Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Today is Halloween. This is not a tradition that we have usually celebrated in NZ, but with our recent trend towards American things, Halloween is becoming more prevalent. If I had children I don’t think I would let them go trick or treating, but I always have treats on hand for any children we get knocking at out door!

It’s also a great opportunity as a baker to be able to use those witches hat, ghost and pumpkin cookie cutters that are too cute not to buy! This year I made witches hats to send down to Griffyn and Piper, my nephew and niece. I was actually delighted with how these turned out! I was a bit nervous about colouring fondant black – I didn’t want to end up with gray cookies! I used chocolate fondant which meant I started with a nice dark base, but also meant that the fondant had a nice taste rather than just tasting like sugar. I hope you make out the little bats which are sitting on the witches hats. I couriered these off to Griffyn and Piper and they just loved them.

A huge thanks also to my blogging friend (and fellow lawyer) Gaye from Cake law who has awarded me a yum yum award. Thanks Gaye! You are a real sweetie!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cupcake Hero - Squash

It has certainly been a week of blog events! Today I am posting my October cupcake hero entry. The theme this month is squash – now in the States what we think of as butternut pumpkin is actually known as Butternut Squash, so I have used what we call pumpkin as the base of my cupcakes. In NZ a squash is like a watery, over sized zucchini! Which I don’t think would make very nice cupcakes.

As I have written before, I love pumpkin and I am partial to the sweet combination of chocolate and pumpkin. So, my cupcakes are butternut chocolate cupcakes with a butternut cheesecake filling. They are not the prettiest cupcakes I have ever made, but personally, I think that they are one of the yummiest. The cupcakes themselves are chocolate, but include grated pumpkin – a bit like a chocolate zucchini cake, but pumpkin chocolate. I based the recipe on an Annabel Langbein recipe. The cakes are deliciously moist and so easy – just put everything in your bowl and mix!

Next, I filled the cakes with a pumpkin baked cheesecake mixture. I based the recipe for this on one in the Whimsical Bakehouse small cakes book. I halved the recipe, retaining the full amount of spices and baked the topping in a small ceramic dish. I then scooped out the centres of the cupcakes and filled them with the creamy cheesecake filling. I wasn’t sure about the icing. I love great big swirls of icing, but I did think that the cakes might be rich enough with the cheesecake filling. So instead, I went for a simple ganache topping which I spread across the top of the cakes. I topped my cakes with little pumpkin shaped sprinkles.

I must say, I am delighted with these. They are a little different, but taste delicious!!! Thanks again to Laurie for running this fabulous event. See the other squash cupcakes here!

Chocolate and butternut cheesecake cupcakes
For the cheesecake:
180g softened cream cheese
¼ c brown sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cream
¼ c mashed pumpkin
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
1 egg
· Beat the cream cheese, then beat in the sugar, cream and flour. Mix in the pumpkin and spices and lastly the egg.
· Bake at 180c in a small dish (mine was about 15cm round) for 15-20 minutes until cooked, but still retaining a little wobble, then refrigerate
For the Cake:
1 c sugar
1 egg
½ c milk
1 c grated pumpkin
1/3 c dutched cocoa
½ tsp each mixed spice and cinnamon
100g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 c self raising flour
½ c boiling hot strong coffee
· Either beat everything together in a bowl until smooth, or process in a food processor
· Spoon into cupcake cases (I got 15) and bake at 180c for 18-20 minutes

To Assemble:
· Scoop a small lid out of each cooled cupcake and fill with a teaspoonful of pumpkin cheesecake
Top with the cake lids and then ice with chocolate ganache

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers do Pizza!

Yes, it is that time again! Another Daring Baker challenge to post. This month’s challenge was chosen by Rosa from Rosa’s Yummy Yums and is Pizza! This obviously left quite a wide scope for imagination.

I have made pizza dough from scratch quite often, so the challenge wasn’t something new for me. I do love home made pizza though, so my challenge was to make something simple but tasty. Some of the best pizza I have ever tasted was at a small pizzeria (if that is actually an Italian word!) in Rome called La Renella. They sell pizza by weight in Italy and my husband and I kept going back there for more. Some of the stand out flavours were eggplant and mozzarella and potato and parmesan. I loved the simplicity of the Roman pizza.

