Friday, August 31, 2007

Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread Creams

I had some leftovers of the Cream Cheese Icing from the cupcakes I made the other day and I spent some time brainstorming what type of biscuit / cookie it would go best with. So many options: lemon, monte carlo (an Australian honey/coconut biscuit), chocolate, oatmeal? ... I decided that something spicy to contrast the cream cheese would be lovely – gingerbread! The original plan included adding lemon butter/curd to the middle – but I test tasted one and although delicious, the lemon really wasn’t necessary (and I’d rather eat the lemon butter out of the jar myself!).

The gingerbread was based on a basic “
Gingerbread Men
recipe from Delia Smith and I’ve increased the spices and added cocoa (valrhona of course!)

Spicy Gingerbread
150g dark brown sugar
4 tblspns golden syrup
4 tblspns treacle
2 tspns cinnamon
5 tspns ginger
1 tspn ground chilli
finely grated rind an orange
200g butter or margarine
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
100g dutched cocoa (valrhona)
400g plain flour (plus extra)

Cream Cheese Icing (see recipe in my previous post)

In large saucepan place sugar, syrups, spices and rind. Heat until boiling – keep stirring to make sure it doesn’t stuck, remove from heat and add butter and stir until melted. Add bi-carb soda, then add in cocoa and flour in a couple of batches – mix until it forms a ball. You may need to add extra flour. Shape into logs (I made square and round ones), wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180degC. Slice logs into 1/4” thick slices (I got 40 slices) and place on lined baking tray (they expand a little bit, but not much). Alternatively you can roll it out and cut out gingerbread men or other shapes. Bake for approximately 10 minutes until firm (as they are brown it is hard to see before they burn!). Cool on rack. Pipe or smear on cream cheese icing and top with another biscuit. Makes 20 double biscuits.

These are quite spicy – probably not suitable for most children. My eaters really enjoyed them and they went fast! My test ones were also very nice with lemon curd on them.

I do have to admit my own weakness when making gingerbread – I love the uncooked mixture ... I’d rather eat that than the baked outcome ... so the recipe may actually make more if you take out all the “tastes” I had along the way!!!

Next week I have a break from baking ... off on a work conference (to a rural retreat that is closer to the city than my own house!) ... but I’ve got plans for the weeks following! Request I’ve got have been for danishes, custard tarts and “something lemon” ... will have to think of something interesting for the lemon one. I saw a cooking show on television recently that created a lemon tart filling by processing whole lemons (pips removed) ... might be worth a try!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lancefield Farmers’ Market

I’m very lucky to have this as my local farmers market. I try to get there a couple of times a year, especially in the growing seasons (we’re still in winter unfortunately ... only a couple more days to go!). Every time I go, I don’t plan to buy anything ... and come home with lots of tasty things! The only bad part about a the farmers market is finding something delicious one month and going back the next month for it – only to find the stall has gone or the produce out of season!

A couple of things I bought this month:
Whole Wheat Croissant (Red Beard Bakery – Trentham): nice, but needed more butter!
Raspberry Butter and Lemon Curd: one stall had a variety of butters, tasting them all I couldn’t resist the raspberry one, and bought the lemon at another stall ... whilst I intend to use these in some cooking, I highly suspect that they’ll be eaten by the spoonful straight from the jar!
Eggplant something or other (can’t remember the name!): a delicious mix that I’m going to spread on sandwiches for extra taste
Fruit Muesli: I love muesli and it often is my "dessert" at night. My favourite one comes from the Irrewarra Sourdough Bakery - the one from the farmers market was quite nice - but not that toasted honey flavour I love in the Irrewarra version.
Duck eggs: I used to have a lovely supply of duck eggs, but unfortunately I can’t get them anymore ... once I’ve stopped my current diet (yes, with all this baking I’m actually dieting!) I’m planning on buying some ducks and hopefully getting my own eggs ... I have a lovely duck pond from a previous owner of my property ... just need a duck house!! These eggs are destined for a custard I think!

