Tuesday, September 26, 2017

give it a go: the very best focaccia

Well, now that I dusted off this situation let's see what else has been lingering in draft form.  Here's a great tragedy, you could have been baking this ridiculously good focaccia for the last few years.  But unless you also own the excellent cookbook from Flour in Boston,  well, you have been missing this recipe for easy and amazing focaccia.  We are here today to remedy the situation.  Homemade focaccia should be started mid day for serving for dinner.  It will take you about 20 minutes to make the dough followed by at least an hour and a half to rise and less than half an hour to bake.  It can be on your table in just under 3 hours.  So worth the small effort and short wait.

You really need to be comfortable with olive oil as an ingredient.  So much information out there about cooking oils.  Oh, and flour, because you know this is bread so it is mainly flour.  Clearly I am not afraid of either.  Anyway, you use a half-cup of olive oil here which I guarantee is the reason this recipe is so good.  Find yourself an olive oil that you really enjoy because it's flavor will be front and center here.  Try some smaller producers.  Maybe shop around where they let you taste test.  Make a pilgrimage to Zingerman's in Ann Arbor where you can truly try anything.  And you should.  Trust me.  Try all the foods.  Go hungry.  For my Australian friends, Harris Farm offers an olive oil from the Hunter Valley, Rosto, which is not too dear but is a workhorse in my kitchen.  I usually buy the "mellow" variety.  This is the same olive oil I use for my olive oil cake.  Well, it's the same one I use to dip my fresh bread in, the one I toss in my pasta and the one I usually use for salads (we never ever have bottled salad dressing, it's just a thing for me).  I stock up within reason when it is on sale, but it's not wine and does not benefit from resting, so keep that in mind.

What I like about this recipe is the tender crumb.  It's very soft when baked, but you can easily slice or tear it.  You can even slice it horizontally to use for sandwiches or paninis.  I love to make it and then serve it with a super easy warm dish of marinara/pasta sauce topped with rounds of goat cheese and maybe a few matching fresh herbs and baked until bubbly.  It will last a couple of days at room temperature, but freeze or refrigerate it after that if by some strange occurrence it has not all been consumed.  I made this batch mainly for photos for this blog and half of it is in the freezer because I could easily finish it off and no amount of ocean swimming and headland hikes can balance out an entire focaccia for one person.

A note on the flour:  I use all-purpose flour, but look for one with a fairly high protein content.  Here in Australia, Healthy Baker all-purpose flour has about 10 grams of protein which is a similar protein profile to bread flour.  The original recipe calls for 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1cup bread flour which I have used to good results in the states.  But I just don't keep bread flour here.  We battle things like small pantries and the dreaded pantry moths, so keeping all-purpose and whole-wheat flours is enough for me.  (the little nuisance pests here are more worrisome than all the ones that can kill you, I know you've seen the Buzzfeeds about how everything in Australia will kill you.  Maybe, but your more likely to be annoyed by the ones that are not lethal).  Now, I do buy a lower protein flour if I'm baking fine layer cakes that do not need the structure high protein flours bring to bread recipes.  In Australia, White Wings flours are generally low protein (around 3-4 grams).  A little science for you.   Also note:  don't let me fool you into thinking our small pantry isn't really half-full of baking things, it totally is even without the bread flour.

You can make this using a stand mixer, but I don't have mine (it is being well-loved in the kitchen of a dear friend while I am away) with me and have turned out lovely ones with just stirring and kneading by hand.  Not hard.  Just take off your rings (and please put them somewhere safe that you will remember where you put them, not saying this is a problem for me or you but....).  Depending on the weather (really, the heat and humidity have a whole lot to say about yeast breads), it takes about 5 minutes or less to knead the dough by hand in the bowl until it feels even and smooth and a little sticky.

Give it a go.  You'll make it all the time.  Feel free to top it with herbs or cheese or knead some in if you like.  I like it plain, but that's just me.  Well, not really.  I'm hardly plain.  But this recipe is very nice in it's simple form.

The Very Best Focaccia

1 tsp active dry yeast
5 tsp sugar (caster sugar), divided
4 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt (sea salt)
1/2 C olive oil (120 ml)
small handful of fine cornmeal or semolina for dusting the baking paper/sheet

Measure 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) tepid water (very warm, just hot, not boiling) and stir in the yeast and 2 teaspoons of the sugar.  Let rest for a couple of minutes until it starts to build bubbles and foam.  If this does not happen, you may need fresher yeast or a little water temperature adjustment.

In a large bowl, measure out the 3 cups of the flour, remaining 3 teaspoons sugar and salt.  Stir or whisk to combine.  Add in the bubbly water mixture and stir (or use that stand mixer) until mostly worked in and shaggy.  Slowly add in olive oil and stir (or mix).  Don't worry, you will knead it all together.  Add in maybe half of the remaining cup of flour and start kneading.  Just grab that dough and pull it around and push it down and do it again.  If the dough gets too sticky, add the remaining flour in a little at time.  I like my dough just a little sticky, workable but not dry.  I do not always use all of the flour (really depends on a lot of things like heat and humidity).  This dough seems super forgiving.  I don't think you can do it wrong.  I usually work it around for 5 minutes give or take until it's smooth.  If you don't generally knead bread, keep going.  Look at the dough and feel it.  It really does smooth out as you go along.

Lift up the ball of dough and pour a little olive oil on your hands and grease the side and bottom of the bowl a bit so the dough does not stick when it rises.   Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (not essential if you are opposed to single-use plastics and you should be, take it from someone who swims in the ocean every day) and/or a tea towel.  Place covered dough in a warm draft-free place to double in size (at least an hour and a half).  Here's a little hint, our house herein be very cold with early spring and no heat (that's right, no heat and let me tell you how many times you wake up and think, turn up the thermostat, hahahahaha) so I usually turn the oven on to a low heat for just a couple of minutes (really maybe 3 minutes enough to take the chill off, don't get it hot so you cook the dough), turn off the heat and place the covered dough in the very slightly warm oven to rise.

When the dough is doubled in size, uncover it and punch it down in the middle.  Line a baking sheet with parchment/baking paper.  Lightly sprinkle the paper with a little flour, fine corn meal or semolina (which, as far as I can tell is another name for fine corn meal).  Lightly flour your hands to and press the dough into a rectangle about 8 x10 inches/20 x 25 cm.  Fold the top edge down to the center of the square and bring up the bottom edge to meet in the center.  Press and seal the seam a bit. Now fold in the left side to the center and the right side to meet it.  Press the seam again.  Flip the folded dough over and shape it into a big rectangle about 12 x 18 inches/ 30 x 45 cm or really however you would like it.  Make it into an oval, a circle, two squares or whatever.  Let it rest and rise again covered loosely with plastic wrap and or a tea towel for about an hour.  (Note: if you are in a hurry or have run out of time you can bake it now without a second rise).

