Friday, October 28, 2011

Recipe rant

This is not a macaron Donna

I did something yesterday that I'm not very proud of.

I ranted on Twitter and Facebook about a bad recipe experience and named and shamed the culprit.

This morning I felt a little ashamed for my lack of manners.  But then I got some feedback from friends and fans that they too had had a bad experience with the recipe and agreed it wasn't up to scratch.

If the situation were reversed, I'd be mortified.  But then again, I'm a little voice in the blogging net-osphere. The magazine/author I targeted is a household name with 10+ years standing.

I guess what really gets my goat is that the magazine blatantly promotes the fact that they test and retest the recipes to make sure that they're perfect.

I followed the recipe to the letter and even I could see that the wheels were coming off early in the piece.  But I was following their recipe and I persevered. In the end I ended up with flat, grainy meringues, not beautiful macarons.

I am a reasonably good baker and I can apply my understanding of baking principles to iron out obvious errors in a recipe.  But for most people picking up a magazine and being seduced by the beautiful photos, they follow the recipe verbatim - and on this basis, the recipe should deliver the promise of the photo.

I'm disappointed for me because I hate wasting ingredients on a bad recipe.

I'm disappointed for my girlfriends who will be eating grainy coffee meringues this afternoon instead of di-licious macarons.

And finally, I'm disappointed for everyone who tried the recipe and wondered what they did wrong.

It wasn't you.

Here end-iths the rant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grand Marnier & Macadamia Fruit Cake {Recipe}

This year I started my own family Christmas tradition with Olive.  We made the fruit cake together.  She helped me stir the fruit every day for two weeks and stood next to me while I made up the cake batter.

While the cakes baked we played Barbies and read stories. It was a very special time for us, one I hope we will continue to share each year. No doubt she'll still be stealing the glace cherries and macadamias out of the mixture when she's 21!

I only made this cake for the first time last year.  I'm not a fruit cake fan myself but Mr Di-licious is.  His only Christmas wish last year was for a fruit cake.

Not having a family recipe to turn to, I did the next best thing; I consulted the Australian Womens Weekly Test Kitchen (AWWTK).

I know some purists out there will criticise me for this but I fiddled with the fruit.  I have enough stuff sitting in my pantry without having half open bags of glace apricots and pineapple.  I just used good ol' Sunbeam Mixed Fruit. I also substituted the walnuts and slivered almonds with macadamias. OMG!

All things considered, this is a pretty easy cake to make if you're not scared of making toffee. Its actually pretty easy to do - use a medium sized, thick bottomed saucepan and have all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go.  The toffee gives a very special flavour to the fruit and is worth the little extra effort.

Oh and while we're talking about being organised, don't look at this recipe on Christmas Eve. This is NOT a last minute cake.  The fruit needs to macerate for 10-14 days.  Fruit cakes also improve with age so making it at least two months before Christmas Day will produce a cake with a better developed flavour. Melbourne Cup Weekend is an ideal time to start your fruit.

You'll also need a REALLY BIG bowl for this recipe.  A glass or ceramic one is ideal - you need cling wrap to be able to seal tight to it. And a sturdy spoon to stir the fruit every day is also helpful.

This year I decided to get a little bit big for my boots and divide the mixture into two six-inch pans.  Seven inch pans would have been and learn.  They still look pretty damn cute!

What are your family Christmas traditions?

Recipe: Grand Marnier & Macadamia Fruitcake

Serves 36    You will need to begin this cake at least two weeks ahead.                                                                                             
Recipe adapted from Australian Womens Weekly Christmas & Holiday Entertaining (2008)

1400g mixed fruit
130g macadamias, chopped coarsely
1 tbls finely grated orange rind
½ cup caster sugar
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup Grand Marnier

250g unsalted butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
5 eggs
2 cups plain flour
2tbls Grand Marnier, extra

22cm (9inch) deep round / 19cm square cake pan
brown paper
baking paper
white ready-to-roll  fondant and ribbon for decorating
2 tbls marmalade

Fruit mix
  • Combine fruit, nuts and rind in a large bowl.
  • Heat caster sugar in large heavy based pan over low heat, without stirring, until it begins to melt, then stir until sugar is melted and browned slightly.
  • Remove from heat, slowly stir in juice, return to heat, stir until toffee dissolves [do not boil].
  • Add liqueur, pour over fruit mixture, cover tightly with cling wrap.
  • Store in cool, dark place for 10 -14 days, stirring every day.

