“You can lose yourself in it, it’s really quite lovely,” says Elise Strachan. She’s talking about the power of baking and sweet-making to transport us, and comfort us – and she should know. The Gold Coast-based baker behind mycupcakeaddiction has more than 10 million followers on social media, who also love creating, eating or sharing sweet things.
The host of SBS’s new show, The Sweet Life, is still surprised at that number: “We hit a million followers and I said to my husband, ‘surely this is it, surely this is the cap on people in the world that like cake’ and I couldn’t believe how many more there were out there. It turned out there were a LOT of people who liked cake,” she tells SBS. And now, more than ever, she hopes it will give people something to turn to, including those who’ve never done much in the kitchen before.
“We hit a million followers and I said to my husband, ‘surely this is it, surely this is the cap on people in the world that like cake’."
“I’ve always baked and when I was younger and at school, I experienced a bit of bullying. Baking was something that I did when I got home and when I got home, and it really did de-stress me. So, I think for a lot of people being in the kitchen and doing something productive with their hands takes their mind off the everyday stresses. You almost tune out. You can start and finish baking and realise you haven’t thought about the worries of the world for a good two hours. And at the end of it there’s a sweet treat!”
As anyone who’s pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven or whipped up a cake will know, there’s also a lot of satisfaction to be had in making and sharing.
“It’s also a lovely expression of your own creativity, you can make every dish your own. There’s something lovely about finishing something and seeing others enjoy it.
“With food, it’s all about you need to eat, you need to sustain your life. With sweets, it’s like that little luxury item, and everybody likes to feel they are spoiling themselves, and spoiling others ... And desserts and sweets are fun!”
In The Sweet Life, Strachan discovered a whole new world of baking. In the two-part show, she’s joined by a bunch of talented chefs and cooks to explore the sweet side of cooking from countries around the globe, from stunning mandala-decorated cheesecakes to Malaysian 3D jelly art to colourful French chocolate balls.
“With food, it’s all about you need to eat, you need to sustain your life. With sweets, it’s like that little luxury item, and everybody likes to feel they are spoiling themselves, and spoiling others."
It opened up a whole new world for her. “I thought I had made and seen everything there was to see in the sweets world, but by exploring different cultural heritages, I discovered flavour combinations, recipe ideas, tips, techniques and different ways of doing things that I had never seen before.”
She hopes it will inspire other people to try new things, or to start cooking. And for beginners, she’s got some tips for where to start.
How to make a sweet start at home
“If you’re a first timer, I highly recommend Ganache Three Ways. Ganache is just chocolate and cream combined. It’s generally two parts chocolate to one part cream. You microwave it or heat it over the stovetop until it’s smooth. But with ganache you can either have it really silky smooth and warm, and you can do things like fondue, you can dip strawberries, you can pour it over the top of cakes, dip cupcakes in it. Then you can let it firm up a little, so it’s spreadable, and then you can use it to spread on toast, you can use it to ice cakes. And you can also whip that ganache to make a really decadent, delicious, pipeable frosting. It’s a great building block that you can do so many other things with as you learn to bake and it’s only a couple of ingredients.
“I’ve also done a whole series on ‘no baking’… for people who aren’t bakers, or for beginners, ‘no-baking’ something can be amazing. A no-bake tart for example: I would use a combination of crushed cookies and butter to make a nice base for a tart, and then use that ganache in its liquid form to pour directly into that base. And then you could top it with something like fresh berries, Toblerone chunks, bits of snickers, to make a chocolate pie." (Watch Elise make a strawberry version here or her Toblerone chocolate pie here).
And for more experienced bakers, “if you’ve got a good basic cake recipe and a good basic frosting recipe, once you know your basic recipe, feel free to play with it. You’ll be surprised at how far you can push the boundaries." (Try Elise's "The best chocolate cake and cupcake recipe" here and her easy two-ingredient frosting here).
And for more inspiration, catch her in The Sweet Life. “I loved doing this new show. It’s nice to be able to appreciate the way different cultures and people from all walks of life embrace baking and sweets.”
Catch the two-part series, The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan, on April 2 and 9 at 8:30pm on SBS Food and later on SBS On Demand.
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