Preheat your oven to 400 F/ 200C.  When the dough has risen nicely (it really will look like a pillow), use your ringers to press and poke the top of the dough for a pebbly texture.  Bake for 30 min (up to 45, check it first around 25 min and if it's browning too fast on the top loosely cover it with foil) until the top and bottom are completely golden brown (it's easy to pick up a corner and check the bottom, just use a hot pad or something to protect your fingers).  Cool on the pan on a wire rack for a bit before slicing.  The focaccia will keep in a closed paper bag on your counter for 2-3 days or it can be tightly wrapped and frozen for a couple of weeks.  It's good toasted to refresh it if you have leftovers.

really poor photo of yeast and sugar bubbling in the tepid water
proofing yeast just like it is supposed to look, only a little blurry
see, the dough is even and smooth now at the end of kneading
covered bowl with rising dough
risen dough (it is sticky, flour your hands to dump it out and to shape it)
folding in the sides
folding down the top 

bottom folded up, that's just about as sealed as the seams need to be
after poking with all of my fingertips 
golden brown 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Look, I remember how to do this: apple galette


Time for a little post (ha, well past time) because this one has been sitting in draft stage for literally two years and every time I bake it I have to click my way through my working blog pages slightly annoyed at myself for not ever finishing the recipe for a fairly easy and really delicious apple galette.  For the record, galettes and crostatas are the same thing as least to me, rustic fold-over one crust vehicles for cooked fruit and possibly savory things.  The fastest way to pie and just the right amount for 4 to 6 people, well 8 people,  if your people are the "just a little slice" type.  No judgement on those people, but they'll probably want more if they take just take a little slice.   I recently served this after a big dinner and cleverly had enough leftover for a breakfast/coffee treat.  I have my ways.

You can make your own pie/galette dough and it is completely worth the small effort required.  This galette dough recipe is really about the technique.  Alice Waters of Chez Panisse surely knows her pastry so I have not adapted it really at all.  I usually make half a recipe because I have a small freezer m my small refrigerator, but if you have the room go ahead and make the full recipe and freeze one half of the dough for another galette of whatever flavor whenever you  feel like it.  Buy nice unsalted butter, I find a big difference in taste here in Australia.   My go to brand here is Devondale.  Quite nice.  You can see from my photos that I still have large bits of butter as I roll out the pastry.  Big bits of butter make for the flakiest pastry, and under-worked is much more tender than over-worked pastry.   I have dough ready for chilling in maybe ten minutes.  Give it a go.    

The apple filling is based on a recipe from Ina Garten.  That woman knows her desserts, so who am I to change the recipe much at all?  Sometimes I slice the apples thinly, but cutting them in chunks is a nice switch.  Australian markets offer fewer apple varieties (they are completely missing out)  and it's almost spring so not actually apple season down under.  But in America, you are all ready for the abundance of Autumn harvest and will be spoilt for choice,  as they say here.  So mix up your apples.  Go pick some and or buy some that are marked good for baking. Use a couple of each variety.  Here I used all Granny Smith (told you the varieties were lacking).  The apples are tossed with orange zest (oranges are in season here and so I used a nice big blood orange) and then sprinkled with a streusel.  Quite nice.

Serve your galette warm.  Make it early and leave it on your baking sheet to easily reheat it before serving or slide it in the oven before you sit down to dinner and have it ready and waiting for a little scoop of vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt or gelato.  Australians might serve it with double cream which goes on in a dollop.  Also quite nice.

Writer's note, after almost three years here in The Lucky Country, I feel the need to make some notes and conversions.  I also say things like "quite nice" and "give it a go" which are delightfully Australian to me.  I am well and truly at home here, but still switch very easily to whatever variety of the English language is spoken around me.  If only the math (maths as they say) conversions were as natural.

Apple Galette

Galette dough (yields two 12-inch galettes)
2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp granulated sugar (caster sugar)
1/4 tsp kosher salt (sea salt)
1/2 C ice water
10 T cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch pieces (160 g)

Again, this makes enough for two, so make a half batch or use one half and freeze the other.
Let the cold butter pieces soften just a bit (just minutes).  Test by pressing your finger on one of the pieces and if it presses easily but still remains cold and does not leave butter on your finger you are good to go.  If it's too soft, put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.  This is all for flakiness, but don't get too worked up about it.
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add the butter to the flour mixture and toss to coat the pieces.  Press the butter pieces with your thumb and forefinger one by one to flatten them.  When all the pieces are flattened, drizzle in half the water, mixing all the while with your fingers spread and curved a bit, raking the dry mix from the bottom to the top to evenly incorporate the water.  Continue this way until the dough starts to come together, breaking apart any large lumps of butter as you go.  try not to squeeze the dough together, as this activates the gluten in the flour and can make the dough tough.  Drizzle water over one tablespoon at a time and keep drizzling and raking until the dough looks moist and ropey with very little dry flour.  It will be forming a good ball by now.
Divide the dough in half (unless you halved the ingredients), shape into a ball and flatten into a disc pressing in any random lumps of butter.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least an hour and up to a day.  Extra dough can be stored in the freezer for a month or two.  Thaw frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator before using.

Apple Filling (for one galette)
1 1/2 pounds (750 g) pie apples (Granny Smith, Macintosh, Empire, Jonathon, Honeycrisp, etc)
1/2 tsp freshly grated orange zest (lemon would work too)
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C granulated, superfine or light brown sugar (caster sugar or light brown sugar in koala land)
1/4 tsp kosher salt (sea salt)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
4 T cold unsalted butter, diced (56 grams)
1egg white and a couple of T of milk along with a good sprinkle of sugar (coarse is pretty) for an optional egg wash and sugar sprinkle

Preheat oven to 425 F/ 200 C.

Peel, core and cut the apples in small chunks (cut each apple into maybe 4 wedges and chop each wedge into about 12 pieces, the number being unimportant what you want is relatively uniform chunk size.  Toss the apple chunks with the zest and set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and allspice.  Toss the butter into the mix and use your hands to work the butter into the mixture until you form little clumps about the size of peas.  Easily done in a food processor, but I make this in a low-tech, easy clean-up way.

Line a baking sheet with parchment/baking paper.  Lightly dust the paper with flour and lightly dust the disc of dough too.  Roll out your pastry into a circle about 14-inches in diameter.  Top the pastry with the apple chunks leaving a few inches around the edges (you will be folding up the crust to cover at least half the apples).  Top the apples with the streusel mixture  Work your way around the circle, gathering as you go and fold up the crust around the apples covering at leas half of them.  Use a fork to beat an egg white with a couple of tablespoons of milk and then brush the pastry with the egg wash.  Sprinkle the egg wash with some sugar.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until crust is golden and apples are tender (if the crust is browning too quickly, loosely cover with foil and continue baking).

rolled galette dough topped with apples

topped with streusel
see how it's not perfectly shaped?  that's what's perfect about it

sides folded up and gathered

egg washed and sprinkled with coarse sugar

Sunday, September 25, 2016

the Aussie edit: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

My little tiny Aussie oven needs two things:  a rest and a cleaning.  Apparently it is swimmer birthday season and that has meant many warm hours of baking for my wee oven.   Pretty sure the baking of treats has contributed very little to the need for a good cleaning, but it's time.  And the self-cleaning function is conspicuously absent on the dial.  Time for some Google searching of environmentally safe ways to clean an oven that can't clean itself.  Poor thing, can't take care of itself.     Old school oven cleaners could be the death of me, I don't remember them and their fumes fondly.  When you spend 40 minutes every day cruising the gorgeous ocean, you get a little more environmentally responsible.

