Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lemon Curd Pavlovas

I originally saw this recipe in a Donna Hay magazine, last year's December issue, which we only get around March. I bought it anyway because there was an entire section on trifles and I'm mildly obsessed. The other great recipe (okay, one of the other great recipes) was for lemon cream pavlovas. They look really cool because they are baked in muffin tins, in cupcake cases. Its really easy, especially if you buy lemon curd, and takes like 5 minutes, apart from the baking time. I served these as part of my birthday lunch and they were popular. My only gripe is that they are quite hard to eat out of the cupcake cases so next time I'll just make mini free form pavlovas. You can make the meringues the day before and just assemble them before serving.

Lemon Curd Pavlovas
3 egg whites
250ml caster sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla (if inclined)
Preheat the oven to 100C.
Whip the egg whites til soft peaks form. Gradually add in the sugar, beating well between additions. Finally add in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla. The mixture should be stiff and capable of holding its own.
If using muffin tins: line 2 and a half trays with cupcake cases. Using an ice-cream scoop or 2 tablespoons, fill the cases 3/4 of the way up. Bake at 100C for 1/2 an hour. Turn down the temperature to 50C and bake for another 1/2 hour. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the oven for 3 hours.

Lemon Curd Cream
300ml double cream
300g lemon curd
Whip the cream until soft peaks form and then fold in the lemon curd.

To Assemble

Slice the tops off the meringues. (This can be quite hazardous so be careful!) Fill the interior with lemon curd and raspberries. Replace the tops and serve.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sundried Tomato and Feta Quiche

Happy Human Rights Day all! We've been having a long weekend over here in the south of Africa. The weather has been supremely miserable with major downpours and general bleak cloudy-ness. Today was slightly better but not great. As a result, I have barely left the house. I'm not a fan of going out in the wet and this weekend just meant I spent a lot of time on the couch, re-reading Twilight. (Yes, I know!) I also did a little baking. Saturday morning the house was filled with the aroma of cinnamon, reminding me strongly of Easter (for which I am preparing by buying loads of easter eggs in advance.) I always bake cinnamon buns at Easter but my sister requested some this weekend and I was only to happy to oblige.

But I am getting off track. I wanted to tell you all about quiche. Quiche used to be extremely unfashionable. It was the kind of thing you were given when you went for tea at great aunt's with whiskers and the base was soggy and the filling bland. Not any more. I make this quiche as a standard for most Sunday lunches with friends and they will attest its fabulousness. The key is getting the pastry very thin so that it is crispy and rounding off the decadence with cream in the filling. You cannot go wrong. And your friends will love you.

Sundried Tomato and Feta Quiche
250g plain flour
125g cold butter, in cubes
5ml salt
45ml cold water
In a mixer, mix the flour, butter and salt until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add in the water and allow the dough to come together before turning it out onto a surface and kneading it smooth. Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Roll the pastry out until its thin enough that the surface is showing through - this should be large enough to line a 22cm tart tin with some extra left over for mending. Refrigerate again for 30 mins.
Line the tart with baking paper and fill with rice. Bake for 20 minutes and then remove the baking paper and rice and return the tart to the oven for 5 more minutes. Your tart shell should be golden and dry. If there are any holes, brush the entire shell with egg white.

For the Filling:
125ml double cream
125ml milk
3 eggs
Whisk all the ingredients together, strain and then add in a pinch of salt and pepper.

200g olives
200g sundried tomatoes
150g feta
Roughly chop the olives and tomatoes. Put these into the tart shell and then crumble the feta over. Pour in the filling.
I find it easiest if the tart shell is on a tray that can go directly into the oven so you don't have to lift it once the filling is in.

Bake at 170C for 25-30 minutes until the tart is golden at the edges and set in the middle. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nectarine Almond Tart

I'm having a baking day. Yes, I admit, most days I bake or cook something. But today is in excess. I'm making things for the weekend that can be frozen and reheated on Sunday. No, I am not super organised, my mom is going away and requested items for her lunch on Sunday. So I've just finished a Nectarine Almond Tart and am blind baking cases for a sun-dried tomato, olive and feta quiche. Trust me, its amazing. I'm also making myself a caramelized onion and feta quiche for dinner. Now, I shall tell you all about the quiches at some other point. For now I want to talk about almond tarts. If you're clever and posh you'll know that the name for the almond filling is frangipane. If I was being posh this would be a Nectarine Frangipane Tart. But I'm not so it isn't. The cool thing about being able to make frangipane (and my 9 year old cousin could probably make it its so easy), is that its ridiculously versatile and it makes you look super clever - like a culinary genius of sorts. These tarts always look like you went to a French patisserie for dessert. You can pair frangipane with raspberries, pears, apples, peaches. And you don't have to do all that fiddly blind baking thing with the tart shell before hand. Frangipane takes 40 odd minutes to cook so your shell will cook simultaneously. (Yay!)

