Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My best creation

Our little bun was in the oven a little longer than expected, but as you can see,  he was perfectly cooked when he came out. 

Back in my apron for the first time. Shepherd's Pie, for the record. 
The birth-day cake. Chocolate congac cake, baked by Ama. 
Dinner has become a moveable feast. 

Daring Cooks' December 2011 - Cha Sui Bao

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

Okay, so this is possibly going to be my dodgiest post ever. I completed this challenge back in late November but stupidly I didn't do my post before our baby was born (!) on 8 December. Since then I have been um, kinda busy. But I have to post to prove I did it and besides, this was my favourite DC challenge yet.  I love to eat BBQ pork buns but had never made them at home before, and both versions I made were excellent. 
I first made the recipe as suggested by the host, cooking the BBQ pork on the BBQ (duh!) and steaming the buns. Then, as I was a lady of leisure on maternity leave, I also made a version of David Chang's famous pork buns, which are like a cross between Char Sui Bao and Peking Duck pancakes. 
Thank you for the challenge Sara, I loved it. 

The inside of the Char Sui Bao with Tom enjoying one in the background 

The BBQ pork on the trusty Weber BabyQ 

Char Sui Bao pre-steaming 

My Momofuku-style pork buns. We visited David Chang's new Sydney restaurant Seiobo for Tom's birthday in October and these buns were served as part of the 14 course degustation

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Daring Bakers November 2011 - Sans Rival

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

I got in early this month so I could make this in time for my very last day at work before starting maternity leave. A Sans Rival cake involves layers of baked dacquoise (similar to meringue) with lots and lots of buttercream icing. I have a serious sweet tooth and am not afraid of fat, but even I had to baulk at the idea of eating this cake between two. Fortunately it was a big hit at work . I am hoping that I find a mothers' group that likes baked goods so I have a regular place to share the DB challenges and other sweet things I make.

I made the recipe exactly as prescribed, except I adopted a suggestion from someone in the forum to bake the dacquoise layers spread on baking paper instead of in a tin. That worked really well because I don't have multiple cake tins in the same size, but I could still bake 2 at a time. Although this is not the kind of thing I would usually make by choice, it was lots of fun to prepare the layers and decorate the cake.

Thank-you Catherine for hosting this month and for introducing me to something new. I would love to explore more Filipino foods in the future.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Daring Cooks November 2011 - Cooking with Tea

Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

For this month's challenge I took up smoking. I'd had the idea of using tea leaves to smoke food floating around in my head for awhile, I can't remember where I picked it up. So when this challenge was revealed and the only requirement was to make something savoury with tea, I knew what I wanted to do.

I googled tea-smoked chicken and it came back with hundreds of recipes and suggestions, but many of them were based on a mixture of equal parts tea leaves, raw rice and brown sugar. The traditional approach is to use a foil-lined wok but I wanted to try it in our barbecue.

I have described my method and ingredients below, but it really extremely flexible and could be used in any sort of salad, or sandwich or ramen or pasta or whatever. The result was some perfectly cooked and very tasty chicken pieces, but the smoke flavour was very subtle and the tea flavour was non-existent. I think it would need a longer smoking time (at a lower temperature than I could achieve in our barbecue) to develop more flavour.

Tea-smoked chicken summer salad

For the chicken
4 skinless chicken thigh pieces
1/4 cup tea leaves
1/4 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick crumbled into pieces

Lightly season the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.
Preheat your barbecue on high for around 10 minutes.
Choose a robust baking tray and wire rack that will fit inside your barbecue.
Wrap the tray on both sides with a double layer of foil.
Combine the tea, rice, sugar and cinnamon and spread evenly inside the tray.
Place the tray inside the barbecue and wait until it starts to smoke
Place the chicken on the rack and then put the wire rack over the tea mixture in the barbecue.
Turn the heat down to low, close the lid of the barbecue and leave for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes I checked the temperature using a digital thermometer with a probe and it was good to go.

For the salad (to serve 2)
2 smoked chicken thighs, shredded
1/2 cos lettuce, shredded
1 bunch asparagus, blanched and sliced
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

Combine all the ingredients in a salad bowl and dress as desired. I used just a little olive oil and balsamic.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Daring Bakers' October 2011 - Povitica

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

What a beautiful challenge. While I am usually more interested in the taste of food than the look, it is fun to make something that also looks lovely. And I had never heard of or seen this kind of bread before.

