Tuesday, October 26

honey & buttermilk panna cotta

As much as I love cookbooks, I adore cooking magazines - my absolute favourites being delicious, Australian Gourmet Traveller (if you hadn't already noticed), and Donna Hay. Having a collection of your own personal cookbooks is obviously a necessity, but there's just something about receiving a new, shiny collection of seasonal recipes every month that gets me excited like a five year old on Christmas morning. My boyfriend usually checks the mail, and after he hand delivers me a copy of my newly arrived subscription, my reading ritual is to rip the packet open and immediately flick through the pages, just once through. I "oooh" and I "aaaah" out loud, but then put it down. It's not until I have a cup of tea, and at least half an hour to myself that I sit down and pour over the recipes. Admittedly, some issues appeal to me more thank others, but there is always one or two recipes that simply scream "COOK ME, EAT ME!". In the October/November issue of Donna Hay, the recipes in the entire magazine were all fighting for my attentions.

Out of all of the Summery recipes, Donna Hay's recipe for honey & buttermilk panna cotta has won my heart for the most immediately appealing recipe, which brings me to my third honey recipe for the week. It is so incredibly simple and quick, perfect for a weeknight dessert. Or an any-night dessert, in fact. Just remember to factor in setting time, which is really quite quick.

I dedicate this post to my dear friend Chris as, for some unexplainable reason, panna cottas always remind me of him. So Chris: Get you blog up and running already, forgoodnesssake!

Ingredients (makes 4)
Recipe from Donna Hay

1 tsp gelatine powder
2 tbsps water
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup pouring cream
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 tbsp honey

Sprinkle gelatine over water in a bowl, then stir to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes until the gelatine is absorbed.

Place the buttermilk, cream, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the gelatine and cook, stirring for 2 - 3 minutes until the gelatine has dissolved. Strain and allow to cool completely.

Place 1 tsp honey in the bases of four 1/2 cup capacity glasses. Pour over the cooled cream mixture and refrigerate for at least two hours until set.

I love the texture buttermilk gives to cakes, but this was the first instance I'd used the gorgeous ingredient for anything unbaked. In this instance, it's perfect - the sticky sweetness of the honey lingering at the bottom of the glass is broken up perfectly by the tartness of the buttermilk.

As I previously mentioned, this is really quick recipe to whip up, which makes the final product even sweeter.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Horse Feathers - House With No Home.  

Sunday, October 24

lady grey & honey madeleines

Trying to think of another soft, delicate recipe to take advantage of my current honey obsession, madeleines sprung to mind instantly, and of course they did-- Dainty and light as a feather, madeleines and honey are a perfect match. To make me even happier, I stumbled across a recipe that throws my absolute favourite black tea blend - lady grey - into the mix. I was in heaven.

This recipe is quick and easy, even taking into consideration the recipe's insistence that the mixture needs  time to rest in the fridge for a few hours. It's still so simple to quickly whip up the batter, leave it in the fridge and slide then into the oven for mere minutes as your guests are arriving (or your stomach is rumbling). Your house will also smell absolutely beautiful. 

Ingredients (makes 12 - 16)
Recipe adapted from telegraph.co.uk

70 gms unsalted butter
2 tbsps loose Lady Grey tea, or contents of 2 tea bags
100 gms plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of sea salt
2 eggs
70 gms caster sugar
2 tbsps honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp grated orange zest

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, then mix in the tea leaves, swirling to disperse them. Leave for ten minutes to infuse, then pour through a tea strainer. Squish the tea leaves right into the strainer to get as much butter (and flavour!) out of them as possible.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer (with whisk attachment if possible), beat the eggs and sugar together until thick, light and fluffy. Add the honey, vanilla and orange zest and beat for a further minute. Gently fold in the dry ingredients by hand, followed by the tea-flavoured butter. Cover the surface with plastic wrap refrigerate for at least two hours or up to a day. This is essential to allow the flavours to develop.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Thoroughly grease a 12 capacity madeleine tin with either melted butter or cooking spray. Drop about one tablespoon of batter into each mould, not worrying about smoothing the tops as it will spread out during baking. The mixture made 16 madeleines for me, and is fine to be left at room temperature while your first batch bakes if you don't have two tins. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the madeleines are golden. This will take about ten minutes, but keep a close eye on them, as they brown quickly! Test them with a skewer if necessary to ensure they're ready.

Quickly tap the madeleine tin on the work surface to loosen the cakes before turning them on to a wire rack to cool slightly. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if you can wait that long. 

You can really - not surprisingly by the smell of my house - taste the lady grey tea, albeit a beautiful subtle flavour. I've made some pretty fine madeleines in my time (including a spicy chocolate variety with accompanying dipping sauce) but this is surely the finest. This flavour could not possibly be any more perfect for Spring. 

Recommended baking soundtrack: Best Coast - Crazy For You

Thursday, October 21

oh, honey cupcakes with marshmallow icing

Lately, wherever I look I seem to find dreamy, honey inspired sweets. Naomi from hello naomi recently created an absolutely stunning bee hive cake. Linda from Bubble and Sweet made some busy bee cookies, topped with wonderful little bumble bees. And now, Donna Hay's October/November issue is filled with honey inspired desserts, including cookies, panna cotta and bundt cakes. I want in on this action.

