Saturday, December 26, 2009
When I first met my husband his interest in fruit was limited mainly to watermelon and bananas. Considering the wealth of fruit that is available in Australia, it was hard for me to understand how a person could be so exclusive in their enjoyment of what I consider to be the best part of summer eating.
Yes – watermelon is definitely a great summer fruit! As a kid I had a book called “Summer” which concluded with a broadly smiling girl eating a whopping big wedge of watermelon. But summer, to me, says mangoes, nectarines, peaches, cherries, lychees and passionfruit. None of which my husband would choose to eat, or even put into the shopping basket. Yes, he’d eat apples – a staple in winter. But I couldn’t even get him to eat strawberries, simple and yet exotic, in my book.
So imagine my surprise, several years into our marriage, when my husband comes home from work and announces he now likes raspberries! How, I enquired, did this come about? He worked at a training company that served food to its participants, including natural yoghurt and berries for morning tea. He’d been attending one of the courses and was ravenous at the break. With little else for choice, he decided to dig into one of the yoghurt and berry servings and whim! wham! bam! – a new favourite fruit is born.
This year when we were planning our Christmas menu, I suggested we choose something fruit based to keep it light. Traditionally my family would serve plum pudding for Christmas dessert, accompanied by brandy custard and maybe even whipped cream or ice-cream. I do like a spot of plum pudding, but only if it’s one my mum has made. And since she didn’t make me one this year, I thought the best alternative was a raspberry and chocolate ganache tart. Easy to make, and highly appealing to my darling husband. I hope you agree.
1 sheet ready rolled sweet short crust pastry
180g dark cooking chocolate (the best quality you can find)
70ml pure cream (the unthickened kind)
2 cups raspberries, frozen or fresh
2 tblsp icing sugar
Whipped cream to serve
1. Cut the short crust pastry into four equal squares. Grease four tart case tins and line with the pastry, carefully easing into the fluted edges (if your tin has them). Using a sharp paring knife, trim any excess pastry to form a smooth edge level with the top of the tart case tin.
2. Prick the bottom of each tart case with a fork, then line the bottom with pie weights. Bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees Celsius, for 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from the over and cool for 10mins in the tins.
3. Break chocolate into small pieces and place in bowl of Kitchenaid mixer. Heat cream in a small saucepan until it boils. Pour the cream over the chocolate and switch Kitchenaid on to first speed (stir) to combine. Continue until all chocolate is melted to fully combine with the cream to produce a glossy ganache. Make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl down to incorporate all the chocolate into the cream.
4. Drop large spoonfuls of ganache into each tart case and set aside until required. I used my icecream scoop to make sure each tart had an equal amount of ganache.
5. Just before serving, heap raspberries on top of ganache tart to form a high mound of fruit. Dust each tart case with a smattering of icing sugar to finish. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top of each tart.
As a child, my mother was very consistent in the way she went about preparing the feast we enjoyed each Christmas. In Australia, Christmas falls in the middle of summer, yet Mum always persisted in baking the traditional Christmas roast. I remember the oven going in the kitchen all day, while my parents made rare visits to the neighbours for a snifter of sherry, my sister and I playing cricket or totem tennis with the kids in the neighbourhood, pausing regularly to make an outfit change (we were always given about four complete outfits as part of our Christmas gifts).
I loved those Christmases for their predictability. Mum only let us put the Christmas tree up the week before Christmas Day – I suspect it was her way of keeping a lid on the mania. We’d sit at the table and cut squares of red and green cellophane, and wrap bundles of Christmas lollies and nuts still their shells, and tie them to the tree as little gifts for kids who visited on or around the big day. Mum would make a range of biscuits – coconut cookies decorated with pink or green sugar, and spicey biscuits cut in the shape of bells, stars or Christmas trees, decorated with lemony glaze and sprinkes.
My child’s memory of what was served for Christmas lunch is blurry, but I know there was always roast turkey. I suspect there was a rolled roast beef too. Sometimes there was Yorkshire pudding, drowned in gravy which I loved. And of course there were roast potatoes, pumpkin and our favourite – Surprise Peas. For dessert Mum always served plum pudding with brandy custard. It wasn’t quite to my taste so, she also made a pavlova – not the kind you get these days, which is fluffy and squidgey in the middle. Mum’s pav was the crunchy kind – a hard meringue shell filled with whipped cream and covered with peaches, banana slices and kiwi fruit.
These days, my husband and I try to make Christmas lunch a little lighter – in Australia it’s simply too hot to roast all those vegetables. Plus the post lunch food-drugged sleep is never as enjoyable as you think! Whatever our Christmas menu, we always try to make it tasty in a delicate way; appealing to the eye, and colourful. With the plethora of fresh foods available in summer, this is never hard to achieve.
1.5kg turkey breast fillet
1 loaf of cut sliced bread – preferably 2 days old
180g chopped pistachios, pepitas, sunflower seeds, almond flakes and cashews
1 red onion, diced
1 garlic cloves, crushed
10 sprigs fresh thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to season
1. Trim any wonky bits off the turkey breast fillet so it makes a nice ‘diamond’ shape. If your butcher has filleted the turkey well, the tenderloin should still be attached, slice this off the back of the breast fillet and set aside.
2. Using a sharp carving knife, slice a pocket horizontally into the middle of the turkey breast fillet, being very careful not to pierce the flesh on the top or the bottom. Make the pocket as deep as you possibly can.
3. Cut the heel off the loaf of bread and begin tearing the bread out of the middle of the loaf. A white loaf is a good choice for this, but make sure it’s one of those nice ones cooked at a bakery. Ye olde Tip Top loaf of sliced white won’t do for this job. Keeping working until you are left with an empty shell of crust – then toss the crust out. Work through your bread bits, and shred any large chunks. Aim to have fine bread crumbs (if your loaf was good and stale).
4. Add the onion, garlic, nuts, thyme, lemon, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly to combine. You should season with salt and pepper to taste, but aim to have more pepper than salt in your stuffing.
5. Crack the eggs into the stuffing and work through the mix with your hands. Your stuffing should be good and moist, and be easily gathered together in a ball.
6. Hold the pocket in the turkey breast open and stuff handfuls of stuffing into the cavity. Push as much stuffing in as you can, but be careful not to tear the turkey flesh. Your turkey filet should be good and fat with a big ball of stuffing showing. Take the turkey tenderloin and cover the exposed stuffing by tucking the edges of the tenderloin down the sides of the stuffing.
7. Take four good long pieces of kitchen string and tie them tightly at regular intervals around the girth of the stuffed fillet to secure everything and prevent it from falling apart in the oven.
8. Arrange the stuffed fillet on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Note – you may like to use a disposable foil tray as the roasting juices from the meat are notorious for destroying baking trays! Place any turkey off cuts on the tray to roast as well. If you had any leftover stuffing, gather it together in a big ball and place next to the stuffed fillet.
9. Rub the skin on the stuffed fillet with a nob of butter and season with salt and pepper. Place in an oven preheated to 180 degrees and roast for 70 mins (depending on the weight of the breast fillet. The general rule of thumb is to 20mins roasting time for every half kilo of meat).
10. Slice the stuffed fillet and serve with turkey gravy, duchesse potatoes, and red mesculn salad.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
I’ve often said that chocolate is one of the two original and best flavours on the planet. What I don’t often mention is that vanilla is the other.
I recently discovered, much to my surprise and delight, that vanilla is the fruit of an orchid plant from Madagascar. In fact, the vanilla planifolia vine was transported to Madagascar from Mexico (and other French colonies) in the early 1800s. The vanilla plant is actually a vine, usually found winding itself around a bamboo plant or coconut tree, which grows an orchid-type flower. In Mexico, the vanilla flower is pollinated by a bee. Outside of Mexico, the bee cannot survive, so pollination is undertaken by human hand – a laborious process which is responsible for the incredibly expensive price of vanilla bean pods. The mature pods are harvested from the vine and dried to reduce the moisture content, thereby producing the distinct vanilla aroma we all know and love.
I never stopped to question where vanilla came from before. Yet like most cooks, I use vanilla in virtually everything that I bake. Quite often I’ve found that if the flavour of a cake or biscuit isn’t quite right, vanilla will stabilise and enhance it. Vanilla makes everything taste good.
As a kid one of our favourite frozen treats was a Streets Paddle Pop. Not quite an ice cream, our first choice in Paddle Pop flavour was chocolate. But frequently my father, who was a delivery guy for Streets at one point, would bring home vanilla Paddle Pops. I thought vanilla was bland back then. And in fact, many people today use the word “vanilla” to describe something that is totally lacking in excitement. But I beg to differ. There is nothing ordinary about vanilla. It is one of the most exotic flavours I can think of.
Did you know that typhoons wiped out much of the world’s vanilla crop in the early eighties, forcing the price of vanilla up to $500 per kilo? These days the price is more stable, resting at around $40 a kilo. Madagascar is still the world’s primary producer of vanilla, with Indonesia following fast on its footsteps.
As a baker, I sing the praises of vanilla. And I commend it to you as a spice that you must simply always have in your pantry.
Vanilla Buttermilk Pancakes
1 cup buttermilk
1 vanilla pod
1 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tblsp caster sugar
2/3 cup butter milk extra
1. Measure out the buttermilk the night before you wish to cook your pancakes. Carefully split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds off with a knife and transfer them into the buttermilk. Cut the seed pod into one inch long pieces and place them in the buttermilk too.
2. The next day, sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar.
3. Make a well in the centre and crack the egg into it. Strain the buttermilk into the well to remove the vanilla bean pod pieces. You won’t be able to get the vanilla seeds out – and that’s a good thing! Carefully begin stirring the egg and buttermilk together, gradually drawing the dry ingredients in from the sides. At this point, you should have a very thick mixture.
4. Using a stick blender, continue mixing the batter while adding the extra buttermilk until you have a consistency similar to custard. You want your batter to be thin enough to pour, but thick enough to hold its form on the hot plate. Set the batter aside for 30mins.
5. Heat a non-stick frying pan on a high heat (but not the maximum). Grease the pan with a teaspoon of butter.
6. Pour quarter cup amounts of the batter into the pan. Once bubbles have formed and popped on the top side, turn with an egg flip and brown on the other side. Remove from pan and keep warm between the folds of a tea towel while you finish cooking the rest of the batter.
7. Serve with whipped butter and maple syrup. Makes about 8-10 pancakes.
125g salt reduced butter
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tblsp icing sugar
1. Combine the butter, vanilla extract and icing sugar in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Increase speed to high (about 6 on a Kitchenaid) and continue to whip until the butter turns a very pale yellow.
2. Spread into tiny ceramic bowls (the kind you serve soy sauce in) and refrigerate until you serve the pancakes.
Friday, June 12, 2009
We attended the Christening ceremony at a Greek Ordthodox Church, which was an event in itself. While the structure of the building was hideous on the outside, the interior was incredibly ornate. The ceremony was entirely spoken and sung in Orthodox Greek - so we couldn't understand a word of what was said. And everyone in the church was clearly very Greek. We fifth generation Aussies looked distinctly unexotic next to everyone else. The God Mother stood proud as punch at the front of the church, holding the baby - a four month old little girl, plump as a peach, and dressed in an ornate white Christening dress. She was such a good girl throughout the ceremony, despite its length and despite having to get her head and hair very wet.
Afterwards we were invited to the celebration - a typical Greek party, with mountains and mountains of food. I remember looking across the room to see the baby perched on her handsome young father's knee while he fed her half a peach (she been changed out of her Christening frock and into something more durable). No wonder she was such a healthy baby! After we'd eaten our fill the dancing began. Despite my love of dancing I was very shy about joining in - mainly because I didn't want to be ridiculed by my family - you know what teenagers are like about public embarassment. But when both my sister and I were dragged out of our seats, I couldn't refuse.
We danced in typical Greek style - in a circle, holding hands high, two steps this way, one step back that way, and three steps back in the direction we'd started. It was great fun, although I remember being troubled by my jelly shoes - a silly piece of plastic held on my foot and ankle by a long shoelace with silver lame thread through it. They were possibly the most uncomfortable shoes I've worn in my life!
At the end of the night we bade our goodbyes to the God Mother and thanked her for such a wonderful night. She handed each of us a huge biscuit wrapped in red cellophane tied with a gold ribbon that had a little plastic crucifix dangling from it. She told us they were the traditional biscuit to give at Christenings but that she'd ordered them too late so they were still very fresh. She suggested we wait two weeks before we ate them.
Not likely! I waited two minutes until after we'd pulled away from the function centre in our car, then I unwrapped my biscuit and bit into it. And the world changed for me in the very next second - pure delight are the only words I can use to describe the experience. I'd never tasted anything like it - the unique combination of almond and sugar, baked so that the exterior was just crunchy, while the interior remained soft and squidgey.
Thus began a 25 year search for the recipe of that magical biscuit which, until now, has evaded me. I have found Greek cake shops which sell those bisuits by the kilogram (which is obviously how you'd need to buy them for a Christening with 400 hundred guests), and I've also come across them in the shape of a horseshoe, sold at cafes invariably run by Greeks. But I've never been able to find the recipe and make them myself. Until now. Following, is the recipe for Greek almond biscuits, with a little twist to put my own stamp on them of course.
3 cups almond meal (ground almonds)
1 cup caster sugar
3 egg whites
1tsp drops almond essence
125g flaked almonds
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
15g vegetable shortening (Copha)
1. Place the almond meal, sugar, egg whites and almond essence in a large mixing bowl. Mix until all ingredients are combined and form a thick, sticky paste.
2. Pour the flaked almonds onto a dinner plate or a relatively flat pasta bowl.
3. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large round piping tube. Pipe logs of mixture about 10cm long in rows on a baking paper lined baking sheet.
4. Roll the logs of mixture in the flaked almonds, ensuring that the entire surface area is covered and place back on baking sheet.
6. Bake in oven (pre-heated to 180 degrees celcius) for 15-20 minutes or until golen brown on the outside. Gently transfer from cookie sheet to a wire colling rack using an egg lifter. Allow to cool.
7. Place two handfuls of chocolate chips in a microwave proff bowl, with one knob of vegetable shortening (Copha). Heat on high for 30 seconds or until shortening melts - be careful not to burn the chocolate. Mix until combined then spoon into a disposable plast piping bag. Snip the tip of the piping bag off with scissors, then pipe thin lines of chocolate across biscuits in a criss-cross fashion. Allow chocolate to cool and harden, then serve.
Friday, March 20, 2009
I don’t think there is an occasion more joyous than a wedding. Of course, once a wedding has taken place, many more joys follow, like the arrival of a long awaited baby. But it all starts with a wedding, and I find weddings to be chock-filled with hope.
If you’re lucky, you only ever need to have one wedding – although some people have more than one, if not several! So the trick to getting your fill of wedding joy is to know lots of people who are planning on getting married.
As a cake baker, I am getting to participate in weddings, baby showers, naming days and even funerals (although not too many of those, thank goodness)! I consider it a privilege to be invited to create cakes and cupcakes for these landmark occasions in people’s lives. We (my darling husband and I) always try extra hard to come up with something special that fits the occasion and the people who we’re baking for. And what we’ve discovered is trying extra hard allows us an opportunity for continuous improvement. When people want something unusual on their cake(s) we find ourselves stretching our skills and often discovering something new in the process.
This month in preparation for a wedding we’ve discovered white chocolate ganache. If you’re a regular reader, you may have heard me curse white chocolate in the past. I am proud to say I’ve reconciled with white chocolate and I’ve cracked the very difficult to make but very professional looking white ganache. Here’s how you make white chocolate ganache.
750g white chocolate bits – Callebaut is the best
225ml pure cream
1. Pour the white chocolate bits into a large bowl. Give yourself plenty of room to manoeuvre.
2. Heat the pure cream in a small saucepan until it boils. Be very careful as you do not want it to burn to the bottom of the pan, or rise up and boil over.
3. Pour the boiling cream evenly over the white chocolate bits, then begin stirring with a fork. The mixture will be lumpy and sticky – just keep going and watch as the white chocolate melts.
4. There will be a point where the heat is all but gone from the mixture and you feel you need a little bit more to get across the line. Place the bowl in the microwave oven for 20 seconds. Then take it out and resume mixing, but this time do so with a balloon whisk. It helps to have a buddy on hand at this point, because the mixing requires a fair bit of elbow grease. Continue mixing until all lumps of chocolate are gone and you are left with a smooth, thick, viscose mixture.
5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stand aside. Leave the ganache to set for 24 hours. I kid you not – if you want to avoid heartache, leave the ganache for a full day. When you return to use it, it will be thick like butter and can be used to fill a cake and cover it. Heat your palette knife under hot water and run it over the surface of the ganache to achieve a perfectly smooth look.
6. What you do next is up to you – you could flick dark chocolate across your cake, decorate it with Guylian chocolates, or drape it with fondant. I have seen one baker attach large pieces of chocolate bark to the sides so that the pieces stand about two inches about the cake. He then filled the top of the cake with spun toffee – an incredibly elaborate looking cake for a very special occasion.