Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers' June 2012 - Battenberg Cake

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease. 

I had never heard of or seen a Battenberg cake but our host provided this background information: 

The first Battenberg cake was made to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria, to husband Prince Louis of Battenberg. It’s traditionally flavoured with almond and has the signature Battenberg markings, that is, the yellow and pink squares (said to represent the four princes of Battenberg). The strips of sponge are glued together using jam (normally apricot) and the whole cake is covered in marzipan. Sometimes the edges are crimped and the top is patterned with a knife.

I wonder why the four princes were represented by pink and yellow squares? Perhaps to drive future bakers crazy. So I learned a few lessons this month.

1. Even a fancy tricksy cake like this probably won't look spectacular unless you put in a decent effort. I was haphazard with the slicing the cake and hurried the process of gluing the cakes together with jam. So the end result was a very amateur looking cake that I was a little embarrassed to present at my Mothers Group.

2. Chocolate plastique is not my friend. It was mandatory to use a firm edible covering - marzipan, fondant or chocolate plastique. According the instructions, chocolate plastique is a modelling chocolate made by melting chocolate, combining it with corn syrup, cooling it, then kneading it until it is pliable enough to roll out or mold. I was highly sceptical that this would work, but after reading the forum I decided to give it a go. I should have trusted my baker's instinct. Despite kneading for a very long time the chocolate remained grainy, oily and not even close to pliable. I was literally growling with frustration and had to throw a whole block worth of chocolate in the bin. Grrrrrrrrrr. Fortunately I had a good stash of almond meal at home and was able to quickly make some marzipan to enable to me to complete the challenge.

3. Really boring food photos can be improved with software.  

Thank you to Mandy for hosting this month. As always I learned a lot and I am really looking forward to seeing what the much better bakers and photographers of the Daring Kitchen came up with. 

PS - Check out this very cool Rubik's cube Battenburg 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Daring Cooks June 2012- Cannelloni

The finished product - a terrible photo but it was delicious 
Manu from Manu’s Menu was our Daring Cooks lovely June hostess and has challenged us to make traditional Italian cannelloni from scratch! We were taught how to make the pasta, filling, and sauces shared with us from her own and her family’s treasured recipes. 

Every time I make pasta from scratch I get halfway through and swear I will never do it again, and this time was no exception. I have made ravioli a couple of times and also fettuccine and while it was fun, I always felt that the results didn't justify the effort. However, I had never made cannelloni before before and after eating this I was impressed and amazed. I will be very immodest and say honestly that this was the best cannelloni I have ever eaten. The texture was perfect, soft but not too soft, with a gentle bite to it. The handmade pasta combined with two classic sauces and baked up on a cold autumn night made for a fantastic meal that we shared with my Dad. 

I used the host's Cannelloni Di Carne recipe which you can find here. The only thing that I did differently was to follow the instructions in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (my favourite Italian cookbook) for making pasta dough by hand. She instructs you to knead for a "full 8 minutes" until the dough is "as smooth as baby skin". So I set the timer and kneaded away. It seemed like a long time and if I hadn't been timing I probably would have stopped after about 5 minutes. But I noticed after around 7 minutes there was a significant change in the consistency if the dough - it became  smoother and more supple. 

The most tedious part of making pasta is the rolling, rolling and re-rolling and that is the point at which I curse myself for forgetting that I swore never to do this again. (Coincidentally a few days after making this I saw in Aldi an electric pasta roller and actually thought that is not such a crazy idea.) But it is also awkward and time consuming to boil the pasta before filling it with the meat sauce. Plus you have the make the meat sauce and the cheese sauce and then bake the completed product. Fortunately I lucked out with a patient and happy baby on this particular day and the end result was really spectacular. 

Many thanks to Manu for this challenge (and to Marcella), I can no longer say that its not worth making your own pasta. 

A collage makes this look much easier than it was

My faithful assistant, also used to assess smoothness of the dough

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers' May 2012 Challenge - Challah

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

I love when a challenge is something I have not heard of and that was the case this month. I also love sweet eggy buttery breads, so it was a good month. 

Challah is a Jewish celebration bread that is traditionally served on the Sabbath. Fortunately I made two loaves and put one in the freezer, because if there had been only one there is no way it would have lasted until Sunday. 

The mixing part was very simple to do in the stand mixer. The braiding part was slightly more complicated, but like most girls who have ever had long hair (or even a doll with long hair), I can plait pretty well. I chose to do a 4 strand braid, but you can't really see that from the finished product because it over-rose and the surface tore down the middle when baked. I don't know what the technical term for this is but I think it happened because I proved them for too long. I was not too upset though because it still makes a gorgeous looking loaf. 

I made the whole wheat version suggested by Ruth because I generally like wholemeal (as we call it Australia) but I think for next time plain white would probably work better.

Thanks to Ruth for the terrific challenge and especially for including lots of interesting information about challah - I really enjoyed baking (and eating) it. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks' May 2012 - Bouef Bourguignon

Our May 2012 Daring Cooks’ hostess was Fabi of fabsfood. Fabi challenged us to make Boeuf Bourguignon, a classic French stew originating from the Burgundy region of France.

This was a great challenge for me just at the moment. Firstly the weather is turning colder here in Sydney, so a lovely beefy stew is pretty appetising. It also makes 6 portions, so I could use it to add to my stash of frozen dinners. I recently discovered that it is a good idea to not cook dinner from scratch on the same day I clean the house - it only took me 5 months of staying at home to work that one out. 

