Thursday, 15 December 2011

Ginger brûlée tarts

Photo credit: The Quiltmaker

The head notes to this recipe in Bourke Street Bakery cookbook says these tarts, especially their fillings,  are one of the most challenging items in the book, so how could I resist? The challenges I faced were more to do with locating my tiny loose-bottomed tart tins (I found two, with several extra bases), remembering to replenish my stocks of cinnamon quills and achieving an evenly browned rather than spotted blackened crust with my blowtorch. 

Given the lack of tart tins (the recipe provided quantities for 20), and the warning about their difficulty, I decided to treat this as a practice attempt and made only four. I also used leftover sweet shortcrust pastry rather than making the recipe in the book, which I’ll do for the real thing.

They were fabulous, even with their charred edges and acrid sugar. I do love a good masala chai, and these were inspired by chai on the author’s travels through the Himalayas.

 Adapted from the larger quantity in Bourke Street Bakery, pp264–5

Note: don’t get up the morning of a dinner party expecting to whip these up for dessert! They need to be started two days ahead, or you might get away with one if you skimp on either or both the infusing and custard-chilling.

145mL pouring cream
2cm piece of ginger, finely sliced
1 cardamom pod, bruised
½ cinnamon stick
2 egg yolks
20g caster sugar, plus more for dredging and burning later
small chunk sweet shortcrust pastry, enough for lining 4 8cm tart tins
chopped pistachios for decorating

Heat the cream with the ginger, cardamom and cinnamon stick until it comes to the boil. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat to simmering point, then set aside.

Whisk egg yolks, then add sugar and keep whisking until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the spices out of the warmed cream, which is then whisked with the yolks and sugar to combine. Put the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (which mustn’t touch the base of the bowl), and keep whisking until your arm protests bitterly and the mixture is thick enough for tracks to be left in the wake of the whisk. 

This’ll be the most boring ten minutes of your life, so keep a companion handy to talk to and don’t be tempted to leave the whisking for even a few seconds. It’s okay to quickly change arms, but that’s all. Take the bowl off the heat and keep whisking for another minute or two to take some of the heat out of the mixture. Over the next hour, keep whisking every ten minutes until the mixture is totally cool. Press cling wrap to the surface to prevent a skin forming, and refrigerate overnight to set.

Line tart tins, freeze for 20 minutes, then blind bake at 200C for 20–25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool. Pipe the chilled custard into them, slightly overfilling, then scrape the custard flush with the top of the tart shell with a palette knife. Set in the fridge for 4 hours.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of caster sugar over the top of each tart and caramelise it with a blowtorch, somehow not blackening the tart crust edges as you do so. My caster sugar kept blowing itself into little balls that then became black blobs, but here and there were patches of perfect goldenness like an encouragement. Sprinkle a few pistachio fragments on top to serve, which I didn’t. Sprinkle pistachios, that is; I did serve, if marching into the Quiltmaker’s office and plonking it before her with a demand to sample and assess counts as serving. I think it does, and she didn’t seem to mind – she kindly took a photo in order to tweet about it, which I am now stealing as I neglected to take one of the finished item, as I am wont to do. Forget to take final pic, that is. And steal those of others to make up for my neglectfulness. But I consider the making of these tarts over several days penance enough.

So I shall make these again, probably in a quantity of ten, and serve with ice-cream. What ice-cream, I don’t know. Maybe a raspberry, as different enough to the custard and pretty besides, both advantages over a plain vanilla.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Fresh ginger cake

David Lebovitz seems to have been making this cake for decades – it’s online at Epicurious from 1999, and also in his Ready for Dessert (p42) – and for good reason.

This had a better reception than my made-up ginger brownies and Maida’s gingerful biscotti put together. It was rich and light, and pleasantly hot and bitey, and each crumb glowed golden. That may sound as if I’ve taken leave of my senses and am seeing miracles, but it’s true. I put it down to the workings-together of the oil and treacle and ginger. I’m sure it was also this combination that gave the cake its gloriously sticky shiny surface.