Here's a little rundown of good things that have come out of my oven recently:  Fig Bars (because Fig Newtons are not a thing here and I kind of love them), Birthday Banana Rum Cake (because boozy cakes are fun), Crumb Cake (my original claim to fame-an updated version with a better cake layer and improved crumb to be posted), Mushroom Leek Lasagne (oh hey, sometimes I actually make a main dish and yep, need to post this one too), Mini Chocolate Chocolate Chip Donuts (add some chopped chips to the basic recipe and dust with icing/confectioner's sugar because your friend's little ones get ridiculously excited when you bring them), Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake (the eventual recipe in the post) and Blueberry Brioche (because everyone needs a challenge and blueberries were relatively inexpensive last week and I do mean relatively because they are about 10 cents US a berry and yes, no post for this yet it was an experiment).  

Logistically,  baked goods are easier to share.  And holistically they need to be shared, that list up there would demand more kilometers in the water than is humanly possible.  And baked goods go well with coffee after a swim in chilly (or fresh, in Australian) water.  It took me years to share the recipe for my original version of crumb cake.  There was some magic in being the one swimmer mom with the recipe.  It was a bit selfish.  I'll own up to that.  But now I share pretty freely.  Especially easy to share with my Australian friends who keep trying to rename things I bake because a lot of American baking barely translates.  Bars are slices.  Sure they are.  A donut shop just opened in Manly and one donut is $6.  Sure they are.  Donuts are not $6 baked goods, just so you know, you crazy  people.  Even the one that looks like a certain US Presidential candidate with fairy floss (cotton candy) for hair.  I should be careful who I call crazy.

Let's update the olive oil cake recipe, shall we?  As previously discussed, this olive oil cake is the result of a quest begun after Kelly sent me the most amazing cake from the most amazing Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a birthday when she lived in LA and I lived in Indianapolis.  Look them up online and especially if you ever visit Ann Arbor.  They too do more than bake.  (But side note:  as I was looking up Zingerman's mail order I noticed two things:  1.  It's Rosh Hashanah next Sunday and an early Shanah Tova to my Jewish friends and 2. Zingerman's makes a Buckwheat Honey Cake and I think I need one, whatever it is).  This is now olive oil cake version 4 from my kitchen.  Blood orange season is sadly almost over in Australia.  Any citrus would work, but I have found consistency in sweetness of zest and juice with blood oranges where with lemons and other orange varieties bitterness sometimes shows up when I least like it-maybe the bitter white pith is too easy to nick when zesting, not sure).  If you have tasted a nice blood orange olive oil from a small batch producer at a market or in your travels and you happen to have some in your pantry you can sub out maybe 1/4 of the plain fruity olive oil for the flavored oil.  You probably paid a bit of a dear price for that oil, so keep that in mind.  I always have at least two plain olive oils on hand.  If the label uses "fruity" as a descriptor maybe buy some and give it a try if it's not too expensive.  Bold and peppery oils are not what you are looking for in this sweet recipe.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake (or Olive Oil Cake V4)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 C almond flour (you can use 3 C all purpose flour, but this is V4 for a reason)
1 1/2 C sugar (castor sugar for my Aussie friends)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (sea salt for the Aussies)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 C fruity extra-virgin olive oil (or 3/4 C fruity extra-virgin olive oil and 1/4 C blood orange flavored small batch olive oil)
1 C milk (any fat content, I use skim because that's what is in my refrigerator)
3 large eggs (I use 600g eggs, but the more common 700g eggs here are probably fine)
2 T grated blood orange zest (rinse and dry the skin and zest your orange before you juice it)
juice of one small blood orange (no seeds)
1/4 C Grand Marnier
3/4 C sliced almonds (almond flakes)

Preheat oven to 350F or 180C.  Spray a 9 or 10-inch round cake pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  In a medium bowl whisk together the olive oil(s), milk, eggs, juice, zest and Grand Marnier.  Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together until just combined, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and whisk quickly again.  Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the almonds.  Bake for one hour, until top is golden and cake tester comes out clean (or center of cake bounces back when lightly pressed).  I usually have to tent my cake with foil about a half hour in because that cute little oven of mine only holds a steady temperature on the convection setting and I didn't go to all the trouble and expense to burn the top of the cake-so check your cake about half way through (also, use your nose it will probably tell you something like, "Hey your cake might be about to burn, smell it getting nice and toasty?).  Transfer the cake in the pan to a cooling rack and let it cool 30 minutes.  Run a knife around the pan and invert it onto a serving plate if desired.  If you keep it in the pan, it will steam a bit and this is really kind of a good thing.  It's a moist cake regardless.

I recently stored my leftover cake covered in the refrigerator and reheated already sliced pieces on a baking tray at 300F/155 C and the pieces got a bit crisped up on the edges and it was pretty nice that way, so you could toast it but I wouldn't count on slices holding together in a toaster.  Use a baking sheet and parchment or foil for maybe 10 minutes.

This is Version 3, but Version 4 looks just the same.  Cheers.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

the most gorgeous coconut cake

Perhaps you've seen the posts of this gorgeous cake of mine.  I mean......the cake that is to date the very best cake I have ever baked and I don't think it's just because I served it on a sunny winter morning at the beach with champagne and raspberries although those are a fantastically good circumstances.  Cheers to one of my best swimming friends, Dee and to her husband Peter's brilliant suggestion of a coconut cake with some fruit flavor for her birthday celebration.  The big day is also World Ocean Day which brings the whole thing rather full circle.

I have never baked a coconut cake, but have tried many so I knew what I wanted to happen but had no idea I'd pull it off on my first attempt.  I combined at least three recipes for this one.  The cake batter was fairly easy and would be good on it's own or with some other icing arrangement.  The lemon curd is standard and easy as long as you do not get distracted (you can focus on one thing for 10 minutes, I assure you, or you'll have to zest and juice again plus who keeps that many lemons around unless you have a tree like many people do here and I am jealous).  The real buttercream is worth the effort and a little counterintuitive.  More butter than sugar unlike quick buttercream with powdered/confectioner's/icing sugar, but here it is absolutely a good measure of the success of this recipe.  I did bake this cake and make the curd in the afternoon and then returned to the buttercream and assembly in the evening post pre-birthday bubbles and it still turned out beautifully.   Allow a good 40 minutes or so for the buttercream making and cake assembly, you may not need it but not being rushed would help.

Since I baked this on a dreary day and finished it at night in my already dark kitchen, there are no process photos.  I could bake another one this week just for the pictures, and I might.  But we are just one week past a huge storm that left the ocean unfit for swimming and if I'm not swimming a mile every day, I possibly do not need a gorgeous cake in the house.  Possibly.  It's very chilly here this morning so there is a high probability that baking will happen if for no other reason than to warm up the house.  Or I will do what I'm doing now, snuggled up to an outdoor heater at my cafe home writing and not being cold.  Such a different life I have right now.  Kind of like it if you haven't heard.

