Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ginger & treacle pear cake

Droplets of cream intertwine with the amber caramel creating copper and tan coloured swirls; whirling together until they can no longer be distinguished as separate.
The heady nutmeg, invigorating ginger and fragrant cinnamon mingle with the sugar-spiced treacle urging me to inhale deeply as they flush my cheeks with their passionate scent.
I twirl my whisk to the sounds of a Parisian street accordion and classical strings, as the warmly whimsical La Valse D'Amelie dances across the walls and flows through my fingertips.

For me, the joy of baking is immense and nourishing; it's sunshine for my spirit.

Ginger and pear cake with caramel and clotted cream
from the April 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.
Serves 16
225 gm softened butter
250 gm dark brown sugar
3 beurre Bosc pears, cut into 8 wedges, core removed
450 gm plain flour, sieved
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp ground ginger
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp finely grated nutmeg
370 gm treacle
3 eggs
250 ml buttermilk
80 ml pouring cream
To serve: clotted cream

Preheat oven to 160C. Melt 100gm butter in a large frying pan over medium heat, scatter in half the sugar and stir until dissolved (3-5 minutes). Add pears and turn occasionally until golden and just cooked through (10-12 minutes). Remove pears with a slotted spoon, arrange in base of a 22cm-diameter cake tin lined with baking paper, set aside. Reserve remaining liquid in frying pan.
Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a bowl and set aside. Beat remaining butter and remaining sugar in an electric mixer until pale and creamy (3-5 minutes). Add treacle, then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition to combine. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture, in thirds, alternating with buttermilk, finishing with flour, until just combined. Pour over pears, bake until golden and an inserted skewer withdraws clean (1 hour 10 minutes-1 hour 20 minutes (mine cooked in 50mins). Cool in tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes, turn onto serving plate and cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat reserved pan juices over medium heat, whisk in pouring cream until combined. Serve with ginger and pear cake and clotted cream, if desired. Cake will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature, for 2 days.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 30mins.
cooking time: 50mins and 10mins resting (I cooked mine for 55mins and it was a touch overdone_.
total: 1hour & 35mins.

taste: 5/5. The first word out of everyone's mouth was an astounded 'OMG'. I kid you not.

Now, I'm not saying this cake is unattractive, but it is a little homely with its 'shades-of-brown' ensemble, so you can't blame us for underestimating its deliciousness. I should have known better just by looking at the spice selection alone that this cake was going to be awesome.

I can't even try to put it's yumminess into eloquent words because it was just so damn perfect for a cold, rainy evening that it needs no embellishment. It satisfied every single one of us just the right amount - no aching bellies or remorseful sugar rushes; just plain dessert excellence. I forgot the decadent clotted cream the first night but we didn't even notice its absence, we had already pledged our devotion to the cake - the spicy, moist, sweet, soft, sticky, delectable and covetable cake...

We had ours still warm from the oven.

would I make it again: OMG Yes - cold, rainy nights just won't be the same without it :(

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Outrageous brownies

6:55am. I brush the cobwebs from my eyes whilst blindly searching for my fluffy robe, wrapping it around me as I make a path through the pre-dawn darkness to my back-door. I wasn't waiting long. It was a subtle one today, barely made a sound with its hay coloured ears, lullaby blue belly and rose-hued slippers; it was such a peaceful way to start the morning that I plan on doing it again tomorrow. I doubt I will be bored, as a sunrise never plays the same tune; a new morning means a new painted sonata to listen to.

Watching a sunrise was on my list of life goals; experiences or tasks I wish to accomplish in this life. It was number 39 to be precise. The next randomly chosen item on my list was to start gratitude journal (#99, and so far I am enjoying it and foresee that it will be a habit I shall keep). I aim to complete one item from my list every month and if I finish what I have written and I can think of no more to add I will compile them into a photobook - a photograph next to each number, so I have a memento of what I did in my life.

To reward myself for completing two items I decided to make my favourite, indulgent treat ever - deeply rich and fudgy chocolate brownies. There ain't no better reward than a brownie.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 18mins.
cooking time: 30mins. Refrigerate once cooled to firm up, then slice.
total: 48mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Best brownie yet.

My ideal brownie is rich, with a fudge like center - no cakey ones for me thanks. Despite overcooking these for 5mins (toothpick kept coming out dirty but I realised that they just needed to be refrigerated to firm up) they came out great.
The crackled top gives way to a dense, cool chocolate core with broken walnuts buried within it's fudgy centre. My photos don't do them justice - check out the original photos to get a better idea of its dark middle (mine are also lighter as I used a 54% dark chocolate as hubby can't handle the dark side).

