Monday, August 31, 2009

Sweet Sour

pecan pie

I’m a little bit fascinated with kumquats, arguably the cutest member of the citrus family. I remember the first time I saw them at the grocer’s, I picked up a couple to try but got a bit of a surprise with the sweet-sour pow of flavour such a small fruit could contain. I made it my mission to try them in a dessert, which is why I was automatically drawn to the recipe for Pecan Pie in the Tartine Cookbook. How could you go wrong with Pecans, Kumquats, Maple and Bourbon? Yes, that was a rhetorical question!

Traditionally, a pecan pie is usually sweet enough to cause tooth decay on contact but I liked this one a lot because it used an unsweetened flaky pastry, and the tang of the kumquats help to cut through the intense sweetness of the sugar custard. My dad declared this his favourite dessert ever, taking the crown from Carrot Cake. I’d never thought I’d see the day. I noticed that the supply of pecans in the pantry has been replenished, and I’m almost certain he’s counting the days until I make it again.

Reading through the flaky pastry recipe before I started was making me a little bit nervous but it came together very easily in the food processor. The secret is to keep some visible streaks of butter in the dough and to work it as little as possible. If you can’t find kumquats or if they’re not in season, you could also use the grated zest of 1 orange.

Pecan Maple Pie with Kumquats and Bourbon
Adapted from the Tartine Bakery Cookbook
Serves 8 -12

Flaky Tart Dough (Makes two 9-inch tart shells. Recipe can be easily halved)
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2/3 cup water, very cold
• 3 cups + 2 tablespoons plain flour
• 300g unsalted butter, very cold

Pecan Pie
• ¾ cup sugar
• ½ cup maple syrup
• ½ cup light corn syrup
• 2 tablespoons bourbon
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 55g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 eggs, lightly beaten
• 2 cups pecans, halved
• ½ cup kumquats, thinly sliced, seeds removed
• Whipped cream or ice cream, to serve

1. To make the pie dough, combine the salt and water in a small bowl. Keep very cold until ready to use. Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and scatter over the flour. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs.
2. Drizzle in the salt water and pulse again until the mixture forms a shaggy mess. You should still be able to see some butter chunks. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal balls and shape each into a disc 1-inch thick. Wrap well in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours.
3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick. Lift and rotate the dough to prevent it from sticking, and work quickly so it remains cold. Carefully transfer the pastry to the lightly greased tart dish, pressing gently into place. Trim the dough with a sharp knife.
4. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line with baking paper and fill with pie weights. Bake until surface looks light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the weights and paper. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before filling.
5. To make pecan filling, combine sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, bourbon and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, for 1 minute.
6. Take off the heat and add the butter, whisking as it melts. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Set the oven to 180°C (350°F)
7. Add the vanilla and eggs to the cooled mixture and stir to mix well. Stir in the pecans and kumquats, and pour into the prepared pie shell.
8. Bake the pie until the filling is just set, for 40-60 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover with a piece of aluminium foil. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: August

dobos torte

I was a little bit nervous when I found out that Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella was co-hosting the Daring Bakers Challenge for August with Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar. If you’ve seen Lorraine’s wonderful blog, you would know that it is filled with gorgeous sweets. She is very talented, making gorgeous, yet very tricky dishes on a regular basis, and I wondered what she had in store for us. We tried unsuccessfully to get her to tell us the day before the challenge was formally announced, but she wouldn’t spill. I was quietly biting my nails.

The August challenge was a traditional Hungarian cake called Dobos Torte, consisting of:
• Sponge cake layers
• Chocolate Buttercream
• Caramel Topping

And if there are two things I am destined to fail at baking, it’s sponge cake and layer cakes. But, I am happy to report that with this challenge I finally succeeded on both fronts, and I would say that my mini Dobos Tortes were definitely passable! I halved the recipe and made two larger sheets of sponge cake and used a round cookie-cutter to make the cake layers even in size.

