Sunday, December 23, 2007

daring bakers do it again!

This month, the daring bakers challenge has a Christmas theme! It is a yule log. In NZ we have adopted many Northern hemisphere traditions, but the yule log is not one of them. A yule log is basically a sponge filled with a creamy filling, rolled up and then covered in buttercream and decorated to look like a log. The rules were that we could chose whatever flavour spong we wanted and whatever flavour filling we wanted, but had to decorate the log with a dark coloured buttercream - coffee was suggested. we also had to make meringue or marzipan mushrooms to decorate the log.

We went out for dinner last night and I volunteered to make dessert, so thought I would make my log for that. I decided to make a chocolate log and fill it with whipped cream and sliced strawberries whcih is more in keeping for a NZ Christmas. I covered the log with chocolate buttercream.

My meringues were a real disaster (see above)!!!! I normally pride myslef on being a reasonable meringue maker, but for the gods were against me on these babies!! First of all, I decided to half the mixture, but for some reason I did 2/3 of the egg whites, so I had too much egg white for sugar. Then I turned the oven off early as I had to race back to work for a last minute Christmas settlement. Then I took the meringues out of the oven before they were completely cool - I usually leave them in over night. AS a result my "mushrooms" don't look remotely mushroom like! I toook them off before we took it out for dinner.

I was delighted with teh butter cream though. it was delicious and set perfectly. All in all it was a success, mushrooms aside. Once again I attempted something i havent made before and learned new techniques. I wish you could see what it looked like when it was cut open as it looked great with teh strawberries and cream and was delicious!!! See how the other daring bakers did here.

have a wonderful Christmas and happy holidays. I am off for 3 weeks now. Thanks everyone for reading!! It has been a fun few months and my blog is certainly filling the void for writing a cook book!!! I look forward to next year!!! :0)

Friday, December 21, 2007

cute cookies

I am so delighted with these cute cookies. I was at the hairdressers on Saturday and in one of the magazines was this recipe for decorated hazelnut shortbread biscuits. I don’t normally ever rip out pages of magazines that I don’t own, but I did on Saturday!!! I slyly ripped out the page and put it in my handbag!!! I was slightly shocked at myself, but I really needed the visual to see what the biscuits looked like!

The mixture called for ground hazelnuts. I was planning on grinding my own, but I remembered that I had some ground macadamia nuts in the cupboard, so I decided to substitute those. The cookies in the magazine were all beautifully decorated in a mixture of white and dark chocolate. To make things simple for myself, I dipped all of mine in white chocolate and then decorated them with these really cute icing santa clauses that I bought at the Albany farmers market, and some Christmas sprinkles I got from the supermarket. I am so pleased with them! They look lovely and festive and also taste yummy! They cooked to a nice consistency and kept their shape well! What more could I want!!!

Over the weekend I will be making the last minute wee treats to give on Christmas day. The other things I plan on making are some savoury biscuits, some spice biscuits and some fruit mince chocolate truffles. I am making a gift basket for my mother in law for Christmas, so I want to fill it with things that she will like. That might be my first post for next year as on Monday I am off on holiday for 3 weeks!! Yay!!!

Hazelnut shortbread

125g butter
¼ c icing sugar
1 tbsp rice flour
1 c flour
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp ground hazelnuts

· Cream butter and icing sugar, then mix in dry ingredients
· Roll out and cut into shapes
· Bake at 150 deg for about 15-20 minutes
Decorate with melted chocolate

Thursday, December 20, 2007

colourful Christmas fare

More Christmas fare to give as gifts!! This time it is meringues and candy canes.

I am one of those people who doesn’t like to waste things, so I always end up with leftover egg whites in little plastic bags in the freezer!!! Meringues are quite a good thing to give people at Christmas as they look nice and can be useful for them to have on Christmas day. I use a Ruth Pretty meringue recipe which has a ratio of 70g castor sugar to 1 egg white. This year I decided to make them a bit more festive by colouring them with green swirls. I was going to do red ones as well, but time got the better of me. I piped half of the mixture and did the other half in free form. I like the shape of the piped ones (see above), but the free form ones (see below)had more of a green swirl which I like better.

