10 tips to make you a star baker...

  10 tips for your best baking - no matter what time of year or season, these tips are the building blocks of good baking every time...

Tip 1 use rice flour to help when cutting out soft dough...

If you're working with a soft dough, such as these spiced Scandinavian biscuits, dust your surfaces and cutter with rice flour and not wheat flour - its slightly more granular texture helps to stop sticking...

 

Tip 2 read the recipe

Read the recipe - all way through!  Baking requires more precision than other kitchen antics; understanding what the recipe requires will help prevent those all-too-familiar oversights such as leaving out the eggs, or baking powder, or forgetting to preheat the oven...

 

Tip 3 weigh your ingredients

Weigh your ingredients!  Cup measurements vary with brands, weather, cooks and even countries; weights are much more reliable and consistent...

 

Tip 4 Measure your liquids carefully

Measure your liquids - carefully!  A tablespoon in Australia = 20ml, UK = 15ml, and the USA = 16ml; not necessarily huge differences, but it helps to know...

 

Tip 5 dip your cutters in flour

Dip your cutters in flour  before each cut (rice flour if you have it), and don't twist the cutter before you lift it!  Twisting will seal the edges of the dough together and prevent even rising...

 

Tip 6 Use fresh butter for your baking

Use fresh butter for your baking!  And keep it in an airtight container in the fridge until needed - butter will not only pick up odours from other foods, but the exposed edges will turn a darker yellow, begin to spoil, and lose the natural fresh sweetness of good butter...

 

Tip 7 Use fresh spices

 

Tip 8 make baking paper your best friend

Make baking paper your best friend!  Recipes for biscuits and pastries instruct us to make the dough, form it into a disc and refrigerate, to make the dough easier to handle.  I've always struggled with that; I take the dough from the fridge, it's a hard lump, and then I have to wait for it to soften to roll it out - no more!  Simply roll your dough between two sheets of baking paper to your desired thickness, slide the baking paper with the dough onto a tray and refrigerate.  Then, all you have to do is peel back the top sheet, cut out your shapes and either lift them onto another tray or gently pull the dough away from the shapes and straight into the oven; or you could of course bake the whole tray as is, which will give you both your desired shapes and a baked version of the negative space...

Tip 9 Check your eggs

Check your eggs!  Try to buy free range, they're better in every way.  Store in the fridge, round end down and remove to room temperature before use (if you forget 10-15 minutes in a bowl of warm water will do it).  Eggs that are a few days old will give your meringues more ooomph; if in doubt, use the float test - sideways is pretty fresh, vertical is older, bobbing on the top makes it an undesirable friend for your baking...

Tip 10 Use a timer

Use a timer!  Phones ring, kids need you, someone pours you another champagne; all manner of things happen to distract you...

Happy baking, if you have any questions or queries, send me an email - see you next week!

 

 

 

 

Scones just like your Nana's...simple and delicious

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Scones - who doesn't love them?  Despite the endless quibbling about how to pronounce the name, whether you put the jam on first or the cream, serve them with coffee, tea or champagne, the fact remains that this small soft cross between a cake and a biscuit has a special place in our hearts.

My nana was a woman before her time; she was one of the first women in England to qualify as a schoolteacher, and continued to defy the conventions of her age by raising her children alone.  Such a life didn't leave much time or money for entertaining; enter the scone.

Quick and inexpensive to make with ingredients to hand, scones have made us happy for hundreds of years, and no afternoon tea is complete without them.  Different recipes abound - with fruit or without, made with lemonade, flavoured with pumpkin, enriched with cheese...the list is endless.

This recipe is the starting point, light, buttery and full of flavour.  Begin here, and the world of scones is at your feet...

The trick to success with scones is to keep everything cool, and to work the dough only as much as necessary to combine ingredients, but no more.  Incorporating as much air as possible into the mix will also make for a light and fluffy result; it's for this reason that I choose to sift my dry ingredients.  Whipping some air into the buttermilk and egg mixture further supports this aeration.

Once your scones come out of the oven, tall and golden, you can wrap them in a clean cloth to keep them warm, the steam this generates will prevent them from drying out.  Should you need to re-heat them, just a few minutes in the oven will bring them back.  But they're so easy and so quick, they really deserve to be made and eaten on the day, with whatever combination of jam and cream is your particular fancy...enjoy!

