coincidental culinary components

The other week I made some savoury muffins, and realised that most of the ingredients (the main ones, anyway) started with the letter C: corn, carrot, cheese, cumin and coriander seed. These were all ingredients that I happened to have, and it was only as I was adding them, that I realised the coincidence.

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because figs are the best

For various reasons, I haven’t baked much in the latter half of this year (not as much compared to last year and earlier this year, anyway). It helps to have people to bake for, and also the time for it.

It was a colleague / work friend’s birthday on Monday, so I thought I’d bake something on Sunday and bring it in to work. I really didn’t feel like trying out a new recipe, so I thought about my tried and trusted recipes, and of course I stopped at fig cake. I don’t think I know anyone who likes dried figs as much as I do, so I kind of think of this as something I bake for myself as much as for anyone else. This is my sort of comfort food (well, I probably have a lot of other “sorts” of comfort food…)

Anyway, I brought the little cakes in to work (I’d baked them in a muffin tray, rather than as one big cake – long story – not really; I’ll explain below), and people really liked them. I had a couple of people asking for the recipe, so I figured I might as well post it here (“for posterity”, as a friend would say).  Continue reading

baked pick-me-ups

I don’t follow many food blogs, but one that I do follow is Jane’s Patisserie – not only for the “food porn” aspect of it, but also because the recipes work, and she gives plenty of helpful tips. I also like that she does a bit of a preamble before each recipe, which adds a bit more of a personal touch.

In January, she posted this recipe for Nutella Brownies, and I jotted it down in my “recipes to try” folder because, come on, Nutella + brownies!! Since then, I’ve had it in the back of my mind, and I keep thinking that I need to go out and get some Nutella and make this because, damn, it sounds delicious. (And before you ask why I didn’t have any Nutella already at home, please know that the recipe requires an entire jar of the stuff (400g), and there’s no way a jar of Nutella is going to survive unopened/untouched in my house for very long.)

Sorry if I’m veering toward incomprehensible right now, but I swear I’m not on a sugar high.

What prompted me to finally make these brownies was kind of a combination of two things: first, a friend of mine had made another Nutella brownie recipe that hadn’t quite worked out as hoped; and, secondly, another friend had sent me some banana bread on Monday.

Now, the significance of this banana bread – or the gesture of sending it to me via our inter-store delivery – cannot be understated. Despite the joy inherent in a good colleague & friend of mine returning to work after a four-week holiday, I was feeling rather blegh on Sunday and Monday. (Yeah, there’s not really a better word for it than “blegh”. It’s kind of like a tiredness from not being able to get energy into your muscles – if that makes any sort of sense.)

I went for a run on Sunday arvo/evening, which kind of helped, but I was sore and tired on Monday. The unexpected gift of banana bread was just the right thing to lift my spirits and put a spring back in my step. The virtues of random acts of kindness, right?

Well, anyway, as a show of appreciation for this coincidentally kind gesture (I only say it was coincidental because this friend wouldn’t have known I was feeling a bit blegh), I decided to return the favour. And what better thing to send as a token of gratitude and appreciation (or of anything, really) than Nutella brownies! At last, after not feeling in the mood to bake anything for so long (I partly blame the heat/humidity), I finally got the desire to bake again! It’s an incredible feeling.

What I like about this recipe is that it is so easy and quick to make. And, of course, it’s frickin’ delicious (the verdict was unanimous on this one). The only variations I made to Jane’s original recipe were the omission of Ferrero Rocher (decoration), and the addition of roasted hazelnuts (chopped) and dark chocolate chips (half a cup of each). Honestly, the hardest part was roasting and chopping the hazelnuts, and I brought that upon myself.

My only additional advice, in regards to the recipe, is that, if you make them, you should double the quantities and make a second batch (unless you’re keeping them all for yourself, then one batch might be enough).

peanut butter and jelly

It’s been some time coming, but I’ve finally had another attempt at making truffles. Since my coconut and lime truffles worked so well, and got such good feedback from my colleagues, I’ve been meaning to make more truffles, experimenting with ingredients and flavour combinations. I like making truffles because you can play around with different flavours, but mostly because it’s generally easier and requires fewer ingredients than baking a cake (which I also enjoy, but sometimes just don’t have the time or energy for).