My friend bought some lovely olive oil from Lovers’ Lane Olives – tasted delicious, a pan au chocolate from the Red Beard Bakery (quite nice, but I’ve obviously been spoilt by non-whole wheat flour and it just doesn’t quite meet my expectations for a croissant/Danish), a frittata for lunch and some messmate honey (which she generously gave some to me).

The best part of course, is going home and unpacking all the spoils and making a delicious lunch with fresh produce.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Orange Poppyseed Cupcakes

I’d had a request from a work colleague that I make “Orange Poppyseed Cupcakes”, as I’m not a huge cake fan (especially in the format of cupcakes!) I’d decided to semi stick to her request, but to make it a bit nicer than your average dry cake! I chose Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake (from Stephanie Alexander’s “The Cooks Companion”) as my starting point and just added poppyseeds! After a recent disaster with an icing/frosting melting at room temperature I wanted to pick a very stable topping, I searched around quite a bit and decided on a cream cheese icing with lots of icing sugar (confectioners sugar).

Orange Poppyseed Cupcakes (adapted from Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Orange Cake (from Stephanie Alexander’s “The Cooks Companion”)
2 oranges
300g. almonds
250g. sugar
6 eggs
1/2 cup of poppyseeds

Place oranges in a saucepan with 1 inch of water (you might want to poke them with a fork once to stop them splitting), cover pan and boil for 2 hours. Cool, cut into chunks (removing pips).

Place almonds in food processor and grind into small pieces/meal. Remove from food processor (don’t worry about cleaning it). Put cut up cooked oranges into food processor and pulse until nearly smooth (but not completely to a puree). Add in almonds and sugar, blend until mixed. Add in eggs 3 at a time, blending in between. Then when mixture is evenly mixed, add in poppyseeds and pulse a couple of times (don’t over mix).

Three quarter fill cupcake/muffin tins (I used paper cups as well – and I only filled mine half way to make smaller cakes so that the frosting would sit inside the paper cup and not get mushed when transporting). Bake for 30 minutes at 190ºC. Makes approximately 24.
(note: I have made this cake with lemons – but upped the amount of sugar to 320g)

Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing (frosting)
250g Cream cheese, softened
50g butter, softened
50g copha (white vegetable shortening), softened
1 tspn vanilla bean paste
2 tbspn cornflour
500g (approx 4 cups) icing sugar.

Using a hand held mixer, beat softened butter, copha and cream cheese. Add the vanilla paste and cornflour and mix well. Add in icing sugar cup by cup, mixing well in between. Put icing in piping bag and pipe onto cooled cakes. (you may have some left over ... lots of uses for the left overs other than piping into your mouth!).

Many groans of delight met these!! The icing stood up to being transported and the creamy cheese flavour was a delicious contrast to the quite tart orange cupcake. Apparently there had been a bit of teasing to the person who made the request, that she’d picked something so boring ... but they were very pleased with my interpretation and that they didn’t end up with boring cupcakes!! I think these went faster than nearly anything I’ve brought into work (so I probably hadn't needed to worry quite so much about the stability of the icing in the warmth!).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Valrhona Potato Truffles

Sugar High Friday #34 – Local Speciality

The theme set by Johanna of for Sugar High Friday (SHF) #34 was to reproduce a local speciality, as I’m new to blogging I thought this might be a good blog-event starter but I’m not quite sure if I meet the criteria.

I live in a country area of Australia, and whilst there are many country cooking themes that are common across Australia they aren’t specifically local to my area. So I decided to see HOW local I could go for produce (rather than a recipe) – what was the closest produce I could use to make something?