Coconut Cake
6 egg whites at room temperature (reserve two of the egg yolks for the lemon curd)
1 1/3 C coconut milk (basically a can's measure)
2 tsp vanilla
4 C flour (all purpose is fine, cake flour works too)
2 C sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
16 T (228g) unsalted butter, room temperature
Lemon Curd
Sweetened flake coconut to decorate (at least 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350F or 180C.  Prepare two round cake pans (8 or 9-inch, whatever you have) lining the bottoms with parchment and then spraying bottom and sides with non-stick spray.
In a medium bowl whisk together the egg whites, coconut milk and vanilla until combined.  Set aside.  In a stand mixer (oh, how I miss my KitchenAid) or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer (current state of affairs), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt at low speed.  Add in the butter at low speed increasing to medium.  Note:  this did not work for me with my hand mixer, but maybe my butter was too cold so I had to add a little of the liquid mixture to get everything working.  Add in the liquid mixture in three parts, scraping down sides and beating for 30 seconds after each addition.  Scrape batter into prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake cakes for 30-40 minutes or until a tester in the center comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes and then invert onto baking racks to cool completely.  

Lemon Curd
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
3/4 C sugar (caster sugar in Australian terms)
1/3 C (80g) cold unsalted butter
zest and juice of 2 lemons

Whisk eggs, yolk and sugar in a small saucepan until smooth then turn the heat to low.  Add in the butter, juice and zest and stir to melt butter.  Keep whisking continuously over low heat until thickened, maybe 5-10 minutes.  Curd will thicken a bit more upon chilling but get it good and thick over the heat first.  Strain through a sieve into a bowl or jar.  Cover and refrigerate until needed.


1 1/2 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1 1/2 C milk (I used skim because that is what I had)
1/3 C heavy cream
1 1/2 C (340g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour and sugar.  Add the milk and cream and whisk frequently over medium heat until mixture comes to boil and thickens or about 10 minutes.  Transfer the hot mixture to a stand mixer bowl (or mixing bowl with hand mixer) and beat on high until cool, about 8-10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add in the butter a few pieces at a time until fully incorporated.  Add in vanilla.  Turn up the speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy.  Note:  I actually had to add in 1/2 C or powdered sugar to get the consistency I wanted but that could have just been me and my hand mixer problems.

Place one cake layer on serving plate.  Thickly cover with lemon curd stopping before the edges to allow for the second layer to spread the curd a bit.  Top with the second layer.  Frost with buttercream and a spreader thickly coating the top and sides of the cake.  Press on coconut.  This is messy business, keep at it and clean up the cake plate at the very end.  Keep refrigerated.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

winter baking: pumpkin olive oil cake with browned butter glaze

So very blustery, so very dark on an early winter's night along the Tasman Sea with an East Coast Low angrily rolling through this weekend.  Finally settling in for the evening after spending much of the day securing our property because our patio furniture is menacingly moving every which way, the party lights are swinging off the tree and the wind and rain are blowing right through our big sliding glass doors.  Here's something you don't think about when you move around the planet:  you have no old towels to use as rags.  No ratty t-shirts when you get into something messy.  No old shoes to slog through a muddy trail.  Now, we've been abroad 20 months and thanks to a brutal old washing machine and countless hikes we've got some things we can sacrifice.  But not heaps.  It's too dark to worry about it.  As Greg said (from summery Shanghai), it's a good night to live in a concrete bunker on a cliff.  That is a fairly accurate assessment right now of our apartment that on summer days would be really offended by that description.  In other words, I'm hunkered down (praying for daylight, as the family saying goes) with time and inclination to finish this post I started last week. 

Last week when I was winding down autumn and you were most likely welcoming summer heat.  Let me review, seasons here do not officially change with the sun and the moon, but rather with the first of a month on a quarterly basis, hence the very practical start of winter in Australia is June first  instead of the more traditional (to Americans) June twenty-first (you know, the one based on actual science of the earth's tilt and rotation).  So it's chilly and it's pumpkin season, but pureed pumpkin is not sold in cans (or tins) here so to bake anything pumpkin you first need to roast a whole pumpkin and then puree it yourself.  It's not hard, but it's certainly not as easy as opening a can or tin, as they are called here.  So far every tin I have encountered has a pull top so you wouldn't even need a can opener for your pumpkin puree if it could be bought, which it can not so never mind how easy that would be.   

So I bought a pumpkin, cut it in half, scraped out the seeds, brushed it with a little bit of canola oil and roasted it face up in a medium hot oven (400 F or 200 F) for about half an hour (until tender when the flesh was poked with a fork).  After about 10 minutes, the flesh could be scooped out and then pureed with a stick blender (or stand mixer or blender or whatever you have).  Pumpkin baking crisis averted.  

The whole baking with browned butter thing is still a very strong trend at my house.  The single-layer cake gets all trendy with olive oil in the batter and browned butter in the icing.  Slice by slice, it's disappearing rapidly being delicious with breakfast, tea of as a dessert.  If it's just about summer where you are, file this one away and bake it up in a few months.  Enjoy your summer and all the fresh fruit desserts.  Have something with luscious ripe peaches for me.  


1/2 C white sugar (I know white sugar is the devil, substitute if you must)
1/4 C light or dark brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 C pumpkin puree
2 T milk
1/2 C nice fruity olive oil
1 C flour (also the devil, substitute away)
1 C whole wheat flour 
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamon (optional)
1/2 tsp salt

3 T unsalted butter
1-2 C powdered/icing sugar
2 T milk
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 F or 180 C.  Line an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan with parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamon (if using).  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, using a stand or hand mixer on medium high speed beat sugars and eggs together until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in pumpkin puree and milk until combined.  Lower the speed of your mixer to avoid a big splashy mess, and slowly add in the olive oil.  Scrape down the sides and slowly mix in half of the flour mixture.  Scrape again and add the other half of the flour mixture until well-combined.  Pour batter into prepared cake tin (see, I've been here a while automatically typing tin instead of pan).  Bake 25-30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean from the center of the cake.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully invert the cake onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Prepare glaze by melting butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring a bit and watching it carefully until it just starts to smell nutty and turn chestnut brown (this might happen in just one part of the pan, that's good enough).  Turn off heat and take pan off burner to avoid scorching the butter.  Cool slightly.  Whisk together powdered sugar, browned butter and pinch of salt (just a little one to bring it all together and cut the sweetness) adding milk a tablespoon at a time until the glaze is pourable or spreadable (however you like it).  Pour or spread over cooled cake.  Can be stored at room temperature.  

