baking

Undercover Chef Tip – Having your cake and cutting it too

Undercover chef tip - Cut the cake

 

Ever starting cutting up a beautiful birthday cake and found by the third slice it looks a little less than beautiful? So what to do? 

An easy solution is to warm up the knife in hot water to allow it to cut through the icing cleanly. 

So how do you warm up the knife easily? Just place some hot water in a measuring jug, dip the knife in for a few seconds, slice through with ease, wipe off the knife with paper towel, re-dip and continue to cut, repeating the dip and wipe with each slice. 

The result? Lovely clean slices that do justice to the cake. Woohoo. 

 

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie!

Dean Martin, I am sorry for using your song as a blog title. Well, not really to be honest because I tragically love that song to death and can often be heard singing it at home. To myself. Shamelessly.

But really, who doesn’t love pizza? When friends are coming over it can be easy to become frantic and wonder what to cook that is easy and sociable at the same time. My solution? Home made pizza. With the abundance of decent pizza bases make your own at home can be a fun experience as you create a topping bar and each guest makes their own pizza ensuring they are happy with the topping and there is a sense of fun to the experience instead of just dialing a number and waiting for a delivery of usually sub average take away pizza.

The great thing about pizza is that the toppings are limited to what you have on hand or really enjoy. Of course, nothing beats tradition such as pepperoni, four cheeses, prosciutto and rocket or margarita but when you are cooking at home I will look the other way when you break the rules, don’t worry.! 😉  I like to keep it simple with my toppings with prosciutto, rocket and Parmesan being my simple go to. My partner is a fan of the everything possible school of pizza toppings but again, this is where compromise is a beautiful thing in that we both get to have pizza our way by making our own.

Home made pizza bases are very simple to make. You can even freeze the excess dough before proving it  to have a quick mid week meal without fuss. Just roll the dough into individual sized balls, wrap well in cling film and freeze for about a fortnight or so before use.

So crack out the mixing bowl and roll up your sleeves to knead as you create you own pizza bases and have a great night in!

Home made pizza base

Ingredients

600g  of flour

1 teasp salt

1 sachet of dried yeast

1 teasp caster sugar

60ml olive oil

375ml lukewarm water

Method

1. Combine salt and flour in mixing bowl

2. Empty yeast sachet into warm water with sugar and mix. Allow to sit for about 5 mins or until mix is foamy and yeast is activated

3. Add olive oil to yeast mix and create well in middle of flour

4. Pour in liquid mix and using a knife cut the flour into the mix until well combined

5. Place rough dough onto floured bench and knead for about ten minutes until the dough is smooth and firm. Alternatively if you have a mixer with a dough hook, place inside and knead on low speed for ten minutes

6. Remove from bowl and place in large clean bowl with oiled sides. Place in warm area and cover with cling film

7. Allow to rise and prove for about 30min – 1 hour until doubled in size

8. Knock back and knead again, separate mix into appropriate size to cover your tray. Usually about 100g of mix will cover a 20cm round tray thinly which is how I like my bases

9. Top with your favourite ingredients and bake at about 180-200 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the base is golden

10. Cut up and enjoy!

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Buying your pumpkin and eating it too! How to make sure you make the most of pumpkins in your fridge

When the weather turns cold you can’t but help to think of warming dishes such as stews, casseroles and roast meats. The usual suspects also feature – roast vegetables. I am a big fan of roast vegetables as to me it brings out the sweetness and flavour of the root vegetables giving them a satisfying and unique flavour.

Alas not all vegetables for roasting are root vegetables and pumpkins are one of the exceptions. Their inviting orange flesh can be used for sweet or savoury dishes and it is very universal vegetable (fruit if we are being particular with the seeds/flowers and all) to prepare.

One pumpkin can be a task to get through for a single person or even a couple, so what do you do when you have a whole or even half a pumpkin rolling around in your crisper?

As mentioned, the most popular choice would be roast pumpkin closely followed by the sweet counterpart of pumpkin scones. Again, these tackle some of the pumpkin’s offerings but how do you utilise it without having an array of pots and pans?

I roasted my pumpkin two ways. One features garlic salt whilst the other is given a spicy kick with a chilli and lime salt. You can roast all the pumpkin at once, but create some different flavours to keep the leftovers interesting. No one really enjoys eating the exact same thing three days in a row and this is a way of mixing up the flavours whilst not wasting your crisper contents.

Another advantage of the roasted pumpkin is that it can easily be transformed into soup and frozen for later. I actually prefer to roast my pumpkins and blend with stock for soup as I feel that just simmering the pumpkins doesn’t bring out the depth of flavour they achieve with roasting. If you have some chicken stock ready to go in the freezer as featured in my last blog, it can be as simple as giving the stock a simmer, blending in the pumpkin and dinner is served. Pretty simple right?

