Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Favourites

2009 favourites

It feels like only last week that I was writing up my wrap up post for 2008, and yet here we are 12 months and 86 posts later! I’ve added many great new recipes to my list of favourites, and seemed to learn something almost every time I stepped foot in the kitchen. The Daring Bakers gave us some great challenges. I travelled to Perth (again), Port Macquarie, and Adelaide, for the first time. I met more great people than I can count, and shared many fabulous eating adventures with them (including the craziness that was Adriano Zumbo’s Macaron Day!)

I’d just like to say a big thank you to all my readers and friends for all of your kind words and comments, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all in 2010. Wishing you a very happy and safe New Year filled with good times, and good food! And so, here are my favourite nine recipes from 2009!

Walnut Brownies - I realised I didn’t have a single recipe for brownies on my blog, and had to share my favourite. A perfect gooey center with a crispy, crackly top and a scoop of melty ice cream. It doesn’t get better than this.

Fruit Galettes - An incredible recipe from the Tartine Bakery cookbook, one of the most delicious ways to use summer fruit, or almost any seasonal fruit you can imagine. This buttery pastry is an absolute winner!

Pomegranate & White Wine Sangria - Here’s a drink I’m really looking forward to dusting off again this summer. It’s perfect on a hot evening – refreshing yet pretty and pink!

Macarons - I never thought I’d have the guts to make macarons until Daring Bakers challenged me to. It took several attempts, but I finally made successful macarons with perfect frilly feet! It was a very satisfying feeling and I’m looking forward to trying out some new flavours.

Cinnamon Rolls - This amazing recipe was from Molly’s column in Bon Appetit. These cinnamon rolls are sticky, sweet and absolutely divine, but the cream cheese glaze makes these a perfect treat, especially still warm from the oven.

Profiteroles with Maya Gold Chocolate - A perfect combination of crispy choux and chocolate. I flavoured the pastry crème with orange, Cointreau, vanilla and cinnamon to mimic the spices in the Maya Gold chocolate.

Wagon Wheels - July’s Daring Bakers challenge was to make marshmallow cookies. I also made cute home-made wagon wheels – cookies sandwiched with jam and vanilla bean marshmallow and coated in chocolate. One of my favourite challenges this year!

Vanilla Slice - I made this for my Mum on Mother’s Day because it’s one of her favourite desserts. I think it’s also now one of mine! Mum said it was the best vanilla slice she’s ever had – the highest compliment of all!

Cherry Pie - A fantastic recipe for the most perfect cherry pie you’ll ever eat. Ice cream is not optional.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Gingerbread House

daring bakers gingerbread house

This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was possibly the most memorable of all the challenges I’ve done since joining in August last year. I was slightly terrified that we would be given something like the six-part, twelve-page Buche De Noel from last December’s, but I was pretty excited to find that we would be making Gingerbread Houses, just in time for Christmas. It is something I have always wanted to do, but my engineering and construction skills leave much to be desired. They always seemed far too difficult and time consuming. And while they were both of those things, I learned that patience and planning pay off and this was a fantastic and totally rewarding challenge.

daring bakers gingerbread house

I ended up making two houses, because originally I was planning a traditional looking snow-covered house, and an Australian themed outback house, but I was discouraged when I couldn’t find a kangaroo shaped cookie cutter. But I still kept the front verandah, as I'd planned. I decorated the first house with the help of my Dad (it’s definitely a two-person project). For the second house, I helped my Mum with putting it together, but she got creative with the lolly jar and decorated it mostly by herself, complete with garden balcony and stained-glass window. It was nice to get everyone involved, and these would be especially fun to make with young kids.

daring bakers gingerbread house

I used Anna’s recipe for gingerbread, which was a little dry at first but I added a little more water and rested it for quite a long time so I didn’t have many problems with pieces shrinking. It was delicious, and a great base to work from. My sister and I made our own templates, although the second one was based on this one from BBC Good Food. The Royal Icing recipe called for too much icing sugar, in my opinion so I added it slowly until I felt it was the right consistency – a little under 2 cups of icing sugar, not the 3 cups the recipe stated. I’m not going to post the recipes here, but you can find them on the Daring Kitchen site.