The candy canes aren’t quite as cool as I had hoped for. I like the colours and everything, it’s just that my icing is a bit messy. I think one of my goals next year is to go to a biscuit decorating class. I have done one in the past, but a refresher would be good. Part of my problem is that I am a bit quick!! I think if I slowed down a bit I would get a better result!! Maybe that could be my new year resolution? The gingerbread biscuit recipe is one I have been using for years. Unfortunately the biscuits soften once iced, but I don’t think there is anything you can do to stop that. Sometimes if I don’t feel like ginger biscuits (or more likely, have run out of ground ginger!) I substitute the ginger with 2 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp mixed spice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

florentines and a summer salad

More Christmas treats got made last night. I had actually made these Florentines in the weekend, but spread them with chocolate last night. The recipe came from the latest cuisine magazine. I am not usually a big Florentine person as I don’t like dried fruit or glace cherries or things like that, but these ones just had almonds in them, so they were pretty good!!!

I spread some of them with white chocolate and some with dark. I wanted to do the fork tines pattern, but to be honest had lost patience with the whole thing by then!!! It has been pretty humid the last few days and baking in the heat can be tiring!

Last night for dinner I made a smoked fish, new potato and broad bean salad for dinner. When I went to get the fish, they didn’t have any that appealed, so I nervously bought kippered hoki. The girl at the shop told me it is half cooked. So I put it on a baking tray and cooked it for about 12 minutes at 200. It was so delicious!!! I think I will buy it again instead of smoked fish as it wasn’t as dry as smoked hoki can be, but still had the delicious smoked flavour. I like to peel broad beans, so that you don’t have that tough grey outer skin. It really does make all the difference and doesn’t take as long as you might think. I combined the fish, new potatoes and broad beans with some rocket, chilli flakes, lemon juice, lemon infused olive oil and lots of cracked pepper. A really nice light meal after all the rich food we have been eating lately!

Almond Florentines

50g butter
50g castor sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
50ml cream
140g sliced almonds
dark or white chocolate to melt to spread the Florentines with

· Melt the butter, sugar, golden syrup and cream together. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and stir in the almonds
· Leave for a few minutes and then place teaspoonfuls on trays
· Bake at 180 for 5 minutes, then push together if spreading with a small palette knife. Bake for a further 5 minutes
· When cold spread with chocolate

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A very rich slice!

We had our work Christmas bbq on Sunday – bbq at Long bay beach. Santa Claus came of course. It was a really fun afternoon, taking me back to my childhood of Christmas parties with Santa! We all had to bring either a salad or a pudding. I much prefer to make dessert, so made this double chocolate slice. The recipe is a Julie Le Clerc one that was in the herald newspaper when she used to write for that. I ripped it out ages ago and it has been in my recipe box waiting to be made!

The slice is very delicious, but very rich!!!! It is almost like a brownie base with a white chocolate fudge on top. I cut it into quite small pieces, as you don’t need much of it. It was quite a good thing for a bbq as well as you don’t need a plate or a spoon. The recipe just called for chocolate melts and I used nestle chocolate melts – dark on the bottom and white on the top. They seemed to work well.

Double Chocolate Slice (Julie Le Clerc recipe from the NZ Herald)

300g dark chocolate
125g butter
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
¾ c flour
¾ c cocoa

· Melt together the butter and chocolate; stir in the sugar and the beaten eggs
· Stir in the sifted flour and cocoa
· Pour into a 23cm square lined tin and bake for about 35 minutes at 180deg
· Once cool, cover with following topping and refrigerate until firm

375g white chocolate melts
50g butter
395g tin condensed milk

· Melt all ingredients together.

Last night we had a simple tart for dinner – shortcrust pastry filled with roasted red onions, red and yellow peppers, olives, feta, basil leaves and parmesan. It was lovely to have something fairly light. We had it with a tomato salad with some delicious tomatoes that really tasted like summer!

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I spent Saturday afternoon making some wee treats for Christmas gifts. Things are a bit more relaxed now that I don’t sell my wee treats at Christmas. I think back to about 3 years ago when I had nearly $4000 worth of orders – you can imagine how many dozen shortbread, truffles etc I had to make to fill those orders!!!

While I like to try new things there are always a few tried and true Christmas baking favourites. These include Christmas mince tarts and shortbread. I don’t like mince tarts myself – I don’t like dried fruit. I always make little ones as they are quick and easy to put together. This year I had some fruit mince leftover from last year – a traditional one that I make every year using a Ruth Pretty recipe and a rhubarb and vanilla one. I only made 4 dozen tarts and I still have a little fruit mince left, so I think I will use it to make some fruit mince truffles – I am sure my father-in-law would love those!

My other Christmas staple is shortbread – this year I have made some small angels. I may make more later in the week. Everyone seems to love shortbread! I like quite pale shortbread, so the trick is to cook it long and slow. I think the wee angels look really cute.

I also made the cointreau truffles I mentioned last week. I have my own truffle recipe (sorry, top secret!!). I make a myriad of flavours, baileys and white chocolate being the most popular. The white chocolate and cointreau are pretty good though.