Baking the cake
  • Preheat oven to 150°C/130°C fan forced.
  • Line base & side of deep 22cm round or 19cm square cake pan with one thickness of brown paper and 2 thicknesses baking paper, extending papers 5cm above edges. (I use a paper clip to keep the side strips of paper in place and an apple to weigh down the base papers whilst I mix up the cake.)
  • Beat butter and brown sugar with electric mixer until combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  • Stir butter mixture into fruit mixture, then sift over flour and stir through.
  • Spread mixture into prepared cake tin.  Tap pan firmly on bench to settle mixture into pan. Level mixture with a wet spatula.
  • Bake cake for approximately 3.5 hours.
  • Remove from oven and brush with extra liqueur; cover hot cake pan with foil, then turn upside down to cool overnight. Cover pan with a towel.
  • Wrap cooled cake in plastic wrap and foil and store in cellar until ready to decorate.

Decorating the cake
  • Make stars out of rolled out fondant icing.
  • Brush top of cake with melted & strained marmalade.  Decorate with fondant stars. Wwrap base of cake with ribbon.
Unwrapping the cake....

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Individual Sticky Date Puds {Recipe}

One thing I love about Christmas in summertime is it gives you permission to re-write the rules of tradition. I mean, who honestly wants to cook a hot roast on a stinking 35-degree day?

The same can be said for dessert.  Back in the day my Nanna would make a plum pudding for the family get together.  There was a lot of pomp in entombing the pudding info the huge [scary] pressure cooker and it would boil away for hours. Eventually it would be lifted out steaming and I would run and hide. Not even the promise of finding the sixpence could convince me to eat it.  It was hot and full of raisins and I just wanted ice-cream.

But even I have to concede that for some people it’s not Christmas without pudding.  So this week I’m suggesting you open your mind to something a lot less stodgy and a whole lot easier to make and serve – individual Sticky Date Puds.

Baked in a standard muffin pan, these puddings are not only easy to make, they freeze like a dream. And most importantly, they taste di-licious with a generous helping of Easy Butterscotch Sauce (recipe below) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And with the time you’ve saved making these little puddings, why not dabble in a little festive craft?  I started making my own Christmas cards this week...

Recipe: Individual Sticky Date Puds
Recipe from Frost Bite: Everyday Food Fresh from the Freezer (Susan Austin)
Make 12+ individual puddings (depending on the size of your muffin pans)

200g pitted dried dates, chopped roughly
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 cup (250ml) boiling water
120g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
180g (1/4cup) caster sugar
1/2tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
230g (1 ½ cups) self-raising flour, sifted

Special equipment: 12 hole muffin pan

  1. Put on your favourite Christmas CD to get yourself in the festive mood.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together dates, bicarbonate soda and boiling water. Set aside and allow to cool.
  3. Preheat your oven to 180°C.  Grease and flour your muffin pan.
  4. In a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy (you might need to scrape down the sides a few times).
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix through completely.
  6. Mix through the sifted flour and then stir through the cooled date mixture.
  7. Fill muffin cups half way (these babies rise a lot) and bake in oven on a low shelf for approximately 18 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Leave cooked puddings in pan for 5 minutes before transferring face down onto cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely.
Y Di-licious Time Saving Tips Y
You can freeze the puddings.  Simply wrap each pudding in cling wrap and place in a freezer-safe container and freeze.
To defrost, leave wrapped puddings on kitchen bench or in the fridge overnight.
To reheat, microwave individual defrosted puddings on low heat for a minute or so.  For a crowd, place defrosted puddings on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Cover with foil and gently reheat in a 180°C oven for approx 15minutes or until warmed through.

Serve reheated puddings on individual plates or bowls with generous splash of warmed Easy Butterscotch Sauce and scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Recipe: Easy Butterscotch Sauce
3/4cup (185ml) cream
200g brown sugar
80g butter

  1. Put all of the ingredients into a small saucepan.
  2. Over low heat, stir mixture until butter completely melts and sugar has dissolved completely.
  3. Bring to a simmer and then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  4. Store the sauce in the fridge for up to a week in a microwave safe container.
  5. To reheat, reheat on low for a few minutes until sauce is hot.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cranberry & Pistachio Biscuits {Recipe}

This week I’m going to make a bold suggestion.  Instead of queuing up at the shops, why not give a home-baked gift instead?

Every year I pull my hair out, trying to work out what to give family and friends.  I walk aimlessly around monolithic shopping centres and to what end? I walk out dejected and despondent – unable to find just the right gift. 

A couple of years ago when we were all feeling budget-challenged, my girlfriends and I resolved to make our Kris Kringle gifts instead of buying them. It was fantastic. It required thought and effort. That year I gave a jar of my first, backyard plum-tree jam. I received a beautiful Christmas angel painting that takes pride of place in my living room each year.