I found the dough for this recipe quite sticky, but past experience has shown me that a sticky dough often gives a crisper base. I also only made ¼ of the recipe – enough just to make one large pizza. We were meant to try tossing the dough as part of the challenge, but my dough just a bit sticky for that. I had visions of dough sticking to the ceiling! The pizza stone (or tray in my case) was liberally sprinkled with semolina which gave the pizza a great crust.

We had to top our pizza with both a sauce and a topping. I made a sauce using chopped onion, garlic, olive oil and canned Italian tomatoes. I simply reduced this down, adding a small spoonful of brown sugar, salt and pepper to make a delicious well flavoured sauce. On top of the sauce I used prosciutto, blue cheese and pinenuts. My husband and I both really enjoyed this pizza! It was the first meal that I cooked in the kitchen of the place that we are renting while our house is being built. The oven passed the pizza test (and more importantly passed the shortbread test as well!).

See what variations of pizza the other Daring Bakers (I think there are well over 1000 of us now!) made here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TWD - chocolate chocolate cupcakes

This week’s TWD recipe was chosen by Clara of I heart Food for Thought and is double chocolate cupcakes (Clara also has a great cupcake blog whcih you can see here). Clara specifically requested that we decorate our cupcakes with a Halloween theme. Halloween isn’t that big in NZ – but is getting bigger! So I went for a fairly mild Halloween theme by using these Halloween sprinkles.

The cupcakes get their chocolateness from melted chocolate and cocoa. The batter was easy to bake and baked perfectly – no major peaks, sinking or anything like that. However, I was disappointed with how dry the cupcakes were. I filled mine with nutella which gave a bit of moistness, but I’m not sure if I over baked the cakes or what, they were just drier than I like. The glaze wasn’t that great either. The glaze was made with melted chocolate, butter and icing sugar, but when I added my icing sugar, the chocolate seized – I will be interested to see if anyone else had this problem. I managed to rescue it by adding some rice bran oil, but I think I would prefer a ganache type icing.

Oh, and here are the bases of my new cupcake cases - aren't they cute!

There are not many Dorie recipes which I have been disappointed with, but unfortunately, this one of them. See what the other TWDers thought here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fly away home...

Last week I made these little ladybird cupcakes and took them down to Christchurch for my niece and nephew. The cakes themselves are white chocolate and raspberry flavoured – the chocolate was melted and the raspberry flavour just came from raspberry essence. I find that kids don’t like things too strongly flavoured.

The icing on top of the cakes is white chocolate ganache coloured with red colouring. I was really pleased with the colour which looks just like that of a ladybird. The dots were made with melted chocolate, as were the eyes and antennae. I was a little disappointed with the antennae and the eyes – they just weren’t as good as I had hoped! But Griffyn and Piper loved them - they ate two of the mini ones each as soon as I gave them to them. The idea is simple but the end result is quite effective.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cookie Carnival

This is my first time participating in the Cookie Carnival, a monthly event organised by Kate from the Clean Plate Club. Each month a cookie is selected and everyone bakes it. This month’s is pumpkin whoopie pies. You can find the recipe here on the Martha Stewart website. This is complete first for me – first time baking for the cookie carnival and also the first time I have made or even tasted whoopee pies.

Whoopie pies are almost like little cakes – they have the consistency of a ginger kiss or a sponge drop and are joined together with icing. The icing of the pumpkin whoopie pies was cream cheese based – I am not sure if that is a common feature or not. As we don’t have canned pumpkin puree in NZ, I steamed and mashed pumpkin. It isn’t pumpkin season here at the moment, so the pumpkins have lost a bit of their sweetness and are a bit dry – but it didn’t matter too much for these pies. I did have to add a lot more icing sugar to the icing to get it the right consistency. I am not sure whether others had this problem – it may be a symptom of the recipe being a Martha Stewart one, as I know some others do have problems with the quantities in her recipes. My icing isnt the bright orange of Martha's either - not sure if this is because of the amount of icing sugar I used or because I used real pumpkin as opposed to canned.

