Saturday, May 29, 2010

Raspberry and White Chocolate Macarons

We're going to a dinner party tonight so in the spirit of being a real grown up I thought I'd better whip something up to take as a gift for our hosts.

The macaron shell recipe is Tartlette's and I think I've finally got the hang of working with the batter. The whole 'no more than 40 strokes of the spoon' advice, while excellent, had me under mixing out of paranoia when I first attempted macarons a few months ago. So my advice to you is mix just the right amount, not too much, not too little. (Bet that doesn't help at all, it's very vague Yiayia-esque cooking advice!)

The white chocolate and raspberry filling is my own creation. 200g Green and Black's White Chocolate*, 70ml pouring cream and half a punnet of pureed raspberries. Pulverise the chocolate in a food processor and put it in a bowl, bring cream to the boil in a saucepan and then pour into the chocolate, whisking. Whisk in raspberry puree and then leave to cool to room temperature, whisking every fifteen minutes or so. Fill macarons. Eat.

* Organic AND Fair Trade, which after watching Paul Kenyon's documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth is the only kind of chocolate to buy and cook with. If you use chocolate at all (I briefly attempted a chocolate free household but quickly learned that this may well be the quickest pathway to divorce when your husband's a chocoholic.) Lately we've been shopping at Eveleigh Markets where all stallholders must be the producers of whatever they're selling, eliminating the possibility of imported produce being the product of child labour and human trafficking. But we can't make or grow everything in this climate.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Baker's Challenge: Croquembouche!

I LOVED this challenge. It's been my favourite of all the Daring Baker's challenges I've completed so far. It was also the first time I have successfully achieved toffee without burning it and having to throw out the saucepan. AND I didn't burn my fingers. AND it was a lovely opportunity to socialise as we received a series of visitors all keen to see (and eat) my creation. AND I got to buy some beautiful edible flowers from the markets.

I started the recipe by making some choux pastry, however found the dough very eggy and runny. When I pulled the choux out of the oven they hadn't risen into perfect puffs but looked a little more like hamburger buns which, in search of perfection, I rejected. I do admit that they were great fillers at the end of the process when I needed to balance my croquembouche.

For the next batch of choux I used the simple choux recipe from my Masterchef cookbook which was very similar to the Daring Baker's recipe but with one less egg and no sugar. It puffed up beautifully so I was very happy.

The pastry cream recipe was the easiest and best tasting recipe I've ever tried. I made a half batch of vanilla cream and a half batch of chocolate cream. It was a great thickness for piping into the choux.

After I'd filled the choux it was time to make the toffee, and again I took the advice of my Masterchef cookbook which involved a caster sugar and liquid glucose toffee recipe. For a while I was worried it wouldn't work because for about 15 minutes it just looked like this:

Thankfully it turned into this:

Next I dipped the profiteroles half into the toffee and let them set on some baking paper.

The final steps were to fill up the croquembouche mold with the profiteroles, dipping them in a little more toffee as I went, before removing the mold and decorating the tower with spun sugar and flowers. I had no idea spun sugar would be so fun or so messy!

What amazed me was how easy the whole process was. I think I'd demonised it in my head a little after seeing the Zumbo croquembouche challenge on Masterchef last year. The sense of achievement at the end of the challenge was enormous, there was much shrieking and jumping with joy when the croquembouche came out of the mold intact and beautiful.

I'll leave you with the recipe for pastry cream because it really was perfect.

The Fabulous Pastry Cream Recipe (Half Batch)

1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk

2 Tbsp. cornstarch6 Tbsp.

(100 g.) sugar

1 large egg2 large egg yolks

2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter

1 Tsp. Vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla. Pour into ceramic or stainless steel bowl, cover with Glad Wrap touching the custard to prevent a skin forming, and refrigerate until cold.

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.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Caramel Cake

The visual disaster that was Nigella's Gin and Tonic Jelly was intended to be a Mother's Day dinner dessert, so in light of it's 6pm failure I had to find another dessert recipe to make, and pronto. Cue a quick search of Smitten Kitchen and the discovery of this caramel cake recipe.

It's basically a vanilla butter cake dressed up with caramel topping and gosh it's lovely. I think it will become my emergency-people-are-coming-over-in-five-minutes cake to bake.

The next day I fed Dad and Rahul pieces that I microwaved for 30 seconds which came out looking just like some kind of vanilla caramel pudding and would have been perfect with a scoop of ice cream. Yum.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pina Colada Cake

This Sky High recipe has been on my baking shortlist for ages. Last weekend my friend Alice was visiting from Perth and organised a big enough gathering of people to justify making this monster cake. It was delicious and very different from my usual choices that always involve food colouring or chocolate!

