Thursday, December 31, 2009

Matt Moran's Sweet cherry pie

Good morning to all. I hope that you have been enjoying the festive season, and have had a relaxing time with friends and family. I have been enjoying some time off with my family - it is always a good time for me to catch up on some sleep, as my family are of the "early to bed, early to rise" persuasion.

For my last post for this year, I thought it would be fitting to post a sweet recipe. I have selected a recipe for Sweet Cherry Pie by Matt Moran of Aria fame, which appeared on p19 of the Event liftout in the Sunday Mail on 22 November 2009.

I adore cherries, and as soon as they became relatively cheap, I bought the best part of a kilo, and contributed around half of them to making this pie. It is absolutely delicious, with a jammy, deep red cherry centre complimented by a flaky, golden pastry crust with a lattice work top. I was a little scared of making the lattice work top, as I have never done this before, but it didn't give me any dramas. The hardest part about making pastry in Brisbane in summer is always the heat factor - no sooner is the chilled dough removed from the fridge than it begins to wilt in the heat.

If you like the look of this pie and would like to try it for yourself, the recipe is as follows:

270g cold butter, cut into cubes
450g plain flour
135g icing sugar
2 eggs
500g pitted cherries
75g sugar
30g cornflour
20ml lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten (for wash)


Put the sifted flour and icing sugar into a bowl. Add the cubes of butter, and rub together until the mixture forms crumbs. (I used a pastry cutter for this, which I found to be helpful, but your fingertips are fine if the weather is not too warm.)

In a separate small bowl, beat the eggs together with a fork, then pour into the flour mixture. Mix the ingredients together until a workable dough forms; I find using your hands is best for this. (I found that I needed to add more flour because my mixture was too wet; alternatively, if the mixture is too dry, add ice water slowly to the mixture until it comes together.)

Divide the pie dough into two equal pieces, form each piece into a disc shape and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before using.


Put the cherries and sugar into a medium saucepan, and stir over medium heat until the cherries are soft and the sugar has dissolved (~5 minutes).

In a small bowl, mix together the cornflour and lemon juice, then pour the mixture into the cooked cherries, stirring the mixture over the heat for a further 2-3 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.

Pie assembly

Grease a 21cm fluted pie pan well.

Remove one of the discs of dough from the fridge, and roll it out between two pieces of baking paper or on a well floured bench to 3-4mm in thickness. Carefully line the greased pie pan with the rolled out dough, and trim off the excess. Place the pie shell in the fridge for ~20minutes to chill.

In the meantime, remove the second piece of pie dough from the fridge and roll out to 3-4mm thickness, as before. Cut the pastry into 16 x 3cm wide strips. (I only managed 8 x 3cm strips, and this worked fine.) Place the strips onto a tray and chill in the fridge for ~20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

Remove the chilled pie shell from the fridge, and spoon in the cooled cherry mixture. Brush the edges of the pie shell with the beaten egg wash, then remove the pastry strips from the fridge, and lay half of them horizontally across the top of the pie, and the other half vertically across the top of the pie to form a lattice.

Trim off the excess pastry, and brush the top of the lattice with the egg wash.

Put the pie into the preheated oven, and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with cream or icecream.


Happy New Year to you and your family!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TWD - Low and Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake

I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas, and are not over sweets yet! That's because this week's
Tuesday with Dorie features Dorie's Low and Luscious Chocolate Cheesecake, chosen by our host, the Tea Lady of Tea and Scones.

I think that "low and luscious", although alliterative, is a misnomer, because with three blocks of cream cheese, it was rather a high cheesecake. No matter - with a cheesecake that looks as good as this, who is going to quibble over something as trivial as a name?

I made this for the birthday morning tea of Caroline in Finance. I have to say that I found the fundamentally tangy cheesecake flavour a little odd with the chocolate, but perhaps it is something that would grow on me. I only tasted a tiny sliver, so if I had eaten a whole slice, the flavours may have melded better for me.

It was an easy cheesecake to make - no dramas at any stage, with a simple baked graham cracker crust, and the final product did not crack on top.

To see what the other TWD members thought, check out the TWD blogroll. For the recipe, see the Tea Lady's site when it is Tuesday her time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Daring Bakers - Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Gingerbread houses are straight from the pages of Hansel & Gretel. I loved the idea of them as a child, although I am sure that I wouldn't have eaten them because I only became a gingerbread lover as a grownup. Also, I would have been terrified lest the wicked witch imprisoned me!

I had never made a gingerbread house before this challenge - in fact, my Donna Hay gingerbread house came after the Daring Bakers house, because the guy who bought the Daring Bakers house at a charity auction had an unfortunate incident where black ants got into the Daring Bakers house - so I made him a new one using a different recipe.