The process of making the buttercream seemed a little complicated for what it is, but was delicious nonetheless. If I were to make this again, I would brush the cake layers with a syrup or liqueur to keep it a little more moist. I skipped the crushed nuts on the side because I didn’t think the cake needed them.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
 of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Dobos Torte

Sponge Cake
• 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
• 1 1/3 cups icing sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour, sifted
• Pinch salt

Chocolate Buttercream
• 4 large eggs, at room temperature
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 110g dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature (slightly soft)

Caramel Topping
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 12 tablespoons water
• 8 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon neutral oil

Finishing Touches
• 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
• ½ cup finely chopped hazeluts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and position racks in top and center thirds of the oven. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)
2. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup of the icing sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.
3. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
4. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack.
5. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)
6. To make the buttercream, Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this
7. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
8. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
 When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.
9. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
 Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.

10. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.
Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.
11. To assemble, divide the buttercream into six equal parts. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
 Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
 Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Almost Over

sticky date pudding

And just like that, winter is almost over. It’s been the most glorious one I can remember, with gorgeous mild sunny days. But you didn’t think I could let winter slip away without sharing another recipe for sticky date pudding, did you? It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite dessert, but along with crème brulee and anything containing rhubarb, sticky date pudding is right up there on my list. With lashings of butterscotch sauce and some melty vanilla ice cream, it’s the most perfect treat on a winter’s night.

This recipe comes from Masterchef – remember the Pressure Test episode where no one was eliminated because all three puddings were so good? I can certainly attest to that! It is absolutely delicious, the my favourite out of the sticky date puddings I’ve posted here over the last few years, and actually has me wondering whether I’ll be able to top it next year! I’ll tell you next winter.

The puddings came together pretty quickly and easily. It might have been because I don’t have a super-oven like in the Masterchef kitchen, but these puddings took roughly double the time stated on the recipe to cook through. I also took them out of the water bath for the last 10 minutes of baking time. You could serve it with or without the almond praline but don’t skip the butterscotch sauce. I could drink the stuff, I’m not joking.

Sticky Date Puddings with Butterscotch Sauce and Almond Praline
Recipe from Masterchef
Serves 8

• 180g dates, pitted and roughly chopped
• 1 ¼ cups water
• ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
• 60g butter, softened
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup self raising flour

Almond Praline
• ½ cup caster sugar
• ¼ cup slivered almonds

Butterscotch Sauce
• 50g butter
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 cup cream
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Lightly grease 8 ½-cup capacity metal dariole moulds.
2. Place the dates and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add bicarb soda and stir until the dates start to break down. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.
3. Beat the butter and brown sugar in a bowl using a hand beater or stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
4. Add date mixture and stir to combine. Carefully fold through sifted flour and divide mixture evenly between the moulds, until 2/3 full.
5. Place moulds in a baking tray, carefully pour water in tray until it comes up 1/3 of the side of the moulds. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and skewer comes out clean.
6. Meanwhile, for the almond praline, combine sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a saucepan over medium heat and cool caramel, without stirring, swirling pan until deep golden. Scatter almonds onto a baking paper lined oven tray. Pour caramel over and cool until set. Break into pieces.
7. For the butterscotch sauce, combine butter, sugar, cream and vanilla in a saucepan over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Bring sauce to the boil, reduce heat and cook for 5-6 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.
8. To serve, invert the hot pudding onto a serving plate, top with butterscotch sauce and shards of praline.

Friday, August 21, 2009

From Scratch

veal fettuccine

One of my favourite things is inviting my Nanna over for a long weekend lunch. She was one of my first influences when it came to cooking when I was very young and it seems only fitting to return the favour now. It just so happened I had her pasta maker on an extended loan. I have made fresh pasta before, during a Daring Bakers challenge but this weekend I decided to try making homemade fettuccine for the first time, for something a little bit special.

