Sunday, December 18, 2011

Whole Roasted Turkey

My friend told me today that she's never roasted a turkey, and was disbelieving when I said it was dead easy. It really is, so I thought I'd tell you how.

Choose your turkey. In Australia we like turkey buffet, which as a massive breast with the wings removed. A whole turkey is just as good.

Defrost the turkey 48 hours before you want to cook it. Place it in a baking dish or tray and leave it on the sink. If it's a typical hot Australian Christmas, you should defrost the turkey in the fridge, starting a day earlier.

When it's turkey time, rinse the turkey in the sink under cold running water. Rinse it inside and out - this is really important. Pull out any gibblets inside the bird (if there are any) first. My cat used to eat those. I just chuck them in the bin.

Inspect your bird and cut off any oogie bits. Oogie bits are any bits you find gross. Stuff the cavity with the stuffing of your choice and seal the cavity with the heal of the bread you used to make the stuffing. You can still cook the turkey even if you don't stuff it! Tie the legs together with a piece of kitchen string. If you don't the legs will spread during cooking and the turkey will come out looking odd!

Rub the entire exterior of the bird with butter. Lightly salt the bird and place it in a baking tray. A disposable aluminium one is okay. Cover the legs and breast with a piece of aluminium foil. This will stop it from drying out and burning.

Roast the turkey in the oven at 180 degrees celcius. You calculate the cooking time by adding up 20 minutes for every half a kilo of bird. Today's 4.8kg turkey was cooked for three hours, 20 minutes. Remove the aluminium foil from the breast for the last hour of cooking time.

Once cooking time is complete, rest your turkey for a good half an hour before serving it. Transfer the turkey to your serving platter. Pour off all the pan juices and set aside to use in the gravy.

Voila! You have cooked a turkey!

Note: once you have finished preparing the turkey, clean your pre area down with disinfectant. Poultry is famously for germs, and you don't want to make anybody sick at Christmas. Just wipe down all surfaces with a warm cloth dipped in disinfectant and you should be fine. Wash your hands thoroughly too!

Christmas in a day

Some months ago my husband and I decided we would head overseas for Christmas this year. It's been a long, arduous year, and even back in September, we felt a good break was well deserved.

Of course, as December 25 has gotten closer, I have been suffering from Christmas cooking withdrawals. And because I cooked my Christmas cakes in October instead of in the last few days before Christmas, it felt even worse! So last weekend I decided we must have a turkey dinner on the last Sunday before we go away.

We've invited good friends to dinner tonight, and since I've gotten started early, I have decided to churn out a bunch of Christmas treats to go along with the dinner.

I've taken a few old favourites and I've revamped them in a Christmas theme. Take these chocolate cupcakes - I had them left over from a cake job the other week. I've topped them with my usual chocolate butter cream, but I've decorated them to make them look like little chocolate puddings.

These are Mexican wedding biscuits, only I've pressed them in a Lebanese mamouhl mould to give them a festive shape. While they're made with pecan nuts, don't forget you can exchange the pecans for almonds or hazelnuts or even pistachios.

For dinner we're having roast turkey with apricot and pinenut stuffing. My husband and I have had a complete laugh this morning dealing with the turkey - we normally buy a turkey buffet, which has an enormous breast and the wings removed. But I found today's turkey on sale, complete with wings. We tried hard to bend the wings around to sit the turkey up nice and pretty. but the silly thing just wouldn't cooperate. So we took the wing tips off and tied the other bits together. It was still too hard to balance the bird, so it's in the oven as we speak, resting on a big bit of bread left over from making the stuffing.

The stuffing, of course, is my traditional apricot and pinenut stuffing. Actually, it's my mum's recipe. I have been making it for years, in my home, up in Cairns at my friend Peisha's, and down at Torquay for my friends Dennis and Dave. But last year when Mum came for Christmas she insisted we put celery into the mix. And let me tell you it changed things for the better! So I decided to follow suit this year. My two year old son was watching me cut up the celery and asked for a piece. To my delight he crunched up one stick and asked for another. He likes celery!! Now for salad...

The turkey will be accompanied by roasted potatoes with proscuitto and rosemary, roasted carrots and baby peas. The key ingredient to bring all of this together is red currant jelly gravy. In recent years red currant jelly has been hard to get hold of. But this year the stores had plenty of it, so I snapped it up.

I'll put pictures up as the day progresses and recipes later this week. I hope I've given you lots to add to your festive fare this year - I've been a bit slack on this topic in previous years. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Gold Cake

Some months ago I was sent a photo of an amazing three tiered gold cake. I was so enthralled by it fantastic whimsey that I immediately began looking for an opportunity to have a go at making such a cake.

After a great deal of thought, I determined the gold colour had to be sprayed on. So I bought myself a few cans of PME gold lustre spray - which was significantly more yellowey than the original picture, but excellent none the less.

I baked three vanilla butter cakes - 11 inch, 8 inc and 5 inch. I coated each in white chocolate ganache, and then applied crispy white icing with a few different textures.

My husband and I had a very frustrating time cutting the dowels for the bottom and middle layers - I cut them too short and he did half of them too long. But we thought we got it right in the end.

This morning when I assembled the cake, I found th dowels could have been a little lower. And because of the icing on this cake, I could not cover my mistake with ribbons or piping. fortunately this mistake bugged me more than anyone else - my customers loved the result and happily set about eating 10kgs of cake, which fed around 75 people.

I still have lots to learn in the dowel cutting department. Tiered cakes really only get ordered for weddings. Lets hope I get a wedding job again some time soon.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Pineapple & Ginger Christmas cake

It is only a few short years since I truly mastered my Queen Anne Fruit Cake recipe. As good as this cake is (and it is exceptionally good), I have found I have friends who enjoy a different set of flavours at Christmas. So I amended my fruit cake recipe to turn it into something a little different. I took out the cherries, because lots of people don’t like them, and I replaced them with glace pineapple and ginger. Last year was the second time I baked this combo and the feedback from friends I gave it two was that it was a taste sensation. So I thought I’d share the recipe with you and see if you like.

250g each of currants, sultanas and raisins
90g each of dates and pitted prunes
60g of mixed peel
60g glace pineapple
100g glace ginger (do not use crystalised ginger)
100g whole blanched almonds
2 tblsp each of rum, brandy and sherry
5 eggs
250g butter
250g brown sugar
300g plain flour
1tsp each of ground ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice
1 tblsp pineapple jam
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp parisienne browning essence
2 tblsp golden syrup
1 tsp glycerine
1 tblsp lemon essence

1. Put all the fruit into a large bowl, making sure you cut any large pieces into quarters (like dates, prunes and glace pineapple). Add the rum, brandy and sherry and mix to thoroughly wet the fruit. Cover tightly and leave to soak for as long as you can - a week at the minimum, but a month is best if you can! I actually soak my fruit in a five litre bucket which has a lid. I periodically pick the bucket up and shake it so the fruit and fluids can mingle better.

2. On the day that you bake, prepare your tin by double lining the bottom and sides with thick baking paper. The paper should peak an inch and a half above the top of the tin. Then wrap the exterior of the tin with a double layer of newspaper. This is to stop the cake from burning. I also put my cake tins on a baking tray which I’ve lined with newspaper to further prevent burning.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees celcius.

4. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. You may need to scrape the mixing bowl sides down periodically.

4. In a separate dish, combine pineapple jam, vanilla, parisienne essence, golden syrup, glycerine and lemon essence. Mix until combined.

5. Add the jam mixture and the flour to butter mixture. Mix slowly on a low speed to gently combine – if you over mix the batter your cake will be tough! Add spices and mix until combined.

6. Pour the cake batter over the dried fruit mix and combine it using clean hands. This is much easier than using a spoon since fruit cake mix is extremely heavy. Once the fruit and batter is combined, pour into the tin, being careful not to flatten the paper lining on the sides. This mix will neatly fill an 8 inch round tin. You can also divide it between two 6 inch square tins.

7. Bake on a low shelf in the oven for 3 hours. Test if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer through the middle. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked.

8. Pour one tablespoon of brandy over the top of the hot cake – it will sizzle, which is fine. Cool the cake in the tin for about half an hour, then turn it out and cool it on a wire rack. This will take several hours. I usually wrap it in a tea towel and leave it to cool over night.

9. To store your cake, peel off any remaining baking paper. Tightly wrap the cake in cling film. Then wrap it in aluminium foil. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place until it is required. I suggest you cook your Christmas cake about six weeks in advance. If you choose to do it earlier, open it once a month and pour another tablespoon of brandy over it. I promise you the flavour will be amazing when you finally serve it.