I used Y's Scandinavian gingerbread recipe - I kind of liked the woodgrain look it gave to the house. I obtained my template from this link, provided by Audax.

I used my learnings from making the Daring Bakers house to make the second house even better. While making the Daring Bakers house, I learned:

(a) Don't stick any candies on the house until it is constructed - they weigh down the pieces making them harder to stand, and make it difficult to get can/glasses etc flush against the walls to hold them up while the icing "glue" dries.

(b) Make sure that you leave a few hours in between putting up the walls and sticking on the roof, otherwise the whole thing goes skewiff.

The recipes given to us for Daring Bakers suggested sticking the house together with syrup, but I thought it was a safer bet to use the usual royal icing for construction.

Without further ado, here are the pieces of my house:

(I changed my mind about piping the roof tiles - it looked odd):

And here is the assembled house:

I used musk sticks, silver cachous, fruit jubes and Skittles:

Despite the slant to the walls, I kind of liked this house:

Sticking the candy cane on the back of the house BEFORE putting the house together was a mistake, as it made the back wall heavy and resilient to standing straight, and prevented me from propping it up well while it dried. I ended up taking it off and sticking it on again later:

There are some amazing gingerbread houses constructed by the Daring Bakers - do go visit them at the
Daring Bakers blogroll between 23 and 27 December.

Hope you all had a merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you all!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two Surprises - Blogging by Mail and Pay It Forward

Yesterday, all of my Christmases came at once when I received not one but two parcels from fellow bloggers in the mail. It was definitely a Christmas miracle that they arrived, because Australia Post staff have been striking on and off recently over a pay dispute.

The parcel at the top of this post is from Marci of
Pieces. Marci, from Austin, Texas, in the U.S., is my Blogging By Mail partner. Marci has been blogging since she was married in 2006, and has been blogging for longer than I have. Check out Marci's costume posts - they are a hoot!

Blogging By Mail is organised by the tireless Stephanie of
Dispensing Happiness, who puts a lot of work into BBM gathering details from participants, matching givers and receivers, and generally arranging for as many participants as possible to have a positive BBM experience (ie they send a parcel and in return, they receive a parcel).

The theme of BBM was 5 Favourite Indulgences, and Marci's package didn't fail to disappoint. First up, Marci sent me a light-globe shaped package of chocolate coated sunflower seeds. I have never tried these before, but I have to agree with Marci that they taste really good - kind of like rice krispie snacks.

Next is a large bag of Hatch Green Chile Tortilla Chips - yummo! (Marci, they arrived largely intact - thanks!) To accompany the chips, I received a tin of Herdez Salsa Casera, made in Mexico. A perfect snack to unwind with!

Marci also sent me a block of Popular chocolate beverage mix. Marci says she makes hers with water, and loves the hint of cinnamon. I am looking forward to trying this, as we don't have anything like it here.

Finally, Marci sent me a bottle of Metromint chocolatemint water, which Marci describes as guilt free chocolate - I agree - what could be better?

Thanks to both Marci and Stephanie - I had a lot of fun opening this package, and I am sure that I will have just as much fun enjoying its contents.

My second parcel came from my great blogging friend, Tammy, of Wee Treats by Tammy, who sent me a parcel as part of a Pay It Forward game. Tammy comes from one of my favourite spots in the universe, New Zealand, and is a fellow lawyer. Tammy makes the cutest decorated biscuits and sugar flowers that you have ever seen - I highly recommend checking out Tammy's blog to see how beautiful they are.

Tammy asked me what I would like to receive, and I said basically anything related to New Zealand. I have been to New Zealand twice in the last couple of years, and just loved it, including their unique food treats.

The first item in Tammy's package is the latest edition of New Zealand
Taste magazine. It has some fabulous recipes that I have bookmarked, including a gluten-free apricot and cranberry cake and a hazelnut and raspberry icecream cake.

Next, I received two sets of cupcake papers - one beautiful, ethereal blue and silver set and a cute chocolate brown set with silver striped rims and silver cupcakes on the bottom.

New Zealand has some great chocolate treats, and Tammy must have known that I am a chocoholic, as I received a twin pack of pineapple lumps (with a pineapple foam sweet centre and coated in chocolate) and a three-pack of Whittakers Peanut Slab. Yum!!

Tammy also threw in a packet of Eskimos, which are pastel-coloured foam sweets in the shape of eskimos, and which are often used to make the famous New Zealand Lolly Cake. Fabulous! (If my friend Ruth is reading this, I know she'll be homesick - she is a Kiwi and loves Eskimos.)

Finally, Tammy sent me two beautiful cards. The first is one of Tammy's
home-made retro pattern cards, which is absolutely gorgeous. The second is a Christmas card featuring a lovely red native New Zealand bush - the last one is for the Tuesdays with Dorie Christmas card exchange, as Tammy drew me!