115g piece fresh ginger
250ml mild molasses (?? I used half-and-half Lyle’s golden syrup and black treacle)
200g sugar
250ml vegetable oil (I used peanut)
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
250ml water
2 teaspoons bicarb soda
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a not-shallow 20-cm square (or 22cm round springform) cake tin with baking paper.

Scrape the skin off the ginger with a teaspoon (that way you don’t waste any, as you do with a peeler or knife) and chop a bit. I blitzed my ginger in the small food-processor attachment that came with my stick blender and that I love and use daily, or you can be tough and do this by hand until very fine.

In a large bowl (the KitchenAid for me, but see issue with sifting over flour below), mix the molasses or substitute, sugar and oil – perhaps because I wilfully insist on using raw sugar, I ended up with an incredibly gluggy mixture where the sugar kept sinking to the bottom. Separately whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.

Bring the water to boil in a small saucepan (or I boiled the kettle), then stir in the bicarb soda. Beat the hot water into the golden syrup mixture, then add the chopped ginger.

Gradually sift the flour mixture over the golden syrup mixture, beating gently and in fits and starts to combine (since I haven’t been able to get around the problem of how to sift flour over while the thing’s running – perhaps a case for going the manually-mixing route for this one). Add the eggs and beat until thoroughly blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour, until a bamboo skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

David suggests serving it with a fruit compote, or a lemon curd whipped with cream, which would have been my choice if I’d had cream. I felt that it needed something.

Just one other good thing about this cake is that, as it’s so moist, it keeps well for up to 5 days at room temperature. This baby could go through the post for a Xmas present. And it can be frozen for up to a month.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gingerful biscotti

It’s nearly Xmas, which I am very bah-humbuggy about, but I admit that it allows great scope for the foodish aspect of life. I’m not sure why ginger-related things are very often also Xmas-related, but as I’ve had a bag of crystallised ginger taking up precious cupboard space for some months, I’m prepared to take this opportunity to use it up as a nod towards the season. After all, I like ginger, and I’m looking for recipes that take it beyond a spoonful of bland dry ground stuff and into the chewier, sharper crystallised realm.

I had the idea that chocolate and ginger would play well together, which led me on a search for ginger brownies. Dorie Greenspan has Ginger-Jazzed Brownies in Baking, but they only have ground and raw in them – appealing, but not of much relief to my cupboard-space issue, so I’ll do those another day. I was amazed that I found so few brownie recipes involving crystallised ginger – there were only a couple on obscure websites such as this one, and packet mix was involved. So I imposed ginger on a basic good brownie recipe as a replacement for walnuts. Since I’m not recommending it to anyone, I’m not even recounting the method here. And I didn’t take any photos – the bits of translucent golden ginger failed to stand up to the dark chocolate brownie in cross-section.

I can’t quite figure out why it wasn’t on the money. Was the chewy texture of the ginger not enough of a contrast to the fudginess of the brownie? Did the ginger and the chocolate remain two separate parts in terms of taste that didn’t form a pleasing whole? (The poor Saucemaker would concur with this – she was nibbling on her piece and getting along with it okay until she came to an unexpected bit of ginger and was deeply disconcerted.) I love bits of crystallised ginger enrobed in dark chocolate and sold in fancy shops, but clearly this doesn’t translate to a cakier context.

Anyway, so I moved on to Maida Heatter, whose Gingerful Biscotti (Maida Heatter's Brand-New Book of Great Cookies, p20) are the Xmas favourites of many on Egullet and Chowhound. These were more like it. Pleasantly bitey with the extra kick of white pepper; not overly sweet, not overly rich or luxurious, but that’s probably all for the best and allows for the less-guilty grabbing of handfuls.

