Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: October

slice

I was sitting at a table at Brunetti’s in Carlton, sipping a long black and nibbling on some crostoli with Steve when I wondered out loud about what the Daring Bakers challenge for October might be. He handed me his iPhone and I set about finding out. And thus, during the week in which I’d almost eaten my bodyweight in pizza, I learnt that the challenge would be… pizza! But I was actually kind of excited about it, I love making pizza from scratch at home and I was keen to try a new recipe.

The October challenge consisted of:
- making pizza bases using Peter Reinhart’s recipe
- our choice of sauce and toppings
- providing photographic evidence of us tossing the dough!

toss... and catch

This is the closest I’ve come to real Italian style pizza in my own kitchen and I just loved it. The recipe for the base was quite different to others I’ve tried – using ice cold water instead of warm water, and with an overnight rest in the fridge. While this dough is amazing, it does require a bit of forethought and some preparation in advance. I found the tossing a little bit tricky at first, but I think I got a little better at it on my second attempt. It really does make a huge difference to the dough. I also think it’s about time to invest in a pizza stone! I will definitely make this again in the future, but my go to recipe for a quicker and simpler pizza is from award winning chef John Lanzafame’s fantastic book Pizza Modo Mio, which I promise to share with you soon.

potato rosemary

As for toppings, I chose olive oil, thinly sliced potatoes, rosemary and mozzarella for the first pizza. I cooked the sliced potatoes for about 4-5 minutes in the microwave before layering them onto the pizza as I wanted to be sure they would cook all the way through. It turned out wonderfully, very similar to the one I had at Little Creatures recently. On the other pizza, I had a tomato and olive oil sauce, with pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach and mozzarella cheese. It too was delicious, and I have several ideas for the remaining balls of dough currently left in my freezer.

I would also like to dedicate this post to Sherry “Sher” Cermack who passed away tragically and suddenly in July this year. This pizza recipe was her idea for the October challenge that she was supposed to host with Rosa from Rosa’s Yummy Yums. Unfortunately, I didn’t know her personally, but I wish I had because she sounded like an absolutely wonderful person. She sure did pick a great theme. I think this has been my favourite challenge so far!

pancetta & spinach

Pizza Dough
Makes 6 pizza crusts (23-30cm diameter)
From The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

• 4 ½ cups plain flour, chilled
• 1 ¾ teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• ¼ cup olive oil or vegetable oil
• 1 ¾ cups ice cold water
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• Semolina or cornflour for dusting

1. Mix flour, salt and yeast together in a big bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer
2. Add the oil, cold water and sugar and mix well with a large wooden spoon or paddle attachment until a sticky ball of dough forms.
3. On a clean surface knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and ingredients are evenly distributed. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, sticky but not tacky and register 10-13°C
4. Flour a work surface or bench top. Line a baking jelly pan with baking paper. Lightly oil the paper.
5. With a large metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip it into water between cuts.
6. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip them into the flour again.
7. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into a plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
8. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days. You can also store the dough balls in the freezer for future baking. In that case, pour a few tablespoons of oil in a medium ball and dip each dough ball in the oil so it is completely covered. Put each ball into a separate zippered freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough from the freezer to the fridge.
9. On the day that you plan to eat the pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the fridge. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on the floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1.3cm thick and about 13cm diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
10. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to as hot as possible (260°C/500°F)
11. Generously sprinkle the back of a pan with semolina or cornmeal. Flour your hands. Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. If the dough doesn’t want to expand, let it rest for about 5-20 minutes to allow to gluten to relax, then try again
12. When the dough has the shape you want, place it on the back of the pan, making sure there is enough semolina or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the back of the pan.
13. Lightly top it with ingredients of your choice.
14. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes. After 2 minutes of baking, take a peek. For even baking, rotate 180°
15. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3-5 minutes for the cheese to set before slicing and serving.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Little Surprise

banoffee

On an almost daily basis I think about what I’d cook Steve for dinner, even though we’re currently on opposite sides of the country. He’s my favourite person to cook for, but cooking with him is even more fun. We’ve had some exciting (creative!) baking adventures together, and I look forward to more in the future. He’s even promised to be my Official Taste Tester and eat all the things I cook, no matter how weird they might be… as long as there’s no pumpkin is involved. I’ve already got him to eat eggplant, so that’s a small victory. It’s only a matter of time before I get him eating zucchini and mangoes and maybe even red meat.

