Friday, May 30, 2008

Fine Specimens

upside down

I have a new favourite fruit, and they won’t leave me alone. I can’t walk past the fresh fruit at the market without at least gazing at them, if not slipping a few into my basket. I always admire their curvaceous shapes when I slice them in half. I’m talking about pears; they’re bountifully in season and absolutely gorgeous in every way. I don’t know if it’s lucky or unlucky, because without even trying, I’m finding pear recipes everywhere I turn, and I’m nothing short of helpless when there are already fine specimens residing in my fruit bowl.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, or a crazy obsessive lady. I know there was the pear and vanilla brown butter crumble, which still makes me dribble a little every time I think about it. And I’m aware that I posted these pear and maple cupcakes barely two weeks ago. A few nights ago for my Dad’s birthday, I made a surprisingly delicious dish of roast lamb cooked with rosé and pears, but unfortunately didn’t get a photo of it. I suppose I can only hope you share my fondness of them, because here I present to you a most delightful pear and ginger cake courtesy of Orangette, the Macrina Bakery and Seattlest.

On the eve of winter, I can’t imagine a more appropriate dessert. The warm cake is intensely comforting as the temperatures at night get cooler. It was a good opportunity to use the treacle that’s been sitting in our pantry for ages; one of dad’s impulse buys that I’ve been scratching my head over what to do with. I’d also never used fresh ginger before (shame!) and I’m now looking forward to using what's left in other dishes – perhaps something savoury to balance out all the desserts I post here.

fork

To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have looked twice at this recipe if there weren’t pears involved, but I really did love the result. The cake itself was the real winner here, but the glossy cinnamon-slicked pears played a nice supporting role. The cake was beautifully moist with an incredible depth of flavour, not too sweet and not too rich. I kind of like the idea that I can conjure up a famous but far away bakery in my own kitchen... until I plan a trip to Seattle and can taste for myself!

I keep forgetting that Pam tagged me for a six word memoir a few months ago. If those six words had to form a sentence of sorts, I think "small mocha, double shot, two sugars" would aptly describe me, but otherwise, here are some words put together by me and people who know me well... Caring, Spirited, Cute, Idealistic, Imaginative and Affectionate.

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Seattlest and the Macrina Bakery
Serves 10-12

Topping
• 75g butter, at room temperature
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 4 medium pears, peeled, cored and quartered lengthwise

Cake
• 250g butter, at room temperature
• ¾ cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
• 3 eggs
• 2/3 cup treacle (molasses)
• 3 cups plain flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). Grease a 22cm (9-inch) removable-bottom cake tin and line with baking paper.
2. To make the topping, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat until melted. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place quartered pears on top of the mixture tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.
3. To make the batter, place butter and brown sugar in a large bowl. Cream with an electric mixer until pale in colour. Add the ginger, and beat for another minute. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Slowly pour in the treacle and beat to fully mix. Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled.
5. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and baking soda and salt together, and whisk to combine.
6. Alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, being careful to only mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
7. Transfer the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
8. Bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.
9. Cover the pan with an upside down serving plate and carefully invert. Release the sides of the pan and lift it away. Peel off the baking paper, and cool for about half an hour. Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Casual Sophistication

lemon flan

If there was some kind of prize awarded for procrastination, I’m sure I’d be in the running. I always have the best of intentions, but somehow I end up thinking about things for too long, or I get busy and distracted and don’t have enough time to actually produce the thing I’ve been planning, or at least not quite to the inner-perfectionist standard that I’d hoped for. The deadlines for so many fantastic blog events have passed me by, even though I’d had a page in my little food journal dedicated to a brainstorm of ideas. However, when the lovely Tartelette announced that the theme of this month’s Sugar High Friday was citrus, I made a note in iCal and was determined to get an entry in. And this is why I was in the kitchen at 11.30pm last night...

This is my first time participating in SHF, the delicious monthly event created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. I love almost anything citrus – the bright fresh colours and zingy tastes – but as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t resist anything lemon flavoured. I wish I could say that there was a Eureka! moment, but it was actually a heated game of Scissors, Paper, Rock that fortuitously decided on this lemon flan.