Friday, December 14, 2007

cupcake hero #2

The cupcake hero challenge for December is mint. A few years ago I made a cake to take on a picnic which was a coconut cake with mint syrup. It was really yummy and something along those lines was what came to mind when I started thinking about a mint inspired cupcake.

Next thought was what goes well with mint as I didn’t want to just replicate the coconut and mint syrup cake. Strawberries are one of my favourite things and they have a real affinity with mint, so I decided to pair the mint flavour with strawberries. The next thought that popped into my mind was cream. Even though I love making cupcakes I don’t always love eating them as I find the buttercream style of icing very sweet. I thought that topping my cakes with whipped cream would be a good alternative for these cakes, especially as strawberries and cream are another classic combination!

So, here is my cake, a basic vanilla cake (I made a vanilla variation of my favourite chocolate cupcake recipe) but with a mint syrup, topped with whipped cream with strawberries folded through and garnished with more strawberry and a little mint leaf. I guess I could call them mint syrup and strawberry cupcakes!

I took them to book club end of year drinks last night. They are really yummy – the mint gives them a freshness and the strawberries and cream are delicious!


100g butter, softened
180 g sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste (I used vanilla paste which you can now get at supermarkets)
150g flour
2 tsp baking powder
100ml warm milk

· Cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs one at a time and then vanilla
· Stir in flour and b powder alternately with milk
· Spoon into 12 cupcake cases and bake at 180deg for about 18 minutes
· When cold, drizzle with following hot syrup (or when hot drizzle with the cooled syrup)

½ c sugar
½ c water
juice of one lemon
a couple of sprigs of mint leaves

· Stir ingredients over heat until the sugar dissolves, then simmer for about 3 minutes

Top the cupcakes with whipped cream that you have folded crushed strawberries through (I used 300ml cream beaten with 1 tbsp icing sugar and one punnet of strawberries which I pureed in my min prep) and top with a slice of strawberry and a mint leaf.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baking disasters - aka doing too much!

I had hoped never to have to report on a cooking disaster! But last night was a disaster. Once again a case of me trying to do too much!!! We had our work Christmas lunch yesterday (at the Hunting Lodge which was just divine!!). I was so full of food I didn’t feel like dinner, but I quickly cooked some fresh fish (smeared it with a cashew nut and coriander pesto I had made last week and hot roasted it), roasted some asparagus and cooked some jersey benne potatoes for my husband. I also made the cupcake part of my recipe for the December cupcake hero challenge (more about that tomorrow), then decided that I also should make some wee treats as gifts for people I am seeing in the next few days.

Disaster number 1 is easily fixed as I can make some more, but I had made the mint syrup for my cupcakes and had left it sitting on the stove. My husband kindly tidied up from dinner, and threw out my mint syrup!!!!! Hmm, I won’t write what I said (or yelled!!!!).

Disaster number 2. I had seen a recipe in a book for macaroon angels – shortbread style biscuits cut into the shape of angels and then topped with a macaroon topping. They looked beautiful in the book, but what a disaster!!! After I put the macaroon topping on my angels, they looked more like large blobs than angels. I was so disappointed!!! They tasted delicious and my husband said he was happy to have the deformed angels in the cookie tin for his lunches. Sadly, I felt defeated, so quickly whipped up another batch of my Christmas fudge, this time flavouring it with a good slosh of baileys, leaving out the fruit and nuts and topping it with silver dragees.

I then did the dishes and was about to put the deformed angels in the tin, when I had a thought that maybe I could use a little round cutter to make little round macaroon biscuits. So, that’s I what I did. Unfortunately all my hard work only made 12 little rounds (all the scraps went into the cookie tin), but at least that is one gift I can give. I think I will give them to some elderly clients I am going to see tomorrow.

I’ve just realised too that I gave the person who I made the baileys fudge for (my hairdresser!), baileys fudge last year! So I may have to whip up some white chocolate and cointreau truffles for her tonight before I go to yet another function!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas fudge

Last night I got home from a function where I had eaten too many nibbles to be bothered with dinner!!! But my husband asked if I could make some wee treats for some of his work colleagues as a Christmas thank you. I didn’t really feel like turning on the oven, so I made my Christmas stand by – chocolate fudge. I make this every Christmas. It is really easy to make and tastes delicious. People always seem to be appreciative of it.

Last night I made cranberry and almond fudge because that is what I had on hand, but I have also made it plain and put chopped macadamias on top or plain with silver drageeze on top. I have also done cranberry and pecan and dried apricot and almond. One day I want to make pistachio, but I never seem to have pistachios in the cupboard when I want to make it! I used Cadbury old gold chocolate last night to make the fudge as that is what I had in the cupboard. You could also use chocolate that already had nuts etc in it – that would be a more economical way of making it.

