Bonding by Baking 

Food and family go hand in hand and one of my favourite things to do is bake with my dad. I think I got my love of cooking from my papa bear as although my parents are both excellent cooks, my dad’s the one who really loves it. 
On a beautiful but cold Autumn afternoon, he and I bonded the best way we know how, by baking a pear and almond flan. This was truely a family affair as the recipe we used came from my brother’s father in law (aka Shnukums) who is also an excellent cook. 


Half the time was spent baking, the other half deciphering the steps we needed to take next. I’d never made a tart with pieces of whole fruit in it but it was so delicious when Shnukums served it to us at a dinner party a few weeks back that I knew I was up for the challenge. 


We questioned the consistency of the pastry base, we questioned the quantity of the almond, egg and butter filling and then watched nervously for the golden colour to appear while baking but in the end it was worth it. The finished product was pretty as a picture and even better, it tasted awesome too!


Bonding by baking – there’s nothing more fun (or fattening) then that!!

Lamingtons for Australia Day

Australia Day just isn’t Australia Day without pavlova or lamingtons. This being a universally understood truth, I decided to make some. Unfortunately my meringue was an epic fail! The egg whites could not be formed into ‘stiff peaks’ no matter how long I beat them for and although they rose when in the oven, by the time the slow cooking and cooling processes had finished, I was left with some sad, cracked, wafer thin looking thing not capable of holding together let alone supporting any fruit or cream.

With one not working, I pinned all my hopes and patriotic dreams on the other. Thankfully my lamingtons turned out perfectly! They were most, spongy and had the perfect proportion of coating to cake. Funnily enough I got the recipe a few years ago from a post on an American food blog trying to explain Australia Day and our traditional foods to Americans. 

And here it is… the secret to any awesome Australia Day gathering.

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 110g softened butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • pinch of salt

For the icing

  • 45g softened butter
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 cups dessicated or shredded coconut

Method

Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan forced, 350F, gas mark 4). Line a square 20cm cake tin with baking paper and grease any uncovered sides.

To make the cake, sift flours and baking powder into a medium mixing bowl. Add all remaining cake ingredients and beat using an electric mixer on medium high for about 5 minutes. The mixture will become pale and light. Transfer into the tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until just golden on the top and cooked through.

Allow cake to cool before placing it in the fridge for about 20 minutes and cutting into fingers or squares. I like to remove the side crusts too, it makes the lamingtons even more meltingly soft.

To make the icing, place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix while adding a tablespoon of boiling water at a time. The icing should have the consistency of a slightly runny gravy.

Place coconut on a dessert plate. Dip each cake in the icing turning quickly then drop into the coconut, making sure it sticks and covers the cake well. Repeat with the rest. Keep lamingtons in the fridge until serving time.

A Christmas Miracle 

Ever since I read Not Quite Nigella’s blog post on making an edible Hogwarts I’ve wanted to make a gingerbread house. The problem is, construction isn’t my forte. I’m not particularly patient or detail oriented and even when I am taking care, I tend to make mistakes – owing to the fact that my spatial awareness and 3D visualisation skills seemed to have been lost at birth. 

Nevertheless I was undeterred and given that Christmas is looming, I decided the time was ripe to give it a raring hot go. To increase my chances of success, I decided to use the easiest recipe I could find – one intended for a cooking project with kids -and had my engineering sister on standby. 

The result- success!! It’s not as pretty as I’d like and there are a couple of unintended ventilation ports …but it is structurally sound, four walls and a roof standing unaided – A true Christmas miracle. Check out my progress photos below (I needed evidence). 


Ps: if you are looking for reasonably priced accomodation, this baby is available for 12 smarties a week or 4 freckles a month. First in, best dressed 😉



A Pink Afternoon Tea

It’s great to cook for family, it’s satisfying to cook for friends – it’s extra special when you are also cooking for a good cause. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and this year, my sister and I decided to put our kitchen skills towards a meaningful and very important cause by hosting an afternoon tea. We supplied everything – all we asked for was a donation from our friends who attended. Boy did they deliver!!

It was with great joy and full stomaches that we were able to donate almost $700. Check out the food picks below. 