120g crystallised ginger
200g raw almonds
375g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon bicarb soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
100g sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup honey

Cut up ginger into bits the size of peas; set aside. (Maida comments rather acidly and uncharacteristically that ‘Yes, cutting ginger is boring.’ This seemed curious, as I can think of many tasks I find much more boring and onerous than spending about 30 seconds chopping up soft ginger.)

Toast the almonds in the oven at about 180C oven for 15 minutes, until lightly coloured, shaking once during toasting. Don’t forget about them, as I almost always do in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind fashion until the reek of charring almonds breaks through my haze of preoccupation. Even slightly burnt almonds taste ghastly, second only to hazelnuts, which one often thinks one has escaped with as one rubs off their burnt skins and exposes the pale nut beneath – but alas, they burn to acridness deep in their hollow middles. Anyway, set your perfectly toasted almonds aside to cool.

Into the Kitchen Aid bowl sift the flour, bicarb soda, baking powder, salt, pepper, ground ginger, cinnamon, mustard, cloves and sugar, and beat together. Stir in the crystallised ginger, then the almonds. Separately beat the eggs with a fork and add the honey, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until the dry ingredients are completely moistened.

Place two 40cm lengths of cling wrap on a work surface and form two strips of dough down the middle of each. Spoon half of the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls in the middle – down the length – of each piece of plastic wrap, to form strips about 30cm long. Flatten the tops slightly by wetting a large spoon into water and pressing down on the dough with its back.

Wrap the dough, and press on the plastic wrap to smooth and shape it into an even strip about 35cm long, 5cm wide and 1.5cm thick. Place the wrapped strips strips of dough in the freezer for at least an hour or until firm enough to unwrap (or as much longer as you wish, like days and days until the craziness abates long enough to allow you to be home and available to the oven for a few hours while frantically tidying the worksite midden that was once your house because people are coming over. By the way, this is currently and seemingly eternally the outside of said house).

To bake, adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 160C. Line two large baking trays with silicon liners or baking paper, and place the unwrapped strips diagonally across them, or however they fit. If your trays are big enough you might be able to lay the two strips side by side on only the one, but remember they’ll spread a bit. Bake for 50 minutes, reversing the trays top to bottom and front to back once during the baking to ensure even baking. They’ll turn quite dark.

Reduce the temperature to 150C and remove the tray/s from the oven. Although hot, carefully and gently peel the paper away from the backs of the strips and place them on a large cutting board. Slice into 1cm strips with a serrated knife while they’re still hot, using a tea-towel to save your steadying hand if you like. Slice on an angle; the sharper the angle, the longer the cookies, and the more difficult it will be to slice them very thin without the ends breaking away – happy days. At least this makes a lot, though: 70-something.

Place the slices on a cut side down on the trays and bake for about 25 minutes until the cut side is golden. Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking. Bake just until dry. (You have to cool one to know if it’s crisp.)

When done, cool and then store in an airtight container. They’ll keep for weeks. Pretty please, either dunk them or prepare to face your dentist – they’re seriously as hard as rocks, and I can’t imagine why they never come with a warning in recipe books. As a long-time bruxist who must now wear a mouthguard (I know, hawt) to bed for the rest of my days or at least until I get dentures, I’ve got sensitive incisors with edges described by my dentist as ‘like glass’, but still.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Heston’s red cabbage gazpacho with mustard ice-cream

I’ve mentioned before that I do love a Heston Blumenthal book, even if more for their food-porn with-a-twist aspect than actually using the recipes therein. Well, now I have Heston at Home, in which he’s made a sterling effort to offer recipes more within the reach of the average home cook.

They’re still enough of a challenge, and they have the Heston quality that sets every recipe apart from anything likely to be encountered in any other book. There are echoes of his Fantastical Feasts in the whisky gums, raspberry sherbert and salted butter caramels with edible wrappers. There’s a sequence of re-imagined classic beverages, such as gin & tonic with cucumber ice. There are banana and bacon cookies, but then what appears to be a totally straightforward lemon tart. There’s a delightful playfulness in really humble dishes or toe-curlingly tacky recipes from the eighties being given the Heston treatment – the process of making a ham-and-cheese toastie involves an initial stage with a wettex filling the space where the cheese will go, so that it doesn’t get overcooked in the time it takes the outside to brown.     

