Friday, November 26, 2010

Pantry tea and gingerbread people

My long awaited, dreaded, and inevitable return to blogging is here, and I shall make more of an effort to assault you with my bakings and ramblings from now on.

Having been in England for four months from April to August, I had little opportunity to bake, having no kitchen to speak of, or worthy of the name of kitchen. Mr A's mum eventually took pity on me and invited me over to bake, which was a glorious release and an apple pie and a cherry pie came forth in quick succession. Both were rave successes, especially the cherry pie which was made with fresh morello cherries, and therefore had a lovely tart quality to it. The cherry pie was repeated for Mr A's birthday and crumbles full of bramley apples and summer berries were also made. We went blackberry picking, and picked a tonne of blackberries as Mr A was working up the courage to propose...which he did, and I said yes....A celebratory apple and blackberry pie followed, though I have since learnt that you must put some cornflour in when baking with blackberries as the pie was almost drowned by the vast quantity of delicious crimson juice.

Since coming home things have been busy with with the thesis, work and friends. My dear friend Miss P got married and so in the lead up the the joyous occasion we had a pantry tea, which allowed me to get my bake on!!

Having been deprived of means and opportunity for so long I made:

Little lemon tarts
Almond macaroon/biscuits - intense little almondy diamonds that you left to dry out over night before baking and smothering in icing sugar
Caramalised onion and bacon quiches
Balsamic Caramalised onion, pumpkin and Parmesan tarts
and Pistachio Macaroons.

I have made these macaroons before, but the first time, whilst they turned out really well, something was wrong with the mixture as it was very liquid and wouldn't pipe. These, on the other hand were perfect. They are Nigella's recipe from "Domestic Goddess". The recipe makes way too much butter cream - so I have some stashed in the freezer to use for something else as it is intensely sweet if you used it all to fill the biscuits it would totally overwhelm them and everyone would get diabetes instantly.

For Miss P and Mr D's bomboniere's they lovingly made gingerbread brides and grooms to give to their guests. We were called in once all the hard work had been done to turn the little guys and girls into brides and grooms. It was great fun, especially when I got half way through a bride only to realise it was actually a groom! The whole thing made me want to run away and become a pastry chef...which part of me still wants to do, especially on the days when my thesis is driving me insane or I have had a particularly good day in the kitchen....


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fruit Flan

I love fruit flan. I always have. Between that and lemon/citrus tart, I can be a bit predictable. I am however, often, bitterly disappointed.

I have been meaning to make a fruit flan for years, and eventually cracked it for my anti-Valentines day dinner. (I am not anti as a general rule,but rather suffering from the tyranny of distance.)

Although I make short crust pastry all the time, I followed a recipe from a friends french cookbook. I think it included egg yolk to bind it and rather than rubbing the flour and butter between your fingers until it resembled breadcrumbs, you used the heel of your hand in a smooth pushing motion through the mixture on the bench to combine. Although dubious, it worked beautifully, and produced the most delicious tender pastry, which was a joy to work with and a joy to eat.

For the filling I made Nigella's creme patisserie, not feeling brave enough to make one I hadn't tried before. It turned out well, but I should have put the filled tart case in the fridge to set, as although thick, it wasn't set enough when I cut it.

For the fruit, I used strawberries and peaches. I had bought kiwi fruit but they were horribly bitter (and I don't seriously love them), and the peaches took up a lot more room than I anticipated.

All in all I was pleased with my efforts and it tasted amazing. I was quite heavy handed with the vanilla in the creme patisserie it went beautifully with the fruit and the pastry was just lovely. I am still working on making my tart cases look pretty as they always have a bit of rustic charm about them and I marvel at the pictures in the books of painstaking, near impossible precision and delicacy that the cases have. One day.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spiced Cake

A while ago I saw a recipe for a delicious sounding,beautiful spiced pear cake at Kalofagas, a blog which I stumbled on through Foodycat's blog. The cake sounded so inviting I could almost smell the spiced aroma and the sweet delicate fragrance from the pears, and knew I had to make it. A few months passed and with an afternoon tea date upon me I thought it was the perfect time to give it a go.