I've used a beautiful honey cake recipe to make cupcakes topped with a fluffy, light vanilla marshmallow frosting. I credit my bees to Linda at Bubble and Sweet, though hers are much more inspirational! Don't be put off by the extra work - they are fiddly but so simple, and add so much to the otherwise rather plain looking cupcake.

Ingredients (makes 15)
For cakes:
200 gms unsalted butter, softened
185 gms soft brown sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup honey, warmed
280 gms self raising flour

For icing:
3 egg whites
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 tsps glucose syrup
pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
dash of yellow food colouring

For decorating:
200 gms fondant
yellow food colouring
black food colouring

For the cakes, preheat your oven to 180C. Line two standard muffin tins with 15 paper cases.
Beat the butter and brown sugar until light and cream. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Fold in the honey and flour until combined. The mixture should be beautiful and creamy.

Divide the mixture among 15 cases and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack immediately and cool completely.

Meanwhile, for your bumble bees, tint roughly 180 gms of fondant yellow to make the bee-bodies. Roll small balls into oval shapes at your desired size. My bees are about 1 - 1.5 cms and this quantity of fondant made about 30 bees. Using either a fine paintbrush or a toothpick, paint stripes, eyes and a smiling mouth on each of your bees. Allow to dry. Using the remaining uncoloured fondant, squish small amounts to form wing shapes. Press two wings onto each bee, using a little water to secure if necessary. Set bees aside to dry and firm up slightly.

The make the marshmallow icing, combine the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and 100 mls water in a heatproof bowl (preferably the bowl of your electric mixer to save on washing up). Sit the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and whisk quite vigorously for five minutes until mixture is light and foamy. Alternatively, if you you have handheld beaters, you could use these - it will save you time and sweat! Remove from heat. Add vanilla and beat with electric mixers on a high speed until stiff peaks form. Add the food colouring until the desired strength of yellow and beat until just combined.

Generously pipe fluffy icing onto each cake using a plain 1cm tip. Top with a bumble bee. I find it better to secure bees with a toothpick, pierced through the the cake, but this is not necessary.

These cakes were a huge hit at work today, with all 16 being scooped up before I left for the night. Perhaps next time I'll fill them with creamed honey, or even a honey infused custard. Custard makes everything better.

Stay tuned for more honey inspired recipes over the weekend!

Recommended baking soundtrack: Ola Podrida - Belly of the Lion.  

Monday, October 11

strawberry meringue layer cake: a lesson in small failures

A quick post and a quick recipe! Recently, I've been purchasing too many strawberries. Now, I am a huge strawberry enthusiast - they're surely one of the most aesthetically adorable fruits; they're great fresh, frozen and pureed; and are delicious in desserts, salads or eaten straight from the punnet. For me to say I have gone overboard means I have really bought too many for even me to consume and enjoy. So when myself and two of my closest friends went to visit the other member of our quartet who had recently come out of hospital, it was a great excuse to bring a cake to use up some of my strawberry supply.

As I mentioned, this cake is so easy and delicious. Who would have thought it was possible to layer sponge batter and meringue in the same tin to make what I like to call a macaron cake. It's obviously not like a macaron, but the way the sponge form a foot to a puffy, golden meringue top reminded me of the satisfaction of pulling a good batch of macarons from the oven.

Two of these beautifully light cakes sandwiched with Chantilly cream and an abundance of fresh strawberries was a huge hit, and hopefully lifted the spirits of our patient.

Recipe from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

For cake:
125 gms plain flour
25 gms cornflour
a 1/2 tsps baking powder
100 gms unsalted butter, softened
300 gms caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
50 gms flaked almonds
2 tbsps milk
2 tsps vanilla bean paste

For filling:
375 mls double cream
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
250 gms strawberries

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line, butter and flour 2 x 22cm spring form tins. 

Weigh out the flour, cornflour and baking powder into a bowl. Cream the butter and 100 gms of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolks and beat until combined. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, add the vanilla, and stir through the milk to thin the batter. Divide the mixture evenly among the two prepared tins. 

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, and then gradually add the remaining caster sugar. Spread a layer of meringue over the top of the sponge batter in both tins. Sprinkle almonds evenly over tops. Bake  for 30 - 35 minutes, until the tops of each have puffed and the almonds are golden. Let the cakes cool in their tins.

Whip the double cream with vanilla and icing sugar until smooth. Sandwich your cake generously with cream and strawberries. 

Now, I should mention that I loathe my oven. Yes, it's a bit of an excuse to blame your oven for imperfections (a workman never blames his tools etc.), but I have tried very hard to work with its weaknesses and this effort is often the source of many frustrations. This cake was no exception - I burnt some of the almonds and areas of the sponge's crust :( And only after about 15 minutes of cooking time! So, be aware of a potential shorter cooking time if your relationship with your oven is anything like mine. But with time, I have been able to realise that one of the best things about baking - despite my high standards sometimes being crippling to my ego - is that the results are always edible and enjoyed by all. Even me. 

