Thursday, April 30, 2009

Higher Calling

ice cream sandwich

Sometimes a girl just needs cookies. It’s a very specific and completely non-negotiable craving, and you just can’t go past the prolific chocolate chip. They are comforting and familiar, and exactly what I needed last Saturday. That, and a pair of cookie pants! Conveniently, they were also the choice for April in the Tartine Cookbook challenge that Mark and I have been doing this year, and I’m happy to say, another successful Tartine recipe.

The thing that interested me most about Tartine’s version of the chocolate chip cookie was the addition of oats and walnuts. It sounded like a winning combination, and I assure you it was. But they are a completely different species to the ones I proclaimed as my favourite ever last year, the famous New York Times cookies. It’s such an incredibly subjective thing, but I’d have to say my heart still lies with the New York Times beauties, because the perfect cookie has to have substance and just a little bit of crunch. And lots of chocolate. That's a given, really.

Tartine’s were the flat and chewy variety, but this isn’t a bad thing. I think I’ve found their higher calling – an ice cream sandwich. Inspiration struck on the train home one evening and I was thrilled. I was also tempted to eat cookies for dinner, I won’t lie. This time I used vanilla ice cream, but my mind spins with the many flavours that would work especially well – white chocolate, espresso, and caramel just to name a few. Also, make sure you go and check out Mark’s blog too, he has just posted some delicious looking double chocolate cookies!

Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Cookies
Makes 24
Recipe adapted from Tartine

• 340g bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
• 2 cups plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
• 225g unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1 ¾ cups sugar
• 4 teaspoons golden syrup
• 2 large eggs
• 2 tablespoons whole milk (I used soy milk)
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
2. Coarsely chop the chocolate into pieces. Chill in the freezer until needed.
3. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flower, baking powder, baking soda and oats. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the treacle and beat until well combined.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition before adding the next egg. Beat in the milk, vanilla and salt and then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until well incorporated. Scrape the sides again and fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts with a spatula.
5. Have a small bowl of water ready. Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet with an icecream scoop. Dip your fingers into the water and press out each scoop into a thin, flat, 3-inch circle.
6. Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned but the centers remain pale, 10-12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: April

cheesecake

I had mixed feelings about the April challenge from the start. While I loved the absolute freedom and opportunity to be creative with this recipe, I was a little uninspired by the choice of cheesecake. Add in a hectic month at work, the Easter long weekend, a little trip up the coast and a bout of the flu on the last weekend of the month, and I’d say it’s a near miracle that I got the challenge done at all! But I’m glad that I made it, because even though I was a little delirious on account of the flu medication and running a fever at the time of making the cheesecake, it was an easy (and very forgiving) recipe that still turned out beautifully.

The April Challenge consisted of:
• Abbey’s infamous baked cheesecake recipe, adapted in any way we want, with any flavour modification and presentation we could dream up.

I decided to make little maple and cinnamon cheesecakes with a hint of cinnamon and ginger in the crust, served individually in ramekins with a crackly burnt sugar top. I only made one third of the original recipe, which was just enough for the four of us. I thought that the flavours were perfect for the cooler autumn weather we’ve been having, a nice balance of sweetness and spice. The toffee top gave it a wonderful crunch that I loved and made this challenge extra daring!

I will say though, that it was intensely rich, I think it was far too rich for my taste. I could barely eat two spoonfuls before I’d had enough, but then I feel that way about most cheesecakes. I would quite probably serve it in smaller portions again if I were to make it in the future. My favourite part about this challenge was to see the amazingly diverse and original flavour combinations that other Daring Bakers came up with for their own cheesecakes. I have written the recipe below with the modifications as I made it.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Maple and Cinnamon Baked Cheesecake
Makes 4 servings

Crust
• 60g cookie crumbs (I used Marie biscuits)
• 40g butter, melted
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Filling
• 250g cream cheese, room temperature
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2-3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 4 teaspoons brown sugar (for brûléeing the top, optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Begin to boil a pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the ingredients for the crust in a small bowl and press evenly into four small ramekins. Set aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream together until smooth. Add the egg and mix until fully incorporated. Scrape down the bowl. Add cream, lemon juice, vanilla, maple syrup and cinnamon and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Divide mixture between ramekins and tap on the counter to expel all air bubbles. Place in a larger square or rectangular pan and pour in the boiling water until it reaches halfway up each ramekin.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes until they are almost done. They should jiggle a little in the center but not be fully cooked yet. Close the oven door, turn the heat off and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This allows the cake to finish cooking and cool down gently so that it won’t crack on top.
6. After one hour, move the cheesecake from the oven and lift carefully out of the water bath. Let it cool to room temperature and then cover and place in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
7. To brulee the top, spread about 1 teaspoon of brown sugar over the top of each cheesecake. With a small blowtorch, caramelise the sugar evenly.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Real Treat

pie

I had a bit of a love affair with pears last winter, maybe you remember? I thought that maybe after a few months of berries and mangoes I might have moved on from this obsession. But to be completely honest I couldn’t help myself, and snapped up the some of the first pears I saw at the markets. It gave me the same kind of rush as buying a fabulous new coat. This is what they turned into – a pear, vanilla and cardamom lattice pie for the annual Easter lunch with the whole family at my Nanna’s house.

