Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday tables 2010

Christmas Eve Dinner at Ainslie

Christmas Day Lunch at Hawker

Christmas Day pudding at Hawker

Boxing Day lunch at Queanbeyan

New Years Eve Dinner at Tuross

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stollen - Daring Baker Challenge December 2010

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Unlike a lot of other Daring Baker bloggers, I love fruitcakes. Be it Lions Christmas cake, plum pudding, panettone, raisin toast, mince pies - I love them all. And I love Germans too. So I was very happy to find this month's challenge was Stollen.

Fortunately we had some unseasonably cool weather in Sydney in December, so the baking was not too unpleasant. I followed the host's recipe closely, but I added dried mango, pawpaw and pineapple, used macadamias instead of flaked almonds and added marzipan.

I was quite happy with how it turned out. It had a nice dry-but-not-too-dry texture and a good spicy fruity warmth. It was very good lightly toasted with a cup of coffee.

I encountered a small problem with the homemade marzipan. It decided to be overly sticky, so I had to add it in small pieces, which you can see in the first picture in the collage above. I also found that the melted butter I used to coat the stollen was very yellow and caused the icing sugar to be discolored, no matter how much sugar I added.

Although the wreath was huge, we somehow managed to eat most of it before Christmas. But I did save some to make an extra special Aussie stollen ice cream for our Christmas Eve dinner. I used this recipe and replaced the brown bread with stollen. It was really yummy and made a great southern hemisphere Christmas dessert.

Thank you Penny for this terrific challenge. As I said, I love fruitcake anyway, but I especially enjoyed making stollen and I will make it again and again.

Stollen Ice cream
Adapted from a Gourmet Traveller magazine recipe

12 egg yolks
75g brown sugar
75 g white sugar
500 ml milk
500 ml pouring cream
Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
3 cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
100 grams stollen, in very small cubes
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp icing sugar
35 gr toasted hazelnuts, chopped coarsely
75 gr sultanas
80 gr currants
1 tbsp brandy

1. Whisk egg yolks and both sugars together until sugars dissolve.
2. Combine milk, cream, cloves and zests in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
3. Pour milk mixture over egg mixture, stir to combine, then return to saucepan.
4. Cook over a low heat, stirring continuously for 8-10 minutes or until it coats the back of the spoon. Be careful here not to turn the heat up and split the custard. Cool the mixture and fish out the cloves.
5. Heat oven to 180 and toast the stollen cubes for 5 minutes or until light golden.
6. Drizzle the melted butter over the stollen cubes, then sprinkle with the icing sugar and return them to oven for a further 5 minutes. Be careful they don't burn.
7. Add the brandy, hazelnuts, raisins, currants and stollen cubes to the custard mixture and place in the fridge until very cold.
8. Churn in your ice cream maker, according to instructions, approx 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cracking the poached egg - Daring Cook Challenge November 2010

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I love poached eggs and have always wanted to be able to make them at home. But I have tried and failed so many times and had written them off as something I could never master. So it was a mixture of excitement and sinking dread for me when this month's challenge was revealed.

I decided to approach the challenge as scientifically as possible to see if I could finally crack a decent poached egg.

By far the most common tip for successful poached eggs is use fresh eggs. I found this part tricky. Sadly I don't have any friends with chickens who can provide me with lovely fresh laid eggs, so I have to rely on store-bought eggs. In Australia eggs are labeled with a "best before" date, so the question is, how does one work out from that when they were laid?

I did some research and discovered from The Australian Egg Labeling Guide, a guide to the applicable laws and regulations, that Australia eggs must be labeled with a "best-before" date and that means:

"the date which signifies the end of the period during which the intact package of food, if stored in accordance with any stated storage conditions, will remain fully marketable and will retain any specific qualities for which express or implied claims have been made".

Hmm, not very helpful. I gleaned slightly more information from the The Australia Egg Corporation Code of Practice for Shell Egg Production, Grading, Packing and Distribution, which provides that the best before date is calculated by reference to:

"a period of 6 weeks or less from the date of pack"
"eggs shall be delivered to a packing station within 96 hours of lay".

This still didn't give me a reliable way to work out how exactly how fresh the eggs I buy are, so I decided to simply work with what I had.

The other important factor seems to be the temperature of the water, so I used a candy thermometer to keep the water at around 70 c. I was surprised to find that at this temperature the water was not what I would call simmering. In the past I have definitely had the water too hot. I added vinegar to the water as directed, cracked the egg into a cup first, cooked them one at a time and used a timer to poach them for exactly 4 minutes. I was not up for the full Benedict so I served them with slow-roasted tomato and avocado for me, and with lashings of bacon for the bacon-lover in the family.

The results were pretty good and certainly far better than I have ever managed before. The whites had a lovely soft texture, not rubbery at all and the yolks were beautifully runny. However, the problems were that there were lots of fly-away white bits and worse, they were flat. The egg invariably sunk to the bottom of the pan. This meant the shape was akin to a fried egg, with the yolk in the shape of a hump and the white in a flat circle around it. To my mind, the shape should be closer to the shape of a boiled egg - with a rounded yolk and the white evenly clumped around it.

Later in the month I had a bit of an epiphany over my lunch at a cool Japanese place in the city called Mappen.

I was fascinated to see that they produced an egg that looked and tasted like a poached egg, but was cracked directly out of the shell into my bowl of udon. I guessed that the eggs must be pre-softboiled and thought this might be a way to achieve a more rounded poached egg with less white fly-aways. The method would be to parboil in the shell for say 2 minutes, then crack the egg into the pan of poaching water for a further 2 minutes.

I have experimented with this at home but am still yet to see the results I would like.

I should mention too that I made my own English muffins (did anyone not?) and cooked them on the barbeque. They were very simple and quite tasty, but next time I would like to try the Alton Brown method mentioned on the forum as that looks really good.

I thought this was a terrific challenge. It was interesting and scary and I learned a lot. Thank you so much to the hosts and to my fellow Daring Cooks who continually inspire and amaze me with their creative cooking.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I have been a big fan of panettone for a long time. I can't remember how or why I first started to eat it toasted with fruit salad and yoghurt, but for me that is just the yummiest combination. Now we always have it for our Christmas morning breakfast and plenty of other days in summer too. This year I decided to try making my own and I was very happy with the results.

I used the recipe from page 220 of Carol Field's The Italian Baker. It starts with a sponge, which then becomes a dough and there is a first rise. Then a second dough is incorporated and there is a second rise. Then the fruit filling is added, the loaves are formed and there is a final rise in the molds before they are baked. It took all day to make but didn't require much attention. The kneading was fairly strenuous as it is a big sturdy dough.

I am not going to reproduce the recipe here because it is 3 pages long, but I do want to quote the best part:

"Cool on racks for 30 minutes, then carefully remove from the molds and place the loaves on their sides on pillows to cool."

Apparently if you cool panettone on a rack it will collapse. My beautiful loaves looked very cute nestling on a pillow while they cooled.

I don't have a panettone mold so I improvised by using a biscuit tin for one loaf and the basin part of my crockpot for the other. Both worked well but the crockpot was better as it allowed for a slightly higher rise.

We ate the biscuit tin one already and it was really good. It is just slightly less sweet and less soft than commercially made ones, but we decided we prefer it that way. The second loaf is tucked away to be shared with our family on Christmas morning - I can't wait.