Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers: August


I’ve finally gone and done it. After wondering whether I would have enough a) time and b) talent, and after seeing some amazing responses to the recent challenges, I decided to join the Daring Bakers. I love the idea of a baking group like this and I’m very glad I can finally join the fun. I was so excited when I read about this month’s challenge that I actually did a little jump for joy! I love éclairs and I was very much looking forward to trying some new pastry cream flavours.

The August challenge consisted of three elements:
- Choux Pastry
- Pastry Cream
- Chocolate Glaze

I thought I’d finally nailed choux pastry back in June during Hay Hay It's Donna Day, but my first attempt of Pierre Hermé’s recipe failed dismally and I ended up with woeful flat éclairs. On the second attempt, I kept the oven door closed for the full baking time and had a more successful outcome, though a few still sunk. I’m not really sure why, because both times I also piped a few profiteroles, and both times they puffed perfectly. The only thing I can think of that might have gone wrong is, I realised only afterwards that the eggs I used were extra-large and not large like the recipe specified.

I made two kinds of pastry cream, but it was a struggle to only pick two! I had visions of green tea flavour, or white chocolate and raspberries. My éclairs were filled with a Frangelico spiked one, and the profiteroles had a really nice strong coffee flavour. Both were adaptations of Dorie Greenspan’s recipe from Baking From My Home To Yours, and both were absolutely delicious! The chocolate glaze was gorgeously silky and rich – the perfect finishing touch.

I enjoyed the challenge, and the results were certainly tasty – even the failed éclairs were all gobbled down! I think in the future I will stick with my trusted choux pastry recipe since it has given me more consistent results, but it was great to try something new. Thank you to Tony and Meeta K for picking such a great challenge. I look forward to next month!


Recipe adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
Makes 20-24 éclairs

Choux Pastry
• ½ cup whole milk
• ½ cup water
• 115g unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup plain flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

Pastry Cream (from Dorie Greenspan)
• 2 cups milk
• 6 large egg yolks
• ½ cup sugar
• 1/3 cup cornflour, sifted
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 teaspoons Frangelico liqueur OR 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water
• 50g unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Chocolate Glaze
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 100g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 20g unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
• 7 tablespoons chocolate sauce (see recipe below)

Chocolate Sauce
• 130g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup water
• ½ cup heavy cream
• 1/3 cup sugar

1. To make the chocolate sauce, place all ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring for 10-15 minutes with a wooden smooth until the sauce thickens. When it is ready, it will coat the back of your spoon. This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
2. To make the pastry cream, bring milk to the boil in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, in a medium size saucepan, whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and cornflour until thick and well blended. Still whisking, dribble in about ¼ cup of the hot milk. When combined, while continuing to whisk, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk.
3. Transfer the saucepan to the stove. On medium heat, whisk vigorously and constantly until the mixture starts to boil. Whisk for 1-2 minutes, or until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and Frangelico OR coffee.
4. Stand for five minutes and then whisk in the butter, stirring until the cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface and refrigerate until cold. This can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
5. To make the éclairs, preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Position racks in the upper and lower halves of the oven. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
6. In a heavy bottomed medium-sized saucepan bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil. When mixture is at a rolling boil, add the flour, reduce the heat to medium and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together quickly. Stir for another 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. It should be soft and smooth.
7. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. By the end, the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted, it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
8. Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2cm plain tip nozzle with the warm choux pastry. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in chubby fingers, about 11cm long. Leave about 5cm between each to allow them room to puff.
9. Slide both baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After this time, keep oven door ajar. When éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be about 20 minutes.
10. In the meantime, make the chocolate glaze. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stirring gently, add the butter one piece at a time, followed by the chocolate sauce.
11. To fill the éclairs, slice them horizontally using a serrated knife. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of baking paper. The glaze should be barely warm to the touch. Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set.
12. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wiggle gently to settle them. Serve the éclairs as soon as they have been filled.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cookie Perfection


If it weren’t for Molly and Joy, I don’t think I would have ever heard of the famous New York Times chocolate chip cookies way over here on the other side of the world. The Internet is such a wonderful thing. I’m so thankful to have found the food blogging world. Where else do likeminded people get as excited about cookies as I do!

I’ve made chocolate chip cookies before, of course, but they were never quite right – some were too oily, others had a poor chocolate-to-cookie ratio, and others still spread too wide or remained too soft and cake-like for my taste. It is abundantly clear that a cookie is a particularly subjective thing. But I’d say without hesitation that these are the best chocolate chip cookies to ever emerge from my oven. A little bit crunchy and a little bit chewy, they are just the way I like them, the very essence of cookie perfection.