Try also pureeing some of the pumpkin after giving it a steam to keep the water content down and have it frozen ready for scone making or thin it down with the chicken stock as soup for more versatility too.

Roast pumpkin is fabulous tossed through leafy green salads or even in a potato salad for a splash of colour and a kick of flavour. They can also be mashed up and folded through a potato mash for a bit of different side to your roast, sausages or casseroles.

However you like your pumpkins they are great vegetable to keep on hand. Have a go at some of the recipes below and tell me how you went. Happy cooking!

salmon salad

Recipes

Creating your own flavoured salts doesn’t need to be a task. Having a mortar and pestle or even a decent small blender/spice grinder can have your creating fabulous concoctions that bring your dishes alive.

lime salt

Lime and Chilli Salt Roast Pumpkin

Ingredients:

2-3 tbsp rock salt or course salt for grinding

½ tea spoon chilli powder (adjust according to your spicy preference)

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

Method

Place all ingredients into a mortar and pound with pestle until salt is broken up and flavourings are mixed through. If blending, same method applies

NB: You can use the lime juice to pep up the pumpkin once it is roasted. By using the zest you’re releasing all the fragrant oils into the salt

herb salt

Garlic and Herb Salt

Ingredients

2-3 tbsp rock salt

1 tbsp dried garlic

1 tbsp dried herbs – I used my own dried rosemary

Method: Place all ingredients in mortar and pound with pestle until combined

NB: I use dried garlic and herbs as the oils from fresh garlic can make it hard to sprinkle as it will clump together. If you are basting a meat with blend, use fresh garlic as you can then rub it in. The same applies for the herbs. I dried my own rosemary by handing it upside down in a cool area until the leaves became brittle and is stripped them from the stalk and store in an airtight container

pumpkin on tray

Roast Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

½ roast pumpkin

1l chicken or vegetable stock

4 cloves of roast garlic (if you like, add these with the pumpkin when roasting)

Method

Bring stock to a simmer, blend in pumpkin with stick blender and garlic and season to taste

NB: If you are using an upright blender please do not blend boiling hot stock as it will pop the lid and you can burn yourself – in this instance just ensure your stock is full defrosted if using from freezer or just pour in from the fridge and blend – bring the soup to a simmer once blended.

soup

Seasonal Fruit – Apple Recipes

Autumns and winter aren’t exactly synonymous with luscious fruits. The cool temperatures aren’t the best of friends with warmth dependent fruits such as peaches, mangoes and berries. Their delicate skins can’t withstand chilly frost. Apples, pears and citrus though are winter’s best friend. Their tougher skins don’t mind a little chill so they happily ripen on the trees without the need for a scarf or beanie unlike their human counterparts! This brings us to the second installment of market fresh, seasonal eating how to.

Nothing is more delightful (to me anyway!) than the crisp crunch of an apple. Luckily in my local market I am able to buy waxed fruits which are another delight unto themselves. The surprisingly rough skin allows for an even more earthy delight when biting in. So what to do with surplus apples in the cooler months?

The obvious choices are apple pies or crumbles. But what if you’re after something different? This week I tried my hand at some baking. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy baking but my oven is a bit temperamental. But this week I had access to a far superior oven at Wandering Cooks so I gave some cupcakes and cookies a whirl.

The cupcakes featured apples peeled and diced small whilst the cookies I adapted myself to include an apple puree in place of some of the sugar. The result? Delightful sweet treats which are a little different to the usual offering.

Another idea is to preserve your apples. How? Either through slicing finely and drying in a food drier (mine is a hand me down from Mum but sunbeam has one on the market), or making your own apple puree and bottling it. Apple puree can be used to replace eggs or sugar in some recipes, as a sauce with pork or stirred through porridge. As you can see, apples are very hard workers in the kitchen!

Speaking of porridge, the cookies feature quick oats, another easy kitchen staple. Have your apples and oats as porridge in the morning or as cookies for afternoon tea. Mix the puree through with some larger cooked diced apples, spoon into a dish and make some crumble from the oats and there is your simple dessert. Using your pantry is easy when you have some ideas up your sleeve.

Moral of the story? Sweet or savoury eating in the seasons doesn’t need to be a chore when you can plan ahead or store your recipes according to ingredient. Please feel free to print these recipes and file them so when you have a market trip you know exactly what to do when you get home. Happy shopping!