 

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Nana's scones...simply delicious
Recipe Type: Baking
Author: Kitchen Diva
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 12
Afternoon tea is incomplete without them - once you have this basic recipe in your repertoire you can play around with any number of variations...
Ingredients
  • 450g self raising flour
  • 175g cold unsalted butter (cut into 2cm cubes)
  • 2 large pinches salt
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon custard powder
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk plus extra for glazing
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 175c fan forced/190 non fan forced
  2. [b]Magimix Cook Expert method[/b]:
  3. Place eggs and buttermilk in main bowl fitted with whisk attachment and set Whisk programme for 1 minute Speed 7. Pour mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Sift flour, salt and custard powder and place in main bowl with the cold butter.
  5. Process mixture on Expert programme Speed 18, using the pulse button to create a breadcrumb-like mixture with no large lumps of butter visible. Tip mixture into a large bowl , add sugar, stir through and proceed with general instructions.
  6. [b]Food processor/hand method[/b]:
  7. Whisk eggs and buttermilk together until light and frothy.
  8. Sift flour, salt, and custard powder into a bowl and either cut in the butter using the pulse function of a processor, or by hand by rubbing in or using a pastry blender. The aim is to achieve a breadcrumb-like mixture without melting the butter, so work/process quickly. Add sugar and stir through. Tip into a large bowl and proceed with general instructions.
  9. [b]General instructions[/b]:
  10. Add the buttermilk and egg mixture to the flour and bring together quickly and lightly using a spatula. It will be a fairly wet, sticky dough.
  11. Generously flour your work surface and gently turn the dough out. Flour your hands well.
  12. To bring the dough together, use a technique called 'chaffing' - push the heel of your hand into the dough one or two times, tuck the edges of the dough underneath, and flip the ball over. Repeat this process 3-5 times, but remember this is not bread dough and you are not kneading, just looking to bring it together in a manageable ball.
  13. Flour your rolling pin and rolling the dough gently from the middle outwards until it is 3cm/1 1/4" deep (resist the urge to roll it any thinner, you want to keep as much height as possible).
  14. Use the cutter of your choice to form the shape - cut straight down, don't twist as you push or remove.
  15. Release gently from the cutter and place onto the tray; it is not necessary to have the scones touching. Continue until all the dough is used, re-rolling the remainder until you have approx 12 pieces.
  16. Glaze the scones gently with the remaining buttermilk and egg mixture and bake on the top shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and tall.
Notes
Remember to keep everything cold, especially the butter.[br]When cutting the scones, dip the cutter in flour prior to each cut.[br]Don't twist the cutter as you press down and remove it from the dough, this will cause the layers to stick together and the scones won't rise so much.[br]For the same reason, when glazing the scones, glaze only the top, not the sides, to allow for rising.[br]Keep the scones warm by wrapping them in a clean tea towel.

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chocolate fudge cake...your new best friend

Processed with Snapseed. Everyone needs a chocolate fudge cake recipe in their repertoire, an old friend that won't ever let you down.

This is the first recipe that I tried in my bright red shiny new Magimix Cook Expert, it's an old favourite that I've used for years.  It began as a recipe from one of my all-time heroes, Mary Berry, and has seen me through many a birthday and celebration.  Sometimes it's just as the Queen herself decreed, sometimes I've tripled the recipe and made precipitously tall structures, with buttercream and ganache as cement; other times it's become cupcakes and butterfly cakes.

As my need to cut dairy has taken centre stage, I've amended it to accommodate raw cacao and coconut oil, and like the best of friends, there's never been a grumble or a hiccup...she's just reliable, steadfast, predictable and best of all, delicious.  She'll be there to help you celebrate, and if the world isn't going your way, there's no better comfort than chocolate...

Although the Magimix is similar to other pieces of equipment I've owned and used, it is still a case of new tricks for old girls, and I don't believe in setting myself up to fail...so it was a no-brainer that this would be the first cake - I hope it becomes one of your go-to favourites too...

