Friday, November 16

salted caramel macarons and excuses

In case you hadn't noticed, it's been a while. I've been busy. Everyone's been busy. Where the heck has this year gone etc. I suppose it doesn't really matter, does it?

Isn't it a comforting feeling to have a favourite recipe? A recipe you've made so many times that you measure ingredients and move through the method automatically, without really even being conscious of the steps? One that you can feel confident will turn out just as it did the last time: perfectly. It's a fail-safe, a tried and true, an old friend.

I've had a long relationship with macarons that spans a couple of years now--almost as long as this blog. With each new recipe I've tried, I've been convinced that it's "the one". And I've tried a few. But somehow, I always come back to this recipe. Sure, it takes a little longer than some recipes that don't require a sugar syrup, and maybe the processing and sifting is unnecessary, but I know what I like. And this is it. This is my old faithful.

The caramel recipe is just as wonderful. I usually make it the day before, and have it sitting in the fridge ready to go. And yes, okay, alright, it usually has traces of spoon marks through it before it makes it onto the macarons. Don't judge me. Seriously, this stuff would make a great gift on its own.


For macaron shells (makes approx 30 sandwiched shells, depending on size):
300 gms ground almonds
300 gms icing sugar
220 gms egg whites, separated into 2 lots of 110 gms
300 gms white sugar
75 gms water
dash brown food colouring

For salted caramel (makes enough to fill 30 complete macarons, with delicious lefotvers):
250 mls pouring cream
350 gms caster sugar
350 gms butter, cubed
sea salt flakes, to taste

For the salted caramel, place the sugar in a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Despite every instinct commanding you to stir, allow the sugar to caramelise before you even touch the pan. As soon as you see little patches starting to melt and caramelise, turn the pan and give it a gentle shake if necessary, and maybe a gentle stir with a wooden spoon every now and again. This part, although intimidating, can be quite forgiving. 

Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan, but remove from heat as soon as it starts to boil. 

When the sugar has reached a dark golden colour, remove it from the heat and slowly pour in the hot cream whilst mixing. Place pan back on a very low heat, and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about ten minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, while whisking. Pour the caramel into a shallow container and chill until thick.

When you're ready to use the caramel, add as much salt as you'd like, and mix it vigorously with a spatula until smooth. 


For the macarons, mix the ground almonds and icing sugar together and in small batches, pulse a few times in food processor to ground the mixture finer. Don't go too crazy processing, as it releases the oils in the nuts and you'll end up with a paste. Sieve into a large bowl. Add colour and 110 gms of the egg whites to the sugar and almond mixture, and mix to combine. It will be quite a paste. 

Place remaining 110 gms of egg whites in bowl of mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Place white sugar and water into saucepan stir to combine and cook without stirring to 118C. Once the mixture reaches 115C start mixing the egg whites on medium-high until they are foamy and almost forming soft peaks. Once the sugar syrup reaches 118C remove from heat and slowly pour in a thin stream down the side of the mixer bowl continuing to whisk on high. Continue to whisk the meringue on high until the side of the bowl is only a little warm to touch. The meringue mixture should be wonderful and shiny.

Add a dollop of the meringue mixture to almond mixture. This will loosen the mix up and make it easier to fold through the rest. You don't need to be gentle.  Your final mixture should be a shiny, oozy batter. I've heard it described as a similar consistency to lava before, and though never personally witnessing lava before, I would surely have to agree.

Add the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe small rounds onto baking trays lined with baking paper. If you need to draw circles on the reverse side of the baking paper to be consistent, then go right ahead. Tap the trays firmly on the bench a few times (for some unexplainable reason, I do it six times :/ ) to eliminate any air bubbles. Set aside for about 30 minutes or until the macarons have formed a skin that doesn't stick to your finger. This will largely vary due to temperature, especially varying levels of humidity!

Meanwhile preheat oven to 140C . Bake the macaroons for around 13 to 15 minutes depending on size-- they should not be browned. Remove the baking trays and immediately slide off the macarons and the baking paper onto the work surface and let cool completely before removing the shells for the paper. 

Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain tip with the salted caramel. Pipe onto macaron shells and sandwich together. 

Favourite recipes are good at making you feel good. Even if you're busy, or stressed, or unwell, there's comfort in the familiarity of making something that you know will be awesome. It's an ego boost. And as lovely as macarons are, and as many flavours as I've tried to inject into them, I'm confident that this one is my favourite. This recipe is a huge ego boost ;)

Recommended baking soundtrack: Yann Tiersen - Les Retrouvailles.