A well stored fruit cake can be kept up to one year. Light and air are its enemy, so be very careful to store your cake correctly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ricotta Cheesecake

When I was a kid my parents attended many a party hosted by members of the Apex Club. This was an exclusive club for men under the age of forty, and where we lived, there were loads of young dads in the club. The rules for these parties were simple: blokes bring the booze, ladies bring a "plate" and kids run amok until you pass out with exhaustion.

There would be tressle tables, sometimes in marquees, or maybe set up in the garage, covered with all sorts of culinary delights like cabanossi and cubes of cheese, pickled cocktail onions on tooth picks, slices of devon wrapped around mashed potato, and of course plenty of potato chips and a new concept in catering for a crowd - dip.

I remember the Apex party we went to on new year's eve, 1976, very clearly because I was sitting on my mum's lap at midnight. "There goes 1976!" she said, pointing to the night sky. I started crying because I didn't want the year to go. I don't think Mum expected that.

It was at one of these parties that I tasted my first cheesecake. It was a seventies classic with biscuit base made from over salted margarine, and a chill and mix filling. These cheesecakes have a very strong and distinct flavour, which I have to say was not that enrolling to my eight year old tastebuds. Skip forward to the day my sister acquired the America The Beautiful cookbook. Amongst its pages was the recipe for New York Cheesecake. This has been the definitive cheesecake for me ever since. But it is loaded with cream cheese and over the years I've tried different things to reduce the Philly factor. My latest attempt uses ricotta. See what you think.

1.5 cups plain flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
100g cold butter
1 egg yolk
¼ tsp vanilla extract

625g cream cheese
625g fine ricotta cheese
440g sugar
3 tblsp plain flour
1.5 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks extra

1. Combine flour, sugar and zest in a large bowl.
2. Cut in butter until mixture resembles course breadcrumbs.
3. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla to form a soft dough. Add up to four teaspoons of milk if the dough does not come together. Just add one at a time, mix, see how the dough goes, then add another if you need to. Wrap in plastic in cling film and refrigerate for one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
5. Roll the pastry on a floured board to 3mm thick. Cut the pastry to fit a 23cm springform pan.
6. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of baking paper, snagging it out the sides of the pan to keep it taught across the bottom. Grease the sides of the pan. Line the pan with the rolled out pastry, ensuring you press it into the corners of the tin, but also leaving a little overhand at the top if you to combat shrinkage. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cool on a rack.
7. Beat both cheeses with sugar, flour, zest and vanilla in the large bowl of a mixer. If you like you can exchange the vanilla essence for the paste from two vanilla beans.
8. Add eggs and yolks one at a time. Beat thoroughly between additions.
9. Increase the oven temperature to 290 celcius. Quickly fill the pie crust with the cheese mixture. Bake for 12 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 and continue to bake for another hour.
10. Cool on a rack in the tin and chill for two hours before serving.

Notes: The paper will become heated and give off a burning smell. At the same time, the very top edge of the pastry will brown a great deal and trick you into thinking it is burnt. But when you take off the springform you'll find it's nicely golden brown, so don't worry!

I served this cheesecake with a pile of raspberries seated on some whipped cream. I dusted it with icing sugar to make it look festive, since it was kind of for a pre-christmas lunch. It should keep in the fridge for at least a week.

BIG cake update II

Well this year I didn't shout it to the world, I suspect because I felt there were many flaws in my work that I couldn't come to terms with. But I keep going back and looking at the cake we created this year for my son's second birthday. And the more I look at it, the more I like it.

We rented the "2" shaped tin from a local cake decorating shop. We made the butter cake a week in advance and put it in the freezer. It needed to sit on a board until it was frozen because the neck of the two was so fragile. It was heaps of fun cutting the cake through the middle to fill it with white chocolate ganache, but worth it as it looked a picture when it was sliced.

My husband appointed himself maker of the racing cars - which was just as well as he did a brilliant job of it. I used my texture mat for fondant for the first time, and had to have two goes to get the imprint right. Note to anybody using a texture mat, use firm pressure when you roll, and only roll once!

It took quite a lot of work to get the white fondant to a suitable grey colour. Next time I'd probably buy pre-coloured black fondant and add white to take it back to grey, rather than use black food colouring to get from white to grey. It was just messy and took a really long time to get the colour right.

I wasn't going to put my son's name on the cake, but I felt it needed a colour lift. I'd made the orange stars and I had some orange pastilage left over, so I cut the letters out and was delighted when they fitted perfectly along the bottom of the "2".

On the day I was thrilled to see many little hands reaching out to snatch decorations from the cake before we'd even finished singing happy birthday! We made truck-shaped ginger bread biscuits decorated with either pink or blue icing as take home gifts for our party guests. And of course there was loads of cake leftover to share with colleagues at work the next day.

In all, this cake fed about 60 people. I can't wait to see what my son takes an interest in this coming year, so I can start dreaming up his next birthday cake!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poached Eggs

When my husband arrived in my life, I was surprised to find how much he loved poached eggs. We would go out for breakfast and he’d order Eggs Benedict with beautiful poached eggs enveloped in delicious hollandaise sauce.

At the time I was travelling a lot with work. One morning I found myself dining in a hotel that had the chef standing in the dining room at a table ready to cook eggs for me on the spot, exactly how I liked them. I noticed he had a pot of water gently simmering over a hot plate – clearly for poaching eggs. I asked him if he could show me how it’s done.

The chef told me the first and most important tip was to have very fresh eggs. He said eggs more than three days old just weren’t good enough for the job. Second, he said you needed to add a goodly amount of vinegar to the water. And finally, he said you needed to simmer the water just so. No rolling boil!

I went home a tried to cook poached eggs for my husband. The farm fresh eggs were not available at my supermarket – lets face it, we just don’t know how old the eggs we buy from the supermarket are. The vinegar part was no problem. Getting the water to simmer wasn’t too hard either. At the time I was using an electric stove, and I was very used to its personality quirks. I couldn’t, however, produce that beautiful teardrop shaped egg the chef produced without swirling the water. No big deal! It’s the end result that matters, right?

1 deep pot
2 tblsp white vinegar
1 very fresh egg
1 slotted spoon
1 digital timer (use your iPhone if you have one)

1. Pour the vinegar into the pot. Fill with water until it is about one inch from the top of the pot. Bring to a gentle simmer. This means the water steams and you can see lots of little bubbles on the bottom of the pot. But there are no big rolling bubbles.
2. Swirl the water quickly in a clockwise direction until you have a little bit of a whirlpool going.
3. Crack the egg on the side of the pot and carefully drop it into the swirling water. Put the egg shell in the bin, rinse any egg off your fingers and dry your hands. THEN start the timer.
4. Gently push the water with the slotted spoon to keep it circling, making sure your egg does not attach to the bottom. At this point it should be nicely formed and starting to float.
5. Continue to poach for three and a half minutes. Gently scoop the egg out of the water with the slotted spoon. Drain as much water as you can and carefully transfer it to a saucer. Hold the egg carefully and drain and excess water back into the pot. Let the egg sit for one minute, then serve!

I’ve given you lots of little tips here, as these are all my secrets to making poached eggs work. I really hope, if you haven’t been able to master this breakfast delight, that all my advice works. Happy eating!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pony cakes still looking good!

It's been over a year now since I wrote, designed and photographed the cupcakes for the My Little Pony Cute Cupcake Recipe Book. To my delight, the initial distribution for that book has gone much wider than originally anticipated, with copies available in many mass market retailers across Australia and New Zealand.

Last month I donated a My Little Pony Party Pack to my office's annual Pink Ribbon Day Raffle. The pack included a copy of the book, MLP plates, MLP serviettes, and a certificate for 24 MLP cupcakes. This week I had the pleasure of baking and delivering the cupcakes to the winner of the prize. She was invited to choose three of the cupcakes in the book. Her selection was Love (red velvet), Friendship (banana) and Sweetie Belle (vanilla).

I was delighted to find that the recipes hold up to everything that was published. In the book I stated each batch of cupcake batter would make 12 cupcakes. In fact, I got 15 out of each. I had no trouble finding all the decorations I'd chosen - they were still readily available in supermarkets, as was my original intention.
And of course, the cupcakes were delicious (since we had double what we needed to fill the order, my husband and I were each able to take a box of cupcakes to share with our colleagues at work).

If you'd like to order a copy of the book, it's available at many online booksellers. Here's one that's easy to find:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mexican Wedding Biscuits

When the Spanish explorers found the Americas they also found many different new foods that, when brought back to Europe, revolutionised the way food was being cooked. Tomatoes, corn and avocados are just some of the foods brought back from the New World to Europe.

At the same time some European recipes have found their way to the New World. The recipe for these nutty shortbread cookies has arabic origins which passed into culinary tradition in Europe, thanks to the Moors. The recipe was then adapted in Mexico to include pecan nuts, which are native to the Americas. Pecans grow on trees and are acorn-shaped. They have a similar taste to walnuts, and in fact the name they were originally given by the Spanish – nogales – translates as “walnut tree”. These delicious cookies are saved for special occasions, like weddings or even Christmas.