What he loves however, is anything involving caramel or bananas, but oh, if you were to put the two together… well I’m pretty sure he might just love me a little more after this. You see, as a little surprise, we each made something that we thought the other would like. I knew this Banoffee pie would go down a treat. Turns out he knows me pretty well too. He made some rhubarb cupcakes, from scratch!

Banoffee pie is an English concoction of bananas, cream and thick caramel with a tasty cookie crumb crust. It’s gooey and rich, and absolutely delicious. I’m not usually terribly keen on desserts with banana – the other choices on the menu usually sound so much more appealing – but this one may have changed my mind. And I guess I better have a few banana desserts up my sleeve if I want to keep him around!

The other great thing about this dessert is that it’s eeeasy. It can be made from start to finish without turning the oven on, which makes it absolutely perfect for a warm day. The small tart pans make for cute individual servings, but it can also be prepared as one large pie. The crumb crust and caramel can be done in advance and left in the fridge to chill. When you’re ready to serve, just slice up a couple of bananas, layer them on top and pile it high with whipped cream. Delicious.

Banoffee Pie
Adapted from Australian Good Taste
Makes 6 small tarts

• 1 x 250g packet plain sweet biscuits (I used Arnott’s Marie)
• 125g butter, melted
• 2 bananas, thinly sliced
• 300mL thickened cream
• 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• Dark chocolate curls, to serve

Caramel Filling
• 1 x 395g can sweetened condensed milk
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 50g butter

1. Crush the biscuits to fine crumbs with a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Transfer crumbs to a bowl and stir through the melted butter until well combined.
2. Divide the crumb mixture between six round 8cm removable bottom fluted tart tins. Use the back of a metal spoon to firmly press the crumbs into each tin. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
3. To make the caramel, place condensed milk, brown sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 10-12 minutes, or until caramel is thick but not boiling.
4. Pour the hot caramel evenly among the biscuit bases. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour, preferably 2-3 to chill.
5. Whip the cream with the caster sugar until soft peaks form.
6. Peel and thinly slice bananas and layer over the caramel. Dollop the cream on top and sprinkle with chocolate curls. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tastes Sweet

souffle

Reaching a culinary milestone is pretty exciting, although the road to get there is sometimes fraught with nerves. So was the case with making my very first soufflé. In fact, I think my kitchen stress levels rise whenever I cook with yeast or egg whites. I read the recipe until I had it almost memorized.

Every step of the way I wondered if I was doing things right. Were my egg whites beaten enough? Or maybe too much? Was I gentle enough when incorporating them? By the time they were finished baking, I had almost no fingernails left, but the true test of success comes when you take them out of the oven.

And behold! My soufflés did not collapse. They behaved perfectly for the camera. I thought I was finished taking photos when I dipped in my spoon and filled the crater with more custard, but it was so beautiful I was compelled to pick up my camera again. The soufflé was tinged with pink and light as air. The rhubarb was perfectly balanced by the custard. Success tastes sweet.

souffle

Rhubarb and Custard Soufflé
Adapted from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6

• 400g rhubarb, cut into 2.5cm chunks
• 100g + 2 tablespoons caster sugar
• 25g softened butter
• 6 gingersnap biscuits
• 150g ready-made custard, plus extra for serving
• 1 large egg yolk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon plain flour
• 4 egg whites
• Pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and put a baking tray in to heat up.
2. Put the rhubarb into a saucepan with 100g caster sugar. Cover the pan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft. Set aside to cool completely.
3. Rub the insides of six ramekins with butter. Put the gingersnap biscuits into a sandwich bag, tie a knot in the top and smash the biscuits with a rolling pin to make fine crumbs. Alternately, process until fine with a food processor. Dust the insides of the buttered ramekins with the smashed biscuits, then shake out any crumbs and keep them for later.
4. Place a tablespoon of cooled stewed rhubarb into each ramekin. Mix the rest of the rhubarb with the custard, egg yolk, vanilla extract and flour.
5. In a large, clean bowl using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat on high speed for about 3 minutes, or until the whites and very stiff.
6. Gently fold 2 spoonfuls of the egg whites into the rhubarb mixture. Tip this into the bowl containing the egg whites and fold together very carefully. Divide the mixture between the ramekins and level the tops. Wipe the rims of the dishes clean.
7. Remove the hot baking pan from the oven and place the ramekins on it. Put back into the preheated oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the soufflés are golden and have risen nicely. Serve immediately, sprinkled with your leftover gingersnap crumbs and a dusting of icing sugar.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Much More