The basic idea is to make a sweet bread dough, roll it out very thin, top it with a sweet nutty filling, roll it up jelly roll style, then loop the roll around in the bread pan to create a pretty pattern in the baked loaf.

The challenge recipe called for a 1.5 hour rise time, but with a really busy week and an inability to stay up late, I made the dough in the evening, left it to rise all night, then rolled and baked early the next morning. Surprisingly this didn't seem have any adverse effect on the finished product.

You can find the recipe I used, which was created by the host, here in the Daring Kitchen archive. I made the half batch to produce 2 loaves. For one loaf I used the suggested walnut filling and for the other I used poppy seeds, simply replacing the amount of ground walnuts in the recipe with poppy seeds.

You can see from the pictures that the poppy seed version was more successful. I think that was partly because I allowed the loaf longer to rise/rest after it was placed in the plan, and party because the poppy seed mixture was thinner and easier to spread than the walnut version.

It seems that this bread also goes by the name Potica, and you can find many different recipes by searching for that.

Thanks to Jenni for the excellent challenge - it was fun to make and yummy to eat and I will definitely be making it again. This last picture features one of my favorite op-shopped linen tea towels - I thought it was appropriate as it was made in Czech republic.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Daring Cooks October 2011 - Moo Shu

The October Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Shelley of C Mom Cook and her sister Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood. They challenged us to bring a taste of the East into our home kitchens by making our own Moo Shu, including thin pancakes, stir fry and sauce.

I was intrigued by this month's challenge. We eat lots of Chinese and go to lots of Chinese restaurants and I have never heard of Moo Shu. I don’t think it is a thing in Australia. But I love pancakes of any description, so I was keen to give it a go. In fact on the day I made this I also made pancakes for breakfast - a truly excellent day.

So this challenge had three components – pancakes, filling and sauce. The pancake dough was easy to work with and I found I could roll it very thin, but I was not completely happy with the results. In short, the pancakes were hard. I found they were only pliable enough to wrap after a short zap in the microwave. A minute or so in a steam basket would probably have the same effect. Also the favour was quite bland. Next time I would follow the suggestion of some of the other Daring Cooks and add salt to the dough.

The stir-fry was very simple to prepare, but I had never used wood ear fungus before, so that was fun. It is amazing how much it puffs up when re-hydrated and I loved the unique rubbery texture. I still have most of a bag of dried fungus in the cupboard so I am on the lookout for ideas to use it up.

When it came to the hoisin sauce recipe I was very sceptical. Why would you make your own hoisin sauce, especially with inauthentic Chinese ingredients like peanut butter and honey? But I am a (mostly) obedient Daring Cook, so I gave it a whirl.

The overall effect was a perfectly tasty dinner, but for me it didn't quite have the wow factor of other challenges. I would love to try Moo Shu in a good Chinese restaurant and see how it compares.

Thanks to Shelley and Ruth for introducing me to something new. I especially enjoyed reading about the history and etymology of Moo Shu.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Croissants - Daring Bakers' Challenge September 2011

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Ah, whoops. I was so excited about this challenge that I didn't realise we were required to make croissants to a specific recipe. 500 grams of butter later, there was no way I was going to make a second batch, so I hope I will be forgiven.

I recently acquired the Bourke St Bakery cookbook, which I have wanted for ages. I got it at the newly opened Sydney Costco for only $30 and was excited to try the croissant recipe. The book includes a basic croissant dough which can be used to make traditional croissants, pan au chocolat, raisin scrolls and danishes.

The basic recipe calls for 900 grams of flour, 500 grams of butter and fresh yeast, and at one point the instructions say to roll the dough out to 90 cm, which is wider than our kitchen bench. So the recipe is not wonderfully suited to the home baker. But I forged ahead. The results were not perfect. The taste was too buttery - I know croissants are meant to be buttery, but these were extreme. In terms of texture, the outside was crisp and somewhat flakey, but the inside was a little too doughy.

The interior honeycomb - not perfect but not a disaster either.

The money shot! Despite my misgivings, I must say that when I was eating this for breakfast the next day, with butter, strawberry jam and a coffee, I was feeling extremely smug.

