Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TWD - Devilish Shortcakes

Have you ever looked at a recipe and gone, hmmm, I am not sure about this? I have many times - and sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised, other times, not so much. So It was for me with this week's Tuesday with Dorie pick. Our host, Tania of Love Big, Bake Often, chose Dorie's Devilish Shortcakes.

Devilish Shortcakes are effectively big chocolate scones, that you can fill with cream and fruit, or in my case, raspberry ripple icecream and dulce de leche. I wasn't really sure about a chocolate-flavoured scone, but ultimately, these are pretty inoffensive. However, a good tip from Caitlin in the forum is that these shortcakes do not taste good plain because they are not sweet. This turned out to be true - in my half batch, there is only 1/4 cup of sugar for 7 shortcakes. Caitlin's other good tip was to only make these shortcakes with 1/4 cup of dough, not the 1/3 cup suggested by Dorie. I found that 1/4 cup of dough gave me fairly big shortcakes, so I am glad that I didn't go any bigger.

I didn't love these shortcakes, but they were OK - ultimately, they turned out how Dorie said they would, and tasted just fine. However, I don't think I'll make them again.

Thanks to Tania for hosting us this week. She will have the recipe, as will Dorie's book. To check out what the other TWD members thought of this recipe, visit the TWD blogroll.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Baked cheesecake and homemade pizza

Although my cheesemaking class was last weekend, the beauty of it is that it doesn't stop there. I have a lovely selection of cheeses to use now, and others that I am tending dutifully until they ripen. I am especially proud of my Camembert, which is growing a perfect silky white mould on it, just as it should, despite my "cheese cave" being an esky with ice in it.

I wanted a recipe to use up some of my soft fresh cheeses while they were still in their prime, and after a quick Web search, I found this recipe for a Fromage Blanc Tart on a beautiful blog that is new to me, Know Whey by Sue. Sue is from Vermont and began making cheeses when she moved there, and her earlier posts are about cheesemaking and cheese recipes.

Sue's recipe uses 2lb (~900g) of fromage blanc; instead, I used 300g fromage blanc plus 300g of quark and 150g each of whole milk and whey ricotta. The end result was a beautiful creamy cheesecake which was smooth and silky on the tongue:

I liked the fact that the cheesecake shell was a pastry rather than the crushed biscuit base which is more usual with cheesecake - I thought that the pastry housed the filling beautifully while letting the flavour of the cheese shine, rather than dominating it.

It would be dangerous for me to have this in the house for too long, so I took it to work and shared it. It went down like a house on fire - it's good to know that there are many fellow cheesecake lovers among my colleagues.

With the mozzarella from class, the obvious choice was to make pizza! I used the Daring Bakers thin crust recipe taken from Peter Reinhart, which Zorra had kindly divided down into a two person recipe which was a more friendly quantity for me to use.

I used one of the resulting two pizza dough balls to make a Hawaiian pizza - tomato paste, mozzarella, shredded ham and drained pineapple pieces:

Looks pretty good, yeah? I took the pizza to work for lunch over two days - it made a great change from my usual toasted sandwich.

In closing, I want to thank Marcellina of
Marcellina in Cucina for awarding me the Lovely Blog Award:

For the 15 blogs to pass the award on to, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some great Aussie blogs that I read on a regular basis:

To enjoy some fine Aussie food blogs, you can't go wrong if you visit these sites.
Trissa's last post is the recipe from a Sydney restaurant for their take on the Weiss mango fruit bar - check it out!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Crostata - Crostata di Prugne e Fromage Blanc

Do you like to try new recipes, or do you prefer to stick to the tried and true? I remember one year in which nearly every dinner that I made was the same stir fry, with the only variation being the type of meat I put in it. I had just lost a fair bit of weight at the time, and I think I was scared that if I diverged from what I knew, I would pile it all back on.

Fast forward a few years, and I have put some of the weight back on, but certainly not all of it, and I eat way better now than I did before the weight loss. Having this blog and joining various groups and blog events has helped me to expand my culinary horizons, so that it is rare that I make the same thing twice.

This brings me to this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I had made a crostata before. For this reason, I wanted to make a different filling for my crostata this time around that was stll very Italian. In the notes for the challenge, Simona, our host, referred us to a couple of different crostatas that she had previously posted on her blog. After checking them out, I couldn't resist making Simona's Crostata Di Prugne e Fromage Blanc for this Daring Bakers Challenge.