Best ever chocolate fudge cake
Recipe Type: [url href="http://www.potagerandpantry.com/category/chocolatecreations/" target="_blank"]Chocolate Creations[/url]
Author: [url href="http://www.potagerandpantry.com/about-kitchen-diva-melanie-hall/" target="_blank"]Kitchen Diva[/url]
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Dark and deliciously fudgy, this cake is perfect for any occasion, or no reason at all!
Ingredients
  • [b]FOR THE CAKE[/b]
  • 50g raw cacao powder - sifted (or good quality cocoa if you prefer)
  • 6 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 50ml almond milk (or cows milk if you prefer)
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g softened coconut oil (or unsalted butter if you prefer)
  • 275g rapadura sugar (or soft dark brown sugar if you prefer)[br]
  • [b]FOR THE GANACHE[/b]
  • [i]Regular Ingredients[/i]
  • 200g plain dark chocolate (at least 55% cacao)
  • 200g cream
  • [i]Alternative Ingredients[/i]
  • 200g dark chocolate (raw if you're so inclined)
  • 200ml coconut cream (the thick one, not coconut milk)
Instructions
For the cake
  1. Set your oven to 180c, or 160c fan forced. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bottom with baking paper. The tins don't have to be springform for this recipe, but if you have them by all means use them.
  2. Measure the 6 tablespoons of boiling water onto the sifted cacao (cocoa) powder and whisk them together until they form a smooth paste.
  3. Transfer this mixture to the bowl of the Magimix Cook Expert and then add all the other ingredients.
  4. Select the Bake - Pastry/Cake function and press Auto. I like to stop after about one minute, scrape down the sides of the bowl and then resume by pressing Auto again until the programme finishes. You should have a smooth, thick, shiny batter.
  5. Divide the mixture between the two baking tins, levelling the top with a spatula if necessary.
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 25 minutes, until the top of the cake springs back when pressed gently, and the mixture is just beginning to pull away from the sides of the tin.[br]
For the Ganache
  1. Chop your chosen chocolate finely using the small bowl of the processor if necessary (the finer the chocolate the more quickly it will melt).
  2. Place the chocolate into the large bowl along with either the coconut milk or the cream and run the Expert programme for 4 minutes on speed 3 @ 60 degrees.
  3. Remove the ganache from the bowl and allow to cool - it will thicken as it does so.[br]If you want to speed the cooling process up, put the bowl in the freezer, but remember to stir it every few minutes and don't forget it, otherwise you'll be waiting for it to soften again!
  4. One the cakes have cooled completely, spread a layer of ganache on top of one cake and place the other on top...at this stage you can add fruit, or salted caramel, or cream, or a combination!
  5. Ice the top of the second cake with the remaining ganache and decorate if you wish.[br]Keep in a cool place until ready to serve.
Notes
If possible, don't put the cake in the refrigerator as the ganache will lose it's shine. If you have any cake left over, it will keep for several days in an airtight container in a cool place.

 

 

 

 

Blood orange cordial - salute e vita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I spent my early childhood years in the grey flinty midlands of England; before we came to Australia as ten pound tourists, I was lucky enough to be taken on holidays to Italy to see the sunshine for more than a few days at a time.  One of my strongest memories of these holidays is the orange juice, nothing like the tangerine coloured, re-constituted anaemic cousin I was used  to, this juice was blood-red, and wicked looking, with a flavour unlike anything I had ever experienced.  It was of course the juice of the blood orange, aranciata rossa in the beautiful melody that makes everything sound better in Italian...

Increasingly over the past few years the flavour and colour of blood orange has become more familiar to us in Australia, in everything from mineral water to granita to salads; now we have our very own fresh supply, courtesy of RedBelly citrus in the Riverina, and for me, in country Victoria, the brilliant initiative of Farmhouse Direct.

The pigment which so startled me as a child comes from anthocyanin, which is very rare in citrus.  Most commonly found in berries such as blueberries, flowering plants and red wine - anthocyanin is one of the most powerful phytochemicals in the plant world, known for their anti-oxidant, anti-aging and anti-obesity properties, and 150 times more powerful than Vitamin C alone.  And it seems that certain  Australian climatic conditions are extremely conducive to growing this variety, with latest research showing that our fruit has significantly higher levels of anthocyanin than their Sicilian forebears!  A particular combination of freezing winter nights and hot summer days stresses the trees and forces the development of these powerful substances within the fruit.

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I ordered a box of the oranges and set to work juicing, eating and making blood orange and blood lime curd (blood limes will be the subject of another post), all of which were delicious.  Then, with the last of the fruit, I decided to make cordial for the first time ever - and how ridiculously easy it was!  In fact, I can't really call this a recipe, more like a process, as there are only three ingredients and two steps involved.  But I can assure you it's well worth trying... as for the results, use as for any other cordial with water, mineral water or soda.  Or, if I can hang on to it long enough, it's going to become my summer version of scroppino, a wicked Italian concoction of granita or sorbet and vodka, topped up with sparking wine - salute e vita - health and life!

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Juicer

Zest the oranges with a zester or a microplane and set aside.  Then squeeze the abundant juice from as many oranges as you choose - you'll be amazed at the high yield.  Place into a saucepan and weigh - add an equal amount of sugar to juice, and heat gently - don't boil (if you have a thermometer 70C is about right) otherwise watch closely and remove just as the small pre-boil bubbles start to appear at the edges of the saucepan.  Stir gently to ensure that all the sugar dissolves.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool, add the zest and balance the sweetness by adding citric acid or lemon juice, a little at a time so as not to upset the flavour, tasting as you go.

Bottle and store in the refrigerator, shake well before using.

If you would like to order oranges or other products, see www.redbellycitrus.com.au or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @redbelly_orange ; or search for blood oranges on Farmhouse Direct - be quick - the season ends mid-November!