When you make a gift you give something of yourself.  A beautifully presented box of di-licious home-baked biscuits could make you THE must have Secret Santa of the season.

These shortbread-style biscuits look like a slice of Christmas; bursting with red cranberries and merry green pistachios.  Not overly sweet, they’re a perfect match with a well brewed cup of coffee. 

The dough itself is simple enough to make but the assembly prior to baking is a process.  You need to press in one layer of dough, chill, press in the second layer the dough, chill, cut and layer again, chill and then slice, chill again and finally, bake. These are best made ahead of time and frozen ready to bake at the height of the silly season.  You’ll be glad you did.

Recipe: Cranberry & Pistachio Biscuits
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay
Makes approximately 60 biscuits

350g butter
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
4 ½ cups plain flour, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
¼ cup milk
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten.
1 cup dried cranberries
1 ½ cups chopped pistachio nuts

20x30cm baking pan (lamington pan)
Baking trays

  1. Put on your favourite Christmas CD.
  2. Lightly grease and line a 20x30cm (7 ¾ x 12 inch) baking pan with baking paper, making sure the paper completely covers the sides of the tin. (Tip: use two sheets of paper, one 20cm wide and the other 30cm wide – lay them along the base of the pan to form a cross)
  3. Place the butter and icing sugar into bowl of your stand mixer and beat for approximately 8 minutes or until mixture is pale and creamy.
  4. Combine the milk, egg yolk, zest and vanilla and add this along with the flour to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until combined. The mixture will be crumbly – don’t stress!
  5. Divide the dough mixture in half and add the cranberries and pistachios to one, mixing well to combine. You’ll find that the dough has warmed up a bit and should come together really well now.
  6. Press the cranberry biscuit dough into the pan and smooth the top using a small rolling pin or flat sided wine bottle. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.
  7. When firm, press the plain biscuit dough on top of the cranberry layer and smooth top (as above). It will feel like a lot less dough than the bottom layer and most likely take a bit more effort to spread out evenly. Refrigerate for a further 15 minutes. (You only want to partially set the dough here – I over chilled mine, making the next layer step harder.)
  8. With the aide of the overhanging baking paper, remove the partially chilled dough ‘sandwich’ from the baking tin.  
  9. Cut the dough ‘sandwich’ in half. Place one half on top of the other (to form four layers) and press down gently. (Tip: use a spare baking tray to press down the dough to apply flat, even pressure) Refrigerate for 30 minutes til firm.
  10. Preheat the oven to 160°C and line at least 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  11. Now the fun part – cutting the biscuit slices. Through trial and error I found the easiest way to do this was to cut the slab into four 5cm wide pieces, and then cut each of these into 1cm slices. A sawing motion will help keep the layers together. If they come apart, don’t worry. Just press them gently back together again. Place the slices onto the prepared baking trays.
  12. Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Keep an eye on them. You want the biscuits to cook through but not be burnt on the bottoms.
  13. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Di-licious Time Saving Tip Y

You can freeze unbaked cookies from the end of step 11.  Simply put the tray in the freezer for 10-15 minutes til frozen.  Transfer the frozen biscuits to a freezer-safe container, using baking paper or grease proof paper in between layers. Bake all or only some of the cookies straight from frozen whenever you need them in a 160°C oven for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gingerbread cookies {Recipe}

If there is one baked good that universally signifies Christmas, it would have to be gingerbread.

Originally a German recipe, these aromatic cookies are very much a part of Scandinavian yuletide celebrations as well as those of the western world. Quite simply, these cookies just smell like Christmas.

This gingerbread cookie recipe is enough to make a whole gingerbread house, an army of gingerbread men, garlands of cookies for decorating the tree or plenty of cookies to decorate and give as gifts.

If you only bake one thing this Christmas, please give these a try.  The recipe is easily halved. If you prefer a spicier biscuit, add more ground ginger.  If you don’t like ginger so much, reduce to one teaspoon and increase the mixed spice to 3 teaspoons. 

I’ve provided an indication of how long to cook the cookies for, but use your nose too – when you can smell them, chances are they’re almost done.

There are so many ways you can decorate these cookies.  I sought some Scandinavian inspiration from an old cookbook but do whatever pleases you.  

To get yourself in the festive baking mood, don't be shy about putting on some cheesy personal fave is Dean Martin.  Yes, its only the start of October but with Deano crooning "Baby it's cold outside", it really will begin to feel and smell a lot like Christmas in your kitchen.

Recipe: Gingerbread cookies
Makes enough to construct a whole gingerbread house or 50+ medium sized cookies or 30+ gingerbread men.