I divided the huge amount of dough into three and also made some almond croissants and cinnamon nut scrolls.

Almond croissants are my personal all-time favorite pastry and there are lots of different versions. I made mine by spreading some frangipane over the cut croissant dough before rolling and then sprinkling flaked almonds on the top before baking.

I made the scrolls using the cinnamon bun roll and cut technique with chopped walnuts added. All three versions were tasty but I liked the basic croissant best. I froze some of each version and I am hoping I can lure some friends around for brunch soon and impress them with my handmade pastry.

Thank you to our host Sarah and I am awfully sorry I didn't make the Julia Child recipe. I promise I will try it out next time I make croissants.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Appam and Curry - The Daring Cooks Challenge August 2011

Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

I am always excited when a new challenge is revealed, but I was especially excited when I saw this one. I have a connection with Sri Lanka because my father was born there and my grandparents lived there as tea-estate managers for many years. Also my sister lived in Colombo for a time in 2006 and I visited her there. I have many good memories of the food, but my absolute favorite thing was the egg hopper - also known as appam!

I made the appams, the beef curry and the carrot dish as suggested by the host. You can find all the recipes here. I also made a pol sambol from a recipe by Charmaine Solomon and a chilli sambol. This was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. The variety of flavours and textures was wonderful and everything tasted very authentic.

I saved some of the batter for next morning and made an egg hopper. I wouldn't usually go for chilli sambol at breakfast, but this was brilliant and also very satisfying.

And look - this is a picture from my trip to Sri Lanka in 2006. You can see an egg hopper with pol sambol and chilli sambol in the background, and I think probably a fish curry in the foreground. How good is it that I am able to recreate such amazing food at home? Thank you so much host Mary, this was my favourite challenge yet.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fresh Fraisiers - Daring Bakers July 2011

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

Yes, this was as good as it looks. A chiffon cake soaked with sugar syrup and filled with pastry cream and strawberries - pretty hard to go wrong here. Each of the compulsory components were simple to make, but you'll be pleased to hear that I made things a bit more challenging for myself. Firstly, by baking it on the last possible night and not starting until after 7pm. And secondly by transporting the finished cake over 90 kilometers on the train the next day to share with my colleagues in a regional office.

You can find the recipes here in the Daring Kitchen archive. I chose to make the chocolate flavored chiffon cake. I used syrup that was left over from poaching rhubarb, so it was infused with flavors of rhubarb, orange and vanilla.

My colleagues absolutely loved the cake. I have not baked for them before and it was a joy because they all went out of their way to thank me and say how much they enjoyed it. I thanked them in return for helping me not to eat the whole thing myself.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Homemade Noodles - Daring Cooks' Challenge July 2011

Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks' July hostess. Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine. She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

I have committed the cardinal sin of the food blogger. I forgot to take a picture of the completed dish. Ooops. We had friends over for dinner and I was quite stressed about the ravioli falling apart/sticking together/getting soggy/going cold. So you'll have to take my word for it that the spinach and ricotta ravioli you see above was cooked and served with a most delectable ragu and lashing of parmesan cheese.

Our host suggested that as an extra challenge we look for noodles from our own cultural background. I couldn't think of any particularly Scottish or North American noodles, but I did use my late Grandma's pasta machine to make the noodles.

I used two recipes from Marcella Hazan's Essential's of Classic Italian Cooking - Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli and Ragu Bolognese. This is one of very favorite cookbooks and has never ever failed me. The noodle making process was quite tricky and my ravioli were all different shapes and thicknesses. The end result was far from professional but it tasted good. I think I will let the pictures I did take tell (most 0f) the story. They don't show me swearing or cursing my decision to make ravioli or begging Tom for an extra pair of hands, but you can use your imagination.

Thanks to Steph for this challenge. I am sorry that I didn't get around to making spatzle because that looks really fun, but I intend to try that soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers June 2011 - Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

My baklava was a disaster! Except that I had fun making it, it tasted yummy and we loved eating it. So not that much of a disaster.