Thanks so much Tammy - I am going to have a lot of fun with these gifts.

(As I have already "paid it forward" in another round, this round stops with me!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TWD - My (well, Dorie's) Favourite Pecan Pie

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is Dorie's My Favourite Pecan Pie, and was chosen by our host, Brina of Someone's in the Kitchen.

What can I say - this pie was delicious!

I used Dorie's sweet pastry recipe for the tart shell rather than the good for everything pie dough recommended, as I didn't have any shortening, and the one time I made this dough, it didn't end well. One problem that I had with this pie was that I should have used my deep pie dish, as even though the diameter of this pie dish was correct, the pie filling bubbled everywhere. The other small issue was that I was supposed to turn down the oven after so many minutes, but I forgot - oops! Luckily, the only consequence is that the filling is a bit darker than it should be.

I have never had chocolate in a pecan pie before, but it was good. In fact, this pie was good all round.

To see what everyone else thought of this pie, visit the TWD blogroll. For the recipe, visit Brina's site.

Monday, December 21, 2009


If you are still considering what Christmas cookies to bake for this year's table, may I highly recommend pfeffernussen (peppernuts). They are cute, round, icing-capped spice biscuits originating in Central Europe. I loathe the ones that you buy, but this home-made version is delicious, and has received the most recipe requests from the recipients of my baking this year. They are also quite easy to make, which is an added bonus.

The recipe for pfeffernussen that I used (and which has been receiving rave reviews) is from p93 of the December 09/January 10 edition of a New Zealand food magazine called

If I have tempted you, and you are still looking for cookie recipes for Christmas, the recipe is as follows:

100g softened butter

1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 egg
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg


1/2 cup sifted icing sugar

~3 teaspoons lemon juice

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the butter and sugar, and beat until light and creamy. Add the honey and egg and one tablespoon of the flour, and beat until well combined.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl, then stir through the creamed butter mixture.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of cling film, form into a flattened disc, and refrigerate the dough until firm (~20 minutes).

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, and using your fingers, break off tablespoonful-sized pieces of dough and roll into balls:

Place the balls of dough ~2cm apart on the lined baking sheets, then refrigerate for another 10 minutes or so until the dough becomes firm.

Remove the chilled biscuits from the fridge, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. The biscuits will crack on top.

Remove the baked biscuits from the oven, and cool them on their trays on wire racks.

Once the biscuits are cool, prepare the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and lemon juice to make a thick, smooth glaze that is perfect for dipping. Dip the top of each biscuit in the glaze, allow the excess to drip back into the icing bowl, and place each biscuit back on the tray to set.

This recipe makes ~ 36 biscuits.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Cake - Nigella Lawson's recipe

I have just spent a marvellous long weekend in Melbourne catching up with some of my wonderful friends. Thanks to Veronica, Margot, Steve, Craig, Tim and Christian - it was fabulous seeing you.

The next Christmas recipe I am going to share with you is for a Christmas cake that has to be made at least a month in advance - I in fact made mine in June this year. It is Nigella Lawson's standard Christmas cake recipe from How to Be a Domestic Goddess and Feast, and which you can also find online here. It is a handy recipe because the ingredients are given in different quantities for different sized cakes. By Christmas, my cake was wonderfully boozy and scented - and I didn't "feed" it at all between making it and cutting it recently for gifts.

Here is a slice of the cut cake, so that you can easily see all of the wonderful fruit:

The cake stayed nice and moist, which is a relief, because I have quite a lot of cake left over after slicing it up for friends gift boxes!

There are a myriad of fruit cake recipes out there, so I am never sure which ones are the best. Do you have a favourite fruit cake recipe?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rocky Road

Are you still with me on the Christmas treats? I've got another easy one for you which is no bake - just chop, melt, spread and set. It's Rocky Road!!!

For the uninitiated, Rocky Road is chocolate mixed with nuts, jelly and marshmallows, and tastes as good as it sounds.

I used a non-traditional Rocky Road recipe from
Loreto Cooks, a wonderful cookbook given to me by my dear friends Steve and Craig, who contributed their roast lamb recipe to the book. (I am yet to try it, but I will soon.) Steve works at Loreto Mandeville Hall, a private girls school in Toorak, so this book has special associations. It's not your average school cookbook - this is a properly bound, full colour, professionally compiled cookbook.

The Rocky Road recipe was contributed by Jacqueline Prestedge. I halved the recipe, and adapted it slightly as follows:

500g good quality dark chocolate

1 cup chopped marshmallows
2 chopped Turkish Delight bars
2 chopped Cherry Ripe bars
1 cup chopped almonds

Line a 18cm x 28cm slice tin with baking paper. Leave overhang on all sides so that you can use the paper to lift the Rocky Road out later.