Recipe One – Apple cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

The apple cupcakes are from food.com. As I followed the recipe verbatim (always a good idea with pastry in my opinion) I’ll just paste the recipe below but the original link is here: http://www.food.com/recipe/apple-cupcakes-41260

The frosting and garnish is mine though 🙂

Ingredients

2 cups apples, skin on, grated

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 cup butter

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Put the grated apples, sugar, water, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cool; add flour and soda.

Fill paper lined cupcake tins 2/3 full.

Bake until cupcakes spring back when touched in the center.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:

250g cream cheese

2 tbsp apple puree

¼ cup icing sugar

Pinch of cinnamon

Splash of vanilla essence

Method:

1/ Whip cream cheese and icing sugar together until softened and combined

2/ Add cinnamon and vanilla and mix well

3/ Swirl through apple sauce for streaky effect

4/ Spoon generously over cupcakes and top with dried apple

5/ Dig in

Recipe Two – Apple and oat cookies

Ingredients 

250g butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup apple puree

2 eggs (large)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½  cups plain flour

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

Pinch of salt

3 cups quick oats

Method:

  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in eggs and vanilla.
  2. In a bowl, sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; gradually add flour mix to creamed mixture and combine well.
  3. Stir in the oats and apple puree
  4. Form into small balls about 1 tbsp in size. Place on baking tray lined with baking paper about 3 cm apart.
  5. Bake at 180 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden. Cool on wire rack and serve for afternoon tea. Or just eat off the tray. That’s what I did 😉

Recipe Three – Preserved apple puree

Ingredients

2 kg apples peeled, cored and diced small

500ml apple juice (preference is to juice your own but otherwise try and source fresh apple juice from the cold section as these shouldn’t have as many preservatives and sugar. Check the different brand for exact quantities)

Method

1/ Bring the apple juice to a simmer, add the apples and reduce heat

2/ Allow to cook over low heat until softened and remove from heat

3/ Allow to cool for ten minutes to blend safely in food processor or with stick blender

4/ Sterilise jars by covering with boiling water for at least ten minutes in a large pot. Remove from pot carefully with tongs and set onto surface to pour apples into.

5/ Return the apple puree to heat and bring to boil, pour carefully into hot jars and seal lids. Place in pot with tea towel on bottom, cover with boiling water and simmer for half an hour. Allow to cool in water. Test seal has vacuumed down. Store in cool dry area for about 2 months.

The proof is in the pudding

What to have for dessert. Almost as much a quandary and what to have for dinner. I’ll admit I have bought and cooked my share of frozen desserts before. Why? Laziness to be honest. Sometimes I convince myself that is too hard to make a dessert from scratch so I buy an apple pie or pastry and bake it. Of course I am more often than not disappointed in the dessert and wish I had just baked my own but alas, there we are.

So what do you do when you just couldn’t be bothered but you’d prefer not to buy a frozen dessert? Pudding. Puddings are some of the simplest and easiest desserts to make. Four or five ingredients, stirred, put into a mould and baked. Like a cake but with less pressure and you don’t have to ice them. Self saucing puddings are even better. The accompaniment is baked into the dish for you! All you need do is sprinkle some berries or whip some cream and voila, an easy peasy dessert is made. Of course you can also buy frozen self saucing puddings but you really don’t need to when they are so easy to make.

I baked mine in individual pots to make serving easier and more attractive. Puddings don’t look that elegant when spooned out onto a plate so for a dinner party dessert, individual pots are the way to go. At home by yourself and wish to have something warm to eat? By all means, grab a spoon and tuck in straight from the dish. I do 😉

So, to the recipe:

Ingredients (makes four individual puddings)

1 cup of self raising flour or 1 cup of plain flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 tbsp of cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

80g butter

1 large egg

For the sauce

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups of boiling water

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees
  2.  Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl. Stir in the sugar until combined
  3. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly
  4. Whisk the egg and milk together in a jug, add the melted butter and combine
  5. Pour the mix over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine
  6. Spoon the batter into individual ramekins and place onto oven proof tray
  7. Pour the boiling water over the sugar and cocoa powder, mix until combined sugar is dissolved
  8. Carefully pour the sauce mix over the back of a spoon onto the top of the pudding batter. The liquid should reach just under the lip of the ramekin
  9. Place the tray carefully into the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until the puddings have risen and the liquid has cooked through. The puddings should be soft to touch and spring back when touched.
  10. Remove from oven, allow to sit for 2 minutes and serve with cream or ice-cream and berries
  11. Enjoy!

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

Finding inspiration can be a little elusive sometimes but I have been lucky lately and had it handed to me each day. I have been participating in Stephanie Alexander’s A to Z food photo challenge – A letter a day relating to food. It has been lots of fun and today was the letter L. Of course the obvious is Lemons! Who doesn’t love this citrus fruit? It has so many uses, freshening up a salad, tarting up a dessert, giving a kick to a marinade! Lemons do it all. My favourite application though? Lemon curd.