I am not sure if I love whoopie pies – I think I would prefer a small cake or something with cream! Although, there is a recipe on Martha’s site for peanut butter whoopie pies – that sounds like my kind of thing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Farewell to my Kitchen

Since I started writing this blog over 12 months ago, we have been in our 1970s house waiting for the plans to be finalised, consents to come through and the winter to be over before we start the major re-build. Prior to us moving in there (also about 12 months ago) we lived in a new house with a modern kitchen. When we moved I thought that my right arm was cut off, not having a fan bake oven – I have learned to cope :0) and all the baking you have seen on my blog has been done in my old Atlas oven. It works like a bomb!

However, the time has finally come for us to move out of our house and the builders to move in. I thought you might like to see a photo of what my kitchen actually looks like. And so, here it is! Not in the slightest bit flash, but it has done the trick. Even though it is old it still has a dishwasher and a waste disposal. We move into a little two bedroom flat in the weekend. Not sure what the oven will be like, but it looks fairly new. It will be interesting. Then, once our house is finished in 6-8 months, I will have a state of the art modern kitchen with a scullery, a 900mm wide stand alone oven, a second oven in the scullery, gas hobs, great lighting, a huge island, soft close drawers and all the other mod cons that I could possibly want. I cant wait! Although, weirdly enough I do feel a little sad saying goodbye to my old kitchen!

One of the last things I will cook in my oven is this cranberry, apricot and walnut loaf. The recipe is a Julie Biuso one that you can find here. I didn’t love it – although it is a sturdy loaf and I think it would be quite good toasted and spread with butter. My husband enjoyed it. I think I may have been a bit mean with apricots, craisins and walnuts – so if you make it, be generous!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TWD - pumpkin muffins

The TWD recipe this week is Pumpkin Muffins and was chosen by Kelly of Sounding my Barbaric Gulp. I love pumpkin muffins. When Mum and Dad first moved to Christchurch and I would go home for university holidays, there was a bakery in the arts centre which sold the most amazing pumpkin chocolate muffins. There were just delicious – spicy and pumpkiny with big chunks of chocolate. I was given a recipe a few years ago that was meant to be the one, but although delicious, they never quite tasted the same!

Ironically I got to bake Dorie’s pumpkin muffins in Christchurch as I went home for the weekend and made them to go with lunch on Sunday when my sister, brother –in-law, niece and nephew and Grandma came over for lunch. Apparently in the States you can get canned mashed pumpkin which is what the recipe used – we don’t get that here and I would be interested to know what consistency canned pumpkin is! Anyway, I steamed some pumpkin and mashed it for the muffins. The muffins also had raisins in them, which as you know, I don’t like! So I substituted chocolate chips. They also had nuts and I used pecans. The muffins were quite spicy with a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice added.

The muffins were a complete hit in my family from my 7 year old nephew, Griffyn (pictured about to bite into one!) to my 84 year old Grandmother. Grandma even took a couple with her when she visited her friend in the afternoon, and her friend, Betty, loved them too. I will definitely make these again. We all loved the spiciness, the moistness of the pumpkin and the crunch of the pecans.

See what the other TWDers thought here and check out the recipe on Kelly’s blog.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Peanut Butter!

If you have been reading my blog you will have gathered that I love peanut butter. I love it to the point where I can easily eat it straight from the jar – not always with a knife either, sometimes my finger is good enough! I know that sounds gross but I am the only consumer in the house. So, I have always been interested in that recipe for peanut butter cookies in which the only ingredients are peanutbutter, sugar and an egg. They sounded almost too unbelievable and I was sure that they would just spread all over the tray.

But, Bakerella made these a couple of weeks ago and had the recipe on her blog. If you haven’t looked at her blog before, you must! She is incredibly creative and inspiring. She has that artistic flair that I totally desire! Anyway, I thought that I would give the cookies a go. The mixture came together much thicker than I thought – I thought it would just be sloppy like peanut butter! But it rolled easily into little balls which I flattened with a fork. The biscuits bake to a yummy crunchiness. I followed Bakerella’s lead and dipped the ends in chocolate and then chopped nuts. I didn’t have any dark chocolate on hand, so used white. I bet salted peanuts would be great as well.