The cookies came together easily and quickly, and because the process is split into two parts, it can even be tackled on a weeknight. I think the most challenging part is keeping your hands off the dough while it chills in the fridge. In fact my mother apologised when I came home, saying I might have one less cookie to bake than I expected. When baked, the mounds of cookie dough spread into wide discs of crackly-topped perfection. I sprinkled them with sea salt from Western Australia given to me by Steve, and express-posted him some cookies in return. I hope he likes them as much as I do.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The New York Times
Makes 24

• 480g plain flour
• 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
• 280g unsalted butter, softened
• 1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
• 225g granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 500g bittersweet chocolate chips
• Sea salt, to sprinkle

1. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whisk well, then set aside.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. This can be messy, so hold a clean dish towel over the top of the bowl. Add the chocolate chips and mix briefly to incorporate.
4. Press plastic wrap against the dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.
5. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Remove the bowl of cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow it to soften slightly. Line a baking try with non-stick baking paper.
6. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop six mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Delicious Indeed


I don’t know what I’d do, or perhaps who might be injured if I were to find out that we’d run out of butter, eggs or flour. Or chocolate for that matter! There are some things a baking-inclined girl just can’t live without. There might also be waterworks if I’d run out of any kind of sugar I keep, or yeast, or lord help us, vanilla! But what about the things we often end up with too much of?

I’ve mentioned before the ever-growing collection of eggwhites in my freezer. I am almost convinced that they procreate in there. Before I made this recipe, there were sixteen! I can only imagine how much worse it will be when I finally purchase a (much-coveted) ice cream machine and use egg yolks six or eight at a time. Though I often wonder, if I could summon up the courage to make macarons, would I be having the opposite problem?

But in the meantime, there’s rochers, French for boulders or rocks, though luckily only in appearance. These are edible, and delicious indeed. Wonderfully crispy and crackly on the outside, but chewy on the inside with a nice chocolate kick, these little meringue cookies are great on their own. However, if you do want to dress them up a little, you can turn them into tiny pavlovas with a dollop of pastry cream or whipped cream and a couple of berries on top. I’m sure they will be a hit at your next dinner party!

This is also my entry to the Meringue flavoured edition of Sugar High Friday, created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess and hosted this month by One Messy Kitchen.

Chocolate and Almond Rochers
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 25-30

• 1 cup icing sugar
• 1/3 cup almond meal
• ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 4 large eggwhites, room temperature
• Pinch of salt
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/3 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 150°C (300°F). Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
2. Sift together the icing sugar, almond meal and cocoa.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until the whites are opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip as you add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip until the whites are firm, shiny and hold stiff peaks.
4. Beat in the vanilla. With a large rubber spatula, as quickly but as gently as you can, fold the dry ingredients followed by the chopped chocolate.
5. Drop tablespoons of the meringue onto the baking sheets, leaving about 5cm between them.
6. Bake for 10 minutes, then without opening the oven door, reduce the oven temperature to 90°C (200°F) and bake for 1 hour more.
7. Remove the baking trays from the oven and allow the meringues to stand until they reach room temperature. Carefully peel the meringues off the baking paper. Store in an airtight tin or uncovered at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Annual Tradition

sticky date pudding

I know, I know. I got swoony over sticky date pudding last year, but its one of my very favourite winter desserts and I couldn’t let the chance to try another recipe pass me by. I’ve been thinking about it since the weather turned chilly. Perhaps I’ll make it an annual tradition here on Spicy Ice Cream – saving the world one pudding at a time! This version is spiked with chocolate and coffee, and it’s delicious served warm with butterscotch sauce and slightly melted vanilla ice cream.

I started this recipe after dinner with the best of intentions. The instructions looked simple enough, what could go wrong? Well, it was slightly disastrous at first! I almost thought about not posting it at all but I managed to salvage it and I’m happy to say it was worth the mess and the extra washing up. The recipe given below is my amended version. When I put the dates and hot water in the food processor, I ended up with a puddle on the benchtop and dribbling down the cupboards onto the floor. I would suggest soaking the dates first to make them easier to puree, and then using an electric mixer to make the cake.

Also, I was the extremely proud recipient of the Brilliante Weblog award from Vanilla Sugar. Thank you so much Dawn! I think I’m supposed to tell six facts about myself, so here we go…

• I love to read. I have always been a bookworm, since I was little. I read on the train and I can’t sleep if I don’t read at least a few pages before I go to bed. For the last few years I’ve been trying to read 50 books a year. So far I'm up to 24 for 2008.
• I have a strange irrational phobia of slugs and snails. They really scare me, and I don’t know why! It’s not like they can outrun me. It’s just another reason I don’t like rainy weather.
• For years we used to have chickens as pets. They did cute crazy things that made us laugh, and I’ve never seen egg yolks as yellow as those from our own chooks. Unfortunately they met a sad demise when our neighbours bought a dog. It got through a loose paling in the fence one day and… well it wasn’t pretty.
• I hardly ever turn my mobile phone off silent, so I miss phone calls all the time, much to my friends’ annoyance.
• I’ve never had a dog, but one day I’d really like a black Labrador puppy. His name will be Cornelius, C for short.
• If I wasn’t doing graphic design, I have no idea what I would do with my life. I thought about journalism and architecture but neither of them felt right. I don’t think I’d cut it as a chef and I think an office job would drive me mad so I guess it’s lucky I’m good at what I do!