daring bakers gingerbread house

I used various sweets for decoration – different flavoured candy canes, sugared jubes, M&M’s, and TeeVee Snacks to create a log cabin look. The chimney on the first house was a Milky Way chocolate bar, and the doors on the second were Tim Tam biscuits. I have to admit though, demolishing the house was a little hard to do. I was pretty proud of my first gingerbread house attempts and I didn’t want to eat them. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it!

daring bakers gingerbread house

There were some absolutely incredible gingerbread houses made by other Daring Bakers this month, it’s amazing what you can do with a few simple ingredients and some imagination! The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Different Affair

christmas pudding icecream

Ah, another Australian Christmas, a very different affair than a Northern Hemisphere celebration. Set smack bang in the middle of a hot summer, we like to take advantage of the warm weather. Chrissy lunch is often an alfresco affair, soaking up the sunshine with a dip in the pool afterwards. After such feasting, the last thing you usually feel like is a heavy Christmas pudding, which is why I was so keen to try the Christmas Pudding Semifreddo in the latest issue of Donna Hay magazine. Why not combine all the things you love about pudding in a spiced, fruit-flecked ice cream!

I made this a few weeks ago, but life has been pretty crazy in the weeks leading up to Christmas and so here I am on Christmas morning, typing away. But I still wanted to tell you about it, because it’s so good that I made another 4 litres of it this week as my contribution to the Annual Christmas lunch feast at my Nanna’s.

The second time around, I tweaked it a little bit. I omitted the pistachios completely because one of the kiddies has a nut allergy, and instead of shaving white chocolate on top, I added chopped white chocolate to the ice cream itself. We also churned it in the ice cream maker, instead of putting it straight into the freezer because it was a little icy and not as creamy as I would have liked. Also by churning it, the fruit stayed more evenly distributed throughout, and didn’t all sink to the bottom like it had before.

This is a great, versatile recipe. You can use any fruit you like, and serve it in any number of ways. Maybe next time I’ll try freezing it in a loaf pan and cutting slices for a more classy presentation. I also just wanted to wish all my wonderful readers a very happy and safe Christmas. I hope you’re spending it with your favourite people eating lots of great food!

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
Serves 8

• 3 eggs
• 2 egg yolks
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• ½ teaspoon mixed spice
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 2 cups pouring cream
• ½ cup chopped pistachios (optional)
• ½ cup chopped dried cranberries
• ½ cup currants
• ¾ cup white chocolate, chopped (or white chocolate chips)

1. Place the eggs, extra yolks, vanilla, spice and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Place over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until thick and pale.
2. Remove from the heat and beat for a further 5 minutes or until cool.
3. Whisk the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold through the egg mixture until just combined. Refrigerate until cold, preferably overnight.
4. Freeze in an ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s instructions. Fold through pistachios, cranberries, currants and white chocolate and freeze until hard (at least 6 hours or overnight).

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm Converted

fruit mince pies

I have a confession. I don’t like fruit mince pies, or at least I didn’t, until I tried one still warm from the oven. To me they were another of the too-heavy too-stuffy Christmas desserts, like the traditional boozy fruitcake, which I lightened up around this time last year. But my Mum absolutely loves them, and has been blatantly hinting that I should make them for the last two Christmases at least. This year, I thought I should finally indulge her. And guess what! Fruit mince pies are delicious!

I based mine on a recipe from this month’s Gourmet Traveller magazine that included chocolate and cinnamon in the fruit mince. I tried to use ingredients I had on hand, and substituted the raisins for dried dates and figs, which gave it a really great flavour. I used port instead of muscat and doubled the amount of chocolate. It was absolutely delicious, I could barely keep a spoon out of that bowl. Next time I’ll try adding dried plums and cherries, and maybe cranberries too for a more festive, fruity mixture.

fruit mince pies

The pastry is more like a biscuit dough, with a good cinnamon hit. What I found though, was that I didn’t have enough pastry to use all the fruit mince, and had to make another batch. I ended up with a yield of more like 60+ tarts, instead of the 24 stated in the recipe. Which was quite okay, I had plenty to bring along to the Blogger’s Christmas Picnic last weekend, organised by the lovely Suze and Helen. A lovely afternoon in Hyde Park with old friends and new, doing what we do best – eating.