The cookies were so easy to make and so yummy that I made them twice last week – once for the builders and once to take to Christchurch in the weekend for my fellow peanut butter lovers – my Dad and my niece Piper who also loves to stick her finger in the peanut butter jar so she can “do what Aunty Tammy does”.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wee Treats

I made these little shortbread earlier in the week as a thank you gift. The shortbread are a slightly spicy version with some ground nuts which give a great texture. You can find the recipe here. I dipped them in white chocolate and then topped them with the little royal icing flowers I learnt to make earlier in the year at my cake decorating class. I love how something so simple can look so effective and like a lot of hard work, when really it’s not. If you are not sure how to make the icing flowers yourself, sometimes you can buy ready made ones in cake decorating shops or at markets. Or, you could decorate the tops with coloured sprinkles or stripes or squiggles of dark chocolate.

Dinner last night was a simple but delicious chicken dish based on one from an Annabel Langbein book. I drained a can of tomatoes, roughly chopped them and put them in the base of a ceramic dish with a chopped red pepper, sliced red onion, chopped rosemary, fennel seeds and salt and pepper. I roasted all of that in the oven at 200c for about 20 minutes. Then I popped seasoned boneless chicken thighs on top, scattered the lot with crumbled feta and baked for another 15 –20 minutes until the thighs were cooked through. We had the dish with new potatoes and broccoli. It would also be good with rice, or you could leave out the chicken and add a couple of drained cans of beans (borlotti would be nice) to make a vegetarian dish.

Check out my latest feature on foodlovers on savoury biscuits.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not as good as Mum's..

My mother makes the best fudge cake. For those of you who don’t know what fudge cake is, it is a chocolate slice made with crushed plain biscuits and iced with chocolate icing. An uncooked slice is a great thing to make with kids or if you are in a hurry. If you are in a huge hurry, you don’t even have to make it into a slice – just roll the mixture into balls and roll in coconut.

Mum’s recipe has a base of condensed milk melted with butter and cocoa to which you add your crushed biscuits. In my new book Ladies A Plate there is a recipe for fudge cake using a base of melted butter, sugar, cocoa and 2 eggs. I tried it in the weekend. The taste was delicious, but the mixture was quite sloppy – not as good as Mum’s. I wonder if it would be better with one egg rather than two? The book suggested icing the top with melted chocolate. I only had white chocolate so I used a thin layer of that as icing. Good taste – bad texture, I think I will stick with Mum’s recipe.

For some reason eggplant has been unseasonably cheap lately - $2-3 per eggplant. I love eggplant – it is one of my favourite vegetables. I bought two over the weekend and made a salad last night. I sliced the eggplant, brushed them with oil and then roasted them , topping them with a mix of caramelised onions and garlic, feta, Greek yoghurt and mint leaves. It was so yummy. We had the salad with fish and a rice pilaf to which I added saffron, sliced almonds and cumin seeds.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Using up the marmalade

It is great now that the builders have started on our house, as it is a great excuse to do some baking (although many would argue that I don’t need an excuse!). However, we are now mostly packed before we move out of the house in two weeks, and that also means that most of my cook books and magazines have been packed. I made a compromise with my husband, agreeing to pack up most of my books other than a select few (I chose about 8) on the basis that I could take my magazines with me. So, that is it for the next 6 months or so (other than those that I buy along the way of course!).

On Sunday one of the things I chose to bake for the builders was marmalade loaf, using a Julie Le Clerc recipe which I pulled from a magazine a while ago (I have not packed my two boxes full of clipped and printed recipes!). The loaf was so easy to make and made a lovely moist loaf. It is basically a madeira style loaf with the addition of 1/3 c marmalade. Any marmalade would do, but I used one I made last year that is orange, almond and rose water marmalade. It was the perfect marmalade for this recipe as the almonds added a bit of interest and the hint of rose water was just perfect. I topped the loaf with a simple lemon glaze – orange glaze would have been nice, but I didn’t have any fresh oranges.

Dinner last night was a baby spinach and asparagus risotto - I love asparagus and so look forward to this time of year when it is plentiful. I added a little blue cheese to the risotto which was yummy, and we actually had it with some canned red canadian salmon on top. Very nice!