And I will pass this award onto
LemonPi - Y is a fellow Sydney girl whose blog makes me both giggle and dribble, sometimes simultaneously!
Munchable Munchies - my cousin Jessica has recently started her very own blog. I like to think it was my influence at work! She wants to be a chef, and has some gorgeous photos of pavlovas. I have a zillion eggwhites in my freezer so this seems like the perfect use for them soon!
ButterSugarFlour - Linda lives in Melbourne and seems to almost read my mind sometimes. Her blog is gorgeous and her photos are stunning.
No Special Effects - Dr Mark amazes me constantly with his brilliant photographs and honest, humorous writing. The man also cooks, draws, plays the piano, is there anything he can’t do?

Chocolate Sticky Date Cakes
Adapted from Women’s Weekly Chocolate
Makes 4-6

• 1 ¾ cups dried pitted dates
• 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
• 1 cup boiling water
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 60g butter, chopped
• ¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 100g dark chocolate, melted

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
• ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 2/3 cup cream
• 50g butter
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted

1. Combine the dates and espresso powder in a small bowl, and pour over the boiling water. Stand for 20 minutes. Place in the bowl of a food processor with the baking soda and pulse until smooth.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Grease and line with baking paper a 6-hole texas muffin pan, or four ramekins.
3. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating in between each addition. Add half the flour and mix on low speed.
4. Add the date puree, mixing until combined, and then add the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the melted chocolate.
5. Divide mixture among cases and bake for 15-30 minutes (depending on size) or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Stand cakes for 2 minutes and then turn onto wire rack to cool slightly. Remove paper.
6. To make the chocolate butterscotch sauce, stir ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, without boiling until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, and then remove from the heat.
7. Serve warm cakes drizzled with sauce and whipped cream or ice cream.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Comfort Food

osso bucco

While our winter days have been quite beautiful during the last few weeks, the nights have been downright chilly! The weather forecast for the week ahead promises us nothing warmer than 2°C at night, so please excuse me while I fetch my slippers and preheat the oven. I’ll happily take refuge in the kitchen. This kind of weather makes me crave warm filling stews, homemade apple pies and cup after cup of hot tea.

Comfort food is a lovely concept, like an edible security blanket. It’s the kind of food that wraps you up, warming your body and soul. While everyone’s idea of comfort food differs, most of us have a dish or two that tickles the senses to bring back memories and make us feel happy and safe. I didn’t grow up eating Osso Bucco, in fact this is the very first time I’ve prepared it. But the feeling I got from eating it was the very same as I get from my other childhood favourites like Nanna’s pork and spinach pie or Dad’s spaghetti bolognaise. It was intensely satisfying on many levels.

In Italian, Osso Bucco translates to bone with a hole, referring to the bone marrow in the slices of veal shin. From what I read, I don’t think this version is entirely traditional, but it is definitely delicious! Braising the meat with wine, stock and tomatoes for two hours ensures tenderness – it falls right off the bone. It can also be served with a saffron spiked Risotto alla Milanese, which I would love to try next time I make it. As with most stews, the flavour improves with time, so try and save some leftovers for lunch the next day. It can also be frozen as Donna Hay suggests, and added to tomato soup or as a pie filling.

Osso Bucco
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine (Issue 40)
Serves 6

• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 brown onions, sliced thickly
• 4 cloves garlic (or 3 large)
• 6 x 200g osso bucco (veal shin)
• ¾ cup dry red wine
• 1 cup beef stock
• 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
• 1 cup water
• 4 bay leaves
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• Sea salt and black pepper
• 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large metal baking dish over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan.
2. Add the remaining oil and increase the heat. Cook veal for 3-4 minutes each side until well browned. Watch out because it may stick.
3. Add the onion and garlic back to the pan and gradually add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes or until reduced by half.
4. Add stock, tomatoes, water, bay leaves, rosemary, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours.
5. Carefully remove from the oven, add the beans and stir. Place back in the oven for 15-30 minutes, or until veal is tender. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta or risotto if desired.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Certainly Striking

red velvet

I’ve been on a huge Brothers and Sisters kick recently. I love the show so much that I watched Season 2 in about 26 hours, including a sleep in! It has just the right amount of drama and comedy, and while the characters are severely dysfunctional they are still loveable and ultimately believable. One of my favourite moments of Season 1 was when Scotty bought red velvet cupcakes (“my own recipe!”) to a pool party at the Walkers’ house. Kevin dismissed him at first since Sarah invited Scotty just to annoy her brother, but later in the episode you see Kevin, alone, taking a bite into one of the bright red cupcakes - awwww. My second favourite moment is Kevin impersonating a dinosaur, comedy gold!