It’s tart, its buttery and it tastes so good when you like the bowl. Or the spoon. Or your fingers when you dip them in the bowl. But shhh…don’t tell anyone 😉

I am fortunate enough to have access to a lemon tree that has large, juicy and non-waxed/pesticide skin. They are as lemony as lemons can be and they have such an intense flavour. If you can get access to organic or as close to it does make a difference to have the juicier lemons and to use the skin in cooking without worrying what’s in it.

Lemon curd is easy peasy but there are a few hints:

1. Use a low to medium heat as there are a lot of eggs in this recipe and they can over cook very quickly

2. If the mixture seems to be cooking too quick, remove from heat and keep stirring whilst it thickens and finishes cooking

3. Cut your butter into small cubes to allow it to melt and mix into the cooked egg mixture evenly

4. If there appears to be large cooked egg bits in the mix if you had the heat too high, don’t despair! Either give it a quick blend with a bar mix or pop it in a blender and give it a quick whiz to mix together before adding the butter. Pass through a fine sieve and add the butter as normal

5. If you’re really unsure, place the mix into a bowl over simmering water and cook out slowly – it make take up to ten minutes to thicken so be patient

6. If you’d like to store the butter for future use (I don’t know how you can’t help but eat it with a spoon right away!) then follow the usual preserving rules – boil the bottle and lids first and place on clean tea towel to air dry, pour the curd mix into the jar when still hot  and place a lid on straight away and leave to cool. The cooling action will create a vacuum. I would recommend keeping the jar in the fridge to err on the side of caution, but with this method it will last at least two weeks unopened. Opened use within a couple of days.

So the recipe: (the photos feature a 1/4 amount of this recipe – this will make enough for one large lemon tart)

500ml lemon juice

500g sugar

12 eggs

6 yolks

360g butter

Method:

1. Separate eggs and mix yolks with whole eggs.

2. Put sugar and lemon juice in pan, bring to simmer and stir until sugar dissolves.

3. Add lemon sugar mix to eggs slowly and whisk together.

4. Put into wide based saucepan, stir egg mix over stove until thickened, approx 5 minutes

5. Remove from heat, stir in diced butter until well combined

6. Strain through fine sieve and bottle if saving for later or put into container ready to spoon over scones, sponge, into a tart shell or just go right ahead and stick a spoon in. I did 🙂

Let Them Eat Cake (birthday cake that is)

It was my boyfriends birthday recently and course we had to celebrate with cake! What is a birthday without cake after all! I have always enjoyed making birthday cakes for friends and family and watching their delight as everyone sings a song in their honour whilst embarrassing them with how off tune it all is. These days birthday cakes know no bounds as flights of fancy in icing have seen the rise of more and more creative baking feats achieved. I prefer to make simple cakes but I do enjoy the fruits of other peoples labour don’t worry! For this birthday as Davin loves cheesecake and chocolate what better way to combine the two to celebrate his day than this chocolate cheesecake recipe.

This recipe was given to me by my sous chef at Il Centro Brian. He has cooked this for his lady and her friends and due to their rapturous response deemed this recipe a winner. From the response of Davin and his family and my own enjoyment, I’d have to agree. His version has white chocolate but I am more of a milk/dark chocolate fan so went with that. Traditionally cheesecakes are either baked or set with gelatine but the addition of butter plus the chocolate to this recipe allows it to set firm in the fridge without the use of gelatine. This is particularly handy if you don’t have gelatine on hand or don’t use it often enough to buy for one cake. Feel free to stir through some berries of chocolate chips or whatever ingredients take your fancy to make it your own.

Chef’s Notes:

– A food processor makes turning the biscuits into crumbs easier by far but if you don’t have one there is the old fashioned way that my mother and I used to do which is put the biscuits in a bag and crush with a rolling pin or meat hammer until crumbly. I recommend this method after a stressful day.