The photo of Heston’s red cabbage gazpacho was so sumptuous I couldn’t go past it, and central to the fascination was the mustard ice-cream he suggested should go with it. So I made them both.   

The soup is basically red cabbage juice, with a little pink mayonnaise based on red wine and red wine vinegar blended in. 

The flavours are clear and raw and somehow earthy, with a peppery edge that loooves the mustard ice-cream. The strangest thing is that the sweetness that the ice-cream has when tasted by itself dramatically recedes when accompanied by this soup, and it becomes all about the hot affair between the pepperiness and the mustardiness. Such goings-on.   

Monday, 28 November 2011

Nectarine frangipane tart

Too easy for words, not least with the pastry already made and frozen. I’m not sure who to attribute this to – I didn’t consult a book, but I wanted to put nectarines with amaretto. I like amaretto with just about anything, but especially nectarines. The tart formed itself around this from half-remembered bits and pieces, such as the cream from Dorie’s Chocolate Amaretto Torte.

4 nectarines, stoned and quartered
¼ cup sugar
a handful of amaretti biscuits, roughly crushed
splash of Amaretto

Combine in a bowl and set aside.

Allow the pastry to defrost at room temperature for about three hours. I left mine a bit long to roll out without sticking to everything, and it had to be sort of Play-Doughed into place in the tin. I then refrigerated it for half an hour before blind baking at 190C for about 20 minutes, for another ten without the beads, and then cooled it slightly. Meanwhile, on with the frangipane, which can be used for a multitude of tarts constructed along this line: pears, berries, apples, anything juicy best kept separate from the pastry base.

40g unsalted butter
50g sugar
50g almond meal
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

Beat the butter into pale submission, add the sugar for a bit more beating, then mix in the rest of the ingredients. 

Spread this over the base, then overlap the nectarine quarters – this could equally be carefully arranged apple slices, or roughly strewn raspberries. For these amaretto-doused nectarines, I added even more freshly crushed amaretti biscuits I had handy.

Bake for about 45 minutes until the frangipane is golden and puffed up around the nectarines.

Whip about a cup of pouring cream with ¼ cup icing sugar, adding a splash of amaretto to taste or ¼ teaspoon almond extract for more intensity. 

Monday, 21 November 2011


I’ve been meaning to make marjolaine for ages, ever since I first noticed it in David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert. Marjolaine is famously elaborate and fiddly, but with the dearth of baking lately I was due for a challenge.  And I got one.

I lacked the size of baking tray called for in David’s recipe, or the oven to fit such a tray, so turned to the internet to find a workaround and found there widely varied methods, most of all in whether the compulsory three flavours of filling were based on crème fraîche or a pastry cream.

I found an article waxing lyrical about a Patricia Wells recipe from the ’80s, which had a lot in common with David’s but used a meringue quantity for two trays almost as small as mine, so I combined the best of both worlds – going as far as a half-crème fraîche, half-pastry cream approach (a mistake – the pastry cream layers remained creamy, while the crème fraîche layer solidified, too stark a contrast). And Patricia called for rum, but I stuck with David’s brandy.

The various elements can be prepared ahead of time – indeed must be. A weekend wasn’t quite enough – I had to shortchange the maturation of the crème fraîche by quite a lot, which may be why it had a grainy texture that didn’t quite disappear when the 420g of chocolate was incorporated into it.

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert and Patricia Wells’ ‘Marjolaine Multilayered Chocolate Cake

75g hazelnuts
75g almonds
10 egg whites at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Spread nuts on baking tray and roast 5–10 minutes, until fragrant. Cool, rub hazelnuts in a tea-towel to flake off skins, then blitz to medium-fine powder in food processor.

