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?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lemon quaresimali

I had no idea what these would turn out like, given the rare lack of accompanying picture in this shiny book – I was drawn to the name, so Italian and operatic-like, and I had lemons to the rafters; the double-baking technique wasn’t something I’d done before, so there was the curiosity factor. As it turned out, they’re just big, lemony, nutty cantucci biscotti.

And not for those with sensitive teeth until they’ve had a good dunking in a beverage of choice – not for nothing are they Lenten biscuits of penance.

Adapted from David Lebovitzs Ready for Dessert, p219

245g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg for brushing
265g sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fine zest of 2 lemons
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
250g whole almonds, toasted I used half hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a tray with baking paper.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until well blended, then mix in the whole almonds.

With wet hands, shape the dough into two logs about 30cm long and 6cm in diameter and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Stir the remaining egg in a small bowl and brush each log generously with it, then give them a second coat. Dont feel compelled to use up all the egg itll be much too much and will run everywhere, take it from me. Better to toss the remainder into a handy omelette or give it to the cat.

Bake the logs for 2530 minutes until golden-brown and firm; theyll expand and flatten while baking. (I baked two side-by side on the one square tray, and feared they’d run into each other, but they missed that by a whisker still, if you have a fancy Italian oven that accommodates two trays on the upper rack, probably best to separate them.) When done, remove the tray from the oven and reduce the heat to 150C.

Allow the much-expanded golden shiny logs to cool for 10 minutes before slicing them crosswise 2cm apart with a sharp serrated knife. Arrange the slices cut-side-down on the tray and return to the oven for 20 minutes, after which they’ll cool to a hard lemony crunchiness, excellent for coffee-dunking.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Rosemary Blondies – a guest post from The Labyris Bearer

The Labyris Bearer is a woman who relishes a challenge. (This may be why she was earliest of us all to adopt the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, not to mention trap possums and go to Iceland during Eyjafjallajökull and many, many other challenges.) So when I washed my hands of a baking failure which happened to taste fabulous, The Labyris Bearer thought it worth resurrecting the flavours for another shot and, thanks to her tenacity and analytic approach, transformed them into something all her own, something fabulous and rich and caramelly and just right. I might have had four. 

In a special guest appearance, I give you ... The Labyris Bearer!
Macarong recently produced the most delicious…cookie-things. Unfortunately their texture and appearance were not perfect. One co-worker unkindly but accurately described them as ‘like pools of cat vomit’ [Macarong: Take a bow, Quiltmaker!]. So we decided to try to improve the recipe. My first attempt was more floury, so stood up instead of pooling, but it also fell apart; at this point I gave up on biscuits, and decided to transfer the pleasing flavours into something better suited to such a texture

At about this time, I discovered that my culinary hero, Anthony Telford, author of the wonderful The Kitchen Hand, had done a cookbook: The Basics: A really useful cookbook. This is truly ‘the only cookbook you will ever need’. I found his chocolate brownie recipe (p.346), which, of course, in the ‘Hints and Tips’ that accompany every recipe, gave directions for the white chocolate version, the Blondie. Simply adding the finely chopped leaves of four sprigs of rosemary produced the richest, most delicious, perfectly slightly-gooey-inside slice.

250 g white cooking chocolate
250 g unsalted butter
5 eggs
500 g castor sugar (I used half light brown sugar/half castor)
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
200 g plain flour (wholemeal or wholewheat works well)
½ teaspoon salt

1.       Preheat oven to 170oC. Lightly grease and line a large slice tray with baking paper.
2.       Place the butter and 200 g of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. When melted, set aside to cool slightly. (Not too long: it kind of coagulates and cannot be made to mix together again. Doesn’t seem to affect the cooking, but it just looks less pleasing as you’re making your blondies.)
3.       Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer for about 10 minutes or until light and fluffy.
4.       Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture, sift in the flour and salt, add rosemary and stir until well combined.
5.       Beat in the remaining 50 g white chocolate, chopped into small pieces.
6.       Pour into the prepared tin, place in the oven and bake for about 35 minutes. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out with some mixture still on it. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack; if it drops in the centre and forms a cracked crust, then you have just made the perfect blondie.

Due to the white chocolate, these are not only totally delicious and more-ish, but also sickeningly wickedly – sweet and rich. Only the addition of rosemary makes them into something that can be served to adults! Most people have difficulty guessing this mystery ingredient.

But to return to Mr Telford’s The Basics: as you can tell from the recipe above, these really are basic straightforward recipes of everyday foods that anyone will have encountered growing up in Australia. There is not a single picture in the book. There are 471 pages of recipes, followed by almost 100 pages of the A–Z ‘Really Useful Information’ that first appeared in The Kitchen Hand (e.g. three pages about salt; four pages about rice and its cooking). Then info on food allergies and intolerances, with tips on substitutions; complete list of food additive codes; cooking techniques explained (such as BBQing, microwaving, steaming); preserving; conversion and equivalency tables – THE LOT for anyone who wants to learn to cook.

Rather like an updated and greatly expanded CWA/Presbyterian Womens Cookbook, this really is a book that beginner and experienced cooks will use and enjoy browsing through. The PERFECT moving-out-of-home present for young people.

Friday, 7 October 2011

White Pepper and Ginger Lemon Cake

This is a brand-new version of an early American buttermilk cake – white pepper and ginger are “hot” right now.’ p49, Maida Heatter's Cakes
 Maybe Maida was writing this some decades ago, but I think this cake is still pretty hot – and a lot more interesting than the famous East 62nd Lemon Cake.

Letting it age one or two days allows the flavours to mellow. I put this first up lest you, like me, would otherwise get through the whole process and find out you should have made the cake for today’s meeting yesterday.

breadcrumbs for dusting
finely grated zest of 2 large lemons
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2cm x 4cm piece fresh ginger
375g plain flour
3/4 teaspoons bicarb soda
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
230g unsalted butter
350g sugar
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 170C.

As Maida always suggests, and as I have never done before, butter a bundt tube pan, not forgetting the centre tube. Sprinkle in breadcrumbs, tilt to cover the whole inside surface, and shake out excess. I have not had a trouble-free relationship with my silicon bundt tin, which should transcend the need for this process, but doesn’t, so I returned to the tin tin with a humbled mien.

In a cup, combine the zest and juice. Grate the fresh ginger and add to the cup. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pepper and set aside.

Beat the butter until soft, add sugar and beat for a minute before adding the eggs one at a time. On a low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk. Stir in lemon and ginger mixture.

Turn into prepared pan and smooth the top. Place in the bottom third of the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15–20 minutes until it tests done with a bamboo skewer. Don’t hold the blunt end of the used bamboo skewer in your mouth while sliding the oven rack back in carefully with both hands so as not to disturb the risen cake, and then bump the sharp end of the skewer while hastily withdrawing the oven mitt, driving the blunt-yet-still-sharpish end painfully into the back of your throat – this won’t help matters and may make you angry and lead to bitterness about having nowhere to put things when you’re in a hurry and your hands are full.

Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then invert (with the greatest of ease, thanks to the breadcrumbing) onto a rack over a large piece of baking paper to catch the glaze which you, of course, prepared by stirring together while the cake was baking. Brush the glaze all over the cake, not forgetting the centre hole, and keep recoating as the cake absorbs it as I do a vodkatini on a Friday night. Let stand until completely cool, then cover with cling film.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Oat and barberry biscuits

I haven’t made Anzac biscuits since Year Eight. These have tiny sour-sharp barberries to tart them up a bit – and are the first thing to make from the promising Bourke Street Bakery cookbook before I attempt its sourdough starters and croissants and ginger crème brûlée.

Adapted from Bourke Street Bakery p304

165g rolled oats
220g plain flour
100g desiccated coconut
210g brown sugar
50g dried barberries
45 mL boiling water
185g unsalted butter
60g golden syrup
1 ½ teaspoons bicarb soda
60 mL water

Preheat oven to 170C. Combine barberries, boiling water and 35g of the sugar in a bowl.
Combine oats, flour, coconut and the remaining 175g of the sugar in a bowl and mix.
Put the butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the butter has melted. Add the barberries and sugar mixture. Combine the bicarb and water in a cup and add to the pan. While it’s still foaming, add to the dry ingredients and mix well. At this point the barberries look so shiny and rubylike and somehow evil against that bland beige Anzac lumpiness.
The recipe says to take 3 tablespoons of the mixture at a time to roll into balls, which would yield a total of 12 huge biscuits – I took much smaller-sized scoops and formed walnut-sized balls, which I pressed lightly with a fork rather than pressing to be very flat with a spatula as advised. They need to be placed far apart to allow for spreading – I could bake only 9 at a time – and baked for 15–20 minutes.

After cooling on the trays, mine were that softer, chewier end of the Anzac spectrum than the thin crisp version in the BSB’s photo. Moreish, if inelegant, and the barberries did give it a whole new dimension.