Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Daring Bakers: December

yule log

Daring Bakers December, the challenge of all challenges! A French Yule log, or a Buche de Noel, with a recipe spanning 12 pages. I was biting my nails as I read through the instructions for the multi-component dessert, with the realisation that I better keep a weekend free sometime in December – a difficult feat, as I’m sure you’re aware! This is probably the most labour intensive dessert I’ve ever made, but it was slightly easier to split up the elements and complete the whole process over a few days – the long weekend helped, certainly!

The December challenge consisted of
- A dacquoise biscuit
- A crème brulee insert
- A feuillette (crisp) insert
- Mousse
- A ganache insert
- Icing

I stuck to a chocolate flavoured Yule log – a favourite with everyone around here – with a vanilla crème brulee and a white chocolate and coconut crisp insert. As I was making it, I was amazed how good each of the elements tasted individually, and though I was still nervous about my ability to pull the whole thing off, I knew that no matter how ugly it may turn out to be, it would still be delicious. The white chocolate and coconut crisp was especially tasty, and the off-cuts were devoured in a matter of seconds!

I ran into slight problems when my crème brulee insert wasn’t frozen enough to cut, and sort of collapsed slightly. I had the mousse ready to go, and was running short on time so I refroze the crème brulee for a while longer and did the best I could to assemble it. In some cross-sections, the crème brulee has all but disappeared! I also found that the icing didn’t quite cover the whole log nicely, but made some rather interesting decorative drips down the sides.

All in all, it was a very interesting and definitely challenging experience with ups and downs. But it is incredibly delicious, and I think it was worth the time and effort. I’m not going to post the recipe because it is so long, but for more Yule log goodness, check out the Daring Bakers Blog Roll!

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
 They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Half Full

ice cream

This summer hasn’t really felt very summery at all so far, with the temperature regularly hovering around 23ºC, which for me requires long sleeves! This week however, we’re set for much more seasonally appropriate temperatures, the timing of which is both good and bad. Unfortunately, our air conditioner at home is broken. But! I’ve borrowed an ice cream maker while its owner is interstate. Glass half full?

And what better recipe to try first than this one, which Dorie herself claims is the “summeriest” of ice creams. I had a punnet of beautiful blueberries in the fridge, and wanted something quick and delicious to do with them. This recipe is so easy, and requires so little actual hands-on preparation time. It also gets points for being eggless, because the last thing my freezer needs right now is more egg whites – I sense a pavlova or three may be on the horizon.

I like that the ice cream isn’t too rich or too sweet. The sour cream gives it a nice tangy flavour. My favourite thing about it, though, has got to be the vibrant purple colour. When it came out of the food processor, it looked like some kind of magic potion, complete with bubbles. I fought the urge to cackle. My mind has been going into overdrive thinking up other flavour combinations I can make, but I would definitely call this first attempt a resounding success!

Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream
Makes about 0.5 L (1 Pint)
Recipe adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

• 1 cup blueberries
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
• ¾ cup heavy cream
• ¾ cup sour cream

1. Place the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice into a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture boils and the blueberries start to pop and soften
2. Turn the mixture into a blender or food processor and whir until you have a fairly homogenous mixture, though it will never become completely smooth. Add the cream and sour cream and pulse until just blended. Taste, and add a little more sugar or lemon juice if required.
3. Refrigerate until chilled before churning into ice cream.
4. Scrape into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream into a container and freeze for at least 2 hours, until it is firm enough to scoop.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Counting The Days

fruitcake

December has a bad habit of going by at lightning speed. It’s very sneaky that way. Since the department stores have had their decorations up since some time in October, you may have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking you still have plenty of time for planning and shopping and cooking, but the next thing you know, you’re counting the days til New Years. If Christmas snuck up on you this year like it did for me, here’s a great recipe for you that is not only quick to make as far as hands-on preparation is concerned, but so very easy, and absolutely delicious.

I was never a big fan of the typical Christmas fruitcake, usually way too rich and boozy for my taste. This year I wanted to make one of my own, but when time ran short, this recipe was an absolute lifesaver. It’s the best fruitcake I’ve ever eaten – moist and studded with a variety of different dried fruit soaked in your choice of whisky or brandy. I’m a whisky girl, personally. Baked in a cupcake tin, the cooking time is much less than a whole cake, and the small size is the perfect portion after a big lunch. I like mine warm and served with custard, but you could also serve them with ice cream or even icing.