Tuesday, June 12

tarte bourdaloue

I am often convinced that I should have been Donna Hay. As much as I love my family, my friends and my cat, surely I was destined to be born ten years earlier; to create her wonderful recipes and cookbooks and run her painfully tasteful general store. Baking, and shooting in remote, beautiful location. Eating macarons and surrounding myself with pretty things.

But if there's one other woman whose life I want to live, if only for a day, it would be Maeve O'Meara. Now there's a dream job-- not only traveling to the most beautiful parts of the world, but eating her way through them, meeting the finest chefs, and taking home their recipes.

I recently came across the cookbook companion to her French Food Safari. It's a wonderful collection of recipes--both savoury and sweet-- that are simple, delicious and contain basic, easily attainable ingredients.

I don't think I can go past anything pear related when I'm on the hunt for a Autumn or Winter desert recipe. And despite not really feeling like going to the effort of making pastry, this is such a simple recipe as it requires no blind baking, but still creates a beautifully golden, crumbly pastry.

Recipe from Pierrick Boyer as featured in 'French Food Safari'

For shortcrust pastry:
250 gms plain flour, sifted
200 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup caster sugar
pinch salt
3 egg yolks

For poached pears:
400 gms white sugar
500 mls water
5 cardamom pods
2 star anise
4 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered

For frangipane:
40 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
40 gms caster sugar
40 gms almond meal
1 small egg
2 tbsps cream

For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on a low speed until incorporated. Add the egg yolks, increase the speed a little, and mix until a nice dough forms. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for one hour.

Next, poach the pears. Combine the sugar, water and spices in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce the heat, add pears, and gently simmer for about 15 minutes, until pears are just tender. Remove the pears from the syrup to cool. I then continued to simmer the liquid for a further ten minutes until slightly thick and syrupy.

Now that the pastry has rested, lightly butter a round, 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Roll the pastry out until about 3-4mm thick on a lightly floured surface, or between two sheets of baking paper. Gently lift the pastry into the prepared tin, and press into the base and sides, trimming off any excess.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

To make the frangipane, place the butter and sugar in a small bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in the almond meal, the egg, and then the cream.

Spoon the frangipane into the uncooked tart shell and arrange the pearsover the top. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until both pastry and fragipane are golden brown. Allow the tart to cool in the tin before trying to remove it, and then lightly brush the top of the tart with the spicy syrup to make the tart beautiful and glossy.

This tart will be fine to serve the following day, but after that, the moisture from the pears begins to soften both the frangipane and the pastry, so it really is best eaten as soon as possible.

I imagine this would be just as wonderful with apples, or apricots or peaches. Fragipane tarts are a classic dessert for good reason-- they're just so delicious, and simple. It's taken me a while to rediscover pears-- one of my favourite fruits-- this season, but I know this will spark my annual obsession. And who can ever have enough pear in their lives?

Recommending baking soundtrack: Songs: Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co. 

Tuesday, May 15

ginger, cardamom & pomegranate cake

I never really got ginger. Growing up, I solely thought of ginger in two forms: crystallised, which I lumped in the same category as cubed, candied citrus peel and other things that a young girl simply doesn’t want to find in her baked goods; and the kind covered in dark chocolate. My mum loved this stuff. I could buy that for her to accompany any gift, and know that she would enjoy it, but also that no one else in the house would sneakily reach into that box. It was strictly her thing. I mean, chocolate covered ginger. Really?! Why would I want something that’s strangely firm and stringy and spicy getting all up in my chocolate?

But soon, like olives and avocados (how did I live without these two things in my life?!), ginger and I became the best of friends. I adore gingerbread. I love freshly grated ginger in just about anything. But more than anything else, I love ginger in cake-form—a wintery ginger pudding, or a fluffy ginger cupcake smothered in cream cheese, or a dense and sticky ginger cake.

This cake gets its richness and spiciness from both cardamom and ginger, and a combination of pomegranate molasses (hello, love) and treacle, but the baking soda and buttermilk make it surprisingly light. It’s created in just one bowl, so quickly and easily. And it will fill your house with such a wonderful, warm aroma. I could go on, although I doubt I need to.

Recipe from Autumn issue of Donna Hay
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
100 gms butter, melted
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cardamom
3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
3 pomegranates
¼ cup caster sugar

Heavy cream, to serve.

Preheat oven to 160C. Lightly grease a 24cm round cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper.