The recipe involved making:

Brown Sugar Cake

(3 3/4 cups plain flour; 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 tsp salt; 2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar; 225g softened unsalted butter; 1 3/4 cups buttermilk; 5 eggs and 2 tsp vanilla extract)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter and line three 8 inch cake tins with baking paper
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl
  3. Mix in the brown sugar and the butter and 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk with the speed on low (be careful if you are using a stand mixer like I did, there was a wave like min explosion out of the bowl at this point because the buttermilk didn't immediately mix in! Add it gradually.)
  4. Beat until light and fluffy (on a medium mixer speed)
  5. Whisk the eggs with the remaining buttermilk and add to the batter in 3 additions, beating only well enough to incorporate between additions
  6. Divide amongst the pans and bakie for 25 to 28 minutes
  7. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out and cool on a wire rack

Pineapple Filling

Ingredients(1 can crushed pineapple juice with no added sugar; 1/4 cup lime juice; 1 cup sugar; 1 tsp coconut essence)

  1. Combine the pineapple, lime juice and sugar in a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Raise the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the juices have almost evaporated and it has a jam like consistency
  3. Remove from heat, add the coconut essence and cool.

Splash each layer of cake with rum (unless you are serving to a pregnant person!) and then spread with the pineapple mixture.

Cover with Seven Minute Frosting (I used coconut essence instead of vanilla) and top with coconut. Pretty!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Epic fail: Nigella's Gin and Tonic Jelly

What I can't work out is why this was such a disaster. I absolutely 100% followed the recipe to the dot. However I worked from the recipe in How To Be A Domestic Goddess which specified 8 gelatin leaves, and today during my online search for what went wrong I found the same recipe on Nigella's website except this recipe called for 15 gelatin leaves. Interesting, very interesting. I can now assume that the online freebie version is best, and the version in the book that costs money and takes effort to acquire is a dud. I have heard other people bemoan quantity inaccuracies in Nigella's recipes before but until today I had cooked away at them unscathed.

A minute after I took this photograph of my jelly it did a massive surge towards the edge of the plate and about a quarter of it oozed onto the bench. I've poured the remainder* back into the mold and it's sitting in the fridge while I work out what to do with it. I thought possibly a trifle, but then the idea of gin and tonic with lemon curd and vanilla cake sounds kind of repulsive, and that was the best combination I could come up with.

Thank the lord for my best friend Smitten Kitchen. I now have a caramel cake in the oven baking and filling the house with delicious smells. Maybe the jelly will be weekend breakfasts, which sounds like the sort of thing Oscar Wilde might have eaten before hanging out in opium dens for the rest of the day. Glamour.

*Minus a cup I had for afternoon tea because you need a stiff drink when your dessert fails at the last minute.

UPDATE: We ended up eating the jelly as a pre-dessert item, possibly what they call a palate cleanser? It was delicious delicious delicious. But extremely potent to the point that I went bright red and had to have a little lie down on the couch afterwards. But we all know I am a lightweight, everyone else was just fine.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sonoma Artisan Sourdough Bakery

I love Sonoma bread, it's earthy and delicious. Thankfully it's available fresh at both Eveleigh Markets and Orange Grove Markets, our two local haunts. I've been reading about the bakery cafe at Waterloo for some time now but never really connected the actual location with any other desirable destinations. On the weekend we were on the hunt for some wardrobe door handles (don't get me started) and found ourself in Danks Street, Waterloo, which seems to get nicer every time I venture over there. And now, after realising that Sonoma was across the street from my doorknob destination, I consider it even nicer still.

Historically I have been a bit dubious about 'bakery/cafe's' possibly going back to the days when I worked in one and dished out many dried out pies and quiches from an ageing pie warmer. And sometimes we had cheese'n'bacon scrolls on offer. Elegant.

At Sonoma there are no wrinkled pies in sight, just cabinets of delicious looking sandwiches. Chicken and tarragon is a winning combination, and this sandwich was no exception.

The coffee was good too.

We also had an eggplant, tomato and mozzarella sandwich. Eggplant can be a bit risky, often brine-y and chewy, but this was lovely and soft. The cheese was thinly sliced so as not to be overpowering.

Sonoma is definitely worth a visit. Especially if your soul needs soothing after staring at door furniture!