250g butter, softened
½ cup caster sugar
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 tsps water
2 cups plain flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
½ cup pure icing sugar

1. Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and water in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high until the mixture is pale in colour and the sugar has dissolved.
2. Sift the flour into the bowl then add the chopped pecans. Mix on low speed until the ingredients combine to form a dough. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic cling film and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll tablespoonfuls of it into balls about 3cm wide. Flatten each ball slightly and position on the baking trays about 5cm apart.
5. Bake both trays in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are very light brown on top. Cool on the trays for 5 minutes, then use an egg lifter to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. Dust the cookies with a thick layer of sugar and serve.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Friday, October 07, 2011


When I was 12 years old both my parents were workers. My sister and I would arrive home from high school, and we would have three or four hours alone in the house before Mum and Dad arrived home. My parents weren't the kind of people to wait on their kids hand and foot. Instead, there were jobs to do, and woe be tide the child who did not do them. There were three key jobs - washing up the breakfast dishes in the afternoon, cooking the dinner and drying up the dishes after dinner.

My sister and I would take turns week on week for each job (although I must say I got out of drying up the dinner dishes for as much of my teenage years as I possibly could). We worked it so that we cooked the dinner for a week one week, and swapped to do the breakfast dishes the following week. This provision of dinner for my family from the tender of 12 is where I really learned my chops as a cook. And there is one meal I cooked every week without fail - spaghetti bolonese.

In the 1980s we had this recipe down pat. Our version of this time honoured classic included cream and thinly sliced champignons (from a tin). It was the most requested birthday dinner in our household (followed by Black Forest Cherry Cake).

In 1989 I dined a fair bit at No Names in Darlinghurst, where I found their bolognese sauce was quite a lot less meaty than mine, and far more saucey. A drunken afternoon with friends at the home of third generation Australian Italian guy changed my bolognese recipe substantially. He built a sauce from the tomato up, adding the meat much later and finely grinding it all up. I have been cooking my bolognese sauce like this ever since, with red wine as one of the key ingredients.

Until last week.

I have been researching stories for a kids international cook book, and I went looking for the origins of bolognese. Never mind that it's never served with spaghetti - there were other revelations to be garnered from my research. Firstly, bolonese sauce originates from Bologna dating back to the fifth century! When you eat bolognese you are dining from the plates of the ancients. Secondly, carrot and celery are compulsory bolognese ingredients. And here is why...

Soffritto is the base of bolognese. Equal amounts of carrot, onion and celery are brunoised (chopped very finely) and cooked in a good amount of olive oil for a half an hour. It becomes soft, caramelised and develops a flavour that is quite meaty. This becomes the base of bolognese sauce, which need not have beef in it if the soffritto is right. But since the ancient Bolognese were meat lovers, go ahead and include the ground beef!

We have cooked our revised bolognese sauce recipe several times over the past week or so and it has been a minor revelation for us. We've replaced the wine component with white wiine, which has changed the flavour substantially. We are humbled by the age of this recipe and will honour the ancients by always basing it on soffritto.

1 medium carrot
1 medium onion
1 or 2 celery sticks
2 cloved of garlic, crushed
2 tblsp good quality olive oil

1. Finely dice the carrot, onion and celery to the exact same size. You want to "brunoise" them - which is the French name for this dicing technique.
2. Heat the olive oil in a pot and add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic. Sautee on high for one minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
3. Cook the soffrito for 15-30 minutes, stiring occassionally to ensure all ingredients are cooked evenly.
4. Use the soffrito as the base for your bolognese sauce.

Just for the record, here is my bolognese recipe:

1 quantity of sofritto as above
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
800g tinned tomato puree
200g tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
300g beef mince
2 dried bay leaves

1. Combine the sofritto with the parsley, basil, salt, pepper, cinamon, tomato puree, tomato paste and white wine. Stir over a medium heat until combined, then bring to the boil.
2. Add the beef and stir until it's well coated with the sauce. Simmer for two minutes.
3. Take the pot off the stove and use the stick blender to finely puree all the ingredients. This is the secret step for parents who want to hide the vegetables in this dish from their kids!
4. Place the pot back on the stove. Add the bay leaves and taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.
5. Place a lid over the pot and cook on low for 15 minutes (or while you prepare your pasta).
6. Serve with pasta of your choice and freshly grated parmesan. Serves four!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

French crepes

When my husband and I were in France in 2007, we found a hole in the wall vendor selling crepes in Montparnasse. I think she was there as part of the Night of Music Festival, where people come out on the streets all over Paris to listen to music, sing, dance, and eat a lot of food. This particular creperie was part of a pub. A girl with Suzi Quatro hair was stationed inside a little booth with a big black flat griddle, a jug of crepe batter, a wooden trowel and a bunch of fillings. We stepped up to the window and ordered: “un crepe avec jambon, fromage et champignons”. And she set to work. When the job was done, the girl used a giant spatula to fold the crepe into quarters, slip it into a little paper cone and hand it over. And let me tell you, that crepe was goooooood!

I have finally perfected my own crepe recipe. Lately I’ve become a little obsessed with crepes. When you try this recipe, you’ll understand why.

1 cup plain flour
1 large egg
375ml full cream milk.

1. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack the egg into the well, then pour the milk into the well.
2. Use a balloon whisk to gradually combine all the ingredients, then keep whisking until the batter resembles the thickness of pouring cream. Cover the bowl with glad wrap and leave the batter to stand for one hour.
3. Heat a 22cm fry pan on the top of a stove. Use a quarter cup measure to scoop the perfect portion of batter out of the bowl and pour it into the pan. Tilt the pan in a circle motion to spread the batter thinly. Cook for one minute, then flip over and cook for a further 30 seconds on the other side. Repeat until all the batter is cooked. You should get about 12 crepes. And because you rested the batter, the first one should be as good as the last.

Extra notes: there was a comment by an anonymous reader that this recipe doesn't work. We've tested this over and over to be sure it does. And we've eaten the results quite happily every time! It's worth saying the French put two eggs in their crepes. I find two eggs can sometimes make the batter a bit like an omelette. However if you were going to use the crepes for Chinese-style mango pancakes, this would be a good effect! When turning the crepes, I have to say this does take practice. I've been working on my technique since I was about 12 years old. Do be patient with yourself if flipping crepes is something new for you. To be honest, I've been picking mine up by the edge with my fingers and flipping them. This is made possible by the fact that I'm using a brand new teflon pan. Nothing sticks to it! If it were an old pan matters would be different. One more thing about pans - as a kid I made crepes in the Sunbeam skillet. Ours was well seasoned and did not take much butter to encourage the crepe not to stick. They still make these skillets. I find them really nice to cook with!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lemon shortbread

I have been working with a recipe over the past weeks for the new book I'm writing. While its origin is Mexican, the biscuit it produces is so familiar to so many people from other cultures, I feel like I've stumbled on a universal biscuit base that could be converted to suit many purposes. Flush with a full stock of lemons, thanks to Janet at work, today I thought I would turn my recipe into Lemon Shortbread - a very easy variation on the original recipe and certainly, a very delicious one. I hope you agree!

250g salt reduced butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp water
1 tblsp lemon zest
1/2 cup flaked almonds
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 cups plain flour

1. Combine the butter, sugar, lemon juice, water and lemon zest in the bowl of your Kitchenaid (I'm not going to pretend anybody owns any other mixer, okay?). Beat on sixth gear until the butter is pale and creamy.
2. Add the almonds and plain and mix on first gear until the ingredients are just combined.
3. Gather the dough together with your hands and knead it just a little to ensure all the dry ingredients are combined.
4. Place it on a pastry mat or a piece of baking paper and gently roll the entire amount of dough into a log. Keep rolling until the log is about 30cm long and about 6cm in diameter. Wrap it tightly in cling film and roll just a little more to refine the shape of your log. Tap each end on the bench to flatten it so you have a perfect cylindar. Store the shortbread log in the fridge for an hour.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
6. Take the shortbread log out of the fridge and remove the plastic. Using a very sharp knife, cut 1cm thick slices from the log. You are aiming to get at least 24 slices from the log, so be careful how thick you cut each slice.
7. Arrange the shortbread rounds on the baking trays - you should get 12 per tray but make sure you get them enough space in between because they do spread a little. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the shortbread is golden brown. Allow to cool on the tray for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
8. You can dust these shortbreads with icing sugar if you like. I think they are nice plain. They will keep for at least four days, if you don't eat them all first!