Marmalade Loaf (adapted from a Julie Le Clerc recipe)

175g butter
¾ c sugar
2 lg eggs
1/3 c marmalade
1 c flour
1 tsp baking powder

· Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time
· Beat in marmalade, then stir in flour and baking powder
· Pour mixture into a lined loaf tin and bake at 170c for 45-60 minutes
· When cold, ice with a drizzle icing made from icing sugar and lemon or orange juice

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

TWD - Lennox Almond Biscotti

This week’s TWD recipe is chosen by Gretchen of Canela & Comino and is Lennox Almond Biscotti – the Lennox part is the name of the bakery where Dorie got the recipe from.

I have made biscotti before, but it is one of those things (of which there are very few) where the bought stuff in my view is often as good as the home made. Although, in saying that, you do have to be choosey as too often I think cafes have stale biscotti which has been sitting there for ages! I particularly like Molly Whoppy and 180 degrees biscotti (especially the chocolate dipped!). The biscotti recipes I have made in the past have all just had eggs as the only fat. Dorie’s recipe used butter as well, which has made me think twice about those times when I am in a café and decide on a piece of biscotti as a low fat nibble - there may be hidden butter in there after all.

The original recipe is flavoured with almond essence and almonds. There is also a small amount of cornmeal for extra crunch. Dorie makes some suggestions for different flavours. My favourite biscotti is chocolate and almond, so I decided to make that. Although after making the recipe, I turned the page of my book and saw a recipe for chocolate and almond biscotti and so I have kind of made almost two Dorie recipes in one go!

The biscotti turned out to be some of the best biscotti I have made. It was lovely and crisp, yet not so hard that you broke a tooth when eating it. Other biscotti I have made in the past has been hard to slice for the second baking or hasn’t crisped up successfully on the second bake. This biscotti was prefect in every way and I will be making this recipe again! Next time I think I will make ginger and almond, adding some preserved ginger for an extra kick.

You can find the recipe on Gretchen’s blog and see if the other TWDers liked it too here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hello Cupcake!

When my sister was here last weekend I made these little cupcakes for her to take home to my niece and nephew. The idea comes from a book called Hello Cupcake which has heaps of really cool ideas for cupcake decorating. These cakes are meant to be pandas. Unfortunately they’re not as great as I was hoping. I ended up doing them in a bit of a rush (nothing new there!) as we had spent a big day pulling up carpet and I only ended up giving myself about half a hour to decorate the cakes.

Next time I will really take my time and do a better job! The little heads are mini cupcakes, the ears and noses are jelly beans.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A taste of the Middle East

I made these little pistachio and geranium rose water shortbreads as a gift last week. I had seen a recipe in a book for pistachio studded shortbreads and so, inspired by that I decided to add some rose water to continue the Moorish feel.

The shortbreads are easy to make, but looks good as a gift. The rose water gives a hint of Je ne Sais Quois (hope I got the spelling right!) and makes the cookies that little bit more exotic. They have more icing sugar in them than usual shortbread, but that gives them more of a Middle Eastern flavour I think.

Also here is a photo of dinner from earlier in the week. We had lamb steaks which I smeared with pesto before grilling and this cannellini bean and artichoke salad (inspired by a Julie Biuso recipe from Taste). I sautéed garlic in a pan and then added bottled artichokes, two cans of drained cannellini beans and some sliced roasted red peppers. I added basil leaves at the end. It was surprisingly flavoursome for something so simple.

Oh, and thank you so much to Andrea from Andrea in the Kitchen – another Antipodean blogger who has awarded me a briiliante blog award. Thanks Andrea!!

Pistachio Rose Water Shortbread

150g butter
1 c icing sugar
1 tbsp rose water
1 ½ c flour
about 20 pistachio nuts

· Cream butter and sugar, then add in rose water
· Stir in flour to make a firm dough
· Roll into small balls, flatten slightly and push a pistachio nut into each cookie
Bake at 170c for 15-20 minutes

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

You Want Pies With That?

You Want Pies With That (click on the link to see what the other challengers made) is a new blog challenge run by some other TWDers – each month there will be a theme and you have to make a pie or tart inspired by the theme. This month the theme is “I love that Movie!”. I took a while batting ideas about with some friends and thinking of movies I really love. My favourite movies include Shawshank Redemption (I couldn’t imagine prison food made into a pie!) and The Sound of Music (I did consider apple pie – apple streudel is one of the favourite things, but thought it was a bit boring).