250g butter, softened
1 cup, firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup treacle
2 egg yolks
5 cups plain flour, sifted
2 tsp ground ginger, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice, sifted
1 tsp ground cardamom, sifted
2 tsp bicarbonate soda, sifted

Extra flour for dusting bench
Icing sugar & small sieve or tea strainer
Rolling pin
2 cookie trays and selection of cookie cutters
Baking paper

Royal icing
2 egg whites
500g pure icing sugar, sifted
½ tsp lemon juice
Piping bag and small, round piping tip
Silver cachous or other decorations, as desired

To stop your baking paper flapping in a fan forced oven, weight it down with some metal teaspoons.

  1. Put on your favourite Christmas CD.
  2. Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated.
  3. Add the treacle and egg yolks to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated.
  4. Add the sifted flour, spices and bicarbonate soda and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.
  5. Sprinkle your bench with a little flour and gently knead the dough til it looks smooth (this should really only take 20 seconds).  The dough will be quite soft. Flatten out the dough with your hands and cut it up into four pieces. You only need to work with a small amount of dough at a time, otherwise you run the risk of overworking it.
  6. Wrap each quarter of dough in cling wrap and place your four precious parcels into the fridge to rest for an hour. This step is crucial.  The gluten in the dough needs to relax, making it less tough.
  7. Set your kitchen timer for 45 minutes.  When it rings, set the oven to 140°C (fan)/160°C and allow it to heat up for 15 minutes. Line your baking trays with paper/parchment and put them in the freezer to chill.
  8. Take out one parcel of dough from the fridge and unwrap. Rip off two large sheets of baking paper.  Sprinkle one with icing sugar and place the dough on top.  Sprinkle with some more icing sugar and cover with the other sheet.
  9. Using a heavy rolling pin, roll out the dough. After every couple of rolls, lift the paper away from the dough and sprinkle with a little more icing sugar.  Recover and turn over the dough and remove the bottom paper and sprinkle it liberally with icing sugar.  This helps to stop the dough sticking to the paper.  Roll the dough to about 3mm thick.  The bicarbonate soda is a raising agent so this will make the cookies puff up a little.  If you like softer  gingerbread cookies, roll to 5mm thickness.
  10. Take your trays out of the freezer. Cut out your cookies using a cutter dipped in icing sugar and place them on the baking paper lined tray.  Leave a little space around them – they will spread slightly.
  11. Bake for 5-8 minutes, depending on size.  Small cookies will only need 5 minutes, larger cookies will need closer to 8 minutes. Avoid over baking – they should be just firm to touch. You don’t want to see dark brown edges.
  12. Allow to cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  13. Repeat for remaining three parcels of dough.
  14. Decorate baked cookies with royal icing and silver cachous as desired.

To make royal icing
  • Put egg whites into your stand mixer bowl and insert the whisk attachment.  Whisk the eggs until they start to foam.  Gradually add the icing sugar to the eggs and whisk til the icing is smooth and thick. Stir through lemon juice.  Keep in a sealed container when not using.
  • Use a piping bag with a small round tip to pipe decorations onto the cookies.  Allow to set before packaging or storing.

Di-licious Time Saving Tip
Freeze uncooked cut-out dough by flash freezing them at the end of step 10. Simply put the tray in the freezer for 10-15 minutes til frozen. Transfer the frozen cookies to a freezer-safe container, using baking paper or grease proof paper in between layers. Bake all or only some of the cookies straight from frozen whenever you need them in a 140°C (fan)/160°C oven for 8 minutes or until just firm to touch.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cake pop love

I've managed to tick another thing off my Baking Resolutions list.  I finally made cake pops.

If you've been living under a rock the last few years, cake pops are the new darling of cake treats.

Crumbled cake and ganache mixed together and rolled into balls, stuck onto lolly sticks and dipped into candy chocolate - the combinations and decorations are limitless.

The undisputed queen of cake pops is Bakerella.  She first blogged about her 'experiment' in 2008 and before you could say cream cheese frosting, cake pops have taken the world by storm.  A book deal later, people all over the world are creating amazing works of cake-art on sticks.  The Pop Stars section of her blog really is worth a squizz...

My first attempt is a little bit clunky - the candy chocolate coating really needed to be thinned down with some vegetable shortening.  But you know what - they were so much fun to make.  I always end up with cake offcuts and left over ganache from big cake projects; this is the perfect way to use them up.

Cake pops are also the perfect portable party cake - I wrapped each pop up in a cellophane bag and packaged them up into a 'Di-licious' gift bag for a birthday winery lunch.  After the tapas, we passed around the pops and waved them in the air whilst serenading the birthday girl.

Definitely going to make some more of these babies!  Di-licious!