I also have to show you this very cool bag that my friend Jenny made me for Christmas. She is so clever!!! The buckle is one of her Grandma’s clip on earrings – so gorgeous!!!!

Christmas Fudge

500g dark chocolate
70g butter
397g tin condensed milk
½ c slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1 c craisins (dried cranberries)

· Melt together the chocolate, butter and condensed milk
· Stir in the almonds and craisins
Pour into a lined 23cm square tin and chill until firm

Monday, December 10, 2007

yummy yo-yos!

It was another busy weekend full of functions and my Mum was staying with us as well, so not much cooking or baking was done. I actually made a yummy white chocolate torte which I decorated with white chocolate dipped strawberries to take to a bbq yesterday, but it was a hectic morning and the torte was still warm as we were leaving, so I assembled it at our friend’s house and didn’t get to take a photo!

I did have a small window of time yesterday afternoon and wanted to make some wee treats for two staff members who have both had a sad couple of weeks. I didn’t have any eggs left after making the torte and I asked Mum if it was her, what would she like to be given. She said yo-yos. I love yo-yos too. They are one of the baking staples I was brought up with. Mum presses hers down with a meat tenderiser which puts a really nice square pattern on them. However, I just use a fork. I tend to make really little ones as I think they look nicer, and it’s nice just to have a small bite.

Instead of yo-yos made with the traditional custard powder, I made them plain and filled them with passionfruit butter icing. A nice traditional treat!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fresh snapper and Christmas cards!

There hasn’t been much cooking going on this week with functions virtually every night, so not much to report. Although we did have a really yummy dinner on Monday night. A friend gave me some beautiful fresh snapper which I pan fried and we had it with the most gorgeous little jersey benne potatoes (I am not a big potato fan, but there is nothing like new season Jersey bennes – the best new potatoes which come from Oamaru!), which were honestly no bigger than the size of your thumb from your knuckle!!!, and a salad made from rocket, cherry tomatoes and asparagus, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. I also made a lemony mayonnaise which went really well with the fish and the potatoes. So simple but so nice!

I bought the potatoes and the tomatoes from the Auckland farmers market at Alexandra Park on Sunday. It was the first time we had been to the market – it is quite impressive and I hope it continues to grow.

The photo of the cards above are two Christmas cards that I made in the weekend. Hope to be doing some Christmas baking over the weekend to report on next week!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

banana and macadamia cupcakes with passionfruit icing

I had three very sad looking bananas languishing in the fruit bowl. Normally I would make these into muffins for the freezer, but on Sunday afternoon I decided to use them to make banana cupcakes. I think just plain old banana cake can be a bit boring, so after looking through some books and magazines I based my recipe on the one below from an old Donna Hay magazine. I had also bought some macadamia nuts last week and being in danger of eating them all I decided to add them to the banana cakes for a bit of texture. It worked really well actually. Macadamia nuts have a slight tropical feel to them and they seem to go well with bananas. They are my favourite nuts and sometimes I will get a few at the supermarket to eat while I am packing my groceries!!

The recipe I followed had a passionfruit drizzle, but cupcakes require something a bit more than that I think, so I made a passionfruit butter cream icing and swirled it on the top of the cakes. I think they looked pretty good and they tasted nice as well.

By the way, my limoncello is delicious!!!! I decanted it last night and have put one bottle in the wine cellar and one in the freezer. Now I just hope that I have the willpower not to keep having a wee tipple from the freezer each night!!!

Banana & macadamia cupcakes with passionfruit icing (adapted from Donna Hay magazine)

125g softened butter
¾ c castor sugar
½ c brown sugar
3 eggs
2 c flour
2 tsp b powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¾ c sour cream (I used cyclops natural yoghurt)
1 c mashed banana (I used three)
1 c chopped macadamia nuts (my own variation)

· Cream butter and sugars; add eggs, one at a time
· Fold in dry ingredients and then mix in sour cream, bananas and macadamia nuts
· Spoon into 24 cupcakes cases and bake at 180 for about 18 minutes
· Ice with the following passionfruit icing

Beat together 50g softened butter, ¼ c passionfruit pulp, 1 tbsp milk and about 5 c icing sugar

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A lemony pudding

On Saturday night we had friends over for a bbq. Bbq season is great as there is no worrying about the timing of cooking the meat etc!!!! For nibbles I made some guacamole and bought some corn chips. I also cooked the quails eggs which I bought at the Matakana farmers market a couple of weeks ago. Very fiddly to peel!!!! Once I peeled them, I cut them in half and rolled them in dukkah. They were quite nice for a change and a bit of a talking point.