Now, if, like me, you start things without quite checking the ingredients list or alternatively the grocery store is out of ground almonds (as mine was this morning), fear not. You can make your own. Gasp! Horror. Just blend the required amount of flaked/whole almonds into fine pieces and you're sorted. Its probably not the biggest problem if you still have some larger pieces either. My blender is like something out of a 1960's commercial and can do very little actual blending. (You could also use a coffee grinder if your blender is on the blink or something.) As a result, my almonds were definitely not perfectly ground. I also used half toasted, half untoasted almonds simply because I had toasted almonds taking up space in my cupboard. I actually quite like the result, the almond flavour is slightly more developed. Traditional recipes call for raw almonds though so each to his own.

Nectarine and Almond Tart

For the Pastry:
375g plain flour
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
1 egg
Cream the butter and sugar together until white and fluffy. Add in the egg. Add in the flour in 3 stages, allowing the mixture to fully incorporate the flour after the first two additions. After the last addition of flour, allow for the dough to come together a little before removing it from the machine. Knead it together with your hands on a cool surface before wrapping in clingfilm and chilling for half an hour. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line a greased, loose bottomed tart tin (22cm). There is enough pastry for 2 tart shells so I normally wrap the excess and freeze it for use in emergencies. Put the lined tart case in the fridge.

For the Frangipane:
170g unsalted butter, room temperature
170g caster sugar
170g ground almonds
2 eggs
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, beating well. Finally add in the ground almonds. Spread this mixture onto the tart base, using a palette knife to smooth it out.

I used 4 nectarines, thinly sliced for this tart but feel free to make it with apples or pears (poach the pears first before using), or raspberries. Cover the entire tart with fruit and bake for 40 minutes. The frangipane will rise up amongst the fruit and it will be golden when done.

Allow to cool before glazing with apricot glaze.

Serves 12.

Apricot Glaze
3 tablespoons apricot jam
2 tablespoons water
Heat over medium heat until the jam and water emulsify, whisking as the mixture starts to bubble to prevent lumps. Strain and paint onto fruit tarts with a pastry brush.

Blueberry Crumble Bars

These are the perfect afternoon tea treat. The shortbread is sweet enough to combat the tartness of the blueberries. There is a subtle hint of lemon and the crumble adds an additional texture. They’re not very sweet so I suggest adding extra sugar into the blueberries mix if you happen to have very sour or tart berries. These slices also work well in lunchboxes or as dessert with vanilla ice cream. Perfect when you have a glut of blueberries. 

Blueberry Crumble Bars
For the base:
500g unsalted butter, soft
250g caster sugar
250g cornflour
500g plain flour

For the blueberries:
3 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon

For the crumble topping:
1 cup rolled oats

First, sort out the blueberry filling: mix the cornflour, sugar, zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Toss the blueberries in and coat them in the mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular tray with baking paper.
For the shortbread, cream the butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Add in the flour and cornflour and mix until the dough just comes together. Press approximately ¾ of the dough into the bottom of the pan. You may need slightly less, you want the base to be about 1cm thick.
Put the pan into the fridge and allow it to rest for half an hour.
While the dough is resting, combine the last quarter with the oats.
Bake the base for 15 minutes until slightly golden. (This will insure that the base is cooked through and not raw.)
Scatter the blueberries over the base and then cover with the crumble mix. Don’t be over generous – you want an even mix of fruit and crumble. If there is too much just keep the excess in a sealed container in the fridge to use next time.
Bake until the crumble is golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool in the pan before slicing and serving.

This is a very versatile recipe. You can substitute the blueberries for other summer fruits like peaches, plums, and raspberries. You can also add in some nuts (pecans or almonds) to the crumble mixture for further texture.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Caramel Pecan Brownies

Caramel Pecan Brownies

This last weekend I had a chocolate craving. But I never keep the kind of trashy chocolate that I desperately felt like. The only chocolate I had in the house was of the dark, 70% kind. So I clearly needed to convert that into something sweet, chocolatey and tasty. I’ve had the Fat Witch Bakery Cookbook since last year but I haven’t really made anything substantial out of it. But I page through it at least once a week. Everything in it can be made in a rectangular baking tray which is sort of cool. So I tried out the caramel witches – brownies with caramel squares in them. They proved to be amazing. Just the right sweet kick that you need at 4pm. Some of the caramel leaked out to the edges and became chewy which totally complemented the smooth, squishy chocolate brownie. These are immensely dense brownies, and not the cakey kind that you sometimes get. The Fat Witch Bakery is n New York so the recipes are in American measurements – things like sticks of butter which need to be converted. There is a conversion chart at the back of the book that is helpful. The recipe calls for 30 caramel squares which I did not have so I used some ready-made caramel sauce instead which worked fabulously.