They are smoothly sweet without being sickly sugary which makes it far too easy to eat more than one consecutively. Out of the fridge they are quite firm, when eaten warm they tend to fall apart. Although not my perfect brownie, they come pretty close.

would I make it again: Yes. Unless I find an even better recipe.

recipe: Outrageous brownies

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Orange pudding

Finding a new blog gets me super excited - I will gleefully sit for hours, reading previous post after previous post as I get to know it.

My recent find is a great one. As I have mentioned before I am currently putting in an effort to be more positive and to fill each day with some happiness (it's a work in progress but I feel it's coming along nicely). So, as you can imagine, my delight at finding this aptly named blog - The Happiness Project - was like finding the perfect clutch to go with my little optimistic dress. And like any great find I shared it with my closest peeps - my mother was so inspired she decided to start her own happiness project and finally pursue her talent; writing. I couldn't be happier for her :).

Whilst browsing some of the posts I came along improve the morning, and lo-and-behold, the number one item was something I just recently put into practice myself: Tidy up the house before bed.
Now, I actually tidy as I go along during the day but there was one particular chore I would leave undone each and every night and each and every time I would HATE doing it in the morning. In case you do this as well, let me tell you how life-improving it is to:

Wash the dishes before you go to bed. 
You may feel like putting those dishes in the sink off until the morning, but there is just something so freeing and energising about getting up at sunup, walking barefoot into your kitchen and not having to do a single thing. Mornings should be chore-free pre-breakfast.
I find that the way I start my morning sets the tone for my entire day. A relaxed, stress-less morning creates a relaxed stress-free day; because being elbow deep in greasy pans and dirty dishes first thing never puts me in a good mood, and bad moods birth bad days. This habit alone of not leaving the dishes until day break has brought serenity to my mornings, allowing me to toil at my own pace in the bathroom and to happily have breakfast with my husband - and that makes it worth the pre-bed washing up.

A clean kitchen is also great for encouraging some bakin'. Weekends always call for a lavish leisurely lunch - dessert included :).

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 15mins - beat eggs whilst you prep the ramekins.
cooking time: 40mins.
total: 55mins.

taste: 4.5/5. These are ZEST-licious.

The first taste you get is of the bitter, deep marmalade syrup flecked with sunset-coloured zest, then the juicy, vibrant fresh orange swirls around your mouth, cleansing your palate in preparation for the moist, buttery pudding that leaves you with a warming sweetness. The orange allows this pudding to be comforting without slipping into the -too rich for another mouthful- stage, allowing you to eat spoonful after spoonful.

I would add an extra 1tbs of marmalade to the bottom of the ramekins as I would have loved the pudding to be lavishly drenched in the syrup..

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Orange puddings

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Coconut & lime macaroons

Another glorious sun-drenched morning - Autumn is being very generous indeed.

It seems the warmer the weather, the longer my husband takes to get ready in the morning; he just can't seem to leave for work. This particular morning, abetted by the warm winds, we went off in search of water pistols (or rather SuperSoakers) - toy store after toy store later, we remained empty handed as no one sells water guns in Autumn :(. Despite the disappointment we were still in good spirits and sat and chatted outside before he managed to tear himself away from the sunshine and head to his gloomy office.

What I love most about sunny days is the sunlight - nothing beats pitter-pattering around the kitchen whilst beams of light dance across the benchtops. The longer the light lingers, the longer I keep cooking.
I may have chosen this recipe purely to use up left-over egg whites, but after tasting them, I think I will have to search for recipes to use left-over egg yolks instead, as I don't think I could wait for excess whites to make these again.

ease: 5/5.
prep time: 10mins to get them all on the pans ready to go.
cooking time: 12mins.
total: 22mins.

taste: 4/5 - like an island holiday for your tongue.

The smell - my goodness the smell - it was sublime. The sweet, tropical coconut dances with the fresh bitter tang of the lime and creates a delicious breeze transporting me away to the Caribbean and other foreign islands. The aroma alone is worth the baking.

Now, as for the taste, well, let's start with the texture. These little marhmallow-shaped mounds had a wonderful sticky outer crust, tanned around the edges, and with a subtle firmness that only gave my teeth a slight resistance before letting them sink into the spongy, soft inner-belly. The coconut fills your mouth with its tropical sweetness, but before it becomes too much the citrus lime cuts through, it's fragrance stops the macaroon from becoming too sweet and monotonous - they are the perfect pairing.

I ate four of these straight from the oven, I won't lie...well, perhaps five but who's counting. Don't be fooled by their diminutive size and neutral shade, these little monsters are addictive.

I made some small and a few slightly bigger - I preferred the extra sponginess of the larger sized macaroons - I'd guess the recipe would probably make around 15 larger ones, and 24 smaller ones.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Coconut & lime macaroons

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bailey's & Kahlua Tiramisu

The thrill of Autumn; bringing a Summer's day when you need it most.

The previous week's concert of rainy recitals and chilly chorus lines was all but a forgotten dream as the vitalising sunlight made its way through the streets and into our hibernating bodies, bringing us back to life.  The strength of a warm, cloudless day to brighten spirits and put a spring in you step is unmatched - nothing is a quicker pick-me-up than a ray of sunshine after encores of dreariness.

It seems everyone was eager to step outside and bask in the warmth as I found the roads busy and the shopping precincts buzzing with people on a sun-drenched-high. My three childhood girlfriends met me at a cafe to fill our tummies and fill each other in, before we took our conversation street-side for some fresh air and hopefully colour on our cheeks. We parted ways after purchasing a few chocolates for the road and headed off to our prospective plans. I was lucky today in that I had no prospective plans so I was free to indulge myself in whatever way I chose.

The best thing about individual desserts is that you can save some for a later date, and although I made these two days ago, I got to dip my spoon into its depth whilst sitting on my porch step today - and in case you were wondering, it's delicious in both cold and hot weather :).

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 5mins to get ingredients ready.
cooking time: 18mins to get into glasses, and the longer in the fridge the better although you could serve straight away if necessary. I made the coffee mixture whilst the eggs were beating, and then poured a small amount into the saucepan straight away to reduce whilst I dipped the biscuits into the remaining liquid in the meantime.
total: 23mins plus cooling.

taste: 4.5/5 - my favourite Tiramisu yet.

Unless I find a better recipe this is will be the one I use, not only for it's taste but it's ease. The biscuits had the perfect blend of coffee with the wonderful intensified syrup at the bottom. The mascarpone mixture is what nailed it for me - it was so beautifully fluffy that it was like sinking my teeth into heaven's pillow. The Bailey's and Vanilla Kahlua (rather than Frangelico) gave it a wonderful creaminess and faint alcoholic strength that tied into the coffee and sweetness like two dancers doing the tango. It was sweeter than some tiramisus but well balanced and luxurious to eat.

I halved the recipe and made enough for 6 glasses.

would I make it again: Yes.
recipe: Tiramisu

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lamb & date tagine with pomegranate couscous

The best sleep occurs when I listen to gentle drops of rain as it pitter-patters on my roof, lulling me to dreamland with its monotonous hum; I am in love with rain-soaked nights.

Even better than a dew-covered sunrise is when my hubby decides to spend the day at home, unexpected and yet also wonderful. After working most of the morning, I decided to make him a satisfying lunch as normally he receives sandwiches as they are easier to transport and eat at a desk in under five minutes.

With a steaming plate of food we sat outside, eager to soak up whatever chilled sun-rays we could to combine the nourishment of food with some good ol' Vitamin D. It was a lunch well-spent.

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 5mins to prep ingredients.
cooking time: 40mins. I cooked the lamb in a normal pan and it only took 20mins rather than 2-3hours of final cooking time.
total: 45mins.

taste: 4.5/5. Middle eastern flair.

You will have to take my husbands word on this one - the combination of sweet, spicy and tart is a winner.

I chose to use Israeli couscous as I prefer the toothsome pearls with their gelatinous goodness to the regular sand-like grains.

would I make it again: Yes.

recipe: Lamb & date tagine with pomegranate couscous

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce & almond praline

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Now, I don't see lemons as a bad thing, but I do understand the optimistic message - it all depends on your perception. They say that optimists live longer, and generally happier lives; a pretty good incentive to be optimistic.

As Autumn wakes us up to chilly mornings, instead of complaining, I turn to my husband and we snuggle to warm up - it has become a really wonderful way to start the morning. During my school years I loved debating, as an adult I have put my ability to argue any side of a debate to good use by finding the positive side of something I would prematurely judge as negative, such as cold weather or waiting for an appointment (I use the time to read the magazines I no longer have to buy) - and now I find that instead of being surrounded by a plethora of negativity I find my life is full of positivity and wonderful things.

One such perk of cooler days is that certain heavy desserts suddenly become appealing again.  All of those rich, satisfying puddings that you kept putting off because the weather was too hot become the perfect dish to wrap your fingers around and warm your belly. 

ease: 4.5/5.
prep time: 20mins.
cooking time: 38mins (make sauce and praline while puddings cook).
total: 58mins.

taste: 5/5 - perfect pudding.

Yes, this dish is perfect if you love moist puddings that warm your belly with their wintry essence.

If you want a great sticky date pudding with all the decadent trimmings, then look no further, you have found your recipe. The pudding itself is both moist, dense, soft and deliciously sticky - slathered in lashings of creamy butterscotch sauce only improves it further. The praline adds a wonderful crunch and deep caramel - if you must add another element, then let me suggest a cool vanilla ice cream to soften the sweet, hot pudding.

A wonderful winter dessert.

would I make it again: Yes!

recipe: Sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce & almond praline

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Apple & Calvados trifle

Tiny bells tied to red ribbons dangle from golden bunny necks as the children run between us, their chocolate pets firmly in their grasp. Easter is upon us once again; and this time it has brought a distant cousin from Miami to share in the feast.

It is funny how although essentially strangers, our shared surname made the transition from stranger to family practically instant. Conversation flowed and smiles were genuine; our younger cousins called her by name as if she had been here all along.We discovered which facial features were shared by our families, mine here and hers in America and that we have two avid kemence players, my cousin and her brother.  It was wonderful to share Easter with her and to know, should we ever find ourselves in Miami, that there will be a friendly face to make us feel at home.

I have been 'saving' this recipe for a special occasion, and how fortunate that it was not only used to celebrate Easter, but also to welcome a relative from halfway across the world :).

ease: 3.5/5.
total time: 2hours & 15mins (inc cooling and soaking).

taste: 4.5/5.  A mere trifle just won't do.

I only got a tiny sliver of this as my family completely decimated it within seconds - some were onto their second serving before I could even put the serving spoon down.

I'm not going to lie, this was a lot of work and I had to enlist my husband to help so that it would be ready in time for Easter lunch. The flavours complimented each other, and overall the flavours are subtle, preferring a flirtatious wink rather than a rowdy catcall.

My father would have liked his sponge to be a little more booze soaked, another 2tbs would have sufficed. Whilst I found it quite strong regarding the alcohol (I don't drink) others didn't even realise it was spiked.

The apples are wonderful (perhaps an extra one or two next time with a touch more cinnamon), but I would have loved more custard, perhaps an extra 50% as it gets lost. And double the amount of cream, you really need that light fluffiness it brings.

And do NOT skip the almonds - they add such a glorious textural element as well as taste that the trifle would just become dull without them.

would I make it again: Yes - with the modifications.

recipe: Apple & Calvados trifle

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Butternut pumpkin risotto with walnuts & sage

The mornings shift ever so slightly further into shades of grey.

The light that softly shakes the sleepy-webs from my eyes is now as gentle as a grandmother's fingers, wrapped in silver clouds and morning dew. Although it's long after dawn, that pre-dawn stillness fills the room, the light barely seeping in through the cracks, my husband still sleeping - only the harsh summer sun with it's drums and symbols can wake him with its morning raucous.

I finally feel that Autumn has settled in, shaken the trees and washed down the earth as it settles into its armchair, and exhales a fresh breeze. Today, I pulled on my cable knit cardigan, brushing it against my cheek as I buried my head within its collar like a turtle into its shell. I feel as if the world stops spinning for these three short months, and I can finally plant my feet and breathe.

I also love that my body craves comforting, nourishing and satisfying food - all warmth and substance. To me, butternut pumpkin risotto is Autumn-food personified.

ease: 4/5. Multiple steps and time intensive.
prep time: 30mins to make puree, walnuts and get ingredients ready.
cooking time: 35mins.
total: 1hour & 5mins.

taste: 4.5/5. You butter-nut skip making this dish.

I had a good feeling about this dish from the ingredients and pictures along, and my gut instinct was right: absolutely delicious and interesting dish.

The sweet butternut pumpkin plays wonderfully with the aromatic sage, salty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts.
The rice itself has that beautiful al dente texture and the perfect amount of creaminess and sauce. I don't want to smother you with adjectives and superlatives so I'll be succinct - this is a very yummy risotto, and you would be wise to try it.

I kept everything pretty much as is, except I added an extra 2tbs of pumpkin puree to the risotto. Next time I would also add more sugar and less salt to the walnuts. Also, there is no need to season the risotto once done, it was already perfect. 

would I make it again: Yes, this very week.

recipe: Pumpkin risotto