Place the buttermilk, eggs, sugar, molasses, treacle and butter in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the ginger, cardamom, flour and baking soda and again, whisk to combine. Pour the wonderfully dark mixture into the prepared tin, and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is cooking, prepare your pomegranates. I find the easiest way is to roll the pomegranates on a hard surface (your bench-top, conveniently!) before cutting them. This is supposed to slightly loosen the seeds from the membrane, making it easier to get them free—this makes a very satisfying crackling sound as the seeds get squashed out of their neat little pockets. Cut each pomegranate in half, hold one half over a bowl (placed in your kitchen sink, if possible), with the cut-side facing down, and bang the back of a pomegranate with a wooden spoon. If you don’t mind getting your hands a little messy and stained, pulling apart the membrane further helps trapped seeds find their way out. Trial and error, I suppose.

When you’re done, and suitably cleaned up, strain the seeds and reserve the juice. Add the caster sugar to this juice, and mix until dissolved.

When the cake is cooked, pour the pomegranate-sugar mixture over the warm cake while it’s still in the tin, then allowing it to cool completely. Remove it from the tin and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds. It’s even more heavenly served with a nice heavy cream.

You need to get on this cake, and quickly. The pomegranate season here is over in a flash. These days, you can but the aril separately, but where’s the fun in that? Because this cake is so quick and easy, banging on a pomegranate and getting a bit messy is no trouble at all.

Recommended baking soundtrack: The Glove – Mr Alphabet Says, on repeat.

Saturday, April 14

incredibly pink vanilla jam layer cake

Women can be bitchy. It’s a shame, really. Being the fairer of the sexes—being traditionally more compassionate, more empathetic, more warm and nurturing—you would think bitchiness would somehow be pushed aside. It’s a shame, but it happens. (Most) women hold themselves to high standards and expect the same in other women. It means we’re often prone to criticising other ladies harshly for no real reason. We’re critical of what they wear or how they behave publicly. Does it stem from envy? I dress purely for myself, but sure, I’ve had serious shoe or outfit envy from time to time.

I also like to think I blog for myself. I love sharing recipes, particularly those that have impressed the people I share the results with (shoutouts to my wonderful co-workers and family). It’s lovely to meet new people, or to hear positive things from people who have tried your recipes or those who are simply happy to read entries. I suppose I find the act of blogging somewhat therapeutic? But essentially, I am doing this for me. But oh my, I’ve had serious blogging envy this Easter.

Butter Hearts Sugar had a simple but an insanely cute idea using those hilarious yellow chickens that are everywhere at this time of year. Sprinklebakes made the most delightful bird’s nests made from royal icing. And I know it was last year, but raspberri cupcakes’ bunny macarons will live on in my memory each year until I’m old and grey. Or at the very least, until I master them myself. I’ve toted on about the cuteness of Easter, and so many clever bloggers have really taken advantage of this. My heart has ached with cute-overload. And I love you, fellow bloggers, but oh, how I have cursed your cleverness over the past few days.

So, this time last week I was wanted to make a cake for Easter Sunday. Some huge and impractical thing that I would never be able to keep at home, but would instead palm off to my small family. At first I felt the urge to make a ruffle cake, but then I realised it’s simply because I seem to live with this urge on a daily basis. I settled for this six-layer thing, which I think, is almost as pretty to look at. Whilst this cake isn’t overtly Eastery, I’m still cashing in on pastel colours.

For cake:
Recipe from Sweetapolita
340 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
9 egg whites, at room temperature, lightly whisked
4 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For filling:
300 gms good quality (or even better, homemade) raspberry jam

For the strawberry buttercream:
250 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
700 gms pure icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsps strawberry essence (I use the Queen variety)
2 tbsps mls pouring cream

pink food colouring (I use Wilton gel)

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly butter three 20cm round cake pans and line the base with baking paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, which should take about five minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the egg whites gradually, mixing until fully incorporated.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix vanilla extract and vanilla paste into the buttermilk. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed butter mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated.

Divide the batter into thirds—I do this by weighing each to ensure they’re as even as possible. Lightly colour one third with a very small amount of pink food colouring. Colour another third so it’s a deeper shade of pink, and leave the last third plain. Pour each into a prepared tin, smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating once after 20 minutes. Cakes are done with lightly golden and when a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.

Allow cakes to cool in their tins for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the buttercream, beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on a high speed until pale and creamy. Add the cream and strawberry essence, and beat on high for a few minutes until smooth and fluffy.

Divide the mixture into thirds and, like the cake batter before it, tint two thirds with lighter and darker shades of pink, matching as close as possible to the intensity of the cakes.

When cakes are completely cooled, split each in half horizontally. Place a dark pink layer on a cake board, spread generously with raspberry jam. Repeat with last dark pink layer, two light pink layers, and two plain layers.

With a small offset palette knife, spread the whole cake with a thin layer of uncoloured buttercream to act as a crumb coat. This doesn’t have to be neat! Chill for thirty minutes.