For me this year, Christmas will be a much quieter one than usual since most of my extended family is travelling interstate over the holidays. I’m looking forward to more relaxed holiday season for a change! I would like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas! I hope yours is filled with great food and great company, and that everyone who is travelling stays safe xox

Little Figgy Christmas Cakes
Makes 12 small cakes
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay magazine

• 1 cup sultanas
• ½ cup currants
• ½ cup pitted dates, chopped
• ½ cup dried figs, chopped
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2/3 cup whisky or brandy
• 125g butter, softened and chopped
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 ¼ cups plain flour
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• ¼ cup hazelnut meal

1. Place sultanas, currants, dates, figs, mixed spice, vanilla and whisky in a bowl. Mix well, cover and soak for 6-8 hours or overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda and hazelnut meal over the fruit mixture and mix well ensuring all the fruit is coated in flour. Add the butter mixture and stir to combine well.
4. Spoon into 6 x 1 cup capacity lightly greased muffin tins. Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow them to cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Soft Spot

gingerbread man

There is something special about gingerbread men, something that makes me think no matter how old you are, they will always have a special place in your heart. A nostalgic soft spot for a baked good is not uncommon; I mean just look how popular cupcakes have become! I remember my parents staying up extraordinarily late making and decorating giant twin gingerbread men for my fourth birthday, and I can definitely imagine making them with my own kids one day.

I have wanted to make up a batch of gingerbread men ever since I saw my favourite Sydney bakery starting to sell them in early December. They are perfect for Christmas-time, and make great little home made gifts. I have kept the embellishments simple – just royal icing and smarties for buttons, but you could get far more creative with fondant or other embellishments if you’re keen!

This recipe makes the kind of gingerbread I like – chewy rather than crunchy, and subtly spiced rather than overpowering. You can of course adjust the amount of ginger used according to your own personal taste. I like to use freshly grated ginger, but if it’s unavailable you could use powdered ginger. The royal icing recipe uses a raw pasteurised egg white, but if you are concerned about health risks, you could use meringue powder instead.

Gingerbread Men
Makes 14-16 cookies
Adapted from Donna Hay magazine

• 125g butter, softened and chopped
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 2/3 cup golden syrup
• 2 ½ cups plain flour, sifted
• 1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
• 1 ½ teaspoons fresh ginger, grated

Royal Icing
• 1 pasteurised egg white
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 ½ cups icing sugar, sifted
• Smarties, to decorate

1. Preheat oven to 190ºC (370ºF). Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes until light and creamy.
2. Add the golden syrup, flour, baking soda and ginger and beat until mixture just comes together to form a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. Roll out dough between 2 sheets of non-stick baking paper until 5mm thick. Use a gingerbread man shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Cool on trays.
4. To make the royal icing, place the egg white and lemon juice and beat until frothy. Add the icing sugar and beat until mixture is combined and smooth. Use a piping bag or a zip lock bag with the corner snipped off to pipe the icing and decorate the gingerbread men.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Catch Up

caramel cake

As I’m sure you’re sick of hearing me say, November was a very busy time. Though I had the best of intentions, I missed the deadline for the Daring Bakers Challenge. It feels naughty handing in my homework late, but after seeing everyone else’s beautiful caramel cakes, and hearing the general consensus of “it was great”, I knew I still had to bake it. And with my Mum’s birthday on the horizon and her being the biggest caramel fan I know, it was the perfect occasion and a wonderful opportunity to catch up.

The November challenge consisted of:
- Shuna Fish Lydon’s famous caramel cake
- Caramelised butter frosting

I wanted to stick to the recipe as it was written, as to not confuse the caramel taste in the slightest. We were also given free reign over the presentation of the cake. I thought about making cupcakes, but I thought my Mum would like a ‘real’ birthday cake that could be cut and shared. Shuna’s instructions were a little daunting, especially those about “balancing fat with acid and protein just right”. It almost made it sound like a science project!