Try not to eat the whole thing in one day.  I think it took us two days with some help from lovely guests and great restraint on the part of all four of us.  Sorry for the lack of photos, it's very dark in my kitchen this time of year and well, we ate the cake so quickly I only got a good photo of the very last piece. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

purple rain day: maple oatmeal coffee break bread

Here I type in the middle of a moody grey afternoon in paradise, after a wake-up text I didn't see coming that just knocked me a little sideways and left me tuned into Double J's commercial free Australian state radio all-day, all-Prince broadcast.  The first time Greg and I saw him live was the night after he won the Oscar for Purple Rain.  Man.  1985.  The year I graduated from Purdue.  I was supposed to be lining up interviews in downtown Hartford, Connecticut so I put on my interview suit and pumps and went straight to stand in line at Ticketmaster for two tickets that were barely in the newlywed budget.  Don't worry, I graduated with a job but first we went to a crazy good Prince concert.  Fast forward 31 years to our second Prince concert just two months ago at the Sydney Opera House.  This time I was supposed to be getting my morning rice milk flat white, which I did but shortly thereafter I found out he was playing his "Piano and a Microphone" tour that night and within minutes I was online buying two tickets that were probably still out of the budget but, you know.

Let me give you a visual.  The small stage is dark with just a few cast iron candelabras on the periphery.  A golden light shines through the stage door with a silhouetted Prince in all of his Prince glory with a cane by his side.  And that's all he had to do.  Appear.  We were spellbound for the next two hours.  He'd stop mid-song and just strut the stage with his light-up shoes like my kids loved when they were little.  He had a wicked sense of humor.  He was ridiculously prolific, so we didn't know all the songs but it mattered not at all, we were completely immersed in the magic.

This has virtually nothing to do with this recipe other than the fact that I'm so intent on enjoying the Prince thing they've got going on the radio that I might as well write.  It's autumn here in my current hemisphere and warm enough to swim, but cool enough to bake. And so yesterday morning I baked two dozen of my famous buttermilk mini donuts (one dozen chocolate-espresso with powdered sugar and one dozen vanilla with a bit of nutmeg dipped hot into melted butter and cinnamon sugar) to share with my swim friends as we sat and drank our coffee and warmed up in the bright sun. Yesterday evening I roasted cauliflower for dinner, kept on roasting and threw rhubarb/vanilla bean/orange juice/brown sugar in a pan for muesli topping and lowered the heat for today's cake recipe.  The flavors or maple and oatmeal just sounded good (because it does get chilly in Sydney, it's paradise but we have seasons).  I had buttermilk that I couldn't open properly for the donuts and felt compelled to use it up rather than repackaging it after I had to slice open the top (hate that).  I had some nice walnuts to toast and searched for some ideas online.  It was getting late, so something one bowl, no mixer and one pan baking would be just right.  It's dark now by 5:30, so my ability to stay awake (even without the jet-lag) without Greg home to nudge me, is seriously in doubt past 8:00. With this soundtrack, I'm good to go tonight.  I'll get some words down with the occasional dance break.  You can't sit when they play "Let's Go Crazy".  Well you can, but why would you.  Almost my entire life here in Australia is of the "dance like no one is watching" theme.  If they're watching, I hope they can hear the digital radio.  It would explain a lot.

So here you go, this is a hybrid of things I found online and things I bake often.  It's a good little loaf that could be toasted.  It's definitely made for coffee and or tea.  It's not too sweet.  It's not overly indulgent.  Pretty sure it will keep nicely if that's something that actually happens at your house.

Rest in peace, Prince.  Thanks for the soundtrack to my 20's that's carried on through to my 50's nicely.  Thanks for being.  Thanks for that Super Bowl halftime show.  You'll be missed.  Too bad you could never stop by for some cake.  "Oh no, let's go....."

Maple Oatmeal Coffee Break Bread

2 C old-fashioned oats, not quick cooking
1 1/2 C flour (white, whole wheat or mixed)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 C maple syrup
1 C buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 C brown sugar
4 T melted and lightly browned butter (melted butter, not borwned is fine too)
1/2 C walnut pieces, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 350 F or 180 C.  Coat loaf pan with non-stick spray.

While warming up oven, lightly toast walnuts on parchment paper on a baking sheet (5-10 minutes, keep a watch on them) or lightly toast them in a dry non-stick pan over medium heat on a cooktop.  Cool slightly and quickly chop them in the food processor.

Process the oats until coarse, maybe 30 seconds.  Empty into large mixing bowl, leaving about 1/2 C in the food processor to process into a finer flour texture.  Pour into the mixing bowl and whisk together with the flour(s), soda, baking powder, and salt.  

Measure maple syrup into a liquid measuring cup and add buttermilk, vanilla and eggs.  Whisk together and pour into flour mixture along with the browned or melted butter. Whisk or stir together the batter until just well-combined.  Stir in the walnuts.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake 45-50 min or until tester in the center comes out clean.  Remove pan from oven and cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Turn out onto the rack and turn again to finish cooling right side up.

Sydney Opera House sails lit purple at dusk on our ferry ride in for the Prince concert 20 February, 2016

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Browned butter goodness: chocolate (and chai) buttermilk mini donuts

In preparation (and as therapy for the waiting) for our girls (plus one boyfriend) arriving Christmas morning dozens of little donuts have popped out of my oven spreading Christmas cheer around paradise.  Assuming all the ingredients are in my kitchen (because honestly, last Saturday they were not and I made 3 trips down the stairs past the beach and to the grocery all before noon but I was also baking cookies for which I kept forgetting something too), they take me less than half an hour to turn out.  So they are ostensibly quick, but it's the softness, the taste and the cuteness that keep me experimenting.  I started with chocolate with peanut butter glaze.  Peanut butter is particularly American; so when I asked one of my pint-sized Australian friends which flavor she would like, she chose chocolate with chocolate glaze (with snowflake sprinkles).  Then I wanted to try a little chai and almond flour riff on the Mexican wedding cake/Russian tea cake or whatever your family calls those little balls of flour, butter, sugar and nuts rolled in powdered sugar (which is icing sugar here, in case you need to decode the many sugar choices), I made a chai version.  Because when you are measuring out a bunch of spices, you might as well do it twice.

I am killing it on the parentheses in this post.  Sorry.  This is what happens when I take a big break from posting.  Words just everywhere.  Literally everywhere.  We are one year into this fun study abroad program also known as my husband's international assignment.  One year and maybe three posts?  Not exactly crushing my goals for keeping this little project going.  I honestly think if I had a gorgeous kitchen, I'd be posting more. But maybe not, it's hard to say.  I definitely would have posted more if my MacBook didn't spend the last few months in slow decline/barely functioning/getting almost completely rebuilt (under my Apple Care warranty, phew).  But maybe not, it's hard to say.

And it matters little why, because I'm writing now.  You need this donut recipe in your life.  You also will then need a little mini donut pan.  I had mini and regular-sized donut pans in the states, but did not move them.  My oven here is possibly not as wide as your microwave, so it's just as well that they are in storage.  I bought a cute little mini one made by Wilton here at Big W which is the general merchandise branch of Woolworth's which is a grocery chain in Australia.  You need the pan.  You might need a pastry bag, but I left that at home too so I use a ziploc bag with the corner cut at an angle to pipe the batter into the pan.  But I have used too many ziplocs, so I'll be buying a new pastry bag (saving the planet, as you do).  You also need buttermilk.  You may not regularly buy buttermilk, but it makes lovely moist baked goods, is tangy and light in smashed/mashed potatoes and makes a great marinade with onion, garlic and spices for chicken.  I'm a big fan.  Buy a small carton and mind the expiration date.  In the states, buttermilk is usually labled lowfat (good for a lot of reasons) and usually has a long life in the refrigerator.  Neither is a given here so I always buy the little carton and sometimes that means I have to run to the store one more time.

But the game changer here is the browned butter.  The nutty, caramel taste of the browned butter has radically improved these little baked donuts.  So much so that I baked a peanut butter snack cake last week just to see if substituting browned butter for the canola oil would be as good as it sounds like it would (it was).  Heat your butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat and keep an eye on it, maybe stir it but maybe not.  Just as soon as it starts to brown (you will see small flecks of brown in the otherwise golden butter), remove it from the heat. You can miss the golden brown, toasty flavor stage and careen towards an undesirable burnt appearance and taste pretty quickly.  It's not hard, I'm just telling you not to multitask away from the stove while you are browning the butter.  I'm making the assumption you have kitchen/housework ADD like me and can't simply stand at the stove and watch the butter brown with out some pain.  Put on some good music and stand there, well you can dance while you wait you don't just have to stand there for the 2-4 minutes this might take.

I have made these donuts so many times recently, I have the recipe all straight in my head.  It's baking so you actually have to measure correctly.  Cooking for me now rarely means a recipe or measuring, but baking demands precision.  I don't even double baking recipes very often.  I generally question the results if I were to exactly double the spices or double the leavening.  I'd rather make two batches and have them much more likely to turn out as expected.

As a little bonus here, keep scrolling through for Chai Spiced Buttermilk Baked Mini Donuts since the only process pictures I have are from that little experiment.  You would be wondering why my chocolate donuts are so blonde.  One little aside here on being blonde in Manly:  there are so many lovely Swedish students and expat families here.  As they do, on the 13th of December the Swedish cafe here hosted their Lucia celebration.  Had to go.  I've read of St. Lucia and heard the carol they sing as the young girls in white dresses with red ribbons wear the crowns of candles on their pretty heads.  One girl was passing out the lyric sheets before the procession and spoke to me in Swedish as she handed one to me.  Not Swedish, just blonde.  But thank you just the same.

Chocolate Buttermilk Baked Mini Donuts

1 C flour
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa
4T packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C buttermilk
1 large egg
4 T (57 grams) unsalted butter, heated until just browned
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C).  Spray the cups of a mini donut pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through salt).  If you have one, use a 2-cup liquid measuring cup to measure out the buttermilk then whisk in the egg and the vanilla.  Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk to begin to combine then add the browned butter to combine thoroughly.
Here's really the only tricky part:  however you manage it best scrape the batter into a quart ziplock bag or a pastry bag.  I use my silicone spatula, but if you had a helper it would be easier for someone to hold open the bag while you scrape.  Alternately, you could scoop out the batter.  But work in a timely manner, once you have combined wet and dry ingredients you need to get them baking to maximize the rise and keep the finished donut light.  It's not a race, I almost hesitate to put that in there, but keep moving.  You can have donuts start to finish in 30 minutes.  Pipe the batter in cute little circles in the prepared pan.  This is super easy until the last 3 or so when the batter level gets low.  No worries, just scrape it in there and make sure the wells are equally full.  You can move the batter around a bit with a knife or spoon.  Pop them in the oven for 8 minutes.  If they smell done at 7 minutes, go check them.  If the batter has begun to pull away from the sides and the donut springs back to a light touch, they are done.  With hot pads, flip them onto a wire rack to cool.  Or just eat them now because warm donuts are delicious.

Sprinkle the cooled donuts with powdered sugar or ice them with the following glazes.  Glaze or sugar the donuts with the bottom side up (nice and rounded side which looks very donut-like).

Peanut Butter Glaze

3/4 C powdered/confectioners/icing sugar
2 T creamy peanut butter
pinch of salt
2-3 T milk
1 tsp vanilla
sprinkles, if desired

In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, peanut butter, salt, 2 T of the milk and the vanilla until smooth.  If mixture is too thick, thin with another T of the milk.  Dip donuts in the glaze or make the glaze a bit thicker so you can spread it on the cooled donuts with a knife or spreader. Sprinkle on sprinkles, if desired.

Chocolate Glaze

3/4 C powdered/confectioners/icing sugar
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch salt
2-3 T milk
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, pinch salt,  2 T milk and the vanilla until smooth. Whisk in another T of milk if needed to thin.  Dip donuts to glaze or make the glaze a bit thicker to spread on the cooled donuts with a knife or spreader.  Sprinkle on sprinkles, if desired.  

Chai Spiced Mini Buttermilk Donuts

1 C flour
4T packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 C buttermilk
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla
4 T (57 grams) unsalted butter, heated until just browned

Follow directions above for Chocolate Buttermilk Baked Mini Donuts whisking together dry ingredients, whisking together wet ingredients (buttermilk, egg, vanilla) and combining both with the slightly cooled browned butter.  Pipe into prepared pans and bake at 325 F (160 C) for 8 min.  Flip onto cooling rack and dust generously with powdered sugar when cooled.  They would also be good with espresso glaze (whisk together 3/4 C powdered sugar, pinch salt with 2 T cooled espresso).

clockwise from yellow bowl:  browned butter, dry ingredients, buttermilk and egg

chai batter
mini donut pan ready to go

 piping the batter with a ziploc bag

 baked donuts in my tiny oven 

flipped out onto cooling rack 

powdered sugar goodness

Lucia carols at Fika 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Going Pro: All About the Crumble Muffins (and Crumble Granola)

Woo hoo!  Sold my first cake (writer's note: now I've sold three)!  Going pro after all these years of amateur status.  I bake for many reasons (the order of importance varies widely):  to show love, to make friends, to feed hungry people, to feed me, to do something productive, to feel accomplishment, to change my mood, to calm me down, to taste the batter, to challenge myself, to try something new, to justify a cookbook purchase......I could go on.  I'm living in basically paradise, but winter's just over and spring is new and even though it's mild (usually 60-70 F during the day) it's almost always cold in our apartment without central (or any, really) heat.  It's nice to run the oven just for a little extra warmth.  It's also good to work in the kitchen in the evening so I don't just fall asleep watching television or Netflix (currently binge-watching Parks and Rec).  And no matter the weather, I can always use more friends. Baked goods are excellent ice breakers.  Plus, I definitely need someone to eat most (if not all) I bake because paradise requires wearing swim wear and Australian paradise pretty much requires that to be of the two-piece variety or a wetsuit which is possibly even less friendly than a bikini.

