Tag Archives: vanilla

My Blue Heaven

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Milkshakes are such a big part of childhood.  I always feel a little sad and as though I may have missed something essential about growing up because I was never into milkshakes as a child.  Something important.  Like a rite of passage, you know?

I have never drunk milk in my entire life.  I was already an adult before I would let myself to even try having a coffee with milk added.  As a child, I thoroughly despised dairy milk (we didn’t even think about non-dairy alternatives so let’s not go there).  So, milkshakes were something I eyed with a good measure of skepticism.  Tall chilled silver glasses filled with fabulously flavoured milk … it was still just a lot of milk to me.

Everyone would have their favourites … chocolate, of course, strawberry, banana, butterscotch, vanilla, pineapple, caramel … mostly standard stuff.  But there was one flavour that had us all just a bit fascinated and intrigued.  It had an air of mystery to it because we could never quite pin down what this fantasy flavour really was … blue heaven.  It just sounds so celestial.  So divine.  As if it could transport you somewhere fabulous with it’s gorgeous sky blue mystery flavoured milkiness.  Blue Heaven is an iconic Australian milkshake flavour invention that defied logic, by being madly successful.  So successful, it’s still around today in various forms.

Even my aversion to all things milky didn’t stop me from trying a blue heaven milkshake, out of curiosity.   It tasted like vanilla, but somewhat disappointingly, like an artificial vanilla (which, of course, it was).  Depending on where your research leads you, it actually was (and is) just artificial vanilla with blue colouring, or artificial vanilla raspberry with blue colouring.  The manufacturers of the flavouring apparently claim it to be the latter.  Now, that is cool, because raspberry is a fantastic mystery prize.  Sure, it is artificial raspberry that never comes close to real fruit, but who would have guessed?

I still don’t drink milkshakes, although I am partial to the odd smoothie.   I do love all things vanilla and raspberry though … and blue food?  I still love the idea of blue heaven as a flavour.  Would it work in a non-milkshake form?  Here in Australia, you can buy blue heaven syrup, blue heaven topping for ice cream, and blue heaven jelly.   Well, that’s a bit artificial and boring, despite being a testament to blue heaven’s ongoing popularity.

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So why not create my very own version of blue heaven, from scratch?  Real vanilla, real raspberry, and a little blue colouring for the sake of nostalgia?  Why not create it in cupcake form?  Good idea, yes?

Great idea.  Yes.  I still don’t drink milkshakes, remember?  😉

These moist cupcakes are pure vanilla and totally light blue, like the milkshake.  The cream cheese frosting is also pure vanilla deliciousness and blue like the heavens.  But take a bite of a cupcake and you get a surprise …  a fresh raspberry confit centre, sweet and tart.

I think it captures the essence of Blue Heaven, don’t you?  They do taste absolutely heavenly … and they’re blue 😀

I added some chocolate covered raspberries for decoration and little straws in honour of the milkshake that inspired them.

I hope you enjoy my blue heaven 🙂

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Makes 10 cupcakes

Blue Vanilla Cupcakes
125 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
125 grams sugar
1 vanilla pod, scraped of seeds or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
2 x 60 gram eggs
125 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125 millilitres milk
1-2 drops blue food colouring (water-based)

Raspberry Confit
200 grams fresh or frozen (and thawed) raspberries
200 grams sugar
15 millilitres freshly squeezed lemon juice

Blue Vanilla Frosting
125 grams unsalted butter
250 grams cream cheese
125 grams icing sugar
1 vanilla pod, scraped of seeds or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 – 2 drops blue food colouring

10 chocolate covered raspberries

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Blue Vanilla Cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180℃.  Place 10 cupcake liners on a lined baking tray and set aside.

Place the sugar, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer and whisk until the mixture is light, fluffy and the sugar is dissolved.  Add the eggs and whisk until the batter is smooth and light.

Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add the lemon or lime juice to the milk.  Add half the flour to the batter and beat until smooth.  Add the milk and finally the remaining flour.  Whisk the batter until smooth and light.  Add a drop of blue food colouring and whisk until the colour is evenly distributed and the batter is a light pastel blue.  If required, add another drop or two, one drop at a time.  I only needed one drop to achieve a pale blue colour.  Divide the batter between the cupcake liners.