I was thrilled when this challenge was revealed because (a) I love baklava and (b) I knew home-made filo pastry would be very challenging. I was right about that. After hours of rolling and holey dough and even some tears of frustration, I learned one very important lesson – never, ever try to make your own filo! In all seriousness, I am glad I tried it and I would urge all the more talented cooks out there to give it a go, but next time I will go back to store-bought pastry.

Where do I start with my problems? Not with the dough – that was great. My beloved mixer made light work of the kneading and the dough looked perfect. But when it came to rolling, things went rapidly down hill. I didn't use a dowel and I am sure that would have helped. I tried both my rolling pins and I used a lot of flour, but it just wouldn't go thin enough. Before it got anywhere near translucent it would tear. And every time I tried to pick it up it would also tear. And after it had been rolled out once, it turned hard and refused to be rolled again. And then the leaves started sticking together. And even though I doubled the recipe and rolled for hours, I only ended up with 10 useable pieces. Sigh.

The end result probably shouldn't even be called baklava. My pastry layers were not light or crisp or flaky. More like dense and hard and chewy. But hey, how wrong can you go with all those nuts and all that butter and honey? The flavour was still lovely, we ate the whole tray and I will happily use this recipe again. With store-bought filo.

Thank you Erica for the excellent challenge, a really great choice.

Filo pastry dough:

185 gm plain flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
105 ml water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine flour and salt
2. Mix with paddle attachment
3. Combine water, oil and vinegar in a small bowl.
4. Add water & oil mixture with mixer on low speed, mix until you get a soft dough, if it appears dry add a little more water
5. Change to the dough hook and knead approximately 10 minutes. You will end up with beautiful smooth dough.
6. Remove the dough from mixer and continue to knead by hand for 2 more minutes. Pick up the dough and through it down hard on the counter a few times during the kneading process.
7. Shape the dough into a ball and lightly cover with oil
8. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest 90 minutes

Rolling the Filo

1. Unwrap your dough and cut off a chunk slightly larger than a golf ball. While you are rolling be sure to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out.
2. Be sure to flour your hands, rolling pin and counter. As you roll you will need to keep adding, don’t worry, you can’t over-flour.
3. Roll out the dough a bit to flatten it out.
4. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin/dowel
5. Roll back and forth quickly with the dough remaining on the dowel
6. Remove; notice how much bigger it is!
7. Rotate and repeat until it is as thin as you can it. Don’t worry if you get rips in the dough, as long as you have one perfect one for the top you will never notice.
8. When you get it as thin as you can with the rolling pin, carefully pick it up with well floured hands and stretch it on the backs of your hands as you would a pizza dough, just helps make it that much thinner. Roll out your dough until it is transparent. NOTE: you will not get it as thin as the frozen phyllo dough you purchase at the store, it is made by machine
9. Set aside on a well-floured surface. Repeat the process until your dough is used up. Between each sheet again flower well. You will not need to cover your dough with a wet cloth, as you do with boxed dough, it is moist enough that it will not try out.

Adapted from Alton Brown, The Food Network

For the syrup:
· 1 1/4 cups honey
· 1 1/4 cups water
· 1 1/4 cups sugar
· 1 cinnamon stick
· 1 (2-inch/50 mm) piece fresh citrus peel
· a few cloves or a pinch or ground clove

When you put your baklava in the oven start making your syrup. When you combine the two, one of them needs to be hot

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium pot over medium high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved
2. Boil for 10 minutes, stir occasionally.
3. Once boiled for 10 minutes remove from heat and strain cinnamon stick and lemon, allow to cool as baklava cooks

For the Filling:
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
A pinch of allspice
170 gm blanched almonds
155 gm raw or roasted walnuts
140 gm roasted pistachios
2/3 cup sugar
phyllo dough (see recipe above)
125g melted butter

1. Preheat oven to moderate 180°C
2. Combine nuts, sugar and spices in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. If you do not have a food processor chop with a sharp knife as fine as you can. Set aside.
3. Trim your phyllo sheets to fit in your pan
4. Brush bottom of pan with butter and place first phyllo sheet
5. Brush the first phyllo sheet with butter and repeat approximately 5 times ending with butter.
6. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top
7. Continue layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times
8. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top
9. Continue layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times
10. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top
11. Continue layering and buttering phyllo 5 more times. On the top layer, make sure you have a piece of phyllo with no holes if possible, just looks better.
12. Once you have applied the top layer tuck in all the edges to give a nice appearance.
13. With a Sharp knife score your baklava in desired shapes and number of pieces. If you can't cut all the ways through don’t worry you will cut again later. A 9x9 pan cuts nicely into 30 pieces. Then brush with a generous layer of butter making sure to cover every area and edge

14. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; remove from oven and cut again this time all the way through. Continue baking for another 30 minutes.
15. When baklava is cooked remove from oven and pour the cooled (will still be warmish) syrup evenly over the top, taking care to cover all surfaces when pouring. It looks like it is a lot but over night the syrup will soak into the baklava creating a beautifully sweet and wonderfully textured baklava!
16. Allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled cover and store at room temperature. Allow the baklava to sit overnight to absorb the syrup.
17. Serve at room temperature

Monday, June 13, 2011

Healthy Potato Salads - Daring Cook Challenge June 2011

To be honest, I was disappointed when this months challenge was revealed. Potato salad?!? What is so daring about that? Also it was a competition to come up with a recipe, which I am not very good at. Oh well, I thought, I'll make a couple of potato salads, we'll eat them, I'll post and then we can move onto next month. So I turned to some of my favorite cookbooks for healthy potato salad inspiration.

The first was Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Everyday. I am one of the legion of fans of Heidi's natural food-focused blog 101 Cookbooks and in her new book I found a recipe for Broccoli Gribiche. Her description in the head-note - Think French-dressed egg salad, meets potato salad, punctuated by plenty of broccoli - had my mouth watering and the end result was terrific. The dressing is a gribiche sauce - hard-boiled egg, vinegar, mustard, capers, shallots and herbs. So its healthier than mayo, but with that nice vinegar tang you expect from potato salad.

So far so good. The second recipe I tried was from Karen Martini's Where the Heart Is. Karen Martini is not known for healthy cooking. Even I have been known to gasp at the amount of fat and sugar in some of her recipes, but I cook them a lot and they are always super tasty. We had some dill left over so I was drawn to the Warm potato, Dill, Caper and Mustard salad. The vinegar, mustard and lemon juice dressing is added to well-boiled potato when they are still hot. The end result was a lovely creamy texture, once again without mayo. Win.

So after two successes, I deciding to get daring and come up with my own healthy potato salad. I loved the texture of the baked potato in the first salad I made. And I have been mad for this tahini salad dressing the past few weeks, so I knew I would use that. Then I just brainstormed for other ingredients that are healthy but totally delicious, and came up with avocado, edaname and beetroot.

I gotta say, for someone who doesn't make up her own recipes very often, I killed it. This was a seriously yummy salad and it is about as healthy as they come. I actually proud to submit my baby to the competition and I hope someone out there will try it and like it as much as we did.

4 medium potatoes, skin on, cut into 2cm cubes
1 Tsp olive oil
2 beetroots
1 avocado
1 cup frozen edaname (soy beans)
2 Tbs tahini
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp soy sauce


Heat oven to 180
Wrap beetroot together in foil and seal well. Place on a tray and roast in oven for 1 hour.
Combine potatoes with olive oil in a baking tray and season well with salt and pepper.
Roast potatoes in oven with beetroot for around 45 minutes, stirring several times.
Cook edaname in boiling water or microwave for around 2 minutes and drain well.
To make dressing, combine tahini, lemon juice, dijon and soy sauce in a jar with a lid and shake until creamy. You may want to thin it a little with hot water and shake again.
Peel and dice the cooled beetroot and the avocado. Combine the cooled potatoes, diced beetroot, edaname and avocado in a bowl and drizzle over a generous amount of tahini dressing.
You can stir the salad at the point if you like, but the bossy beetroot will turn everything pink.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fish Cake

My brother loves fishing and I like making silly cakes. He was only turning 41 but I have ever made him a cake before, so it was a good excuse. Here he is blowing out the candles with his daughter. Dad in the background also capturing the moment as ever.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mesquite Brownies

I hope that this is the mesquite brownie recipe you have been looking for.

