Thursday, 21 July 2011

Devil’s Food White-Out Cake

For the first time in recent memory, I thought I’d found something pretty good-looking, albeit with a vague Franco Cozzo aesthetic. And it was no less pleasing in the eating – I never knew that whole dark choc-chips in cake could be such a viable thing.

This is the very same layer cake that graces the cover of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, with a few tonings-down. I kept just the two layers rather than attempting to slice them lengthways in half.

This was mainly because I decided not to follow Dorie into crumbling one of the halves to stick all over the marshmallowy meringue-like icing – it made it look too much like a curly pelt to me. But marshmallow icing – now what could be done with that? I get to use my blowtorch all too little since I moved on from creme brulee every night, so out it came and what fun I had.

This is a great, rich, fudgy cake to have in the stable. There’s a plethora of other ways it could be dressed up. It’s reason enough to buy Baking, with the other 299 recipes as a bonus, but the recipe can be found all over the internet like a fabulous, badly kept secret.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Poppyseed and ricotta cake with lemon curd

This variation on Italian ricotta cheesecake from the Pickled Sisters Cafe is possibly the most excessively-ingrediented cake I’ve ever made, even counting The Most AMAZING Buttermilk Chocolate Cake EVER.  Alida Irwin should take note of this recipe for when her chooks are laying wildly and she has a thousand eggs to use up. Adding the final ingredient of 400g lemon curd to the mixer bowl (of no mean size) threatened to take the batter over the top of the beater. I had concerns about it all fitting in the 24cm tin that’s the closest I have to the recommended size. It went in – just – and thankfully there was no raising agent to worry about, although it did puff right up to the very edge.

It needed almost two hours in the oven. It also needed a knife dipped in warm water to slice it with, rather than a blunt serrated knife that left more of its innards piled up with every slice. It was very crumbly, and refrigerating didn’t seem to help that.

It does seem I’ve lost any remote knack I ever had for making sweet things that are also easy on the eye. But this was so lemony and lightly moist with all that ricotta and cream cheese and the nine eggs and the lemon cream accompaniment and the slight grittiness of the poppy seeds that all was forgiven. Just as well, as it fell into three pieces as I tried to shift it from springform base to serving plate, and it had to be wodged together and liberally covered in sifted icing sugar which covers a multitude of sins, as I always say, but wasn’t quite up to that crack in the centre.

Macawrong II

No. These are not mine, they are made by someone much clever than me and I have stolen the picture from a photo library because I suck at macaroning.

And again to the actual subject of my blog, despite its tangents into biscuits and slices and such. It happens – I have a brainwave about a combination of flavours, forget the pain caused by the last macawrong, do a lot of online research into an alternative recipe and method that might just work this time, and schlepp over to Brunwick to buy another lot of almond meal at the inestimable Royal Nut Company.

This time wasn’t the time it worked.

This time, I found a recipe in the LA Times by none other than my favourite Dorie Greenspan, supported by an article she’d written with interesting notes about Pierre Hermé.

It was quite different to recipes I’d tried in the past, involving beating only half the eggwhites, then adding a sugar syrup heated to 125C to them, then just mixing the unbeaten remainder to the almond-and-icing sugar mix before adding the meringue and stirring.

Another interesting variation was layering the laden baking sheet on top of a spare one, and sliding the doubled setup into the oven.

And yet another was baking the macarons for 4 minutes at the preheated 180C, then quickly opening and closing the oven, and repeating.

What could go wrong with a recipe based on one by the man who ‘spent years studying the intricacies of macarons’? Mind you, I feel I’ve done the same by now, and that’s not working out so well.

I converted Dorie’s ingredients thusly, and figured out exactly what her ½ cup/4 eggwhites should weigh.

150g almond meal
150g icing sugar
½ US cup eggwhites (120g, or about 4)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150g white sugar
3 tablespoons water

Dorie didn’t say so much about what ‘mix well’ meant, so with my BodyPump-exhausted arms I counted one hundred melanges in French, or at least to fifty twice over so as to avoid the numbers getting all complicated (quatre-vingt-dix-sept – why did I take up learning this language?), due to something David Lebovitz said about them in his macaron post.There is such a bewildering array of approaches out there, and research that can be done and stones turned. Perhaps I overstirred for this recipe?

The only other variation was not adding the food colouring until I’d mixed well and then halved the mixture to add the different colours and flavours, and I can’t see how this could have affected anything.

I was trying for a magma-like consistency, but I’ve never really been close enough to magma to know what that is. I knew it wasn’t good when it flowed from the piping bag without any squeezing from me, and proceeded to spread flatly as pancake batter across the fibreglass sheet.