Put all of the ingredients except the chocolate together into a bowl and mix together.

Melt the chocolate over a bain marie (or put it in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water), then pour it over the other ingredients. Stir thoroughly to coat the other ingredients in the chocolate.

Pour the mixture into the prepared slice tin, press down evenly, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until set. Chop into squares of the desired size using a warm knife.

Dig in - it' s delicious!

On a different note, I cross-stitched this cute coaster for my friend Ruth:

I was going to make more, but ran out of time.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

White Christmas

An easy treat that you can make for Christmas is White Christmas. It's like an albino chocolate crackle without the chocolate and containing fruit. Kids like it because it is easy to make, looks pretty and is sweet. Adults with a sweet tooth like it because - well, they just do. White Christmas is not one of my favourite treats any more, but I can remember loving it as a child.

The recipe for White Christmas is usually printed on the side of the Rice Bubbles packet. However, in case you don't have access to that recipe, here is Margaret Fulton's version from Margaret Fulton's Christmas, which sounds pretty much like the original:

2 cups rice puff cereal
(eg Rice Bubbles)
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup dried milk powder
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants (I substituted sultanas)
1/2 cup halved glace cherries
250g vegetable shortening (eg Copha)

Line a 18 x 28cm slice pan with baking paper.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the Copha.

Melt the vegetable shortening in a saucepan over low heat, then pour onto the other ingredients and stir well to combine. Spread the mixture evenly in the slice pan, and press down the top with a spoon. Refrigerate the White Christmas for 2 hours until set, then cut into squares of the desired size.

If you don't like the dried fruits suggested, you can leave them out or
substitute other dried fruits. Just have fun with it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chocolate Panforte

Hurtling on down the Christmas highway, I have another Christmas recipe to share with you from the goodie boxes that I made this year. This time, it is chocolate panforte, a recipe from Dec 09/Jan10 Delicious magazine.

I made a more
traditional panforte last year, so this very different panforte recipe caught my eye. It looks like chocolate fudge, and it actually tastes like rich, nutty, fruity fudge. It is superb! I also found the recipe appealing because it used up some more of my fruit mince, and the dried figs I have had for some time.

To make this chocolate panforte, you will need:

110g sugar

175g honey
50g butter
300g fruit mince
250g plain flour
100g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
grated zest of 1 orange
300g of mixed nuts - I used roasted hazelnuts, whole almonds and pecan nuts
100g chopped dried figs
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius, and line an 18cm x 28cm slice tin with baking paper.

Place the sugar, honey, butter and fruit mince into a a medium saucepan, and stir over low heat until the suhar dissolves. Remove from the heat.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, then add the orange zest, nuts and cooled fruit mince mixture until well combined. Press the mixture into the prepared slice tin, using wet hands to smooth over the top.

Bake the panforte in the oven for 15-18 minutes until firm on top. Remove the panforte from the oven and allow it to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Once the panforte is cool, turn it out of the tin, dust it with icing sugar, and slice it into approximately 40 small squares.

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, the panforte will keep for around a month.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Donna Hay Gingerbread House

Yesterday, it was gingerbread men, and today, keeping with the theme, I am presenting a gingerbread house. Gingerbread houses are not really common here - until I started blogging, I hadn't heard of such a thing. However, Donna Hay published a recipe for a gingerbread house in the latest edition (Dec/Jan 2010) of Donna Hay Magazine.

I used Donna's gingerbread recipe, but that's where my use of the recipe ends. For example, Donna baked her gingerbread in blocks which she cut into shapes with a serrated knife for the house after baking. This terrifies me, because I am not as skilled as Donna, and I could see my lovely gingerbread being demolished into useless rubble if I attempted such a thing. Instead, I cut shapes out of the rolled out dough and baked those. I used a template off the Net, and cut out a window and a door before baking:

The gingerbread recipe is as follows:

7 1/2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
375g butter
1 2/3 cups golden syrup

Place half of all the ingredients into a food processor and process until they come together into a dough. Remove the dough from the processor, then process the remaining ingredients. Combine both lots of dough and knead lightly to bring it all together. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, press it into discs, wrap each piece in cling film and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before using.

From here, my method is different from Donna's:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to soften just enough so that it can be rolled out easily. Place each piece of dough between two sheets of baking paper, and roll it to a thickness of around 3mm (you don't want a fragile house, so don't roll it too thinly!), then using your house template, cut out the walls and roof of the house, plus any gingerbread accessories that you want (eg trees).