To decorate the cake as pictured, I found it easiest to start from the surface of the cake, spreading a generous layer of uncoloured buttercream across top and down about a third of the height of the cake. Spread the light pink around the middle, and the darker pink around the base. I was so tempted to smooth out the layers and run a hot knife over the whole cake, but I kind of fell in love with its imperfections. I’m sure it would look lovely either way.

I feel like I have to say something about this beautiful cake recipe, too. Since reading about Sweetapolita’s quest for her perfect vanilla cake, I tried this recipe and whilst I baulked at the nine egg whites, I would never go back. This has now become my go-to vanilla cake recipe, and the size of the three cakes it produces really gives a layer cake the perfect height I am forever craving, without being obscenely towering. So stock up on eggs, and give this a try. It’s simple and delicious, and moist without being dense and heavy. Perfect, quite honestly.

Recommended baking soundtrack: M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion.

Tuesday, April 3

easter bunny cupcakes

Forgive me: I am not in the least bit religious. At all. But Easter is my version of baking heaven. Sure, Christmas is great, with Santa and things of a sparkly nature, but what could be better than pastel colours, baby animals, flowers and an abundance of chocolate?! And despite living in the Southern hemisphere, starting to feel the evenings cool and watching the leaves turn brown instead of green, I am still forever compelled to make something cute and Spring-inspired. Usually, I would have had something planned weeks in advance, but this year, Easter has really snuck up on me. Realising that it's now less than a week away has left me feeling like I've missed out on so many adorable baking opportunities. So over the weekend, I was desperately trying to think of something cute and not too time consuming to make, and I just… couldn't. I don't know came over me, quite honestly. I was utterly uninspired.

After hours of being frustrated, intermittedly killing time looking at pretty dresses online and stopping for multiple tea breaks, I decided to decorate cupcakes using a grass tip, which I've been dying to do for a while now. Now, I don't even remember the last time I made cupcakes… so in order to make them as cute as possible, I burrowed miniature fondant bunnies into the grass-topped cakes, leaving their cute little bottoms exposed. I then realised my Easter cake last year also featured a rabbit's bottom, and who can blame me?! There are few things are cuter than a rabbit's backside.

Of course I wanted to make carrot cupcakes to go with anything rabbit related, despite the overwhelming urge to do something painfully chocolatey. And these cakes are oh so easy! They're light and fluffy and simply wonderful, and only use one bowl. It's been way too long since I've had carrot cake. Feel free to add walnuts or pecans if that's your thing, but I'm a carrot cake purist. No nuts allowed.

Ingredients (makes 16)
For cakes:
250 mls vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
215 gms caster sugar
2 cups coarsely grated carrot (approximately two large or three small carrots)
150 gms self raising flour
125 gms almond meal
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For cream cheese frosting:
125 gms cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or good extract)
2 cups icing sugar
a touch of green food colouring

For decorations:
About 400 gms fondant
Pink, orange and green food colourings

Firstly, make the decorations. These are really easy, albeit a little time consuming. I made enough rabbits for half of the cakes, topping the remaining with little carrots. The rabbit bottoms were about 4cm in diameter, and the tales about 1cm across. In retrospect, I would have done some bunny ears to poke out of cake tops, too.

For the cakes, preheat your oven to 180C and two standard 12 capacity cupcakes tins with cupcake liners.

Whisk together the oil, eggs and vanilla. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined. Divide mixture evenly amongst prepared cases-- approximately two tablespoons of mixture per case works out perfectly. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool completely.

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat the cream cheese and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sifted icing sugar, and beat at a high speed until add a good piping consistency, adding more icing sugar if necessary. Add green food colouring very sparingly-- a little goes a long way-- and with a piping bag fitted with a grass tip, cover each cakewith tufts of grass.

Top cakes with a burrowing bunny, or a couple of carrots.

As I was decorating, I longed for some oreo crumbs to make the carrot-topped cakes look more like small garden beds. This concept would also be adorable on a large cake, too, with bunny bottoms and ears sticking in and out of burrows on the surface of the cake. Oh, cake regret! I suppose there's still four days until Easter Sunday...

Recommended baking soundtrack: Shearwater - Animal Joy.

Thursday, March 29

jam doughnut cakes

It's been a while since I've felt utterly in love with a new cookbook. Where I have swooned over the whole contents of a book, cover to cover, rather than just a few recipes out of many. Where the photography and styling are perfect, and the recipes are well written. I think the last was Meg Ray's Miette, and considering that was almost a year ago, it was about time something else came along to make my heart all aflutter. I saw the front cover of Tea With Bea, and became instantly smitten. I spend hours pouring over food magazines and cookbooks. Honestly, hours. I have a method that I rarely deviate from that consists of much excited flicking, followed by at least one good full-reading. And I was so very excited when I first sat down with this book. Every layer cake looks even more beautiful than the previous one, and oh, do I have a weakness for layer cakes.