 

Cookbook addiction...

propsHow many cookbooks do you have?  Oh my goodness there are ……!  Is that too many?or not enough?  I comfort myself with Nigella's admission that she has in excess of 4,000 - I'm not nearly at that number, although I must confess to rather more than most... I can truthfully say that I have cooked from all of them (as butter-stained pages will certify), and all have passed my test…it might seem unthinkable but there actually are books out there with recipes that don't work, and never will (a book from two famous London chefs comes to mind - dozens of eggs and kilos of French butter later I conceded defeat).

So, in no particular order, I offer you the following list for armchair reading...

How to be a Domestic Goddess - by Nigella Lawson This is one of the most used books on my shelf - I have lost count of the number of recipes here that are my baking staples, and I love Nigella's writing...

Wholefood Baking - by Jude Blereau Another well-used and splattered reference - this is my go-to if I want to incorporate wholefood principles and ingredients in my baking - the recipe for Better Buttercream is the best ever;

Philippa Grogan and Richard Cornish's Home Baking This recently released gem has not yet had time to become butter-stained, but I know that's going to happen…following on from the phenomenal success of her baking business, Phillipa brings recipes back to a domestic scale and shares her secrets and advice, whilst generously revealing the sources of these recipes, often family and friends;

Sweet - Dan Lepard  Our very own Aussie baker showing the world how its done - he began baking in Australia and now calls England home, where he is also the baking guru of the prestigious Guardian newspaper.  You may know him as the gentle and kind co-host on Australia's Bake-Off series, which aired last year...

A Passion for Baking - Jo Wheatley  Whilst we're on the subject of the Bake-Offs, this is the first book from the winner of the British series.  Tried and tested on her family of three boys, these are accessible recipes that can be made without complicated equipment or ingredients; all will be very well received!

Sweet Tooth - Lily Vanilli (Lily Jones) At the moment I only have this as an e-book, so I'm trying to figure out how to safely use my i-pad in the kitchen as I cook my way through these inspiring recipes.  Operating from a bakery in London's East End adjacent to the Flower Market, Lily Jones underpins great creativity with sound science to ensure that her readers not only have great success, but also understand the process behind successful baking;

The Primrose Bakery Book - Martha Swift & Lisa Thomas is the next part of the success story that is the bakery in London's Primrose Hill.  Dismayed at the artificial nature of many cakes on the market, these two enterprising Mums started baking cakes to give to their own children, opened a small bakery, and the rest is history…their recipes are simple, easy to prepare and beautiful to look at and eat;

Ottolenghi -  The Cookbook As anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing one of the Ottolenghi cafes in person will attest, this is some of the most generous beautiful food around…this gorgeous book showcases this visual splendour alongside clear and mouth-watering recipes.  Whilst baking is just one chapter of the book, I recommend it for all the wisdom it contains...

Stephanie Alexanders Cook Companion App - this is an electronic version of the book on almost everyone's shelf - brilliant to have on hand if you're away from home but need inspiration on so many levels - Mietzi's Plum Cake is one of my all-time favourites…and the brilliant design of the app has made a visually beautiful job of hundreds of pages of print…

How to Bake -  Paul Hollywood  Mr Hollywood shot to fame as the baking host of Great British Bake-Off, alongside the one and only Mary Berry (see below), and unlike many tv hosts, actually trained as a baker in his father's business before going on to open his own outlet and feature in celebrity gossip pages (notwithstanding his recent mishaps, these are rock solid, achievable recipes that anyone can reproduce…)

The Baking Bible - Mary Berry No shenanigans here - Mary Berry has been the Queen of British cooking and baking in a remarkable career spanning 40 years; much like our own Margaret Fulton.  This book contains many of her favourite tried and true recipes, I particular like her tray bake section - great for lunchboxes and bring a plate occasions...

Please click on the slideshow below to see the covers of all of these books, and just think - if you buy your Mum one of these you can hope she'll bake something for you, or if that strategy fails, you can borrow the book - either way - you win!

 

Baking as therapy

'life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' John Lennon's words have never rung so true as in the past few weeks of my life.  A long-awaited European holiday came to an abrupt halt after only 48 hours; around the world in four days, and that was just the beginning... blood orange cake with marmalade glaze

As I've struggled to be a grown-up and a loving daughter, even my desire to bake waned...lost in a fog of sadness and grim realities I hoped I would never have to face.

Until today, when the urge to create something positive returned...and here is the outcome of that re-kindled baking urge - courtesy of one of my food heroes - Dan Lepard.

This orange, walnut and cinnamon loaf is simple to make, doesn't need complex lists of ingredients or equipment, and will gladden any heart - either yours; or those of the lucky people you share it with...

I can't make the harsh realities of life go away, but I can choose to keep the sadness at bay, one bake at a time; I hope you'll join me...

 

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Venice - I still love you...

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Beautiful Venice is surely a victim of her own popularity - on our latest visit, we were stunned to learn that La Serenissima now receives 20 million visitors a year! It's hard to imagine how a city can absorb such numbers and still keep up any degree of authenticity...it's said that Venice is a theme park, but that's been true for centuries...

And yet, still we make the pilgrimage; each of us imagining that somehow we won't be taken for tourists, but will meld into the beauty, and, just for a few magical days, feel a part of the city...

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Nothing prepares you for the first sight of Venice, whether it's a brand new love affair or a re-kindling of the passion, there is quite simply, nowhere like it.  Top of my list is to arrive by water; walk a few hundred metres from the arrivals hall and step onto a gleaming wooden hull of a private taxi; for the next 40 minutes experience one of the great boat rides of the world...it should be said that the same views are available from the public boats, but you don't have the thrill of speed; the beauty of course is free...Should you arrive by train, coming out of Santa Lucia Railway Station is to be thrust into the centre of the city - you're right on the Grand Canal.

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Venice is a city of churches, around 80 are still consecrated, the pealing of church bells is the soundtrack to the city, along with the tinny recorded voice announcing 'prossima fermata' (next stop) on the vaporetti...Vivaldi's genius sprang from this fertile lagoon, and his exquisite stanzas hang in the air of the calles and alleyways...

Touching the stones of Venice is to hold hands with fifteen centuries of history;  if this isn't enough of a connection, spend an hour or two in the jewel-box like interiors of the Venetia Studium stores, silks and velvets with provenance almost as lengthy as the stone; every nuance of the city's colour palette appears...

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The smell of Venice is as multi-layered as it's history...base notes of water, salt and mud, overlaid with incense, coffee and parmesan...

And finally, to the taste...

Restaurants run the gamut from hole in the wall establishments, to bars serving panini and tremezzini; ciccetti and gelato; right through to some of the most glamorous restaurants in a country that does glamour very well indeed.

Ristorante Riviera Dorsoduro 1473 30123 Venezia t:0415227621 – we lunched here one very rainy Sunday having seen corners of Venice from beneath the brims of our umbrellas – gatherings after church; midday passiggiata; slick cobblestones echoing to the sound of purposeful footsteps – not a day for dawdling – we pass the beggar whose eyes will haunt me always – is it for him the bells toll? and into a loud, crowded, narrow restaurant – the owner’s father was celebrating his birthday - and so begins one of those memorable afternoons with nowhere to go and nothing to do but enjoy the generous hospitality of this warm exuberant family and their startlingly beautiful children. Delicious food, and a new discovery – sgroppino – vodka, lemon gelati and champagne – oh dear!  We ate here twice whilst in Venice on our honeymoon and enjoyed another equally memorable occasion – even though the eyes of my conscience are not there, I am still acutely aware of their presence…

Alla Vedova - Cannaregio 3912 Rama Ca'd'Oro 041 5285324 – just at the back of Ca D’Oro – down an alley – fantastic cicetti – the Venetian version of tapas – try a selection as your antipasto especially the baccalao, sardines cuttlefish – be guided – you won’t be misled.

While we're on the subject of ciccetti - head to Osteria al Squero, via Trovaso Zattere 30123 Venice +39 335 600 7513 - at this little hole in the wall on Dorsoduro...you'll discover delicious wines, a warm welcome, and an opportunity to partake of some of Venice's best - a seemingly endless variety of small bites, mostly served on thin slices of bread - interesting combinations, great pairings of flavours, killer spritz, and a view of one of Venice's few remaining gondola workshops...perfetto!

Alla Testiere Castello 5801 Calle del Mondo Novo 041 5227220 Bruno e Luca – slick, groovy, tiny, this is the first time I truly understood grappa – sensational food and floating out into the Venetian afternoon on an alcohol fuelled cloud...

Lineadombra – Ponte dell’Umilita Dorsoduro 19 30123 Venezia (Alberto) t:041 241 1881 – modern, slick and edgy; outstanding fish cooked in a salt crust – theatre and interaction; worth the high price tag.

Osteria ai 4 Feri – Calle lunga S. Barnaba Dorsoduro 2754/A 30123 Venezia +39 041 520 6978 – cheek by jowl; speedy, noisy, delicious fish, curly haired girls with great big smiles (Ron was a favourite).

El Chioschitto - Fondamente Zattere al Punto Lungo This must surely be one of the best-located bars in the whole world!  What was once a small kiosk which served the naval officers from the adjacent offices is now a thriving, funky bar serving all manner of panini, tremezzini and the cheapest Spritz Aperol in Venice.  It's a regular spot for locals for an aperitivo on the way home from work or out to dinner; we have been known to spend many a happy hour here basking in the sunshine and watching the locals out for passeggiata...in a city where staggering views are in abundance, the aspect across the Giudecca is spectacular.

Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo - Fondamenta del Borgognoni 10/11 Torcello.  +39 041 73 0401 When the crush of humanity starts to weigh heavily on you, jump on the vaporetto and take yourself out through the lagoon to Torcello.  This quiet island is one of my favourite destinations in Venice, it has a melancholy, lonely feeling and yet is all the more beautiful for it.  And there's a bonus - Locanda Cipriano, where the rich and famous arrive by boat for Sunday lunch, and Osteria al Ponte del Diabolo, an old establishment set in lovely gardens and filled to capacity on Sunday lunchtime with families large and small.  Fish is the speciality of the house, mostly from the lagoon; always delicious.

lemon curd shortbread - tea time favourite

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Shortbread is a universally popular biscuit, not just in Scotland, where it originated before the middle ages, but also in England, Europe and of course Australia.  

Everyone needs a good shortbread recipe in their repertoire, and after many experiments, I can declare that this is my favourite…it's as light as air, delivers great crunch and can be altered in any way that takes your fancy by changing the centre - in the shot above it's tart and tangy lemon curd, but here it is with chocolate ganache:

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 It's simple to make, requires only a few pantry ingredients, and keeps really well - what's not to love?

And if you're wondering…the term 'short' in a baking context indicates that the recipe has a high proportion of fat to flour; that's certainly the case here…so make sure you use good quality, fresh butter...

icing sugar, flour & cornflour

almonds and flour mix

here's the butter to make it short

 

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Chocolate Brownie Biscuits...

Choc Biscuits As with many things in the annals of food history, and history in general, the origins of the brownie are somewhat obscured.  Certainly this much loved cross between a biscuit and a cake originated in the US; one of the most common attributions is to a chef at a hotel in Chicago who was asked to create an easy-to-eat desert for ladies attending the 1893 World Fair…another version tells us that a chef omitted the baking powder from a chocolate cake recipe...

Whatever the origins, there is no doubt that this delicious concoction of chocolate, butter and eggs has gone on the take its place in the Baking Hall of Fame, altered and amended in a hundred different ways over the last hundred years.  Some add nuts; walnuts, pecans, almonds or hazelnuts - still others add dried fruit from cranberries to goji berries and apricots, some employ white chocolate in place of dark…and so it goes on.

And then we come to today's version - this historic treat is slimmed down to incorporate all things we love - the chewy fudgy chocolatey texture that is more a cake than a biscuit, contrasted with the crisp snap of flaked almonds and the sweet/salt winning combination of chocolate and vanilla-infused salt (more about this intriguing ingredient in a forthcoming post).

This recipe comes from my latest cookbook crush - Sweet Tooth by Lily Vanilli (aka Lily Jones) an amazingly talented artisan baker from London - her work is fresh and visually beautiful; she takes classic procedures and techniques and brings her own quirky creative edge to baking.

 

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Maltesers - rhymes with pleases...

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The Malteser cake is a perennial favourite of mine, the recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's epic book 'Feasts' and combines two of the worlds favourite flavours; chocolate and malt.   Maltesers were created Forrest Mars, Sr., of the Mars confectionary company in 1936, and first sold in 1937. They were originally described as "energy balls" and aimed at slimming women; indeed the advertising of today still refers to them being the 'lighter' way to enjoy chocolate.

Researching this post sent me off on a nostalgic journey through my childhood in England of the 1960's.  Like many post-war parents, my mother had an abiding interest in the nutritional value of food, largely as a consequence of war time rationing, and the long list of things which were unavailable for many years, right up until the mid-50's in England.  I grew up with the familiar sight of a can of Horlicks in the kitchen cupboard; and except for the modern plastic packaging, nothing's changed; warm Horlicks is still something I enjoy on cold winter nights.  The powder, made from a combination of malted barley and wheat first appeared in the 1870's as a food supplement for infants.  

This is a brilliant recipe for a birthday cake, it looks very cute, cuts really well and keeps well for a couple of days - although that's not very likely!

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Time for tea - Bourbon biscuits...

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In case you hadn't noticed, it's all about tea at my house… this new fixation has come about because I'm hosting a series of High Tea events in conjunction with my good friends at Birregurra Provedore. Consequently, as well as having a pantry stocked with wonderful T2 varieties, I have been sorting and cataloguing like a mad woman - recipes, table linen, crockery and silverware - every aspect of my kitchen life is being called upon to do service for these special afternoons.

Along with all the treats you would expect from a hand made high tea, I have been searching for biscuit recipes and came across this one in several of my old cook books, along with a re-invented version in the Primrose Hill Bakery book (for those of you not familiar with the offerings from these two talented Mums in London - you have been warned)...