For the main, I marinated steak in a mix of soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil and brown sugar. Then I did two salads – an orzo salad with blanched asparagus, feta and rocket and a roast tomato salad with bacon and balsamic drizzle drizzled over it. Both salads were really yummy and really easy to make.

Pudding is pictured above (and I apologise for the poor quality of the photograph!! – it was quite dark in my dimly lit 1970s kitchen and I was quickly trying to take the photo and serve pudding to my guests at the same time!!). It was based on a recipe from Julie le Clerc for strawberry and limoncello tiramisu. Basically it was a sponge cake (which I made) cut in three and layered with limoncello (I didn’t have any so used a mixture of lemon juice and vodka), mascarpone mixed beaten with eggs and sugar and strawberries (which I got from the Albany Farmers Market – they were the best strawberries I have had all year and I managed to eat a whole double punnet by myself over the course of the afternoon!). To be honest, I wasn’t really a fan – there seemed to be something missing; maybe it was because I didn’t use limoncello!!! Although our guests thought it was tasty.

By the way, I decided to make limoncello on Saturday, but it has to steep for 48 hours, so I will be decanting it tonight. I hope it is delicious!!

Monday, December 3, 2007

cookies for Piper

My sister asked me to make some cupcake shaped cookies for my niece’s 4th birthday. This is not just the silly season for me but the completely mad season with lunches and functions almost every day and night! So to be honest I didn’t really have a lot of time, but I still made the cookies. I am a little disappointed with how they turned out. I had a bit of an icing nightmare to be honest, breaking icing bags and wrong consistency icing – that’s what happens when I try and do things too quickly – which is most of the time!!

Anyway, as my husband said, four year olds are not going to be too worried. I hope Piper and her friends enjoy them!

This is the card I made for her birthday.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tips on chocolate

Last night a friend of my husband’s came for dinner. I did chicken breasts (free range of course!) which I rolled in chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and then wrapped in proscuitto and baked, roast kumara and jersey benne potatoes with a sour cream dressing (from the latest Dish magazine) and broccoli. But the piece de resistance was pudding! Ever since I got the Donna Hay Instant Entertaining book a couple of years ago I have wanted to make the recipe for molten chocolate puddings. I made them last night.

They were so delicious, but incredibly rich!! I can stomach pretty rich food but even I couldn’t eat my whole pudding and it really needed the cream to cut through the richness.

A few people have asked me to blog about the type of chocolate I use in my baking, so now is probably an appropriate time to do that. I always look for chocolate that has greater than 60% cocoa solids – my favourite is whittakers 70% and I also use Cadbury old gold which has 70% cocoa solids. You can get quite good results with the whittakers and Cadbury dark chocolates that have about 47% cocoa solids, but to get the really chocolatey flavour, you need more. The percentage is always listed in the ingredients list. I never use cooking chocolate as it is not really chocolate and I have never bought the really expensive stuff like valhrona as I reckon Whittakers is very good. For things like ganache and dipping truffles I use dark chocolate melts (only nestle) because they set quickly and if the filling is rich I don’t think you need such good quality chocolate. Anyway, if you have anymore questions, post a comment – but try these puddings, they are a real treat!!!!

Molten chocolate puddings

¼ c flour
1/3 c icing sugar
¾ c ground almonds
2 egg whites, beaten
80 g butter, melted
160g dark chocolate, melted
4 x 10g pieces dark chocolate

· Mix all ingredients (apart from the chocolate pieces) together.
· Divide half the mixture between 4 greased ramekins, pop a square of chocolate on top and then top up with the remaining mixture
· Bake at 160deg for 20 minutes
· Leave for 5 minutes before turning out on plates
· Serve while still warm so that the centres are flowing

Thursday, November 29, 2007

fruit cake and cous cous!

Fruit cake is not something that I like (actually I don’t like dried fruit at all), but once again it seemed like a good thing to take down to Taupo with us –Mum and Dad both really like it and it is energy dense for the bike riders!!

Christmas cake is usually the only fruit cake I make (normally I make about 20 of them, but this year have decided not to make any!!!). But I found this recipe in Taste magazine for a fruit cake with bits of chocolate in it – which of course appealed (even though I didn’t eat any of it!). The only change I made to the recipe was to add more sultanas and currants and take out the glace cherries which I know my Mum doesn’t like. The whole cake got eaten over the weekend and had good reviews. Mum said she didn’t mind the chocolate for a change, but probably prefers it without.

