Friday, January 27, 2012

Australia fare

Well Australia Day has come and gone and I have not posted a single recipe that might be of any use to anyone anywhere on this topic. That's because I'm not really doing much creative cooking at the moment.

However, I will regale you with a happy memory of Australia Day - it was easily 10 years ago, when my sister had moved to the central coast. She found a beautiful beach called Catherine Hill Bay, and my friend Jeannette and I decided to head up there for Australia Day.

There aren't too many beaches in Sydney where a person can take their dog and allow them to run free. At Catherine Hill Bay you could happily do this at the far end of the beach. To get there you had to drive through a grave yard, park under some trees and traipse over some sandy hills to reach the beach. Jeannette and I had bought grass mats for the occassion. The idea was to lay down the grass mats and place our towels over the top to make a much more comfy position for ourselves to enjoy the beach.

With towels neatly arranged we head into the water for a dip - which was perfect I might add, and magical, as is often the way at Catherine Hill Bay. Chest deep in water, Jeannette and I looked back at the beach to where my dog, Derek, was staring out at us. It was almost as if he was waiting for us to make eye contact so we could witness his crime. He turned around and began digging at our towels and grass mats - much as if he was digging for China! Sand was flying everywhere, and we began shouting "Get off! Get off!". Derek, of course, ignored us and kept digging until he'd made a nest. He circled around two or three times, then plopped himself down to wait for us.

Jeannette accused Derek of being a filthy wretch at the time. But looking back, it was hilarious! After we'd straightened everything out, we sat down and were thrilled to see the F1-11s flying past the beach on their way to Sydney. Back then they came every year to participate in the Sydney celebrations - they'd do a loop of the entire city, and it was thrilled to see them screeching past. I'm not sure if they do it any more. I certainly didn't hear them yesterday.

If you're an Aussie, I hope you enjoyed our national day yesterday! Lets see if I can do better with recipes for Valentine's Day!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Caramel Fudge

Straight out of school my first job was as a braille proofreader. No! I'm not blind! But I worked in partnership with a guy who was. He'd read a braille print out and I'd follow the original text and tell him if there were words missing or if there were punctuation problems with the transcript.

We frequently stopped to chat because reading all day every day can get tedious. And one thing we chatted about was cooking. As it turned out, my colleague and I both had a thing for caramel fudge. So when I left that job and found the corner shop near my new job sold amazing home made caramel fudge, I naturally sent some back to my old work buddy.

He didn't really like it - he preferred the Scottish tablet type of fudge which was a bit harder and more crystaline. But I liked the squidgey stuff. And I frequently was able to get fudge right after it was delivered while it was still warm.

Years later I asked the guys who sold the fudge why they didn't stock it any more. They said the lady who made it died. But she had left them the bowl she made it in, the wooden spoon she stirred it with and the recipe. Sadly they were so busy they didn't have time to make it.

I've been on the look out for a good fudge recipe ever since. I recently discovered Planet Cake uses fudge as the base for many fondant covered trinkets they include on their cakes. This fudge could be used for that. But I think you're better off just eating it!

Ingredients
395g condensed milk
395g top n fill caramel
2 cups dark brown sugar
250g salt reduced butter
1/3 cup liquid glucose
1/4 cup golden syrup
400g good quality white cooking chocolate

1. Line a 20cm x30xm brownie tin with paper, making all four sides are covered. Allow some overhang on each side.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat on the stove over a medium heat. Stir until all ingredients are well combined, ensuring the sugar is completely melted.
3. Allow to come to the boil and continue to boil for six minutes.
4. Remove from the stove and stand on the sink or on a trivett. It will take about three minutes for the boiling to subside. Do not touch the saucepan! Do not lick the spoon! And don't get any of it on your skin - it will burn like you won't believe.
5. Carefully pour the fudge into the prepared tin and set aside for three hours. Then place in the fridge and chill until fully set.
6. Cut into bars 2cm wide by 6cm long. Wrap in baking paper and tie with a ribbon if you like.

Note: You will get loads of bars out of this mix, with plenty to keep for yourself and give away to friends

Friday, January 06, 2012

Chocolate celebration cake

When I was a little kid my mother used to make the most amazing chocolate cake. It was a dark, moist cake, layered with whipped cream, which she sometimes flavoured with coffee.

She made that cake for me to take to my second grade christms party one year. Mum sure had a lot of confidence that a bunch of seven year old kids would love the flavour of chocolate and coffee together. But she was right - that cake was devoured right down to the last crumb.

I'm still of the opinion that a chocolate cake is the best kind of cake for any occassion. I made this one recently for a friend's mum's birthday. I added a few extra flourishes to turn it into a celebration cake.

Ingredients
2 cups water
3 cups caster sugar
250g butter
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1tsp bicarb soda
4 eggs
3 cup self raising flour

1. Combine the water, sugar, butter and cocoa powder in the largest saucepan you've got. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, watching carefully that the mix does not boil over. Continue to boil for five full minutes. The longer you boil this mix the darker your cake will be. In the last minute add the bicarb soda and mix to combine.
2. Pour the chocolate syrup mix into a glass bowl and allow to stand until it is completely cold.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Transfer the chocolate syrup into the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Add the eggs and flour and mix on first gear to combine. Increase speed to sixth gear and beat for three minutes. Mixture should be thick, pale and glossy.
5. Pour the mixture into a fully lined 10 inch round cake tin. Bake in the oven for 80 minutes, or until the cake is cooked.
6. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to completely cool.

Icing
1 kg pure icing sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
175g butter
120ml full cream milk
3 tsp warm water

1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of your Kitchenaid. Mix on first gear to combine, then increase speed to sixth gear. Beat until the buttercream become thick and fluffy.
2. Split the cake in two. Spread one third of the buttercream across the top of the middle layer. Position the top layer over the bottom and carefully align so the sides are even.
3. Use a butter knife to spread buttercream around the sides of the cake. Then use a long spatula to spread buttercream over the top of the cake. Make it all as smooth as you can but don't worry if there are bumps. Rustic is good with this cake!

Chocolate Almond Bark
500g milk chocolate couveture
2 large handfuls of raw almonds

1. Roast the almonds in a moderate over for five minutes.
2. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave - do this in two one minute bursts to avoid burning the chocolate. Continue with 10 second bursts if more melting is needed.
3. Stire the chocolate until all pieces are melted. Pour two thirds of the chocolate onto a cold plate and allow it to cool. Add it back to the rest of the chocolate and stir to thoroughly combine.
4. Chop the almonds - you want the pieces to be large but not chunky. Add to the chocolate and stir to combine.
5. Spread the chocolate onto baking paper. Make three strips no more than three inches wide. Place on trays and chill until the chocolate is set.
6. Cut the chocolate into two inch wide plaques.

Toffee Shards
1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Sprinkle caster sugar across the baking paper - make it about 2mm thick.
3. Heat in the oven until the sugar has melted and browned. Do not burn!
4. Allow to cool completely.

Assembly
1. Stick the chocolate plaques to the outside of the cake while the buttercream is still wet.
2. Break the toffee into shards and arrange randomly on the top of the cake.
3. Tie a coloured ribbon around the outside of the cake. If you have it, add some edible glitter to the top of the cake to add some sparkle!
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