Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Years Resolutions

They say that you should start a new year as you mean to continue. For me, of course, this translates to baking! Having spent a fantastic evening bringing in the new year with some of my favourite people, cocktails and amazing food, a long and involved recipe was not what I was looking for today. Maximum output for minimum effort for moi, please! This wonderful (cheat's) cheesecake was absolutely perfect for the occassion. I ask that you do not judge too hastily. Usually, where cheesecakes are concerned, I am a purist. Creamy, rich baked cheesecakes are my speciality but today was not the day to be spending hours in the kitchen...

My cheaty raspberry cheesecake begins with the simplest base known to man: digestive biscuits and unsalted butter. This is pressed into a springform pan and popped into the freezer. The 'cheesecake' is blissfully easy: cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice mixed then folded into double cream. Once this is poured over the base, and put in the fridge for as long as you can wait (this was about an hour for us) a good quality fruit conserve is spooned over the top. Wow! Simple, yet beyond fabulous!

My wish for the new year is that everyone achieves all that they hope for, in the company of people who they love and cherish. I cannot wait for what this year has in store. I am excited about the amazing people I have yet to meet, the incredible recipes I am yet to bake and for future experiences that I am sure will blow my mind.

Happy 2012!
F. x

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Pistachio Perfection

Stolen from her book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella describes these as "the world's most elegant macaroons" and within my narrow realm of macaroon experience, I would tend to agree.  They are delicately waxy in appearance and pale jade in colour; the perfect combination of nutty and sweet, crunchy and chewy.  Suiting all purposes, they are made for sharing, or enjoying with a quiet cup of coffee during a stolen moment of peace and quiet.

Both the macaroons and buttercream begin with an aromatic "nut dust" as the pistachios are ground in a food processor with icing sugar.  This dust alone is stunning.  Once folded into the stiff egg white mixture, the batter takes on the appearance of pale green foam, reminiscent of the foam left on the beach during windy weather.  Piping the mixture onto baking trays is an absurdly delicate process as you attempt not to squeeze out all of the lovely, airy lightness from the mix.  I must admit to having flashes of pistachio pancakes emerging from the oven!

After leaving the first tray in the oven slightly too long, I achieved perfection at nine minutes with batch number two.  I had that fantastic sense of achievement which can only be experienced when successfully attempting something for the first time.  Proud as punch, I was taught a devastating lesson in patience as the first mound I touched (prodded) collapsed.  The still warm macaroons were not yet ready to touch. Of course, I was obligated to peel the now-flattened specimen off the tray to try.  It would have been mockingly cruel to leave him there beside his puffed up, majestic counterparts.  So I had no choice but to wait for the finished product if I was to continue my self-satisfaction.  The recipe for macaroons is definately not the one to pull out when you are looking for some instant gratification.

Buttercreamed, sandwiched and piled onto a serving dish, these macaroons prove themselves to indeed be "the world's most elegant macaroons."  They are classic, charming and well mannered in their appearance, flavour and textures.  Simply lovely, darlings!

F. x

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Like your grandma used to make

"Everyone seems to think it's hard to make a cake (and no need to disillusion them)"
Nigella Lawson.

This is no dainty, light, lady-like cake.
This cake has a presence, an authority.
This cake is not about restrained, understated flavours.
This is a cake like your grandma used to make.

It has probably been ten years since I have attempted a carrot cake and there is no real reason why I haven't made one in so long.  My lovely new Frankie recipe book appealed to the nanna in me and so that is why I have carefully followed the recipe of someone else's nanna.

Wet ingredients first blended together to a gorgeous golden and syrupy consistency - the smell of ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg already emanating from the mixture.  Dry ingredients sifted were added, a little at a time and well combined.   Finally, the ingredient that makes this cake what it is...carrot.  This batter of this cake is quite thick and heavy but manages to be runny at the same time.  One all mixed together, it's time to play the waiting game.

Almost as soon as it enters the oven, the spicy aroma wafts from the kitchen.  This is the smell of home: patchwork quilts; bed socks; and flannelette pyjamas.  It is very lucky that my oven has a glass door because otherwise, my cake may have taken all night to cook based on the number of times I went to admire it rising in the oven.  The recipe called for one hour cooking time.  However, I used a slightly smaller tin than stated and so my golden beauty took almost as hour and a half.  My baby left to cool in its tin; I covered with a tea towel and bid it good night.

