from Roma Hammond via Grandma

Individual Apple & Cinnamon Crumbles

Apple and cinnamon are a match made in heaven and nothing smells better on a cold winter’s night than apple crumble fresh out of the oven. Instead of making one large crumble, which can be messy to serve and tricky to get the right ratio of crumble to fruit, this makes 4 individual crumbles. Absolutely perfect paired with my traditional vanilla custard.

Ingredients (makes 4)
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm dice
1½ tablespoons caster sugar
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ cup self-raising flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
75g butter, melted

Preheat oven to 160°C fan-forced.

Cook apples, sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat, about 5 minutes. Drain; discard liquid.

Combine dry crumble ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour in melted butter and stir to combine.

Divide apple mixture between 4 medium sized ramekins. Top with crumble mixture.

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown. Serve with vanilla custard, cream or ice cream. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from an old family recipe by Aunty Rae

Traditional Vanilla Custard

Silky smooth and with the perfect hit of vanilla, this simple custard is the perfect accompaniment to crumbles, pies and puddings.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
600ml milk
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

Method

Add vanilla bean paste and milk to a pan on a medium-low heat and bring to the boil.

Immediately remove it from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and cornflour until pale.

Gradually add the warm milk, a tablespoon full at a time, whisking well between each addition.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook gently on a low heat, whisking continuously, for about 20 minutes or until very thick. Serve with your choice of dessert. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Vanilla Custard

Salted Caramel Popcorn Rocky Road

Salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy – this rocky road has it all! It only takes 5 minutes to put together and is perfect for an after dinner treat, cake stall or work morning tea.

Ingredients
300g dark chocolate melts
¾ tablespoon vegetable oil
1½ cups caramel popcorn
1 cup white marshmallows, halved
½ cup salted peanuts + ¼ cup extra, chopped
Sea salt flakes

Method
Line a 20x20cm square pan with baking paper.

Melt chocolate in the microwave in a large bowl and add oil. Set aside a quarter of a cup of the chocolate mixture.

Add popcorn, marshmallows and peanuts to the large bowl and stir until evenly coated in chocolate.

Spoon into prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula and then pour over additional chocolate. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and a good pinch of sea salt.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set. Cut carefully into serving sized pieces (approx. 24 squares). Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from donna hay magazine Christmas 2017

Mojito Cupcakes

Mojitos are a favourite cocktail in my family, especially when Mum’s lime tree is fruiting (which seems to be almost constantly!) These fresh and zingy cupcakes incorporate all the classic flavours of a mojito – lime, mint and a cheeky hint of rum. I took a batch to a Mexican fiesta night recently and they were a huge hit, as they’re just the right light dessert for when you’ve stuffed in one too many tacos.

Feel free to omit the rum to make them kid-friendly.

Ingredients (makes 12)
Cupcakes
1 cup self-raising flour
⅔ cup caster sugar
125g butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
Rind of 2 limes, finely grated

Mojito Syrup
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons white rum (I use Bacardi)
Juice of 3 limes
A sprig of fresh mint leaves

Icing
90g butter
4 cups icing sugar
Leftover mojito syrup
Juice of half a lime
Rind of 1 lime, finely grated
½ tablespoon milk

Decoration
Lime slices
Mint leaves
Paper straws (cut into thirds)

Preheat oven to 200ºC (180 fan-forced) and line a 12-hole muffin tin with green patty pans.

Put all of the ingredients except for the milk into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding the milk until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among the patty pans (I know it doesn’t look like much batter, but they will rise a lot).

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Transfer immediately onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the mojito syrup by heating all ingredients in a small saucepan over a medium-high heat until it has thickened to a syrupy texture (about 8 minutes). Strain through a fine sieve to remove the mint leaves.

Using a skewer, poke holes in the tops of the cupcakes (about 10 per cake). Carefully dip the top of the cupcakes into the mojito syrup. Leave to soak for a few minutes and repeat.

To make the icing, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add icing sugar, remaining mojito syrup, lime juice, rind and milk and beat until smooth and creamy. Taste the frosting and add more lime juice as required to ensure it is tangy. Add further icing sugar to stiffen the mixture, or milk to loosen it. Transfer into a piping bag with the Wilton 1M star tip.

Pipe icing in a softserve motion on the cupcakes, starting from the outside and working your way into the centre and up.

Slice a lime into 6 thin rounds and then cut them in half again to make thin wedges. Top each cupcake with a lime wedge, straw and mint leaves. Enjoy!

Base cupcake recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess

Lime Meringue Pie

To celebrate my five year anniversary of working in the Public Service and winning an exciting new employment policy role, I decided to treat myself and buy a kitchenaid (not sponsored, I’m just a long time admirer and now proud owner!) Of course, it couldn’t be just any kitchenaid, it had to be one of their beautiful new pastel shades. I tossed up between the rose pink and ice blue, but ultimately decided on the gorgeous blue.

In order to christen it properly, I knew I had to make something with meringue to take advantage of not having to hold beaters while the eggwhites are whipping. Mum’s lime tree is absolutely chokkas at the moment, so a lime meringue pie was the obvious choice.

The pie is zesty, sweet and packed with lime flavour. Enjoy!