Bake for about 20 minutes until risen and cooked through.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  You can store these, at room temperature, in an airtight container, if making ahead before filling and frosting.

Raspberry Confit
Puree the raspberries and strain them well to remove the seeds.   Place the raspberry puree in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.   Cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring it gently.   Raise the heat and cook until the raspberry confit mixture reaches 104℃.  Test the confit by dropping a small amount on to a slightly chilled plate.  It should start to set fairly quickly.  When done, remove from the heat and transfer a small amount to a 12″ piping bag.  Place on a workbench and let cool slightly.

While the confit cools, cut a small round from the top of each cupcake and make a small cavity in the centre of each cupcake, about half of the way through.  Remove the crumbs* but reserve the round cut from top.  It will form a lid.  Snip a small tip off the end of the piping bag and pipe a small amount into each cavity to just under the top of the cupcake. Replace the round cut from the top to form a lid on top of each cupcake.  They are now ready to be frosted.

*The crumbs are lovely sprinkled on top of ice cream

Blue Vanilla Frosting
Melt the butter and set aside to cool.  Whisk together the cream cheese, icing sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy.   Whisk the cooled butter until slightly thickened.  Add the butter to the cream cheese mixture and whisk until smooth.  Finally, add a drop of blue food colouring to give the frosting a pale blue colour.

Cover and refrigerate the frosting for 15 to 20 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.  This cream cheese frosting pipes beautifully and holds its shape without setting or becoming hard on standing or when refrigerated.

Pipe the frosting on to each cupcake.  Top with a chocolate covered raspberry.
For that blue heaven milkshake vibe, add a small straw for decoration.  I just snipped a standard straw into 4 equal pieces to get the right size for each cupcake.

Without frosting, the cupcakes keep well for up to a week, if stored in an airtight container.  Frosted, they must be stored in the refrigerator.  They will keep for up to several days at least and will be as moist and delicious as freshly made.

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Bite into a cupcake for a fresh raspberry surprise 🙂

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Filed under All Recipe Posts, Cupcakes, Fruit, Jams & Preserves

Vanilla Cupcakes

Are you the kind of person who hates piping frosting?  Too fiddly?

Or your baking is always rushed and you just don’t have the time to do it?

Piping bags?  What?  Maybe you don’t even own any piping bags or nozzles at all.

Or, like me, do you ALWAYS have them handy, until one day you go in search of a bag when you need it and realise you forgot to restock your supply?  It happens.

This one is for YOU.

Shoot, if you like fragrant vanilla cupcakes at all, this one is for you.

There is a lot of vanilla in these cupcakes, both in the cupcakes and the frosting.  The cupcakes are light and moist and the frosting is creamy, not too sweet, and out of this world deeeelicious.  It also doesn’t lend itself to piping too easily.  The luxuriousness of the frosting is due in part to the addition of cacao butter and a little white couverture, instead of butter, to what is essentially a cream cheese frosting.    The chocolate and cacao butter set very quickly at room temperature and so it is very easy to just spread the frosting on the cupcakes with a knife or offset spatula.  It becomes too stiff to pipe as it cools.  If you prefer to pipe the frosting simply omit the cacao butter.  But it really does add a beautiful flavour.

Be as deft with the knife as you like to get a lovely dome or other shape for the frosting.  This frosting will hold its shape very well but won’t set hard.  I kept it a little rough this time as I used half the batch to make Vanilla Freckle Cupcakes (recipe below).  The sprinkles look cute and colourful as they catch in all the nooks and crannies in the frosting.  Plus it allows you to get more sprinkles to adhere to the frosting.  More sprinkles is good, right?  😀

Visiting a friend for afternoon tea, these were perfect.  She has two small boys, both of whom were under the weather, and she was clearly worn out from rushing around and staying up most of the night.   I really hope they helped cheer her up a bit, plain vanilla grown up ones and some colourful white chocolate freckle cupcakes.  Happiness.