As is my custom, I rose early this morning and couldn't even wait to have breakfast before finishing off my cake.  I whipped together the cream wheese and butter I'd left to soften overnight (always prepared) and squeezed in a little lemon juice to take the edge off the copious amounts of icing sugar I then mixed in.  The cream, clean white frosting fits this cake perfectly.  I adore the tang of the cream cheese and the sweetness which complements the spices in the cake.  This recipe is an absolute classic.  To describe it as out-dated would be ludicrous; to describe it as old-fashioned is apt and hints towards the feelings of nostalgia and comfort it provokes.  As it is, this cake is everything is should be and more.  To be honest, it can only be made better by a pot of Earl Grey and a good book.  Look out C.W.A., here I come!

F. x

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Mint Mousse Magic

As soon as I discovered this Nigella recipe, I just had to try it out.  I am a huge fan of white chocolate and will quite happily nibble away until my tummy can't take the sickly sweetness any longer.  This lucious richness can overpower in some desserts which is the only reason I can imagine that someone may be put of white chocolate. If you are such a person (or you happen to be married to one, as am I) than this is not a dessert to shy away from.  The peppermint in this recipe seems to tone down the white chocolate, and while incredibly subtle becomes the hero of the dessert.  White chocolate provides the initial flavour hit, while the peppermint discretely comes through at the end acting as palatte cleanser.  Admittedly, this doesn't mean that the sweet richness is eradicated completely and even though it looks a little stingy, a small portion is a must if you don't wish to find yourself beaten by an unassuming mousse.

Having had a particularly stressful day, this recipe was exactly what I needed.  It is so perfect in its simplicity and yet presents so elegantly, given the impression of a lot of time and effort when the reality is quite the opposite.  The making of this mousse encompasses quite a number of my most adored techniques.  Firstly, the melting of the chocolate.  Now normally, I am the first to pop the chocolate in my Tupperware microwave jug and stir every thirty seconds at the ping.  Tonight though, I employed the technique of glass bowl over boiling water and let my mind still as I focussed on the transition of the chocolate from matte to glistening and smooth.  Chocolate set aside to cool, I beat out my nervous, anxious energy on the egg white, cream and peppermint and whipped them into a luxurious softly-peaking mixture.  Feeling relaxed and content, I gently folded the cream into the chocolate.  I find folding to be a gorgeous, mind-stilling action which is entirely satisfying as two mixtures seamlessly come together, maintaining the beautiful whipped lightness of the cream.  By the time I was spooning the soft, creamy mousse into shot glasses, I may as well have had a massage in a candle lit room, all the stresses and tension of the day forgotten. All of this before I'd even managed a taste!

Needless to say, once chilled, these went down a treat.  Topped with mint leaves for a little drama, the delectable shots of heaven provided the perfect conclusion to a slightly heavy pasta main.  Happy days.

F. x

Peppermint Preview

Here's a little taste test of the divine deliciousness coming your way tomorrow. F x

Monday, 26 December 2011

A spot of morning tea, anyone?


Whatever happened to having people around for morning tea?  While I will bake scones or biscuits if I have friends or family coming to my house, I very rarely make a date specifically for 'morning tea'.  How terribly sad to have lost something so civilised. Having a situation to be rectified, I decided to rekindle my romance with an old and underestimated favourite: the pikelet.  In my experience (and vast this experience is) it is very possible for the humble ol' pikelet to go terribly wrong and how this happens, I will never understand (perhaps the over-reliance on bicarbonate of soda to provide adequate 'fluff').  These little friends were a staple in my household growing up.  Mum would often help us make pikelets for afternoon tea and I have lovely memories of eating more than I ever made!  Our recipe for pikelets was very simple: a chunk of self raising flour, an egg (or two, maybe), a whole lot of vanilla extract and milk added by feel.  They always turned out and must have been ok because they rarely had time to cool before being lathered in sticky strawberry jam and gobbled up.

I must admit that this morning, the gorgeous grande dame of the kitchen, Margaret Fulton provided my recipe as I wanted my pikelets to be beautifully authentic to morning teas of a bygone era.  This meant the addition of a little melted butter and half/half milk and buttermilk.  I did deviate by sneaking in some lovely vanilla.  Keeping this traditional, there was no low-fat in sight and this included the bubbly butter in the bottom of the frypan. After five minutes of mixing and ten minutes flipping, I had a plate full of fluffy, cakey, and very homemade looking pikelets.  The cream was whipped and the kettle boiled....and my hunky husband had the entire batch finished off within the time it took me to cook them.
(Well, except for the two I ate in between flips.)

F. x

Cookbook Love

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, full of food, family, laughter and joy!

I absolutely adore Christmas Day - more than any other day of the year - and I was far from disappointed this year.  Each and every member of my family (including moi) was well-spoilt and well-fed.  It's not very often that I am "fooded" out but today is definitely one of those days! In the post Christmas feast haze, cooking is the last activity you feel like.  I did however manage to read about cooking and so, my day was not wasted entirely.  Included in my Christmas stocking were two fabulous books: Frankie's Afternoon Tea and Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess.  Both are full of deliciousness and I am already planning my next bakefest - stay tuned!