The version of Boeuf Bourguignon suggested by the host is what I would call elaborate, in that it required the beef, the onions and the mushrooms to each be cooked separately and then combined together. The recipe is based on one from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which it goes without saying does not steer you wrong. So I was happy to follow the copious instructions, although I did note that there is a BB recipe in Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion, which is also very reliable, and quite a bit simpler.  

My execution of this recipe provides a good illustration of my life at the moment. I spent most of the morning weighing, peeling and chopping the various components, in between feeds and naps and cuddles. Then I popped the meat in the oven and headed out to playgroup. It was supposed to cook for 3- 4 hours, which is roughly how long it takes me to walk to playgroup, play and walk back. But it was a lovely sunny day, the playgroupies wanted to stay longer than usual and I was the only committee member there, so I had to wait until everyone left. Then little mister fell asleep on the walk home and as decent naps are rather hard to come by for us, I was reluctant to go inside and tend to the BB until he woke up. So by time I got to it, it had been stewing away for 5 hours. There was not much sauce left and the meat was falling apart but it was far from ruined, so I was happy. 

Rather fortuitously I had leftovers of two delicious starchy sides to serve with the BB. Some parsnip dumplings left over from this recipe. And some leftover swede and potato cake leftover from this recipe. (Just quickly, isn't the internet amazing? Is there are recipe that you can't find a link to these days?)

So a few hours later, after our bath-feed-story-bed routine, it was nice and simple to reheat, add some veg and there we had a pretty amazing dinner. 

I can't recall now, but it is likely that we got about three quarters of the way through the meal before being summoned to the baby's room for a little more settling. "I'll go", "No, I'll go", "No its okay, you finish your dinner." Life is good. 

A big thank you to Fabi for hosting this challenge. I will think of you on housecleaning days in the coming weeks when I am eating delicious Boeuf Bourguignon for dinner without having to lift a finger.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Daring Bakers April 2012 - Armenian Nutmeg Cake

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

So I have missed a few challenges since my little man arrived 5 months ago. It is not that I don't have time to cook. I am at home on maternity leave and I cook pretty much every day. It is just the palaver of photographing, choosing and editing the photos and writing the posts that I find hard to get around to. Its also hard to find time to read the forums and look at other's blog posts, which is half the fun of the Daring Kitchen. 

This challenge was the perfect example. I completed the challenge on time, although only after a timely reminder via social media from The Procrastinating Baker (ironic no?) Yet here I am several weeks later still trying to get my post up. But I do want to continue with the Daring Kitchen though as I enjoy it so much. So I will try harder. 

This nutmeg cake was very easy to make. I whipped it up in under 2 hours after a last minute invitation to visit a friend. It was mostly devoured over a  lovely afternoon chatting with 2 mum friends. Breastfeeding is such a great excuse to eat extra cake.  

I love nutmeg but don't tend to use it very much apart from atop banana smoothies. So I was slightly nervous about using 1.5 teaspoons as it such a strong flavour, but it was not too much at all and next time I would even use more

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Daring Bakers March 2012 Challenge - Tiger Bread

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

What a great challenge this was Make a yummy new bread and then make a special sandwich with it. I loved the idea when I saw it at the start of the month and thought I would have plenty of time to bake it and try out different sandwich toppings. Then suddenly I was reminded by a Facebook post from a fellow DB that it was the end of the month and hey I hadn't even started.

So that very afternoon I marched into the kitchen and whipped up the rolls. It's a very simple white bread recipe with a rice flour paste painted on top to create the crunch and tiger-like appearance. They came out a little dense but certainly yummy.

When it came to the sandwich I went with the amazingly creative approach of "what we had" - which was tomato, beetroot, avocado, cheddar cheese and rocket. I have never been a big fan of the salad sandwich, but with the sweet bread and a good slather of mayo, this was actually quite delicious.

Thanks Sara and Erica for a great challenge. I loved learning about this unique bread and seeing the sandwiches that others came up with.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daring Bakers' February 2012 Challenge - Quick Breads

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.
I think I have mentioned before my crazy love of banana bread. "Toasted, no butter" is pretty much my catch-cry. At times I have eaten a slice a day for weeks on end. So I was pretty happy to see quick breads as the challenge and an opportunity for me to broaden my quick bread horizons.
I had high hopes to make many different breads, including a lime version of this lemon coconut bread and a proper high fat "cafe-style" banana bread. But once again I must plead the excuse of the new little baby in my life. In the end I made just two versions, one sweet and one savoury.
The sweet bread was this zucchini bread. Sadly it was not "the best" and in fact was not even very good, but I did omit the chocolate (because I ate it) and reduce the sugar (because we had run out) so I can't blame the recipe.

Zucchini bread - Papa loaf and baby loaf
The savory bread was a stout version of this beer and cheese bread. I happened to have some stout left over from making a most amazing stout and coffee ice-cream. (I would very highly recommend that recipe, but it's not part of the challenge.) The stout bread was interesting and livened up a few dinners, but it was a little too stodgy for my taste.
Stout bread - toasted, no butter 

Thank you to our host Lis. Without Lis there would be no Daring Kitchen. Imagine! It was great to have a challenge that allows us to see the amazing creativity of the bakers, I will never get tired of that.