Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bells of St Clement's

[office kitchen, lunchtime]
The Saucemaker: So x has an orange tree in the backyard that is loaded right now, if you wanted some for anything.
Macarong: That would be excellent! I wish I had an orange tree, but, as you know, Saucemaker, I get no sun in my backyard and even thyme dies on me.
The Saucemaker: Cool, I’ll bring some oranges in then.
Macarong: Thanks ever so! I wish I could grow a rosemary bush in my backyard, because that would be the best thing ever. So sick of paying three dollars for a few sprigs that shrivel up in minutes.
The Saucemaker: Well, there’s a whole rosemary hedge. Do you need rosemary?
Macarong: Do I ever, Saucemaker! But you know what I really crave? Figs. I could make all those Mediterranean-type cakes with whole figs in them without paying twenty bucks at the market every time.
The Saucemaker: Oh yeah, there’s a fig tree as well. Totally laden with figs.
Macarong: Oh! [begins to hyperventilate] I’ve always wanted clementines, so I could do that Nigella Lawson whole-clementine cake with actual clementines.
The Saucemaker [waves airily]: Yep, loads of clementines at the moment. Doesn’t know what to do with all the clementines.
Macarong [weakly]: Pomegranates? Pine nuts? Saffron crocuses? Mangoes?
The Saucemaker: Mmm, don’t think the mangoes are in season yet, but apart from that, sure...
Macarong: But really I wish I could grow a lemon tree in my backyard, because that would be the best thing ever… [Enter The Labyris Bearer, The Intrepid Cyclist and The Tall Editor, rendering the kitchen somewhat crowded]…So sick of paying like two dollars for four waxed lemons I use up in a single day.
The Saucemaker, The Labyris Bearer, The Intrepid Cyclist and the Tall Editor in unison: Oh, could you use some lemons? We’ve got so many lemons on our trees we don’t know what to do with them!

Yes, I can always use lemons! So the moral of this tale is that my kitchen’s been enjoying a perfect embarrassment of citrus fruit lately, the first results of which were the two attempts at Poh’s orange chiffon cake. Long may the bounty continue. 
Manna from Heaven's Orange Hazelnut Biscuits to which I added choc chips but they really needed salt

One thing perhaps worth documenting is the marmalade I made last night. I’ve never made marmalade before; I’ve never been a big fan of it, with its large matchsticks of chewy bitter rind. But I dimly remembered a fine version Alida Irwin did some years ago with a vanilla bean, so I gave it a go. To get around my rind aversion, I tried finely zesting rather than boiling up the whole oranges for an hour beforehand and cutting the skin into strips, which seemed to be the most common method found online.

3 oranges
200g raw sugar
juice of a lemon
vanilla pod, split and scraped

Zest the oranges with a fine microplane zester, get rid of the white pith layer with a sharp knife, and chop the orange flesh. 

Put orange and zest in saucepan with sugar, lemon juice and the vanilla pod, and stir occasionally until thickened. 
It’ll be runny enough to be poured into a jar, but will set a lot more while cooling. 
  It made one good-sized jar-full, which I didn’t bother sterilising first – I have Plans for this single jar, and am not looking for lengthy preservation.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Chocolate-orange hazelnut chiffon cake

Poh’s chiffon cake is a three-layered extravanganza stuffed with cream and hazelnuts and covered with ganache; it has coconut milk in it, and lots of zest and orange juice. The zest came courtesy of The Saucemaker’s unsprayed, unwaxed backyard-grown oranges, but I used deep red blood orange juice from un-organic oranges; I wanted pink cake, but in spite of the promise in the measuring jug, it turned out plain old white.
Sooo before yesterday’s attempt, the couple more goes at chiffon cake since the black sesame have turned out like so many macarons...

...but a tiny chink of logic filtered through to my insomnia-ridden frontal lobe.

I’d been observing the chiffon-cake rule about not greasing or lining the tin, but also following the advice of some false friends on the internet about still lining the base so that only the sides need to have a knife run around them once cool. 

Of course, it’s largely the cake adhering to the base when inverted that prevents it from falling into a flat tasty pancake. And of course my tin has a removable base anyway, so releasing the cake from that is eminently doable.
This looked almost as it should. It was a bit lopsided, and the top didn’t quite make it in one piece, and in slicing it into three it became clear that one side was more cooked than the other.
The ganache filled any nooks and crannies on top but then wasn’t sufficient to cover the sides as well; the two layers of cream wanted to break free from their confines and meld with the ganache. 
 But the texture was what I imagine it should be, and the hint of orange and crunch of hazelnut and ooze of whipped cream were all good. And with about five eggs per mouthful, unbelievably rich and filling.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Viennese Chocolate-Walnut Bars

Rich, very rich. Chocolatey, walnutty, shortbready – Maida delivers again.