I served it with a Slow Cooked Veal Shank sauce, dolloped with freshly made emerald green pesto and lots of grated Parmesan. The recipe for the pasta sauce, from the recent Winter issue of Donna Hay Magazine originally called for lamb shanks, but the butcher I visited said they had to be ordered in and would take three weeks to arrive, so I decided to try the recipe with veal shanks instead. I’m happy to say it worked wonderfully and tasted absolutely delicious. Simmering the veal shanks for two hours means the meat just falls off the bone, it is incredibly tender and just perfect.

Making pasta from scratch is time consuming, yes, but not that difficult if you have a pasta machine. I made the dough by hand, but you could also use your food processor. I found it a bit difficult to keep the lengths of the pasta sheets consistent, but luckily you couldn’t tell at all when it was cooked. Make sure to flour everything well or the pasta will stick to the benchtop, your hands, the pasta machine and the fettuccine will definitely stick to each other.

Nanna approved, happy to see her pasta maker being put to good use. It was a very rewarding meal to make – the best kind I think. Not only can you feel good about making something completely from scratch, but it tastes absolutely delicious.

Slow Cooked Veal Shank Pasta with Pesto
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Serves 4-6

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1.2kg veal shanks
• 1 brown onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 cup red wine
• 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
• 6 sprigs, thyme
• 1 cup water
• Sea salt & black pepper

• 3 cups basil leaves
• ½ cup olive oil
• 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
• Sea salt & black pepper

1. To make the pesto, place the basil, oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Add the veal and cook for 1-2 minutes each side or until browned. Set aside.
3. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until softened. Add the wine, tomato, thyme and water and stir to combine. Add the veal back to the pan and bring to the boil.
4. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until the veal is tender and falling off the bone. Remove from the pan, and shred the meat from the bones, discarding the bones.
5. Cook the fresh pasta for about 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Add the veal sauce and toss to combine. Spoon over the pesto to serve.

Fresh Pasta
Recipe adapted from Good Taste
Serves 4

• 2 ½ cups plain flour
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 4 eggs, at room temperature
• Plain flour, extra, for dusting

1. Sift the flour and salt together onto a clean work surface. Use your hands to shape the flour into a circular mound. Make a well in the center. Place eggs in the well and use a fork to lightly whisk, and then using the fork, bring in flour from the edges of the well and incorporate them into the egg, until the mixture forms a dough.
2. Lightly flour your work surface and firmly knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 4 and cover with a damp tea towel to rest for 10 minutes.
3. Attach a pasta machine to the side of a work bench and adjust the machine’s rollers to the widest setting. Take one portion of the dough and dust with flour, and flatten with your hands into a rectangle shape. Feed through the rollers, then adjust to the second widest setting, and feed through again, repeating until dough is about 1mm thick.
4. Feed through the fettuccine attachment, or cut by hand into the desired width.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Classic Dessert

chocolate pavlova

Pavlova, the dessert named after famous ballerina Anna Pavlova, whose unknown origin started a culinary turf war between Australia and New Zealand, with both countries claiming the credit for it themselves. Even today the debate still rages, with evidence that Pavlova recipes were published in New Zealand cookbooks as early as 1929. But wherever it came from, it has become a solid part of the cultural cuisines of both nations, and in my family, no Christmas lunch is complete without a slice of lighter-than-air Pavlova.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is for a decadent chocolate Pav, topped with sweet winter strawberries. The original recipe called for grilled figs to adorn the Pavlova, which is a classy alternative and I’m betting would be absolutely delicious when they’re in season. Other popular toppings include passionfruit, banana, kiwi fruit and berries. But often they are all piled on top together which I find a little unappealing. I like to keep it simple and stick to one or two kinds of fruit to let their flavours really take center stage.

This is a fantastic and easy recipe that is perfect for using up the eggwhites hanging around in your freezer – and trust me, I have many! The addition of Balsamic vinegar might sound odd but it is very subtle and really works well with the flavour of the chocolate. I also loved the pieces of grated chocolate throughout and thought this was a wonderful modern interpretation of a classic dessert.