– A springform pan is the one where there is a leverish catch in the side with releases the band away from the base. This is to allow easy release of the cake from the pan, especially as it quite delicate and flipping it out as per a normal cake may cause it to break. If you don’t have one of these tins, ensure you line a cake tin with baking paper and ensure you have a long piece of paper that overlaps the side of the pan to lift the cake out

– With baked cheesecakes the base is baked for a few minutes before being left to cool. This is to ensure the base doesn’t melt back into the mix when baking, a step no necessary with cold set cheesecakes

– If you can’t find mascarpone, ricotta will suffice. The addition of the mascarpone adds a little tartness and a lighter creaminess than just cream cheese by itself

So, without further ado, the ingredients:

100g sugar

200g chocolate (white, milk or dark)

300ml pure cream

200g marscapone

250g cream cheese

100g butter

200g biscuits of your choice (arrowroot, chocolate, ginger snap)

2 teas sp vanilla

Method:

1. Melt chocolate and 30g of butter together and stir until combined

2. Process biscuits until fine crumb. Melt remaining butter and mix through biscuits until evenly coated.

3. Line spring form tin with baking paper to ensure clean release and press biscuit mix into base of spring form tin until even. Place in fridge for at least 15 minutes until firm.

4. Whip sugar and cream cheese together, add cream and whip together. Fold together with mascapone, add melted butter and chocolate mix  and stir through gently.

5. Pour on top of biscuit base and cool until firm, approximately 2-3 hours or overnight

6.  Decorate as desired – I used freckles or you could use strawberries, berries, crumbled chocolate or biscuits, whatever you fancy

7. Cut a big slice, sit down and enjoy every bite!

Not just a pumpkin scone – my mother’s pumpkin scones

pumpkin scone finished v3

 

Well actually, this is a recipe for pumpkin scones, but not just any pumpkin scones, old school recipe from the 60’s pumpkin scones -mmmm. Once again I baked some treats from my mother’s high school recipe book and happened across the pumpkin scones and with a 1/4 pumpkin looking forlorn in the fridge and no immediate use in mind a scone it was destined to become!

A few hints for getting the pumpkin to the mashed stage as per the recipes request

– steam if you can don’t boil: pumpkins already have quite a high moisture content and boiling floods them with even more creating a sloppy mash even if you drain it well – steaming prevents this from happening thus ensuring you won’t need to add a lot of flour to compensate

– if you can, bake the pumpkin at a low heat (150 degrees Celsius) until soft for a lovely texture – the low heat ensures the pumpkin doesn’t over colour

As these are home made pumpkin scones and thus have no preservatives if you’d like to have them for more than a couple of days (if they can stay around that long!) freeze them and defrost and toast for an afternoon tea later in the week. Once again I served mine with apricot jam (its a weakness) and lashings of butter. Delicious!

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups SR flour

1 cup mashed pumpkin

60 g butter

1 egg

60g sugar

1/2 cup milk

Method

– Rub butter into flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs

– Make well in centre of flour, mix milk with egg and sugar, fold into flour with a butter knife

– Add mashed pumpkin and mix to soft dough

– The mix will be sticky, flour your hands and use a piece of baking paper to roll the dough out onto

– Once the dough is rolled to about 3 cm thickness cut into rounds with cutter and place on tray

– Brush with milk for a more golden colour if desired

– Bake in oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 10-15 min until golden

– Allow to cool, crack open, butter up and dig in. Yumm….

pumpkin scone ingredients

pumpkin scone dought rolled

pumkpin scone mixed

pumpkin scone finished v3

Let’s Get Baking – Jam Drops

My oven isn’t the trustiest for baking more delicate foods such as cakes and desserts but biscuits and pies that require heat but aren’t quite so temperamental work wonderfully. I was looking through my bookshelf and found my mothers recipe book from her year 10 home economics classes and was excited to find jam drops and pumpkin scones written in amongst the more old school lambs brains and calves livers. Needless to say I skipped over those options and pulled out the ingredients for the baking.

This recipe is for the Jam Drops. I used apricot jam as it is my favourite jam but feel free to go wild with your choices and mix them up with whatever tickles your fancy. Just a few notes here – makes sure you make a decent dip in the biscuits to hold the jam as when they rise  the jam can spill out over the biscuit.

The biscuits aren’t meant to be super firm so as long as they are golden they will be cooked. Remember though, if you make smaller versions less cooking time, larger versions will take a little more. Aim for about ten minutes and check from there. Nothing spoils baking like having them in the oven too long! Trust me, the first batch had a lovely charcoal base which was not the intention!!

So the recipe – My Mother’s Jam Drops

Ingredients:

60g butter

60g sugar

2 eggs (large)

150g self raising flour

1/2 cup jam

Pinch salt

Method:

Cream the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs one at a time mixing well, Mix in flour and salt to form firm dough. If the dough seems a little sticky still mix in some plain flour to bring together.

Roll mix into small balls and place on tray in lines about 5cm apart. Using a measuring spoon or whatever else is on hand, push small indentations into the balls and fill with jam.

Bake in a moderate oven (175 degrees) for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool on pan. Serve with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or just eat them straight off the tray as I am inclined to do 🙂

 Enjoy!