Leave the cut out shapes on the baking paper and transfer to baking trays on the paper so as to avoid bending, warping etc. (You may wish to chill the cut out gingerbread shapes for an extra half an hour before baking to further guard against warping and shrinkage in the oven, but I didn't bother.)

Place the baking trays with the gingerbread shapes on in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Don't put large shapes and small shapes together to bake, as the large shapes will take longer. It is important to ensure that the house pieces are baked thoroughly and end up on the crisp rather than soft side - I had to return a couple of pieces to the oven because they were too soft to make a house with.

Remove the baked gingerbread shapes from the oven and leave to cool completely in the trays on wire racks.

To assemble the house, you need:

  • a foil covered piece of stiff cardboard large enough for your house
  • royal icing that is stiff enough to hold the house together
  • a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain tip
  • lollies of any variety that take your fancy to decorate the house

Pipe any fancy decoration like window shutters etc onto the walls and roof pieces of the house before you begin to assemble it so that you are not trying to acrobatically pipe on fancy shapes once the house is assembled. However, don't stick on any sweets yet, as they make the house pieces heavy and the house is then harder to assemble.

You first assemble the four walls of the house by piping royal icing onto the board in a straight line where you want each piece of the house to sit, and by piping royal icing at each join of the walls to stick them together. It was easiest for me to do all 4 walls at once to make sure that they all fitted together squarely. Hold each piece in place for a few minutes before putting up the next so that the icing has some time to secure it in place. You can also use glasses or tins to help hold up the walls until they set:

You can see the bent top of one of my walls where it banged up against the edge of the baking tray when I put it into the oven. Luckily, it didn't affect the final house structure.

Ensure that the walls are dry and set before adding the roof - wait 4 hours or so before adding the roof. Pipe royal icing all over the top edges of the walls, and add the roof pieces, holding in place for a few minutes to ensure that they aren't going to slide off. Allow the roof to set completely, again leaving the house to sit for a few hours to allow time for this to happen.

Finally, add your sweets and gingerbread accessories:

Isn't it pretty?

I had fun doing this:

Don't you love the "wreath":

This house went to a guy at work who bought it in a charity auction.

I think this would be a great project for children - Mum or Dad can assemble the house first, then the kids can go wild with icing and sweets.

Hope you have fun making your own gingerbread house!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD - Cafe Volcano Cookies

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is hosted by MacDuff of The Lonely Sidecar. She has chosen Cafe Volcano Cookies as this week's challenge.

I was glad I read the TWD forum P&Q, because I thought that the photo of the chocolate meringues on the next page were what these were supposed to look like - and so did a few other people!

These biscuits are basically just nuts and egg white and sugar and coffee powder - sounds weird, but they taste delicious! They are crispy and crunchy and meringue-like in flavour. I am not as enamoured of them as Dorie apparently was, but I thought they tasted very nice, and was surprised at how the teaspoonfuls of mixture puffed up in the oven.

If I had leftover eggwhites and nuts, I might make these again - they were quite tasty and very easy to make.

To see how the other TWD bakers went, visit the blogroll, and the recipe will be on MacDuff's site when it is Tuesday her time (she is in the U.S.).

The Kitchen Reader Cookie Exchange - Gingerbread Men

The lovely Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort, who organises The Kitchen Reader book club, kindly suggested that we bake a Christmas cookie that means something to us and post about it this month instead of reading a book. This is a relief, because I have no idea where I'd find the time to read and review a book this month.

Whether this be strange or not, baking biscuits is not a Christmas tradition for my family, so there is not a particular family Christmas cookie recipe that I can share. Accordingly, I have decided instead to share a recipe from my recent tradition of baking for friends as Christmas gifts. The recipes that I choose to make for friends are important to me because I have selected them as something that captures my imagination sufficiently that I believe it would make an enjoyable gift.

In this case, I have chosen to post about the gingerbread men that I made as "gifts" for our work bake sale, which was held to raise money for the Salvation Army Christmas appeal. There are many, many recipes for gingerbread men; however, I chose to make the recipe from the
Bourke Street Bakery cookbook, because other people have spoken highly of this book, and it is a recent acquisition for me that I wanted to trial.

The recipe made an industrial quantity (48) gingerbread men, so I halved it and still ended up with 32 gingerbread men (presumably because some of mine were a little thinner than they were supposed to be). I didn't taste these myself because I donated them all to the bake sale, but I was reliably informed that they were popular sellers - surely the word would have spread if they weren't good? Their popularity leads me to assume that this was a good gingerbread men recipe, and I can say that they smelled wonderful while baking.
(Also, next day, a director told me that her children liked them and wanted more.)

When decorating the gingerbread people (because that it what I must hereafter call them), I made little girls:

and little boys:

and paired them together for sale purposes.