flowers

I can definitely say that I ate a lot of pizza while in I was in Melbourne. I worked it out to find that I’d eaten pizza on seven days out of the previous nine, and miraculously I wasn’t sick of it yet. When we were invited to stay a night with our friends Lucy and Ian in the beautiful Dandenongs, I offered to make lunch the next day. And it was, you guessed it, pizza. Steve had the idea to make a tiny sweet pizza out of some extra dough topped with Nutella and lollies. Not everyone was convinced it would work, but it turned out interestingly. The lollies take on a completely different texture when baked – gooey and sticky with the sweetness even more pronounced.

lolly pizza.

After lunch, we went up the hill to Sassafras, or “Sassy” for short – a gorgeous little town boasting Miss Marples Tea Room, a fascinating little toyshop, and a wonderful teapot shop. The queue for the tea room was out the door and down the street as they don’t take bookings, so we stocked up on sweets from the lolly shop – hard to find almond M&M’s and peanut butter M&M’s. After a short bush walk, we caught a train back to the city because we had a 5am wakeup the next morning for the MotoGP, although with daylight savings kicking in, it felt like 4am!

me

It was an interesting experience; the atmosphere was friendly and fun, reaching fever-pitched excitement for the main race. Loyalties were spread between Australian Casey Stoner who won, and Valentino Rossi who started in 12th position and impressively finished 2nd. It was quite cold in the morning as the track is right on the ocean, but it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day. We met some lovely people, but the highlight of the day was seeing Alvaro Bautista hitting a seagull on his motorbike! It happened right in front of where we were standing, and I saw it sitting on the track and urged it to move but as the bikes came flying around the corner, it was too late. Poor little guy!

The following day we explored Carlton, with the famous Lygon St boasting countless restaurants. Our first stop however was Brunetti’s where we shared vanilla and pistachio profiteroles, a fruit tart and some crostoli. Everything was great, including the coffee. In fact the quality of coffee in Melbourne generally seems considerably higher than in Sydney – out of the several that I had, only one was average. We saw a movie (Wall-E, which we just loved) and had dinner at an Italian restaurant, before stopping in to Koko Black quickly for a chocolate truffle fix.

cycling

Yes, we did manage some shopping, which may just be what Melbourne is most famous for. I bought a great little black dress, as I realised I didn’t actually own one, and as everyone knows it is a must-have in any woman’s wardrobe. We caught the tram to St Kilda, had lunch in a nice little park and wandered down Fitzroy St to Fritz Gelato. It was a cold, windy day and at 3pm the girl told us we were her first customers of the day. I loved the gelato, mine was chocolate hazelnut with plum pudding. We also stopped in quickly to Baker D.Chirico for a coffee, though sadly we couldn’t fit in anything else.

laneway

Pushka is a tiny café in a laneway off a laneway. The walls outside it are covered with framed pictures, and the place just screams Melbourne. It’s quirky and fun, arty but not pretentious. Little touches like fancy antique spoons to go with your coffee make it something special. Everything about the place appealed to me, and almost made me want to open a tiny café of my own.

laurent patisserie

Our last stop before heading to the airport was Laurent Patisserie, which was located literally footsteps from our hotel, though we didn’t realise until our last day. If we had, we might have spent a whole lot more time there! I loved my pear tartlet, but no visit would be complete without some macarons – vanilla and lemon flavoured. Steve enjoyed his undeniably pretty chocolate and macadamia crème brulee.