Ingredients (serves 8)
Pastry
1½ cups plain flour
3 tspns icing sugar
140g cold butter, chopped
1 egg yolk
2 tblspns water

Lime filling
½ cup cornflour
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup lime juice
1¼ cups water
2 tspns finely grated lime rind
3 egg yolks
50g butter
Green food colouring (if desired)

Meringue
3 egg whites
½ cup caster sugar

Method
Put flour, icing sugar, butter, yolk and water into a food processor and process until just come together. Press dough into a ball, knead gently on a floured surface until smooth; cover, refrigerate 30 mins.

Preheat oven to 180°C fan-forced. Grease a 24cm flan tin. After resting, roll dough on floured surface until it is large enough to line the tin. Lift pastry into tin, ease into sides and trim the edge.

Place tin on an oven tray, line pastry with baking paper and fill with pie weights or uncooked rice. Bake for 10mins then remove baking paper and weights and bake, uncovered for a further 10 mins or until pastry case is browned lightly. Leave to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 160°C fan-forced.

To make filling: combine corn flour and sugar in a medium saucepan. Gradually stir in lime juice and water. Stir over heat until mixture boils and thickens (mixture should be very thick, jelly-like). Reduce heat, simmer, stirring for 30 secs. Remove from heat and quickly stir in egg yolks, butter and rind. Stir until smooth. If you wish to make the filling greener, add a few drops of food colouring. Leave until it cools to room temperature.

Once at room temperature, spread filling into pastry case.

To make meringue: beat egg whites in a medium bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until dissolved after each addition. Mixture should be smooth and glossy.

Top pie with meringue mixture (I like to make it look rustic with mounds of differing heights) and bake for 5 – 10 mins at 160°C fan-forced until browned lightly. Stand for 5 mins before serving.

Enjoy!

Adapted from ‘The Women’s Weekly’ Lemon Meringue Pie

Café Style Baked Beans

These rustic, café style baked beans are perfect for a hearty breakfast or easy dinner and are a great way of incorporating more beans in your diet. They’re full of rich tomato, garlic, bacon and herb flavours and are so delicious that even a traditional canned baked bean hater, like myself, will enjoy them.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
100g bacon, chopped*
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried oregano
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g tins cannellini beans, rinsed
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Thick-cut bread (I like pane di casa), to serve

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C (140°C fan-forced).

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add the bacon and cook for a further 5 minutes or until crisp. Add the garlic, thyme, and oregano and cook for a further minute.

Add the tomatoes and half a cup of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the rinsed beans, season with salt and pepper and transfer into a large casserole dish with a lid. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

While the beans are baking, toast the bread.

To serve, top two pieces of toast with the beans. Add further salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Adapted from Bill Granger’s Everyday

*Omit to make it vegetarian

Passionfruit Pie

The combination of buttery pastry, tangy passionfruit and creamy white chocolate in this pie is absolutely delicious! This is a fairly time-consuming recipe so definitely one I reserve for special occasions. I would recommend using a mixture of fresh and frozen passionfruit pulp to keep it economical unless you have an abundance of fresh passionfruit (in which case, feel free to send some my way!)

Ingredients (serves 12)
White chocolate ganache
125g white chocolate, chopped
½ cup thickened cream

Pastry
1¾ cups plain flour
¼ cup icing sugar mixture
125g cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten

Passionfruit syrup
Pulp of 4 passionfruit
¼ cup caster sugar

Passionfruit crème pâtissière
Pulp of 8 passionfruit
400ml thickened cream
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 wide strip lemon zest
4 egg yolks
125g caster sugar
⅓ cup cornflour
50g butter, cubed

Method

To make the ganache, microwave the white chocolate in short bursts until melted. Add the cream and refrigerate for 2 hours until thickened.

For the pastry, place the flour and icing sugar into a food processor and add the butter. Process in short bursts until the mixture has a fine crumb consistency. Add the egg and process until the mixture just starts to come together. Turn out onto a clean bench and gather the dough together. Press into a thick disc, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

When the dough has chilled, roll it out on a sheet of non-stick baking paper to fit a 26cm loose-based non-stick flan tin. Carefully line the tin with the pastry, easing it into the corners. Trim any overhanging pastry, prick small holes with a fork and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced).

Cover the pastry with a sheet of non-stick baking paper and fill it with pastry weights. Blind bake the pastry for 15 minutes, remove the weights and paper, and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

To make the passionfruit syrup, place the passionfruit pulp and sugar in a small saucepan with half a cup of water. Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil, skimming the froth off the top as you go. Boil for about 2 minutes, until thick and syrupy, then remove from the heat.

For the crème pâtissière, place the passionfruit pulp into a strainer over a bowl and leave it to strain. Heat the cream in a saucepan with the vanill and lemon zest until it is just about to boil. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light and creamy. Strain the cream and pour over the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Add the cornflour and stir over very low heat for approx. 5 minutes. As the mixture starts to thicken, whisk more quickly until it is very thick and smooth. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is just warmer than room temperature. Beat in the butter and the strained passionfruit juice.  

Fill the pastry with the passionfruit crème pâtissière mixture, refrigerate for 5-10 minutes and then spread the white chocolate ganache over the top. Drizzle with the passionfruit syrup and refrigerate for about 4 hours.

Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Julie Goodwin’s ‘Passionfruit puddle pie’ in My Family Table.