Looking at the neighbouring properties: next door are sheep (bred for meat, not milk, so couldn’t think of anything); behind me is an olive grove (olive oil cake? Not really interesting!); next up the road are cattle (but once again, beef, not dairy – so no inspiration!); then there is the onion farm (onion jam? Not really what I wanted to make); and next comes the potato farm less than a mile down the road (1km). And it struck me, surely someone, somewhere has used potato (not sweet potato) in a dessert/sweet. (excuse the dark photo - it was taken on my way to work this morning)

After a bit of searching around I found some recipes for Potato Fudge (and some other potato sweet things that look worth trying – some interesting Indian ones) and decided that would be a good start. I choose the particular starter recipe because it used cocoa and I have a rather large amount of Valrhona cocoa to use up (my sister and I bought 3kgs between us as it is so delicious!) ... and really ... anything containing Valrhona cocoa is going to taste nice!!!

I’m not a huge fan of very sugary things, so I looked at the recipe and thought that if I turned it into truffle balls rolled in cocoa then that would contrast with the very sweet inside. I also added some flavours to the cooking potato, as I wasn’t just using up leftovers.

Vahlrhona Potato Truffles

1 smallish potato (require 1/3 cup when mashed)
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn brown sugar

50g copha (vegetable shortening)
50g salted butter
1 tspn vanilla essence
½ cup Valrhona cocoa (or a dutched cocoa)
450g icing (confectioners) sugar
½ cup chopped almonds
Extra valrhona cocoa for covering outside

Peel potato and cut in to cubes, place in microwaveable bowl/jug with the milk, water, cinnamon and brown sugar. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, then on low for 10 minutes (check that it doesn’t bubble over or run out of liquid) until the potato is quite soft. Drain potato and mash with fork until very smooth.

Melt copha/shortening and butter, stir in vanilla and cocoa. Add 1/3 cup of the mashed potato and nuts. Add in icing sugar in batches (about a cup at a time). Mix until smooth. Roll balls of approximately 1 tspn of mixture, then roll in valrhona cocoa. Refridgerate for 2 hours until solid. Makes 40.

Tasty little morsels these are! A bit moreish (I ate too many!) and actually a recipe worth repeating – maybe with some tweaking!! I’d increase the potato (of all things!), maybe introduce some cream and reduce the icing sugar and add some melted chocolate to provide the stability required if the icing sugar was removed. I’m a bit hooked on honey at the moment, so would love to add some to provide a flavour accent. The reality is that the potato blends in, and other than providing a very slightly different texture, it really is unnoticeable.

The actual mashed potato component was quite tasty and I was thinking of different ways it could be used – add some whipped cream and a bit more sugar and I’m sure it could have a place in a degustation menu; or, add some whipped egg whites to produce a fluffy pancake, drizzled with maple syrup!

So whilst the recipe is completely not local ... local produce was the star!

I’m really looking forward to taking these to friends on the weekend and making them guess the “secret ingredient”!!!!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Honey “Butttercream” filled Macarons

I wasn’t going to bake over the weekend, but I was going to visit one friend and another to visit me ... so I thought I could justify it as I had eaters (as opposed to me eating entire recipes of delicious things!). I’d raved to one friend about Tartlette’s Honey Macarons before and she’s been dying to try them. I had some egg whites in the freezer needing to be used up ... and it was cold outside (I can justify anything sweet!!).

Although the recipe Tartlette used meant I could start with whole eggs and use the yolks in the buttercream, the whites in the macarons, I decided to cheat a bit (and I would lose some of my justification if I wasn’t using up leftovers!). I stuck to her recipe for the macarons but for the Honey Buttercream I did a cheat version.

Beating up the egg whites with sugar syrup for macarons.

My piping skills need some work; luckily this recipe is so forgiving!

Interesting colour differences ... the first lot were baked at the top of the oven, the next lot sat just an inch further down under the other tray. Obviously the white looks better – but I couldn’t taste a difference.

Honey “Buttercream” - cheats version

120 g butter softened
4 tblspns honey
4 tblspns icing sugar (confectioners sugar)

Mix together ... voila ... “buttercream” without the hassle of creating a sugar syrup.

Probably wouldn’t stand up to an application that didn’t involve it being squished between biscuits (cookies!), but very tasty. You could increase/decrease the amount of honey to taste – depending on how strong the flavour of your honey is.

