Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tea Room, Gunners Barracks

gunners barracks

I’ve mentioned before my love of high tea, and in my mind there are few things better than catching up with the girls (and this time boys too!) over tea, scones, and tiny cakes. And what better place than The Tea Room Gunners Barracks, possibly one of the most gorgeous vantage points of Sydney Harbour. We were seated outside, which would have been lovely were it not a decidedly cold and windy day. The staff kindly provided warm blankets and moved the heater closer, but we were still shivering.

We ordered our teas and they were brought out quickly, however it took a few more minutes for our teacups to appear and by then the tea was beginning to get cold. I had the Irish Whiskey Cream tea, while secretly envying Steph’s choice of blueberry muffin tea, definitely one to try next time. I loved the beautiful Royal Albert tea cups and the craggly raw sugar cubes that always taste so much better.

scones at gunners barracks

I think the secret to a good high tea is all about the scones. These were very large, almost too big and it was a little strange to see them with blueberry preserve rather than the usual strawberry jam. The scones were light and fluffy without a floury taste. They can’t compare to home made scones, but were a huge step above Sir Stamford’s cheesy fail scones and are probably the best you’re going to get at a high tea in Sydney.

gunners barracks

The savouries were a big hit. I really liked the asparagus tartlet, but our plate came without the yoghurt sauce for the samosas. They were delicious nonetheless. The sandwiches were okay, the fillings were pretty standard – smoked salmon, egg salad and roast beef. The bread was a little dry but this might have been from sitting out in the wind!

gunners barracks

After a short break we were ready to tuck into the sweets. I really liked the little peach cake. It was moist, flavourful and went really nicely with my tea. The cheesecake was a little soft and soggy, probably my least favourite of all the sweet offerings. I was surprised by how much I liked the macaron. I haven’t eaten many since Macaron Day, but this one was baked perfectly and the chocolate and orange flavour was fabulous. The last little cake was my favourite, kind of like an Opera cake with sponge, coffee and chocolate flavours. It was delicious and decadent, but just rich enough. And last but not least was a fabulous mango and tapioca pudding that seemed to get better with every spoon. The taste and texture were both perfect.

I really enjoyed this high tea, although it would have been much nicer if the weather had been better! There was quite a lot of food all up, more than other high teas I’ve been to and for $40 it seemed reasonably priced for such a great location, definitely a good reason to cross the Bridge. I’m also really looking forward to trying the Tea Room in the QVB too. And afterwards, on Ellie’s recommendation we drove up the road to a truly gorgeous shop called Burnt Orange where Karen, Steph and I picked up some gorgeous kitchen bits and pieces! Thanks ladies, and gentlemen for a fabulous afternoon!

The Tea Room, Gunners Barracks - End of Suakin Drive, Georges Heights

Tea Room Gunners' Barracks on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 28, 2010

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

croquembouche

Can you believe it’s the end of May already? This year has been crazy busy so far, and due to a lack of time and a lack of inspiration for the last few challenges, I’ve missed a few months of Daring Bakers. But when I saw May’s challenge, I knew I had to clear my schedule for a day and give it a try. You see, ever since last year’s Masterchef Pressure Test, when the contestants made towers of choux puffs with swirling strands of spun sugar to Adriano Zumbo’s recipe, I’ve wanted to make a Croquembouche. And today, I did.

croquembouche

Today is also my Dad’s birthday, and one of his favourite desserts ever is the pecan pie I made from the Tartine Bakery cookbook last year. I was quite surprised he liked it so much, because usually he prefers a bag of salty chips than a sweet dessert. So I wanted to incorporate the flavours of a pecan pie into the croquembouche, namely caramel, bourbon, vanilla and of course pecans.