On a different note for dinner last night, I made lemon rubbed lamb steaks with grilled vegetable cous cous from Cuisine. Cous cous can often be quite boring, but I have two things that I nearly always put in it which seems to make it a bit more interesting – lemon juice and chicken stock. I often add a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard as well. It also can take a reasonable amount of salt (like any starchy carbohydrate in my view!!). Chopped nuts are also a good addition as the texture adds some interest. Quite a quick and easy yummy dinner.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

chocolate cheesecake brownie

In the weekend we went to Taupo because my husband and father rode round the lake in the Great Lake Cycle challenge (they did really well!!! Both with excellent times!!). My Mum and two of my three sisters came as well. An excellent excuse to do some baking!!! Brownie is always a good thing to take away as it is easy to eat and keeps well. I have my favourite brownie recipe which I adapted from another recipe (one day I will post it!), but this time I decided to do something different – hence the cheesecake brownie from Donna Hay’s chocolate book (this book seems to be getting used all the time lately!!).

The only thing I changed with the recipe, is that I used dutched cocoa rather than normal Cadburys. Dutched cocoa is processed in a different way, giving it a much stronger and intense flavour. The brand I used was equagold which is a New Zealand brand and it can be bought from my supermarket, but also specialist delicatessens. As I have been disappointed in un-chocolately flavoured baking lately, I wanted my brownie to be quite rich.

The brownie wasn’t as gooey as I like – you had to make sure that you cooked it long enough for the topping to set properly. One of my sisters said she thought it needed some chocolate chunks in the base as well. That would have made it quite delicious! So if you make this brownie, try that!!!

Chocolate cheesecake brownie

185g butter
¼ c cocoa
1 c castor sugar
2 eggs
1 c flour

250g cream cheese
6 tbsp castor sugar
2 eggs

· Mix together first 5 ingredients and pour into lined 20cm square tin
· Beat the last three ingredients together and spoon over the brownie mix, swirling to make a marbled effect
Bake at 170deg for about 35-40 minutes

Monday, November 26, 2007

I am officially a daring baker!

When I first read about the daring bakers on another blog I was so excited – this sounded exactly like my kind of thing!! I love to challenge myself and even better accept a challenge from someone else. The daring bakers are a group of bloggers and each month a different member gets to chose the recipe for the month. Each daring baker has to make the challenge and post about it on the same day. I duly applied for membership and was accepted!!! Nervously I waited to see what my first challenge would be.
I must say I was a little disappointed after reading about the fabulous sticky buns, chocolate caramel tart and other sweet confections of months gone by to find out the November challenge was potato bread chosen by Tanna from My kitchen in half cups. I know not many people make bread, but I do, not really regularly, but often – usually on a Saturday afternoon if it is just going to be the two of us for dinner and sometimes on a Sunday if I feel like some nice fresh bread with lunch. However, I have never made potato bread before and usually I use my kenwood cake mixer rather than knead the recipe by hand as the recipe called for.

So, last weekend, I duly cooked my potatoes and following the recipe to the letter, I made my potato bread. I decided to make my bread into foccacia to go with the salmon salad we were having with dinner. There were some variations allowed for the topping, but with it being my first challenge, I thought I would stick close to the recipe and make the suggested rosemary and sea salt topping.

I used my potato ricer to “mash” the potatoes. I think that helped with keeping a smooth texture for the bread. The only thing I couldn’t get at the supermarket (although you can get it at the organic store, but it wasn’t open when I started making the bread) was unbleached flour, so I just used plain. The recipe said that the mixture was quite wet so I was conscious of not adding too much flour. The kneading part went not too badly – I don’t think I kneaded it as much as I should have but it didn’t make too much difference to the end result.

The dough rose a lot more than other breads I have made – maybe it was because the mixture was more wet or maybe it was the kneading by hand? I made one large foccacia with it, and sprinkled it liberally with chopped rosemary, sea salt and drizzled it with good olive oil. The bread baked beautifully. The crust was lovely and crispy and the inside was fluffy. Even though I only made one loaf, it made enough for us to have some with our dinner (dipped into beautiful parmesan oil which I bought at Sileni Estate in the Hawkes Bay earlier in the year), and I was able to cut the remainder into two decent sized loaves which I froze for another day. My husband said it was some of the best foccacica he has tasted!!! And that is my seal of approval!!!