Heavily butter two 10x14" baking trays and line with baking paper. (As I only had one tray, and an oven that treats its lower shelf very differently to its upper, I divided all the ingredients in half and made the meringues in two batches.)

Beat egg whites, adding sugar gradually, just until stiff. Fold in cornflour and ground nuts. Divide mixture in half, spreading evenly on baking trays. Bake for 20 minutes in a 150C oven, or until just beginning to brown. Mine were in for 40 minutes, and still hopelessly undercooked at that. Remove from oven, turn onto rack, paper side up. Cover with damp tea-towel for several minutes, then carefully remove paper while still warm. 

Cut meringue in half lengthwise.

Accept that they’re not going to dry out or stop weeping caramel beads on cooling, perhaps due to the conditions of 100% humidity at the time, and replace them in the oven at 150C for another half hour to crisp up.

Crème fraîche
1 cup sour cream
1 cup pure cream
Pour sour cream into bowl and stir in cream until smoothly blended. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. Stir again and refrigerate overnight before using.

Chocolate cream
2 cups crème fraîche, bought, or prepared earlier as above
420g bittersweet chocolate

Bring crème fraîche to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate, bit by bit, stirring until well incorporated. Set aside until cool and thickened. For assembly, it’ll need to be thick but spreadable. This can be made as much as 3 days in advance and refrigerated – warm slightly over a sink of hot tap water for a minute and bash with the fork to return it to a useable consistency.

Pastry cream
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour (I used cornflour)
2 1/2 cups milk
280g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and light. Incorporate flour. Bring milk just to boil in a large saucepan (not one only big enough for the milk or you’ll run into difficulties when it comes to add the egg mixture to it – it was late at night for me, and I found this out the hard way). Whisk half the hot milk into the egg mixture, then pour this egg and milk mixture back into remaining hot milk. Whisk over medium heat until thickening and bubbling. Let boil lightly for 2 minutes, whisking constantly until thickened and your arm is almost falling off.

While the mixture cools, beat chopped butter until creamy and spreadable. When the egg mixture is completely cool, add it to the butter and beat thoroughly until incorporated. This pastry cream can also be made days in advance and refrigerated, if you’re organised and have plenty of time on your hands midweek.

Praline powder
1 cup whole, unblanched almonds
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Spread almonds on baking sheet and roast 5 to 10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, combine nuts and sugar and heat gently, stirring constantly, until sugar starts to melt. Stir constantly, until mixture turns dark brown and syrupy and the almonds make a popping sound. The whole process should take about 5 minutes.

Pour mixture onto a silicon sheet and cool. 

Break into pieces and blend to a fine powder in a food processor. This praline can be made as far in advance as you like. It’s by no means a terrible idea to do a double quantity to keep on hand for sprinkling over ice-cream.

When ready to assemble the marjolaine (which should be at least 1 day before serving), divide the pastry cream into two equal parts.

Brandy cream
Blend one half of the pastry cream with 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons brandy, and chill.

Praline cream
Blend the remaining half of the pastry cream with the praline powder (it seemed a lot to me, so I kept some back to cover the sides with), and chill.

Final assembly
With the chocolate cream and pastry cream on hand and chilled but spreadable, place 1 layer of meringue on whatever you can find to fit it, surrounded by some strips of baking paper to protect the plate from drips (drips! – ha!). Spread half of the chocolate cream on cake – I did a bit less, cleverly intending to use the extra for coating the sides as well as top later on. Keep it nice and even, paying especial attention to the corners so it doesn’t become rounded as the levels progress upwards. (I was so full of fine, worthy intentions at this point, so heartbreakingly innocent and naïve.) Refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm it up.

Cover chocolate cream with second meringue layer, lining it up carefully with the first. Spread with all of the brandy cream. Refrigerate 15 minutes. This is where things began to come unstuck for me.