Lemon curd

I have talked before about my desire to have an eternally fruiting lemon tree in my backyard. I do have a lemon tree, which I was given as a wedding present (well, my husband was given it too), but it spends most of the year ripening just one or two lemons. But Janet, at work - her lemon tree is a different story! She brought in two massive bags this week filled with gorgeous, ripe, almost orange lemons, and invited everyone to take as many as they wanted. I was lucky enough to score eight lemons. And I told everyone who took lemons too that if they wanted, they could give me their lemons and a jar and I would turn them into lemon curd.

It's been some years since I made lemon curd, so today I thought I better turn the lemons I took into lemon curd so I can be sure I can fulfil my promise!

140g butter
1 cup caster sugar
3 large eggs
200ml lemon juice
1 tblsp lemon zest

1. Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. You can use one small saucepan sitting in a larger one half filled with water if you don't have one.
2. Add the sugar to the melted butter and stir until the sugar has dissolved. This takes some time - about 15 minutes, and even then the sugar might not fully dissolve. Just do your best here, but if it doesn't fully dissolve, don't worry.
3. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Pour them into the butter mix through a sieve. You need to work quickly here because once the eggs touch the hot butter they will begin to cook. Stir the eggs into the butter mix and ensure they are fully combined.
4. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest to the butter mix and stir to thoroughly combine.
5. Continue cooking over a low heat for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens. You will be tempted to stop at around the five minute mark - trust me, keeping going the full 15 minutes will make a huge difference to the quality of your lemon curd.
6. Pour into a glass jar and allow to cool. Serve on buttered scones, in tarts, or as a sauce with yummy puddings. Or, just eat it with a spoon straight from the jar!

Note: if you find you have flecks of cooked egg in your curd don't panic! When the curd is finished cooking, just blitz it for 45 seconds with a stick blender and the problem will be solved. Tap the curd bowl on the bench top a couple of times to pop any bubbles that may have formed. or you can strain the curd through a sieve. It will take out any large bits of lemon zest too, which I think is what a French Chef would prefer. Store the curd in the fridge. It will keep for about two weeks.

Monday, August 29, 2011

These recipes are triple tested

At the weekend I was using a recipe I found on a blog to cook Karelian Pasties, a popular treat from Finland. It had multiple elements to be cooked, and two out of the three had problems with the actual recipe. Instead of having fun cooking something delicious I found myself correcting problems with the recipe at every turn.

I would like to assure you that the recipes I post on this blog have been cooked over and over again in my home kitchen. Some of the recipes have been made for my family and friends for over 20 years. If you find a problem with any of my recipes, please let me know. My aim is to ensure every Kitchen Alchemy recipe you cook is not only fun to make, but delicious to eat.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lingon Berry Bread

I was at Ikea on the weekend, scouring the shelves of their food section to look for ideas for Scandanavian food. I was surprised to find a pre-mix pack for Lingon Berry Bread, and it was so cheap, I thought I’d buy it and give it a go.

The mix itself was quite dark and very heavy on rye. It was quite bitter to the taste and I expected the bread would come out quite bitter as a result. Having worked in a bakery as a teenager, I know how much hard work is required to produce a really good loaf of bread. I’ve taken to using my Kitchenaid with the dough hook attachment to do a lot of the work dough requires to develop the glutens and made it taste great. After ten minutes of working the dough I sat it next to the heater and let it rise for half an hour.

I could hardly wait to get to the next stage, which is where you punch down the dough to knock out the air it's acquired is it rises. Then I divided the dough into two and formed the pieces into loaves by kneading it in a rolling action. This ensured the exterior remained nice and smooth and visually attractive. I scored the top of each loaf then put each one into a greased tin to let it prove by the heater a second time.

Surprisingly the dough didn’t double in size as I expected. The score marks had expanded, but I really thought the loaves would fill the tins, which they did not. The bread went into the oven at 200 degrees celcius for 40 minutes, while I whipped down to the store to buy a gorgeous piece of rib eye fillet. When I came back the whole house was filled with the smell of fresh bread. Yum! I knocked on the tops of the loaves and the sound was hollow, so I knew the bread was cooked! My husband and I could hardly wait to cut the bread and try it – and to our surprise, it wasn’t bitter at all!

If you fancy trying bread making and you’re able to pick up this mix from Ikea, I highly recommend it. But if I were to make this again, I think I’d work the dough into dinner sized rolls – perfect for the bread component of a formal dinner party. We ate the Lingon Berry Bread warm, smeared with butter, along with a beautiful lunch of rare roast beef, turned vegetables and garlic custard, followed by chocolate souffle with orange ginger biscuit crumbs, whipped cream and Vulcan's orange sauce.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Slice

As part of my review of seventies recipes, I've checked a great Aussie favourite - chocolate caramel slice - a bit of a revamp. Chocolate Caramel Slice entered the scene in the seventies when The Australian Women's Weekly first published its recipe cards. But since then some things have changed. The size of the tin condensed milk comes in, for one. And slice tins seem to have changed too. These days the brownie tin is easier to find than a traditional old slice tin. Although in the original CCS recipe, they do call for the slice to be assembled in a lamington tin!

I've made some revisions of Chocolate Caramel Slice, and I have to say I'm pretty happy with the result. One important note: the quality of your slice hinges on your choice of chocolate for the top. If you choose a cheap chocolate, you'll get a very ordinary result. Try and choose cooking couveture that has at 70% cocoa content - your slice will be so much better for it.

1 cup self raising flour
1 cup desicated coconut
1 cup brown sugar
125g butter, melted
790g condensed milk (2 x 395 g tins)
60g butter
4 tblsp golden syrup
250g dark cooking chocolate
60g copha (vegetable shortening)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line a non-stick brownie tin with a piece of baking paper, ensuring the paper comes up about two inches above the longest sides of the tin. Don't worry about the other two sides.
2. Combine the self raising flour, coconut, brown sugar and melted butter in the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Using the paddle beater, stir the ingredients on first gear until they are fully combined and starting to form a crumb mixture.
3. Pour the crumb mix into the brownie tin and spread it evenly to all four corners. Using the back of a spoon, press the biscuit base down to compact it. Make sure the corners have as much mix as in the middle. Then using a small rolling pin or perhaps a small drinking glass, roll the biscuit base so that the surface is perfectly flat. This will help create a visually pleasing layer effect once the rest of the ingredients have been added on the top.
4. Bake biscuit base in the oven for 10 minutes.
5. Combine the condensed milk, golden syrup and butter in a medium saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the butter has melted. Bring to the boil and try to allow the caramel to continue to boil for at least one minute. The longer you can do this, the better the caramel will taste. But be careful - this caramel is quick to burn and stick like glue to the bottom of your saucepan!
6. Pour the hot caramel over the biscuit base and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes baking. Caramel will continue to boil, thicken and set. Once cooked, set the base aside and allow to cool completely.

Troubleshooting: there's a lot that can go wrong at this step. If the caramel burns on the stove you have to throw it out and start again. Constantly stirring it can help. The idea here is to kick start the boiling process that's going to continue in the oven. If you under do this step, the slice will need to cook in the oven longer. If you under cook it in the oven, the flavour will be bland and the caramel won't be set. Your slice should look like the below picture. If it doesnt, keep cooking 3mins at a time. 

7. Combine the chocolate and copha (vegetable shortening) in a glass bowl and heat in the microwave oven on high for two and a half minutes. Remember - chocolate holds its form when microwaved; the only way to check it's melted is to get it out and stir it. Mix the chocolate and copha until thoroughly combined. Extra 10 second bursts in the microwave can help complete this job, but be careful not to burn your chocolate.
8. Pour the chocolate mix over the caramel layer of the slice. Carefully tilt the tin from side to side to ensure the caramel is completely covered with chocolate. Place the slice in the fridge and allow to chill for at least three hours.
9. Remove the slice from the fridge. Run a hot knife along the two sides that don't have baking paper to loosen the slice, then using the baking paper flaps as handles, lift the whole slice from the tin and place it on a chopping board. Run a calving knife under hot water, dry it off then score the top of the chocolate through to the caramel layer. This will ensure the chocolate doesn't crack when you cut the slice. This slice can be cut into 16 or 18 pieces. I've even served it up as 32 cocktail sized pieces to make it go further.
10. Keep chocolate caramel slice refridgerated. Keeps for a week if you don't eat it all before then!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

More ways to end hunger

I have been watching the news unfold about the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and have been horrified at how desperate the situation is, not only in Africa, but in other places in the world too. While I am at home in my kitchen, dreaming up culinary creations, there are people in the world who have never seen the inside of a supermarket. Yet i can go to one any time I like, buy any food I like, and eat as much of it as I like.

This seems incredibly wrong to me. I am so grateful for the privilege of being born in Australia, where food is abundant and where I will never experience the anguish of famine. But I am also aware that because I'm privileged, it's my responsibility to make a difference to those who are not.