I followed the recipe pretty much as it was, but not having any ground star anise, I added a whole one to the poaching liquid with very pleasing results. I made an executive decision that the temperature wasn't fan forced, so reduced it to 160'c, and it seemed to be right. I also decided that 1/2 a cup of butter was 125 g, which is probably close enough.

This cake has to be one of the nicest cakes I have had. The cake itself is tender and moist and deliciously spiced. The pears, which I think look so pretty when poached in a neutral liquid, looked stunning in the cake, and tasted amazing. We finished the cake off between the 4 of us, and I think we all could have gone another slice. It didn't need cream or any other accompaniment, but I think a bit of cream or creme fraiche combined with a little of the poaching liquid would have moved the cake from afternoon tea to dessert.

I wasn't done with the cake just yet. As figs were in season and encouraged by foodycat, I decided to try it out with figs.

As the figs wouldn't need poaching I made a little syrup with 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar, a star anise and a cinnamon stick to use for the 60 ml of poaching liquid needed in the cake. Four figs replaced the three pears, and it worked a charm. As the figs cooled, they collapsed a little, but still retained their shape within the cake. They were sweet and jammy, and had lost any of the, what I can only describe as 'planty' flavour that some figs have. We served it with a little vanilla cream, and it was wonderful.

(Not the best picture of the last piece, taken the next day before I scoffed it for breakfast.)

This cake, in both its pear and fig varieties is already a favourite and I can see it being a go-to cake for a long time to come.


Saturday, February 13, 2010


I have been baking quite a lot the last couple of weeks, partly for procrastination, partly for mental health, partly for my family who are all busy at the moment, and partly to have as a reward for if I happen to do some work.

I have made Nigella's Pear and Ginger Muffins, from Nigella express, many times before, and they are quick, easy and very delicious. The recipe makes a good base recipe for fruited muffins and I have been playing with it a bit of late, with excellent results.

The first was apple cinnamon muffins. Replacing the pear and ginger for apple and cinnamon gave the muffins a much more teacake taste and I also replaced the sour cream with Greek yogurt, as that is what I had, which added a lovely tang to the muffins. The total weight of fruit I used was 200g after it was peeled, cored and chopped, as 300g creates too much batter for the tins. I made two batches of these in the one week, and they remained moist and tender for 3 days after baking, after which time they were all gone.

My second foray was more seasonally inspired, after purchasing several punnets of fresh figs. After eating the figs with yogurt and honey, I thought that teamed up with yogurt and honey in a muffin, they would also be fabulous.

I went for fig and ginger muffins, the spice combination inspired by the fig and ginger pudding served atBadde Manors, a cafe which I go to very often. This time I replaced the caster sugar with brown sugar and again used Greek yogurt. I just tore the figs, letting the juices drip into the mixture. I added a little extra ginger which gave it a nice kick, though some crystallised ginger finely chopped might have been nice as well.

In both instances I forgot to top them with a bit of brown sugar, but I don't think they need it as they are quite sweet already.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sweet Potato and Roast Cashew Soup

I have always wanted to make a really tasty spiced soup. I have tried before, but haven't got the balance right, generally shrinking away from making it too spicy at the cost of flavour. This recipe is care of Mr A's SIL, but where she got it from, I do not know. She made it for us the night we arrived in Adelaide and it was wonderful, spicy and welcoming. It claims to be a wonderfully filling African soup, and it is indeed wonderful.

500g Sweet potato sliced
1 litre vegetable stock
25g butter
1 tsp chopped red chillies (I couldn't get fresh so used flakes)
1 tbs chopped root ginger
1 tbs chopped garlic (about 4 or 5 cloves)
175 g carrots sliced (about 3 medium)
175 g onions, sliced (1 medium)
50 g plain flour
3 tbs soy sauce
175 ml coconut nut milk
A hand full of coriander, plus extra for garnish
Salt and white pepper
250 g Cashew nuts.

Put the sweet potatoes and vegetable stock in a pan and boil for 15 minutes (or until soft). Melt the butter in a large pan, add the chillies, ginger, carrots and onions and fry over moderate heat until soft. Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon.

