Saturday, June 27, 2009

Inspired By

bakewell tart

Afternoon tea has been on my mind lately, and not just because I’m organising an epic high tea with some of my favourite food bloggers! From Victorian-era decadence with tiered cake stands and fine china to the more modest cup of tea and a few biscuits, I am sad that it has fallen by the wayside in the modern world. This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge stirred up these feelings even more.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

The June Challenge consisted of
• Making Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
• Making Almond Frangipane
• An option to make our own jam or curd filling

I was inspired by the gorgeous pears this winter, and decided to try my hand at making pear butter. Using Melissa’s post from The Traveller’s Lunchbox as a guide I got to work, cutting the recipe in half and substituting a vanilla bean for the cardamom. The final product was gorgeous and full flavoured, even though I had a little incident and burned caramelised the bottoms of a few pear pieces while cooking them! I might try this again in the original quantities and can some for later.

I kept the vanilla theme going throughout the whole tart, using vanilla extract in place of almond extract in the pastry and the frangipane. The only thing I might have changed was to blind-bake the tart shell for a few minutes before adding the filling as it was just slightly underdone, but this is only a minor point. I enjoyed this as I like to think it was intended – with a hot cup of tea on a drizzly wintery afternoon.

Bakewell Tart
Serves 8-10

Pear Butter
• 6-7 ripe pears (I used Beurre Bosc)
• 1 1/3 cups sugar
• Juice of ½ lemon
• 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
• 225g plain flour
• 30g sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 110g unsalted butter, cold
• 2 egg yolks
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1-2 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane
• 125g unsalted butter, softened
• 125g icing sugar
• 3 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 125g ground almonds
• 30g all purpose flour

1. To make the pear butter, peel and core pears and cut into medium size chunks. Combine with sugar in a bowl and allow to macerate for 1-2 hours.
2. Pour the pears and the liquid into a large pot. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla seeds. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, and then lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the pears are soft and starting to fall apart.
3. Remove from the heat and, with a hand blender or a normal blender, blend until smooth. Return to the pot and allow the mixture to simmer gently, stirring frequently until the butter reduces to a thick sauce, about 1 hour. Allow to cool.
4. In the meantime, make your shortcrust pastry. Sift flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Using a box grater, grate the butter into the bowl and rub together with your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
5. In a separate small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and the vanilla extract and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water a tablespoon at a time, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough. Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
6. When 30 minutes is up, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 5mm thick. Transfer to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
8. To make the frangipane, cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Don’t worry if the mixture appears to look curdled. Pour in the vanilla extract and mix for another 30 seconds. Spoon in the ground almonds and flour and mix well.
9. To assemble the tart, spoon the cooled pear butter in an even layer onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and bake for 30 minutes.
10. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Crunch

cocoa nib cookies

After our lunch at the Counter Burger in Crows Nest, Steph and I wandered around enjoying the first sunny day in what felt like ages. She happened to know the area very well, having lived nearby in the past, and pointed out her favourite restaurants and the new shops that had popped up since her last visit. She showed me her favourite bakery, the bottle shop (where I had hoped in vain to find the Mr Riggs Sticky we had at Mumu, but picked up a bottle of Zen green tea liqueur instead), and Essential Ingredient – a heavenly but dangerous place for a foodie to enter.

Amongst the aisles I spied products that were quite hard to come by in normal supermarkets, cooking and baking ware, and let’s not forget the cookbooks. Steph spied a very large container of coca nibs and we decided to go halves and split it. She made some gorgeous cocoa nib flecked banana bread, and I finally crossed another recipe off the ever-growing list of things to make, Alice Medrich’s Buckwheat Butter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs from her gorgeous book ‘Pure Dessert’.

Last year I tried her buckwheat strawberry shortcakes, which were a huge success, and I was looking forward to trying another of her inspiring recipes. These cookies had an incredible depth of flavour from the buckwheat flour, and I loved the crunch from the cocoa nibs. They also went just perfectly with a cup of tea on a cold wintery day.