So I've registered for the 40 Hour Famine - a World Vision initiative that has been going on since I was a little girl. On August 19 I will stop eating food for 40 hours in an effort to raise money for people starving across the world. This year the 40 Hour Famine is supporting East Timor - apparently they are starving there too.

If, like me, you feel grateful for the wonderful food you eat, you might like to sponsor my 40 Hour Famine, by going to my sponsor page here:

Petrina's 40 Hour Famine

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The question of colour

There have been a couple of occassions now where we have made colourful cupcakes for kids functions and found that parents just won't let their kids eat our product!

The first time was at a Baby Bazaar back in 2008. We were invited to set up a stall amongst mothers who were selling buckets loads of clothes and toys their kids had grown out of. The idea was to promote our product in the hope of landing private orders. We made brightly coloured cupcakes to attrack the kids, but when it came time to purchase, the parents inevitably chose plain vanilla.

It happened again a couple of weeks back when we made cupcakes to donate to our son's daycare fundraiser. The cupcakes pictured looked like a technicolour dream next to most other things on the table. But again, the parents were avoiding them in favour of the plain brown offerings.

I have to admit, when I give my son a cupcake I pick the icing off and just let him have the cake. But this isn't because of the colour - it's more to do with the sugar and the fact that we haven't let him have a whole load of it to date. I think parents are naturally concerned about the use of colour in foods, yet the only one that should be of real concern is red. It's been known to send kids off their tree. Just ask any school teacher! I never recommend red velvet cake for anyone who will serve it to kids - it needs so much red food colouring to get that intense red colour.

What I can say is, having recently made that glorious Colour Cake, the effect of having those colours reflecting on us for five hours was positive. If anything, I think colour cheers people. I'm not going to hold back on colour - I think I shall use it even more!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Big cake update

We've have the great pleasure lately to produce some big cakes for customers that have pushed our skills to new limits, and I wanted to share them with you because they're just so delicious to look at!

The first was a Dora cake for a little girl turning three. Inside was a vanilla buttercake layered with white chocolate ganache. We spent quite a lot of time working up the colour density in the fondant to give this cake the vibrant theme that Dora is famous for. We thought it was all about the colours! But when our young customer laid eyes on it, the first thing she said was "Where's the monkey?". Turns out Dora doesn't go anywhere without Boots the monkey! Next time we'll have to work out how to incorporate him into the cake.

Last weekend we made a cake for a new t-shirt company called Yellow & Co. Yellow's philosophy is quite simple - different colours represent different frequencies and you choose your colours based on the frequency you want to project. Cool, right? When we started this cake last Friday night, it was after a really tough day at work. I was feeling particularly low when I started working up all the different coloured fondants for The Colour Cake. For five hours I had these vibrant colours mere inches from my face. By the time the cake was finished my mood had completely changed and I could hardly get to sleep, I felt so re-energised.

On the inside of The Colour Cake we served a quadruple tower of chocolate cake sandwiched together with chocolate ganache. It was terrifying putting white fondant over the dark chocolate tower. I'm pleased to say there was not one smear of chocolate on the white. Phew!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Marshmallow Sherbet Cones

I have always been a big fan of sherbet in the many forms it comes in. As a kid, I loved those sherbet cones you bought from the corner store – semi solidified sherbet in a stale cone, with chewy marshmallow on the top, coated in hundreds and thousands. I also loved Wiz Fizz – fruity sherbet in a glassine bag with a little plastic shovel. I’d most often buy these on the way home from the pool, because they were only five cents. Unfortunately, my hands were usually still wet from the pool, turning the bag to a sloppy mess before I could eat its entire contents.

For my 10th birthday my mum decided to include homemade sherbet cones on the menu. Thanks to The Australian Women’s Weekly recipe cards, we had the recipe for sherbet and marshmallow, albeit, on different cards. My clever mum bought flat bottomed square cones, half filled them with sherbet and then topped them with pink or green marshmallow. Of course each had a liberal sprinkling of hundreds and thousands.

In my exploration of old seventies recipes, I’ve revisited sherbet cones to see how they look in the new millennium. Very retro, of course!

1 cup pure icing sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp tartaric acid
8 flat bottomed wafer cones

½ cup cold water
2 ½ tblsp gelatine powder (unflavoured)
½ cup water
1 ½ cup caster sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
½ tsp cochineal food colouring

1. Sift the icing sugar through a loose sieve to remove all the lumps. Add the bicarb soda and tartaric acid. Stir to combine.
2. Sift all ingredients together through a triple sieve. If you don’t have one, put it through the other sieve three times. You must do this to achieve the light and airy consistency of sherbet.
3. Spoon two heaped teaspoons of sherbet into each sherbet cone. Make sure you leave about half a centimetre of cone space from the top to allow for the marshmallow.
4. Combine the gelatine and water in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Stir to combine, then allow to stand for around 10 minutes. This is to ensure the gelatine has fully dissolved.
5. Combine the water, sugar and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed pan. I used a frying pan, but a saucepan will do too. Bring to the boil and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Continue boiling until the syrup reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit. Be very careful – this mixture will cause severe burns if you get it on your skin!
6. Turn the electric mix on low and slowly pour the boiling syrup mixture into the gelatine mixture. Continue mixing on low until all ingredients are combined. Then increase the mixing speed until – on a Kitchenaid this is eighth gear. Also note, I chose the paddle beater for this task. Other recipes will say use a whisk attachment, but this mixture will break your equipment if you do! I’ve also made this on a Sunbeam Mixmaster – it brought the beaters to a standstill and nearly burned out the motor!
7. Continue beating the marshmallow mix until it goes white and triples in size. Depending on your mix, this will take 7-10 minutes. Add the food colouring – adjust amount according to the intensity of colour you want.
8. Fit a star-shaped piping tube into a piping bag. I recommend you use a disposable bag to help with clean up later! Spoon as much marshmallow into the bag as you can – it’s very sticky and stringy so be careful not to get it stuck in your hair!
9. Pip marshmallow around the top of each sherbet cone, covering the sherbet and working in clock-wise circles to build up to a peak. Sprinkle immediately with hundreds and thousands.
10. Allow to stand for about half an hour. The marshmallow will relax a little bit, but it should not drip.
11. For any left over marshmallow, fill a Teflon tray with sifted pure icing sugar. Pipe long strips of marshmallow into the icing sugar, then cover it with more sifted icing sugar. Carefully dust the marshmallow and allow to set for about half an hour. Using a pair of scissors, cut one inch pieces of marshmallow. Store in an airtight container and eat whenever you get the urge!
12. Marshmallow cones should keep in an airtight container for about two weeks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ancient recipes, modern ingredients

When I was a kid there was a culinary revolution in our house that was triggered by the release of The Australian Women's Weekly recipe cards. Every week for something like 26 weeks a new set of cards was released and my mum snapped them up and began using them. I relied heavily on those cards when I was learning to cook, and I was delighted a few years ago when my mum found an entire set for me in a garage sale.

Last month I decided to have a go at making the now famous Caramel Chocolate Slice, which can be found in most cafes in Australia. The recipe cards are now around 35 years old, so I shouldn't have been surprised to find that the recipe needed some adjusting.

Firstly, the old slice tin has been replaced by a brownie tin. It's roughly the same dimensions, but it's deeper. So while the biscuit base fitted perfectly, there was scant caramel to cover it. When I checked the tin of condensed milk, I found it is now 390g, whereas it used to be 440g. You wouldn't think 50g would make much of a difference, but consider how much of the condensed milk gets left on the inside of the can. There's a chance you could be over 75g short, which would mess with the outcome.

I also found the chocolate just didn't cover the slice. So with both the caramel and the chocolate, I just doubled the original recipe, which resulted in a very generous slice.

Last weekend I fished out the recipe for sherbet. My mum used to combine the sherbet with the marshmallow recipe in a square icecream cones to make sherbet cones for our birthdays. As a teenager I frequently used the sherbet recipe to concoct an naughty after school snack. I picked up some tartaric acid in the supermarket and on Sunday night I put together a batch of sherbet. I was surprised to find the tartaric acid did not perform the same way it did 25 years ago. It could be a difference in the way it's produced now. It certainly looked different to the stuff mum used to use. I added 50% more to get the flavour right. But I still think it needs something else to correct it.

Old recipes are excellent. They can be a window to the past, as Heston Blumenthal has showed us time and again. But be careful when using modern ingredients in ancient recipes - they will need adjusting to get the flavour right. All you can do is test and taste. Which is the way to get any recipe right, no matter when it was written!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bean Nachos

In the late eighties I discovered a café in Sydney called Dean’s. Dean’s was (and still is) located in Kellett Street, Kings Cross. It was a small, somewhat dingy café with retro memorabilia hanging off the walls and old fifties tables and chairs with rattan chaise longues for furniture.

Dean’s was one of the few vegetarian restaurants in the Cross at the time. Not that I cared too much – but their menu was faithful. It included vegetarian lasagne, baba ganoush, vegetarian pate, and the piece de resistance, bean nachos.

Because Dean’s was open until impossibly late on weekends, we’d frequently head there after a night our clubbing or as the obligatory dawn end to a dance party. Our menu choice: the monster nachos. We’d get one, share it, and woe be tide anyone who was tardy into getting to Dean’s. There was never any left for them!

We made friends with the people who ran Dean’s and eventually some of us even got jobs there. I asked what the secret of the beans on the nachos was, and I was told to mind my own business. But late one night, one of the staff admitted to me that it contained parsley and he thought it made all the difference. I think the fact that the beans were blended into a paste helped too. There were no unsightly whole kidney beans hanging off the corn chips. No cloggy ground beef. Just beans. Refired ones, I guessed.

We had some great nights at Dean’s Café. In the summer of 88/89, a stinking hot year, I remember sitting on one of the chaise longues at about 4.00am. The duke box had been turned off and the ghetto blaster was playing instead. Can You feel It by Mr Fingers was pumping through the restaurant. We were hot, we were young, and in fact, I think we still might have believed at that point that we had the world at our feet. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the sheen of perspiration on my skin, and smell the acrid smoke of cigarettes trapped in my hair, thanks to the appallingly bad air circulation in the clubs we liked to go to then.

It’s worth saying that the first time I ever heard of sticky date pudding was at Dean’s Café. Therefore I’m going to say that I believe, unequivocally, that Dean’s invented the dish, which has been popularised in restaurants and cafes across Australia as standard dessert fare. Thank God Dean’s recipe for flour free chocolate cake never took off in the same way - it wa just too good to share.

I’ve always taken the special people in my life to Dean’s for a nachos. “Trust me,” I tell them. “This is the best nachos in the world”. Once they’ve had it, they always agree.

1 can refried beans
large pinch of freshly ground black pepper
small pinch seas salt
1 tblsp dried parsley leaves
1/4 cup of tomato puree
8 drops Tabasco sauce
100g plain corn chips
80gm grated tasty cheese (low fat is good!)

1 avocado
8 drops Tabasco sauch
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

2 tblsp sour cream to garnish
2 tsp hot chilli sauce to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
2. Combine the refrued beans, tomato puree, Tabasco sauce, parsley, pepper and salt in the bowl of your Kitchenaid (or another bench top mixer). Mix oon first gear until ingredients are well combined. Taste - this mix is really about the pepper so add a little more if you feel it needs it.
3. Arrange the corn chips on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Pipe teaspoonfuls of the bean mix onto each corn chip, using a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round piping tube.
4. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of grated cheese on top of the bean mix. Bake in th oven until cheese is melted - about five minutes.
5. Pipe half a teaspoon of guacamole onto each nacho. Then carefully position a quarter of a teaspoon of sour cream on top of the guacamole. Drizzle hot chilli sauce over each. And serve!

1. Scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl. Add the Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mash together with a fork. Switch to a spoon and mix until ingredients are just combined. Do not over mix! Chunky guacamole is what you want.

Notes: Any left over bean paste can be stored in a glass jar in the fridge. It will keep for about a week. This bean paste also makes a great dip! Refried beans have less than 1g of fat per serve so they’re a relatively guilt free treat! The cheese and the sour cream are where the fat is in this recipe. If you’re watching your fat content, choose light versions of each to limit fat intake. In Australia, Doritos Original Corn Chips are gluten free and therefore are a great choice for your base corn chips. If you’re a wheat eater, you might like to choose the Nacho Cheese Doritos to further add to the flavour of this meal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Helping others with their hunger

On this blog I talk about food and eating as if everyone in the world can get a meal of anything they want, any time they want. But for some people in the world that simply isn't the case. Millions of people on our planet struggle to get to have a single meal a day. So my husband and I decided to do something about it.

My husband is a brilliant illustrator, whose work appears at Brandi. He's donated one of his illustrations, printed on canvas, to The Hunger Project's silent auction, which takes place in Pert this weekend. But thanks to the web, anyone can bid on his artwork no matter where they are in the world. if you'd like to own this piece of art, just bid using the absentee bid button. Follow the link here: Brandi art auction.

We also sponsored another artist, photographer Tess Peni, to donate an artwork for the auction. It's a beautiful photo of carp printed on canvas. You can check it out here: Carp by Tess Peni.

Every dollar raised in this auction goes towards ending hunger on the planet.

Monday, May 09, 2011


How many of us feel hamstrung when it comes to producing something that involves pastry? I have to say as I've gotten older and more experienced in the kitchen, my pastry skills seem to have diminished. To the point where I've basically given up and just buy frozen ready-rolled pastry.

But when I saw Maggie Beer demonstrate her approach to pastry last Friday night, I felt I could give it another go. It's worth noting that I don't have a food processor. It's the one thing in my kitchen that is missing - mainly because I have no where to put one. And to be honest, in the past I've been let down by food processors. But that's a story for another post! This recipe is made using my trusty Kitchen Aid.

250g plain flour
200g salt-reduced butter
5-6 tblsp milk

1. Place the flour and chopped butter in the bowl of your Kitchen Aid. Using the dough hook attachment, begin mixing the flour and butter together until it resembles lumpy bread crumbs. Make sure the butter is at room temperature. You'll need to use fourth or sixth gear to draw in the butter and flour at the sides of the bowl.
2. Add milk one tablespoon at a time - I only used 5 tablespoons of milk in this recipe. Maggie Beer used 160g sour cream for liquid in her recipe, but I don't see the need to add additional fat to the pastry. I've used milk, but you could also use iced water for an even more low fat option. Run the Kitchen Aid on first gear to lightly combine. Do not over mix! The mixture still needs to be lumpy and crumbly. As Maggie said, if you can still see lumps of butter, that's good.
3. Tip the mixture out onto a floured surface. Begin drawing the mixture together into a square shape, pressing it from the sides and the top to make it level all round. Do not knead the dough! Once it's sticking together, wrap it in Gladwrap and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4. Re-flour the bench then begin rolling the pastry out with a rolling pin. Try very hard to keep it in the square shape. Make sure you roll it so it's the same thickness all over.
5. Roughly cut the pastry into the shape you need it, leaving about an inch and a half extra. Maggie said this pastry shrinks and you just have to accept it. The extra will hopefully compensate for shrinkage. Line your baking tin witht he pastry - I used a teflon coated fluted tart tin which didn't need greasing. Sit the excess up straight if you can, then cover and put in the fridge to rest. Try and leave it 30 minutes if you can (I went and washed my hair to stop myself from getting it out too soon).
6. By now you should have your oven pre-heated to 180 degrees celsius (you know the drill). Dock the base of the pastry with a fork, ensuring it's got a good amount of holes to stop it from puffing up or bubbling. Line the pastry with a piece of baking paper, then fill it with pastry weights or beans or rice ready for blind baking.
7. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and inspect the excess pastry around the edges of the tin. Mine had flopped over and looked unsightly so I took my rolling pin and literally rolled the top edge of the tin to sever the excess. This left a really neat edge on the tart. I was going to throw the excess away, but instead I left it on the tray to keep cooking.
8. Fill the tart with whatever you're putting in there (or nothing if you're putting cold filling in later) and return it to the oven for a further 20 minutes.

Notes: I filled my tart with ricotta and spinach filling (the same as I use in filo triangles). I found the bottom of the tart hadn't been cooked enough in the blind baking, so it was still soft on the bottom of the tart. This is easily remedied with extra time at the blind baking stage.

The excess bits of pastry I left to cook were the revelation! They were caramel-brown, buttery and flakey!! I have honestly never cooked such good pastry in my life! This has left me with a few ideas for this recipe - namely cooking the tart shell then painting it with melted chocolate and filling it with lemon curd. I might do this by the end of the week, since I have loads of beautiful lemons in the fridge right now.

Thanks Maggie Beer for this amazing way of doing pastry. It really was fool proof. Just follow the instructions to the letter and it will work!

Chocolate Bronwies

Brownies are not an Australian phenomenon. They come to us via the good ole' US of A, and we can all thank the Baker for that! The only thing in Australian baking that comes close to a brownie is the humble chocolate coconut slice, which is a bit more like a flat biscuit and is covered in icing and sprinkled with coconut. A chocolate brownie is a whole other proposition - the best ones, in my opinion, are intensely chocolate and extremely moist. In January this year I published a recipe for Black & White Brownies. I was happy with the chocolate component, but when I cooked it on its own for my in-laws a couple of weeks later I found it was a bit on the thin side, and slightly cakey. Since then I've been thinking about how to perfect this brownie and I am pleased to say I have finally gotten it to a point when I think I've aced myself! Try it out and let me know if you agree!

400g high quality dark cooking chocolate (I use Callebaut)
375g salt reduced butter, chopped
2 cups caster sugar
2 tblsp vanilla essence
2 tblsp Dutch cocoa powder
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup almond meal
6 large eggs
pure icing sugar for dusting

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 in a fan faust). Line a 20x30cm brownie tin with baking paper, ensuring there's about an inch and a half extra above the top of the tin on both of the long sides. If your tin isn't teflon coated, thoroughly grease the other two sides to ensure the brownie doesn't stick.
2. Combine the chocolate, butter and sugar in a large glass bowl. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until the butter is mostly melted. Be careful not to burn the chocolate.
3. Stir the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted and the ingredients are well combined.
4. Add the vanilla, flour, almond meal and eggs. Mix with a balloon whisk until thoroughly combined. Make sure there are no lumps!
5. Pour the mixture into the brownie tin. It will almost fill the entire tin but don't worry - it won't bubble over the sides. Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remember, brownies need to be on the undercooked side, so decrease the cooking time according to how you know your oven performs.
6. When cooked allow the brownie to stand in the tin until it's completely cold. This is really important! It's best to make the brownie the day before you need it to ensure it's had time to settle. Run a sharp knife down the sides of the brownie where there's no baking paper to loosen it from the tin. Use the flaps of paper on the long sides as handles to lift it out and place it on a chopping board.
7. Carefully cut the brownie into 16 5cm x 7.5cm pieces. I seriously use a ruler to get the measurements right! Push it all back together and cover with a thick dusting of icing sugar. Then serve!

Note: Some people love the edges of the brownie for their chewiness. I can't say this brownie is particularly chewy, but in any case, I don't like edges! There's a new brownie tin out that's kind of Z-shaped so you can get more edges. You won't see me baking with one of these! You'll be happy to know the edges on this brownie are virtually as squidgey as the middle. Which is the whole point!

Friday, May 06, 2011

My Little Pony cute Cupcake Book

I am thrilled to announce I have finally published a book! It's not the long awaited Kitchen Alchemy book - it's something entirely different. I was very fortunate last year to be asked to design 12 cupcakes for the My Little Pony Cute Cupcake Book. My Little Pony is a world-wide phenomenon. The seven core ponies, Rainbow Dash, Toola Roola, Cheerilee, Pinkie Pie, Scootaloo, Star Song and Sweetie Belle have been creating fun and joy for little girls aged three to seven for over 25 years. So you can imagine I jumped at the chance to work with Hasbro and The Five Mile Press on this unique project. This month the My Little Pony Cute Cupcake Book is released in Australia through Scholastic Books. It features recipes and detailed decoration instructions for seven cupcakes based on the ponie, plus five extra cupcakes representing the world the ponies love to live in. It also comes with stickers and party invitation. I'm so excited to have been involved with the creation of this book. It's a wonderful gift for a little girl and anyone who enjoys baking cupcakes. If you'd like a copy check out page three of the Scholastic Catalogue by following this link: Scholastic Books

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Bird’s Nests with Vanilla Cupcakes

When I was a little girl I absolutely loved the idea of the Easter Bunny. On Easter Saturday night I would go to sleep knowing when I woke on Sunday morning, there would be a swathe of chocolate eggs wrapped in shiny coloured foil waiting for me beside my bed – my very own sugar treasure trove to consume as I pleased, all delivered by a mysterious chocolate-making rabbit. I wouldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old when my sister decided to reveal to me the true identity of the Easter Bunny. She explained that our mum would wait until we were asleep, then sneak in and place the eggs beside our beds. I could not believe this was true so I hatched a plan to wait and see who exactly brought me my Easter eggs. It wasn’t easy staying awake – after all, I was just a little kid and I led a busy life! By bedtime I was normally exhausted! But I didn’t have to wait long until a shadowy figure appeared in the doorway and then snuck into my room. I remember it well, because I was asleep on the top bunk in my sister’s room. I was careful to act as if I was out cold as the little cardboard box filled with a foil wrapped egg surrounded by chocolates was placed beside my pillow. I snuck a careful peak and lo, the identity of the Easter Bunny was revealed. I shan’t repeat what I saw here, but suffice to say the magic of Easter wasn’t destroyed for me then, and since becoming a mum, it’s never been stronger!

200g high quality cooking chocolate
20g Copha, melted
3 large handfuls of shredded coconut
72 Cadbury mini-eggs

1. Place the chocolate in a glass bowl and melt in a microwave oven on high for 80 seconds. Remove and stir with a metal spoon to combine until all chocolate pieces are melted. Use extra burst of five seconds in the microwave if the last bits won’t melt, but be very careful not to burn the chocolate.
2. Pour the melted copha over the chocolate and mix until well combined.
3. Add the coconut one handful at a time, folding through the chocolate to coat each strand. Make sure the mix is wet enough to stick together, but not so wet that the chocolate forms a pool under the coconut.
4. Drop heaped teaspoonfuls of coconut mixture into non-stick gem scone tins. Carefully shape a cavity in the middle for the mini eggs to rest.
5. Place two mini eggs on each nest and place in the fridge until set. Use to decorate your favourite cupcakes – the ones shown are my traditional vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream icing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Now that I have a little boy, I find myself more and more preoccupied with thoughts of home made foods I can make him to eat. It’s so easy as a parent to just buy stuff and feed it to your kid. But when I think about my childhood and the foods I lived off, I mostly remember foods made by my mother for my sister and I. Yes we were bought packet biscuits – my favourites were Tim Tams and Rocky Rounds. But they were expensive “special occasion” biscuits and we weren’t treated to them often. If I wanted them, I usually had to trade crackers with butter and vegemite for my school friend’s chocolate biscuits (she had them all the time). But nothing made me happier than to open my lunch box and find a cupcake or a couple of biscuits, baked by my mum. Her specialty in the biscuit department was a coconut cookie that she topped with either pink or green sugar. She actually coloured the sugar herself. These days I buy kilos of coloured sugar at a time for cupcake purposes – it’s lazy, I know, but at least I can say I know HOW to make that sugar if I want to, thanks to Mum. I’ve been thinking for sometime about making chocolate chip cookies for my little son, and yesterday I finally got around to it. I gave him one when he returned from shopping with his dad, and when I turned my back, his little hand reached up to the bench to try and hook another one off the cooling rack. Turns out he is a cookie lover just like his mother.

175g salt reduced butter
½ cup tightly packed brown sugar
1tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup plain flour
½ cup self raising flour
Big handful of dark cooking chocolate buttons

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter, brown sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cream on medium speed for 3-5mins until mixture becomes creamy and slightly lighter.
3. Add the egg and plain flour and mix on slowest speed until combined. Add the self raising flour and mix for another 15 seconds. Switch off the mixer and continue working the dough with your hands until all the flour is integrated.
4. Place the chocolate buttons on a chopping board and roughly cut into large chunks. Add to the cookie dough and work through until the chocolate chunks are combined.
5. Turn the dough out onto a clean chopping board and begin to roll it into a log about the thickness of an aerosol can. Tap each end on the board to flatten it out. Wrap dough log in cling wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
6. Slice 1cm thick rounds of cookie dough with a sharp carving knife. The knife will snag on big chocolate chunks. Just pull them out of the way. Reform each slice in a rough round shape and press any spare chunks of chocolate back into them.
7. Place cookies on sheet leaving a good amount of space between each to allow for spreading. I fitted eight cookies on each sheet.
8. Bake for 18mins or until golden brown. Allow to cool on tray for 10mins before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 18-20 cookies.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mini Pavlova

When I was little my mother always included a pavlova as part of our Christmas fair. She loved Christmas pudding with brandy custard, but it just wasn't the kind of thing that kids enjoyed. So she would always make a pavlova for my sister and I - of course she and Dad ate the pav as well as the pudding.

That pavlova has legendary status in my mind. I remember watching Mum mixing the merignue in a steaming pot sitting in another filled with boiling water on the stove. She'd have her electric hand mixer working over time as the meringue thickened and began to crust around the edges of the pot. Mum always coloured the pav - pink or green were the only colours in the seventies. When the meringue was ready she'd draw the outline of a dinner plate on a tray covered in foil, spread some meringue around the shape, then pipe a wall of meringue around it. Mum would put the pav in the oven, we'd go to bed, and in the morning, there it would be, a pink confection, still cooling in the oven.

When we moved to Penrith in 1980 that pavlova recipe disappeared, along with the recipe for Weekend Dainty. Until that time I had never known a pavlova that wasn't crusty. But in Penrith the pavs were squidgey. Mostly they came from a cake shop in Kingswood, decorated with strawberries and kiwi fruit and dripping with passionfruit plup. A thick layer of whipped cream sat atop a puff of wobbly meringue with the thinnest crust of crunch on the outside. I have to confess it was a taste sensation - pavs were never the same again for me from that point on.