Last year I found myself with most of a box of mesquite flour and no idea what to do with it. I had gone to some trouble to source the mesquite flour because I wanted to make the chocolate chip cookies in Heidi Swanson's book Super Natural Cooking. The cookies were great, but then I had a box of expensive native American super-food to use up. As mesquite flour is somewhat cocoa-like and I love brownies, I searched for a mesquite brownie recipe. I found a couple and even made one, but it wasn't memorable.

I took to using the mesquite flour a tablespoon at a time in smoothies and in this wonderful banana soft-serve. But when I came across Alice Medrich's recipe for cocoa brownies on a blog I had an idea to try it with the mesquite flour. It was a good idea! This is a fantastic recipe that makes delicious, moist, fudgey, moreish brownies and it happily accommodated the mesquite flour.

So if there is anyone else out there like me, with half a box of mesquite flour and no where to use it, I strongly recommend you give these a whirl. I think you'll be glad you did.

Mesquite Brownies
Adapted from a recipe in Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
140g butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup mesquite flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour

Preheat the oven to 162′C. Line the bottom and sides of a medium square baking pan with baking paper.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Melt over hot water or in the microwave in short bursts. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

Stir in the vanilla.. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.

Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a skewer poked into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the baking paper and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Marquise on Meringue - Daring Bakers' Challenge May 2011

Wow - even the spelling of the dish was challenging this month. I can't seem to get the hang of spelling meringue.

The May 2011 Daring Bakers Challenge was hosted by Emma of
CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

The challenge had four separate components – spicy chocolate marquise, torched meringue, tequila caramel sauce and spicy toasted almonds. All up it took me 6 hours to prepare. At the end it was utter chaos in my kitchen as I tried to "plate" everything before the sun went down so I could get a picture.

The whole process was fun and educational, and the end result was impressive. The texture of the marquise was amazing and unlike anything I have made before. I made the recipe exactly as suggested and sadly I didn't greatly enjoy the overall flavour profile. I usually like chilli and chocolate together, but this didn’t work for me and I also didn’t enjoy the tequila flavour in the caramel. I would definitely make each of the components again, but with different flavours added.

I have a lot of observations about this challenge, which probably won’t be of interest to anyone except a few hardcore DBs, but I feel it is therapeutic to share them.

Firstly, thanks to Audax Artifex for posting the half and quarter variations. The half version was enough for 16 mega-rich servings, which I used over 3 separate occasions. It was very nice, but I am awfully glad there are not another 16 portions in my freezer.

The marquise and chocolate base were fairly simple to prepare, with the invaluable help of a stand mixer. The only issue I had was with the direction to mix until the bowl was cool after adding the sugar syrup. My bowl didn’t get hot in the first place, so I just went with 10 minutes.

The meringue was fun to make. I have never before been directed to mix something with my hand and was slightly taken aback, but I loved it - you could really feel how it was supposed to feel. I don't have a blowtorch and ran out of time to buy one, so I used the grill. This was easy enough not ideal as the meringue was very tricky to move and collapsed when I tried.

The tequila caramel should have been simple to make, but stupidly I turned my back on the syrup (to look at the forums!) at the wrong moment. Of course it burned and I had to start again. The eventual finished product was wonderful, with a beautiful caramel colour and luscious thick texture.

The nuts were also simple to make, apart from the fact that I decided to blanch my own almonds, which added a good half an hour to the job! However, the proportions seemed a bit out, I think the amount of egg/sugar/spice mixture could have coated another cup of almonds and then there would have been less mixture burned onto the baking sheet.

I found the directions for cutting and plating the marquise confusing. As it read, I think you were supposed to remove the marquise from the freezer, cut the squares, roll them in the cocoa, then let them thaw fully in the fridge while you plated the other components. But it was awkward to move the marquise to the plate once it was coated. I think it would make more sense to plate the marquise, let it thaw, then pipe your meringue and torch it on the plate and lastly add the caramel and nuts. (Of course you would need a blowtorch for that which I don't have.)

Thank you to the hosts for bringing us a truly daring challenge.

Chocolate Marquise


6 large egg yolks at room temperature

2 large eggs

1/3 cup (75 grams/ 2⅔ oz) sugar

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (1⅓ fluid oz/ 40 ml.) water

Chocolate Base, barely warm (recipe follows)

1 cup (8 fluid oz./ 250 ml.) heavy cream

1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Torched meringue (recipe follows)

Spiced almonds (recipe follows)


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and whole eggs. Whip on high speed until very thick and pale, about 10 - 15 minutes.