Chocolate Pavlova
Adapted from Delicious, March 2009
Serves 6-8

• 6 egg whites, at room temperature
• 1 ½ cups caster sugar
• ¼ cup Dutch cocoa powder
• 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
• 40g dark chocolate, finely grated

To serve
• Whipped cream or crème fraiche
• Fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
• Icing sugar or grated chocolate, to dust

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a 24cm oven tray with baking paper and draw a 23cm circle, or 6-8 x 10cm circles onto the paper.
2. Beat eggwhites in a the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in sugar, a spoonful at a time, continuing to beat until stiff and shiny.
3. Sift in cocoa, then add vinegar and grated chocolate and fold gently until cocoa has amalgamated.
4. Mound the meringue mixture onto the baking paper within the circles, then smooth the sides and top with a spatula.
5. Place baking tray on the center shelf of the oven and then immediately reduce the temperature to 150°C (300°F) and bake for 1 – 1 ¼ hours. The pavlova should be crisp around the edges and dry on top but when you prod the center it should feel ‘squidgy’. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly adjar and leave the meringue to cool completely in the oven.
6. When ready to serve, invert meringue onto a large flat plate, pile whipped cream or crème fraiche onto the center and place strawberries on top. Dust with icing sugar or grated chocolate, and serve.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bills, Surry Hills

hot chocolate

Bill Granger is the undisputed King of Breakfast – the man built his empire on scrambled eggs. His restaurants are world-famous, but until recently I had never visited any of them. Having breakfast at Bills seems so Sydney, like having a pie at Harry’s Café de Wheels in Wooloomooloo late on a Saturday night. So when I had an interstate visitor, a trip to the Surry Hills restaurant was definitely on the eating itinerary. Coffee and hot chocolate was the only way to start off the chilly morning. I am fussy about good coffee, and the long black was the nicest I’d had in a long time. The hot chocolate came with Callebaut pieces that could were stirred into the hot milk.

ricotta hotcakes

I had the Ricotta Hotcakes with Fresh Banana and Honeycomb Butter ($16.60) and yes, they were every bit as delicious as they sound. They were perfect – beautifully light and fluffy, and the ricotta really works well in the hotcake. The honeycomb butter makes these a supremely decadent breakfast, especially when doused them with lots of maple syrup. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, but struggled to finish it.

scrambled eggs

As I mentioned before, Bill Granger became famous for his Scrambled Organic Eggs ($12.80), and they are a staple on all of his three restaurant menus, served with crusty sourdough toast. For a dish that contains a heck of a lot of cream, the eggs were surprisingly light. You can find the recipe for Bill’s scrambled eggs here.

coconut bread

We also shared some Homemade Toasted Coconut Bread ($5.80) which I have made at home in the past from Bill’s book ‘Sydney Food’. It is dense and definitely more bread-like than cake-like, but still absolutely delicious, especially when toasted with lots of butter. When we got the bill, I realised this was probably the most expensive breakfast I’ve ever had in my life, but I think it was worth it for a special treat.

Bills - 359 Crown St, Surry Hills

Bills on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

Absolutely Lovely

date tart

I had an absolutely lovely dinner of Lamb Shank Pie and Pinot Noir at Gazebo Wine Garden with Steph and Karen last week. Ever since I did the artwork for the promotion, I had been craving a warm comforting pie, and I’m happy to say this one really hit the spot and was devoured in a matter of minutes! But what I liked even better was a new addition to Gazebo’s dessert menu, a Golden Mascarpone and Sugared Date Tart, served with vanilla bean ice cream. It was beautiful, not overly sweet, and delicious with the ice cream.

So, inspired by that fabulous dessert, I made my own Baked Date and Custard Tart, based on a recipe from Gourmet Traveller Magazine that used prunes in the filling. I wanted a higher date-to-custard ratio than Gazebo’s tart, and served it at room temperature rather than cold, which to me made a huge difference. The almond pastry provided a nuttiness that complemented the date filling perfectly, although I was disappointed when it shrank quite a lot while blind baking.