Recommended baking soundtrack: Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It in People.

Monday, October 4

homemade wagon wheels

As I type this, I'm seeing the first peak of sunshine we've had in four days. I was lucky enough to have a rare three day weekend to myself after a very busy couple of months, and I only had one thing planned: nothing. The rain was a nice companion to stop me from feeling guilty to stay inside, but was also a motivator to bake some cookies. "I'm going to bake some cookies", I say to my lovely boyfriend. "Oh yessssss!", he replies. You see, I never bake cookies. Well, rarely ever.

After flicking through books and magazines all morning, I had a break with a cup of tea, read some food blogs, and of course stumbled on tartelette's blog, which is a common time waster for me. Here, after trawling through many pages, I found some chocolate covered marshmallows, a recipe that came from a daring baker's challenge. What really got me excited was the pairing of chocolate, marshmallows and PEANUT BUTTER! However, I decided to stick to something familiar - raspberry jam - in an attempt to recreate and improve on one of our favourite cookies: the wagon wheel. My version is a little chubbier, and therefore more tasty. Of course!

Rather than use tartelette's cookie recipe, I've used my favourite shortbread cookie recipe. You could even do a nice chocolate butter cookie.

Recipe adapted from tartlette

For the cookies:
250 gms unsalted butter, softened
1 cup pure icing sugar, sifted
330 gms plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour
1 egg white, lightly beaten, for brushing

For the marshmallows:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup glucose syrup
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp powdered gelatin
2 tbsps cold water
2 egg whites, room temperature
2 tsps vanilla bean paste

For the chocolate glaze:
340 gms dark chocolate
vegetable oil

For the cookies, beat butter and icing sugar with an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add flour and cornflour, stirring until a soft dough forms. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, knead until just smooth and form into a disc. Cover with glad wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 160C. Roll out shortbread on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Cut 4.5cm diameter rounds and place on baking trays lined with baking paper. Refrigerate until firm, then prick cookies with a fork and brush lightly with egg white. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes until cookies are lightly golden, remove from oven and cool completely on trays before moving to a wire rack. Dollop a small amount of raspberry jam in the centre of each cookie (about 1/4 tsp).

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until it reaches soft-ball stage, or 115C on a candy thermometer. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix. Whisk the whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites. Add the vanilla bean paste and continue whipping until stiff. Transfer to a pastry bag. Pipe marshmallow onto each cookie, then allow to sit at room temperature for 1 - 2 hours. You want to marshmallow to begin to set, which will make it easier to coat in chocolate glaze.

Melt the chocolate and 1/4 cup vegetable oil together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add more oil as needed until glaze is as runny as desired. I lost count at how much I used, but am guessing it was about 1/2 cup. Adding too much runs the risk of the glaze sliding off your marshmallow peaks, not to mention your chocolate tasting oily, so add gradually and with cautio. Allow to cool for 10 - 15 mins.

Line a tray with baking paper. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the warm chocolate glaze. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Place on the prepared trayand let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

I was admittedly very nervous fully submerging the marshmallow topped cookies into the still warm chocolate, but they're very resilient! I was impatient and set mine in the fridge, as you can see by their frosty exterior, but I liked the choolate with a bit of crack. I will definitely be doing some more experimenting with this lovely recipe in the near future.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Fresh & Onlys - Play It Strange (this album is so, so good). 

Friday, October 1

congratulations madelyn & brad

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being a bridesmaid and a baker for one of my dearest friends - Madelyn - on her special day. I've known and adored Madelyn for over ten years, so I felt truly lucky that I could contribute to her and Brad's wedding day. Her only request was for the cupcakes to be based on a batch that I made for her birthday the previous year, which were baked with inspiration from her all-time favourite sweet - caramel slice. And for there to be eighty of them.

The original cakes were a simple caramel mudcake, filled with caramel fudge sauce and topped with rich ganache. I did, however, have doubts at how these would look on a cupcake tower in the middle of a formal dining room.

I've baked for large formal occasions and weddings before, but baking for a close friend for their wedding brings a little more pressure than I expected. I knew she would be happy with whatever I chose to do (and she really did leave the decorating up to me!), but I really wanted these cakes to be as special as the couple Madelyn and Brad are. If you knew them, you'd understand, though I think this might be a common feeling with the marriage of friends.

So, I subtly tweaked the appearance of the cakes to make them look a little more classic-- this is always easy enough to do with a whipped (chocolate) butter cream piped on each cake. I also stamped some fondant with the happy couple's initials and topped each cake with either a 'B' or an 'H'. This was a really simple but classy way of adding the colour of our bridesmaids dresses and the accent colour of the room into the dessert.

This is also reflected in the tiered caramel mudcake that sat atop the cupcake stand for Madelyn & Brad to cut.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. Again, congratulations Madelyn & Brad. Everyone who knows you loves you even more as a married couple xo