Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Boozy Cakes and Cheeky Tarts

I've been doing a bit of experimental baking in recent times. After a few particularly stressful assignments at uni (one involving a group seminar), I was in dire need of a pick-me-up, therapeutic baking session. I'd found a recipe for a Chocolate Porter Cake in the Pursuit of Hoppiness magazine that we have at work so I decided to try it out. I bought the KJD Cherry Chocolate Porter ale from our local craft beer supplier, then settled in to make a delicious cake. This is probably the best cake I have ever made. It is rich without being heavy, the beer lightens it up slightly. It's a little crunchy on the outside and deliciously soft and moist on the inside. So here goes:

Haley's Porter Chocolate Cake

230g butter
1 cup of dark beer (porter or stout)
2/3 cup of good quality cocoa powder
20g of 70% (or darker) chocolate
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1-1/4 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup of sour cream or unsweetened yoghurt
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 175ºC

Line the base of a medium-large round cake tin with baking paper then grease sides with butter and dust with flour.

Melt butter, beer and chocolate in a pot on the stove, bring it to a light simmer and then stir in the cocoa powder until dissolved. Remove from heat and let it cool.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Beat the eggs and sour cream/yoghurt in a medium sized bowl until creamy and pale.

Add beer mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to combine, then add the egg mixture and beat to combine. Taste it - go on have a spoonful.

Pour into the cake tin and bake for approx 45 mins or until a knife inserted into centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin. You can either ice it, slap some cream in the middle or serve it plain. Goes great warmed with some vanilla bean ice cream - but whatever you do definitely have a glass of the beer to go with it.

I made this cake twice and gave heaps of it away. Tastes awesome when it's cold too, like chocolate brownie. I made the second cake the day after I made the first. I used a 10% stout from 8 Wired Brewing Co. It was amazing.

Now I guess you'll be wondering what these "Cheeky Tarts" are. At work, we decided to have a bake-off - kitchen vs bar vs floor (me). The challenge - make something awesome that involves Black Doris Plums. I had no idea what to make and finally after trawling through the internet for ideas, settled on a plum tart. But you know me, it can't be any ordinary plum tart, it had to be special. Like dark chocolate and frangipane special...

Lined a tart tin with sweet pastry, then covered the base with frangipane (for those of you who don't know, it's an almond flavoured mixture of deliciousness - think frangelico). Then coarsely chopped up some Whittaker's 72% dark ghana (I've been obsessed with this stuff for a while now) and sprinkled it over the frangipane. Covered the top with doris plum halves, and baked it in the oven for about 45 mins at 185ºC. The frangipane puffs up in between the plums, enveloping them beautifully. Here, I'll show you -

Happy Easter!!

 I know what you're thinking... Easter was a decent while ago now but I just never found the time to upload any of the creations I made over the last month or so.

Starting with Easter, which happens to be one of my favourite times of year and no, not just because of the copious amounts of cheap chocolate fashioned into giant bunnies and massive eggs, but because of the family traditions that my family has over Easter weekend. Starting with Good Friday's early morning baking of hot cross buns.

For as long as I remember, Good Friday hasn't been just another day off school, or that really morbid mass at church, instead it's been a family day. Mum, and now with me thrown in the mix, gets up bright and early and kneads and rises dough, mixes deliciously spiced, fruity concoctions, then bakes them in the oven so anyone who's still in bed wakes up to the smell of hot cross buns wafting down the hallway. Our hot cross bun recipe is special. None of that meagerly spiced, barely any fruit rubbish you get at the supermarket. We triple the spice mixture, as well as add extra spices (which I shall not share - can't give too many secrets away). Then double the fruit mixture - for those who dare to say buns with fruit in them aren't their thing, wait until next Easter and I'll change your mind for you.

The best part, is putting on the crosses. I loathe painted on flour and water crosses. We roll out some home made pastry, cut it into strips and brush it with egg, then stick them on the buns, Cris-crossed.

After the buns come out of the oven, they are glazed (super quick, and usually involves burning your fingers). Then we brew some tea (traditional choice Lapsang Souchong) and sit down to devour the steaming hot buns. Always, always eat the bottom half first, dripping with golden butter, then save the top half (with the cross on it) for last, trust me it's better that way.

My family, if we manage to get myself, my brother and mum and dad all home at the same time (with the hot cross buns, I couldn't imagine that being hard), we sit down and play board games for the whole afternoon and eat nothing but the double recipe of hot cross buns. You don't need anything else. Our choice of board game - Settlers of Catan - a phenomenally fun board game, we form alliances and collect sheep (my brother started this one).