As beautiful as these each recipe is, it feels almost criminal that this is the first recipe I've made from this book, simply because of the other recipes that were competing for my attentions. That and these cakes are just so damn easy to make! If you have a sweet, cakey craving that needs to be filled quickly, look no further. I've included my recipe for a quick raspberry jam, but if you were to use a good store-bought jam, you could have these in your mouth within the hour.

I was slightly reluctant (well, for about three seconds) to make these when I read to the part about rolling the warm cakes in butter. I love butter as much as the next person (okay, probably more than the next person), but I really thought a butter bath would make these cakes heavy, but it surprisingly doesn't. I think they're as doughnutty as a cake could possibly be.

Ingredients (makes approximately 22)
Recipe from Tea with Bea

For cakes:
3 cups plain flour
1 2/3 cups caster sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 half cups buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup sunflower oil

For coating:
250 gms butter, melted
2 cups caster sugar

For quick raspberry jam:
250 gms raspberries
200 gms caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
half a vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped.

If you're making your own quick raspberry jam, place the berries and lemon juice in a small, heavy-based saucepan, and simmer for five minutes, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil, add vanilla bean and seeds, and allow to bubble for five minutes without stirring. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved and continue to boil for a further two minutes until slightly thickened and jammy. It will still be a fairly runny jam, but this is okay for these cakes. Remove vanilla bean and allow to cool while you make the cakes.

Brush two 12-capacity muffin tins with melted butter. Preheat oven to 180C. Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients, and stir until just combined. Do not overmix, or your cakes will be heavy.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes, keeping a watchful eye. Cakes should be lightly golden, and a skewer inserted into the middle of each should come out mostly clean, perhaps a bit crumby.

Immediately remove cakes from pans and onto your work space. Submerge cakes, one at a time, into melted butter before rolling in caster sugar.

Fill prepared piping bag with jam, and push the nozzle into the centre of the underside of each cake, and fill each with jam until you can feel and see that’s it's full-- you'll see jam start to ooze out when you're filling it if it's taken as much as it possibly can.

These are best eaten as soon as you're finished filling them, as they'll still be warm, but they're still wonderful as they've cooled down and the jam starts to become absorbed throughout the crumb of the cake. They may not be as light tasting as a doughnut, but how can a hybrid of two of my favourite things in this world possibly be a bad thing? I can only imagine they'd be just as wonderful filled with chocolate sauce, too...

Recommended baking soundtrack: Horse Feathers - Cynic's New Year.

Friday, March 23

peanut butter & chocolate ganache tart

This recipe marks a reunion of sorts. Despite the last recipe I posted being from Australian Gourmet Traveller, we’ve actually had months apart. Admittedly and perhaps unsurprisingly, I make more or their desserts than anything else. Most of my favourite issues of this, my cooking bible, have been those that have had extensive dessert features, or even one impressive, towering cake, and the last few issues just… haven’t really beckoned me. And then last week from across the supermarket, I saw a glossy cover featuring double chocolate lamingtons and fell in love all over again. I’ve missed you in my life, AGT.

This recipe sure is a way to make up for lost time. Much the same as the raspberry and rhubarb tart, it’s by no means difficult. No fancy ingredients or techniques, just time and patience.

The recipe suggested serving this with caramel popcorn, and I gasped in delight when I saw the pictures, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do this. It seemed too much, even for me. I could, however, strangely convince myself that homemade peanut brittle was a better option, which is insane considering the increased sugar content and addition of butter, but I still maintain that this is a better choice.

Recipe from March 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller

For pastry:
250gms plain flour
60gms brown sugar
120gms cold butter, chopped
3 egg yolks

For filling:
150gms crunchy peanut butter
200gms unsalted peanuts
200gms caster sugar
100gms butter, chopped
90mls pouring cream

For whipped chocolate ganache:
330mls pouring cream
300gms dark chocolate, chopped
4 egg yolks
1 ½ tbsps caster sugar

For the peanut brittle:
275 gms caster sugar
1/4 cup water
25 gms butter
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

For the pastry, process the flour, brown sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter, and process until mixture resembles fine crumbs, and add egg yolks. Process until combined and sandy-looking. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together with the heel of your hand. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour to rest.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick, large enough to cover the base and sides of a tart tin of your preferred shape. I used a fluted rectangular tin, measuring about 30cm x 15cm. Lightly grease tin and place pastry in the tin, trimming the edges. Refrigerate to rest for a further hour. Preheat your oven to 180C.