F. x

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Twas the night before Christmas...

Every family has their own Christmas Eve tradition.  Sometimes it's watching a particular movie, or visiting particular family members.  In my family, it was preparing for the next day's feast.  Since I was around sixteen, the job has fallen to me to make Rum Balls.  The recipe always started with ten weetbix in the food processor with cocoa, raisins, condensed milk and rum.  In the last couple of years, I have deviated from this original recipe to discover something wholly rummier, yummier and more calorific.

My "Rum Truffles", as I called them, are a perfect hybrid of Chocolate Truffles and Rum Balls. They begin with a rich, brownie base which is blitzed with a whole lot of rum once cooled. I then set to rolling this mixture into the obligatory 'ball' shape which I find to be a gloriously calming activity - much like any repetitive task.  Trays of the 'brownie balls' (not looking incredibly appetising, yet) are then refrigerated (or popped into the freezer if a quick fix is needed) until set.  Copious amounts of milk and dark chocolate are then melted before each lovely rummy, brownie ball is submerged into whichever is your pleasure.  The slightly wonky, dark brown creatures emerge, in a waterfall of shiny, chocolately glory, just begging to be eaten.  It is with great sadness that they are put back into the fridge.  However, this wait is made ever so slightly easier by the knowledge that the best is yet to come for these drunken darlings. 

There are a number of choices for titivating the seemingly boring (in appearance, of course, never in flavour) chocolate 'lumps' up. I chose two: one, the most dramatic and sophisticate looking; and second, the most childlike, whimsical way I could think of.  In option one, the trays are drizzled, haphazardly, with white chocolate which contrasts beautifully with the milk and dark chocolate.  I love the elegance of the result.  I do feel that option number two will also appeal to you, as much as it does to me.  While white chocolate is still used, it is less elegantly dolloped into the top of each chocolate sphere and topped with a piece of chopped glace' cherry, this emulating....a christmas pudding!!!

Whilst I truly believe that presentation and appearance is of the utmost importance, the key marker of whether or not you are dealing with an exceptional rum ball/truffle/whatever, the warming of the heart as it goes down. There is a fine balance between a hint of rum and that terrible burning sensation as your body registers the alcohol that has entered it.  My family anxiously awaits their Christmas Day delivery of these gloriously seasonal treats and they will not be disappointed tomorrow as my (and my husband's) discerning tastesbuds have already given this batch the "all clear."

Enjoy responsibly!

F. x

Friday, 23 December 2011

More Pictures than Prose

All week, I have been busily preparing my darling Christmas Care Packages and just had to give you a sneaky peek.  Be prepared for your mouth to start watering as you take in the glorious stacks of buttery, lemon shortbread (don't you just love the way it all gets stuck on the roof of your mouth?) and my people-pleasing chocolate caramel slice.  Both are personal favourites of mine and have people asking for them every year.


F. x

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas Traditions

My younger sister and I began a Christmas tradition a few years back of making festive Red Velvet Cupcakes.  Given that most of my family dislike cream cheese however, we were required to deviate slightly from the cream cheese frosting that usually graces these little beauties.  My personal favourite is a whipped-to-perfection vanilla buttercream frosting, casually dolloped on each cupcake, giving them a lovely homemade treatment.

So as is now customary, Lizzie and I got together and baked gorgeous red velvet cupcakes in sweet polka-dotted cases.  There is something so special about baking with a loved one and sharing the joy as all the ordinary ingredients blend together to make something extraordinary.  Even though Lizzie seemed slightly more interested in licking the beater once the cakes were in the oven, we both enjoyed the quality time that we often miss out on due to the busy-ness of everyday life - laughing and chatting without the noisy interruptions of phones, television, computers or siblings. And when they emerged from the oven, we both definitely agreed that our warm, delicious cupcakes were the bee's knees!

I often find that the most difficult aspect of baking is not ensuring exact measurements or being careful not to over (or under) mix, but making sure that your creations last long enough to cool and be beautifully iced! In most cases, when we were children, cakes were very rarely iced or decorated (unless for a very special occassion) because as soon as "that smell" began drifting through the house, everyone would converge upon the kitchen and inhale whatever happened to be sitting on the cooling racks - sorry Mum!