I really enjoyed seeing much more of Melbourne this trip than in all my other trips there combined. It is such an interesting, diverse city with so much more to see, do and eat. We never made it to the Chokolait Hub, and an unfortunate last minute scheduling clash meant that I never got to catch up with Linda from Butter, Sugar, Flour as we'd planned. It's certain that I'll be back just as soon as I can. Though there's a lot to be said about coming home, too. Flying back into Sydney at night is magical. The city sparkles and sprawls on seemingly forever. I don't particularly like goodbyes, but Melbourne, we'll see you later.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blogger Brunch

yum cha

I’m fashionably late with my write up of the Sydney Blogger Brunch, and this time I can’t even blame Sydney trains! Christie from Fig & Cherry was the mastermind behind the event, and yum cha at East Ocean in Haymarket was the setting. It was my first time meeting food bloggers, and what surprised me most out of the whole day was not how much I enjoyed my first taste of chicken feet but how easily the conversations flowed around the large round table.

The turnout was great – Christie from Fig & Cherry, Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella, Suze from Chocolate Suze, Helen from Grab Your Fork, Jen from Jenius, Kathryn from Limes and Lycopene, Belle and William from Ooh, Look, Reem from I Am Obsessed with Food, and Qingling and Howard from Eat Show and Tell were all in attendance and it was absolutely wonderful to meet them all. I even discovered some new blogs that I’d never read before.

The conversation was peppered with talk of all things food – the many and varied events of Good Food Month in Sydney, Nigella Lawson, Adriano Zumbo (whose café doesn’t open until next weekend, unfortunately) and the meals that some of us ate as poor university students. Laughs were shared, as were all manner of dumplings. But not before cameras were whipped out of handbags and backpacks to snap photos of the food. We were hungry, but not surprised and waited patiently to pick up our chopsticks.

A huge thanks goes to Christie for organising it all and picking such a great restaurant. I look forward to the next gathering with a rumbly tummy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Heartbeat

pizza

At the tail end of my Perth trip in June, only hours before I was due to fly home, we talked about going to Melbourne. I checked when my next holidays were and we found that they coincided with the Phillip Island MotoGP. And just like that, it was set. If Melbourne’s weather was as good as Sydney’s, I think I’d move there in a heartbeat. I fell a little bit in love with the bustling city barely a 90-minute flight south that loves food just as much as it loves art and shopping. There’s so much exploring to do, and even more eating. Here are the highlights, with some photos taken on Steve’s iPhone since my camera wigged out on Day One.

I’ve talked before about Little Creatures, the brewery in Fremantle but now they have opened up a Dining Hall in Fitzroy with a slightly adapted menu from their west coast operation. I had the potato and rosemary pizza, which was even more delicious than I expected, and I look forward to trying to recreate it in my own kitchen. We wandered down to Books For Cooks, the little shop on Gertrude St that sells cookbooks exclusively. I remarked that I could spend all day there; luckily there was a comfy sofa on which to sit while poring through the books.

swing

We had a little time to kill while waiting for a friend to join us for dinner, so we wandered up the road and stumbled across Radio Bar & Café where I had a really great coffee. We played on the swings and the see-saw before going all the way back to Gertrude St Enoteca. I’d heard about this place on Bea’s blog when she visited Melbourne and I loved the sound of it. The atmosphere was great, the clientele were about as diverse as you can imagine, and we got to eat cheese for dinner, which I think is a pretty great thing.

lemon tart

The next day we went to Queen Victoria Market to buy ingredients for the dinner I had planned for that evening. I loved the fact that so much fresh food was available right in the middle of the city, and we spent an inordinate amount of time in the Deli Hall drooling over cheeses. When the shopping was done and put away in M’s kitchen, she took us to Poyntons Nursery for what she described as “the best lemon tart in Melbourne”. The setting was absolutely beautiful, and so was the tart, but I think Dorie still wins. As a little thank you to our friend who was hosting us for the first few days of our trip, I made my favourite eggplant pasta that night, which luckily even her Italian man approved of. Dessert was a warm strawberry and rhubarb compote served over vanilla ice cream, and a couple of cannoli.

cannoli

I was also lucky enough to catch up with my cousin who moved to Melbourne two years ago. She is also obsessed with cooking, and her cookbook collection almost puts mine to shame. Together we made banana bread for an afternoon snack, and an amazing pizza for dinner, with bocconcini and marscarpone, proscuitto, olives, basil and rocket. Her daughter is growing up so fast, she will be four years old before we know it. We watched The Wiggles, she hid in a Coles enviro-bag, and apparently she was sad when I left, and asked when I was coming back. I think it will have to be soon. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Melbourne adventures, coming up soon!

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