Line the pastry with baking paper and pastry weights, and blind bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove paper and weights and bake for a further ten minutes or until dry and crisp. Allow to cool completely, and then carefully spread the base with peanut butter.

While tart is cooling, roast the peanuts for about 5 minutes until golden. Chop coarsely.

For the filling, stir sugar and 80mls water in a small saucepan over medium heat until dissolved. Increase heat and bring to the boil without stirring until mixture is a dark caramel colour. Remove from the heat and add butter, cream and 1 tsp sea salt—it will bubble away quite furiously at this point. Return to a low heat, and stir for a few minutes until smooth. Stir in peanuts, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before spreading mixture into tart shell over the peanut butter. Refrigerate until set, approximately 3 hours.

For whipped chocolate ganache, stir cream and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl over simmering water for about 5 minutes, until thick and pale.
Remove from heat, fold through the chocolate and cream mixture, and whisk in an electric mixer until cooled, about 5 minutes. Pour into the tart shell over the peanut-caramel mixture. The mixture will be quite runny, but will set in the fridge after about 3 hours, and will be this delicious mousse-y consistency. I had 2 cups of this beautiful stuff leftover. I’m sure you won’t be complaining, but you could halve the mixture if you like and should still have plenty.

While tart is in its final stages of setting, make the peanut brittle. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved, and then increase heat to high, brushing the sides of the pan down with a wet pastry brush to stop any crystallisation around the edges. Cook without stirring until mixture is a dark caramel, remove from heat and stir through butter. Return over a low heat and stir for a minute until thick and smooth. Stir through peanuts, and pour onto prepared baking tray. Allow to set-- this will only take an hour or so.

Remove tart from the fridge about fifteen minutes from serving. Smash peanut brittle into smaller pieces, and scatter generously over the tart. After a while out of the fridge, the peanut caramel filling will start to ooze a bit, so it’s not the best for travelling, but it’s still delicious at room temperature, just as it is straight from the fridge when the caramel is wonderfully chewy.

My grandmother used to make a peanut and caramel slice with a biscuit base that I simply couldn’t get enough of as a child. I’m sure grandmothers all over the country made this slice, or a version of it. Whilst I never really saw her make it, I knew it was pretty easy for her to make given the frequency that I seemed to be eating it, but as much as I loved it, I never thought to make it myself after she passed away. I hadn’t tasted her peanut slice in over ten years, but as soon as I took one bite of this slice, I thought of her. And sure, I’ve gone way over the top with the moussey ganache and brittle, but the essence of what made my grandmother’s slice so wonderful is here. I wonder what she would think.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Strand of Oaks – Leave Ruin.

Tuesday, March 13

rhubarb & raspberry meringue tart

This recipe isn't for the faint-hearted, or for those wanting something sweet in a hurry. It is by no means complicated, and it is so simple to make this tart look beautiful. But the constant chilling-cooking-cooling is incredibly time consuming, and you'll easily spend the better portion of your day on this baby. But honestly, it was absolutely worth every minute of my time. Rhubarb, raspberry and meringue. Can you honestly be surprised?

It's quite funny how these days, everyone is a food critic. Much the same as wine, the more people are exposed to different varieties and learn what they like, the more they feel comfortable in saying what's no good, or that something is unbalanced, or lacks acidity, or needs more sweetness. And whilst I laugh, I actually think it's a good thing! Why eat food that's simply ordinary? Why not explore other options and expose yourself to something new? Gosh, if I didn't have the varities of food that I currently do in my life, I would be a very different (and likely bitter) person. And if people weren't having such an increasing interest in food and trying more non-conventional recipes, regardless of their potentially snooty opinions as a result, we would have a much harder time finding the range of ingredients we do in a standard supermarket these days.

So, forgive me for sounding pretentious when I say this, but this tart has everything a dessert should. The very little amount of citrus rind the filling has is just the right amount to cut through what may have otherwise been a very sweet dessert. It's not sickly, at all. The almonds in the base add the perfect amount of crunch. And oh, that pillowy meringue… I was tempted to toast it, but it was simply too fluffy and white and pristine to touch.

Recipe from March 2011 issue of AGT

For the pastry:
180 gms butter, softenend
40 gms pure icing sugar, sieved
2 egg yolks
250 gms plain flour

For the frangipane:
75 gms butterm, softenend
80 gms caster sugar
70 gms almond meal
1 tbsp brandy
2 eggs
50 gms blanched almonds, finely chopped

For the filling:
1½ bunches rhubarb (about 6 stems), trimmed, sliced into 4cm pieces
250 gms raspberries
150 gms caster sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

For the Italian meringue:
175 gm caster sugar
2 eggwhites
pinch of cream of tartar
For the pastry, beat butter in an electric mixer until pale, and then add icing sugar and beat until combined. With the motor running, add yolks one at a time, followed by 1 tbsp chilled water. Sieve flour over and stir to just combine. Lightly knead on a work surface then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, approximately 1 hour.