   
    
    
 

Happy Jew Year 

Ah Jewish festivals. We’re either bingeing or we’re starving. Ok to be honest, 99% of the time we’re bingeing but either way it’s all about the food. And it’s so very very good. 

Growing up, my favourite was Chanukah – the festival of the lights. What’s not to love about panfried potato pancakes, jam filled donuts and chocolate coins. It pretty much sells itself. Now that I’m older, I appreciate all of them – the cheesecake at Shavuot, the matzah French toast at Passover and the Hamantashen (poppyseed filled cookies) at Purim. But boy does it play havoc on the waste line. 
  
This past week my friends, family, community and I welcomed in the Jewish New Year. It’s a time of celebration where we give thanks for the year that has passed and wish our love ones a happy new year filled with health, happiness and the sweetness of life. In an effort to make all these wonderful things come true, we proceed to stuff ourselves with apples dipped in honey, fish (a fish head representing the ‘head of the new year’) and of course, honey cake. 

Honey cake making is a skill and my dad has this down to a fine art. Every year he produces at least one of these beauties and I have to tell you it’s delicious!! It’s moist with a fine crumb and has a delightful combination of sugar and spice with the honey lending sweetness and the cocoa powder a richness.  
  
His recipe is unfortunately top secret but below is one from the Monday Morning Cooking Club that will give a great result. Perfect with tea or a cup of coffee. Give it a whirl to add a little sweet happiness to you life. Happy new year everyone 😀 

Ingredients

6 eggs separated

175g caster  sugar(superfine) 

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup strong black tea

225g self rising flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

GLAZE

1/2 cup icing sugar

1/2 lemon, juiced

2tbsp honey

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). You will need an angel cake (chiffon) tin that is not non-stick and has a removable base. Do not grease 
  2. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly add half the sugar and continue whisking until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. In a separate bowl beat the yolks and the remaining sugar until light and pale. Add the oil and keep beating for a couple of minutes until well combined.
  3. Sift the flour with the baking soda. Mix the honey into the hot tea. Add these to the egg yolks, alternating wet and dry, beating gently until fully combined.
  4. Gently fold the egg whites into the flour mixture with a metal spoon, until just mixed through. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 50 – 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  5. After removing the cake from the oven, immediately invert it to cool by balancing the middle funnel onto a bottle neck. The cake will be dangling upside down.
  6. When completely cool, run a knife around the outside of the cake and the funnel. Lift the base out of the tin, then use the knife to ease the cake off the base.
  7. We have made a step-my-step video on this website on how to make our custard chiffon cake, and the method is the same.
  8. To make the glaze, add the lemon juice (a few drops at a time) to the icing sugar until you have a thick, smooth paste. Add the honey and stir well, adding more lemon juice if necessary, so that you have a thick but runny glaze. Pour over the cooled cake.

  

The perfect cake 

Don’t you just love it when your hard work pays off with a pretty result!
I think this cake might be the prettiest cake I have ever made. Is it on par with a professional’s? Of course not but it rose evenly, it’s the right colour, there are no holes in the ganache and all the decorations stayed exactly where I put them – definitely a win!
  
It was made in honour of one of my colleagues who turned 21 over the weekend. She is a lovely girl who always arranges the purchase and delivery of everyone else’s cakes so I thought she deserved something special. 

Of course, as per all my creations, this one wasn’t without problems. It was meant to be a two tier cake separated by a layer of ganache but when the new tin I bought started leaking batter all over the inside of my oven, I thought it was time to switch tactics and poured the entire lot into one tin and made one giant cake. Transport was also an issue. I ended up wrapping it in foil and taking taxi into work – holding it gently on my lap while whispering sweet nothings to it encouraging it to stay in one piece. 

  
Thank goodness it worked. It was just perfect. The inside was the right balance between light and fudgy, the ganache a coffee/ chocolate delight and the whole thing was decorated with the birthday girl’s favourite sweet treats -maltesers, chocolate melts and mint bb balls. There was an extra surprise in the form of an m&m well inside too. 

I used this recipe as the base and then just went from there.

  
My masterpiece – I don’t think I could have been more proud if I’d given birth to the thing. Yes I’m crazy… I know… 😀. 