However, another idea popped into my head – the line “Life is Like a Box of Chocolates” from Forrest Gump popped into my head. My friend suggested making a pie with different flavoured slices, like different flavoured chocolates! I wasn’t quite that ambitious, but made these mini pies instead – chocolate pies with a hokey pokey topping. Hokey Pokey or “crunchie” chocolates feature in Cadbury milk trays and my pie reflects that.

The pastry is a flaky pastry – you could easily buy ready made, but I made a rough flaky pastry using equal amounts of butter and flour and a little milk and vinegar to bind. I folded the pastry like a letter for an envelope four times to get the flaky texture. I then chilled the dough before slicing off sections and rolling them out to line the inside of muffin tins (in much the same way as you would when making Portugese tarts). I didn’t bake the pastry blind for my small pies, but I would if making a large tart.

The filling is a chocolate filling made by making a basic chocolate custard and then baking in the pastry shells. Using some cream in the custard filling gave the tarts a great mouth feel – creamy but with a bit of body. Once the tarts were cold I topped them with hokey pokey.

Hokey pokey is a fun thing to make with kids – in fact I remember making it as a science experiment at school. You gently melt 50g sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup together, let it boil for a minute or so, then add ¾ tsp baking soda. The baking soda makes the sugar mixture puff up, it then sets to a crisp but chewy lolly. Yum!
We had the pies with whipped cream.

“Life is Like a Box of Chocolate Pies”
flaky pastry (make your own or bought would be fine)
35g sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornflour
50ml milk
100ml cream
50g dark chocolate
2 egg yolks
hokey pokey to top

· Line muffin tins with pastry
· Combine sugar, cornflour, milk and cream in a small pot and stir over medium heat until thickened. Boil, stirring constantly for a minute
· Beat in egg yolks one at a time and then stir in chocolate until melted’
· Spoon into pastry cases and bake at 200c for 10-12 minutes or until custard is firm
When cold, top with hokey pokey

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

TWD - My Pick! Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

Well, this week is my turn to pick the TWD recipe! I can’t believe how quickly my turn has come around. Like most TWDers I have been thinking for a long time about what I would pick when it came to MY TURN. I wanted to do something that I thought I would love and I was also keen to do the kind of thing that we hadn’t baked in a while. The caramel and peanut topped brownie cake seemed like the perfect pick for me. I actually ended making this cake twice – only because the first time was a failure and I am not one to let things beat me!!

I decided to make the cake to take into work to celebrate my second anniversary of becoming a partner, so I made it in a 20cm square tin for ease of slicing. The cake baked perfectly – my mishap was with the caramel topping. I was well aware, having made caramel before, that the syrup does have to go quite dark to get the toffee effect, but for some reason making this caramel sauce, I got all nervous (probably because I wanted it to be perfect seeing as this was my pick!) and I didn’t let the caramel go for long enough and so my sauce was this pale insipid thing! I then did something even more dumb and added golden syrup to try and deepen the colour. Big mistake! All that did was disturb the sugar ratio and my beautiful caramel sauce crystallised. I still added the peanuts. However, the layer of caramel sauce on my cake became more like a sugary Russian fudge – still yummy but not what I wanted!

Second time round, I made only 1/3 of the recipe and made the cake into little cupcakes. The cakes were fudgey, the caramel the perfect consistency and colour and the peanuts offered the perfect slightly salty crunch. My photos don’t quite capture the amount of gooey caramelness, but it was gorgeous. In the end I was delighted by my choice!

See what the other TWDers thought of my choice here and find the recipe below, but if you haven’t you definitely should consider buying the book!
I also want to take the opportunity to give a huge thank you to Laurie and the TWD team for the HUGE effort they put in to make this such a fun event with that great “family” feel!!

Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake (from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 stick(8 TBSP) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
3 TBSP light corn syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the topping:
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1 ½ TBSP light corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup salted peanuts
Butter and flour a 8 inch springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
To make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together. Melt chocolate and butter together using a double boiler.
In a large bowl whisk the eggs and sugars together until well blended. Whisk in the corn syrup, followed by the vanilla. Whisk in the melted butter and chocolate. Still working with a whisk, gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. You will have a thick, smooth, shiny batter. Pour the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan a bit to even out the batter.
Bake the cake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out almost clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool he cake for 15 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the pan and remove the sides of the pan. During baking the cake probably will have puffed to the top of the pan don’t be concerned if tit sinks a little or it if develops a crater in the centre. Cool the cake to room temperature.
When the cake is completely cool, invert it, remove the base of the pan and peel off the paper. Wash and dry the springform pan, and return the cake to it right side up. Refasten the sides around the cake.
To make the topping:
Put the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, stir just to combine the ingredients and then put the pan over medium-high heat. Heat, without stirring , until the caramel turns deep amber., 5-10 minutes. Lower the heat a bit and, standing back from the saucepan add the cream and butter. When the spatters are less vehement, stir to calm down the caramel and dissolve any lumps. Stir in the peanuts, and pour the caramel and peanuts into a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup or heat proof bowl.
Spoon the peanuts on top of the cake. Then spoon the caramel on top of those. You’ll have a layer about ¼ inch high. Allow the topping to set to room temperature-about 20 minutes before serving.
To serve, run a blunt knife between the caramel and the pan and simply remove the sides of the springform. If this isn’t the case, hit the sides with some hot air from a hairdryer or wrap the sides in a towel moistened with hot water.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Perfect Afghan

We had another house guest this weekend – my sister who is second eldest in our family of four girls. I asked her if she had any special baking requests. She said that she had been craving afghan cookies and my heart sank. I have never been very good at baking afghans. They always turn out either too crumbly, too pale or like little rock cakes. But, I thought that this was a good opportunity to try another recipe from “Ladies A Plate” and hopefully improve on my, up until now, hopeless afghan making performances!

The Edmonds recipe for afghans uses an egg and white sugar. There was no egg in this recipe and it used brown sugar instead of white, which instantly appealed to me as I thought it would mean that the biscuits might be less crisp (there is nothing worse than biting into a really crisp afghan biscuit which crumbles everywhere!). I must confess to eating a fair amount of the mixture, as it was so delicious, which was a good sign, and I was delighted when my cookies turned out to be not the only the best afghans I have made, but actually really good!!!!

Last night I made the fastest dinner I think I have ever made. I dropped my sister off at the airport and didn’t get home until 7pm. I had put out pork chops for dinner, and after a day of helping my husband lift carpet I didn’t really feel much like cooking. But I did, and made dinner in about 15 minutes flat – I pan fried the pork chops in a little basil infused olive oil, then deglazed the pan with some apple cider vinegar, and added some wholegrain mustard and a little cream to make a sauce. We had them with cous cous to which I added chopped basil, roasted red peppers, pumpkin seeds and lemon juice, and a spinach salad. Speedy but good.

Afghans (from Ladies A Plate)

170g butter
100g brown sugar
180g flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
60g corn flakes

· Cream butter and sugar, stir in dry ingredients and lastly, the cornflakes.
· Spoon teaspoonfuls onto trays and flatten slightly
· Bake at 180c for 12-15 minutes
When cold ice with chocolate icing and top with a walnut half

Friday, October 3, 2008

Almond and Jam Tart

Yet another posting about my in-laws stay! I never make pudding when it is just the two of us, but when we have people to stay, I always like to make the effort and my in-laws loved this tart! I made this for pudding on Saturday night.

For our main we had roast free range chicken with an Israeli cous cous salad (Israeli cous cous mixed with fresh herbs, chopped preserved lemon and chopped almonds) and an asparagus (yes, it’s that time of year again!!), baby spinach, blue cheese and pecan salad. My in-laws are in their 60s and so are of the meat and three veg generation – I always like to make them something that I don’t think that they would usually have at home – hence the introduction to Israeli cous cous.

Pudding was of the more traditional variety – an almond and jam tart. I adapted a recipe which was published in Donna Hay magazine about a year ago. The tart is a short crust base (you could use store bought, but I used some sweet shortcrust pastry which I had in the freezer left over from a Dorie Greenspan recipe) with an almond frangipane filling, topped with jam and then more pastry. I used my pastry wheel to cut strips of pastry for the topping which looked quite nice. I made the tart in a rectangular loose bottom tart tin.