Enjoy 🙂

Makes 18 cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes
185 grams sugar
185 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 vanilla beans or 3 tablespoons pure vanilla bean paste
4 eggs (59 grams each)
175 grams plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

White Chocolate & Vanilla Frosting
40 grams white couverture
60 grams cacao butter*
100 grams icing sugar
250 grams cream cheese
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste

*I used organic raw cacao butter.  You can find this in many health food and organic specialty food stores.

Make the cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Set 18 cupcake liners on a baking tray.

Cream together the sugar, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer.  When light and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved, add the eggs and beat until the batter is smooth.  Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add the flour to the batter and mix until smooth and light.

Divide the batter between the 18 cupcake liners.  Bake at 180°C for 20 – 25 minutes.  When risen, golden, and cooked, remove the cupcakes from the oven.  Leave to cool completely on a wire rack until ready to frost.

Make the frosting
Melt the white couverture and cacao butter together in a bowl over hot water until almost all melted.  Remove from the heat and stir until fully melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Alternatively, you could zap it in the microwave at 50% power for 30 seconds at a time, until melted.

Cream together the icing sugar, cream cheese, and vanilla, until light and creamy.  Fold through the chocolate and cacao butter, taking care not to over beat.

Work quickly with a knife or offset spatula to swirl the frosting on to each cupcake.

Un-frosted cupcakes will keep for several days, stored in an airtight container, at room temperature.  Frosted cupcakes can also be stored this way in cooler weather.  This is preferable to ensure that they don’t dry out.  In warmer weather, you can store frosted cupcakes in a container in the refrigerator, but they will lose some of their moistness.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Variation: Vanilla Freckle Cupcakes

These are really fun for children’s parties.  They are colourful and the vanilla flavour is usually loved by everyone.  The sprinkles I used here contain no gluten, and no artificial colours or flavours.  The colours are naturally a little more pastel than the usual neon-bright sprinkles one typically finds in the supermarket.

You will need:
For the cupcakes:
65 grams coloured sprinkles / “hundreds & thousands”

Prepare the batter as in the recipe above. Fold the sprinkles in to the cupcake batter at the end of mixing.  Bake as indicated above.
For the White Chocolate Freckles:
60 grams white couverture
extra sprinkles, for decoration

Melt the couverture over a bain-marie until smooth or zap in a microwave in 30 second bursts at 50% power until three-quarters melted.  Stir gently until melted and smooth.   Continue stirring gently until it cools slightly.

Pipe or spoon 18 x 1 cm rounds on to non-stick baking paper.  Sprinkle the coloured sprinkles over the chocolate rounds.  Cover and place in the refrigerator to set.  You can make the freckles ahead of time.

Frost the cupcakes as above.  Sprinkle additional coloured sprinkles over the frosting and top each cupcake with a white chocolate freckle.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Cupcakes

Vanilla Charm Quark Ice Cream with Blueberries

Maybe it’s because we are witnessing the end of the Space Shuttle era.  Maybe it’s the run of documentaries about space and the origins of the universe that I’ve found myself watching lately.  But I’ve got rather nostalgic about my time as a physicist.

While working on my thesis, I was stupendously lucky.  Lucky to have a wonderful supervisor, great collaborators and friends, and lucky enough to spend a whole summer at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik in Germany.  In a small town outside Munich, it was over-run with famous physicists from around the globe.  It was next door to the European Southern Observatory, controlling telescopes in South America.  I was star struck.  Awe-struck.  Call me a geek.  Call me a freak.  It was cool. 😀

My field of research could invariably be called astrophysics, plasma physics, or high-energy physics.  In fact, it was all three rolled into one.  Elementary particles and their interactions with gravity, intense electro-magnetic fields, radiation, and each other, were the order of the day … and always in star systems with massive black holes and x-ray pulsars.   Dangerous dudes to hang with …

I’ve always had a fondness for quarks.  Elementary particles have a number of properties like charge and spin.  But quarks also come in flavours.   Flavours?  Yep … six of them in fact.  Up and down, top and bottom, strange and charm.  My favourite is the charm quark.  It was so named because physicists were fascinated and pleased with the symmetry it brought to the sub-nuclear world.  Charming.