  

A birthday breakky 

It was my big sissy’s birthday recently and I love my big sister. She looks out for me, problem solves away my seemingly insurmountable life challenges and tells people no for me when I unwittingly say yes. 

  
To me, nothing says ‘I love you’ better than food and the best food is that which has been made specially for you. With that in mind, say hello to her big birthday Breakky – toasted bagel with avocado, eggs over easy, mushrooms and spinach all topped off with some fresh parsley and accompanied by a large hot chocolate (which I bought because I can’t make one to save myself). Not bad for a Wednesday morning pre work fry up. I won’t tell you what time it was when I started but trust me, only real live could have motivated me to get started at that time.  

  

Brown Butter Apple Loaf

An apple a day keeps the doctor away but what do you do if it’s the apple/s that you want to go away- floury, waxy, slightly squishy apples that are past their prime but which you can’t bare to throw out because your mamma taught you better than that. Well you bake them of course. 

A good likeness of the apples in question

And there is nothing better on a grotty, grey day than the gorgeous buttery gold of a cinnamon, apple loaf that has just emerged all warm and fragrant from the oven.

The recipe below (adapted from the kitchn) is what became of my floury apples which had been slowly wasting away in the fruit bowl on my dining room table. What makes it extra special is the browned butter, the pecans and the inclusion of a little Cointreau liqueur. Served warm with a little bit of butter it was just delicious!

  Ingredients 

3 apples peeled and cubed 
1/2 butter
1/2 brown sugar
1/2 white sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mixed spices
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
3 tbsp Cointreau 
1/2 cup pecans 
1 tsp vanilla

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line a loaf tin with baking paper and/or oil or extra butter.

2. Place the 1/2 cup butter in a small pot and melt over a medium heat until it is bubbling and has turned a dark golden brown. This happens fast so make sure to watch it closely and swirl it occasionally. Remove from heat and cool. 

3. Combine the two sugars, two eggs and cooled butter in a large mixing bowl with a whisk. 

4. Use a wooden spoon to mix in the flours, spices, baking soda and salt, stirring until just combined. Then mix in the yoghurt, vanilla, Cointreau, apples and pecans. 

5. Pour mixture into the loaf tin, smooth the top and bake for an hour or until cooked through. You may have to cover the top after 30 min to avoid burning. 

6. Remove from tin after 1 hour cooling and serve warm, sliced with butter or wrap in foil and freeze for later. 

Chocolate Almond Torte, a gluten free delight

It’s cake baking time again folks but this time it’s for a very special friend who is gluten intolerant, well not so much intolerant (or trend following) but seriously and very uncomfortably allergic.

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Rather than look up a specifically designated ‘gluten free’ recipe, I want to do something that came from a normal book, that wouldn’t have to fight against the ‘special diet’ stigma and that was just yummy in its own right. So I turned to my trusty women’s weekly cook book and sure enough, I found the below recipe for an awesome chocolate and almond cake – beautiful and nutty… Just like my friend 🙂

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Oh and word to the wise- just because it’s gluten free, it’s definitely not calorie free! Mmmm chocolatey goodness……

Ingredients
160g dark chocolate
160g unsalted butter
5 eggs separated
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup almond meal
2/3 cup flaked almonds + extra for decorating
35g dark chocolate chopped coarsely

Chocolate ganache
125g dark chocolate
1/3 cup thickened cream

Directions
1. preheat oven to 180 degrees. Spray and line a 22cm cake tin.
2. Melt the 160g chocolate and butter together (I used a microwave) and stir till smooth. Cool to room temp.
3. Beat egg yokes and sugar until thick and creamy. Fold in the chocolate mixture, almond meal, flaked almonds and chopped chocolate.
4. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold them into the chocolate mixture gently in two batches.
5. Pour mixture into pan and bake for 35 – 40 minutes.
6. Melt the last batch of dark chocolate and cream together to make the ganache. Once both the cake and ganache are cool, pour the ganache over the cake and spread it using a palette knife. Put in the fridge to set.
7. Toast the extra slivered almonds in a small pan on the stove. Sprinkle in an even layer on top of the cake.

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I finished the whole thing off with some almond bark – whole almonds sprinkled on baking paper and covered in a light toffee.