They also make lovely gifts, or a great addition to your Christmas dinner table, and as an added bonus, they can be made a few days in advance to avoid the crazy Christmas rush. With a dusting of icing sugar, or unadorned, I am converted.

fruit mince pies

Fruit Mince Tarts
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller
Makes about 60 small tarts

• 270g dark brown sugar
• 300g sultanas
• 200g currants
• 50g dried dates, roughly chopped
• 50g dried figs, roughly chopped
• 100ml port or muscat
• 100g unsalted butter, melted
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 100g glaced mixed peel
• 2 Granny Smith apples, finely grated
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon mixed spice
• ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
• ¼ teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
• 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
• 20g Demerara sugar mixed with ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, for scattering

Cinnamon Pastry
• 180g unsalted butter, softened
• 200g pure icing sugar, sifted
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• 4 eggs
• 500g plain flour

1. Combine all ingredients except chocolate and Demerara sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine. Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate for at least 1 day or up to 2 weeks, inverting jar occasionally.
2. For cinnamon pastry, beat butter, sugar and cinnamon in an electric mixer until light and creamy (4-5 minutes). Add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined. Beat in flour and a pinch of salt. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until just smooth, then divide pastry in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 3 hours to rest.
3. Roll out each pastry half on a lightly floured board to 3mm thick, cut out circles depending on the size of your cupcake tray, place on a tray and refrigerate until required.
4. Re-roll any remaining scraps to 3mm thick and then cut out more rounds and decorative shapes with small biscuit cutters and add shapes to tray. Line greased cupcake trays with pastry rounds and refrigerate until required.
5. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Add chocolate to fruit mince mixture and stir to combine. Spoon fruit mince into each pastry-lined pan, top with a pastry shape, brush lightly with water and scatter with Demerara sugar mixture.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until pastry is golden and crisp. Cool completely in tins, then remove. Fruit mince tarts will keep for up to 1 week if stored in an airtight container.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lunch at Ripples

yamba prawn tart

There’s nothing better than a girly lunch with some of your favourite people, especially on a beautiful sunny day, when you’re sitting only metres away from the water. With the year quickly drawing to a close, Steph, Karen, Leona, Betty and I decided that a Christmas lunch was in order at Ripples Sydney Wharf. Deciding on a date proved an arduous task with emails flitting back and forth, trying to find a spot in our busy December schedules proving somewhat difficult. Choosing the restaurant was actually the easy part! I have of course, been to Ripples before, soon after it opened in June this year. But it was a completely different experience to visit on a warm sunny day than a drizzly winter’s night.

We decided to order a few starters to share. The Yamba Prawn Tart with Creamed Leek, Feta and Tomato Salsa came out, a carefully constructed tower or prawns that was almost too pretty to eat. But it tasted as good as it looked. The prawns were beautiful and fresh, and went perfectly with the creamy leek filling and crunchy pastry.

scallops & pork belly

We couldn’t go past the Seared Scallops with Crisp Pork Belly, Champagne Apples and Boudon Noir, which is available in entrée or main size. The scallops were juicy and moist, the pork belly was incredible and the tangy apples brought the flavours together really well.

duck liver parfait

One of my favourite dishes on my last visit to Ripples was the Duck Liver Parfait with Cranberry Jelly, and I was really looking forward to trying it again. This time, unfortunately it was almost inedible. The parfait wasn’t properly set, and very goopy with a strong, unpleasant taste that no amount of onion marmalade and pickled prunes could mask.

rabbit fricassee

Luckily, the mains arrived soon after. Steph had the White Rabbit Fricassee with Lardons, Artichokes & Pappardelle Pasta, which not only looked beautiful on the plate, but tasted incredible as well. There were a lot of flavours, which worked really well together, and kept each bite interesting.