The jam I used was some home made blueberry and apple jam which I made last year, but you could use any – raspberry would be nice as would plum. The tart was delicious warm served with whipped cream, but was equally nice the next day for morning tea.

Almond and Jam Tart (adapted from Donna Hay magazine)

Shortcrust pastry to line the tart tin
1 c ground almonds
¼ c sugar
½ c flour
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
75g melted butter
1 c jam of your choice
beaten egg yolk and raw sugar for sprinkling

· Roll out ¾ pastry to line a 15x30cm tart tin
· Combine ground almonds, sugar, flour, egg, vanilla and melted butter and spread over tart base.
· Bake at 180c for 15 minutes or until golden
· Spread jam over almond mixture, roll out rest of pastry and cut into strips or shapes and place over top of jam
Paint beaten egg yolk over the pastry and sprinkle with raw sugar

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Almond Fingers

Last week mentioned my new book Ladies A Plate. While it contains a lot of recipes I remember, some of them are new to me. This is one of those recipes – almond fingers. I made these as another tin filler when my in laws came. My mother in law said that she used to make these regularly and both in-laws loved them, as did my husband and I.

The way of making these is a bit unusual in that you make an almond shortbread base, cover it with the topping (a basic meringue with flaked almonds scattered over the top) and then slice into fingers and bake. If I hadn’t had a method to follow, I would have cut the base into fingers and then spread on the topping – I actually might do that next time as it was cut messy cutting the merningued tops.

I love the old fashionedness of these biscuits. I actually stored them in a tin as opposed to a Tupperware container, as I could just imagine my Nana making them and keeping them in a tin. I bet she would have loved them! Next time I make them I am going to take my time (which will be a new experience for me!!) and try and cut them into neater fingers. When I made these ones, I had had a couple of glasses of wine and it was getting late in the evening! I cant wait to try some other recipes from this book – next on the list is afghans which I have never been very good at making!

Almond Fingers (from Ladies A Plate)

115g flour
¼ tsp baking powder
55g butter
115g sugar
35g ground almonds
1 egg, separated
¼ tsp almond essence
60g icing sugar
40 g flaked almonds

· Combine flour and baking powder and rub in butter
· Stir in sugar, ground almonds, egg yolk and almond essence to make a soft dough
· Chill for 30 minutes then roll out into a rectangle about 30x20cm
· In the meantime, beat the egg white until stiff peaks form, then beat in icing sugar to make a glossy meringue
· Spread the meringue over the base and sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Leave to set for an hour, then cut into fingers and bake at 180c for 20-25 minutes

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Filling the Tins

My in-laws came to stay in the weekend and like any good daughter-in-law who loves to bake, I filled the tins. One of the things I bakes was these polenta cookies. They look like plain little cookies but the polenta gives a lovely subtle crunch. They are topped with a nugget of crystallised apple but you could also try crystallised ginger or dried apricots. You could also add spices (cardamom or vanilla would be good). They were also really easy to make, as there was no rolling or cutting involved – simply roll into balls, stud with your topping and let the oven do the rest!

Last night when I went to buy fish for dinner, salmon was on special. Salmon is one of my favourite foods and now it is often cheaper than terakihi or gurnard which are my week day choices for fish. It was delicious too – inspired by a Julie Le Clerc recipe I coated the salmon in a mix of equal amounts of ground coriander, ground cumin and paprika with a pinch of dried oregano and chilli powder, salt and pepper and oven roasted it. I served it with brown rice which I infused with a couple of kaffir lime leaves and broccoli and baby spinach stir fried with garlic, ginger and a dash each of Chinese cooking wine and soy sauce. It was a very clean and healthy tasting meal!

Polenta Cookies

125g butter
½ c icing sugar
¼ c polenta
1 egg yolk
1 c flour
crystallised fruit of choice

· Cream butter and icing sugar
· Beat in polenta and egg yolk
· Mix in flour to make a firm dough
· Roll into balls and place on tray. Press a cube of crystallised ginger into each cookie
· Bake at 180c for 10 minutes or until lightly golden