So, even though initially I wasn’t too excited about my first challenge , in the end it gave me everything I hoped for – I tried something different, using a new technique and it was successful. I cant wait for the December challenge!!! You can see how the other daring bakers did here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

chocolate pecan slice

One of my naughty sneaky treats when there is nothing else sweet in the house is to dip a teaspoon into the condensed milk tin, sprinkle a couple of chocolate chips on top and eat it! You are probably thinking yuck! But I love the taste of condensed milk and chocolate together. So when I saw that you can now by chocolate flavoured condensed milk I had to buy it!!

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it though and it has been sitting in the pantry for a while. But a few months ago I cut out a recipe from Taste magazine for a slice that used the chocolate condensed milk. I made it last night. The base is a simple butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and flour mix and the topping is simply the tin of condensed milk melted together with some milk chocolate. I dotted the top with pecans. At first I thought that the base was too cakey, but after my second piece(!) it is really yummy! Best kept in the fridge and eaten cold from there.

By the way I have posted before about the good vanilla that I use and that I also keep some cheaper stuff for baking for home. Well, Hansells have brought out a new vanilla that is obviously not as good quality as the real stuff (the price is too cheap for that!) but that has vanilla seeds in it and is pretty jolly good!! I bought some in the weekend (it is about $6) and used it in the slice base last night. I would use it again for recipes where the vanilla flavour is not too pronounced – it is not as good as the good stuff but is miles and miles ahead of any “imitation vanilla essence”.

Chocolate pecan slice

125g butter melted
½ c brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ c flour
1 tsp b powder

· Mix all ingredients together, press into a 27 x 18cm slice tin
· Bake at 180deg for 10 minutes

1 x 395g tin chocolate condensed milk
1 c chopped milk chocolate

Melt these ingredients together, pour over partially booked base and top with chopped nuts (I used pecans). Bake for a further 20 minutes at 180 deg

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

is it a cupcake or a muffin?

Our neighbours came over last night to have a look at the plans for the new house to make sure that they are happy with them. I quickly whipped up some muffins, using this recipe for chocolate peanut muffins from Taste magazine – I guess they are a little like a muffin version of a peanut slab.

So, what makes these muffins instead of cupcakes? I think a lot of it is to do with the texture – cakes are a lot airier than muffins which have a denser texture. Also, cakes tend to have a higher fat content and often more eggs than muffins. Muffins are usually just made by combining the wet and dry ingredients separately and then mixing together. Also, muffins usually don’t have icing whereas cakes often do.

I don’t usually bake my muffins in cupcake cases either – but I have discovered that where muffins have chunks of chocolate in them, no matter how well you grease the tins, the chocolate can get stuck in the tin. Putting them into paper cases saves this happening.

These muffins were nice. The chunks of chocolate definitely made them, otherwise they would be quite plain. I only used the 3tbsp cocoa suggested in the recipe, but mine didnt look nearly as dark as the photo in the magazine - they probably could have done with a bit more cocoa, but then I am quite a chocolate fan!!! The recipe suggested putting a square of chocolate on top, but I didn't, as I thought I was likely to eat all the tops of them!!! :0) Good lunch box fillers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

a quick and easy cake

In the weekend my husband had a work picnic. Even though the company was providing the bbq, I thought it would be nice to bring a cake. I made this cake using a recipe from Nigel Slater’s book The Kitchen Diaries. I love the way Nigel Slater writes. This book in particular is more of a memoir than a cook book, even though it contains hundreds of recipes. But it is the stories that go with the food that is interesting – his reason for making particular things. Also, the book is about eating in seasons which I think is really important.

Interestingly this pear and blueberry cake is not really that seasonal even though I picked it from May chapter which is the equivalent of our southern hemisphere November. Pears are more autumnal and even though we are heading into berry season we are not quite there yet and the cost of fresh blueberries is prohibitive. So, I used frozen blueberries but fresh pears. This was an incredibly easy cake to make and it tasted really good as well. We obviously had it cold at the picnic, but it would be delicious warm with whipped cream!! You could also use pretty much any fruit on top - a great stand by to whip up for unexpected visitors!!

Last night’s dinner was yummy – fish (gurnard which is my favourite!) spread with a paste of dill and parsley (both from Matakana market), Dijon mustard and lemon juice then flash roasted, with a Greekish salad of cucumber, red pepper, tomatoes (all from the Matakana market!) and olives with a dressing of natural yoghurt (Cyclops is my favourite!!), chopped mint and basil, lemon juice and feta. Lovely and summery and also pretty healthy!!!