ocean trout

Leona’s dish, the Pan-Seared Ocean Trout with Farmer’s style salad and grilled pork Toulouse sausage was a great, honest dish. I’m not usually a seafood lover but the ocean trout was delicious!

ripples famous fish & chips

Karen tackled the Ripples’ Famous Fish & Chips with homemade tartare sauce, which are still perhaps the best fish and chips I’ve eaten in my life. The batter on the fish was wonderfully crispy and the tartare sauce was the nicest I’ve ever had. It was an absolutely huge serving size though, and would probably be best shared between two people!

beef tenderlions & crab omelette

I chose the Char-grilled beef tenderloin with creamed spinach, horseradish gnocchi and beef short rib ragout, and I loved every bite. The beef was perfectly cooked to medium-rare, juicy and bursting with flavour. All the components of this dish tasted amazing, especially the ragout. I’m looking forward to trying to replicate the amazing gnocchi at home! It’s probably a good one for the boys, because I definitely couldn’t finish it. Betty had the Sandcrab & Fines Herbs Omelette with mixed cress salad, avocado and tomato dressing, fluffy and delicious, and studded with crab.


I was thankful for a little break before we started thinking about dessert. One of each, we asked for, though the staff only put through three out of four on our order, and in a rush to get the White Chocolate Parfait out to us, it was plated straight from the freezer and rock-hard. It was served with bitter chocolate and orange mousse and tangy blood orange jellies.

The passionfruit crème brulee with glass biscuit and passionfruit syrup smelled incredible, like summer. The glass biscuit was impressive with a nice crunch to break through to the silky custard below. The strawberry shortcake with champagne and white chocolate mousse and strawberry sorbet was very pretty to look at, and the strawberry sorbet was delicious and refreshing. Once you broke through the pastry, I found that the mousse was a little too boozy for my taste.

lemon tart & bombe alaska

Everyone’s highlight was the amazing burnt lemon tart, lemon curd bombe alaska and macadamia toffee. I’m a lemon tart fiend, and this was one of the nicest I’ve ever had, especially with the deliciously crackable toffee top. The bombe alaska was amazing, like a reinterpretation of a lemon meringue tart, and went perfectly with the macadamia toffee. I could have polished this dessert off easily by myself, it was that good.

It was a lovely lunch with my favourite lovely ladies. I was again impressed by Ripples’ honest, unpretentious, yet beautifully presented food. Unfortunately the duck liver parfait was a bit of a disappointment this time, but there were more than enough other delicious dishes to make up for it. I’m already looking forward to my next visit, and my next burnt lemon tart!

Ripples Sydney Wharf on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Traditions

candy cane cookies

Christmas is well and truly in the air. I mean it, I think I still smell like cinnamon from this morning’s baking! The decorations are up, the menus are planned, the Christmas shopping is, um, well, let’s move on, shall we? I love the traditions associated with Christmas, and memories of years past. From Dad lifting me up to put the angel on top of the tree, to opening presents on Christmas morning, to that obligatory Christmas Day dip in the pool with all of my cousins. Now that I’ve grown up, I’ve started creating traditions of my own, and I just wanted to share some of my favourite Christmas recipes with you all!

These gorgeous candy cane cookies caught my eye in last year’s Donna Hay Christmas issue but I never got around to making them until now. They looked so pretty and festive, and I can’t go past the delicious flavour combination of chocolate and peppermint! They were actually a lot of fun to make, a team effort with my sister one evening. She made the dough and I decorated them with the candy cane pieces.

We made mini cookies, smaller than the recipe suggested, using a small ice cream scoop to make the cookies an even size. They spread a fair bit in the oven, so make sure to leave enough room between the cookies on the tray. I loved the textural changes of the chocolate pieces and candy cane pieces in each bite.