Some seem to regard red velvet as an extremely confused chocolate cake, containing barely enough cocoa to even register the taste. But this article from the New York Times explains that cocoa can take on a reddish tinge in baked goods, and it was most likely this reaction that inspired cooks in America’s south to exaggerate it with red food colouring, and lots of it. The red velvet cake is one to get people talking. Whether you love it or hate it, think it’s overrated or misunderstood, no one can deny that it’s certainly striking.

I remember the first time I saw one – only about a year ago, in fact – I was enthralled by the ruby hue, my favourite colour. It was just the right mix of fancy and festive, prettied up with a slathering of delicious cream cheese frosting. I made a red velvet layer cake to take to Christmas lunch last year. It was highly complimented by my taste testers, however I wasn’t completely happy with it and resolved to try again. It took quite a few months, but newly inspired by Scotty’s (literally) sweet gesture, I decided to make red velvet in cupcake form, for my fellow Brothers and Sisters fans at college.

I used Paula Deen’s recipe this time, however I would also love to try Magnolia Bakery’s recipe to compare the oil-based and butter-based cakes. The cupcakes were moist, tasty and a lovely shade of red. They were not noticeably oily like last time. Everyone enjoyed them, in fact I just got a phone call from a friend to say thank you. I used my own cream cheese frosting recipe, which you’ve seen here before. The recipe said it would make 24 cupcakes, but I only got 20. The frosting made enough for 16 cupcakes, and I froze the last 4, ready for the next time I have cream cheese frosting left over.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen
Makes 20-24

• 2 ½ cups plain flour
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 3 teaspoons cocoa powder
• 2 large eggs
• 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 tablespoons red food colouring
• 1 teaspoon white vinegar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting
• 250g cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line one or two 12-hole cupcake trays with paper liners.
2. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa into a large bowl and whisk to combine.
3. In another bowl, mix the oil, buttermilk, eggs, red colouring, vinegar and vanilla extract on medium to low speed.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until smooth and well combined.
5. Fill the cupcake liners with batter, until about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes, turning the pans once at about the halfway mark. Cupcakes are done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
7. To make cream cheese icing, combine cream cheese, sifted icing sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix until smooth and creamy. Smooth onto cooled cakes.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Silky Rich

panna cotta

I’m not even going to apologise this time, since thankfully you all seemed to understand and support my infatuation with pears when I rhapsodized about them earlier. I really did mean what I said about pear recipes following me around! I couldn’t decide whether to sigh with gleeful contentment or with exasperation when I flicked through my copy of Donna Hay’s winter issue and saw the lovely section all about pears. I’m just surprised that it has been so long since I cooked a curvaceous pear into anything – I must have been distracted by leggy rhubarb; another of my many culinary crushes.

Among the multitudes of pear recipes I have accumulated, this one in particular caught my eye because I love coffee. In fact, I’m addicted to coffee, no question about it. About two years ago, a friend dared me to go a week without caffeine. I thought it would be easy, but by the end of day three I broke down in tearful defeat. Now I also drink a lot of tea during the day, but without my morning coffee, lets just say I might not have many friends left! Though this dessert might be a powerful secret weapon to lure them back.

I love the strong sweet espresso syrup and the silky rich (and jiggly!) cream, and was surprised as to how nicely they worked with the pear. Though next time I would remove the peel. It was pleasantly sophisticated, definitely a grown up dessert. Because my mum doesn’t like coffee, I doubled the panna cotta recipe and made two without the pears and syrup. It’s a really nice base, and so easy to prepare in advance. I can imagine pairing other fruit with it or perhaps a simple strawberry, raspberry or even chocolate sauce drizzled over the top.

Pear and Espresso Panna Cotta
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Makes 2

• 1/3 cup espresso coffee
• 1/3 cup caster sugar
• 1 small pear, cut into 2 x 2cm slices, peel and seeds removed
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
• 1 cup pouring cream
• 1 cup milk, extra
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the coffee and caster sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the pear slices and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender and the syrup has thickened slightly
2. Place the pears on the base of 2 x 1 ¼ cup lightly greased ramekins. Pour the syrup evenly over them and allow to cool.
3. Place the gelatine and milk in a small bowl. Stir to combine and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes until the gelatine has dissolved.
4. Place the cream, extra milk, brown sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine and whisk to combine. Set aside to cool.
5. Pour the cream mixture over the pears and syrup. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours over overnight. Invert into shallow bowls to serve.


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