So I always thought it was funny that my first stay at the Max-Planck was also the start of my love affair with quark cheese (or topfen as it’s more commonly known in Germany).  A very low-fat tangy fresh cow’s milk cheese, I like to think of it as the German version of ricotta.  Truth is, it’s actually a dry cottage cheese.  Great to use in baked cheese cakes and fabulous on dark rye bread, or topped with berries.   I was totally charmed by it.  I used to scour the Munich markets for fresh berries and learned the names of most fruit and vegetables within the first few days of my stay 🙂  I especially loved the tiny forest blueberries, or heidelbeeren.  Sure, I also spent a great deal of time researching the city’s konditorei and bäckerei, tasting and documenting my thoughts on all manner of pastries and baked goods.  But, every night, dessert would consist of slices of fresh pumpernickel topped with really fresh quark and sweet blue heidelbeeren.  Sometimes just the quark and berries.  BLISSSSSS.

This is my homage to those sweet memories of a summer at the Max-Planck, mixing physics and foodie adventures around Munich.  Quark makes for a tangy gelato that’s fresh and light despite being very creamy in texture.  I’d say it’s like a frozen yoghurt but it isn’t.  It’s so much better!  (aside: I dislike frozen yoghurt).  The combination of the quark’s tangy flavour and the abundance of vanilla give this gelato its beautiful symmetry.  Its charm, if you will.   Add the blueberries, and I’m transported back to summer in Munich, way back when. 🙂

I remember standing at the bus stop at the end of a long day’s work.  A guy came rushing out of the ESO building waving a large piece of paper at my supervisor and me.  It was a print of the first photos taken by the Hubble telescope.  Hot off the press!  A historic moment and I was standing there waiting for a bus.  The photos were totally garbage though thanks to issues with the telescope’s lens.    I can empathise with the Hubble team’s plight.  Photography is a dicey business.  I’ve got a bitchin’ lens but photographing ice-cream is hard.  Because ice-cream isn’t … it melts.  Fast.  So please forgive the photos … the ice-cream looks and tastes totally charming and heavenly!

You can use fresh or frozen blueberries for this dessert with equally lovely results.  The liqueur is totally optional.  Go on, be charmed.

Serves 6

Vanilla Charm Quark Ice-cream
150 grams sugar
50 millilitres water
4 egg yolks
200 millilitres cream, chilled
300 grams quark (topfen)
2 vanilla beans OR 2 tablespoons pure vanilla bean paste

300 grams blueberries
30 grams icing sugar
20 millilitres Grappa ai Mirtilli/Blueberry Grappa liqueur (optional)

Make the ice-cream:  Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over a low-medium heat.  Let the sugar dissolve and bring to the boil.  Do not stir.  Place the egg yolks in a bowl nearby.  When the syrup has begun to boil watch it carefully.   Beat the egg yolks until light and keep beating as you pour the syrup into the egg yolks in a thin and steady stream.  Beat the yolk and syrup mixture until pale, tripled in volume, and it has the consistency to form a thick ribbon.

Using a hand-held whisk, whisk together the cream and quark until light and smooth.  Add the vanilla bean paste or seeds scraped from the vanilla beans.  Fold in the egg yolk mixture until fully incorporated.  Whisk the ice-cream mixture until light.  This will help it retain a light texture as it freezes.  Kind of like a “pre-freeze churn”.

Scrape the ice-cream into a container.  Cover and place in the freezer to set.  It’s best made at least 6 hours ahead or the day before.  It will keep for several days in the freezer.

Prepare the blueberries: Place the blueberries and icing sugar into a saucepan over a low heat.  Add the liqueur, if using.  Warm through until the sugar melts and the berries soften slightly.  Serve warm or at room temperature with the gelato.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Fruit, Ice cream & Sorbet, Special Diet

Strawberries ‘n’ Cream Panna Cotta … tennis anyone?

We are very blessed in Australia to have access to wonderful fresh strawberries all year round with different growing regions having different seasons throughout the year.  Right now, Queensland strawberries have started to appear and are sweet and juicy.