Scrape the excess brandy layer back up where it belongs as best you can, then top that layer with the third meringue layer, and spread all the praline cream over it, reasoning that it was merely the brandy content that caused a teensy bit of instability and that all would come up Millhouse (I think this is correct use of one of the The Quiltmaker’s more obscure sayings) in the chilling.

Not so. I’ve neglected to take a spirit level to the fridge shelf, but clearly it has the slightest lean that caused the entire praline layer and its supporting meringue to slide off and one side come to rest on the fridge shelf at a steep angle. Gravity dictated that the praline gently pooled in the margin of the serving plate and thence made its gooey, sticky way over the whole shelf. I suppose I should be grateful it’s a solid shelf, not one constructed along the lines of a cake rack.

At this point the chef (yes, it needs to be third person; plus, the reader may keep his or her quibbles about tense and mode shifts herein to him or herself. Thank you) goes into survival mode and throws any desperate remedy into the situation that can be found, thinking all the while of the ten eggs and half kilo each of chocolate and cream and the birthday to be celebrated the following day. Head and shoulders in the fridge, and in need of a spare set of hands strictly of one’s own and no one else’s, the chef manoeuvres the softening, reluctant meringue back roughly where it should be, and then hauls the whole mess out of the fridge, leaving an unspeakable chaos of sticky jars to be dealt with later.
A lot of the praline can be piled back up – no thought of evenness now – but meanwhile the brandy cream is oozing out the other side! and must be scraped back up with an icing spatula! To the accompaniment of a thousand screeching violins a la Psycho, the third meringue layer is dumped on the top with more haste than accuracy, and bamboo skewers rammed through the whole disaster to secure the layers. It was all like a particularly fraught episode of Grand Designs.

Finally, working around the skewers with the icing spatula rather than sweeping it from one end to the other, the top of the meringue is spread with remaining chocolate cream. The sides are bound in the turned-up remnants of the baking-paper plate shields and then bandaged mummylike in GladWrap to keep in what remains of their filling.  And into the freezer with it all for the rest of the day.

At this point, the chef collapses on the couch with a giant bag of chips and a beer, eventually recovering enough to thickly apply the rest of the chocolate all over it, which thankfully sets like so much cement. And because it was less sleek than intended, the leftover praline was patted on the sides.
 And bandaged again, and chilled again, until no more than five minutes before its cutting-open.

Breath was bated, but the pastry cream didn't pour out and all over the table. It was no last word in French elegance, though.
Here's what it should've been.
Here's what it was.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A-marketing and a-pickling and a-quiche-making

I hadn’t been to the Victoria Market for a while, but when E mentioned the sudden appearance of mangos about town I was down there like a shot. And what a transformation had taken place! There were verily mangoes, for like a dollar each, but also huge smooth eggplants at $2 a kilo instead of the shrivelled seedy $7/kilo offerings of a few weeks ago. Lebanese cucumbers were $1.50/kg, and so were delicate little zucchinis. I also loaded up with $1 strawberries, $5/kg swiss mushrooms, $1 bunches of baby asparagus, $2 silverbeet and loads of other stuff, and was back on the train to Parliament without even needing to go to the bank. Amazing what can be managed when spring has sprung and the Meat Hall and Deli is left for another more prosperous week – one that hasn’t seen expenditure on tax bills and flights to Europe, don’t you know. (It’s the one week of the year I can sound this sick-makingly yuppieish, and I’m trying it on for size.)

So because all this largesse wouldn’t fit into my narrow fridge, I had to think like a frugal pre-war housewife and preserve it and generally use it up some other way. I’ve never pickled anything before, but Alida Irwin’s all over it and has been known to ask for Fowler's Vacola sealing rings for Xmas. And so, unlike a pre-war housewife, I googled cucumber pickles and zucchini pickles and was rewarded with the Zuni Café’s zucchini. No sterilising, too easy with the food processor slicing attachment, and at last an opportunity to get out the Japanese pickle press.
The small pickle press could barely handle half a kilo of zucchini...
...but lo, it gave up its juices and reduced by half.