I misread the recipe a little and stopped mixing before the dough was very dark and thick. My cookies turned out lighter and a little more crumbly, and they reminded me of sables actually. Either way, they were great and I really enjoyed them. And Molly was right when she said that the cookies were even better on the second day, though I’m actually surprised they lasted that long…

Cocoa Nib Buckwheat Butter Cookies
Recipe adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

• 1 ½ cups plain flour
• ¾ cup buckwheat flour
• 225g unsalted butter, softened
• 2/3 cup sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup coca nibs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar and salt until smooth and creamy but not fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the nibs and vanilla and beat to incorporate. Add the flours and beat on low speed until just incorporated. The mixture will seem dry at first but keep beating, and it will slowly moisten and darken. You’ll know it’s ready when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will be very thick.
3. Form the dough into a long log about 5cm in diameter. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line two baking sheets with non-stick baking paper.
5. Using a thin, sharp knife, carefully cu the dough into slices. I made mine about 1cm thick. Put slices on the prepared baking sheets, spacing each cookie about 3cm apart.
6. Bake until cookies begin to just colour around the edges, about 12-14 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Transfer to wire racks and cool the cookies on the baking sheets. Cool completely before eating or storing.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brand New

dumplings

This month’s Daring Cooks challenge was a great opportunity to try a brand new technique – one that I had never attempted before – and I was very excited about giving it a go. That’s right, this month the Daring Cooks challenge was all about Chinese dumplings, chosen by Jen from Use Real Butter. The catch however, was that we had to make the dough from scratch! At first I was a little nervous, especially about folding those gorgeous pleats, but I found that I quite enjoyed the process and would most definitely try it again to experiment with different fillings and dipping sauces.

This time I made a pork filling with ginger, green onions, water chestnuts and soy sauce. It was very tasty and had a nice balance of flavours and textures. The dough came together pretty quickly and easily, and I was thankful for Jen’s step-by-step photographic instructions on her blog. The pleating tutorial was especially useful, and I like to think I did a passable job for my first attempt! My sister and I made quite a good team, with her rolling as I folded, and then swapping so she could have a practice at folding them too.

I chose to make potstickers, because they looked and sounded delicious, and they most certainly were, with crisp and slightly crunchy bottoms. To go with them, I made a simple dipping sauce similar to what Jen suggested which was delicious as well. I will say, though, that they all disappeared in less than a quarter of the time it took to actually make them. Next time I will have to make a double batch!

potsticker

Chinese Potstickers
Adapted from Use Real Butter

Pork Filling
• 450g pork mince
• 3 stalks green onions, very finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons minced ginger
• ¾ cup water chestnuts, minced
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons corn starch

Dough
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup warm water

Dipping Sauce
• 2 parts soy sauce
• 1 part vinegar (red or white)
• A few drops sesame oil
• Sugar, to taste

1. To make the filling, combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl and mix well to combine.
2. To make the dough, place flour in the work bowl of a food processor. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents onto a clean work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch but not sticky. Cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes.
3. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 4-5cm wide and then shape strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 2cm pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle. With a rolling pin, roll a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges.
4. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapped and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side. Use Real Butter’s pleating tutorial was indispensable to me here! Keep all unused dough under a damp cloth.
5. To pan-fry, place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.
6. To make dipping sauce, combine ingredients in a small bowl and stir until sugar has dissolved.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Counter Burger

clipboard

There is something so appealing about the concept of The Counter Burger. Assembling a burger from the bottom up, or should I say bun down has me completely sold. I think its popularity stems from the fact that people love possibilities, and when handed a clipboard and a pencil once seated at a retro-looking booth on a gorgeous sunny day, they feel endless. Steph from Raspberri Cupcakes and I braved track work and rail buses to meet for lunch at the Counter Burger this past weekend. She had been there before, but this was my first time. I’d heard a lot about it, so I skipped breakfast in preparation!