It’s a perfect recipe to make with the kids for a Christmas Eve snack for Santa – I’m sure a plate of these and a glass of milk would make Santa would change his mind about even the naughtiest! They would also make adorable and thoughtful gifts, if you can bring yourself to share them!

candy cane cookies

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
Recipe from Donna Hay Magazine
Makes 40 small cookies

• 110g butter, softened and chopped
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup plain flour, sifted
• ¼ cup cocoa, sifted
• ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 120g dark chocolate, melted
• 280g dark chocolate, extra, chopped
• 120g candy canes, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).
2. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until light and creamy. Add the egg and the vanilla and beat until well combined. Add the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and melted chocolate and beat until just combined. Fold through extra chopped chocolate.
3. Roll teaspoons of the mixture into rounds. Place on baking trays lined with non-stick paper, allowing room for the cookies to spread, and flatten slightly.
4. Press the chopped candy canes into the tops of the cookies and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are firm. Allow to cool on the trays.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Summer Holiday

cherry pie

This time of year always makes me feel kind of nostalgic, with memories of long summer holidays. With such beautiful warm weather, the last thing I want to do is be sitting inside at my desk! I’ve been reminiscing a lot about when life was much simpler and carefree, with no bills to pay, no appointments to keep. When pleasures were as simple as letting the juice of a mango run all the way down your arm, or staying in the swimming pool until dinnertime, emerging finally with wrinkled fingers and bloodshot eyes.

Holiday mornings were spent helping Grandpa pick oranges and lemons to squeeze into fresh juice or turn into sweet icy granita. Afternoons were spent in the pool, no matter what. I remember a few days where we went for a swim, even though it was raining! We would pick the ripe pomegranates from the tree, sit at the table and dislodge the ruby red jewels one by one, eating handfuls at a time. And buy boxes of cherries that I’d eat until my lips and hands were stained red.

It was those days I was thinking about when I made this cherry pie. I originally made it to take to Simon’s birthday picnic a few weeks ago, but a variety of factors conspired against me, not least of all the weather, and I never made it to the party. But this tart was so good, so perfectly summery, that I just had to share it here. Though I realise it’s not really a proper substitute, I'm being a big tease, and I still owe Karen a cherry pie. Enjoy this with a big scoop of ice cream, sitting outside on a sultry summer night after a great backyard barbeque. There’s nothing better.

I used my favourite vanilla pastry recipe from Donna Hay, which has never let me down, and is always buttery and delicious. If you can find sour cherries, they are brilliant in this pie, though you can use sweet cherries as well, just add a little extra lemon juice. I found that the filling was very liquid straight from the oven but was much better after 24 hours in the fridge. Thanks to my sister also, who very patiently pitted all those cherries!

Sour Cherry Pie
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

Vanilla Pastry
• 1 2/3 cup plain flour
• 1 tablespoon caster sugar
• ¼ teaspoon baking powder
• 180g cold butter, chopped
• 1/3 cup iced water
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornflour
• 5 cups whole pitted sour cherries or dark sweet cherries (about 900g whole unpitted cherries)
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, up to 3 tablespoons if using sweet cherries
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
• 1 tablespoon milk
• Vanilla ice cream, to serve

1. To make the pastry, place flour, sugar and baking powder in a food processor and process to combine. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually add the water and vanilla and process until the mixture comes together to form a smooth dough.
2. Divide the dough in half and flatten slightly. Wrap each pastry disk in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling out.
3. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F).
4. To make the filling, whisk 1 cup sugar, cornflour and salt in a medium bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, vanilla and lemon juice and set aside.
5. Roll out 1 dough disk on a floured surface. Transfer to pie dish and trim the dough overhang to 1cm. Roll out second dough disk on floured surface. Using a large knife or pastry wheel, cut 10 x 2cm wide strips from dough round.
6. Transfer filling to dough lined dish, mounting slightly in the center. Dot with butter. Arrange dough strips atop filling, forming a lattice pattern. Trim dough strip overhang to 1cm. Fold bottom crust up over ends of strips and crimp edges to seal.
7. Brush the lattice crust, not the edges with milk and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
8. Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Raise oven temperature to 190°C (375°F). Bake pie for about 1 hour, until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, covering edges with foil if browning too quickly. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream.


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