This Easter I wasn't able to make it home to mum and dad because I was working, but they had a roast like we usually do. I'll try make it next year. But I'm content with having Good Friday off because the Hot Cross Buns are the best part.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Patience Pays Off

Chocolate mousse for breakfast anyone? More like morning tea, but you get my drift. The mousse turned out beautifully. I'm sure if I had used cream, it would've been a little fluffier and lighter but it's just right for me. Thick, rich and delicious. I dusted a mixture of cinnamon and chilli powder over the tops of my mousses, then grated some of the leftover dark chocolate as a garnish. The chilli powder just adds that little hit of warmth, contrasting perfectly with the cold, creaminess of the mousse. I have truly impressed myself this time!

 And as I said last night, I would post up a picture of the risotto I made a few nights ago. It's pretty damn hard to make risotto look nice, but here ya go. I used chardonnay, chicken stock, onion, Chinese garlic shoots, Parmesan cheese, thyme, a little lemon zest and juice with a bit of pan friend chicken thrown in for good measure. The best part about risotto is that you need barely any rice to actually make a decent sized meal. One cup of rice got me three meals. A trick I learned (originally from my mum) is to combine the wine, stock, lemon juice and cooked onion and garlic in a saucepan and heat together. Then slowly add to the risotto rice, all the flavours will combine and the rice will absorb it's yummy goodness. The flavour combinations in this one reminded me of a lemon chicken tortellini that I made a while back for mother's day - I must make that one again.

Alright, time to come back to reality and finish this assignment I've been slowly working on. Signing off from the red and white checked tablecloth.

For the Love of Chocolate

So I had a pretty bad day, and as cliché as I made the title of this post, I followed suit and played with chocolate to cheer myself up. I never usually have the patience for making mousses and the like, purely because I'm more focused on the end product but tonight, the focus was on the therapeutic melting of butter and silky chocolate, (I'm so tempted to use the word "velvety") stirred in with beaten egg yolks and sugar. Next add the milk and beat until the mixture thickens.

Chocolate brown has always been one of my favourite colours, it makes me feel warm and comforted. Just like chocolate tends to do to most females. For me, the darker the chocolate, the better. Whittaker's dark Ghana is one of the best. A couple (well maybe a little more) of dipped fingers licked and my worries from tonight's shift had just melted away.

During my love affair with chocolate, I learned the epic secret to melting it. Having an incredible lack of microwave appliances and a past of burning chocolate on the stove, I searched up a little something something on how to melt chocolate properly. If you have a bar/block, like I did, place it in a shallow dish and cover with boiling water for a few minutes. DO NOT STIR IT, whatever you do, or you'll get a very unattractive mess of watery chocolate. Instead, leave the chocolate to sit in the boiling water, then poke with the tip of a knife to see whether it is soft. Then, gently tip the water off, holding back the chocolate with a spoon or the blade of a knife. VOILA! You have deliciously velvety (See? Couldn't help myself!), indulgently melted chocolate.

I also discovered that I am much better at separating egg yolks and whites using my hands. How did I not know of this until now??

Now, I'm not entirely sure how long I should be leaving these to set, so I'll probably leave them over night. Considering it is now 12am. I'll make sure to update with photos in the morning.. plus I'll share a picture of the awesome risotto I made the other night for dinner. It went down well with a bottle of chardonnay at yet another "me-home-alone-by-myself-forever-alone party". Just kidding, as it says in my about me - I'm perfectly lonely. Just me, wine, chocolate and my red and white checked tablecloth.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Italian Meringues and Procrastination Baking

First post of a new blog. Third time's the charm it seems. Mind you, a bottle of grenache shiraz helps too.

Tonight I had two things on the agenda, studying for those two tests that are sitting there dauntingly on my calendar for tomorrow morning. I tried my best but five thirty came around and enticed me with an unopened bottle of red and the allure of a sweet, rich pasta dish for one. Admittedly I snapchatted my meal to more than a couple of people. I opened up my books and sat down to study with a glass of wine in one hand and a fine tipped Biro in the other.. Then my mind wandered to the egg whites I had in the freezer. All it took was one dip in the sink to defrost them. What's a quick fix for a girl who's dying for a dessert, a poor student with only sugar and egg whites? Italian meringue perhaps?

While "Under the Tuscan Sun" was downloading, I heated a few large teaspoons of sugar with a couple of splashes of boiling water. Add a few drops of vanilla essence and beat it into some egg whites until it becomes a silky, sticky bowl of goodness. Spoon it into small mounds onto a baking tray and leave it in the oven at 100ºC for however long you can manage waiting. While their in the oven, pour yourself another glass of wine, like me, and leave some mixed berries in a pan with some brown sugar to warm up.

Let the meringues cool. Generally I'd say leave them in the fridge but after three glasses of wine and trying desperately to avoid studying, I just let them cool to room temperature. Then, if you've got awesome parents like mine, use a gourmet dessert blowtorch to crisp up the edges and give it a bit of colour. Assemble one or two meringues with some of those warmed berries and devour it.

Watching Under the Tuscan Sun is making me want to run away to Italy. We can all dream. Me from my little table with the red and white checked table cloth, signing off.