Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Easter gifts...

Are people moving away from bought chocolate eggs? Whenever I go to the supermarket, I doubt it. There are rows and rows of foil-wrapped, perfectly formed delicious goodness. But they are all the same, can be snaffled down in a matter of minutes and can lack a personal touch. Plus my sister-in-law has inspired me as she wants to give fair-trade eggs and is on the hunt for the perfectly sized ones.

Now the fella and I don't feel compelled to give each other eggs. We would be okay with a hot cross bun instead, or a block of chocolate even... And with my girlfriends we tend to make things for each other. Last year being so far away I made an enormity of fabric "eggs" (really misshapen balls), took a photo and sent it off. As for this year...

The first thing I've had the energy to create has been these Easter cup-cakes. Why they are associated with Easter, I'm not sure to be honest. They came from a Coles catalogue a few years ago labeled as "Easter Mud Muffins". I have changed them a little, make them as cakes and think they look swell with a little Easter decoration. If you are going to call a baked good "Easter ---" it should at least have some connection through decoration, don't you think? So when a girlfriend came to tea, she left with a few of these. And the fella keeps sneaking them out of the fridge. The container this morning had only five left! There were originally 17, with some given away also... but only five left!

My next Easter baking adventure I hope will be an Easter nest cake. I've then got Russian Easter bread to make for a family gathering. The kitchen, here I come.

Easter Cup Cakes
Makes 16 or so

100g butter
100 g chocolate, broken up
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c plain flour
3 tbs baking powder
2 tbs cocoa powder
3/4 c apricots, diced
1/2 c walnuts, roughly chopped

Pre-heat oven to 160* C. Line a 1/2 c cupcake/muffin tray with papers.

Combine butter, chocolate and sugar in a saucepan. Melt over a low-medium heat. Remove from heat.

Stir in the milk, followed by the eggs once the mixture is not boiling hot. Sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa, stirring to combine. Fold in the apricots and walnuts. Spoon mixture into the prepared tin, filling to 3/4 full or so.

Bake in the oven for around 18-25 minutes, checking after 18 to see if they are cooked. Rotate the tray if you want to also. Remove and cool for around 5 minutes before turning cupcakes onto a rack to cool completely.

Butter Icing
Makes enough to generously ice these cupcakes

3/4 c butter
2 c icing sugar
2 tbs cocoa

In your mixer, beat the butter until very light and white in colour. This will take at least 5 minutes. Add the icing sugar and beat for a further 5 minutes until the icing is very light and fluffy and smooth. Add the cocoa, mix until combined throughout.

Spread mixture generously over the tops of the cakes. Decorate with an Easter egg or similar if you want to.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who am I - flavours with a twist...

What are they?

They are versatile and are a perfectly legitimate excuse to eat cake for breakfast.

They freeze well.

They don't mind being warmed in the microwave.

They can be made with just about everything or anything in the cupboard.

They work well with coffee.

Muffins! So tasty! So easy to prepare. So readily transformed by whatever ingredients take your fancy. Like today. I had some sour cream in the fridge that needed to be used. There were also some stalks of rhubarb floating around. And surely there was some chocolate tucked away somewhere. Twenty minutes later I had made a delectable snack that would feed us both for the next few days. And what a combination. Bitter depth of dark chocolate, tang of the rhubarb. And the combination of colours won me over too - pink and brown, so irresistible. I must confess, I've eaten more than my fair share today...

Rhubarb and Chocolate Muffins

Makes 12

1 3/4 c plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
1 stalk rhubarb, diced finely
3/4 c chocolate, in bits
30 g butter, softened
1 c sour cream
2 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180* C. Line a muffin tray with paper cases.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and mix to combine. Stir in the rhubarb and chocolate.

In a separate bowl combine the butter, sour cream and eggs. Mix this mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring minimally to combine. Scoop generously into the muffin trays, close to full really.

Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, checking and turning in the oven after 8 minutes. Remove from oven, leave to cool slightly in their tray for 5 minutes before turning onto a rack to cool.