And then I made Dr Ben’s Cucumber Kimchi, scaling it down to three cucumbers.

 To use up some ingredients to eat sooner, I took a leaf out of Martha Stewart’s website, and another out of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, which I’ve done before, and sort of made up a leek and asparagus quiche. For the pastry case, I followed Martha Stewart’s Favourite Pie Crust just because it was there, with the addition of 15 minutes’ blind-baking in a 180C oven.

 a bit of butter
a clove or two of garlic, finely chopped
1 large leek or 2 small, sliced
2 bunches asparagus, sliced into 2cm bits
4 eggs
a cup of milk and cream, proportions as desired – I went half & half, then to the gym
2 tablespoons seedy mustard
some thyme leaves

Saute garlic in the butter until fragrant, add the leeks for a few minutes, then the asparagus for about 8 minutes until reaching tenderness but still bright green. Allow to cool slightly before adding to the waiting blind-baked pastry case.

Briefly whisk together with a fork the eggs, mustard, thyme, and milk/cream, and salt and pepper. Pour over the leek and asparagus, and put in the still-on 180C oven for about an hour or until it’s golden on top and only moves slightly when jiggled.

Meanwhile, the rest is earmarked for later – there will be Ottolenghi’s Mango Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango, a recipe beloved of the Quiltmaker, and Roasted Cauliflower with Dill from the same book, Plenty, and spanakopita, and an actual cooked breakfast of mushroom and spinach. And by Cup Day it will all be gone.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Chocolate walnut salted-caramel tart

Let’s Go Bowling, my ex-boss, no less dashing now he has given up his pinstripes and adopted a Vespa, had a birthday last Saturday that involved a brace of Peking ducks at Old Kingdom. Because I am wise, and no Old Kingdom virgin, I knew this meant no dessert beyond the traditional fried ice-cream, so I leapt into the breach. His bachelor pad with its babe graffitied on the door and bikes hung alongside his artworks would admit no round, fluffy, girly confection, so it had to be something as severe-yet-sumptuous as a version of George Calombaris’s Walnut Salty-Caramel Chocolate Tart.

I have a narrow rectangular fluted tart tin that rarely sees the light of day, so few recipes there are scaled to it. By dusting off pi and hurting my brain a lot and getting frustrated – the study of research design and analysis this semester isn’t sticking at all – I worked out that a tart recipe catering to the usual round 25mm tin would be too much for this tin by about 40%. So then I made my life even harder by adapting two recipes for a caramel tart to fit – and to allow for the addition of praline and salt. 

Adapted from George Calomabris in Your Place or Mine? p54 and Gourmet Traveller

First up, I turned to George for his sweet pastry, which didn’t have the equal measures of butter and icing sugar that the GT version did. 

300g unsalted butter, at room temperature 
150g caster sugar vanilla bean, split lengthways, seeds scraped 
450g plain flour
1 egg 
1 tbsp thickened cream

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla seeds on low until smooth and creamy – but not light and fluffy. Add flour, egg, salt and cream and mix until the dough forms a ball. George says at this point to divide the dough in half, freezing one portion for later use, but for my rectangular tin I divided it into thirds, formed oblongs to Gladwrap, and put two away in the freezer against the coming fruit season, while the dough to be used went in the fridge for an hour.

Meanwhile, I got George’s walnut praline ready by toasting 100g walnuts at 180C for about 8 minutes until lightly toasted, then rubbed in a tea towel to try to remove a bit of the skin, though it wasn’t entirely successful, and spread them over baking paper. 

Heat 110g caster sugar over a low flame, tilting pan occasionally but not stirring, for about 10 minutes, until sugar melts and dissolves into itself and a dark caramel forms – it helps to crush any lumps first, as they take longer to break down while the rest of it merrily burns. Pour over walnuts and leave to cool.