  2. When the eggs are getting close to finishing, make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan.

  3. Bring the syrup to a boil and then cook to softball stage (235F/115C). If you have a cake tester with a metal loop for a handle, the right stage for the syrup is reached when you can blow a bubble through the loop.

  4. With the mixer running on low speed, drizzle the sugar syrup into the fluffy eggs, trying to hit that magic spot between the mixing bowl and the whisk.

  5. When all of the syrup has been added (do it fairly quickly), turn the mixer back on high and whip until the bowl is cool to the touch. This will take at least 10 minutes.

  6. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Set aside.

  7. When the egg mixture has cooled, add the chocolate base to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Try to get it as consistent as possible without losing all of the air you've whipped into the eggs. We used the stand mixer for this, and it took about 1 minute.

  8. Fold 1/3 of the reserved whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, and then fold in the remaining whipped cream.

  9. Pour into the prepared pans and cover with plastic wrap (directly touching the mixture so it doesn't allow in any air).

  10. Freeze until very firm, at least 2 - 4 hours (preferably 6 – 8 hours).

  11. When you're ready to plate, remove the marquise from the freezer at least 15 minutes before serving. While it's still hard, remove it from the pan by pulling on the parchment 'handles' or by flipping it over onto another piece of parchment. Cut it into cubes and roll the cubes in cocoa powder. These will start to melt almost immediately, so don't do this step until all of your other plating components (meringue, caramel, spiced nuts, cocoa nibs) are ready.

  12. The cubes need to sit in the fridge to slowly thaw so plating components can be done during that time. They don’t need to be ready before the cubes are rolled in the cocoa powder.

  13. Plate with the torched meringue and drizzled caramel sauce, and toss spiced almonds and cocoa nibs around for garnish. You want to handle the cubes as little as possible because they get messy quickly and are difficult to move. However, you want to wait to serve them until they've softened completely. The soft pillows of chocolate are what make this dessert so unusual and when combined with the other elements, you'll get creamy and crunchy textures with cool, spicy, salty, bitter, and sweet sensations on your palate.

Chocolate Base


6 oz (170 grams/ ¾ cups) bittersweet chocolate (about 70% cocoa)

¾ cups (180 ml/6 fluid oz.) heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/8 cup (30 ml/ 1 fluid oz.) tequila

1/8 cup (30 ml/ 1 fluid oz.) light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 cup (2 tablespoons/less than 1/2 ounce) cocoa powder

1/16 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 oz unsalted butter (1 tablespoon/15 grams), softened


1. Place the chocolate in a small mixing bowl.

2. In a double-boiler, warm the cream until it is hot to the touch (but is not boiling). Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.

3. Allow it to sit for a minute or two before stirring. Stir until the chocolate is melted completely and is smooth throughout.

4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

5. Set aside until cooled to room temperature. Do not refrigerate, as the base needs to be soft when added to the marquise mixture. If you make it the day before, you may need to warm it slightly. Whisk it until it is smooth again before using it in the marquise recipe.

Torched Meringue

Makes about 2 – 2½ cups of meringue. If you aren't planning on serving *all* of the marquise at once, you might want to scale this recipe back a bit.


6 large egg whites

¾ cup + 2 tablespoons (210 ml) (7 oz or 200 gms) sugar

Splash of apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer.

  2. Using your (clean, washed) hand, reach in the bowl and stir the three together, making sure the sugar is moistened evenly by the egg whites and they make a homogeneous liquid. Over a saucepan of simmering water, warm the egg white mixture. Use one hand to stir the mixture continuously, feeling for grains of sugar in the egg whites. As the liquid heats up, the sugar will slowly dissolve and the egg whites will thicken. This step is complete when you don't feel any more sugar crystals in the liquid and it is uniformly warm, nearly hot. Remove the mixing bowl from the saucepan and return it to the stand mixer with the whisk attachment.

  3. Whisk until you reach soft peaks. In the last 10 seconds of mixing, add the vanilla to the meringue and mix thoroughly.

  4. When you're ready to plate the dessert, spoon the meringue onto a plate (or use a piping bag) and use a blowtorch to broil.