Anyway, I've never baked for profit to this point.  And even though I'm selling baked goods to my favorite cafe on a pretty casual basis, going pro in a highly semi-pro way, it's clearly not about the money.  A little pocket money will be fun, but baking for resale will be something new to do and truly it will simply be something to do.  Currently weekly orders of peanut butter snack cake and weekend dinner service orders of creme brulee cheesecake are on my baking schedule (along with these muffins because they are favorites). You would think with all this free time my empty nester expat life affords that I might have written a few more blog posts.  Up until a few weeks ago, I just couldn't get comfortable in my apartment kitchen. But I've been back from two trips home to the states for over a month now and the whole thing is feeling more like home, not just the kitchen.  It's still a very dark and fairly ugly space, but the appliances and I have a better relationship now and I'm pretty good at overlooking things I can not change.  I have yet to find attractive options for photos, so for now you will get mainly photos off my iPhone.  I need to construct a good white space for photography and that just may never happen here.  The joys of living some place that's not your own.

But I do have a warming drawer.  There's that.  I love that thing.  Since most of you are about to enter the cool weather, here's a semi-pro tip for you:  warm your plates (and serving bowls, if appropriate) before serving dinner.  The warming drawer is perfect for this, but a quick microwave (if microwave safe) or a good running under hot water works too.  You've bothered to assemble a delicious hot meal and it would be tragic to have it quickly cooled from a cold plate.  That is for sure my favorite thing about my kitchen.  Well, that and my kitchen is just a few hundred yards from the Tasman Sea/Pacific Ocean.

Do you want a recipe?  You know, I might get around to that for you.  That is the whole point of this blog.  (I do have the other one for expat musings).  One of my cookbooks that made the trip down under, is "Huckleberry" from the cafe/bakery in Santa Monica.   The cover features a brioche loaf with a fresh blueberry swirl which I have yet to make because that swirl would cost me about $20 here (blueberries are crazy expensive no matter the season).  But I have made the brioche which is lovely.  And I've made a vegetarian tartine with a brilliant bechamel sauce that employs a jalepeno.  I will share it.  You may have to remind me.  The current favorite from the book is this muffin.  I've changed it just a bit based on ingredients I can easily find.  The muffins are not too sweet and are full of nutty tasting good things, but the best part is the crumble topping.  It's so good, I've actually made it into a granola recipe which is a little bonus at the end of the post.  Because the tops crumbled into my morning yogurt with fresh blood oranges and strawberries were a happy accident that is now a regular routine.  Don't let the millet put you off. It is pretty funny that I spent lots of money buying deluxe bird food for our backyard birds in Indiana, deluxe usually meaning a low percentage of millet, and now I am buying lowly millet it from the bulk bins to use in my baked goods for humans.

One more little side note.  I can not find kosher salt in Sydney.  Closest thing would be sea salt, but the crystals are massive and I think must be ground to add to baked goods.  On the other hand, finishing salts are plentiful and not expensive.  Maldon flaky sea salt is actually much cheaper here. Neither here nor there, but an interesting side note (at least to me).  Bake on.

All About the Crumble Muffins

Crumble Topping
1/2 C oats, preferable old-fashioned (not quick) oats
1/4 C whole wheat flour
3 T unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 T brown sugar
1 T honey
1 T millet
1 T chia seeds (poppy seeds are also good, but one or the other)
1T flax seeds
1T wheat germ
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt

1 1/4 C whole wheat flour
2 T almond flour
1 T wheat germ
1 T millet
1 T chia or poppy seeds
1 T flax seeds
1 T oats
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 C brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 C granulated sugar (I like superfine, here that is called caster sugar)
1 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C canola oil
1 egg
1tsp vanilla
1 large apple, peeled and coarsely grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray or line muffin cups with papers (which just seem silly if your baked goods are being consumed at home).

When you are measuring out dry ingredients for the crumble topping, go ahead and measure out the dry ingredients for the muffins too because there are a lot of duplicates.  Just a timesaver.

Make the crumble topping combining all crumble ingredients in a small bowl and blending them with your hands (warms up the butter) and helps form the crumbs.  Set aside.  You will have to wash your hands with nice hot soapy water (which you should already be doing in the kitchen), but before you do, feel free to have a taste of that crumble.  Yum..

To make the muffins, in a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients:  whole wheat flour, almond flour, wheat germ, millet, chia/poppy seeds, flax seeds, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, sugar and salt.  In a liquid measuring cup or in a small bowl, whisk together the butter, honey, buttermilk, canola oil, egg and vanilla extract.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together with the grated apple just until combined.

Fill muffin cups to the top (or pretty close) and top with evenly distributed crumble.  Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and or the center of the muffins springs back when lightly pressed.  Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before carefully lifting muffins out to continue to cool on a cooling rack right side up (you don't want to lose the crumb topping).

Makes 12 (delicious) muffins

Bonus recipe a modification of the crumble topping.

Crumble Granola

3 C oats, not the quick cooking kind
3 T unsalted butter
4 T brown sugar
2 T honey
2 T millet
2 T chia seeds (poppy seeds are also good, but one or the other)
2 T flax seeds
2 T wheat germ
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon, optional

Melt the butter and stir in the sugar and honey.  Toss with all dry ingredients and modify to taste. You may want to add some canola or other oil (coconut oil would be tasty) by the tablespoon if your granola is too dry.  You can always replace the butter with oils of your choice.  Add the cinnamon if you want.  Add some almonds or walnuts or sunflower seeds.  After baking, toss in some dried fruit of choice.
Spread the granola evenly on a baking pan/sheet lined with parchment and bake in a 325 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, stirring so it evenly toasts but does not get too brown.  Store in an airtight container.

Hehe.  Note this whole bag of indoor bird food is $1 AUS.  Look at all those little pearly grains of millet.
Side note.  Men's Speedos are aka as "Budgie Smugglers" in Australia.  They are a funny lot.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

new addiction: peanut butter snack cake

Ahhh, even in paradise there are cool and rainy days in fall.  My tendency to bake on dreary days continues even in my upside down world in Australia.  It's such a compelling feeling in my gut on days like this.  Must bake.  Must warm up the kitchen. Must measure.  Must move through the kitchen logically, economically, purposefully and rhythmically.  Must produce something that makes me happy because it makes other people happy. The challenge here is to find someone with which to share the good things I am drawn to produce.

Today I made my second peanut butter snack cake in 10 days and I'm afraid it might become a small addiction.  And I kind of had to make it because I have a week to clear out the refrigerator before I fly home and it's just me.  What to do with the buttermilk?  I could marinate some chicken (but then I'd have leftover chicken).  Nah, baking is more fun and easier to share.  I've boxed up some to take to my favorite couple behind the counter and behind the espresso machine at my favorite coffee place. And the two pieces I saved for myself are already gone.  Challenge met.

Peanut butter is also not really a thing here.  You can find bulk nuts of all kinds, but peanuts are not always amongst your selections.  Have yet to see a honey roasted peanut which is a little sad.  I'd love to make some of my peanut butter.  I might be able to change some minds.  The natural peanut butters in the groceries are good, just expensive but you can say that about most food in Australia.