This tart is comprised of the pasta frolla tart shell (the only compulsory component of this month's challenge), lined with Marsala-soaked sliced plums, then topped with a cream made of soft cheese - or in my case, as suggested as a substitute by Simona, Greek yoghurt. The cream is infused with the juices that the plums soaked in and flavoured with vanilla, and my Greek yoghurt was also vanilla bean flavoured for an extra vanilla-flavoured hit. As plums are not yet in season, I had to use tinned plums.

I really enjoyed this tart. It was sweet without being too sweet, and the yoghurt gave the filling an extra tang. The softly textured, juicy plums were blanketed by the smooth, velvety filling, giving a delightful contrast on the tongue. The pasta frolla tart shell was crisp and not overly sweet or buttery, making it more of a supporting vehicle for the filling than the star of the show. It is very different to Dorie Greenspan's Good for Almost Everything pie dough, which is rich and buttery. The smell wafting from the oven while the tart was baking was delightful - the tart gives off a subtly sweet, fruity perfume that makes it irresistible.

Making the pasta frolla is fairly easy. For the first time in ages, I made the dough totally by hand. Using the trick of grating the butter that I learned from Chocolatechic:

it did not take long to cut the butter into the flour. An egg mixture is then poured into a well in the middle of the flour crumbs and mixed in:

Once the dough is able to be kneaded into a ball, you press it into a disc, wrap it in cling film, then refrigerate it for at least two hours (or in my case, overnight):

Now comes the part where I found the pasta frolla a little cantankerous. The chilled dough is rolled out until 1/8" thick, and then used to line your greased tart pan. I found the pasta frolla to be very soft and it became sticky quickly, so I had to patch it quite a bit in the tart pan.

You then layer the drained, marinated plum slices over the base of the uncooked tart shell:

and bake it for 20 minutes. In the meantime, you beat together Greek yoghurt, an egg, the plum juice and vanilla (and cornflour if you think you need it for thickness), then pour that mixture over the par-baked plums and bake for a further 20 minutes. And voila:

The end result is a pretty, pale-pink tart which tastes delicious:

Thanks to Simona for hosting us for Daring Bakers this month, and for this lovely recipe. To see what crostata delights the other Daring Bakers made, visit the Daring Bakers blogroll.

Friday, November 26, 2010

FFwD - Pumpkin Gorgonzola Flans

They say to save the best 'til last, and so it was this week for French Fridays with Dorie, when I made the last November recipe - Pumpkin Gorgonzola Flans.

These flans are comprised of a pumpkin custard (I used mashed pumpkin that I made myself, canned pumpkin being non-existent here), studded with chunks of gorgonzola (a very smelly blue Italian cheese), and topped with toasted walnuts.

Dorie says that the recipe should make 6 flans, but using my ramekins, like most FFwD members, I only got 4 of them.

I absolutely adored this recipe. The photo in the book looks pretty unappealing, but this dish is actually the opposite. The pumpkin custard is smooth, creamy and rich, and is a perfect autumnal shade of orange. Although I don't like gorgonzola on its own because it is way too sharp for me, that sharpness mellows into melty, salty, tangy pieces of cheese in the flan which add additional flavour and texture. The toasted walnuts on top of the flans add further textural contrast - they become chewy rather than crunchy in the oven, and have a caramelised flavour.

Although you may not think that these look appealing with their "mouldy" cheese:

they are actually little pots of heaven!

I will definitely make these again.

To check out what the other FFwD members made this week, go to the LYL section for this week at the
FFwD website.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TWD - Depths of Fall Butternut Squash Pie

This week's Tuesday with Dorie is a rewind week to allow US members to make what they want from Dorie's book for Thanksgiving (or just because). I am going to rebel and do a fast forward instead. When it was my turn to choose a recipe recently, I was torn between the Fold Over Pear Torte (which I eventually chose), and the Depths of Fall Butternut Squash Pie. Both sounded intriguing, and neither had a photo in the book, so either choice was a magical mystery tour to see where you ended up.

It may be the depths of spring here, but I still really wanted to make the Butternut Squash Pie - so for this week, that is what I have made.

The pie is chock full of cooked cubes of butternut squash, cubed pears, dried cranberries, chopped walnuts, orange juice and zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar:

This filling is then encased in a double pie crust, sprinkled with sugar, and baked until golden:

You are supposed to use Dorie's Good for Almost Anything Pie Dough - forgive me, I am incredibly time poor at present, and I used store bought pie dough. It still turned out really well.

The smell of fruit and spices in the pie while it is baking beckons like the Lorelei to the sailors (with a happier ending, of course!), and I found it hard to wait for the bubbling, golden pie to cool. When you slice open the crust of the pie, the fruity, juicy filling spills out into the pie plate, making it irresistible to scoop up with a spoon. The squash blends in with the fruit and tastes decidedly un-squash like - it is more like apple or pear.