milkshakes

We started off with milkshakes. After hearing so much about the apple pie milkshake, I decided to try that one and Steph went for the Shake of the Month which happened to be Tim Tam. Some of the people I told about the Apple Pie milkshake were sceptical, as there is a real piece of apple pie in there but I thought it really worked, because apple pie and ice cream go so well together. Steph liked her Tim Tam milkshake, though would have preferred more crunchy bits throughout.

chips

Next, the half and half fries and onion strings arrived. The fries had a nice flavour, paprika we thought, and you can never go wrong with aioli and smoky barbeque sauce. The onion strings were battered and fried, and had a nice flavour but were perhaps slightly oily.

burgerbowl

And onto the burgers! Steph decided to have a ‘Burger In a Bowl’ this time, which is basically a burger served with salad instead of on a bun. She had the 150g turkey patty with melty Swiss cheese, roasted pimento, dill pickle chips, cranberries, grilled onions and the sauce of the month, which was wasabi aioli. It looked gorgeously colourful, and though she was unsure at first about the combination of flavours, she ended up really loving it. The turkey was flavoursome, well cooked and was lovely with the cranberries. The pickles and pimento added interesting flavours that complemented the turkey.

burger

Mine was a 150g beef patty with sharp provolone, pickle chips, sweet red hot capsicum, tomato, mixed lettuce, honey-cured bacon and roasted garlic aioli on a wholemeal bun. You can’t really see in the photo but the bun had rolled oats on the top, which was quite lovely, and I was pleased to find that it didn’t get soggy at all. The beef was cooked to medium so it was very juicy, but still nicely charred on the outside. I really loved all the flavours here, especially the bacon and the pickles. Even though this was the smallest burger, I couldn’t finish it, so I would have absolutely no chance of ever attempting the giant 450g burger!

I really loved the retro interior, looking like something straight from 1950’s America. Picking the burger toppings was an interesting and fun novelty that I really enjoyed, and the food itself was great. It certainly lived up to all the hype, and I am definitely looking forward to going back and trying out other burger combinations! And I'm also looking forward to having more food related adventures with Steph!

The Counter Burger, 118 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest

The Counter on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Try It

mudcake

My list of recipes to try seems to grow longer by the day, and no matter how many things I cross off, it never seems to get any shorter. It’s kind of like my ‘to do’ list that way. Today’s recipe is something that caught my eye on the Gourmet Traveller website some time ago, but that I am only now getting around to actually making. I’m so glad I did, it feels good to cross things off lists.

The chocolate mandarin mudcake is a delightful twist on the chocolate-orange combination. I know it’s one that not everyone likes but it’s one of my favourites. Mandarins are bountifully in season at the moment and I can’t get enough of them. My dad especially loves them. He sometimes even puts the peel into his coffee for flavour – don’t knock it til you try it, it’s actually not bad. This cake is for him. It was his birthday last week and I wanted to make something nice that he would enjoy.

These mini mudcakes, baked in small ramekins are very rich but surprisingly light in texture. In the oven they rose up tall like soufflés but deflated slightly as they cooled. The addition of Cointreau is pure genius, it is subtle but most definitely present and really turns this cake into something special. The original recipe also had a chocolate mandarin ice cream which I didn’t try this time but would love to in the future. I served mine with chocolate ice cream and mandarins in syrup. If you really want to take this dessert to another level you could make a chocolate-mandarin ganache and ice the cakes, or even candy some mandarin peel like an orangette!

Chocolate Mudcake with Mandarins in Syrup
Recipe adapted from Gourmet Traveller
Serves 6

Mudcake
• ¾ cup + 4 tablespoons caster sugar
• 100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 60ml Cointreau or other orange liqueur
• 2 egg yolks
• 1 teaspoon mandarin zest, finely grated
• 60g Dutch-process cocoa
• 40g plain flour
• 4 eggwhites

Mandarins
• ¾ cup caster sugar
• ½ cup water
• 30ml Cointreau or other orange liqueur
• 2 mandarins, peeled and segmented