I often make a dessert for these rather large gatherings and I love making something different every time. It’s nice to have a panel of willing taste testers, who I know will be honest with me! In the past there has been Red Velvet cake for Christmas, cheesecake last Easter, and I’m already thinking about what I might bring to Mother’s Day lunch! This pie went down a real treat, with only one slice left at the end of the day.

I loved that it wasn’t too sweet, the pastry was buttery and flaky and I even managed a proper lattice pattern, unlike last time! The original recipe from the beautiful blog Milk Eggs Chocolate suggests using agave nectar in place of raw sugar in the filling. I didn’t have any handy, but this substitution would make the pie entirely sugar free. The only thing I might change for next time is to possibly experiment with a little brown butter infused with the vanilla bean in the filling, or to add a splash of brandy or pear liqueur. That would turn this pie from something special to something extraordinary.

Pear Vanilla and Cardamom Lattice Pie
Serves 8-10
Adapted from Milk Eggs Chocolate

Crust
• 3 cups plain flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons salt
• 220g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1cm cubes
• 8 tablespoons (or more) ice water
• 1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Filling
• 4-5 medium size pears, cored and thinly sliced
• ¼ - 1/3 cup raw sugar
• ¼ cup plain flour
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

1. To make the pastry, blend flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms.
2. Add 8 tablespoons of ice water and the vinegar and blend until moist clumps form. If it looks too dry, add more water one tablespoon at a time.
3. Gather dough together and turn onto a work surface. Divide in half and flatten each into a disk. Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 40 minutes – 1 hour.
4. In the meantime, combine pears, sugar, flour, vanilla extract, cardamom and vanilla seeds in a large bowl. Toss to blend well and let stand for about 30 minutes, or until the dry ingredients are moistened.
5. To assemble the pie, lightly grease your pie dish with non-stick spray. Roll out one disc of pie dough on a lightly floured surface to a 35cm round. Transfer to pie dish and line bottom. Roll out the second disc to the same size and cut 2cm wide strips. Arrange strips in one direction across top of the pie, spacing apart. Working with one strip at a time, arrange more strips in opposite direction, lifting and weaving to form a lattice. Gently press ends of strips to edge of bottom crust to adhere. Trim overhand.
6. Bake pie for 35-45 minutes or until filling bubbles thickly and lattice is golden brown. Cool on pie rack. Serve warm or room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Yet More Cake

beth's cake

When I asked my sister what kind of birthday cake she’d like, she said, “surprise me.” She was turning 16, and I wanted to do something a little bit special for her. I looked through several cookbooks for inspiration, but for some reason, I kept coming back to Dorie Greenspan’s Devil’s Food White Out Cake, the one gracing the cover of ‘Baking From My Home To Yours’. A rich and dark Devil’s Food cake covered with fluffy snow-white marshmallow frosting and topped with yet more cake? It was meant to be.

You may notice that my cake has only two layers. Yes, because I don’t own an 8-inch cake pan, I baked this in a 9-inch one, which meant that the cakes were just a little to thin to cut them in half again for a third layer. Nevertheless, this cake was absolutely delicious.

I think the secret to a really great chocolate cake is buttermilk. At least that is the common factor in all of the best chocolate cakes I’ve made in recent times. The cake was moist and rich but became beautifully fudgy in texture after being in the fridge. The icing was a nice balance to the cake, it was sweet without being too rich, and gorgeously fluffy.

Beth helped me decorate it, by sprinkling the cake crumbs over the top and sides of the cake. She absolutely loved it, which is the most important thing. And I loved making her smile. At 16 years old, she’s already considerably taller than me. She has a big personality but an even bigger heart and I love her to bits. Happy Birthday Beth, my little-big sister.

Devil’s Food White Out Cake
Recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Serves 12

Cake
• 1 1/3 cups plain flour
• ½ cup cocoa powder
• ¾ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 150g butter, room temperature
• ½ cup (packed) brown sugar
• ½ cup sugar
• 3 large eggs, room temperature
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 55g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
• ½ cup buttermilk or whole milk, room temperature
• ½ cup boiling water
• 115g dark chocolate, finely chopped

Filling and Frosting
• 4 egg whites
• 1 cup sugar
• ¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
• 1 cup water
• 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, and line with non-stick baking paper.
2. To make the cake, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, and then add the vanilla extract.
3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate. When fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point the batter will be thick, like frosting.
4. Mix in the boiling water on low speed, then with a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the baking pans and smooth the tops with the spatula.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans at the halfway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool to room temperature.
6. When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers, level them off and cut each cake in half horizontally using a long serrated knife. Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer. Set the crumbs aside.
7. To make the frosting, put the egg whites in a clean dry mixer bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand. Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a medium size saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow to syrup to boil until it reaches 117ºC (242ºF) on the candy thermometer.
8. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the eggs. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to love and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup between the beaters and the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating until the egg whites are room temperature, about 5 minutes. It should be smooth, shiny and marshmallowy.
9. To assemble, place the bottom layer cut side up on a cake plate. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down and frost the sides and top of the cake. Then cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing into the filling with your fingers. Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Favourite

fig salad

Last week was exhausting. Between working back, a few late nights, feeling the beginnings of a cold and then having to work on my day off, by the time the end of the week came around I really, really understood the meaning of the age-old saying “TGIF!” But on the way to work on Friday, I had a little stickybeak at the Rocks Markets and found figs – gorgeous dark purple figs, which I bought without a second thought.