I’ve always loved the combination of lemon and strawberries, so it was nice to play with it here. The flan was creamy and silky, sweet but with a nice lemon tang. It wasn’t too rich or heavy, so the delicate flavours weren’t overpowered by egginess. I think it was the addition of lemon thyme in the syrup that really made it something special. I’d never used any kind of herbs in a dessert before, so I was quite surprised at the result. It’s a subtle taste, but the lemon thyme gave the dessert a sort of casual sophistication. I think this would be the perfect dessert for a spring or summer dinner party, as all the preparation can be done in advance. The flan would also be delicious using different fruits in the compote, like raspberries, blueberries or even thin slices of orange.

This is also my entry to this month's Monthly Mingle created by Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey? The theme is Appetizers and Hors'Doeuvres, of both the savoury and sweet variety. Entries close June 9th, so you still have some time to whip up something spectacular!

Lemon Flan with Strawberry and Lemon Thyme Compote
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 6

Strawberry Thyme Compote
• ¼ cup sugar
• ¼ cup water
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves
• 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 2 cups strawberries, washed and cut into halves or quarters

Lemon Flans
• 2 cups whole milk
• ½ cup sugar
• Peel from half a lemon, removed with a vegetable peeler in strips
• Pinch salt
• 2 large eggs
• 2 large egg yolks

1. To make strawberry lemon thyme syrup, combine sugar, water, lemon thyme and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature and then stir in vanilla.
2. Spoon 3 teaspoons of syrup into each of six ¾ cup ramekins. Place ramekins into a large baking dish. Allow syrup to infuse overnight.
3. Combine milk, sugar, lemon peel, and salt in medium saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
4. Uncover and let milk mixture steep at room temperature 1 hour. Return milk mixture to a simmer. Strain into a small bowl and discard the lemon peel.
5. Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F). Whisk eggs and egg yolks in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk warm milk mixture into egg mixture.
6. Divide custard among prepared ramekins. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake custards until centers are set and thin knife inserted at edge of dish cleanly separates custard from dish, about 45 minutes. Remove flans from water. Cool for 1 hour, and then refrigerate flans uncovered overnight.
7. Pour lemon thyme syrup over the cut up strawberries. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours maximum before serving.
8. Run small thin knife around flans to loosen. Invert each flan onto plate. Serve with strawberry lemon thyme compote.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Autumn Appropriate

autumn cupcake

Gosh, I didn’t mean to let three weeks go by without a post. I’ve been sick for almost all of that time, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I also had a string of lacklustre recipes emerge from my kitchen that I thought didn’t seem worthy of sharing, or at least not until I’ve altered them to my liking. But mostly, I’ve been revisiting old favourites, many of which I’ve posted here before. There’s been pesto and pie, biscotti, and a new take on these simple slice and bake cookies, adding lemon zest and chopped dried cranberries. They were delicious!

I recently pondered the fact that I had not baked, let alone eaten a cupcake in quite a long time. In fact, they hadn’t really crossed my mind in a while. Surely my infatuation with them was not waning? I firmly believe that you can never outgrow a cupcake, they seem to be much loved by young and old. I decided to make a batch of autumn-appropriate cupcakes with some delicious pears. They are in abundance right now and I can’t get enough. I drank the pear juice reserved from Step 2 of the recipe by itself but couldn’t help but think how delicious it would be with some vanilla-infused vodka in a fruity cocktail.

I loved everything about these cupcakes; they were deliciously moist on the inside, not too sweet but with a hint of warmth from the cinnamon. The chopped walnuts made an interesting textural contrast and the creamy vanilla bean icing set it off in all the right ways. I wasn’t the only fan of these cupcakes either! My (nearly) three-year-old cousin Cooper loved them too, and had an interesting way of eating them. He licked all the icing off the top before he actually ate the cake. Awwww…

cooper

Pear and Maple Cupcakes
Adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Cupcakes
Makes 12

• 2 medium pears, grated coarsely
• 60g butter, softened
• ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 eggs
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ cup self-raising flour
• ¾ cup plain flour
• 1/3 cup walnuts (or pecans), finely chopped

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Cupcake Project
• 1 ½ cups pure icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
• 200g butter, room temperature
• ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
• 1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a 12 hole cupcake pan with paper liners.
2. Strain the juice from the grated pear, squeezing out as much juice as possible.
3. Beat butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, maple syrup and vanilla and mix to combine.
4. Add flour and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Fold in walnuts (or pecans) and grated pear using a large spoon.
5. Divide between paper cases and smooth surface. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
6. To make vanilla bean buttercream, beat icing sugar with butter until creamy. Add vanilla seeds and milk and beat for another minute. Smooth onto cooled cakes.

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