I loved this pie, and would make it again in a heart beat - which I am sure I will when someone chooses it for TWD. To see what Dorie recipes everyone else made this week, visit the LYL section of the TWD blogroll.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cheesemaking with Graham Redhead

Have you ever wondered how they make cheese? It is something that I have been curious about for quite a while, so I was very pleased to have some of my questions about cheesemaking answered by Graham Redhead at a cheesemaking course that he taught this weekend at the Holmesglen TAFE at Moorabbin. Graham's company is aptly called Cheesemaking, and he teaches cheesemaking short courses in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Graham's home base is Brisbane, and about 7 years ago, when he still taught the course for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, a work colleague asked me if I would be interested in attending the course with her. Back then, I was not that interested in food other than as a form of sustenance, and having just signed a contract to buy an apartment and counting my pennies, I declined. This chapter has come full circle now that I have done the course, even if in a different state.

The course is run over two days, and if you don't want to give up your weekend sleep-in, this is not the course for you. Both days were a 7.45 for 8am start, and went until roughly 4pm each day. Lunch is provided on day 1, wine and cheese tasting is provided on day 2, and morning tea is provided on both days, so you don't go hungry.

Day 1 is the most full-on, because that is the day when you learn the majority of the techniques and theory, and make most of the cheeses. There is a lot of standing up, and you feel quite tired at the end of each day, but it is very well worth it. I learned a lot from this course - it is 100% hands on, and Graham teaches it with the aim of you being able to make your own cheeses at home after completing the course, and knowing enough about the science behind cheesemaking that you can both troubleshoot and design your cheeses to suit yourself.

At the end of the course, you can proudly take home a selection of cheeses that you made yourself, together with a certificate of attainment. We made a fromage blanc (Chabichou style), quark, camembert, cheddar, whey ricotta, whole milk ricotta, mozarella and fetta. Some of the cheeses can (and should) be used immediately, while the camembert and cheddar need to be ripened, and the fetta drained and brined.

To give you a flavour of the various techniques and equipment, I have included a selection of my photos from the course below.

Here is my bench partner, Jacqui, scooping thin layers of curd into cheese hoops to make the fromage blanc:

These are camembert curds being scooped up by hand to go into the cheese hoops:

The fromage blanc and camembert then have to be drained of whey and turned as the curds knit together:

Fetta is produced in a similar fashion. The camembert and fetta are brined once they are unmoulded, and the camembert is left to ripen in an improvised cheese cave at home over a couple of weeks so that it develops its characteristic mould.

For cheddar, after stirring and cooking the curds for 2 hours, the wheying off process is carried out in a heated water jacket to keep the curds warm:

The drained cheddar curds are cut into strips and placed in a cheesecloth lined hoop:

The cheddar curds are then pressed to "knit" the curds together:

The pressed cheddar is slathered in lard at home before being placed in a ziplock bag in the fridge to ripen. The lard and the plastic bag are crucial to prevent the cheddar drying out. I am informed that the lard rind goes black and mouldy as the cheese ripens - mmm, mmm, can't wait. Graham recommended that our cheddar be left to ripen for 9 months - so if you are hanging out to taste my cheddar, you will be starving by the time it is ready.

Quark is a very simple cheese to make, with the curdled milk simply being stirred then drained of whey by hanging overnight in a cotton bag:

Quark is a soft cheese, not unlike cream cheese, that should be used within a week.

The stretchy quality of mozarella is developed by cooking the curds to a high temperature then kneading them together after wheying off (which is done in the same way as for cheddar). Kneading is done in 65 degrees Celsius water, so gloves are necessary:

The kneaded cheese is then pinched off into balls of mozarella.

Finally, here is a glimpse of some of the finished cheeses:

Fromage blanc (the yellow staining is simply butterfat):

Whole milk ricotta (which is much firmer than whey ricotta):




To finish off the course, Graham provided a selection cheeses and talked about what they were and how they were made, while we happily munched away on the cheeses and crusty bread and sipped wine:

Graham's next Melbourne cheesemaking course is in January 2011, if you are interested in attending, and as at the time of writing, there are still some places available.

Thanks to Graham for a fun, informative course, and to Robyn and Tim at Holmesglen Moorabbin for being the perfect hosts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

FFwD - Potato Gratin (Gratin Dauphinois)

Sometimes, you just shouldn't mess with the classics. That's how I felt about my Potato Gratin for French Fridays with Dorie this week. Potato Gratin is simply layers of thinly sliced potato with cream and salt and pepper between the layers, and cheese on top.