I served it with a Date and Rum ice cream from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, which I bought at the tail end of last summer and had yet to try anything from! The original recipe also included pecans, which I didn’t have on hand, but would definitely make a delicious addition to the flavours of date and rum. I couldn’t help but think how perfectly this ice cream would be with a warm sticky date pudding. I love making home made ice cream, it is very satisfying and so much nicer than many store-bought brands, so I am definitely looking forward to trying more recipes from this fantastic book.

It is an impressive dessert with an attractive cross-section when cut, and tastes beautiful with or without the ice cream. The tart comes together fairly easily, and the ice cream can of course be made in advance for a stress-free dinner party dessert that is also relatively cheap to make. And the best part, I imagine it could be infinitely adaptable. Try it with other kinds of dried fruit – perhaps prunes as the original recipe suggested, or maybe figs, raisins (with whisky, yum!), or apricots. Infuse the custard with cinnamon or star anise, or try hazelnut meal or even cocoa in the pastry instead of almond meal – the choice is yours!

Baked Custard and Date Tart
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller
Serves 8

• 1 ½ cups pited dates
• 2 tablespoons brandy
• Icing sugar, to dust

Almond Pastry
• 1 ¼ cups plain flour
• 1/3 cup pure icing sugar
• ¼ cup almond meal
• 125g cold butter, coarsely chopped
• 1 egg yolk

Vanilla Custard
• 300ml thickened cream
• 3 eggs
• 2/3 cup caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. For almond pastry, using a food processor, process dry ingredients until combined, then add butter and process until fine crumbs form. Add egg yolk and 1 tablespoon cold water and process until mixture just forms a dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly to bring together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°). Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick, then line the base of a fluted removable bottom tart pan. Trim the edges flush with the sides. Prick the base with a fork and blind bake until starting to colour (15-20 minutes). Remove paper and weights, bake until golden 4-5 minutes, then cool completely.
3. Meanwhile, process dates and brandy in a food processor until a smooth paste forms. Spread over prepared pastry and set aside.
4. For vanilla custard, heat cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to the boil. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Slowly whisk in hot cream, then pour over date mixture.
5. Bake until custard is set and top is golden (30-40 minutes). Cool at room temperature, dust with icing sugar and serve with ice cream or double cream.

Date and Rum Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes about 1 ¼ litres

• 12 dates, pitted
• ¼ cup dark rum

Ice Cream
• 1 cup milk
• 2/3 cup sugar
• Big pinch salt
• 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
• 6 large egg yolks
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons dark rum
• 1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)

1. To prepare the dates, chop them into 2cm pieces. Combine the date pieces with the rum in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir. Cover and let macerate at room temperature for 4 hours or overnight.
2. To make the ice cream, warm the milk, sugar, salt and cream in a saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly and then scrape back into the saucepan.
3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
4. Strain into a bowl, mix in the vanilla and rum and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture in the fridge and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the date pieces and nuts, if using.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lemon Delicious

lemon delicious

With a name like ‘Lemon Delicious’ you know you’re in for a treat, especially if you’re a citrus fiend like I am. I just can’t get enough of the delicious lemons that are in season at the moment, and have been using them in lots of different sweet and savoury dishes. To me, winter is all about comfort food and this is a perfect recipe – simple enough to mix up in a food processor in a few minutes, but absolutely gorgeous, and a perfect way to show off all the lemons that are sitting in your fruit bowl.

The original recipe called for only lemon juice, not lemon zest but I love the flavour so I had to add it in. But that meant I couldn’t taste the orange very much so feel free to play around with it, depending on what you like. You could even add lime, or mandarin, or grapefruit zest and juice for something original and different!

You can eat this warm, when it’s light and fluffy on top and dense at the bottom, but I actually liked it cold, straight out of the fridge. It took on a very creamy consistency, sort of like custard, and it was just divine. So what are you waiting for, give this recipe a try on the weekend. It’s lemony, and delicious!