Eat within 2 days, or else store muffins in the freezer for a rainy day.

Inspired by a recipe from the Trinity Church Cookbook.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hotties for Easter...

Seasonal baking, great in theory but challenging to implement in practice. Whenever Christmas comes around I'm too exhausted from the year to prepare those puddings in advance, to make the fruit mince and then the pies, to roll and cut out Christmas tree cookie decorations, to lovingly prepare jars of jam as gifts. I always want to, but struggle in the end. Similarly with Valentine's Day or St Patrick's. Not that Aussies are really in to these "holidays".

But with Easter I try to make the effort. We have traditions for Thursday night, with fish pie and the Passion of the Christ dvd. I get home and poach fish in stock, layer it in a dish, make a milky sauce, boil potatoes and place the lucious pie into the oven. By this time it is almost 9 p.m. and who is keen on eating anyway. But the pie and any leftover peas get us through the weekend, between visits to families where we are stuffed full of lamb.

And the best culinary delight of Easter? Has to be the hottie. Yum oh! How I love hot cross buns. Light morsels, speckled with fruit, flavoured with spices, that white cross on the top which is beging to be picked off and eaten first. This is one thing I make yearly, and indeed weekly in the month leading up to Easter. Just whipping up our second batch for the season now.

Hot Cross Buns
Makes up to 20 or so

1/4 c water
4 tsp dried yeast
2 tbs sugar
4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
3 tsp spices
At least 1 c dried fruit
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c milk
1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour, extra
2 tsp sugar, extra
more water
1/4 c sugar, again extra
1/8 c water, heated

Combine 1/4 c water, yeast and 2 tbs sugar in a bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside for around 10 minutes to get started. This kicks the yeast process along, but is not entirely necessary. Feel free to simply tip the yeast (forget the water and sugar) in with the flour at the next step.

Combine flour, 1/2 c sugar, spices and dried fruit in a bowl. The spices should be ground if dried. They can include any flavours you like. Most recently I've been using cinnamon, dried ginger and the zest of an orange. Cardamom or nutmeg is also nice. With the dried fruit, chop it up finely and use tasty combinations. Nothing beats currents and sultanas, but dried apricots, pears and figs are great too.

Add the yeasty mix, the eggs along with the milk and butter. But first combine the milk and butter in a microwave safe container and heat gently for 30 seconds. This will soften your butter and again help with the yeast process of things being warm and at the optimal temperature to rise! Kneed until the dough is soft and elastic, either on the bench by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook (I use the mixer).

Lightly grease a bowl, place dough in it, cover and leave in a warm spot to prove for around an hour. The mixture will double in size.

Punch down the dough, divide the mixture in half and then form from this into small balls of around 7 cm diameter. This is not absolutely required, but easy to achieve if you keep on dividing the dough in half until you have nice little bun-sized balls. Place on a lined baking tray, cover and leave to prove for a further 30-40 minutes. Turn on the oven at this time to 180* C.

Mix together the extra flour, sugar and water to form a paste. Using a piping bag or some other device, use this paste to form crosses on top of the buns. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Meanwhile combine the sugar and hot water. When the buns come out of the over, brush this sugary glaze over the top of the buns. Leave to cook somewhat before tearing appart, smothering with butter and eating with greedy passion.

Recipe adapted from too many sources, now just my own.

Christ is Risen!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Market treats and pasta for tea...

The markets were turning to autumn this week. Less stone fruit, and what is left has some wear and tear. Beautiful plums though, those late bloomers. And lots of delicious pears. Plus apples coming in. An a pomegranate or two. Yum oh! And the last of the tomatoes. I was thinking about buying a bucket load and making relish. Will have to wait until another day I'm afraid though. What I did pick up was a kilo of olives. My ideas a rolling as I dream of what to do with them. They will need to be rested in brine for a good while before I do any further taste creating, but oh well.