Cover a tea towel with baking paper. Fold over to enclose and pound with a rolling pin until roughly crushed. Set aside in such a place that it’s possible to refrain from eating most of it while getting back to the pastry.

Roll out the chilled dough between two sheets of baking paper until about 3mm thick, and line a greased 11x34cm rectangular loose-based tart pan with it, trimming and patching up where necessary – this is a very malleable and forgiving pastry. Stab all over with a fork and back into the fridge with it for half an hour.

Line the chilled pastry shell with baking paper and fill with pastry weights to blind bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven to 180C, remove paper and weights and bake for another 15 minutes, until golden, and let it cool down a bit while moving on to the caramel sauce, for which I returned to GT rather than get involved in the 180g glucose and candy thermometers George suggests, but retained his addition of salt.

140g caster sugar
85mL water
50mL pouring cream
70g unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
a teaspoon Maldon sea salt (if I’d been using a regular non-flaky salt, I’d have reduced this by a third or half)

Combine sugar and water and stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes or until dark caramel; remove from heat, carefully add cream, butter and salt (be prepared for the molten mixture to spit) and stir. Return to heat and cook for 3 minutes or until smooth, then let cool slightly while scattering the walnut praline over the baked tart shell. 

Pour the salted caramel over that, and back in the fridge for an hour or two until such time as you make the chocolate ganache. 

110g dark couverture chocolate, chopped
40g cold unsalted butter, chopped
125ml thickened cream
2 tsp liquid glucose

Place chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream and glucose to boil over medium heat. Pour over chocolate mixture and stand for 5 minutes. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes smooth. Pour this velvety delightfulness over the caramel, tilt to even out, and chill for at least an hour, until firm. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pandan chiffon cake

Lately there has been a dearth of sweet things to take into work. I didn’t think anyone had noticed, although the biscuit jar with nothing but crumbs of biscotti left in it was found with a card taped inside. (That card’s been doing the rounds from coffee machine to fridge shelves, gathering penned additions as it goes, so maybe I’m reading too much into it.)

Anyway, I had anything but a dearth of eggs,  due to a shopping double-up between me and The Guitar Teacher, so an eight-egg Pandan Chiffon Cake seemed called for. In my continuing quest for a chiffon cake that stands tall and strong instead of puffy and sagging, I turned online to Life Is Great, which indeed looked to be the goods, even if the name of the blog is more optimistic than I am wont to be.

I love the smell of pandan, and add frozen strips of it to rice wherever possible. Minh Phat had bright green fresh stuff, so I followed the instruction to blend it with 4 tablespoons of water and push it through a sieve to make half a cup. It didn’t quite make it, for me, so I topped it up with water – I baulked at opening a can of coconut milk for a teaspoon or two. It smelled like wondrous wheatgrass.

Otherwise, my only tweak was to use olive oil in place of corn oil, and to add just a tiny bit of green food-colouring gel.

Like Life Is Great, I don’t keep self-raising flour around the house, but I was bemused by the recipe to make it up with 2 tablespoons of baking powder for 180g flour, plus the half teaspoon of bicarb in the main recipe. She seemed to know what she was talking about, though, so I went ahead with that. The batter turned out frothy and heaving, and perilously close to the top of the chiffon-cake pan, but still I went stolidly ahead. 

And surprise surprise, it kept rising. That it didn’t overflow all over the oven I considered a win, but the centre hole was compromised and the top was very uneven.

Turned out, it quickly attempted to find its level and succumbed to gravity. It puffed out around the bottom, had nothing in common with Life Is Goods elegant green cake, and seemed to have a sticky layer that wasn’t quite cooked – and oddly salty. 

But the flavour was deemed 'WEIRD BUT GOOD!!!!!!!! by Misslice, the texture was chiffon-cake fantastique, and the aroma of pandan pervaded the work kitchen – a good thing, I thought

Despite all that, it was not polished off with the usual enthusiasm – was it the green?