Lemon Delicious Pudding
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Serves 6

• 90g butter, soft
• 1 ½ cups caster sugar
• 1 ½ cups milk
• 3 eggs
• ½ cup lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon lemon zest
• 1 teaspoon orange zest
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ½ cup plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• Icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Lightly grease 6 ramekins.
2. Place the butter, sugar, milk, eggs, lemon juice, zest, flour vanilla and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth.
3. Pour into ramekins and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until golden. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Secret Dinner, Element Bistro

secret dinner

A secret dinner, how intriguing! My curiosity was certainly piqued when Lili from Pikelet & Pie mentioned that she was participating in one organised by her friend Fouad from The Food Blog. Steph and I were very excited about it, as we had no idea what was on the menu, nor the venue. In fact that was kept a secret until the day of the event, and the location was sent to us via text message at 3pm that afternoon. It felt like we were in a spy movie or something – very "covert ops". I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Element Bistro on King Street. Having no idea of the menu made it difficult to choose a bottle of wine to bring along! The venue was a tiny yet quaint French bistro owned by Matt Barnett, who was also participating in the dinner.

secret dinner

We start with olive oil tasting. Patricia Lathourakis from Forque explains how to properly taste the oil – first by swirling it to warm it, then sniffing it, then tasting. The blood orange was my favourite, but I think I would have preferred this exercise with some bread to dip into the oils. Patricia also prepared the entrée, a celebration of Mediterranean cheeses all sourced locally. Inspired by Italy was a half tomato filled with tomato and oregano. Greece was represented with buffalo feta on a potato and fennel ‘pancake’ and finally Lebanon got its turn with labne (a beautiful creamy yoghurt cheese) served atop roasted beetroot slices with walnuts, honey and vinegar. This was my favourite because the creamy tang of the labne was perfect with the beetroot, and the walnut gave a beautiful crunch.

secret dinner

Fouad cooked the next two dishes, both Lebanese in origin, which I had to admit was a cuisine I was completely unfamiliar with. The first was Young Organic Lamb Shish Barak, also known as ‘blessed dumplings’. The lamb dumplings are beautiful and flavourful, and served in a garlicky yoghurt sauce, with coriander, silverbeet and toasted almonds and pine nuts scattered on top. I loved this so much that I wanted to lick the plate clean. The flavours and textures all complemented each other so perfectly.

secret dinner

His second dish consisted of ‘Moghrabbiyeh’ – large Lebanese cous cous that are eaten like pasta, served with chickpeas, chicken, caramelized onion and black pudding from Eumundi Smokehouse. It was served in a reduced chicken stock, gewürztraminer, made with burnt sugar, butter, caraway and star anise. It was, again, a very well balanced dish although slightly on the salty side. I had never tried black pudding before, but with these accompanying flavours it was right at home.

secret dinner

At this point I was beginning to get full, but Chef Matt Barnett’s French dish was next. A beef fillet stuffed with bone marrow and cavolo nero, creamy Soubise sauce and a potato and thyme croquette. The beef was perfectly cooked, pink in the middle and very tender. The croquette was delicious with a crispy exterior and fluffy potato inside.

secret dinner

Lili prepared the desserts, and I was very much looking forward to seeing (and tasting) what she had made. A ripple of excitement went through the dining room as the plates were distributed, and for good reason. It was a seductive chocolate and orange cake with sexy orange blossom panna cotta, and pine nut praline. The cake was dark and rich, yet still moist and was complemented perfectly by the subtly flavoured panna cotta. The pine nut praline gave sweetness and crunch, and I am constantly reminded how well pine nuts work in sweet dishes as well as savoury. I wanted to lick the plate clean, and I have my fingers firmly crossed that Lili might blog about the recipe!

And so the Secret Dinner came to a successful end. I would like to thank and congratulate Fouad, Lili, Trish (and Matt) for having the courage to cook for thirty strangers and share part of their cultural heritage on a dinner plate. It was such a fantastic evening, and a completely unique experience. I hope that there will be more in the future! Thanks also to Lili for offering us the spots and to Steph for being adventurous and coming along with me. Check out Fouad’s and Trish’s posts about the dinner for a peek behind the scenes at everything that went into organizing it.


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