So when I settle down to watch a spot of tennis at Wimbledon, do I rue that I’m not actually there in person?  Well, maybe just a little.   But I can still have my strawberries and cream and get all comfy in the evening and cheer on my favourite players, so I’m not missing out too much.  Plus we seem to be having more sunny days, albeit chilly, here in Melbourne, than at Wimbledon.  I’ve loved tennis since I was allowed to join a club as a child, totally obsessed with the sport.  I no longer play, but I do have fond memories of sneaking in to the Australian Open when it was still played on grass, at Kooyong, and watching Bjorn Borg at the height of his career.  My all time top tennis hero.  I don’t recall always having a ticket for centre court … although I vaguely remember sneaking past security 😉

But back to strawberries and cream.  A fine Wimbledon tradition.  I’m not going to sully that tradition by throwing a few strawberries into a bowl with some cream poured over them all sad and forlorn looking, am I?  Yawn.  Boring.  No!  This is the greatest Grand Slam event of the year.  Why not pay tribute to it and whip up a little panna cotta with vanilla and top it off with a fresh strawberry compote … and a splash of fig vincotto?  Cos I like a surprise ingredient … and it’s a little out of the ordinary.  Take note of this one, because I promise it will be popping up again in future posts. 😉

Calogiuri Vincotto ai Fichi

I’m a big fan of vincotto and the black fig vincotto is so unctuous and sweet and mellow, it was just begging to join the party.  It’s fantastic drizzled over the berries but there will be no drizzle action here because I’m not tempting the rain gods of Wimbledon and frankly, drizzling looks messy.  So I added it to the compote instead.  Wow.  No, really.  WOW.

Crème fraîche adds a lovely tang to the panna cotta to lift it above your average panna cotta experience.  The little flecks of vanilla beans?  That’s just vanilla perfection.  You know it.  I know it.

The cool thing about panna cotta is that it looks like hard work but it isn’t.  It takes almost no time to make, and there’s plenty of down-time waiting around for it to set.  Lots of time to kick back and watch some tennis or take a cat nap so you can stay up late as I must.  Invite a few friends over.  Then tuck in when you get a little peckish for your Wimbledon strawberries ‘n’ cream fix … cos we don’t give a fig if we’re not actually there on centre court.   Well … *shrugs*

Oh, who’s my favourite player?  Rafael Nadal.  Hands down. I hope you win, Rafa, you champ! 😀

Serves 6

Vanilla Panna Cotta
300 grams crème fraîche
300 millilitres cream (35% butterfat)
75 grams sugar
3 teaspoons pure vanilla bean extract OR seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
5 grams gelatine leaves (about 2 1/2 sheets)

Strawberry Vincotto Compote
300 grams strawberries, hulled and quartered
25 grams sugar
1 tablespoon/15 millilitres fig vincotto
2 grams gelatine leaves (about 1 sheet)

6 perfect strawberries, halved
lemon balm or mint sprigs, to decorate (optional)

Make the panna cotta
Place the crème fraîche, cream, sugar, and vanilla into a saucepan over a low heat.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water to cover for a few minutes, until softened (while the cream is on the stove).  Bring the cream mixture to the boil, stirring gently.  When the cream reaches simmering point, take off the heat.

Drain the gelatine and squeeze out any excess water.  Add the gelatine to the warm cream mixture and stir until dissolved.  Do not pour the cream mixture over the gelatine!  Pour the panna cotta mixture into serving glasses or cups.  Cool slightly and refrigerate until set, about 4 to 5 hours.

Make the compote
Place the strawberries and sugar into a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and the strawberries soften.   Soften the gelatine in some cold water while the strawberries cook.  Mash the strawberries with a fork and heat for another 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the fig vincotto.

Drain the gelatine and squeeze out any excess water.  Add to the strawberry compote and set aside to cool slightly.

Spoon or pour the compote over the vanilla panna cotta in each glass.  Refrigerate until set, at least a few hours, before serving.

Before serving, decorate with fresh strawberries and lemon balm or mint sprigs.

Eat it as you settle down to watch the tennis 🙂


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Desserts, Fruit, Special Diet