Pear and Blueberry cake (Nigel Slater)

130g butter
130g castor sugar
2 eggs
130g flour
1 tsp baking powder
250g blueberries
2 small pears, peeled, cored and diced

· Cream butter and sugar then add eggs, one at a time
· Stir in flour and baking powder
· Spoon into lined 20cm square cake tin. Scatter blueberries and pears over top and sprinkle with some extra sugar
Bake at 180 deg for 45-50 minutes

Monday, November 19, 2007

A trip to the markets

On Saturday we went to Matakana with some friends. I love going up there – the farmers market is just fantastic and the way they are re-creating the wee town is awesome! I love going to markets because you can talk to the people who grown and create the produce. I also like to find some different things – things you don’t normally find in the fruit and veggie shop.

Saturday was a gorgeous day weather wise and the market was busy. I got some fabulous things – beautiful strawberries (I ate nearly the whole punnet giving my husband only 2!!), freshly dug Maori potatoes, beautiful dill, rosemary and parsley, gorgeous vine tomatoes and some lovely mustard among other things. I also got some quail eggs – not sure what I am going to do with them yet!! I was also pleased to see that some of my favourite stall holders from the Takapuna markets are at the Matakana markets – good to know that I am not missing out by not being able to go up there each week!!!

When we came home on Saturday night I made a lovely hot smoked salmon salad for dinner using fresh asparagus and the dill from the market. The dressing was made with buttermilk, mayonnaise and fresh herbs. I didn’t have any mayonnaise in the fridge, so I made some. I just love the small bowl of my magimix food processor for making mayonnaise –it turns out perfectly every time!!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Am I a cupcake hero?

Well, this is my first blog event – cupcake hero challenge. The challenge for November was to create a cupcake with cranberries in it. I really tried hard to make my cupcakes interesting!! And I am so pleased and proud with how they have turned out!!!

Cranberries are not that easy to find in NZ. I did get some frozen ones last year which I used to make cranberry relish, but for the challenge I decided to use craisins – dried cranberries. As the challenge is from a US based blogger and it is November, I thought that I would try and incorporate some of the aspects of Thanksgiving into my cupcakes. I also wanted them to have a number of different elements – not just cake and icing.

So, using that as my starting point I looked through some of my books for inspiration and I came across a pear, pecan and cranberry up-side down cake. I worked the idea around in my head for a few days and came up with a cupcake topped with caramelised pears and craisins, then iced with maple syrup butter cream icing with a shard of pecan praline on top!!!! I was so excited when the idea came together!!

I am so pleased with how they look!! They also taste delicious – the cake is nice and light and then you get these bits of caramelised, slightly toffeed fruit through the cake (there are more cranberries in them than what it looks like in the photo). The icing is quite sweet and creamy and then the crunchy bits of pecan praline! Yum!!!

Caramelised pear & cranberry cupcakes with maple icing

3 pears, peeled and sliced
½ c craisins
50g butter
½ c castor sugar

· Melt together butter and sugar, add fruit and cook until caramelised

180g softened butter
300g castor sugar
3 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
315g flour
3 tsp baking powder
250ml milk

· Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, one at a time and vanilla
· Mix in flour and baking powder alternatively with milk
· Spoon into 24 cupcake cases. Top with the caramelised fruit and bake at 170deg for about 17 minutes

Make icing by creaming 200g softened butter with 2 tbsp maple syrup. Beat in about 4-5 c icing sugar and about ¼ c milk until you get the icing a good consistency

To make the praline, put 75ml water and 1 c sugar in a pot. Stir over a gentle heat until sugar is melted. Turn up heat and simmer until the toffee starts to caramelise. Stir in about ¾ c toasted pecans and turn out onto a tray. Break into pieces once cooled and hardened.

Ice the cooled cakes with the icing and then place a piece of praline on top :0)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

double chocolate cookies

I made these double chocolate cookies last night as a gift. There seems to be a bit of a chocolate theme going on for me at the moment!!! I actually do have a tried and true double chocolate cookie recipe (in fact I usually make them triple chocolate by adding in chunks of white chocolate as well) that I actually created, but, as you can probably tell I do try and use all the cook books and magazines that I buy and so last night I made a recipe from the Donna Hay chocolate book. I have used this book quite a lot lately and I like it.

These cookies were great. I added another 1/2c flour to the recipe as the mixture was way too moist. The end result was quite large cookies, probably a little flatter than I would like, but crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, with lots of large chunks of chocolate. I would make them again!

Double Chocolate Cookies

110g softened butter
¾ c brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2c flour (this includes the extra half cup that I added)
¼ c cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
125g dark chocolate, melted
190g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

· Cream butter and sugar; add egg and vanilla
· Stir in flour, cocoa and baking soda, then melted chocolate
· Stir through chocolate chunks
· Roll into balls, put on tray and flatten slightly
Bake at 170 deg for about 14 minutes