Here’s another thing. The first tray was totally flat. The second and third, for all their failings, developed little feet! Under the same conditions. Why bother being scientific when the universe is such a bitch?

Even the ones that developed little feet were impossible to remove from the fibreglass sheet in one piece, which is something I’ve only ever experienced back when I was using baking paper. They had to be scraped off, and I stuffed angry handfuls of them in my mouth until I felt ill and soaked the rest off in the sink and watched all that eggwhite and almond meal and carefully sifted icing sugar going down the drain. 

As obsessive as I feel keeping on going with trying to perfect this, it's that I think I’ve hit on a pleasing flavour combination. The addition of lemon zest and lavender oil to the two portions lifted the shells from being something quite boring and tasteless on their own to very eatable, even without the variations on white chocolate ganache I had planned for them.

Amazing reading online about failed macarons, such as this marvellous and informative post by Not So Humble Pie and all her commenters. Some people stuff them up so badly the macarons chirp like birds as they cool! I felt better after reading that, although less good when I read that a description mirroring my result was due to a phenomenon known as broken meringue. Have I been breaking all my meringues all these years?

By some beginners luck, I once made these work – the second or third time I tried, and even the first few were a good 70% better than this. I get 10% more sucktastic at macarons every time.

I aim to attempt these again next weekend, and have separated the eggs to prove it. The whites will sit out on the bench all week, just like the chefs do it, however counter-intuitive and against all food-safety it may seem. Meanwhile, I’d love to go to this workshop that Dorie went to, in Paris, wouldn’t I just.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Georgia Pecan Bars

Another contender for the Ugly But Tasty Awards, adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, pp108–9

Preheat oven to 180C and centre a rack in the oven. Line a 13x9” oblong slice pan, though I found this made a rather thin slice by Australian standards and I’d try a 7x9” if I did this again.

200g plain flour, sifted
½ teaspoon baking powder
100g dark muscovado sugar
120g unsalted butter, chopped up
¼ teaspoon salt [my addition]

Maida says to add the butter to the dry ingredients and cut in the butter with a pastry blender. I don’t have one of these utterly unfamiliar-looking objects, and neither does any eBay seller in Australia, so that’s too bad – into the Kitchenaid with it until it formed a rough crumbly mixture I could flatten firmly into the base of the pan and set aside.

2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g dark muscovado sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup (I used roughly equal parts golden syrup and raw agave nectar to approximate this)
3 tablespoons sifted plain flour
200g pecans (I used half walnuts once I found out I had too few pecans – yes, I should have checked first, and no, I didn’t – checking the Back Fridge is a very cold exercise at the moment and one readily neglected)
I also added a good handful of choc chips at the end because I felt like it and it seemed right. And I stand by that.

Beat the eggs to mix. Add vanilla, sugar, syrup and flour and beat until smooth.
Pour the topping over the waiting and uncooked crust, tilting to form an even layer. Scatter over the pecan pieces, with walnuts and choc chips in my case.
Bake for 40 minutes (an hour for me) or until the top is golden brown – which it already is, but I won’t quibble.

After about 20 minutes, carefully lift the slice out of the tin in its baking paper, and leave on a rack to cool completely before moving it to the fridge to chill for an hour before attempting to slice it up with a serrated bread knife.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Limburgse vlaai

It seems to be high rhubarb season in Alida Irwin and the Croissanteur’s charming and productive acres of garden. I staggered homewards last weekend under a bunch so generous and of such prodigious length that it couldn’t fit it in the fridge, so something had to be done to make it fit. I’m a fan of roasted rhubarb rather than stewed – it’s more colourful, more tart, more intense, and retains just enough of its former shape, and could not be easier. Here’s the word on roasting it.

Trim a bunch of rhubarb and cut into 5cm lengths (without being exact about it), and throw into baking dish with 100g raw sugar and a vanilla bean, maybe some orange or lemon peel. Cover with foil and put into a 200C oven for about 15 minutes before removing the foil, shaking the dish a bit and continuing to roast for another 5–10 minutes to reduce the syrup. The rhubarb will still look quite solid after this, but touching it with a fork will reveal that it’s meltingly soft.

Rhubarb thus roasted can sit in its fuchsia-red syrup in a container in the fridge for a few days until a fitting purpose arises for it, or until one’s Dutch colleague hears of it and suggests something that requires spelling out and googling. When no full recipes are to be had in English, well, it has to be fabricated according to The Tall Designer’s description and some Google Images. And when the traditional strawberries are unavailable for the traditional pairing with rhubarb, frozen raspberries must be dug out.

Who knows what a real Limburgse vlaai has in common with the custardy bread-pastried fruit pie I turned out? They look a bit flatter, for a start; I think there’s only one way I can really find out, though, and I need to save up first.