Sadly for Lizzie, our little Reds were not iced until the following morning and she was back at home.  Luckily for me, I had the bowl and spatula all to myself!  Unless you have done it yourself, you will not understand how satisfying (and yummy) is it to make your own buttercream.  My favourite part is watching the butter and icing sugar whipping and slowly morphing from an oily-looking lump of butter into a light, white fluffy mixture.  Modern conveniences allow for a cook to walk away whilst the frosting is whipped for its required ten minutes, but I just sit there, gazing into the bowl and watching this miraculous transformation occur.

So cakes frosted and in the fridge, there is nothing more for me to do but "clean" the bowl and put the kettle on!

Too yum!

F. x

Childhood Memories

I absolutely adore baking cakes.  Every single time that I bake cupcakes, it brings back childhood memories of baking in the kitchen with Mum.  We used to make a batch of our "special recipe" every single week and freeze the cupcakes so that us kids could have one in our lunch box every day.  Mum used to let me put each ingredient into the bowl, being incredibly patient as I invariably dropped shell into the mix after cracking the eggs.  I would insist on being the one to mix the batter with the electric beaters and without fail would send the majority of the batter over the kitchen splashback, the bench and all over us!  My favourite were Mum's chocolate cupcakes and I still make them using that exact recipe quite regularly.  It doesn't matter how many different or more complicated recipes I try, these ones still taste the best.  Now, I am all for sharing (and Mum wouldn't mind) so I encourage you to try this and let me know how you go!

F. x

Mum's Chocolate Cake

125g unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups SR flour
½ cup cocoa
1 cup milk
Cook in a medium oven for 20 minutes (cupcakes) or 40 minutes (large cake).
Me and my gorgeous Mutti

Holy Biscotti!

"What's siscotti?" asks Dad.
"BIS-cotti," replies Mum.
"Escotti.  What's that?"
"Biscotti," laughs Mum, "is an Italian biscuit."

 I have never baked biscotti before.  Nor have I really been interested in seeking it out.  It seems to me that the humble biscotti lacks a certain production about it.  No fanfare in the form of mountains of cascading cream, not enough personality to take centre stage and stand alone. No.  Biscotti merely acts as complementary when accompanying a strong, rich espresso - a submissive trophy wife, if you will.
However, out of the blue, I decided that I MUST bake biscotti.  A traditional recipe would not do.  I felt that in order to give this biscotti a fighting chance -  in order to give this biscotti permission to shine - that I must carefully hand pick the flavours that were to grace my oven.  Vanilla, milk chocolate and roasted hazelnut was to form the initial experiment, followed by Double Chocolate and roasted hazelnut. 
The batter was less than impressive but came together magically as I kneaded: a beautifully theraputic endeavour. I must admit that I was enamoured with the slightly knobbly logs that came out of the oven after 35 minutes.  I was even more excited by the aromas that quickly filled my house as soon as those little babies entered the oven: layers of vanilla and toasting hazelnut mixed with the smell of buttery cookies.  It was to die for! Naturally, the second batch followed quickly. 
I gazed proudly upon my logs of biscotti, congratulating myself and even uploading a quick piccie to facebook so that all of my friends could do the same.
As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I was eager to set to work, carefully slicing each log before placing each little darling piece back onto a baking tray and into the oven.  That glorious smell once again spread into each corner of the house and set my tummy rumbling.  Nothing else was going to surpass these crunchy morsels and of course, they went down extremely well with a cup of raspberry tea.  Perhaps not so traditional but thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.  Once I had deemed my crunchy little bikkies to be of a high enough standard for my boxes of Christmas love, they were wrapped up nice and tight ready to warm the hearts of my favourite people.

I am absolutely devastated about what I have clearly been missing out on all these years. Oh well, I've got an awful lot of making up to do with you, Biscotti.

F. x

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Keep Calm

I never understood the "Keep Calm and Carry On" fad...here is version I relate to.

Need to get myself one of these....

Sharing the love

I have always used food as a way to show love.  There is something so lovely about being able to create something that will nourish another person and make them feel special.  My favourite experiences, conversations, memories and places revolve around food.  This Christmas, I have decided to 'share the love' by putting together wonderful little care packages of delicious goodies.  Being on school holidays also provides me the luxury of long days of playing around in the kitchen, and as much as I would love to (and sometimes try), cannot possibly eat my way through all of my creations.  I have purchased fantastic clean, white filing boxes from Kikki-K which I intend to fill with yummy goodness.  This year, I've pulled out a few ol' faithfuls - tangy lemon shortbread, indulgent red velvet cupcakes and naughty chocolate caramel slice - as well as experimenting with some I've yet to try - crisp biscotti based loosely on a Donna Hay recipe and more to be decided on.
So, with a loyal and devoted 'taster' (the title helper would be a complete and utter misrepresentation), my younger sister, Lizzie...I began my baking marathon.  Stay tuned for the results.
F. x