I used the required challenge recipe for the choux pastry, which is similar to my usual favourite recipe and I had no problem making the gorgeous hollow puffs. I adapted Adriano Zumbo’s crème patissiere recipe from the Masterchef cookbook, to be a vanilla and bourbon pastry cream. I’m not sure why it turned out a little runnier than my usual recipe, which made filling the profiteroles a little bit difficult. For the caramel pecan flavour, I made the Pecan Bourbon pralines from the Tartine cookbook to add a beautiful nuttiness. I had a little trouble with this recipe as it didn’t set properly the first time around but the second attempt was more successful.

croquembouche

Assembling the croquembouche was a little bit crazy. Trying to avoid burning myself with the hot caramel, and keeping it neat, presentable and somewhat resembling a tower was really hard. My first attempt at spun sugar was a little bit fail, and it’s not as pretty as I would have hoped. I mean, it certainly wouldn’t have won any Masterchef competitions! But it was delicious nonetheless and I really liked the flavour combinations and the texture from the caramel and the pecans. I just wish I'd had some candied kumquats to add a bit of tang and colour like in the original pecan pie recipe! I'm not going to include the recipes here, so check out some of the other fabulous Daring Bakers blogs if you'd like to give it a try!

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grape Schiacciata

grape schiacciata

Some days just seem custom-made for baking. This was the case last Sunday, when the weather was grey and drizzly, perfect for staying indoors and pottering about the kitchen. More specifically, I was in the mood to make bread. When I saw this recipe in the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook, I knew exactly what to do, and I immediately went out to buy some grapes. The flavour combination intrigued me, and I’ve always wanted to try the schiacciata, which are like flatbreads with all manner of delicious toppings.

I’d made the basic olive oil dough before, which comes together really easily in a stand mixer (although you can do it without if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty!) For this recipe you only need 400g of the dough, but I would recommend making the full recipe, rather than halving it. You can use the rest for any number of things – shape it into mini bread rolls or panini, roll it out as pizza dough, or if you’re really keen you can make some chorizo and thyme rolls with the leftovers.

I loved the sweet/savoury qualities of this bread, and the rosemary was the perfect accompaniment. I also used some freshly ground black pepper over the top before I put it into the oven. I think I might have rolled my dough may just a little too thick this time, but I loved it nonetheless. This would be fantastic to serve warm at a casual lunch or take on a picnic. Of course the choice of toppings is completely up to you! Try tomato, basil and cheese, or even potatoes and prosciutto layered over the top.

Olive Oil Dough
Makes 1kg of dough, or two loaves

• 600g strong flour
• 13g fresh yeast (or 7g instant dried yeast hydrated with 10% of the water in the recipe)
• 400ml water
• 20ml extra virgin olive oil
• 20ml milk
• 1 ½ tablespoons sea salt

If using an electric mixer, place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes, then increase the speed to high and continue mixing for 5 minutes. The dough should come away from the edges of the bowl and have a silky complexion when done.

Place the dough in a container that has been sprayed with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to bulk prove for 1 ½ hours.
Knock back the dough every 30 minutes during the bulk prove – twice in total. To knock back the dough, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and press out into a rectangle about 2.5cm thick. Use your hands to fold one third back onto itself, then repeat with the remaining third. Turn the dough 90 degrees and fold over again into thirds. Place back into the oiled container, cover with plastic wrap, and continue to bulk prove for a further 1 hour. Once the dough has finished its bulk prove it is ready to be divided and shaped.

Grape Schiacciata
Makes 2

• 400g olive oil dough
• 500g black seedless grapes
• 2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
• Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
• Freshly ground black pepper

Divide the olive oil dough into 2 equal portions. Use a rolling pin to roll out each portion into a 30 x 15cm rectangle about 5mm thick all over. Gently transfer dough to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Set aside to prove for 20 minutes in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). If you have a pizza stone, place inside the warming oven. Pick and wash the grapes and black in a bowl. Roughly crush them with your fists to get some of the juice out (don’t pound them into a paste). Drain the juice.