1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1/3 cup milk warmed in microwave for 20 seconds or so
1.75 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 teaspoon salt
60g butter, room temperature
1 egg

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk. While they get to know each other, mix the flour with the sugar and salt in the bowl of the mixer. When the milk looks slightly frothy, add it to the dough and mix for a minute with the dough hook. Add the egg and continue to knead until the dough comes together, then throw in not-too-hard chunks of butter.

It took about ten minutes to reach a point where it was all balling together and coming away from the sides of the bowl – for a while I thought it would never lose its buttery stickiness. Cover the bowl with cling film and place somewhere warmish to rise, such as atop the column heater.

Grease a pie dish, roll two-thirds of the dough into a circle on a floured surface – easier said than done, as it keeps shrinking itself again like slithery soft elastic – and pull and push it into the pie dish, more or less up the sides. Jab holes in the dough, cover with a tea towel and let rise again until puffy. Keep the other third of dough for rolling out and then deciding you’re not up to cutting into the traditional even strips and crisscrossing over the top, and dig out the all-too-rarely-used lattice cutter instead.

Meanwhile, make custard – I used the same basic recipe as for the quince custard cake:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons cornflour
500mL milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or a vanilla bean

Whisk together the eggs, cornflour and milk in a saucepan, and then place over low–medium heat, continuing to whisk until thickened, 10–15 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the sugar and vanilla extract, or scrape in the bean.

Pour the cooling custard into the puffy dough case, cover with the rhubarb and raspberries, and drape the lattice-cut dough over the top, squidging it around the perimeter into oneness with the base dough.
Bake in a 200C oven for fifteen to twenty minutes until golden and oozing juice is caramelising around the lattice top. It looks as if it might be pretty good straight out of the oven, although TDT said it was eaten cold, so we did that today around the lunch table. Never before was Guinea Pig Thursday so aptly named. It was edible, not too bad at all, although I would like to know what Flemish spices or flavourings are used to round it out and take it further.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ripples

Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, pp32–3

Chocolate dough
55g unsweetened chocolate*
120g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
150g raw sugar
1 egg
150g sifted plain flour

Preheat oven to 170C and line two trays with baking paper.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler and leave to cool a bit.

Cream the butter; add vanilla, salt and sugar and beat well. Beat in the egg and then the melted chocolate. Reduce mixer speed and gradually add the flour just until combined. Roughly halve the dough and set aside in a couple of cereal bowls.

Peanut-butter dough
30g unsalted butter
¼ cup smooth peanut butter
100g brown sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour

Cream the butter with the peanut butter until smooth. Beat in sugar until well mixed. Add flour and mix until just combined.

Maida says to drop barely rounded teaspoonfuls of the chocolate dough on the trays, topped with the peanut-butter dough and then another layer of the chocolate. There was no way this cement-like dough was dropping anywhere, so I used fingers to shape then into something roughly circular and flat. The first lot of chocolate dough made the promised 30 biscuits, so I shaped the peanut-butter and remaining chocolate dough into roughly even logs and cut each of them into 30 even pieces to make sure it would all work out in the end. Even though Maida suggested only flattening them lightly at the very end of the process with a fork dipped in sugar, they were toppling towers of dough, so I flattened each layer – gentle I was not.
 Bake for 15 minutes, and not more – they did crisp up as they cooled, as Maida promised. But they were hardly the ‘rather thin, crisp, candylike cookie’ that had to be ‘handle[d] with care – these are fragile’ as they were described. Not at all thin, and crisp only around the edges. And the concentric circles as illustrated were far from the reality.

*I had some Trader Joe’s unsweetened chocolate in the house, which has never been the case before I went to the US in April and brought it back. I probably would have used a 70 percenter or so if I hadn’t had this. I tasted a bit out of curiosity – like taking a mouthful of bitterest Droste even for one who likes chocolate sufficiently dark to put hairs on the chest.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Quince and cardamom custard cake

I’ve made this cake several times since it was invented some winters ago by one who is known on blogs far and wide as the Cake-maker Extraordinaire. The CME put quince on the map as far as I was concerned, and her pairing it with cardamom was truly inspired. I am honoured to follow in her Camper footsteps in transforming these ungainly furry yellow fruit to an aromatic ruby-red delight, with a slab of vanilla custard sandwiched by cake to go underneath.
Quinces can be pot-roasted in a leisurely and civilised fashion for many hours in the oven with excellent results and a most fragrant kitchen as CME does, or pressure-cooked in under an hour as I did this time (adapted from Suzanne Gibb’s Pressure Cooker Recipe Book, p159).

I cup white wine or verjuice plus one cup water
2 cups sugar – I used raw this time for more flavour
stick cinnamon, a vanilla bean, a clove or two, perhaps a few cardamom pods or some lemon peel
4–6 quinces, depending on size, quartered and peeled (if you like, as I do – or just scrub the fuzz off), but not cored – that’s more easily done afterwards, and the pectin in the cores possibly helps the syrup to thicken.

Put liquids and sugar into pressure cooker and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add quince quarters and lock the lid. Bring the pressure cooker to low pressure over medium–high heat and cook for 40–50 minutes. After the lid is unlocked, you’ll probably see that the quinces are pinker than they were, but they’ll continue to redden as they cool in the syrup. 
 If the syrup isn’t thick enough, keep cooking with the lid off to reduce. Once the quinces are cool enough to handle, carefully cut the cores away before returning them to the syrup. They can be refrigerated for a few weeks or frozen for future reference, and used in the next quince-and-cardamon-custard cake that is called for.


2 eggs
2 tablespoons cornflour
500mL milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or a vanilla bean

Whisk together the eggs, cornflour and milk in a saucepan, and then place over low–medium heat, continuing to whisk until thickened, 10–15 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the sugar and vanilla extract, or scrape in the bean. Pour into a soup bowl or suchlike so that the custard settles in a shallow pool of a smaller diameter than the cake tin you plan to use. Leave to cool, and ideally refrigerate overnight* – the custard will be more solid and easier to work with.


200g room-temperature unsalted butter
50g raw sugar
100g light muscovado or brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
300g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup buttermilk (or normal milk with ¼ teaspoon vinegar left to stand 15 minutes)
20g butter
2 teaspoons caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
a couple of handfuls slivered almonds or pistachios
pot-roasted or pressure-cooked quinces – 2 or 3 depending on size

Preheat oven to 180C. 

Sift the flour, baking powder and first ½ teaspoon cardamom; set aside.

Beat the butter until creamy and add both sugars and salt. Beat until pale, then add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour in two goes, with the buttermilk in between, and mix in just until incorporated.

Spread half the resulting thick batter over the base of a lined 20–22cm springform tin, and carefully slide the cold custard on top. Then cover with the rest of the batter as best you can, working from the outside in and trying not to break up the custard too much.

Arrange generous slices of quince over the top, neatly or messily as they come. Drizzle with some syrup for good measure. Brush with the extra melted butter and sprinkle with caster sugar, more cardamom and chopped nuts.
 Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or more like 2 in my oven. Let it cool completely before cutting, and be rewarded with a neat horizontal seam of custard winding through the slice.

*Rather than refrigerated overnight as I have done in the past, this time the custard was just cooled; it split a bit and would have melded with the top layer of batter if I’d let it. Don’t do what I did another time, and pour in the custard still warm due to needing to get to my uncle’s house in the country for lunch – it just blends itself in with the cake batter and when the first slice is cut it appears completely uncooked.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Cardamom biscuits

Did you ever use cardamom? I did, but I never really tasted it until I tried this recipe.
Maida Heatter’s Brand-New Book of Great Cookies p169–70

A freezing Sunday evening at the end of a weekend lacking in that indefinable something a lot of them lack in these days, and a sudden need to get into the kitchen accompanied by Björling and de los Angeles doing that lacking-sound-quality but still-bloody-heartrending Madama Butterfly, and make what Maida calls rolling-pin cookies, usually to be avoided like the plague due to an inexplicable lack of marble worktop.

½ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds (about 2 teaspoons of pods, seeds extracted and ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, then sifted)
2 ¼ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda, or what we would call bicarbonate of soda, not baking powder. Sigh.
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light muscovado)
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 180C. 

Sift the flour and cream of tartar; set aside. I actually followed the instruction to sift this time, as the proud new owner of a big shiny drum sifter.

Beat the butter until creamy and add the cardamom, bicarb and salt. Beat in the sugar, then the egg. Add the flour and mix in just until incorporated.

Halve the dough for ease of handling on a postage-stamp-sized work surface, and roll to about 5mm thick. It's quite a sticky dough, and the rolling pin kept sticking to it; for the second half I rolled it out on baking paper.

 I punched out circles with a glass, and placed them the recommended 1½ inch apart on the baking-paper-lined sheets and into the oven for 20 minutes, only twice as long as recommended. They didn’t spread or puff up as described; it seems I made the classic error of reading ‘baking powder’ for the bicarb, thanks to the USian betwixt-and-between ‘baking soda’.

They were the sort of unassuming neat flat golden disc that is what it is, and exactly the sort of unchallenging baking the evening called for. The cardamom gave them a nice warmth and also misled several colleagues who held them in esteem for their gingeriness. The texture was crispish and shortbready and pleasant even with the incorrect raising agent, other than which I have every confidence they would have been infinitely more fascinating.