Another big bonus is that it’s easier to adjust quantities/proportions as you prepare the truffle mix, whereas baking tends to require very (or at least reasonably) accurate measurements. If you’ve read my previous posts on baking, or if I’ve told you of my baking adventures before, you’ll know that I’m not great with precise measurements and sticking to recipes…

Anyway, I can’t remember when the inspiration hit me, but I believe it was while talking to a colleague about the gloriousness of peanut butter. I reckon PB is great as it is, on toast or bread, but I especially like it with jam. From there, I started thinking about how I could recreate the flavours of a good PB&J sandwich in a truffle form, and the following recipe was born:

Ingredients:

  • ~170-180mL (thickened) cream
  • 4 tbsp smooth peanut butter (I guess you could use crunchy PB but I was worried about the peanuts going soft/weird while being cooked in the cream …but that could just be me being paranoid)
  • ~240g dark chocolate (melting chips, or a cut-up block)
  • 1 small tin/jar of some sort of fruit-flavoured hard candy, crushed with a mortar & pestle to get little granules of candy (I reckon it works best if you get it to just bigger than raw sugar granule size)

I think the process for all truffles is basically the same, so once you’ve mastered one, you’ll probably find it easy enough to adapt for other flavours. In this case, I just put the cream and PB into a saucepan to heat slowly, stirring until the PB melted and incorporated into the cream. Once it looked like it was just about to come to a simmer, I took it off the heat and added the chocolate, stirring until it all melted.

At this point, I contemplated adding choc chips (like the ones you use for baking cookies) to give an internal crunch element to kind of resemble the texture of crunchy PB, but I didn’t really have that many, so I left them out. Besides, I figured that the candy coating would give enough of a crunch.

After leaving the truffle mix in the fridge to cool overnight, I cut it up (because too lazy to use a melon baller and scoop out individual ones), and rolled it in the candy crumbs/powder.

I’m really bad at remembering to take photos of food, so of course I don’t have a photo, but I reckon they looked pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. The candy I used was red/pink, so just imagine little cubes of dark chocolate covered in little pink jewels. It gets a bit of a reaction. I will say, however, that if the candy powder is too fine, it kind of melts when applied to the truffles, and then it becomes quite sticky (although people said it was worth the stickiness).

When I did my taste-test at home, I was actually a bit apprehensive. It worked, but the flavour wasn’t as amazing as the coconut and lime truffles (sorry I keep mentioning those, but I feel like I set too high a benchmark when I made them). But you do get the nice combination of salty, creamy peanut butter and sugary fruit (or should that be “fruity sugar”?) so I was satisfied. What I really judge a recipe’s success on, however, is the reaction I get from others, particularly if anyone asks for the recipe because it means they liked it enough to want to make it themselves. On this criteria, I’m very pleased (and relieved) to say that these PB&J truffles passed 🙂

coconut + lime + dark chocolate

I reckon the best thing about baking is being able to create something delicious, and then share that with family/friends, and just watching them enjoy it. It’s really something special, hey?

Well, after work on Sunday, I could not be stuffed baking anything, so I decided to just make truffles. No special occasion, but I’ve just been compulsively buying dark chocolate to kind of give myself an excuse to use it. I was also inspired by this post on Jane’s Patisserie, and wanted to experiement around with some flavours.