And otherwise a great opportunity to leave the DSLR in its bag and Instagram with a low-quality phone camera.
Preheat oven to 190C. Line a 20cm square cake pan unless it’s silicon, like mine. Have I mentioned I love my $4 Kmart silicon tin? Then get making the crust.

120g butter
50g dark brown sugar
200g plain flour, sifted

Cream butter in mixer. Beat in dark brown sugar. On low speed, gradually add flour and beat just until the mixture holds together. Press dough evenly across bottom of tin. Bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make filling.

¼ cup raspberry jam
170g walnuts
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150g dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons dutch-process cocoa

As crust cooks, grind walnuts to a fine powder and set aside. Mine ground to more of a paste, but close enough.

Beat eggs at high speed for 2–3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Add salt and vanilla and then, on low speed, add sugar and cocoa. Increase the speed to high again and beat for 2–3 minutes more. On low speed beat in ground walnuts, beating only until incorporated.

Soften jam in the microwave if it’s jellylike, then spread over the hot crust, leaving a centimetre border at the edges.

Pour filling over the crust and jam, tilting pan to level.

Bake at 190C for half an hour. Cool completely before icing.

170g dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons corn, rice malt or golden syrup
2 teaspoons espresso coffee
2 teaspoons boiling water
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

In a bowl, microwave chocolate in 20-second bursts stirring in between until melted. Add corn syrup, coffee and boiling water, and stir until smooth.

Spread icing over cake; sprinkle with chopped walnuts and press down gently. Cool and refrigerate for an hour or two or overnight before slicing into squares and serving at room temperature.

Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, pp84–5.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011


This is one bastardisation of a classic that blows the real thing out of the water, and I don’t care what anyone says. It’s also in my list of top ten favourite cakes of all time. I don’t know what the other nine are; I just wanted to give myself a tiny bit of scope. Oh hell, maybe it really is my favourite cake of all time.

I first ate this style of chestnut cake at Coffea years and years ago, in the days when I’d go to the Vic Market on Tuesday mornings before uni; it was always still warm from the oven, and the woman grew to recognise me as a helpless addict. I pleaded for the recipe, but she said she’d have to kill me. She handily labelled it Castagnaccio, so I managed to conduct a search for a recipe of the Tuscan classic on a newfangled thing called Google, spent $10 on 500g of chestnut flour at David Jones and tried it. It turned out greyish, oily and horrible, nothing light or sweet about it at all, and it gave me a gut-ache. I tried it again ($10 was a whole hour behind the video shop counter back then, so the flour was a significant purchase), but I couldn’t understand why it was so unlike the one I knew.

Soon after, the Guitar Teacher and I happened to find ourselves in Florence, and sought it out. It was heavy and doughy and faintly bitter, nothing like the castagnaccio back home. 

As a woman possessed, I was always going on about it to anyone who would listen, until one day Alida Irwin pressed upon me a Gourmet Traveller supplement. Within it was a Chestnut Flour, Raisin and Rosemary Cake that proudly boasted of being lighter and sweeter than the traditional castagnaccio, with self-raising flour replacing half the chestnut flour, and a truckload more sugar. I went home and made it. Well might it proudly boast, for it was the one.

I’ve made it probably twenty times since then, getting my chestnut flour at Mediterranean Wholesalers for about $5, and keeping it for up to a year in the freezer since it goes rancid in no time otherwise. It’s a good one, dignified yet homely and comforting, light yet dense and crunchy at its base. People often take it for gingerbread, for some reason, but invariably come back for seconds – The Quiltmaker, for example, found it so wholesome she ate it for lunch.
 [adapted from Gourmet Traveller circa 2001; among minor other tweaks, I make this larger version]

100g raisins, soaked in hot water or verjuice for at least 30 minutes
200g chestnut flour
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
250g unsalted butter
400g brown sugar
420mL milk
1 ¾ teaspoon bicarb soda
2 eggs
a good few sprigs’ worth of rosemary leaves, chopped a bit
40 pinenuts
olive oil

Line a roughly 20x30cm slice tin with baking paper. Preheat oven to 180C.

Blitz flours, baking powder, sea salt and butter in a food processor until crumblike. Add brown sugar and process until combined. Press half the flour mixture firmly over base of lined tin (being no good at judging amounts visually, I put it on scales and weigh 500g into it).

Whisk bicarb soda, milk and eggs in a bowl. Add to this remaining flour mixture and drained raisins, mix well and pour over base – it’ll be quite runny. Scatter with rosemary and pinenuts and drizzle all over with olive oil. 

Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer withdraws clean, covering with foil after 40 to prevent over-browning. Cool in tin. 

It’s wildly good when still vaguely warm, but will keep excellently well for a couple of days.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Black sesame chiffon cake

Ever since I got Keiko Ishida’s Okashi: sweet treats made with love, I’ve been eyeing off the three chiffon cakes and waiting for a chance. It happened to be Alida Irwin’s 111th birthday recently, and I put together a Japanese meal – I thought she, as a woman of the 1920s, might find a touch of the Orient interesting and exotic, but it turned out she’d already been there twice and had actually done a stint as a Noh entertainer while carving out her illustrious career as an undercover spy. But I digress.

For dessert I decided at the last minute to have a go at Keiko’s black sesame chiffon cake, which looked so majestic, tall and plain, pure white on the outside and porous grey-black inside. It seemed my regular non-stick little-used Bundt tin might do for it; I even had black sesame seeds on hand. And it wasn’t bad, for a first go, and for one with no concept whatsoever about chiffon cakes.

Its strangely elastic yet light texture, which seemed at odds with its 5 eggs, piqued my interest, and I decided to look further into the subject. On Google, I found chiffon cake was, variously, a Malaysian sweet and one invented by a Californian salesman in the 1940s. Either way, a tube tin that wasn’t non-stick or even greased was needed, and ideally would have little feet at the top so it could be inverted to cool the baked cake – eliminating collapse. Various sources claimed chiffon cake tins could be got at any Asian grocery for a song.

I embarked on a quest through the not-inconsiderable number of Asian groceries in my area, spreading out from Brunswick Street to Richmond and Chinatown. No one had ever heard of them. I eventually got the tin at London & American stores, though it was 23 rather than 20cm. And I found it rusted if any water was allowed to be in its vicinity for longer than a few minutes, so it’s one of those things that has to be dried in a warm oven after washing.

Black sesame paste was another challenge, with treks to Minh Phat for items thus labelled yielding a sprinkle-able gray powder before the much more paste-like version was found.

So after all that, I put it together without any fuss, but the hard-won cake tin didn’t yield as good a result as Alida’s. It was rather vertically challenged and sad, though its texture and taste was good. Still, I’ll have another go at the red bean and matcha versions – after all, I spent $28 on another cake tin, and by God it will be put to use.

 (adapted from Keiko Ishida)
5 egg yolks
20g brown sugar
30g black sesame paste
60g water (yep, by weight)
40g vegetable oil
20g black toasted sesame seeds

5 egg whites
90g caster sugar
10g rice or corn flour
70g cake flour

250mL cream
20g caster sugar
more black sesame seeds to garnish

Centre a rack in the oven so a tallish tin can fit in, and preheat it to 170C. Sift flour.

Combine egg yolks, brown sugar and black sesame paste in a bowl and mix well. Add water and oil and mix well. Add flour and mix until batter becomes sticky, then fold in black sesame seeds.

For the meringue, combine sugar and corn flour. Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add sugar mixture and continue whisking till whites are glossy, with stiff peaks.

Add a third of the meringue into egg yolk mixture and fold lightly before folding in the remainder to just incorporate – you don’t want the weighty yolk mixture to deflate the buoyancy of the whites.Not that you necessarily want the pockets of white that I had, either.

Pour batter into an ungreased chiffon cake tin – I cut out a circle of baking paper to line the bottom, but that was all. Bake for 50 minutes. When cake is light brown on top, remove from the oven and turn it over, leaving it to cool.

Whip together the cream and sugar, and ice the cake with a spatula, avoiding crumb spreadage as best you can.

To remove chiffon cake from pan, run a spatula along the sides of the cake to release it. 
The next day, about a third its proper height

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Spicy black bean brownies

 David Lebovitz wrote recently about a Mexican restaurant in Paris called Candelaria, which among other things, makes a Brownie Epicé Haricot Noirs. This idea of making a brownie out of black beans was intriguing, and when the Dumpling Fiend (who is also a nachos fiend) invited me to her Get Up in That Nacho party, it seemed the perfect occasion to wheel this out.

David mentioned a recipe on the 101 Cookbooks blog as forming the basis of this Candelaria one, and I gleaned that the added epicés were star anise and chili.

60g unsweetened chocolate
230g unsalted butter
2 cups soft-cooked black beans, drained
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground star anise
1.2 teaspoon chilli flakes
¼ cup instant coffee granules
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1½ cups light agave nectar (I used up all the Trader Joe’s Raw Agave Nectar I’d brought home from the US a few months ago, and made up the rest with brown malt syrup.)