In Bon Idee, Dorie suggests that you can personalise your gratin with different cheeses and by substituting in some sweet potato and, among other things, broccoli. I thought that this was a great idea, because it made the gratin a meal in itself. It worked OK, although it was not as pretty as using just potatoes:

However, there was just not enough kick in this dish to excite me. Admittedly, I did not use the optional herbs, as woody pieces of rosemary in the layers did not appeal to me, but perhaps I should have sprinkled on dried herbs and just used potatoes. I also used "light" cream and low fat cheese - perhaps the extra fat would have helped. Sadly, I found my version of this dish to be rather bland.

You can check out what all the other FFwD members made this week by visiting this week's LYL section at the FFwD website.

Postscript - I salted my gratin up a little more and found it got better as time went on. I still don't think it will be on regular rotation at my place, but maturity and seasoning gave it greater depth than it originally had.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

English Rose Cake for Kate

Unless you have been deprived of all contact with the outside world for the last 24 hours (in which case, you probably won't be reading this), you will have heard that Britain's Prince William has finally popped the question to his long time love, Kate Middleton, and they are now engaged. The Australian media has gone into a frenzy, and my favourite morning show has devoted a large chunk of its airtime for the last two mornings talking about. Channel Nine even had a doco about Kate and William in the can that they trotted out last night, bumping out The Big Bang Theory. Whether you were upset by this or not depends on your point of view (I don't generally watch anything at that time, so it was fine by me). You can read about the engagement of the year in numerous places, including here and here.

In honour of Kate finally snaring her prince, I decided to make a cake inspired by the lovely Ms Middleton. She is an English rose, so I made Dorie Greenspan's Ispahan loaf cake from Around My French Table. Ispahan desserts were
created by Pierre Herme, and are rose-flavoured and coloured, complemented by raspberry accents. Dorie's loaf cake takes the rose and raspberry elements of the Herme Ispahan desserts and translates them into cake form. The cake itself is created by creaming butter with sieved almond meal and icing sugar, combined with an egg, 3 egg yolks, and a teensy amount of rose-syrup flavoured milk and rose essence, then folding through some plain flour and 3 egg whites beaten into stiff peaks with a bit of sugar. In Dorie's original, the batter is interspersed in the cake pan with two layers of three rows of fresh raspberries to give the cake a fruity heart. If you are intrigued, you can find the recipe in Around My French Table, and you can take a sneak peak at what the cake looks like here.

In keeping with the rose theme, I substituted the raspberries for pieces of
Frys Turkish Delight, a chocolate coated, rose-flavoured confection - err, well, that was the idea. Unfortunately, the Turkish delight pieces all sank to the bottom of the cake pan, and nearly welded the cake into the pan. After a few anxious minutes, the cake did come out of the pan, but the Turkish delight layer stuck steadfastly to the bottom of the pan, leaving only a few vestigial pieces in the cake itself. Initially I was rather peeved, but I took a deep breath, let the cake cool, then levelled off the ragged part where the Turkish delight had been, and slathered the cake with rose-flavoured buttercream (using one quarter of the Crabapple Bakery's vanilla buttercream recipe (50g butter, 2 cups icing sugar, 1/8 cup milk and beaten until fluffy) tinted pink and flavoured with a quarter of a teaspoon of rosewater essence). I then piped a rose and a border, together with Kate's name, on the top of the cake, and accented the border with silver cachous. Yeah, the rose is not the greatest, but I can't draw let alone pipe a rose, and I didn't have any rolled fondant to make 3D roses.

Here is a glimpse inside the cake:

You can see the remaining Turkish delight at the top of the cake, just under the icing.

The English Rose Cake has a lovely, light crumb, and the rose flavouring in the cake itself is so minimal that I didn't really notice it. Accordingly, those who fear the "floral" flavours in food can rejoice and tuck in happily to this cake - there is no soapy aftertaste. I also made sure that the icing was not overpoweringly rose-flavoured either - it was a subtle, almost musky flavour.

Congratulations to William and Kate - I wish them all the best for their future together.

In closing, I would like to thank Cath of
Dunnn to Perfection, who has awarded me the One Lovely Blog Award:

I won't pay it forward to specific people; instead, I pass on this award to all of my
Tuesday with Dorie friends, with whom I share experiences making the same Dorie recipe once-a-week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TWD - Raspberry Lime Galette

Do you ever have "those days" in the kitchen? You know the ones - where no matter what you do, things just don't work out as you'd planned. Such was the case for me with this week's Tuesday with Dorie challenge, hosted by Whitney, April and Elizabeth of Celestial Confections. They chose Dorie's Cranberry Lime Galette.