I am sure that you have your own special gingerbread recipe, but in case you want to try this one, a half batch requires the following ingredients:

550g plain flour

2 1/2 g salt
2 1/2g baking soda
7 1/2g ground ginger
2 1/2g ground cinnamon
2 1/2g ground nutmeg
200g butter
200g brown sugar
160g golden syrup or honey
1 egg
2 egg yolks

Sift the flour, baking soda and spices together into a bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and golden syrup together until light and creamy. Add the egg and egg yolks into the mixture as a stream, still beating, and mix until well combined. Turn the mixer speed to low, and add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches until just combined.

(I needed way more flour than the recipe required to get a workable dough. Originally, I thought that the softness of my dough would be counteracted by chilling, but I found that I still had to add more flour to get a dough stiff enough to roll out.)

Divide the dough into 2 and flatten each piece into a disc, and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and soften slightly, then roll out each disc between 2 sheets of baking paper to a thickness of 3mm. Cut out gingerbread people using an appropriate cookie cutter, and place each biscuit onto a baking tray lined with baking paper or a silicone mat.

Bake the biscuits for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Remove the baked biscuits from the oven, and allow them to cool on the trays. (This helps to prevent them from warping, bending, breaking or becoming marked, which may happen if you move them.)

Once the gingerbread people are cool, pipe features on with royal icing and decorate with lollies if you like. For the boys, I stuck on Skittle buttons with royal icing, and for the girls, I gave them sugar heart necklaces, and dresses and hair ribbons made of sliced musk sticks.

For more great Christmas cookie ideas from the other Kitchen Readers, go to the
Kitchen Reader blogroll.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eat Christmas Cookies 3 - Mexican wedding cakes

Susan of
Food Blogga is hosting Eat Christmas Cookies Season 3. It's easy to join in - all you have to do is bake Christmas cookies and follow the directions at the event link above to have your entry posted. You can check out the progressive Christmas cookie roundup here.

I have chosen to make a cookie that I have been curious about for a long time - Mexican wedding cakes, also known as Russian tea cakes. They are a nutty, buttery shortbread biscuit rolled in icing sugar, and look just like a snowy landscape.

I used
this recipe found in the Epicure section of The Age.

The recipe is confusing in one respect in that it says to roll out the cookie dough to a 40cm piece. I initially thought this meant to roll it flat with a rolling pin - but it actually means to roll the dough into 40cm logs, like this:

You cut slices off the chilled logs to form the cookies:

which you roll in icing sugar while still warm after baking, then again once they have cooled down. Simple!

Head on over to Susan's site to see all the other great Christmas cookies - and we'd love to see yours too!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas muffins

Christmas is getting closer - hooray! My team at work is going to Christmas drinks at the historic
Regatta Hotel in Toowong this afternoon. It is a large airy hotel with huge verandahs - perfect for a town which swelters in the heat and humidity every summer. My favourite piece of Regatta Hotel history is that Sigrid Thornton's mum, Merle, and a friend once chained themselves to the bar of the hotel to protest against women not being able to enter the public bar in hotels in Australia as late as the 1960s - this ban seems ludicrous now!

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, I'm going to share another fruit mince recipe that I made for the bake sale - this time in the form of Christmas muffins. The recipe again comes from the Christmas baking supplement to the December 2009 issue of Australian Good Food magazine. Unfortunately, I didn't get to taste these, because I wasn't buying back my own baked goods, but they sure smelled good.

To make these muffins, you will need:

1 1/2 cups fruit mince
125ml vegetable oil
80ml milk
1 lightly beaten egg
200g self-raising flour (I used the wholemeal variety)
75g sugar

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius, and line 4 x 12 hole mini muffin tins or 1 x 12 hole muffin tin with muffin papers.

Place the mince, oil, milk and beaten egg into a bowl and stir well to combine. Add the sifted flour and sugar, and stir until just combined.

Fill the muffin papers 2/3 full, and bake for 15 minutes (for minis) or 25 minutes (for full size muffins) in the preheated oven or until cooked through. Remove the muffins from the oven and unmould from the tins immediately. (If you don't, the papers tend to steam off.)


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fruit mince pies

Good morning everyone! It's wacky Wednesday, and today as promised, I will reveal what I did with some of my fruit mince.

We had a bake sale to raise money for the Salvation Army on Monday, so one of the treats that I made was fruit mince pies. These are a traditional British Christmas treat that we have imported. They consist of a shortcrust pastry shell filled with fruit mince, and topped with more shortcrust pastry - often in a fancy shape like a star or a heart.