For frangipane, beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale. Add almond meal, brandy and eggs and stir to combine, then stir through chopped almonds. Refrigerate until chilled, approximately 1 hour.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 30cm round. Line a buttered and floured 22cm diameter, 5cm-deep cake tin with a removeable base. Trim the edges, prick base with a fork and refrigerate to rest for another hour.

Meanwhile, for baked rhubarb and raspberries, preheat oven to 175C. Place rhubarb in a baking dish large enough to fit snugly, scatter over raspberries, sugar, lemon rind and juice. Cover with foil and bake, turning rhubarb once, until tender, above 15 minutes. You want the rhubarb to still hold it's shape! Set aside to cool.

Drain syrup from the rhubarb mixture and and place in a small saucepan over high heat, reducing it to about 125 mls. This should take about 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Return 50 mls to the rhubarb mixture, and set aside the remainder to use when serving.

Line the tart case with baking paper and pastry weights, or uncooked rice or beans. Blind bake the tart case until light golden, approximately 15 minutes. Remove paper and weights and bake until golden, about another 5-10 minutes. Spoon the frangipane into tart case and bake until frangipane is golden and set, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool until just firm, then remove tart from tin and cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, for Italian meringue, combine sugar and 60ml water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and brush down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar particles. Increase heat to high and cook until syrup reaches 121C on a sugar thermometer. Meanwhile, when syrup reaches 110C, start whisking eggwhites and cream of tartar in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually pour the hot syrup over eggwhites in a thin stream, whisking continuously until cooled, thick and glossy, approximately 10 minutes.

Spoon the rhubarb and raspberry mixture over tart. Transfer meringue to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe in swirls. From here could brown the meringue with a kitchen torch, but the beautiful pure white meringue peaks looked too perfect for me to want to touch it. Serve with the remaining syrup.

Yeah, forget what I said about it being time consuming. Just make it. It's perfect. Take a weekend at home and do a step every couple of hours and thank me for the motivation on your Sunday afternoon of bliss.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Bowerbirds - The Clearing. Oh, how I love the Bowerbirds.

Thursday, March 8

miniature turkish delight whoopie pies

It seems that when it comes to food, everyone has their weaknesses. A soft spot for something that they simply can't resist and will never grow tired of. For me, saying it's a 'spot' doesn't really give a sense of the size of my weakness, which is so broad it encompasses not a certain dish but a whole category of food: comfort food. Sure, I have a favourite food (crème brulee). And yes, I prefer sweet over savoury (always). But I will eat anything that's classified as comfort food all year round. I will eat roasted pumpkin soup, or rhubarb crumble throughout the height of summer. I will spend hours baking in the kitchen in 30C heat when I have a craving for warm flourless chocolate cake. And whilst, I suppose what is classified as "comfort food" could be a little subjective, it usually means its dense. And rich. And I suppose these two things alone means that it's probably not a good thing to have a weakness for…

Anyway, whoopie pies seem to fall under this category for me, unsurprisingly. It took me a while to really feel happy about baking them. It terms of baked treats, they're, well… a little ugly. Or they can be. They certainly don't look as pretty as a cupcake, or as dainty as a madeleine. And I have a much greater preference for baking sweet, fine, as-close-to-perfect-as-can-be looking things. But, oh, whoopies are so wonderful. They're so soft, and wonderful with tea, and they store so well and will usually last for the better part of a week. They're quick and easy to make, and don't require a lot of implements, which means little washing up. And they are so good with cream cheese, or marshmallow filling, or with or without a topping.

I also happen to love turkish delight, and it's inevitable that I try to inject turkish delight into any baked treat. Cheesecake, cookies, cupcakes, crème brulee, macarons, and now whoopies.

Ingredients (makes about 20 small whoopies, approximately 5cm wide):

For whoopies
140 gms plain flour
40 gms cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
90 mls buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
80 gms butter, softened
140 gms brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

For filling:
3 egg whites
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 tsps glucose syrup
pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp rosewater
dash of pink food colouring (I use Wilton gel)

For icing:
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp rosewater
dash of pink food colouring

turkish delight, chopped to top

For the whoopies, preheat the oven to 200C. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and bicarb soda into a bowl. Mix together the buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale. Gradually add the egg, scraping down the sides of your bowl after each addition. With the mixer on low, pour in buttermilk mixture. Fold the flour mixture through with a large metal spoon, being careful not to over-mix.