Scatter the grapes over the dough, leaving a 5mm border around the edges. Sprinkle rosemary, demerara sugar and pepper over the top. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°C (390°F), transfer schiaccita and baking paper to the baking stone if using, and bake for 25 minutes, turning after 10 minutes. It is important to check the base to see if it is cooked all the way through. Serve warm or room temperature.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vasse Felix, Margaret River

vasse felix, margaret river

I love wine country. Not only is the scenery is absolutely stunning, but the produce is fantastic and there’s often a cluster of truly great restaurants. When we’d planned to be in Bunbury for a few days on my most recent trip to Perth, I persuaded the boy (who isn’t even a wine drinker) that we should drive an extra hour south and spend a night in Margaret River. We had been there before, on a camping trip back in the summer of 2008 and I thought the town was lovely.

This time we decided to book in lunch at Vasse Felix, a gorgeous winery not too far out of town which boasts the oldest vines in the region. The drizzle had stopped for just a few minutes as we arrived. After a quick wander around the gallery, we headed upstairs to the restaurant, which overlooked the beautiful estate. It was toasty warm inside thanks to the log fire blazing.

duck leg on barley risotto

Even though I’d looked over the a la carte menu online and knew what was on it, it was still a very difficult decision over what to order, since every single main looked fantastic. There may have been a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. In the end, I decided on the Crispy Duck Leg, pearl barley and herb risotto, roast fig, celeriac and apple remoulade. The risotto was especially interesting, with the different texture of the pearl barley providing an interesting contrast. It was perfect with the absolutely smashing glass of Cabernet Merlot I had with it. The only thing that seemed strange with the dish was that the duck and risotto were served hot, and the figs and remoulade were cold, which made it a little strange when tasting the different elements together.

rabbit pappardelle

Steve’s choice was much easier, deciding straight away on the Rabbit and Porcini Pappardelle with roast hazelnuts and gorgonzola mascarpone. The pasta was perfectly cooked, and the rabbit was delicious apart from a few slightly chewy pieces, and it was perhaps a tiny bit under-seasoned. I was surprised that he really enjoyed the gorgonzola! All in all, it was a great and unpretentious dish with some spot-on flavour combinations.

bittersweet chocolate tart

Dessert was absolutely necessary, and again a tough decision for me as all four choices looked fabulous. I ordered the Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with sour cherries and red wine jelly. It came out looking like an artwork on the plate! The chocolate tart was decadent, almost indecent, adorned with plump juicy cherries. The Cane Cut Semillon dessert wine cut through the sweetness and richness of the tart and was a perfect match.

warm gingerbread

When I saw the Warm Gingerbread with Caramelised Bananas, Caramel Sauce and Popcorn ice cream, I knew it would be Steve’s choice, as those are some of his favourite things all on the one plate. This was the standout dish of the day for both of us. That popcorn ice cream was absolutely sublime, and tasted exactly like buttery popcorn but smooth and creamy, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since! All of the different elements worked perfectly together and it was really a smashing dish that I kind of wish I’d ordered for myself!

Chef Aaron Carr really knows his way around flavours and is blessed with some of Australia’s best produce in the Margaret River region. The food at Vasse Felix is special without being over the top or overdone in any way, and the atmosphere of both the restaurant and the cellar door is warm and inviting. It’s a long way to go for lunch, but it was definitely a meal (and a view!) that I’ll remember for a long time to come.

Vasse Felix - Cnr Caves Rd and Harmans Rd South, Cowaramup, WA

Vasse Felix on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Apple and Ginger Shortcakes

apple shortcake

It’s a bit of a tradition now, that whenever I go over to Perth to visit the boy that we invite his parents over for dinner. I’ve mentioned that I love cooking for people and this is no exception, I know they look forward to it as well. I love planning menus, but inevitably change my mind a hundred times. I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself, busting out some of my favourites like roast chicken and ratatouille.

This time I cooked a riff on my favourite chicken pie recipe with the addition of seedless red grapes, inspired by the chicken pie on the menu at Gazebo Wine Garden. It was just lovely with a local un-oaked Chardonnay from a little town in WA called Denmark. But today we’re talking about dessert. Steve had apple and cinnamon on the brain and I wanted to make a dessert using those flavours. I was originally thinking a cake or a crumble, but when I stumbled upon this recipe for apple and ginger shortcakes, I knew this was it.