These days you can buy a pavlova shell in any supermarket. But I have returned to making them myself - they are so simple and so satisfying. That crusty pav Mum made is lost in the sands of time. But I think this recipe marries all the good parts of that old classic with the modern squidgey pav.

3 large eggs whites
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp white vinegar

1. Pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees. A slow oven will help keep the pavlova a light colour.
2. Whip the eggs until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the caster sugar. Add the vinegar and continue to beat until the sugar is fully disolved.
3. Using a large spring-handled icecream scoop, position mounds of meringue on a baking tray lined with baking paper. You should get eight meringues out of this mix.
4. Bake for 45 mins, then turn oven off, open oven door and leave ajar to let the pavs cool inside for about half an hour.
5. Remove pavlovas from oven and carefully peel off baking paper. Cool on a wire rack for a minimum of two hours. If you eat them warm they'll have an eggy taste!

300ml thickened cream
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp pure icing sugar
12 strawberries
handful of fresh blueberries
chocolate sauce
raspberry sauce
icing sugar to dust

1. Place the cream, vanilla and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until stiff peaks form. Chill for an hour before using.
2. On a dinner plate, make a decorative swirl with the chocolate sauce (I just used bought sauce). If you're pickey, pour the sauce into a piping tube, snip the tip and pipe a zig zag shape across the plate.
3. Position a pav in the middle of each plate. Cut one whole strawberry into quarters, leaving the green bit in tact so it holds together. Carefully spread the strawberry open and place on top of the pav. Add a couple of extra slices of strawberry and four or five blueberries.
4. Drizzle raspberry sauce inside the strawberry (I used Chef's Choice Rasberry Sauce), allowing it to run down the sides.
5. Dust one quarter of the pav with icing sugar so it falls deocratively on the chocolate sauce. Enjoy!!

Note: pavlovas will keep, undecorated, in an airtight container for up to a week.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Raspberry & White Chocolate Sponge

Well I haven’t gotten around to making the Caramel Cream Sponge yet. But I did have a chance to invent something new and special for a friend of mine who was celebrating a very special birthday. As her birthday guests snaffled the decorations off the side of her cake, I was reminded of my fifth birthday, where my friends did exactly the same thing.

A lot of people ask me how I learned to make cakes, and I think that birthday would probably be the first time I was exposed to the art of sugar craft. My mum and Aunty Liz spent many nights hand moulding delicate pink sugar roses to decorate my fifth birthday cake.

Back in those days a fondant decorated cake was normally white, but Mum decided mine would be pink. And usually the cake underneath was fruit cake, but Mum thought we could try chocolate and see how it worked out. I don’t remember if there was marzipan – there certainly wasn’t any chocolate ganache between the fondant and the cake.

The thing I remember was being sung happy birthday to, and no sooner had I blown out the candles, many little hands had reached out and grabbed a sugar flower off the top of the cake. Both my mum and Aunty Liz were mortified – you weren’t supposed to eat the flowers! You’re supposed to pick them off and store them in an air tight container until they rot!!!

These days matters are different – sugar craft has evolved to a whole new realm and people expect to be able to eat everything you put on a cake. Although there is a trend towards putting toys and other keepsakes on kids cupcakes.

I had dreamed of a blue cake with delicate cherry blossoms for Peisha’s cake. She wanted a dessert cake though, so this is what I made.

6 large eggs
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup self raising flour
½ cup plain flour
½ cup corn flour
900ml thickened cream
300g frozen raspberries
870g high quality white chocolate (I used Lindt)
300ml pure cream
8 dessert spoons caster sugar
3 handfuls whole raw almonds
350g white chocolate

Sponge Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius (160 fan faust).
2. Grease and line a 25cm baking tin – the sides must be perfectly straight. Make sure the baking paper sits 4cms above the top of the tin.
3. Place the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs until they are thick and frothy.
4. Gradually add the caster sugar and continue mixing until the sugar has dissolved – about 10 minutes.
5. Using a three-way sieve, sift the flours together into the egg mix, one third at a time. Carefully fold each edition into the egg mix, ensuring there are no pockets of flour caught anywhere throughout. Do not over mix!
6. Pour the sponge mix into the cake tin and bake for 40minutes or until the cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched.
7. When cooked allow to cool in tin for about 10 minutes, then gently turn out onto a wire rack and carefully peel away the baking paper. Be sure not to tear the cake!

Raspberry Cream
1. Pour the thickened cream into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high speed until the cream holds firm peaks. Be very careful you don’t over mix or the cream will appear grainy! Store in the fridge until required.
2. When the cake is ready for assembly, add the frozen raspberries to the whipped cream and stir to combine. Ensure none of the raspberries stick to each other to form clumps!

White Chocolate Ganache
1. Place the white chocolate pieces in the large bowl of an electric mixer. (If you’re like me you will have done a lot of washing up at this point to use the same bowl over and over).
2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and place over heat on stove. Gently bring to the boil. Make sure it boils properly but don’t let it burn.
3. Pour the boiling cream over the white chocolate, then turn the mixer on to it’s slowest speed. I use my Kitchenaid’s paddle fitting for this job – it seriously beats doing this task by hand and in my opinion, produces a better result.
4. Transfer the ganache into a glass bowl and set aside to set.

Toffee Shards
1. Preheat the over to 180 degrees Celsius (160 fan faust).
2. Line a baking tray with baking paper, ensuring the paper is precisely cut to size so it doesn’t bend or buckle.
3. Sprinkle four dessert spoons of caster sugar evenly across the paper. Place in the oven and allow the sugar to melt. If your oven has a hotspot like mine does, rotate the tray to achieve an even colour. When the sugar is golden, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Be careful not to burn yourself! Melted sugar is extremely dangerous!
4. Repeat with the second amount of sugar. Break the cold toffee into two to three inch long shards and set aside.

Almond Bark
1. Preheat the over to 180 degrees Celsius (160 fan faust).
Spread the almonds on baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast in the oven for about 7 minutes – or until the almond are slightly darker on the outside.
2. Allow the almonds to cool, then chop into fine pieces. While you don’t want almond meal, you also cant’ have big chunks.
3. Place the white chocolate in a glass bowl and melt in the microwave for 70 seconds. Check frequently to ensure you don’t burn the chocolate – remember chocolate melted in a microwave will hold its form so stir it once you take it out to melt any pieces still in solid form.
4. Add the chopped roasted almonds.
5. Measure the girth of your sponge cake, then spread a piece of baking paper the same length on a flat surface. Mark off a band four inches high.
6. Carefully pour the chocolate almond mix the length of the band of paper. Carefully spread the mix the length and width of the band, being careful to ensure there are no gaps. Allow to set.
Note: I made this on a very hot day and the chocolate wouldn’t set unless I put it in the fridge. I cut the band the length of chopping boards, slid them underneath, then placed them in the fridge until they were set.

1. Carefully split the sponge into three even layers using a long bread cutting knife. Be confident – this is easier than you think!
2. Place the top layer of sponge top down on a flat board that will fit into the fridge. You can use your final presentation cake plate if you’re confident you can keep it clean.
3. Spread half of the raspberry cream over the sponge layer. At this point I added some bought raspberry sauce for additional effect. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.
4. Position the middle layer of sponge over the cream, then spread the rest of the raspberry cream over it. Add raspberry sauce if desired.
Position the final layer of sponge over the cream – this should be the section that was on the bottom of the baking tin, which will have a nice flat surface. Lightly place a light weight plastic chopping board on top of the cake and press to level. Don’t press too hard tough – you don’t want cream coming out the sides.
5. Carefully ladle half of the white chocolate ganache over the top of the sponge. Using a large spoon, gently smooth in circles until it reaches the sides of the cake and runs over. This will create a beautiful smooth shoulder of ganache.
6. Place the cake in the fridge to allow the ganache to set. Also allow the remaining ganache to set to spreading consistency – put it in the fridge if you need to.
7. Remove the almond bark from the fridge and break it into pieces about two and a half inches wide. Use a sharp knife to crack it on a flat surface if that’s easier. If the edges of the pieces are wonky don’t worry – that’s part of the effect.
8. Once the ganache has set on top of the cake, remove it from the fridge. Begin spreading small sections of the side with the remaining ganache, sticking a piece of almond bark to each section, slightly overlapping them as you go. Continue until all the sides are covered.
9. Pile the toffee shards roughly on top of the cake. And for the final touch, gently tie a gold organza ribbon around the cake, finishing with a large bow.

Phew!!! This is a monumental cake to make. If you give it a go, please do write me a message! I’m keen to hear how it turns out. Make sure you keep the cake in the fridge until you want to serve – it will melt into a puddle otherwise!