As I mentioned in a previous post, any cranberries other than dried cranberries are as scarce as hen's teeth in Australia. Accordingly, I substituted the cranberries for raspberries - they are red, tart berries, so I thought they'd fit the bill perfectly. I otherwise made the recipe as Dorie stated, including the optional dried cranberries. Despite my opening paragraph, I loved the flavour of this galette - a little bit sweet (raspberry jam, apple, brown sugar) ad a little bit sour (raspberries, dried cranberries and lime zest). Unfortunately, my galette looked like a huge flat jam drop, because I made it on a very warm night (the temperature would have been in the high twenties Celsius), and I made the mistake of NOT rechilling my galette after formation before baking to firm up the dough. I just bunged it in the oven, and it spread like mad, so that I ended up with what you can see at the top of the post. It was impossible to lift it without it falling to pieces, so I just left it on the rather grubby looking piece of baking paper. I took it to work and cut off sections from around the edge which would stay together, and as for the fruit-laden middle section - well, I just ate that myself with a spoon straight off the paper. We have to make sacrifices sometimes, LOL. It was very popular with the troops, so there is a silver lining in this cloud, as well as a valuable baking lesson.

Here are some step by step photos to show you what should have happened:
First you roll out the dough and "line" it with a mixture of nuts and dried breadcrumbs (or in my case, LSA and wheatgerm) to soak up some of the fruit juices so the middle doesn't fall out of the galette:

Next, you pile on the prepared fruit:

Finally, you fold up the sides of the galette to form a rustic pie:

At this stage, you should chill the galette for twenty minutes or so before baking so that it doesn't do what mine did and spread into a bubbling, flat amoeba.

To see how the other TWD guys and gals went with this galette, visit the TWD website.
Celestial Confections will have the recipe, or buy the book.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

High Tea at The Hotel Windsor

Do you like going out somewhere special for a meal on your birthday? It's always been a highlight for me to be taken out somewhere, or to arrange it for my myself where there are no other offers. It is a decadent, enjoyable way to celebrate, and I believe that most people like being treated to a meal on their birthday.

Recently, it was Tim's birthday. When I asked him where he would like to go for his birthday, he nominated high tea. The place where I was originally going to make a booking was full, having just been featured in The Age, so instead, I was lucky enough to get a booking just a couple of days in advance at The Hotel Windsor on Spring Street, Melbourne.

The Hotel Windsor is in a lovely historical building, built in 1883, and retains a lavish art deco period lobby complete with red and gold colours, padded gilt chairs and waterfall chandeliers. A little known fact is that Australia's Constitution was drafted at The Hotel Windsor in 1898, and many famous political and public figures have graced its halls during its lifetime. Unbelievably, at one stage in the mid 1970s, there were plans to demolish it. Thank goodness that Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's "improvement" program in Brisbane, Queensland was not allowed to take root on the same scale in Melbourne, and The Hotel Windsor survives for us to enjoy today.

High tea at the Windsor is served in the signature dining room. To set the scene, here is one of the many chandeliers gracing the ceiling of the main dining room:

These lovely prints were on the wall near our table:

When you enter the dining room, you are greeted by a sea of white-draped tables, elegantly set for tea:

I was privileged to sit on a plush couch seat by the window, with lemony sunlight filtering through and illuminating the spectacle of high tea as it unfolded.

In anticipation of the feast to come, each table has its own pots of jam and clotted cream in glistening silverware:

We were ushered to our seats past this magnificent buffet of desserts:

Piled high with all kinds of sweet delicacies, the dessert buffet was a highlight of the experience:

The hardest part was choosing where to start.

On being seated, we were served with a glass of sparkling rose:

Next came a tiered silver tea stand stacked with treats for two:

On the bottom tier are delightful ribbon sandwiches of salmon, avocado and dill; egg and snow pea; ham and mustard; chicken, apple and mayonnaise; and cucumber, sour cream and chives:

The middle tier comprised mini quiches, savoury muffins and mini pies:

On the top tier were fluffy fruit and plain scones:

The menu on each table claimed that the selection of treats on the silver stands is the same variety as was served to guests on The Titanic. Whether this be true or not, it was a delicious selection of food that was beautifully presented and served by friendly and efficient staff.

In addition to to the treats on the stand delivered to your table, you are served with water and an assortment of teas, and are free to help yourself from the dessert buffet. There was also a lady making crepes on demand, on which you poured your own selection of sauces. I chose creme anglaise and raspberry coulis:

For the price of the high tea ($69), you are free to eat your fill of treats for two hours.

The Hotel Windsor high tea experience is an elegant salute to times past, which I sincerely hope will be preserved in our consciousness to be enjoyed by others in the future.

The Hotel Windsor
100-150 Spring Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9633 6000