Not only was it a breeze to make, but it looked like I’d made a big effort! I really liked the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet and the mascarpone was perfect with the delicious caramel apples. The shortcakes were delicately spiced with ginger and cinnamon, but weren’t as light and fluffy as I was hoping for. Perhaps I’m just used to making cream scones, but they were still absolutely delicious.

I think these shortcakes would also make a great base for experimenting with other kinds of fruit or fillings. Poached pears, roasted quince or stewed rhubarb would be fabulous, as would fresh berries or bananas. You could also replace the mascarpone with double cream, whipped cream or even sweetened ricotta, and play with the combination of spices in the shortcakes themselves. They make an elegant dessert but would also be perfect for afternoon tea. The possibilities are endless! These were a big hit dinner and I’m sure I’ll be making them again soon.

GourmetRabbit crumble

And if you're still in the mood for another fabulous autumn recipe, check out my latest recipe on GourmetRabbit, a gorgeous vanilla, apple and pear crumble with brown butter ice cream made with beautiful unwaxed apples and pears from Orange!

Caramelised Apple and Ginger Shortcakes
Serves 8
Adapted from Notebook

• 20g butter
• 2 granny smith apples, cored, cut into wedges
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/3 cup cream
• 100g mascarpone

Ginger Shortcakes
• 2 cups plain flour
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 100g butter, chopped
• 2/3 cup milk
• 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line an oven tray with non stick baking paper. To make the shortcakes, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the milk and egg and stir until just combined.

Roll or pat out onto a lightly floured surface to a 2cm thick disc. Use an 8cm round pastry cutter to cut 8 discs from the dough. Place on the lined baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large frying pan over high heat until foaming. Add the apple and cook, turning occasionally for 5 minutes or until apples caramelize. Add brown sugar and cinnamon, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add the cream and stir until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Using a small serrated knife, split each shortcake in half. Dollop with mascarpone, top with apples and drizzle with caramel sauce. Top with remaining cake half, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pomegranate Baklava

pistachio baklava with pomegranate syrup

Food blogging has come under a lot of fire lately, from chefs becoming unhappy with bloggers taking photos in restaurants, to people being criticised for accepting freebies, as well as the constant debate between blogs and new media versus the traditional established media as information sources. And more importantly, when did blogging become a competitive sport?

When I started writing Spicy Icecream nearly three years ago now, it was just a little spot for me to share my experiences in the kitchen, practise my photography and writing skills. It was a hobby, a bit of fun. There were just a handful food bloggers in Sydney, and I never expected to meet half the fabulous people or to be given any of the opportunities that this blog has brought me, and I’m thankful for every one of them.

I believe it’s good ethics to advise readers if I’m writing about a freebie I’ve received or an event I’ve been invited to. I don’t think it’s fair to be labelled a “$ell out” or to be judged for running advertising. I don’t plan to turn this site into my main source of income, but blogging is both expensive and time consuming when you think about the cost of web hosting, equipment, ingredients, and eating out. To be able to recoup some of my costs is welcome. But not at the expense of giving false opinions or losing my voice as a writer!

pistachio baklava

That being said, I received some Royal Pom pomegranates courtesy of WordStorm PR and was inspired to make something delicious with them. I have loved pomegranates since I was a little girl, when I’d pick them off my Nanna’s tree (she was clearly ahead of her time!) and dislodge the ruby red arils one by one. To see that they are now being commercially grown in Australia is great, and the quality of the product is fabulous. I couldn’t wait to cook with them!

I ended up making baklava with pomegranate and mint syrup. I knew the pomegranates would be delicious with pistachios, walnuts and pine nuts in the baklava, but this turned out even better than I’d hoped. It’s a little time consuming to make, with a lot of layers of delicate filo, but the end result is absolutely delicious and so worth the effort. The pomegranates add a delicious flavour that complements the nuttiness perfectly. I believe it's good ethics to share this fabulous recipe with you all!