Place tablespoons of mixture on to each baking tray, giving them plenty of space to spread. Bake two trays at a time for about 5 minutes - this will vary with the size that you make, so keep an eye on them! Slide the baking paper onto your benchtop to allow to whoopies to cool on the baking paper while you bake the next batch.

Whilst your whoopies are cooling, make your rosewater marshmallow filling. 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 rosewater and food colouring and beat with electric mixers on a high speed until stiff peaks form.
Using a large piping bag and a plain 1cm nozzle, pipe filling onto half of your cooled whoopies, and sandwhich them together with the remaining whoopies.

Make a rosewater glaze by mixing icing sugar with 1 tbsp of rosewater and a dash of pink food colouring. Add extra hot water if necessary to make mixture as runny as desired. Spread rosewater icing on each whoopie pie, and top with a small piece of turkish delight.

Admittedly, these are a little more dainty than your standard whoopie, but I just couldn't help it. Feel free to make them as large and ugly as you please, just increase your baking time, keeping a firm eye on them. Nothing worse than an over-cooked whoopie.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Wooden Wand - Briarwood.

Sunday, March 4

miniature strawberry layer cakes

Hello, old friend.

For someone who has no children or dependents--excluding a recently acquired, mischevious rag doll cat-- and little other responsibility, I have managed to let days become weeks and months, and it's gotten to the point where I'm ashamed to mention my 'blog' to anyone. I refer to it conversation more of a point of embarassment, rather than a living, evolving part of me as it once was.

Despite this, I have still been baking with fervour, and taking photos of things I have created and forced upon co-workers and family members, despite these photos merely sitting on my computer, neglected for months on end. I have no doubt spent what would be days making macaron varieties, deviating from my favourite recipe, trying a couple of new techniques. There has been lady grey, maple and pear, key lime pie, and a recent trial of a savory variety: parsley and herbed goats cheese, which took some people by surprise. I've fallen in love with swiss meringue buttercream, and have imposed ruffle cakes on unsuspecting people at any given ocassion. I've ran a cake decorating workshop at work to an adorable group of ladies who still tell me that this has changed their lives. And I've also fallen back on many traditional and reliable recipes that have long been neglected. It has, admittedly, been nice to cook to eat and not to blog. But I have missed this.

I made these sponge cakes a while ago, on one of those days that I wanted something traditional and reliable. But of course, everything looks much more sweeter and desirable to me when it's a miniature version of it's usual self. You can use any old sponge cake recipe, but I've included the go-to recipe that I love. Fondant strawberries are so painfully easy to make with a small amount of fondant, so it was criminal not to use them.

Ingredients (makes 6 three layer cakes)

For cake:
80 gms butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for brushing
240 gms plain flour, plus extra for dusting
8 eggs, at room temperature
220 gms caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped seeds only

For filling:
300 mls whipping cream
2 tbsps icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

100 gms strawberry jam
Strawberries (about a dozen), washed, and sliced thinly with a small, sharo knife.
Preheat your oven to 180C. Brush one lamington tin or square cake tin with melted butter and then dust sides flour. Tap upside-down over your sink to remove excess flour.

Triple-sift flour (it does make a difference!) into a large bowl and set aside.
Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds in an electric mixer until thick, pale and tripled in volume, which should take approximate 8 minutes.
Sift the flour over the egg mixture once more, in three batches, folding each batch in with a large metal spoon. Gently fold in melted butter.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake until lightly golden, about 20 minutes. The centre should spring back when pressed lightly with your fingertips, and the surface should not be sticky. Remove from oven and gently run the blade of a knife around the edges of the pan. All to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove baking paper, and turn back over to cool completely.

Once sponge has cooled, cut nine rounds from the cake using a 4-5cm cutter. Slice each round horizontally with a small sharp knife, to create 18 rounds. Spread two-thirds of the rounds with strawberry jam.

Whip cream in the bowl of an electric mixer with icing sugar and vanilla bean paste until light and fluffy. Spread onto the jam-covered rounds, and top with sliced strawberries. Start stacking cakes, finishing with a plain round, to make six three-layered cakes. Finish each cake with a generous spread of cream, and deocrate with small fondant berries, if using.

I'm going to keep posting those recipes that I've made and loved in my hiatus, as well as plenty more than I have stashed away with the burning desire to try. I have missed this. I've missed sharing recipes, and more than anything else, reading other blogger's recipes, too. Luckily, blogging is forgiving, especially if you do it mostly for yourself, which I do, but thank you nonetheless to any of my readers who have tolerated and will (hopefully) forive my laziness.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea.