Sunday, 30 March 2008

March Daring Bakers Challenge - The Perfect Party Cake

Well, well, here we are at my eighth Daring Baker Challenge. Can you believe it? I certainly can’t! When I first signed up, I honestly thought I wouldn’t last, and look at me now. Yes, March’s DB Challenge went well, that’s why I sound so pleased with myself. There have been some disasters over the last 8 months, as well as some mediocre moment and some great results. Although I managed to make the process of making this challenge much more complicated than it needed to be, this month’s challenge goes into the category of great results.

My gorgeous friend Kate bakes and decorates the most exquisite cake for everyone, so when I noticed her birthday coming, I decided all these Daring Bakers Challenges I’d done lately helped my confidence enough to bake Kate a cake for her birthday.

A few days later the March Challenge was set by Morven The Perfect Party Cake – how more perfect could it be! What timing. I was really looking forward tho this challenge. I read the recipe through and felt relaxed, I knew the buttercream from our December Yule Log Challenge

I got myself organised, music was blaring, the doors were open, it was a gorgeous day outside. I scrubbed my house and got into the kitchen. Once the amazing lemon-scented sugar and butter was whizzing away in my fire-engine red Kitchen-Aid I went to preheat the oven.

For those of you who haven’t figured out I am quite the bimbo at times, you’ll know for sure now – the oven door was missing. Oh no! That’s right they took it away to be repaired. I totally forgot! There I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, nearly in tears; I was that cross with my own stupidity. I contemplated asking neighbours I’d never met before or plain old giving up. Eventually I called Kate (yes, the birthday girl) and explained. How ridiculous! Can I bake your birthday cake in your oven!?

I jumped into a taxi, Kitchen-Aid mixer bowl filled with batter and drove 15 minutes to her place. The chubby cabby asked 100 questions and made me feel even more like the Dumb Baker I was.

In the end, the cake came out wonderfully. Kate’s house smelt like freshly bakes cakes and I returned home to finish it all off and everyone loved it! I had visions of the batter collapsing or curdling but it held up wonderfully. I will definitely be making this cake again. Now, I ask you, was all that daring enough for you!?

Here’s what I did:

For the Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour (I used plain flour and removed 1 tbs of flour from each cup)
1 tbs baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tsp lemon zest
113 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
340 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
2/3 cup raspberry jam stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups shredded coconut

Preheat the oven 175C and butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans, lining the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered baking paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the lemon extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centre’s should come out clean

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up.

Now for the buttercream - put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.

The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To assemble the cake, cut the cakes horizontally in half, using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the jam. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with jam and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.

Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the fridge. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold.

If you would like to see what my fellow Daring Bakers did with this challenge please check out our Daring Baker’s Blogroll.


Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Apple Pandowdy

Here’s another dish we whipped up while I was home in Adelaide. I don’t know where I found this, it was in my emails. I’ve never heard of a Pandowdy but basically it’s like a cobbler, yummy spiced apples with a cake topping. It looks pretty boring when it comes out of the oven, but it’s delicious! Everyone was very excited and there were no leftovers. That plus a few more compliments the next day means it’s a winner! I served this with ice-cream which worked perfectly. You could try this with any fruit really. I’d like to try it with some raspberries next time, mmm.

900g golden delicious apples
2 tbs golden syrup
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
115g sugar
115g unsalted butter, melted
150ml milk

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then thinly slice them into a bowl. Add the syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg, and toss gently to coat the apple slices evenly.

Spoon the mixture into a buttered 1-litre ovenproof, deep-sided dish. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the sugar.

Make a well in the centre and add the melted butter and the milk. Stir to make a smooth batter, then spread it evenly over the apple slices.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 40-45 minutes or until the sponge topping has risen and is browned.

Serve from the baking dish or invert into a serving dish. It is, of course, highly improved with cream in generous dollops.


Monday, 17 March 2008

Warm Roast Vege Salad

I'm happy to report I am in my home town of Adelaide, South Australia with my nearest and dearest. There's been been a few things going on, so we thought we'd take a few days off plus Easter to see how everyone's going on.

Its been 41C (106F) degrees, the air conditioner is broken, so you do not feel like doing much! We've swam in the ocean, had lots of ice cream and hours out the back of Mum and Dads overlooking the valley with about 50 lorikeets who come to bath and eat oatmeal from my Dad's little bird sanctuary he's set up. Pure bliss if you ask me.

Mum and Dad have a very nice little vegetable patch, so my sister and I set out to make dinner with what we had at home. It turned out really well. I must admit, during the process I didn't know whether beetroot and pumpkin would work together, but they did! Combined with cherry tomatoes, lemon, rosemary and garlic they were a marriage made in heaven.

1/2 butternut pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 small beets, scrubbed but leave on tops and tails so they don't bleed
4 large garlic cloves
2 sprigs rosemary
3 tbs parsley, chopped
1 lemon
2 big handfuls of cherry tomatoes
4 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 1/2 cups rice
1 tsp vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place the pumpkin, beets,rosemary and whole garlic cloves in an oven dish with a couple of glugs of olive oil and salt and pepper and toss. Pop this into the oven for 45 minutes.

Cook the rice according the packet instructions, preferably the steam method so you don't have to drain all the flavour away. Before cooking add half the cherry tomatoes and the vegetable stock. Squash the tomatoes with your hands into the pot of rice.

Next prepare the dressing. In a small bowl add the rind of the lemon, the juice of the lemon 2 tbs of olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, chilli flakes and whisk. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from the oven and push the sweet flesh away from the garlic peel. Mash with a fork and add to the dressing and mix further.

Cut the remaining cherry tomatoes in half and finely chop the parsley. Next, top and tail the beets and peel and cut into quarters.

Now to assemble. Add half of the dressing, the cut cherry tomatoes and half of the parsley to the rice and mix and pile onto a suitable plate. Toss the pumpkin and beets in the remaining dressing and pile on top of the rice mix, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

(Serves 4)


Thursday, 13 March 2008

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with 2 Cheeses

Here in Sydney, we have the Growers Markets on the first Saturday of every month on the banks of Darling Harbour. There are loads of stalls, people, dogs, chairs and umbrellas to guard us from the sun, live music and all sorts of nice things. I try to go every month, but you have to get there super early or the things you want will have run out, like the mushrooms I love.

In the week leading up to the recent markets, it rained and rained and rained here so I thought I wouldn’t be going. I woke up on the first Saturday of March and it was a gorgeous sunny day so we sleepily traipsed down there.

I got in the line for a breakfast roll and Tony got in the line for coffees. We met up a while later and sat in the sun and woke up over breakfast with the stunning water views and all sorts of happening around us. Right near us was the stall you can see above. I’ve never made zucchini flowers at home so I bought myself some, found the recipe below in the Sydney Morning Herald (our local paper) and whipped them up for us. They were great. Not as good as some restaurants I’ve been to, but from the old home kitchen, they were lovely. If you find your self with some zucchini flowers, they’re worth a shot.

200g plain flour
2/3 cup cold water
Salt and pepper to taste

Zucchini flowers
24 female zucchini flowers with the zucchini attached
100g grated parmesan
100g grated gruyere
100g breadcrumbs
Handful of chopped parsley
A few sprigs of thyme, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

First, make the batter. Mix the flour and the water together until they form a rough, lumpy mixture; don't work the batter too much. Rest this while you are preparing the rest of the dish.

For six people, get 24 female zucchini flowers with the baby zucchini attached. Mix 100g each of grated gruyere cheese and breadcrumbs. Add a few sprigs of finely chopped thyme and add salt and pepper. Open the ends of the flowers and fill them with as much mixture as can fit comfortably inside, while still being able to pinch the points of the flowers closed. Dip the filled zucchini in the batter, allowing any excess to run off and deep fry in olive oil until golden.

Take them out, drain, salt lightly and serve with salad.


Monday, 10 March 2008

Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

This pick may look simple and not at all exciting, but I tell you what, that pot of dinner up there was oh so good! Adam, The Amateur Gourmet also raved about it as one of his favourites, Lydia Bastiniach recipes. I hadn't tried anything from his site before, and thought this recipe looked simple and right up my alley so I made it a few days later. Half way through making it I wondered how good it could really be, but once I stuck my spoon in the bowl, scooped some out and out it in my mouth my tastebuds were satisfied. Actually, better than satisfied, they were mighty happy! Tony claims its one of the best pastas I've made, but I think we've all heard that before! To be honest, these broad comments haven't been coming as thick and fast lately, so that does mean he really enjoyed. Give it a go, you won't regret it.

500g macaroni
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped (keep the oil)
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (I assume that's chilli flakes? That's what I used)
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp salt
1 handful fresh parsely, chopped
fresh pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large oan of water to the boil and cook pasta according the the instructions.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomato jar to a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so. Next, add the chilli flakes and toast for another 1/2 minute.

Then add 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes and spread them out, let them sizzle, toast for a minute. After a minute, ladle in 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, keep it simmering, until the liquid reduces by half.

Finally, stir in the cannellini beans, 1/4 tsp salt and approx 1 and 1/2 cups more pasta cooking water. Bring it to a boil, stir together, and cook "at an active simmer" for 4 minutes.

When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the pan with the tomatoes etc. Add the parsley, then off the heat add about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and a final tablespoon of olive oil and fresh pepper before serving.


Saturday, 8 March 2008

Blogging By Mail

Stephanie over at Dispensing Happiness is holding a blogging event at the moment, called Blogging my Mail. We all signed up and then received emails notifying us to whom we have to send parcel to and then wait for ours to turn up. To be honest, I had kinda forgotten about it as it had been a little while. And, let me tell you she is well and truly dispensing happiness ladies and gentlemen - this week I came home after a miserable day at the office to find a huge parcel from the States, all for me! Check it out! Aren't I a lucky girl? (Hey, yes I'm still a girl, I'm 30 at the end of this year and I'm going to abuse that term well and truly till then!)

My parcel came from a blogger I hadn't come across yet, Angel who has a gorgeous site called Angel's Bento Box. Two things have come out of this event, one I have a new friend and blog I will be regularly keeping an eye on and two, I have a whole basket fully of goodies! Actually, make it three cos goddamn did all this make me grin from ear to ear and forget all about my horrendous day!

Angel spoilt me - I got kitten embossing pages, Victorian stationery thats so pretty, sweet stickers, sparkly green sprinkles in Angel's fav colour green, tea, a candle in my favourite scent, cinnamon, bento boxes, silicone cups that I will find countless uses for I'm sure, miniature cookie cutters and to top it off some yummy US chocolates, like Reese's Cups which we can't get here.

I am so spoilt!! Thank you very very very much to the two ladies, I've never met before, Angel and Stephanie at the Dispensing Happiness. I can't wait to see how my parcel is received.


Friday, 7 March 2008

Thai Basil Chili Chicken

For me if its not Pad Thai when we go out for Thai its Basil Chicken. The flavour is big and unforgettable. I love it! If I’d have known how simple it and quick this was to prepare this would be my go to recipe, I would be making it all the time.
This is a Kasma Loha-unchit recipe. I have no idea how it ended up in my pile of recipes to try, but I will be attempting more of his recipe after this one was such a huge success. It taste exactly like my local Thai restaurant, which means perfect!

2-3 tbsp peanut oil, for stir-frying
10-12 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
500g boneless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces 10 Thai chillies, cut into very thin rounds
2 small kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded (optional)
2-3 tsp black soy sauce (I used Ketchup Manis – sweet Indonesian soy sauce)
2 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
1 cup fresh Thai holy basil, or Thai sweet basil leaves

Heat a wok until its surface is smoking hot. Swirl in the oil to coat the wok surface. Toss in the garlic and shallots. Stir 15 to 20 seconds before adding the chicken. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until most of the chicken has changed color on the outside and is no longer pink.

Toss in the chillies and kaffir lime leaves. Sprinkle black soy sauce over the mixture and stir-fry for another 15 to 20 seconds. Season to taste with fish sauce, then stir in the fresh basil. Toss well. Stir-fry another 1/2 to 1 minute, or until the basil is wilted and the chicken cooked through. Sprinkle with white pepper.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

La Stracciatella

Once upon a time, London was my home town. I lived in a suburb called Wapping, just down the road from what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, Tower Bridge. I loved London, it treated me very well. Any place gets the better of you though, and I swear, a walk over that magnificent bridge put it all in perspective. Every single time. I don't think I have that in Sydney. Maybe thats why I'm not so in love with this city...

Anyway, I digress, Tower Bridge has nothing to do with it. The point is there a restaurant in Wapping called Ill Bordello. Oh the memories! I used to go there all the time, and anyone who came to visit was taken there. Ill Bordello was one of those wonderful Italian neighbourhood restaurants, that when you walked in the front door, they knew your name and greeted all the pretty ladies with a big kiss. One of their specials was Straccitella soup, which I loved, and they always remebered I loved it and would make it esepcially for me.

I never tried to make it myself, I had no idea where to start and assumed it was difficult. Blake over at Serious Eats has had a bit of fascination with egg soups and recently he added my favourite, La Straciatella. It was bubbling away in my kitchen the same day, and I'm happy to report it was spot on! Its a simple broth with silky egg shreds, salty tasty parmesan and crusty bread. Thats my type of soup, and its way easier than the other eggy soups Blake's been sharing with us!

6 cups chicken stock
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons semolina flour
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Separate one cup of the stock and chill if not already refrigerated. Heat the remaining 5 cups in a large saucepan until it boils.

Meanwhile, combing the cold broth, eggs, flour, cheese, parsley, and nutmeg in a mixing bowl and whisk until well blended.

Whisk the egg mixture into the boiling broth, stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in warmed bowls topped with more grated Parmesan and parsley if desired.


Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Cheesecake Truck

The Cheesecake Truck is a song by a guy called King Missile who most of us probably know from the song Detachable Penis.

Elly over at Elly says Opa! is running a very cool blogging event closing today called Eat to the Beat.

As soon as I heard about it I had visions of making marshmallow pies from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. However, my oven door was not returned to me in time to do this, so I decided and unbaked blackcurrant cheesecake to match the Cheesecake Truck song would be my next bets option.

This is a super easy cake to make and its very tasty and looks pretty.

Thanks Elly, I look forward to seeing what others created for this event.

Half a packet gingernuts
50g butter, melted
250g Philadelphia cream cheese
1 tin condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tbs jam (I used blackcurrant)
1 tbs water

Crush biscuits in a food processor. Mix in the melted butter and press down in a springform cheesecake tin. Place in fridge.

Using electric beaters, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes. Add the condensed milk and beat until it becomes a moussy creamy mix. About 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and mix again. Pour into tin. In a separate bowl, mix the jam and the water so you have a runny consistency. Spoon on top of the cheesecake and swirl through. Place in fridge. It takes a few hours to set.