I did give most of them away ... of course I had a couple of tastes - the tops had cracked so I couldn't give THOSE ones away!! Mmmmmmm!!!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

“American” Walnut Fudge – a family favourite

I love those recipes written down after a chance encounter with someone else’s cooking. This recipe comes from an American who worked with my mother 20+ years ago. For us, all those years ago, it was quite unusual for a fudge in Australia and became a staple recipe for the family. My only change is to improve the quality of the chocolate used!

“American” Walnut Fudge

2/3 cup (or a tin of 185ml) Evaporated milk
1 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tspn salt
200g marshmallows, chopped (approximately - depends how many you "test taste" along the way)
250g dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tspn vanilla

Grease 9inch square cake pan (at least 1 inch deep)

Mix milk, sugar and salt in saucepan (that will be big enough to contain all ingredients in the recipe). Bring to the boil and boil for 3 minutes (you may have to reduce the heat so it doesn’t to boil over).

Remove from heat, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, add vanilla, walnuts, chocolate and half the marshmallows ... mix until the chocolate is completely melted (marshmallows will also melt). Add the rest of the marshmallows, stir so they are just mixed through (but not melted), pour into pan. Refrigerate. Cut into squares.

The rating from the eaters “this is the best thing you’ve baked so far” ... I disagree ... but it is a nice yummy fudge ... and it transported well!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Eclairs for colleagues

Most weeks I bake for my colleague, sometimes I'll take suggestions, sometimes they've just got to take what I choose.

Last week was eclairs ... unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster week, and I had two goes at getting the chocolate topping not to seize up on me - and gave up in the end.

The creme patisserie was absolutely delicious (if I do say so myself) ... but how far can you go wrong with large amounts of egg yolks?

Crème Patisserie (from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion)

2 cups of whole milk
1 vanilla bean (or 1tspn of vanilla bean paste)
6 egg yolks
175g castor sugar
50g cornflour

Heat milk and vanilla until just before boiling. Using an electric beater whip egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until thick. Remove vanilla bean from milk (if using), and pour warm milk over egg mix a little at a time, beating as you add, until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you want to pipe it.

The big limitation with cooking for work is that it has to travel nearly 1 1/2 hours by train and cope without a lot of refrigeration. Some of the things I love to make just wont travel, these coped - just!!

Choux Pastry (adapted from Constance Spry)
7/8 cup water
3 oz butter
1 3/4 oz plain flour (sifted 3 times)
1 tbspn castor sugar
3 eggs
Preheat oven 240degC. Grease flat baking tray. (for good pictorial instructions from Delia Smith go to:,22,AR.html though her quantities are different to the recipe I use)
Heat water & butter until boiling, remove from heat, add sifted flour & sugar, mix flour in quickly to combine into a ball. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until it becomes a smooth paste between each egg (it will go sloppy and look awful each time an egg is added, just keep stirring!).
Put mix in piping bag and pipe out fingers (mixture will at least double in size, possibly treble ... so allow a bit of space between, and don’t make them too large if you want minis (probably no bigger than your little finger)). Sprinkle a bit of water over the tray, place in oven. Cook for 20 minutes – or until the choux are golden brown and crisp (don’t under do them as they go soggy, they need to be very dry before you take them out of the oven). Allow them to cool, then divide lengthways and fill with crème patisserie or whipped cream.

Top with chocolate that has been melted with a bit of butter.

Not too sweet - just right!! Lots of rave reviews (these people really aren't fussy though!)

It runs in the family

In my family you choose dessert before you make other menu choices, it is acceptable to order two desserts instead of a main, entertaining visitors starts with planning dessert and sharing your dessert is the sincerest sign of caring.

I'd say I was a chocoholic, but it extends beyond that ... dessert is the reason for a meal!

I hope to share some of my cooking and eating adventures, I don't have any photography skills and I'm firmly of the view that how it tastes is way more important than how it looks (I was destined to fail pastry school!).