Anyway, the name of the biscuit in no way alludes to the liquor of the same name, but was bestowed on the biscuit as a tribute to the house of Bourbon, one of the great families of France, by the manufacturer Peek Freans, in 1910.

This is a simple, comforting combination of two crisp biscuits sandwiched together with a chocolate buttercream filling.  They are simple to make, have very good keeping abilities, and taste delicious - what's not to love?

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Gin and tonic jelly - grown-up pudding...

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Jelly is a mysterious substance - neither solid nor liquid, but somewhere in between…solid after preparation, liquid and fleeting in our mouths.  Often associated with childhood and birthday parties, or the covering of a lamington or jelly slice, I urge you to re-consider jelly with grown-up eyes.

The first setting agents were known to cooks in the middle ages; made from lengthy and complex processes involving the natural collagen found in calves feet and meat stocks; a substance called isinglass, made from the bladders of fish such as sturgeon; and pectin, derived from rich plant sources such as quinces and apples. All of these substances were used to achieve a process known as 'setting', transforming a liquid into a solid state, with varying degrees of viscosity.

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As is so often the case, development of cuisine goes hand in hand with technological advances; jelly achieved the pinnacle of its popularity during Georgian and Victorian times when technology allowed more complex shapes to be achieved from the forming and brazing of copper. Enormous, many tiered and complex designs were produced, with foodstuffs both sweet and savoury being entombed in gallons of liquid. Many of these concoctions were more pleasing to the eye than the palate, as many who remember dishes served in aspic will attest; a form of gastronomic amber.

Happily, that is not the case with this recipe, a treat from the one and only Ms. Lawson in her 2000 classic collection "How to be a Domestic Goddess". Both the ingredients and the process are simple, the dish utilises leaf gelatine rather than the powdered alternative. I don't propose to elaborate on the complex issue of which type of gelatine to use here, as the information is bewildering to say the least - the following link from the excellent David Lebovitz may help http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/04/how-to-use-gelatin/. For this recipe, I used the stated amount (8 leaves) of titanium grade gelatine, and the result is a jelly which is set without becoming rubbery.

Gin and Tonic Jelly A gently solid version of the world's favourite tipple...

Ingredients 300ml, plus 50ml water 300g caster sugar zest and juice of two lemons 400ml tonic water (definitely not low calorie!) 250ml gin - I use Hendricks, a delicious gin distilled in Scotland from rose, cucumber, yarrow and angelica along with many other aromatics 8 sheets leaf gelatine red or white currants, or raspberries to serve

Instructions Put the water and sugar into a side, thick-bottomed saucepan and bring to the boil. Let boil for 5 minutes, take off the heat, add the lemon zest and leave to steep for 15 minutes. Strain into a measuring jug, add the lemon juice, tonic water and gin - this should make up close to 1.2 litres, if not, add more tonic, gin or lemon juice to taste. Soak the gelatine leaves in a dish of cold water for 5 minutes in order for them to soften. Meanwhile, put the remaining 50ml water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, squeeze the moisture from the soaked gelatine leaves and add to the boiling water - whisk to combine. Pour some of the gin, tonic and lemon syrup mixture over the water and gelatine, and then add back into the main mixture. Lightly grease mould or moulds with a release spray and fill with the combined mixture almost to the top. Place in the refrigerator for at least six hours but preferably overnight. When you are ready to unmould the jelly, half fill a sink or large bowl with warm water and stand the mould in it for about 30 seconds - not too long - you want it to release but not melt the jelly! Place a flat plate over the jelly and invert the mould, giving it a little wiggle to release the contents. If this doesn't happen, immerse the mould in water once again, briefly, and repeat the process.

Notes Surround the jelly with red and/or white currants, or raspberries; serve. If you like, you can make a vodka and tonic jelly by replacing the gin with vodka and the lemon juice with lime.

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Coconut and carrot cupcakes with passionfruit buttercream

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 2014 seems so far to have been the year of the small cake - again!  And whilst the focus of my kitchen world has shifted to the baking spectrum, I think it's time to step away from the muffin pans and into some grown-up sized bakes.  After I've shared this one with you; because, quite simply, this is a recipe that has all the elements I look for.  I have used coconut in several forms - ground into flour, turned into sugar, and in the more familiar desiccated product. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Coconut sugar is on a wave of popularity right now, it seems to be popping up all over the internet, and, whilst there is no doubt that it contains more nutrients than highly refined white sugar, and has a lower GI, it is still a sugar, and therefore should be treated as such.  It does, however, impart a rich caramel flavour and colour, and marries particularly well with the flavours of toasted coconut and coconut flour in this cake.  The apple and banana keep the cake moist, making it a very good choice for lunch boxes, minus the frosting, which wouldn't last too long on these hot summer days… If the heat is not an issue, I urge you to try the buttercream; if, like me, you find most frostings and icings tooth-meltingly sweet, you'll be pleasantly surprised...