I usually try not to impulse buy fruit and vegetables without a clear idea of what I’m going to do with them, but I just couldn’t resist these figs. It was especially exciting because Nanna’s fig tree had a poor yield this season, with the wet, humid weather and the birds who got to them before we could! So I wanted to show them off in the simplest way possible, and what better than a seasonal salad, just perfect for this time of year.

Figs and hazelnuts seem to be best friends, and they are one of my favourite flavour combinations. I simply roasted the nuts in the oven for a few minutes so I could easily remove the skins. The recipe that inspired the salad had a balsamic reduction, in which you cook down some balsamic vinegar until it’s thick. I skipped this step, but next time I might try it. I also couldn’t find any hazelnut oil so I substituted with macadamia oil, which is more readily available.

I feel a little silly actually giving a recipe for this, because it’s so simple, but it’s more a set of instructions for assembling it. You could serve this on it’s own as a light lunch or a starter, or as I did as a side dish to a gorgeous prosciutto and quince paste wrapped chicken breast, which was delicious.

Fig and Hazelnut Salad
Recipe inspired by Notebook magazine
Serves 1 (but easily scaled up)

For each person
• Large handful of mixed greens or watercress, rinsed and patted dry
• 2-3 figs, torn in half
• 5-6 hazelnuts
• Macadamia Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Place hazelnuts in a shallow metal baking dish and roast for 5 minutes. Place warm hazelnuts in a clean tea towel and rub with your hands to remove the skins. This is more easily done when they are still warm.
2. In a bowl or on a plate, assemble the lettuce and the torn figs on top. Scatter over the hazelnuts, dress with macadamia oil and balsamic vinegar and serve.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Chill

cinnamon roll

I can feel it already – the chill in the air in the mornings, the sun setting a little earlier each evening, the apples and plums that have appeared at the markets, the leaves starting to change colour – autumn is definitely here. I am always a little torn around this time of year, between wanting to hold on to the gorgeous long hot summer days, and feeling just about ready to dig out the scarf and the stockpot.

I sat on the train home the other day, doodling in a brand new notebook and writing a list of autumn and winter recipe ideas, when I remembered I’d bookmarked the recipe for Molly’s cinnamon rolls when it was published in her column in Bon Appetit back in March 2008. I was saving it for cool weather, but it has taken me a year to finally make it. And I am so glad that I finally did, because these are something special.

I’ve had this feeling lately, that I want to do more baking with yeast – I make pizza dough on a regular basis, but I do want to try my hand at more breads and sweet doughs. It no longer makes me as nervous as it used to, but I still feel like quite a beginner at yeasted doughs. This is an easy recipe that comes together in minutes in a stand mixer. In fact the only part I found a little difficult was waiting for the dough to rise!

The cinnamon rolls are sweet and sticky, with a good kick of cinnamon, but the cream cheese icing was pure genius. They are at their best when still warm from the oven. We polished off the whole batch within 24 hours, I’m not kidding. There is no doubt I will be making these again soon. The winter is long, after all.

cinnamon roll (86)

Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Molly’s recipe on Epicurious
Makes 18

Dough
• 1 cup milk
• 45g unsalted butter
• 3 ½ cups plain flour
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 2 ¼ teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Non-stick vegetable oil spray

Filling
• ¾ cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 55g unsalted butter, room temperature

Glaze
• 100g cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
• 55g unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the dough, combine milk and butter in a microwave safe cup or bowl. Microwave on high for 30-45 seconds, until butter melts and mixture is warm.
2. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast and salt. Beat on low speed for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3. Add remaining 2 ½ cups flour and beat on low speed until flour is absorbed. If dough is very sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time until dough begins to form a ball and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding more flour if sticky, for about 8 minutes. Form into a ball. Lightly oil a bowl with non-stick spray. Transfer dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then a tea towel. Let dough rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
5. For the filling, mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl.
6. Punch the dough down and transfer to a floured work surface. Roll out a 30x40cm rectangle. Spread butter over the dough, leaving 1.5cm border. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter. Starting at a long side, roll the dough into a log. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with a thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices, 1.5cm wide.
7. Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with non-stick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging with cut side up. Cover with plastic wrap, then a tea towel. Let dough rise for 40-45 minutes, until almost doubled in volume.
8. Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 190°C (375°F). Bake for about 20 minutes, until tops are golden. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn rolls right side up.
9. To make the glaze, combine cream cheese, icing sugar, butter and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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