The dough recipe that I used, from the Australian Good Food Christmas Baking supplement (December 2009), was very short and buttery indeed - which meant that I had a very hard time making the pies in the exceptionally hot weather that we've had. Also, it meant that the pies were quite flaky and crumbly, so they didn't travel well between my house and work. I can't comment on the taste, because I donated all the pies, but if you have a yen to try these, the recipe is as follows:

300g sifted plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sifted baking powder
185g chopped butter
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup
fruit mince
1 eggwhite

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius, and grease 2 x 12 hole patty cake tins. (These are smaller than muffin tin holes, so if you don't have patty tins, you can use mini tart moulds.)

Put the sifted flour and baking powder into a bowl, and rub in the butter until it forms crumbs. Mix in the egg yolks and lemon juice to form a dough.

Knead the dough lightly, then divide it into two pieces, press each piece into a disc, and wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge. Roll out half of the pastry to 3mm thickness, then using a 6.5cm round cutter, cut out 24 circles and place into the patty tins or tart moulds.

Put 2 teaspoons of fruit mince into each pie shell. Roll out the remainder of the dough to 5mm thick, and using a star or heart shaped cutter, cut out 24 shapes and use these to top the pies. (I didn't have quite enough dough, so I topped 4 of my pies with leftover gingerbread dough.)

Brush the tops of the pies with the lightly beaten eggwhite, then bake the pies for 20 minutes or until golden. Leave the pies to cool in their tins; this is important because they are quite fragile due to the flaky nature of the pastry. To serve, remove the pies from their tins and dust with icing sugar.

Fruit mince pies are usually enjoyed as an afternoon tea treat with coffee or tea.

Hope your Christmas preparations are coming along nicely!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD - Sables

This week's Tuesday with Dorie challenge was Sables, chosen by our host, Bungalow Barbara. For the uninitiated, sables are an ultra-buttery shortbread biscuit, formed by rolling logs of chilled dough in sugar then slicing them into biscuits.

This recipe came together relatively quickly and easily. My cookies do not look as perfect as Dorie's, but then again, I'm a lawyer, not a pastry chef. I rolled the cookies in some clear Wilton decorating sugar that I received from Nikki in Blogging by Mail last year.

The resulting cookies were very buttery and melt in the mouth - not surprising given the amount of butter in them!

I gave this batch of cookies to my friend Ruth, who has managed to break her ankle, and has just had an operation to have her leg joined back together. She gets married in less than a month, and it is very, very hot here right now, so I do feel for her and hope really hard that the same won't happen to me - ever.

These appeared to be a favourite among the TWD group - to see how they went, go to the
TWD blogroll. Barbara will post the recipe sometime on Tuesday, her time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fruit mince, Margaret Fulton style

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb,
and pulled out a plum,
And said, 'What a good boy am I.'

Traditional nursery rhyme

One of the building blocks for many traditional Christmas goodies is fruit mince. As a child, I hated fruit mince, because of its rather dense, slightly cloying texture, and of course, it usually contains citrus zest - a big ewww ingredient for a child!

However, I am now more "mature" in my tastes - I drink red wine, I eat blue cheese, and I am happy to have the sharpness of citrus zest in my food. Happily, this also means that at Christmas, I can indulge in treats such as fruit mince pies.

I've never made my own fruit mince or fruit mince pies before, so this is a new adventure for me. There are literally hundreds of different recipes for fruit mince, as with every other Christmas treat, so to tone down the noise, I went straight to a recipe by Australia's original doyenne of home cooking, Margaret Fulton. This recipe is in Margaret's Fulton's Christmas, printed last year, and can also be found in the Australian Good Food Christmas Baking supplement with the December issue of
Australian Good Food magazine, presumably because Suzanne Gibbs, Margaret's daughter, co-wrote the book and is a staff writer for Australian Good Food. There are no plums in Margaret's recipe, so Jack Horner will have to amuse himself in other ways.

Margaret's recipe makes a whopping nine cups of fruit mince; I scaled it down to two thirds. However, the original recipe in all its glory is as follows:

500g raisins
500g currants
500g sultanas
120g chopped blanched almonds
2 peeled, cored and grated Granny Smith apples
330g packed brown sugar
150g melted butter
185ml brandy or rum
1 teaspoon mixed spice
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

Process the fruit and almonds together in a food processor until coarsely chopped. You may have to do this in batches, depending on the size and horse-power of your food processor, and depending on whether you make the full recipe.

Put the chopped fruit and nuts into a bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir well to combine.

Cover the fruit mince and chill for at least 2 days before using, stirring daily. You'll be surprised at how it sucks up all the liquid and becomes quite dense! The fruit mince will keep for several months stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator (if it lasts that long!).

On the weekend, I will be making some goodies for our work bake sale using the fruit mince. I will post about these soon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mini Christmas Puddings

Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvellous pudding!