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Cucina Italiana Cooking School, Annandale

Ever wanted to experience Venice, Italy but don’t have the time and/or money to get there? Well now all you have to do is travel to Annandale and book in for a class at Cucina Italiana Cooking School.

The beautiful house

Held in a private house, the owner Luciana has converted the lower level to a demonstration kitchen and dining/tasting area. The family photos and trinkets scattered around the counter tops, on the walls and on top of the range hood though, indicates this house is still very much a lived in family home.

The décor

 

Personal touches

Luciana is a very passionate teacher who made the lesson interesting and fun. A big believer in quality Italian goods, she makes all her egg pastas at home.

Two cracked eggs – the beginnings of pasta

She began by assigning us to pasta making stations, and by explaining about how the weather greatly affects the pasta making process. The amount of moisture in the area has a direct impact on the amount of flour that needs to be used. As such, every recipe given is therefore just a guide, and flour quantities must be adjusted accordingly.

Items required for pasta making

Then we began. Create a ring of flour on your bench top, leaving some off to the side. Crack two eggs in the centre and slowly start mixing the flour in with a fork until the egg stops moving. Then mix the whole lot together to form a thick dough. Now came the fun part, the kneading.

The dough dance

By Luciana’s definition, kneading is a dance. A whole body movement requiring swaying to and from the bench to avoid arm cramps. Boy did we dance. Back and forth for well over 10 minutes. It got to a stage that we thought she had forgotten about us. Finally though, we had achieved a dough to her satisfaction, and it was placed aside to rest. We were then moved to the dining area. Here we were treated to some more of Luciana’s unique views: Jamie Oliver has ruined Italian food, and that he is the food terrorist. And flat parsley should only be used in butchers as decoration, and never for cooking, and olives are like cherries – they should burst in the mouth with flavour. Her vibrant personality is what set this cooking class apart from all others.

Antipasto

While sharing her pearls of wisdom with us, she demonstrated her famous bruschetta recipe; olives, borlotti beans, red onion, parsley, and a ton of olive oil. Simple and delicious.

The pasta machine

After our snack, It was then back to the kitchen to roll out the pasta. For the first time ever, I used a pasta machine, and It was surprisingly easy. You roll your dough ball out into a small rectangle, and then feed it through your pasta machine. Begin with it set on one, and then keep threading it through, each time putting the setting higher and higher until you reach a thin, flat sheet. We were then ready to make – wait for it: Ravioli!!!

pre-made fillings

Everything was prepared for us. All we had to do was scoop some pre-made filling (beetroot and pumpkin) into balls along the length of our pasta; fold it in half, and then cut it into sections using a pasta cutter. Of great importance was squeezing all the air out of each little pocket, and putting in enough filling so they weren’t miserable. They were then placed on drying racks.

Frying fish

 

Preparing dessert

While all this was happening, small side tutorials were being run on the art if making fish scaloppine and semifreddo. Once we had all joined together again, there was some quick instruction into the art of making a pasta sauce (oh the butter, oil and cream) – and then it was time to eat.

Entree is served: ravioli

What a feast it was! In typical Italian style, the pasta we all slaved over formed our first course. This was my favourite. That rich, creamy sauce highlighted the delicate flavours of the filling in what proved to be a light and tasty dish. We then moved on to the second course of fish scaloppini; a juicy fillet of barramundi lightly floured and fried before being finished off in a white wine and butter sauce. It was served with a caramelised walnut and lettuce salad.

The main

Finally, we finished off with a caffeine addicts dream – the beautiful rich semifreddo. What a way to end a meal.

DessertI undertook this cooking course as part of a staff development day, and it was such fun! I can’t wait to come back for one of the regular classes Luciana runs in Italian cooking. Soon I’ll be a connoisseur of Italian cuisine, nothing like that famous food terrorist….

Non-miserable ravioli

Rating: 10/10

Where: 84 Johnston Street Annandale NSW
Why: Learn to make beautiful Italian food from an enigmatic teacher.
Cost: $130- $155 per person
When: Wed & Thurs evening, or Sat & Sun day classes. Alternatively you can book a private group.

Good for kids: Yes, she runs family classes.
Take away: N/A