Preheat the oven to 180°F. Line an 11x18-inch slice pan (a large one) with baking paper.

Begin melting the butter in the microwave for a minute before adding the chocolate – a trick I read somewhere recently that ensures the chocolate won’t catch. Stir to melt the chocolate completely.

Place the beans, half the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz for about 2 minutes, or until the batter is thick and the beans smooth – I added a bit more chocolate to loosen things up a bit.

In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, coffee substitute, and salt.

Beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar, etc. and beat well.

Stir the bean/chocolate mixture into the coffee/chocolate mixture. Add the egg mixture, reserving about 1/2 cup. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light and fluffy, and drizzle it over the brownie batter. Lightly drag a chopstick through the egg mixture, creating a marbled effect.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the brownies are set – took about an hour for me. Let cool in the pan, and then refrigerate before cutting into squares – they’re too soft at room temperature to cut neatly, and they’d be messy and gooey when served unless well-refrigerated, so I kept them in the fridge. 

I also liberally sprinkled even more chilli flakes over, for heat and some sorely needed prettiness – these are no handsomer than any other brownie. People were kind about their lack of looks in the party post-midnight gloom, though, and they were found incredibly rich and fudgy, and I won a medal for my efforts. That was a great moment.

 In lieu of the concluding brownie pic I failed to capture, I'll go one better and give you the be-medalled Nachos Fiend bashing the crap out of her piñata with a broom.

Macaron improvement, thanks to Syrup & Tang

So I only managed to get a photo of the very worst, for a self-deprecating tweet. The rest were slightly better.

It has been some weeks since my last confession post. There has been horribly cold weather, troubling economic and social developments near and far, kimchi and brie sandwiches, and newly discovered knitting.

There has been illness, much work, yet another failed batch of macarons, and a rejuvenating couple of days off to go to some sessions at the Melbourne Film Festival. It was after a gloomy-and-thus-right-up-my-alley Romanian film about infidelity and marriage breakdown that I hung out with Steeles at Brunetti’s and had one of their macarons, then another. 

With the brightly coloured little delights plus the rejuvenation, new enthusiasm sprung in my heart. And when I stumbled across an incredible site that night called Syrup & Tang, in which a brilliant food writer provides detail like no other seen anywhere, I was running not walking to separate those eggs and get some white maturation going. 

I like someone whose level of obsession makes mine seem the epitome of easygoing, nay, slack. And he’s right here in Melbourne, and is also somewhat scathing about the macaron efforts he’s found around these parts. I never knew there were so many – and this post was three years ago. I started making them before I went to Paris last year, and had never actually eaten one before; I've only noticed them on last year's Masterchef and gradually appearing around Melbourne in the last few months. But then, I don't get out much.

Among the gems of wisdom on offer at Syrup & Tang is a table that gives the proportions of almond meal and sugar per grams of egg white. This is about a hundred times better than trying to follow a recipe set out in numbers of eggwhites, or even weight of egg white; this formula frees one to use any amount of white one happens to have sitting about.

And there are comparison trouble-shooting photos. Among them I found the dead ringers for my failed, flattened attempts so far; gentle reader, it seems I am guilty of over-mixing as well as over-thinking and over-working. 

On offer are the two distinct techniques for macaron-making: French and Italian. I tried the simpler but less reliable French method first for the purple lavender ones, in which all the eggwhite (aged for 4 days in this case) is beaten at once. They were much better than any others so far, without the wild spreading after piping them out.

They even developed little feet, although the feet reduced slightly in size as they cooled. 

And then they tended to leave their guts on the silicon – too sticky inside, probably undercooked, although the edge ones had faintly browned surfaces. 

I stuck them in the fridge for a few days until I got around to trying the Italian method for the yellow lemon ones, which involves sugar syrup and beating only half the eggwhite (aged for 8 days now) – more like the Dorie Greenspan recipe. Even better! They were well-shaped and domed, and barely spread at all. 

They had feet! 

I still had problems with the sticky innards, and the trick of mostening the underside of the baking paper didn’t help...
 ...but I tried the final noted solution to this, of bunging the whole tray of macarons into the freezer for a while. They popped off like a charm.

I made up a ganache with 200g white chocolate, 200g cream and the fine zest of a lemon, and refrigerated it overnight for more solidity before using it to sandwich the macarons, but it was still too runny. It made the macarons too soft; they had to be eaten with the head held back, and the chin and fingers washed afterwards. Not good. 

Still. Closer. And these posts on the subject, amounting to essays, have been the find of the year. How can I possibly repay Syrup & Tang?