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

My favourite part of Christmas dinner is plum pudding and custard. I love the fabulous, fruity-alcohol smell, the rich smooth flavour, and the sweet custard flowing down the sides (brandy butter or cream optional). No matter how full I am after Christmas dinner, there is always room for Christmas pudding.

I have started my Christmas baking (although my cake was made in June!), and as part of the gift packages that I am giving to friends, I am including an individual boiled Christmas pudding each. I made these on the weekend when it was 35 degrees Celsius, and as I have no air conditioning, it may be considered a little enthusiastic of me to boil these inside for the required 4 hours! However, now they are done, and I am proud of them (although I can't taste them myself).

I used a recipe by Emma Shearer of The Manse Restaurant in Adelaide which appeared in this month's Delicious magazine. It was perfect because it was already designed to make 6 individual puddings.

To make these puddings, you will need:

1/2 cup each of sultanas, currants, raisins and dates (I left out the dates)
1/4 cup dried mixed peel (I left this out)
grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 slivered almonds (I used flaked almonds)
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (I used cloves)
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
125g softened butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 eggs
100ml milk

Put the fruit, peel, zest and almonds into a bowl with the brandy, stir to combine, and leave to rest for at least 4 hours.

Grease six x 1 cup dariole moulds.

Sift the flour, spices and a pinch of salt together into a medium bowl, stir in the breadcrumbs, and set aside.

Put the brown sugar, white sugar and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, then fold in the fruit mixture, and finally, fold in the flour and milk.

Divide the batter evenly between the moulds and smooth the tops with the back of a spoon.

Cover each mould with a piece of pleated baking paper and a double layer of pleated foil, and seal tightly with string:

Put a saucer into the base of a large saucepan and stand the moulds on the plate. Pour water into the saucepan until it comes half way up the sides of the moulds. Cover the saucepan and bring the water to the boil, then turn down the heat so that the water comes to a simmering boil, and boil for 4 hours. You may need to top up the water (I checked on it every hour), being careful not to get any water into the moulds. (Because my saucer was not flat, a couple of the puddings unfortunately got a little damp during boiling, but are still OK.)

At the end of the cooking time, remove the moulds carefully from the water, and immediately remove the foil, paper and string:

Immediately unmould each pudding by running a knife around the edge of the pudding to loosen it from the mould, then carefully tipping it upside down onto a plate:

And voila - you have Christmas puddings! (Give the top of the mould a few taps if the pudding stubbornly clings to the mould.)

This is the first of my Christmas baking posts. More will come as I progress! (This will happen soon, as we have a Christmas bake sale for charity at work on Monday.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TWD - Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is hosted by Lauren of I'll Eat You, who has chosen the alliterative Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart for this week's recipe.

As you can see, this tart is an absolute feast for the eyes with the contrasting muted green and red, and would be a fabulous centrepiece at a dinner party. It also tastes obscenely good - the pastry cream contains pistachio nuts, which gives it an interesting flavour and texture as well as giving it a green hue, and the pears poached in red wine are tender and flavourful. The caramelised chopped pistachios on top add texture, and their hard crunchiness contrasts nicely with the softer filling beneath.

However, the drawback of making this tart is that it is major production. There are four separate components to make (five if you make the pouring syrup), and two of those components need several hours to chill. I ended up making this tart over 4 nights, starting with making and freezing the unbaked pie crust on day one, then making the pastry cream on day two, poaching the pears, baking the pie crust and caramelising the pistachios on day three, then finally assembling it and making the syrup on day four. Once again, you can't just decide to make this a couple of hours before guests arrive; you need to plan and set aside the time to make the various components and assemble the finished tart.

OK, enough of the analysis. There is only a photo of the finished product in Dorie's book, so I thought it would be fun to show you the step by step photos.

First, here are the poached pears, drained of the poaching syrup:

Aren't they a gorgeous colour? I poached my pears in a bottle of 1997 Mount Tambourine Black Shiraz that I had hoarded for years, then promptly ruined for drinking when the cork disintegrated into the wine on opening.

And here are the pears sliced in half to demonstrate the contrast between the coloured outer pear, which touched the poaching syrup, and the tender but uncoloured inner pear:

This is the pistachio pastry cream; you could choose to strain out the nuts, but I liked the texture that they added to the pastry cream:

These are my caramelised pistachios, which went slightly sticky even after one night:

And finally, here is the finished product, sliced to show the layers:

I made the optional syrup to go with my tart, figuring that any leftovers would be delicious poured over icecream:

I loved this tart, but because of the time intensive nature of this tart and the expense of the ingredients, it won't be in regular rotation here. However, for a special occasion, it is a real winner as an adult dessert.

To see the recipe, go to Lauren's site; and to see how the other TWD members went with this tart and what they thought, visit the TWD blogroll.