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Combine sugar, chocolate, liqueur and ¼ cup water in a heatproof bowl placed over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat, add egg yolks and zest and mix to combine, then fold in cocoa and flour
2. Whisk eggwhites and an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add 4 tablespoons of caster sugar and whisk to combine. Fold through chocolate mixture. Place 6 buttered ring moulds or ramekins on a baking tray and divide the mixture among them.
3. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until risen and firm to the touch, remove from the oven and cool in rings.
4. Meanwhile combine ¾ cup caster sugar with orange liqueur and water in a saucepan and stir over low-medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add mandarin segments and simmer for 20 minutes until segments are translucent. Cool in syrup.
5. To serve, unmould cakes and serve with mandarin segments and icecream.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gazebo Wine Garden

burger

After meeting Steph from Raspberricupcakes at the Mumu Take It Slow Dinner and getting along famously, we decided to catch up again for lunch at Gazebo Wine Garden in Elizabeth Bay. It is one of the many venues run by my work, but I had never been there despite nothing but excellent reviews. Even though it’s only a short walk down Darlinghurst Road, it feels a world away from Sydney’s infamous Kings Cross. I loved the mismatched furniture and quirky touches like the flowers in wine bottles on each table, or the live plants growing behind the bar. However my favourite thing was Foxy the Fox, suspended upside down from the ceiling dressed stylishly in shoes and fairy wings.

foxy

We were welcomed by a friendly and knowledgeable waiter who told us the first glass of wine was courtesy of Gazebo, one of the little perks of my job. He gave us some excellent recommendations from the wine list. Let me just pause a moment to explain that the wine list was the biggest I’ve ever seen – many pages long and delivered in a hefty ring binder, because they take their wine seriously at the Gaz. There were categories such as Slurpable, Opulent, Mysterious and even Unpronounceable! I had a sweet young red from Mornington, Victoria. Steph decided on a Reisling.

pie

The menu looked incredible and we were absolutely spoiled for choice. We hardly gave the starters a glance as we were both more interested in trying to fit in dessert. I decided on the Mint & Pine Nut Lamb Burger with Onion Jam and Eggplant and Roast Tomato ($21). It also came with a side of crinkle cut chips, which was quite exciting as you don’t see them very often anymore and they are my absolutely favourite. The burger was generous in size and so delicious and flavourful. I loved the crunch of the nuts in the patty. It reminded me a little of the lamb and walnut burger I made a while ago, but I have to say it was even better. In a remarkable stroke of luck, it was also perfect with the wine I had ordered, I couldn’t have asked for a better match.

Steph picked the Champagne, Grape and Dijon Chicken Pie on a bed of buttered spinach ($22). I would never have thought to add grapes to a savoury meal but it really, really worked, giving little pops of sweetness to the dish. I couldn’t really taste the champagne but it was nonetheless a lovely creamy and perfectly cooked filling. The pastry looked and tasted amazingly buttery and flaky, and I think Steph was very happy with the choice.

brownie

By this point we were quite full, but had to have a look at the dessert menu, which came out pegged to a stick, in a flowerpot of what I think were gorgeous pink hyacinths. I couldn’t go past the chocolate and walnut brownie, served warm with icecream, fairy floss (!) and chocolate sauce ($13). It was very cute, and looked like it was wearing a little wig. It was amazing – so rich and chocolatey, with a nice crunch from the walnuts. The fairy floss melts in your mouth and made me feel like a little kid again. The staff were also wonderful enough to offer me a complimentary glass of port with my dessert, which was just lovely. Unfortunately because of Steph’s nut allergies her choices were more limited and she decided on an affogato – a scoop of vanilla bean icecream doused with espresso ($6). It was served beautifully in a martini glass.

affogato

I was so impressed with everything, from the quirky décor, to the wine-related black texta graffiti in the bathrooms, the wonderful staff and brilliant food. I literally couldn’t eat anything else until the following day. The serving sizes are very generous for reasonably low prices, none of the mains were over $25. It was awesome to catch up with Steph again and hope we can again in the near future, perhaps a return visit is required for a Girl’s Picnic!

Gazebo Wine Garden – 2 Elizabeth Bay Rd, Elizabeth Bay

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