When I got home, all the ingredients were put into the fridge and other things were created. Time for hot cross buns, or those without the crosses known has hot tasty buns. Some pasta all' amatriciana for lunches tomorrow. Two oranges on the boil to later on pulp and make into a cake. Fancy some pasta lunches too?

Pasta All' Amatriciana
Serves 4

good splash of olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
6 rashes bacon or 150 g pancetta, diced
1 tsp paprika - smokey and hot is best
1/2 c white wine or chicken stock
400 g tin diced tomatoes
1/2 c water
1 tbs dried chilli or 1 fresh chilli
300 g pasta - fusilli is best, but use what you have (e.g spagetti)
cheese to serve

Heat the oil in a wide, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, stir and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add the meat and paprika, stir again and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine or stock, simmer for a few minutes until reduced.

Add the tomatoes, water and chilli. Season to taste. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, until thickened.

Mean while, cook the pasta according to packet instructions.

Toss pasta together with the sauce mix. Serve topped with cheese and salt as needed.

Adapted from Australian Table Magazine, August 2007.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A bush holiday breakfast...

We had a simply lovely, delayed Labour Day long weekend away. Yep, went to the country on Monday night, came home mid-Wednesday. It meant we missed the traffic, and the house belonging to friends was available for a retreat. How lovely to do lots of holiday things - sleeping in, a snuggley doona to burrow under, sitting by the fire reading and knitting, playing our new board game until the cows come home, seeing rabbits bound around the yard, dreaming of having my own holiday house in the country one day...

And baking.

With yeast.

On holidays.

Surely this is too much work, you are thinking. Normally I would agree to. But I wasn't the one doing the baking. I was the one doing the eating. Yum. That's right. The fella baked. Firstly, he made a walnut-speckled round of bread. Great with blue cheese. Then while I was napping, he whipped up a batch of biscuits - with more of those walnuts, along with chunks of white and milk chocolate (I'm planning on giving this recipe a test as it was a bit of a winner). Then he made pizza dough.

By this stage we were both exhausted and fell asleep (that's me going to sleep again after a long nap). So no pizza was had. Which left us with options for breakfast. In our house, holidays normally mean bacon and eggs but with left over pizza dough what were we to do?

Breakfast calzone anyone?
Breakfast Calzones
Serves 4 generously

Pizza dough
2 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
4 tbs warm water
2 c plain flour
1 egg
2 1/2 tbs milk
1 tsp salt

4 tbs tomato paste
1 tomato
4 rashes short bacon
4 eggs
8 balls bambini boconccini

To make the dough, combine yeast, sugar and water in a bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside for a little while to get the yeast kick started. The mixture should froth and form a funky looking top. Sift the flour into a bowl or onto the bench (if you are feeling al naturale), make a well in the centre. Add the remaining dough ingredients, along with the yeasty mix. Slowly bring in the sides until combine. Turn out and kneed for a good 10 minutes (or simply undertake this entire process in your mixer for very little effort and reduced time).

Oil a bowl, place the dough in it and turn to grease the dough. Cover and leave to prove in a warm place for an hour, until large and risen and fluffy. Pound down, gently kneed and leave to prove again for a further thirty minutes or so. If you are doing this the night before, place into the fridge to prove overnight.

-heat the oven to 180* C. Line two baking trays with paper.

Divide dough into quarters. Roll out gently to form ovals. Place the ovals onto the trays. Cover half of each oval with a tablespoon of tomato paste. Dice tomato and combine with diced bacon. Sprinkle this mix over the tomato paste on each of the ovals, trying to make a wall around the edges. Crack an egg into the centre of each calzone - hence the need for the bacon and tomato wall. Break up the boconccini and scatter over the top, season with a good grind of pepper. Fold the ingredient-free half over the filled half, pressing the edges to seal. If you have a leak of egg, brush this over the top of the sealed calzones.

Bake in the oven for around fifteen minutes, until golden and cooked through. Leave to cool on trays for around five minutes, before enjoying with some Tabasco or relish.

Dough recipe from Marie Claire Kitchen.