Also, apparently you can get the same satisfaction from sharing home-made truffles as you get from sharing a home-baked cake. I took my truffles in to work with me today, and everyone loved them, so I thought maybe it was worth sharing the recipe here (especially since I also got a few recipe requests)

Truffles are amazingly easy to make, which makes me like them even more. I’d previously made a chocolate cake with lime and coconut, so I figured the same thing should work in truffle form (not sure if it still counts as an experiment then, but oh well…)

As well as being easy to make, there were only four ingredients:

  • ~165mL coconut cream (I just happened to have a small tin in the pantry that was exactly this amount. I weighed it in the tin to be ~200g, which, yes, is kind of a meaningless value since I didn’t weigh the empty tin)
  • ~365g dark chocolate (I’ve put the “approximately” tilde on this one because I ate a bit of the chocolate before it went in. You’ve got to check for quality, right?)
  • ~2 tsp Gin Gin & Dry lime powder (I assume lime zest would work fine as well)
  • enough dessicated coconut to coat truffles

All I did was heat the cream with the lime powder on a low heat until it was just about to boil. Then I took it off the heat, and added the chocolate, stirring until it all melted. It was then a simple case of pouring it into a lined container, and waiting for it to set (I left it overnight). Once set, because I was too lazy to scoop them out individually, I just cut them into squares, and kind of rolled them into ball-like shapes while coating them in dessicated coconut.

Here’s a photo (but it’s not very good because I took the good ones to work, and completely forgot to take a photo, so these are the few random pieces I kept at home)

Coconut and lime truffles (well, you get the general idea...)

Coconut and lime truffles (well, you get the general idea…)

I’m not a truffle expert (yet) but I assume you can just adjust the cream/chocolate ratio depending on whether you prefer the truffles softer/harder. The ratio I used seemed to give a satisfyingly rich truffle.

in the oven

Judging by the number of Mother’s Day posts circulating around WordPress recently (not to mention all the tributes on FB), I’m guessing that everyone knows it was Mother’s Day on Sunday. Don’t worry, this is not another M-Day post – not really, anyway. My mum is someone who’s not big on receiving gifts. She’s always told me that if I want to get her something for a special occasion, get something edible. I reckon I’ve kind of adopted her gift philosophy because I also agree that, as a general rule, the best gifts are edible (and delicious!). I also love receiving books as gifts but, like my mum, I’m not overly fussed about receiving material gifts.

On the week-end, I thought I’d go all out and bake two different treats for Mum. I’ve developed a love of baking in recent months (at times it’s a positively magical experience), and she’s liked what I’ve made so far (or so she says). The plan was one sweet and one savoury.

First up was carrot cake. I’ve made this before, and Mum really liked it, so it was a no-brainer. Plus we have lots of carrots. The recipe I used came courtesy of Julie Goodwin, Australia’s original MasterChef. I really like simple, straight-forward recipes that aren’t overloaded with too many ingredients, so when I found this one, I knew I’d like it. I didn’t even modify it …much.

Well, my mum doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth – she still likes sweet treats, but she’s pretty strict on the “in moderation” part (she is probably the reason why I’ve never had to have a filling) – so I actually omitted the syrup (also I didn’t have any syrup). The recipe calls for just half a teaspoon of cinnamon, which is not a problem at all, but since I also had some nutmeg and allspice (and they worked pretty well in another cake I made last year), I added half a teaspoon of each of these as well. Also, pecans work just as well as walnuts with carrot cake. (Love pecans!)

After getting the carrot cake in the oven, and then cleaning up, eating some lunch, and having a bit of a break (it does have to bake for 60-70 minutes, after all), I decided to make some cheese scones. Ever since this recipe from Jane’s Patisserie popped up on my Reader (there’s a reason why I’m a loyal subscriber!) I knew I’d have to give ’em a try. Again, it’s another reasonably simple recipe with not too many steps, so it was right up my alley.

Full disclosure, there were two things I changed on this one. First, I can’t really eat spicy food (my mum’s a bit better with hot food but, come on, I wanted to eat these too!) so I swapped the cayenne pepper for smokey paprika, which I think worked ok but was a bit too subtle for me. I also used random pizza cheese instead of the stated cheddar because I’d forgotten to buy some… It still tasted pretty good, and the texture of the actual scone was spot-on, but I will be remaking these this Friday, and I’ll go source some decent cheddar before then. I’m also considering mixing in some garlic (perhaps roasted or just minced) just because I like garlic.

Update 15/05/15: Cheese scones batch #2!

Update 15/05/15: Cheese scones batch #2!