Add the onion mix to the sweet potato and whiz with a stick blender until smooth (or put in the food processor, but that is too much washing up). Cook on a low heat for 15 minutes, adding half the soy sauce, all the coconut milk at some stage during this time and the coriander roughly chopped, and seasoning to taste at the last minute. (I only added a little pepper, as the cashews covered in soy sauce along with the soy were salty enough.

Preheat the oven to 200'c/180'c. Pour remaining soy sauce over the cashews in a shallow bowl, mix thoroughly until they are all coated. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning them occasionally to ensure they are browned evenly and don't stick together.

Serve the soup with a garnish of coriander leaves and the cashews sprinkled on top.

Serves 4


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Raspberry and Vanilla Meringue Layer Cake

I have had a lovely, if somewhat jam packed three weeks with Mr A, and I was very sad to see him go on Friday. It was not a very culinary holiday, but that being said, I did not go hungry and had some excellent fish and chips (several times), a delicious spiced soup care of Mr A's sister-in-law which I intend to make, an excellent BLT on gorgeous sour dough bread at a very nice cafe in Cooma, yum cha at the Marigold in Sydney, a gorgeous peppery meat pie with mash potatoes mushy peas and gravy at The Lord Nelson.

Adelaide was beautiful, and the sunset we saw at Mount Lofty in the Adelaide Hills was gorgeous. We flew from Adelaide to Melbourne and after spending a day or so with Mr A's mum, we headed off to drive to Berridale. We took the scenic route, down through Gipsland and up the coast. It was beautiful, and really fascinating to see how the country changes. We visited lots of nautical things in Sydney, including the Maritime Musuem and Fort Denison, where Mr A, much to his excitement, got to fire the gun.

I did manage to get a little cooking in amongst all this travelling, though nothing really note worthy - except the dessert I made for the BBQ I held at my place so Mr A could meet some of my friends.

I had planned to make a pavlova, but as I didn't have a stash of egg whites, and didn't have time to make two desserts, one with egg whites and one with yolks (I was thinking a fruit flan). I combined the two and made a Meringue layer cake with creme patisserie filling. I based it on Nigella'sGooey Chocolate Stack from Domestic Goddess,which I have made before, but substituted chocolate for vanilla, adding a good bit of vanilla extract to the meringue mix before baking (and white wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar) and some vanilla bean paste to the creme patisserie. The meringues were wonderful, chewy but crisp and the raspberries, which were inbetween each layer, as well as on top, cut through the sweetness. By the time I served it, the raspberries had bled quite a bit as they weren't defrosted when I assembled it, but it created a lovely raspberry sauce, which if anything, added to the overall deliciousness.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas Pavlova and the misadventure continues

I was feeling very unmotivated for Christmas this year, and whilst several batches of mince pies did make me feel a bit more festive, nothing could persuade me to make a proper boiled pudding this year. Instead I resorted to an ice cream pudding and a pavlova. I normally use Nigella's pavolva recipe, but I went with Jamie this time after eating a delicious offering from this recipe. It was pretty damn good. The unsugared egg whites are beaten until stiff and then the sugar is added gradually, but not a painstaking teaspoonful-at-a-time like Nigella suggests. The egg whites and sugars are then beat for between 6 and 10 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. It only took an hour to cook and doesn't have to cool in the oven - bliss for when you have left things a bit late and don't have time to let it sit in the oven. It is also the most wonderful texture, the perfect balance of soft and crunchy. Wonderful. I decorated it with mango and passionfruit, though it would have benefited from strawberries or raspberries, but I couldn't justify paying for the strawberries and I forgot to get frozen raspberries. But with vanilla cream, it was lovely.

In other, non-baking, news, I am reunited with Mr A tomorrow. It is only for 3 weeks, but it is better than nothing after what has been a long 11 months! We are heading to Adelaide then Melbourne and home via Berridale (wherever that is). Hopefully it will all go well and be lovely.

In thesis news, well, perhaps we shouldn't talk about that.