Tequila Caramel Sauce


1/2 cup (120 ml/4 fluid oz) (4 oz/115 gm) sugar

1/4 cup (2 fluid oz./60 ml) water

1/2 cup (4 fluid oz./120 ml) heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon tequila


  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water on medium-high heat. Boil until the water completely evaporates and the sugar caramelizes to a dark mahogany colour.

  2. Working quickly, add the cream to the darkened caramel. It will bubble and pop vigorously, so add only as much cream as you can without overflowing the pot.

  3. Return the pot to the stove on low heat and whisk gently to break up any hardened sugar. Add any remaining cream and continue stirring. Gradually, the hard sugar will dissolve and the caramel sauce will continue to darken. When the caramel has darkened to the point you want it, remove it from the heat.

  4. Add the salt and tequila and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to serve.

Spiced Almonds


1/2 cup (4 oz.) sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg white 1 cup (145 grams/ 5 oz.) blanched whole almonds


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt.

3. In a larger mixing bowl whisk the egg white until it's frothy and thick.

4. Add the spice mix to the egg white and whisk to combine completely.

5. Add the nuts to the egg white mixture and toss with a spoon.

6. Spoon the coated nuts onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

7. Bake the nuts for 30 minutes, or until they turn light brown.

8. Allow the nuts to cool completely and they will get very crunchy. Set aside until ready to serve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gumbo - Daring Cooks' Challenge May 2011

As may be apparent, I have lost my cooking mojo a little in the past few months. Shamefully, I missed both last month's Daring Cook and Daring Baker challenges. But I am back and determined not to let things slip again.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

I have never made gumbo and thought it looked delicious. And bonus, it is seasonally appropriate for the cold Sydney autumn we are experiencing. As a gumbo virgin, and feeling nervous about the roux component, I decided to follow one of the suggested recipes, for a smoked sausage and chicken gumbo, as closely as possible. I couldn't find either of the specified sausages so I opted for just a hot smoked sausage from the local Italian deli and it was great. I couldn't find celery salt for the Creole spice mix, so I substituted celery seed. And I couldn't find file powder so I left that out.

I took the host's advice and chopped everything before I started. I was glad I did as the roux did need constant attention.

I was very nervous about the roux but it worked out perfectly. These pictures shows the development of the color from the start, after 5 minutes, after 10 minutes and after 15 minutes – just as the recipe said.

Once the onion was added to the roux it started to smell amazing. Then as each new ingredient was added, it just got better and better. The finished product was really, truly delicious and more than worth the effort. Tom declared it the tastiest thing he had ever eaten – though I should add that he had run a half-marathon earlier in the day and that I don't cook him two-meat treats very often.

Thank you so much to the host for introducing us to this classic dish in such an accessible way. I will absolutely be making gumbo again and again.

Drew's Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook by John Besh

1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) rendered chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) flour
2 large onions, diced
1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows), or store-bought Creole spice blend
2 pounds (2 kilograms) spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch (15mm) thick
2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers (capsicum), seeded and diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 quarts (3 liters) Basic Chicken Stock (recipe follows), or canned chicken stock
2 bay leaves
6 ounces (175 gm) andouille sausage, chopped
2 cups (480 ml) (320 gm) (11 oz) sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch (15mm) thick slices (or frozen, if fresh is not available)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Filé powder, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
4-6 cups (1 – 1½ liters) (650 gm – 950 gm) cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (recipe follows)

1. Prepare homemade chicken stock, if using (recipe below).
2. Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices, if using (recipe below).
3. Season the chicken pieces with about 2 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables.
4. Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
5. In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the chicken fat, duck fat, or canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
6. Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
7. Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.8. Add the sliced smoked sausage and stir for about a minute.
9. Add the celery, bell peppers, tomato, and garlic, and continue stirring for about 3 minutes.
10. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
11. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
12. Add the chopped andouille, okra, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco, all to taste.
13. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé powder at the table if desired.

Basic Creole Spices

2 tablespoons (30 ml) (33 gm) celery salt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) sweet paprika
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (18 gm) coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (6 gm) freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) garlic powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (7 gm) onion powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (4 gm) cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (1½ gm) ground allspice

Mix together all spices in a bowl. Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Store up to six months.