This little cake is a winner.  I make it in an 8 x 8 pan so there are 16 cute little pieces.  It's not overly sweet.  You can eat it without utensils.  It's not crumbly.  It would be easy to pack in a lunch sack. But mainly it's just yummy.  I haven't tried stirring in some chocolate chips, but I would imagine you can easily add some of the mini ones for extra deliciousness.

I do miss mini chips.  I can certainly endure the bigger drops or disks here or chopping some bulk chocolate, but I may smuggle a few bags of mini chips back in.  Shhhhh, don't tell.

You can make this cake in just over half an hour and in just one bowl and a few measuring cups. Finish this cake with a nice blanket of powdered sugar.  Just for the happiness of it.

Peanut Butter Snack Cake

1 C sugar
1 C flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 C lowfat buttermilk
1/4 C canola or other neutral flavored oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
6 T water
1/2 C natural creamy peanut butter (just peanuts and salt, no added sugar or whatever)
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8 x 8 pan (or an 8 or 9 inch round pan) with a square of parchment paper on the bottom and then spray the bottom and sides with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup measure the buttermilk and then measure the oil on top.  Whisk in the vanilla and egg, water and peanut butter until smooth.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk or stir together until well-combined.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden and a cake tester in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then invert pan and cake onto a cooling rack to cool completely.  Dust generously with powdered sugar.  Cut into squares and serve.  Store in an airtight container (if you have any leftovers).

Australian versions of familiar American ingredients

dry and wet

still needs some whisking-see the lumps?  you don't want lumps

ready to bake


inverted with the parchment-you don't need the foil, I had a scrap and was minimizing clean up, but I should have rotated this for you, although sideways is often appropriate for me

again, do not use the foil, your cake will steam while cooling 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

my kicthen rules (well, kind of since I am a little under equipped): chocolate meringue cake

Ahh, and we find an unposted draft.  Hmmmm..... how did I miss hitting the publish button?  It's always a good time for a chocolate cake post and this one is a good one.  Small and different enough to serve for a celebration or just because you need little chocolate.  When this cake was about to go in the oven, Greg texted me that an Aussie celebrity was getting his haircut in the chair next to him at the barber shop just down in town.  So I hit the timer on my phone, jumped on my bike and waited until the haircuts were done to get a picture.  There is a hugely popular reality series here, MKR or My Kitchen Rules, a home cook competition for aspiring chefs.  The two-person teams come from all over Australia and from "instant restaurants" where teams decorate their homes and cook in their own kitchens for the other competitors and the very intimidating judges to cooking challenges including catering a wedding, cooking for an airline and feeding campers the teams have been reduced from 18 to 5.  The team of "Poms" which is Aussie for Brits from Manly and nearby Mosman are still in the top 5.  And my new friend here, Steve Flood (the Manly half of the duo) and his friend Will are clearly favorites to win.  He was very gracious and we had a good chat about baking, Australian eggs, oven thermometers, kitchen scales and of course, MKR.  Good on Greg for tipping me off.  Greg loves the show and is now traveling and terribly sad to miss the finals.

I own the ridiculousness of this brush with Aussie fame:  MKR's Steve Flood of Manly and me
This is the cake that was in the oven during that fateful afternoon.  About a month ago we had a proper little dinner party for our Manly Airbnb hosts who in a very lovely way have become good friends.  I wanted to bake an apple galette, but could not find pie apples (and it is fall here) at the shops I could easily reach on my bike.  But I did find my favorite Belgian chocolate, Callebaut (good news for Sara who is coming to visit soon), on sale at a price less than what I paid in the states (but I bought it at Whole Foods, mind you).   Chocolate in the house, I then fortuitously found a recipe for a single layer chocolate cake on Instagram from an Aussie lifestyle personality, Donna Hay who's not quite a Martha Stewart but that is clearly her goal.  I tweaked it a little, but I do like how in many baking recipes here they include almond meal for part of the structure instead of all flour.  The flours are different here with some milled coarser, some finer, self-rising being a popular thing and the like.  I buy my almond meal from a bulk seed, nut, and etc. stand at our bi-weekly farmers market.  It's fairly coarse, but works well. But even the grocery brands of almond meal/almond flour are less expensive than in the states probably because it is more commonly used.

The measurements here include grams and a close conversion.  I actually brought a kitchen scale to Australia just for this reason.  Easier and more precise to weigh, but you will be fine with my conversions.  If you want to buy a kitchen scale someday, they are kind of cool to use.  Surely better for baking measurements.  This is another baking win all by hand.  I even whisked the meringue by hand.  Quite a workout, but after a while, glossy peaks did indeed form.  

Anyway, this cake is yummy.  The base is almost like a brownie.  The base is baked first and then topped with a meringue and returned to the oven.  Meringue topping trumps frosting in my book.  It just kind of melts into the base layer and is a delightful texture.  I served it with a bit of vanilla ice cream, but it's a good rustic cake that is good for snacking without a scoop of ice cream (or even utensils), if you have some leftover.  I also bake a vanilla meringue cake which is really nice with some macerated strawberries (berries tossed in a little sugar to release the juices) and Spring-y.  Both are a nice one-layer size giving you just enough for dessert, but not too much.

Chocolate Meringue Cake

250 grams dark chocolate  (ha ha, unless you have a food scale that's 8.8 ounces for you and don't sweat it the chocolate measurement is not the most important measurement and you can use milk chocolate or a combination of the two, if you like)
180 grams unsalted butter (6.7 ounces or about 3/4 C)
2 eggs
4 additional eggs, used as yolks first for the cake layer than whites for the meringue layer
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 C almond meal (almond flour in the states)
1 C superfine sugar (here it is called caster sugar, ok)
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp espresso powder (even finely ground coffee beans work)

2 T cocoa powder (dutch process if you have it)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line the bottom of a springform pan with a circle of parchment paper and then spray the sides and the paper bottom of the pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth.  Set mixture aside to cool a bit.  In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, extra egg yolks, brown sugar and vanilla until pale and thick (yep, you can do this by hand too but it is way easier in a stand mixer).  Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate mixture, flour, baking powder and almond meal folding gently to combine (this is actually best done by hand).  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until a tester in the middle comes out clean and or the cake springs back when lightly touched in the middle. I'm a cake tester kind of girl, but when I baked this the light touch spring back method worked.  So did my tried and true indicator of "when you smell delicious baked goods, they are probably done".  Remove the cake and turn up the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the meringue layer by beating the reserved egg whites on high (or really get your forearms a workout and whisk it by hand) until soft peaks form.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until the meringue is thick and glossy.  Stir in the cream of tartar, espresso and cocoa powders gently until evenly mixed through.  Scrape the meringue out of the bowl and smooth evenly across the baked cake.  Return the cake to the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned (it's kind of hard to tell since it is chocolate, but 20 minutes should be enough).  Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.  Carefully run a table knife around the sides of the springform pan along the baked cake to release.  Remove springform and place cake, covered loosely, in the refrigerator to cool for at least two hours.  Cut in slices and serve with ice cream or berries, if desired.

baked cake layer

hand whisked meringue

baked cake and meringue layer

ready to plate and serve