Caramel Pecan Brownies
Adapted from the Fat Witch Bakery Cookbook

200g unsalted butter
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips (the better the quality the nicer tasting the brownies)
3 eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup roughly chopped pecans
½ cup plain flour
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons caramel sauce

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a square baking tin and line with baking paper.
Melt the chocolate and butter over a low heat, stirring often so that the chocolate doesn’t burn. Set aside to cool.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until smooth and well mixed. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture and then the pecans.
Fold in the flour and salt and mix until well combined and no flour traces remain.
Pour half of the batter into the tin.
Drizzle the caramel sauce over the batter and put into the fridge for 20 minutes to firm.
Remove from the fridge, pour the rest of the batter on top and allow it to reach to room temperature – about 15 minutes.
Bake for 25-35 minutes until the brownies pull away from the sides and are cooked through.
Cool in the tin before slicing and serving with coffee.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Making Croissants Days 2 and 3

The making of croissants: days 2 and 3. So I managed to make the croissants in time for Saturday breakfast. This involved a late rolling and folding procedure on Thursday evening and then shaping them on Friday evening and allowing them time to prove. I do think that the whole process could be done over 2 days and not 3 if you didn’t want to do the last refrigeration bit at the end. I do not think this is necessary and perhaps could be eliminated by those of you with better time management skills and abilities to read recipes all the way through to the end before starting.

The croissants themselves were speed proved in a very low oven on Saturday morning. Firstly because I had to leave them in the fridge over night (see above: reading recipe to the end) and secondly because breakfast was early and they would have taken about 3 hours to come to room temperature and become ‘soft, pillowy and feather light’. So I cheated and left them in an oven at 30C for 20 minutes and then turned up the temp to 200C. They turned out okay, not the best croissants in the world and definitely not award winning yet! But I shall revise the recipe and post it here later this week once my results I improve!The croissants weren't as laminated as I would like (they did not have enough layers) but they still tasted good. I mean seriously, there is so much butter in them it is impossible for them not to be good.

Croissants: Shaped and Proving

The instructions in Flour are really good and thorough. The whole rolling and folding thing always has me stumped and I can never remember how to do it. The book explains it step by step. I did relatively well - apart from not having the butter the same consistency as the dough which I think explains some of the layering issues. In addition, the instructions for actually forming the croissants are excellent. They shape beautifully if you do as instructed.My 9 year old enthusiast cousin managed to shape half excellently.
 Croissants: Baked

Tomorrow: caramel pecan brownies.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Making Croissants Day 1

This week I’m making croissants. I’ve made croissants before but haven’t in at least a year and I’m out of practice. Croissants take time. No rolling out of bed early on a Sunday morning and whipping some up. Croissants normally take up to 6 hours. There’s all the rolling and folding and then the proving times. But the recipe I am testing this week is definitely the longest I’ve ever come across. It is from my newest recipe Flour by Joanne Chang. Flour is a Boston based bakery that makes all sorts of wonderful, mouth watering treats. But her croissants are legendary and so I’m trying out the recipe. It’s going to take 3 days. Yup. Three. Days. That’s ages. Even in croissant recipe terms.
Milk and Yeast Ready in the Mixer

So today I have begun with the initial dough. Basically you mix the milk and yeast together before adding in flours, salt, sugar and butter. This is mixed (by that kind, hardworking soul-the standing mixer) into a smooth, soft dough. I’ve now placed the dough onto a tray and lightly covered it with cling film as per instructions. It is resting in the fridge and will stay there for at least another 3 hours. It is supposed to rest for between 6 and 12 hours. Being that the 12th hour will be sometime in the early hours of this morning, I’m going for the shortest resting time possible.

 Dough ready for refrigeration

 Then there are 2 pages of further instruction about rolling, folding and shaping. More on that later.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Philosophy and Madeleines

This is the story of my ongoing attempts at perfecting my baking skills. I am keeping tabs on all the recipes I use because frankly, my recipe book collection has gotten slightly out of hand and I can never find the recipe I want. Who knew having too many recipe books could be a bad thing? I'm sure this will also be the story of my life and my love of cake. Oh and the name of the blog? Its obviously a reference to Proust and his iconical madeleines - their ability to remind you of forgotten memories and childhood when things were sweeter than they are now. I find that food is often associated with my good memories. And who knows, maybe the answers to the questions of life are all contained in a slice of cake?