Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TWD - Perfect Party Cake

This week's Tuesday with Dorie brought back memories for me, some good, some bad, because I had made the chosen recipe once before for the Daring Bakers. The recipe was for was Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, chosen by Carol of Mix, Mix Stir.

I had some issues with my previous Perfect Party Cake, as it was the first time that I had ever cut cake into layers (or holes!) or made a meringue buttercream frosting, and the cake stuck like crazy to everything it touched. In that case, "Perfect Party Cake" was a misnomer.

Making the buttercream this time came off without a hitch and reminded me of how far I've come, although the cakes themselves were still pretty "sticky". However, I didn't want to make exactly the same cake again, so I went for minis, with cherry jam in the middle and crushed toffee on top for decoration.

I found these cakes awfully sweet, and unfortunately, I still did not like the buttercream. However, my colleagues really liked these, just as my previous colleagues liked the big "snowball" cake I made last time. This brought back plenty of ghosts for me - friendly ghosts though, of sharing the Party Cake in Melbourne, of Simon our resident photographer taking a photo of the cake, and of people being in almost religious awe of it (even though I knew that those layers of frosting hid some cake-making sins). I also posted about it while I was in New Zealand for a Split Enz concert, where I saw the thermal springs for the first time, visited the historic Treaty House, went for a "sail" on Auckland harbour, dared to go through the Hole in the Rock, and met Sonny, our hilarious Rotorua tour guide, and Martin Bosley, restauranteur extraordinaire.

Thanks to Carol for bringing back some pretty special memories for me. You can check out how the other members of TWD fared with the Perfect Party Cake by visiting the TWD blogroll.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Daring Bakers - Bakewell Tart

Earlier this decade, I had the pleasure of living in London for around 9 months, working as a lawyer at a City firm based near the Petticoat Lane Markets in East London. When I was hired, it was initially for the firm's new Oxford office, but for various reasons I worked in the London office for the entire duration of my employment. This turned out to be a bonus for me, because I had wanted to live and work in London, but being a technology lawyer looking to work in the UK just as the tech bubble burst, I had thought it would be an unattainable dream.

I lived in West London near Lancaster Gate tube station, in a flat which was advertised as being in Bayswater but which in reality was closer to the slightly less fashionable Paddington. My flat was located in what had once been a house which had been divided into flats, and was situated in a lovely square of white buildings with a small square garden in the centre.

It was a wonderful life until I, too, became a late casualty of the tech bubble bursting. However, I do not regret a second of it, and I think that my life would be much poorer if I had not had the opportunity to do it or the courage to go ahead with it, despite strong opposition from my family and the long period of feeling displaced on my return.

One of the pleasurable things about life in London was experiencing the food. Back then, I was not half as interested in food and cooking as I am now, so to some extent, I did not take full advantage of the opportunities to visit the various markets and try all of the wonderful produce there. However, I had friends who lived near Spitalfields Markets, and I adored the German cake stall (do try the sour cherry cake - delicious!) and the exotic dried fruit and spice stall there. I also was amazed every time I visited Notting Hill markets to see the seafood displayed in ice buckets out in the open - it would never happen here because our weather is far too warm and the fish would spoil.

I also developed a taste for certain supermarket treats - Sainsburys banoffee pie (which was no longer available when I visited 4 years later), M&S Percy Pigs (which kind friends have sent me a supply of from time to time), McVities jaffa cakes (which you can now buy here), and Mr Kiplings cherry bakewells ("exceedingly good" and which can also now be purchased here). The latter were a favourite at the firm where I worked, as they made an appearance at almost every birthday afternoon tea during my stay.

Accordingly, it was with a fond touch of nostalgia that I made this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

The bakewell tart consists of a shortcrust pastry shell, which is topped with jam and an almond frangipane. It can be decorated with almonds or, as with Mr Kiplings cherry bakewells, it can be iced and topped with a glace cherry. We were also invited to make our own jam for the tart filling.

I loved the pastry recipe used to make the tartshell, because it did not shrink or lose its shape at all during baking. For that reason, I would definitely use it again.

Here is my tartshell toped with my homemade mixed berry jam, which I strained to remove the seeds and blueberry skins:

then the tart with the almond frangipane poured on top:

and finally, here is the tart after it has finished baking, and has been sprinkled with flaked alonds:

Don't you just love the golden brown crust, concealing the jam as shown at the top of this post?

Because of my nostalgic fondness for Mr Kiplings cherry bakewells, I used the leftover tart dough and reserved some of the frangipane to make 10 little bakewell tarts filled with store-bought cherry jam, iced with water icing and topped with half a glace cherry:

To give you an insiders glance at these mini tarts, here they are pre-decorating:

and here is a rather blurry peak inside:

This was a fun challenge, and I thank Jasmine and Annemarie for being our hosts this month. (You can incidentally find the recipe for the bakewell tart on their websites.) To check out all the other amazing variations on the bakewell tart by the other Daring Bakers, check out the Daring Kitchen blogroll.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter (or peanut paste as it is known here) is one of those things that I sometimes crave, and other times am weirdly repulsed by. Its smell is always heavenly, but sometimes, its heaviness gets the better of me and I just don't want it.

My favourite type of peanut butter is the crunchy variety, but I recently bought a large jar of the smooth variety, using the logic that it contains slightly less fat. Who am I kidding? You don't eat great quantities of peanut butter at once, so the difference is negligible.

Recently, I bought The Greyston Bakery Cookbook (by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan), which I learned about on Baking Bites and have had on my Amazon wishlist forever. It was a terrific purchase - it is not big on pictures, but the recipes sound delicious and easy enough to make, and use sensible quantities of ingredients that you are (for the most part) likely to have in the pantry.

Drawing my two threads together, I had one large jar of peanut butter that needed using, and The Greyston Bakery Cookbook just happens to have a recipe for peanut butter cookies on page 160. Brilliant!! A plan was born.

As stated by the authors, these cookies "are shockingly simple to make". Much of the butter normally used to make cookies is replaced by peanut butter. The resulting cookies are neither very crunchy nor very soft - they are somewhere in between - and taste delicious. The peanut butter does not overwhelm the taste of the cookie, and I personally prefer these cookies to peanut butter itself. They are also rather cute with their fork-mark design.

To make these cookies, you will need:

1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature
1/4 cup (~60g) softened butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line two large cookie sheets with baking paper or silicone mats.

Whisk together the sifted flour and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl, and set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the sugar, peanut butter and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla to the mixture and continue to beat it until just blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined.

Roll teaspoonsful of the mixture into balls, place on the cookie sheets leaving room to spread a little, then make a criss-cross pattern in the dough balls by flattening them slightly in both directions with a fork.

Place the cookies in the oven to bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheets for a few minutes before tranferring to wire racks to cool.
The recipe makes around 36 small cookies (I got 35).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TWD - Coconut-Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise

This week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe is the Coconut-Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise, chosen by Andrea of Andrea in the Kitchen. It is three layers of meringue (the dacquoise) sandwiched together with white chocolate ganache and layered with roasted pineapple.

Once again, this is a dish that I would not have chosen of my own accord, as I was skeptical about the flavours (pineapple desserts never call "eat me!" at my house). However, I enjoyed the melded flavours of the finished product.

I made a few tweaks here and there to the recipe. I ended up with not quite enough pineapple by about 3 wedges, as I only bought half a pineapple. I also made dacquoise layers that were slightly thinner than recommended by Dorie, as neither my baking trays or oven would take two layers side by side measuring 6 inches across. Because I don't have a broiler, I just roasted my pineapple in the oven for around 20 minutes, and I sprinkled it with granulated sugar because I was out of icing sugar (having used it all in the dacquoise). I also used 2/3 light cream and 1/3 heavy cream in the ganache, which meant that it perhaps did not become as stable as it should have. However, I was happy enough with the result.

Here is one of my dacquoise layers:

and the roasted pineapple:

plus the toasted coconut (which was toastier than I intended because I wasn't paying attention, but it smelt delicious):

and the white chocolate ganache:

which components are layered like so:

to produce the coconut-roasted pineapple dacquoise featured at the top of this post.

This was rather a marathon dessert to make, with the meringue layers taking 3 hours to bake at very low temperature, the ganache taking 3 hours to set, and the assembled cake needing 4-6 hours to set. For this reason, I am unlikely to make this again. However, I did learn the finer points of cutting up a pineapple (which I have never done before).

If you plan to make this dacquoise, you will need to start early in the day, or make the meringue layers and ganache one day and finish it the next. Do leave the finished dessert in the fridge for the specified time, because it allows the layers to soften and meld together so that you can truly appreciate the combination of flavours.

Thanks to Andrea for being our host this week. You can check out what everyone else thought of this dessert by checking out the
Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Southern Indian Prawn Curry - Dinner and a Movie - Monsoon Wedding

Colour, flavour and texture - don't we all love this in our food? This month's
Dinner and a Movie film, Monsoon Wedding, offers plenty of colour, texture and flavour with its Indian backdrop and interwoven storylines involving some very complex relationships between the members and staff of a Punjabi family preparing for a wedding.

Marc of
No Recipes is our Dinner and a Movie host this month, and I loved his choice of movie. I had never seen Monsoon Wedding before, and I have to admit that I found it a little slow in the beginning, but once it began to hot up as the wedding came closer, I became engrossed in all the twists and turns of the various story threads woven into the film.

My favourite storyline was one of the peripheral ones, involving a blossoming romance between the family's housekeeper, Alice, and PK Dubey, the wedding planner. Initially, I found Dubey to be a repulsive character, who was not attractive in either personality or looks. However, once he took a shine to Alice, the finer side of Dubey came to the fore, and I found myself egging him on and hoping that Alice would notice and accept his advances.

To correspond with both the Indian ethnicity, the kaleidoscope of colours and complexity of flavours in this film, I chose to make a South Indian Prawn Curry from The Hairy Bikers Ride Again by Dave Myers and Si King.

To make this curry, you will need:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 finely chopped onion
a finely chopped, thumb-sized knob of ginger
2 green chillies, seeded and finely chopped
4 chopped fresh tomatoes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons dessicated coconut
500g peeled raw prawns
chopped fresh coriander

Cook the chopped onion in the heated oil in a frying pan until translucent.

Place the ginger, garlic and chilli into the frypan with the onion and cook for around 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, turmeric and honey and stir until combined. Cook the curry slowly for 10 minutes, then stir through the coconut.

Add the prawns to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, and season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the cooked curry with chopped coriander, and serve with rice.

You can check out the
Dinner and a Movie roundup on Marc's blog here.

Toffee-crusted fig and date cake

I have a yen for unusual cakes - sure, I enjoy eating your average pound cake or Victoria sponge just as much as anyone, but the cakes that catch my eye are those that are unique in some way. By "unique", I am not referring to novelty cakes; while I have the utmost respect for cake artists and the talent and time they put into novelty cakes, these are not my thing. I am referring to cakes which have an out of the norm colour, texture, ingredient or appearance, and which are 100% pleasantly edible.

When I saw the bundt cakes in the April/May 2009 edition of Donna Hay magazine, my unique cake button was pressed, big time. There are some amazingly beautiful and unusual cakes in this section, and if life takes me in that direction, I would be happy to make all of them some time. However, as a starting point, I chose to make Donna's toffee-crusted fig and date cake, which looked like a burnished-bronze beauty. I loved the idea of a crunchy outer shell of toffee on the cake, and of course, I am a sucker for dried figs and dates, so it was a no-brainer - I had to make this cake.

When my cake had baked for the allotted time, I was a little worried, because it was rather dark on the outside. However, if you make this cake, do not be afraid if this happens - I found that the cake was meant to have a chestnut brown colour on the outside, and be lighter in colour and softer in texture in the middle. I assume that the colour comes from caramelisation of the brown sugar during baking.

My only other mild panic set in when I started making the toffee for the outside of the cake and realised that I could not find my candy thermometer. After the allotted 7 or 8 minutes stated in the recipe, my sugar/water mixture was still clear in colour, and from some past experience with making caramel, I didn't think it was ready yet. Instead of remaining cool, calm and rational, trusting my experience, I hit the panic button - and called my Mum, who confirmed that I should leave well alone, and that she thought it should take much longer for the toffee to be ready than quoted in the recipe. After this reassurance, I held my nerve, and let the toffee continue to boil until I thought it looked about the right colour, even though it smelled to me like the mixture was beginning to burn. And lo, it all turned out just fine - the toffee was neither burned nor underdone, and set to a lovely golden colour. The toffee that slid off the cake set hard on the tray, so I kept it to use as cake decoration for other projects.

Overall, I was really pleased with this cake - it looked glossy, beautiful and impressive. It disappeared at work, so I can only assume that my colleagues shared my love of this cake.

If you are as intrigued as I was with Donna's toffee-crusted fig and date cake, and would like to try it, you will need:

1 cup pitted chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup sifted self-raising flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
150g melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs


2 cups caster sugar
1 cup water

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease a 10 cup (2.5 litre) Bundt tin.

Put the dates, figs, bicarbonate of soda and water together in a bowl, stir and leave sit for 10 minutes, before transferiing to a food processor and pureeing the mixture. Reserve.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add the butter, vanilla, eggs and date puree, and mix until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cooked through when tested with a skewer. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

For the toffee, put the sugar and water into a wide bottomed saucepan over low heat, without stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, then increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil and continue to boil it until it reaches 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit) on a candy thermometer (hard crack stage) - or if you don't have a thermometer, until the mixture turns a golden amber colour and when a drop of it is placed into a glass of cold water, it forms a ball. Spoon the toffee over the cake, and leave to cool and harden.

Slice with a sharp knife (to cut through the toffee) and enjoy!! Eat the cake the same day as you put the toffee on it, as the toffee starts to "melt" and go sticky after a few hours.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TWD - Honey Peach Icecream - it's peachy keen

Oh, baby it's cold outside ...
(Radio announcer, Groundhog Day)

Yep, it's winter here in Oz, and even sunny Queensland has been feeling the cold in the south-east corner. To give us Antipodeans flashbacks of what summer is like, our Tuesday with Dorie treat this week is Honey Peach Icecream, chosen by Tommi of Brown Interior.

As the name suggests, this frozen treat is icecream with a peach and honey flavour. It is easy enough to make if you have an icecream maker, and is rather delicious, especially when sandwiched between two gingernut biscuits:

The only changes that I made to the recipe were: (a) I used canned peaches in natural juice, as peaches and all other stone fruits are out of season here; (b) I didn't add any peach chunks that were not pureed to the icecream, as quite a few TWD members remarked in the forum that these frozen fruit chunks were not a favourable addition; and (c) I added a teaspoon of amaretto to the mixture, as other TWD members said that the alcohol prevents the icecream from setting too hard.

You can check out what the other TWD members thought of this icecream by visiting the
Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll. Thanks to Tommi, our host this week, who has kindly published the icecream recipe on her site.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Blueberry apple yoghurt cake

Ever since the Blueberry Buckle Cake, I have been under gentle pressure from Gordon to make another blueberry cake because he missed out on the buckle cake. There are too many cakes and too little time for me to make the same cake twice, so as a compromise, my cake for work this week was a Blueberry Apple Yoghurt Crumble Cake.

The recipe for this cake came from the Coles supermarket June in-store magazine, and actually features in an advertorial for Vaalia yoghurt. I just used Greek yoghurt, and all was fine. This cake is tasty, and certainly has some nutritional merit with its apple, blueberry and yoghurt ingredients, but it wasn't my favourite cake this year by a long shot. (Although for the record, Sue says it is her favourite cake in the 8 weeks that I have been at my new job.)

The cake has a brown, crunchy outer layer with a softer middle, and has a crumble or streusel mixture on top. The fruit rests on top of the cake rather than being blended through it. I think there should have been more apple, but perhaps it was the smallish size of my apple that let me down here.

To make this cake, you will need:


125g butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups sifted self raising flour
1 cup plain yoghurt
1 apple, peeled, cored and sliced thickly
1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Crumble topping

60g chopped, chilled butter
1/2 cup plain flour

2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup flaked almonds

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease and line a 20cm springform pan with baking paper.

Place the softened butter, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and add the flour and yoghurt alternately to it in two batches, mixing it in with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Spread the batter (which is quite thick) into the prepared springform pan, and arrange the apple slices and blueberries on top.

In a medium sized bowl, rub the chilled butter into the plain flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon and almonds.

Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top of the cake, and place it in the preheated oven to bake for around 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Leave the cake to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Slice and serve with yoghurt.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

South Bank Regional Flavours Event, Brisbane

Today I attended a foodie event at South Bank in Brisbane called South Bank Regional Flavours - Wine + Produce + Experience. It featured more than 80 stall holders from around the Granite Belt, South Burnett, Scenic Rim, Gold Coast and Darling Downs regions of Queensland. I am originally from the Darling Downs, so I felt very chuffed to see such fine produce from "home".

It was just a perfect day for this outdoor event - warm, sunny and gorgeous:

One of my best buys of the day was a delicious freshly made waffle with berry compote and vanilla icecream, a bargain at $5.50 from the Bramble Patch stall, all the way from Stanthorpe:

I also came home with quite a haul of things, starting with these delicious chocolates from
Mayfield Chocolates, based in Spring Hill in Brisbane:

The flavours in my box (8 pieces for $14.50) include Mariner's Mirage (brandy and port ganache filling), Hinterland (ginger and leatherwood honey ganache filling), Bali Beauty (Eastern spice flavoured ganache)Wattle (wattle seed flavoured ganache) and Kakadu (plum jelly). The flavour sample I was given was the Hinterland, and it was certainly moorish.

Next is a Bunya Black cheese from Kingaroy Cheese (based in Kingaroy, Queensland, a region best known for peanuts and Sir Joh):

This is a brie-style cheese containing a layer of vine ash:

The colour is the ash layer - it is not mould, like a blue vein. I found this cheese to be smooth, creamy and delicious. This 180g round of cheese cost $9 - not cheap, but comparable in price to other artisan cheesemakers.

And of course, a trip to Kingaroy would not be complete without a visit to the famous
Peanut Van, which thankfully had a stall:

I bought 4 x 100g bags of flavoured peanuts for $10 (you could have bought 2 x 375g bags for $15 - a lot of nuts for your dollar!). The flavours I selected were chilli and lime (I sampled these and they are yummy!!!), kurry, hickory smoke (I have had these before - they have a distinctive smoky, meaty taste) and mexican delight.

From the ladies at
White Mischief at Mt Tyson, I bought this delicious slab of Rocky Road, a steal at $4:

It is fabulous old-fashioned Rocky Road, with chocolate, marshmallow, peanuts and soft jelly. I have already eaten half of it, so I have resolutely hidden the other half in the cupboard to give to my brother - I am dangerous around this stuff. The ladies also had an amazing selection of fudges on sale, including flavours such as strawberries and cream, lemon sherbert, caramel ripple and cherry ripe, for a mere $3.50 a slab.

From the
Super Bee, located on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, I purchased these great squeeze pack honeys, one eucalyptus, the other floral blend, for $7 (375g each pack):

The floral blend is sweeter than the eucalyptus flavour, so various taste preferences are catered for.

Now, I know that I should not buy more jam, as my cupboard is bulging with it, and I mainly just cook with it. However, I could not resist these jams:

The three jars on the left (apricot and almond, lemon and ginger marmalade and fig and ginger jams) are from Mary Norman of Dalveen, half way between Warwick and Stanthorpe on the "fruit run". Mary appears to be a private maker who also makes a mean cauliflower pickle (which I also tasted). Her telephone contact details are available on the jars, which I can pass on if anyone wishes to contact her about her product. My jams were 3 for $10 (110g size), but larger sizes are available.

The other larger jar of jam has the fascinating name of Dragonberry Jam. There is no such thing as a dragonberry - rather, this jam is a blend of dragonfruit, lemon myrtle juice and apple. I am intrigued and can't wait to try it. This jam is by
Red Fox Pitayas at Nanango, and cost $7.

While I avoided most of the wine stands (I don't drink much and these are the stands that attract the free alcohol lovers, who stand for ages tasting everything), I did visit a couple of the winery stands with some unusual and interesting liqueurs on sale. I figure that I can use these to flavour my baked goods, if nothing else:

On the right is a very pretty bottle of lavendar liqueur ($23 for 375ml) by Castle Glen at The Summit on the Granite Belt. As well as wines, Castle Glen make an incredible range of unusual liqueurs, with names like Dragons Crap (chilli, ginger, lime and chocolate creme), Maidens Dream Creme (whiskey creme) and Queensland Delight (rum, coffee and chocolate creme). I was initially attracted to the bright pink Jelly Bean liqueur (a blend of 14 different liqueurs) and Musk Stick (which is said to taste like the lollies of the same name), but after tasting the white chocolate creme, I settled on the lavendar liqueur. It is very strong (25% alcohol), and very sweet, but I think it would give a nice flavour to baked goods, and I could use to try and make a cocktail called the Aviation which I learned of at 1806 Cocktail Bar in Melbourne but never got to try because they ran out of Creme de Violette (it is now off the menu!). I figure that lavendar liqueur would be a fair enough substitute for the rare Creme de Violette.

Granite Belt Highlands Winery from Glen Aplin, I purchased the most devine bottle of Butterscotch Cream. It is smooth and sweet and scarily doesn't taste alcoholic at all, despite having a 10% alcohol content. I would have preferred to only buy a small bottle of it, but they had sold out (less than 2 hours into the event!), such was its popularity, so I decided on the extravagance of a full sized bottle (500ml at $20). I also bought a tiny bottle of raspberry liqueur for $5 for the sole purpose of flavouring baked goods.

Many of the suppliers that I have mentioned sell online, and will ship interstate (and in some cases, internationally).

For more information on the Granite Belt region, home of the majority of the produce in this post, visit the
Granite Belt Wine Country website, where you can find a "Nude Food Trail" map of great places to eat, drink and buy on the Queensland Granite Belt, where it is coming up to peak tourist season because people can enjoy the country comfort and hospitality of the rolling farmlands combined with roaring fires.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

TWD - Parisian apple tartlet

This week's Tuesday with Dorie takes us to Dorie's own backyard of Paris with a Parisian apple tartlet, chosen by Jessica of My Baking Heart. When I saw this recipe, my heart skipped a little beat - thanks Jessica! Why? Because it is one of the few baking recipes in the universe that is a serve for one. Hooray!

I actually ended up making two tartlets, because there are two halves in an apple. I had oodles of puff pastry, because I used Nick Malgieri's quick puff pastry recipe, suggested by Bungalow Barbara - thanks Barbara. (I now have Diplomat torte in my sites for the remainder of the puff pastry.)

Here is my block of quick puff pastry:

I have made puff pastry once before the traditional way, but this version holds up well beside it and is much faster. The layers are created by rolling the folded pastry into a "Swiss" roll" then flattening it out. A pretty neat trick, eh?

My tartlets pre-baking reminded me of ladies sitting in a hair salon with foils in their hair:

It's those butter pieces that did it.

I used a Granny Smith apple, a popular baking apple in Australia, and it was just perfect - it held its shape well during baking.

The finished result tasted sensational for something so simple - light and airy with the lovely sweetness of the baked apple, sugar and butter. I loved it warm, and it is another dessert that would be perfect served with a dollop of vanilla icecream.

You can check out the views of the other TWD bakers on this tartlet by going to the
TWD blogroll.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Strawberry Vacherin for Strawberry Feast

As I was going to Strawberry Fair,
Singing, singing buttercups and daisies ...
English Traditional

Don't you love strawberries? They are a bright, cheerful red with pretty green hats, and inevitably remind me of summer (even if they can now be purchased all year round thanks to advanced horticultural practices).

My blogging friend Happy Cook at My Kitchen Treasures is hosting an event dedicated to strawberries called Strawberry Feast. What could be lovelier or more delicious than a collection of dishes featuring strawberries as a key ingredient?

It is definitely winter here, but all the more reason to celebrate the cheering bright red strawberry.

For my contribution, I have chosen to make Strawberry Vacherin from Bill Granger's Feed Me Now! (Harper Collins, 2009, p221). These are little strawberry flavoured meringues, with a crispy, fragile shell and a soft, marshmallow like centre. As the vacherin bakes, the strawberry juices ooze out, leaving a soft pink puddle around each one.

If you would like to make your own strawberry vacherin, you will need:

4-5 ripe strawberries
250g white sugar
4 egg whites
pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone baking mat.

Crush the strawberries in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the sugar, then set aside.

Beat the egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage, then add the remaining sugar, beating continuously, until the mixture becomes shiny and thick ("stiff peak" stage). Stir through the crushed strawberries.

Arrange the meringue mixture in 8 equal sized mounds on the baking tray, leaving some room to spread between them. Bake the meringues in the pre-heated oven for 1 1/4 hours, then remove from the oven and allow them to cool before serving.

These are great served with icecream and extra fresh strawberries. Because they are sweet and marshmallowy, kids are sure to love them, and while they are not exactly light on sugar, they are low in fat.

You have until June 25 to send in your entry for Happy Cook's Strawberry Feast.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Persian Love Cake

Are you looking for love?
Lilian Singer, Lilian's Story by Kate Grenville

I have just started clinical pilates classes again. In my view, clinical pilates is the best thing since sliced bread if you have back problems. I have also found that clinical pilates and food magazines in the waiting area seem to go hand in hand. In Melbourne, I always used to read the latest edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller at the clinical pilates studio, which gave me plenty of quality time to drool over the pictures.

When I started at my new studio in Brisbane, I was pleased to find a copy of the September 2008 Australian Gourmet Traveller on the spare chair next to me. Flicking through it, I was delighted to meet up with an old "friend" that I remembered from Melbourne - a recipe for Persian Love Cake by Gerard Yaxley of Qom restaurant at Coolum, Queensland.

I am not sure how authentically Persian this recipe is, but it is a truly gorgeous cake. Rather than lemon chiffon with rosewater buttercream, like the Epicurious version, this cake consists of almond meal, pistachios, brown sugar and Greek yoghurt. It captured my imagination, and luckily for me, when I searched for the recipe, I found it available here on the Australian Gourmet Traveller website.

This cake has a nutty, caramel-flavoured base, and is topped by a creamy, nutty filling. The texture is not really cake-like - it is more like a cross between a streusel and a pudding. It is moist and almost melt-in-the-mouth, while the edge of the cake is caramelised and crispy.

I could definitely fall in love with this cake, and I believe that quite a number of my colleagues felt the same way. It is not a cake for those who are not fond of nuts, but if you do love almonds, and are looking for something a little different to the every day, then do give this cake a try.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TWD - Cinnamon squares

This week's Tuesday with Dorie focusses on cinnamon. Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures has chosen Dorie's Cinnamon Squares as our recipe for this week.

Basically, these squares are a cinnamon flavoured cake, sandwiched with a ribbon of cinnamon sugar and chocolate, and with chocolate frosting on top. In theory, this sounds really good, but it unfortunately did not do it for me. Perhaps there was too much cinnamon, or perhaps it was because I found the cake really plain, but I just couldn't get excited about these. They weren't awful - just "meh". However, taste is a subjective thing, and Ruth liked it, and the whole pan disappeared before lunch at work.

Like a lot of others, I found that the cinnamon sugar and chocolate tended to sink to the bottom of the batter - the slice in the photograph is the textbook slice, while most of the other slices had a sunken ribbon. My squares took 55 minutes to cook through, as opposed to the 35-40 minutes suggested in the recipe. Dorie certainly keeps me on my toes with baking times - mostly, I need slightly less time than stated in the recipe, whereas in this case, I needed roughly 1.5 times the suggested baking time.

You can see what the other TWD team members thought by checking out the blogroll.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Of salmon and pumpkin pasta, Delia's fish pie and some gifts

One of the best things about food blogging is the people that you "meet" online. Many food bloggers are thoughtful and generous people, and I have had some wonderful experiences in my time as a food blogger, whether it be through an encouraging or insightful comment or a random act of kindness.

Twelve months ago, to say thanks for a simple jar of silver cachous that I sent to her, Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska sent me the terrific whole smoked salmon pictured at the top of this post. Laurie posts wonderful recipes inspired by her Greek heritage and the fresh produce available around her home in Anchorage, so do go and check out her site.

This salmon, from Alaska Jacks in Anchorage, has since done another journey up the east coast of Australia from Melbourne to Brisbane. The salmon comes vacuum packed in foil, and according to the box, lasts for years unopened.

I had never seen anything like this salmon before, and I have no idea if you can buy it here. Accordingly, I was almost in awe of this gift, and held onto it waiting for "a special occasion".

That special occasion never came, and I figured that after twelve months, I should bite the bullet and make something with the salmon. It was quite large (450g), so this weekend just past, I made two different salmon dishes.

The first dish that I made was a smoked salmon, prawn and pumpkin pasta, for which you can find the recipe here on Rawfish.

The smoky flavour of the salmon mixes with the sweetness of the pumpkin and snow peas, and the ingredients are offset by a cream sauce.

I hadn't realised that the smoked salmon used here was different to the type that was in my box until I opened it, but ultimately, I don't think it mattered. This pasta tasted good, although I have to admit that I am not a cream sauce pasta girl. However, I noticed that a lot of recipes for smoked salmon pasta involve a cream sauce, so I assume that the cream is a good foil for the salmon.

The next dish that I made was Delia Smith's Luxury Smoked Fish Pie from
Delia's How To Cook Book Two. I was recently fortunate enough to acquire the entire set of Delia's How To Cook books as remainder stock for just under AUD$60 - this is a bargain when you consider that these books retail in Australia for $75 each.

You don't have to buy Delia's book to get the recipe - it is online

The pie contains smoked fish, cornichons (baby gherkins), egg and capers in a parsley white sauce:

which is subsequently topped with cheesy mashed potato. Here is a peek inside the pie:

I made quite a few changes to Delia's recipe, primarily because the fish that she uses are not available in Australia (or at least, not readily). I replaced the haddock, kippers and smokies with 450g of smoked South African cod, and I upped the quantity of smoked salmon to 300g. I used low fat milk instead of whole milk, light cooking cream instead of ordinary single cream, and margarine instead of butter, all with the aim of reducing the saturated fat content. In preparing the potatoes, I boiled them instead of steaming them, mixed them with a quarter of a cup or so of low fat milk instead of creme fraiche, and topped them with grated low fat cheese instead of parmesan and gruyere. I have no idea how Delia whipped the potatoes using her electric hand held mixer - my poor little hand held mixer became gummed up with mashed potato like glue after just a few whirs.

The white sauce involves making a roux, one of my arch enemies in the cooking world, but I was very excited when the sauce worked out. I had a few anxious moments in the beginning, as I thought that the dough-like substance in the saucepan would never become anything else, but after some perserverance, the white sauce came together beautifully.

Initially, I was worried that I would not like this pie, because it had a peculiar smell that did not appeal to me pre-baking. However, after it had finished cooking, the flavours melded and the overwhelming fishy odour had dispersed. In fact, I really enjoyed this pie - so much so that I would make it again. I figure that the entire pie could be made using smoked cod, which is easier and cheaper to obtain in Australia than the other types of fish in the recipe. In this case, I was lucky that Laurie had provided me with such a wonderful gift in the form of the whole smoked salmon.

A huge hug and thanks to Laurie for introducing me to a number of entirely new foodie experiences through her generous gift.

Through Blogging by Mail, organised by Stephanie of
Dispensing Happiness, I met wonderful Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita. As you can guess from the name of her blog, Maryann is of Italian heritage, and makes delicious Italian dishes and shares slices of Italian life and humour.

Maryann recently sent me this lovely "Make a Wish" necklace and some handy handbag-size nail files as a surprise thank you gift for sending her the Italian edition of Delicious magazine:

Thanks Maryann! (Sorry I couldn't get a better photo - the flash and the lens on my basic camera were limiting factors.)

As I surf around the blogosphere, I often read of acts of generosity, kindness and friendship between food bloggers, not to mention many warm and encouraging comments. I love reading these stories and comments, and I am proud to be part of such a terrific and inspiring group of people.

Mrs Slocombe
published an opinion article about blogging in The Age in March 2008, which he has reproduced on his blog here, where he states

Tonight is Saturday night. A perfect night to stay in. You might run into a friend from 30 years ago, or make a new one. Just sit quietly in your room and go out into the world.

Go on, do yourself a favour. Venture out into the blogosphere tonight - you never know what friends you might meet.