My fears were unfounded though, because the cake came together without any problems, and was just delicious. It was dense, but still intensely moist and had an amazing depth of flavour from the caramel sauce. The icing was quite sweet, it has nearly half a kilo of icing sugar in it afterall, but sea salt was used to balance it out and it turned out to be delicious. I think the cake would also be delicious with the milk chocolate and caramel frosting from this recipe. The leftover caramelised butter frosting would be absolutely delicious sandwiched between two vanilla cookies.

Even though I didn’t make the challenge deadline, I’m still very glad I got to bake the cake. I enjoyed making it, and everyone enjoyed eating it. I served it after a dinner of prosciutto wrapped chicken with quince paste, and potato and zucchini gratin courtesy of Not Quite Nigella.

Caramel Cake with Caramelised Butter Frosting
Recipe adapted from Shuna Fish Lydon

• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup caramel syrup (see recipe below)
• 2 eggs, at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• 1 cup milk, at room temperature

Caramel Syrup
• 2 cups sugar
• ½ cup water
• 1 cup water (for stopping the caramelization process)

Caramelised Butter Frosting
• 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 450g icing sugar, sifted
• 4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2-4 teaspoons caramel syrup
• Sea salt to taste

1. To make caramel syrup, in a stainless steel saucepan with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray crystals with a wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly and dark amber in colour.
2. When colour is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and spatter about. It is very dangerous so wear long sleeves and be prepared to step back. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced and feels slightly sticky between two fingers (after it has been cooled on a spoon)
3. To make the cake, preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and butter one tall 23cm cake pan.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt and cream until light and fluffy. Slowly add the room-temperature caramel, scrape down the bowl and increase speed.
5. Add the eggs and vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again and beat mixture until light and uniform.
6. Sift flour and baking powder together. Turn mixer to lowest speed and add 1/3 of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients.
7. Take off mixer and by hand, with a spatula do the last few folds, making sure the batter is uniform. Turn batter in to the prepared cake tin. Place cake pan on cookie sheet.
8. Set a time for 30 minutes, then rotate the pan and set the timer for another 15-20 minutes. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for 3 days outside of the refrigerator.
9. To make the caramelised butter frosting, cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl and set aside to cool.
10. Pour cooled brown butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. With the whisk or paddle attachment fixed, add icing sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioners sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste. Frosting will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rather Adventurous

duck sausages

We spent a rather adventurous few days staying in the city, and as is my habit, I seemed to plan all of our activities around the food we could eat. Our hotel room overlooked Central station, and I liked watching the trains come in. It had a nice little kitchen where I cooked us dinner a few times – tagliatelle with sage and brown butter, and a rather interesting meal of Eumundi Smokehouse duck and pistachio sausages.

On Saturday morning we got up nice and early to visit the Good Living Growers Market in Pyrmont for the first time. I’m usually never awake early enough to make the trip into town when they’re on – the first Saturday of every month – but this worked out nicely. A short walk to Central and we caught a tram to Star City. It was already quite warm by the time we got there, and I loved browsing the stalls. For dinner, I decided to buy some Eumundi sausages after hearing so much about them and some salad vegetables to go with them.

But cooking the sausages in a small hotel room caused a lot of smoke, and even though they weren’t burning, it set the fire alarm off in the room! We tried to shut it off but within seconds there was an announcement to evacuate the building!! A crowd of guests formed on the footpath outside the building, and a few minutes later, two fire trucks arrived outside!!! Embarrassed, we explained the situation, and I ended up finishing cooking the sausages in the oven and not the stove. I am happy to say though, after all that drama that the duck sausages were delicious, and the vine cherry tomatoes and baby carrots were some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.

mis-matched cutlery

I don’t usually do restaurant reviews, but I wanted to mention another memorable meal we had at Baja Cantina in Glebe. I’ve walked past the place hundreds of times on lunchtime excursions to Gleebooks next door, and saw them win on The Chopping Block on Channel 9 a few weeks ago with the highest star rating ever awarded on the show. My curiosity was piqued and we decided to go there for dinner after my graduation last Monday. We got there early, but the place soon filled out, and for that reason the service fluctuated between overly attentive and not existent. I liked the décor – bold, bright colours, different for each wall with quirky touches like mis-matched cutlery, coloured water bottles and hot sauce on each table and a few cacti for full Mexican atmosphere.