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Painted in Waterlogue

Coconut and Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting

 

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From the moment life begins, food has a singular ability to transport us to a time and place and state of mind.  This engagement of our senses and emotions transcends the biological need for nourishment, providing warmth, comfort and security in a way that few other experiences can.  I sense a hunger in the modern world which has nothing to do with physical need and much more to do with our desire to be cherished; offered delicious food by someone who truly cares about us.  Taking time to bake for our families, friends and colleagues connects us to this feeling; it doesn't have to be complicated, or expensive - you simply need to be willing to take some time and follow clear instructions - then sit back and reap the rewards on so many levels...

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 These delicious small cakes are sure to become a regular in your baking repertoire; once you have mastered the uncomplicated basic recipe, you will be able to adjust it with lots of different flavour combinations; the same is true of the buttercream icing.  The full flavour of the buttercream comes from the addition of real fruit puree, which lends natural sweetness, reducing the need for large quantities of sugar as in many traditional frostings.  As so often, I am indebted to the master wholefood baker Jude Blereau for this recipe.

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Plum and citrus baby cakes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our part of Australia has just endured one of the hottest January weeks on record - even for mid-summer, 40 degrees+ for 4 days and nights is unusual… clearly not the weather for anything other than sitting about moaning and eating watermelon and icy poles. Mercifully the heatwave has now ended; so it's safe to venture back into the kitchen and remember where the oven is…first on the list are these delightful little cakes filled with summer's bounty and iced with the tang of citrus buttercream.

This uncomplicated recipe allows the fruit to be the star, the slight tartness of the plums contrasting perfectly with the sweet and sour flavours of the frosting.  Even though the heat has dissipated for now, the fruit in this batter may ferment if left too long in a warm space, therefore, in the unlikely event that you need to store these little jewelled treasures, the refrigerator is the best place.  

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Blueberry Boy Bait

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Is it just me?  or does the title of this dish sound ever so slightly wrong in 2014?  Certainly the name takes us back to a different time, long before speed dating and internet connections.  Apparently the runner-up in a 1950's bake-off named this cake after discovering that boys found it irresistible.  

No surprises there, a combination of butter, sugar and berries can't fail to please;  if it's incredibly simple to make and bake then so much the better.  In an attempt to imbue my gluttony with a degree of wholefood integrity, the recipe I share below is another gem from the admirable Jude Blereau (Wholefood Baking).  There are literally thousands of versions of this cake, some include dangerously indulgent amounts of butter; some call for beaten egg whites; some seem to involve quite a lot of faffing about; this one is very simple on all counts, and incorporates such wholesome ingredients as spelt flour and yoghurt, thereby reinforcing Ms Blereau's philosophy that it is possible to incorporate wholesome ingredients without any loss of pleasure, and making me feel (almost) virtuous in the process...

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Butterfly Cakes with home-made Cherry Jam

P1010209     Happy New Year! and in what I fear may be setting a tone for the year very early on - I give you a little cake! These are surely the easiest cupcakes in the world, they can be iced with buttercream, royal icing and decorations, or as in this case, interpreted as butterfly cakes.  The light sponge top is removed, cut in half to resemble butterfly wings and replaced atop a pile of luscious jam and vanilla scented cream.  The name may be reminiscent of children's birthday parties, but I have seen many an adult eat more of these than they probably should! 

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Butterfly Cakes with home-made Cherry Jam
 
Recipe Type: Nigella Lawson's fairy cakes
Author: Kitchen Diva
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Ingredients
  • For the cakes:
  • 125 g self raising flour
  • 125g very soft unsalted butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs (free range)
  • 1-2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons milk
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients apart from the milk in the bowl of a food processor or Thermomix and blitz until smoothly combined. Then add milk and blitz again until you have a smooth dropping consistency.
  2. Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for 15-20 minutes until tops are risen and golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
  3. Using a small pointed knife (serrated if you have one) carefully remove a cone-shaped piece from the centre top of each cake, and cut into two halves (these are the wings).
  4. Fill the cavity with jam of your choice (in this case home made in the Thermomix using an adaptation of a David Lebovitz recipe) and with whipped cream, slightly sweetened with icing sugar. Carefully place the two 'wings' back onto the sponge and garnish with icing sugar, and in this case, Raspberry Dust from Summer Sensations (another blog post)...
  5. Some of the decorative paper cupcake cases on the market are porous, and butter may seep through during cooking, spoiling their appearance. Avoid this by using double liners - I use inexpensive white ones placed inside the decorative ones (see photo).