Spicy Icecream received 2 complimentary Royal Pom pomegranates courtesy of WordStorm PR.

Pistachio Baklava with Pomegranate and Mint Syrup
Adapted from Flavours by Donna Hay
Serves 12

• 36 sheets filo pastry, 20x30cm
• 100g butter, melted
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Filling
• 1 ½ cups raw pistachios
• 1 cup walnuts
• ¼ cup pine nuts
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 45g butter

Pomegranate and Mint Syrup
• ¾ cup water
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• ½ cup fresh mint leaves, shredded
• 1 teaspoon rosewater
• 1 pomegranate, arils removed

To make the filling, place the pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, cinnamon and brown sugar in a food processor and process until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and process until combined.

Place a sheet of filo pastry in a 20x30cm cake tin and brush with the combined melted butter and oil. Top with 11 more sheets of filo, brushing each sheet well with butter and oil. Spread half the filling over the top. Top with 12 more sheets of filo, brushing with the butter and oil mixture as you go. Spread the remaining filling over the top and top with the remaining filo sheets, brushing as you go with butter and oil. Cut the baklava into diamond shaped in the tin. Bake for 1 hour.

To make the syrup, place the water, sugar and mint in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain to remove the mint leaves. Add the rosewater and pomegranate.

When baklava is cooked, let stand for 5 minutes then pour the syrup over the top. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bills, Darlinghurst

scrambled eggs

There are few things better than a lazy Sunday brunch with the girls, but with hectic schedules and jam-packed weekends, sometimes we have to schedule these things months in advance. Karen mentioned that she’d never been to Bills, and we booked in a day to finally take her. After all, it’s been said that you’re not a true Sydney-sider until you’ve been to Bills. I had my first experience only last year at his Surry Hills incarnation, and I was looking forward to trying Darlinghurst.

The wait for a table was considerable, about an hour in fact, apparently most of Sydney had the same idea we did! Karen had woken up much earlier than usual for this and I was hanging out for a coffee. When we were finally seated, we order all of Bills classic dishes, and seeing as it was after midday, we also ordered a dish from the lunch menu.

drinks

To start, I couldn’t go past Bills own Ginger Cordial. It was nice, tasting almost identical to my attempt at homemade ginger ale a few months ago, but with which I had the same problem. Perhaps it’s just my insatiable sweet tooth or the fact that I can drink my body weight in ginger beer, but it wasn’t quite sweet enough for me.

coffees

Leona tried the Rosehip and Mint Punch, which was interesting, but after a few sips started to taste a little like cough syrup. Steph and Karen had the famous Callebaut hot chocolate, but it was so rich that Steph was defeated. I was impressed with my Long Black too, it was a really well made coffee.

ricotta hotcakes

The food arrived shortly after. We couldn’t go past the famous Ricotta Hotcakes with honeycomb butter and banana and of course the scrambled eggs on which Bill Granger built his empire. Now I have a confession to make. I don’t like eggs. Not scrambled, poached, or hard-boiled. So I didn’t try these but the girls loved them.

corn fritters

The corn fritters caught my eye last time I visited so I was pleased to finally try them. They were bursting with the flavour of sweet corn kernels, like an explosion in your mouth. They were fabulous, and the tomato and bacon were the perfect accompaniments.

schnitzel

The other dish we tried was the Parmesan Crumbed Free Range Chicken Schnitzel with Spicy Slaw. I was hoping for a lovely crispy schnitzel, and this wasn’t quite, but it was still deliciously moist and tender. The coleslaw was the most interesting part of this dish. I detected fish sauce and along with the coriander, it reminded me of an Asian salad. Add some thick cut fries and aioli and I think this dish would have been perfect.

All in all, we had a lovely brunch interspersed with much girly gossip. Followed by some window-shopping (and actual shopping in my case), it was a lovely Sunday morning. I hope Karen thought the early wake up was worth it, if only for those ricotta pancakes.

Bills Darlinghurst - 433 Liverpool St Darlinghurst

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