We started with some tomato and coriander salsa with warmed corn chips, and then ordered the Chicken Mole and Taco Supremo with pork carnitas to share. I was looking forward to the Mole – chicken and chocolate, what’s not to love, but it was the taco that really stole the show. From the tender pork pieces to the absolutely delicious soft tortilla, even the salad dressing was tasty. It was also a huge portion size for a very reasonable price, and even between us we couldn’t finish it. The chicken mole was tasty, served with rice and came with an odd accompanying sauce that didn’t taste like much. We asked our waiter what was in it, and all I remember from what he said was “pork fat”. I’ve been craving tacos all week, and I’m looking forward to a return visit with my sister one day soon.

Baja Cantina and Beer Garden
43-45 Glebe Pt Road, Glebe

mains

Friday, December 12, 2008

Summer Collection

box

While most of Sydney’s other food bloggers descended upon Adriano Zumbo Patisserie in Balmain recently, I was hard at work preparing my final assessment for college – a portfolio of work from the year that would make up 50% of my grade, that was due the next day. I was quite upset that I couldn’t make it to catch up with such a great group of people, but decided that as a treat after the portfolio was done and dusted, I’d take myself there for a look at, and taste of the summer collection aptly titled ‘Please Sir, Can I Have Some More’.

macarons

Adriano Zumbo is one of the most original pastry chefs in Sydney right now, and it is an absolute joy to see his colourful and creative display of pastries with innovative flavour combinations and striking presentations. He has admitted his new favourite was liquorice and mango, and we tried it in macaron form. I am not so keen on liquorice, and Steve doesn’t like mango but surprisingly we both liked the balance of the macaron. We also had a delicious sticky date flavoured one (with a pretty pearly sheen), a hazelnutty feullitine and a floral earl grey from the café.

pastries

The most intriguing member of the new collection was Zumbo The Kid (pictured in front), which had Vegemite in the bavaroise base, a peanut butter crème legere, raspberry jelly, chocolate peanut glaze, peanut feullitine and a flourless chocolate biscuit. The Vegemite didn’t have a strong flavour, but gave an element of saltiness to balance the cake. A wonderful trip down memory lane, to recapture all of the flavours we loved as kids in a grown up dessert. The Miss Marple Cheesecake was also a must-try after seeing it on other blogs, and it didn’t disappoint. The orange and strawberry cheesecake was topped with a crepe and a maple glaze. The cheesecake wasn’t too heavy or too sweet, and the orange and strawberry elements were delicious.

not a hamburger

But we couldn’t leave without seeing the café, complete with red chandelier. After much deliberation, we decided to share the ‘It’s Not a Hamburger, It’s a Macaron’ – a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream sandwiched in a chocolate macaron on a bed of banana rice pudding and topped with chocolate cookie ‘soil’. The girls told us it would be a short wait, and seated comfortably in the lounge, we took in our surroundings. It is an interesting and eclectic setting, definitely worth a repeat visit. We both very much enjoyed the dish and Lorraine was right about its banoffee taste. The cookie crumbs gave it a nice change of texture. Next time I am very keen to try ‘The Younger Years’ – served in a kidney dish, with an accompanying syringe of raspberry sauce that you inject into the chocolate fondant!

quiche charlie

I decided to return to the patisserie for a Quiche Charlie that took my eye earlier, because surely I’d be hungry again later! It was a delicious potato and chorizo quiche, probably the best quiche I’ve ever tried. But what really made my day was that in the time between my first and second visits they had added Charles Du Jour to the display, and I of course had to try it. It’s a vanilla lover’s dream, named after one of the talkative and friendly boys manning the counter. He seemed impressed when we mentioned the great lengths we’d traveled to be there (the Western suburbs, and Western Australia). It was my favourite, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to snap a picture of it because the camera battery died! It consisted of pate sucree, vanilla ganache, vanilla crème chantilly, vanilla glaze and vanilla ‘water bursts’ – chocolate balls filled with vanilla water that pop in your mouth. The taste of the real vanilla was amazing throughout every single element.

chandelier

What can I say, I think the pictures speak for themselves. All I know is that it definitely won’t be long before I’m back again. There’s still so many pastries from the Summer Collection to try, after all...

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