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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

comforting: mushroom and ricotta pasta

Where did April and the sunshine go?  Our first guests to our beach apartment have come and gone after three fun weeks of showing them our Sydney, wine country and our first domestic flight to explore the outback.  You can read more about that on my expat blog.  Mike and Tina arrived on Good Friday for what we thought was the rainiest Sydney weather ever until they left in the middle of what truly was the stormiest couple of days in decades yesterday and today.  Gale force winds and driving rain for over 48 hours with the most impressive high seas I have ever seen (9-10 meter swells).  Somehow, they safely got on their way back to the states and Greg made it to Kuala Lampur on Malaysia Airlines (the one carrier you really want to be on during basically a hurricane/cyclone). 

It is well and truly fall here.  The days are much shorter.  Sadly, my tan is fading.  The ocean is cooling a bit and my wetsuit (I really love that I have a wetsuit) has replaced all two piece options. The prevailing southerly winds (on normal days when it's not the storm of the century) are chilly (southerly winds are the cold ones which is just as strange as living on the Pacific Ocean and being on the East Coast). It's very strange and confusing to live with the opposite seasons.  I completely stumble over seasons in conversation going between hemispheres.  And unlike your excitement over the coming salad and grilling days,  my cooking is going back to the warm comfort foods.   This is not just because we have no heat in our apartment, but a warm stove or oven is tempting me to finally get back to the kitchen.  I've really struggled to spend any time in there.  It's still not feeling like mine and probably never will, but the spice rack is filling up and I'm getting a little rhythm to my food shopping and that's a good feeling.

For a pasta dish, this is not terribly heavy and is good with just a salad or a little grilled protein on the side.  We buy little lamb cutlets from the farmer who comes into Manly for the organic market every couple of weeks.  Lamb here is fantastic especially straight from the farmer.  I wrestle a little with the virtues of eating meat and lamb and veal are tough ones for me, but they are delicious.  There is a lovely farm stand that comes into the market every week with the best mushrooms.  I always buy a big paper bag full of the assorted ones and find a new way to enjoy them.  At home in the states, Meijer almost always has a good fancy blend in 8 or 10 ounce packages (maybe called gourmet? been too long to remember acurately).  One of the commercial markets makes a good fresh ricotta, but the packaged brands are perfectly fine for this dish.  As they say in Australia, the mushrooms are the star of this dish.  But fresh ricotta is very nice.  Try it if you haven't already.  This is an adaptation from Saveur magazine and it's just excellent.  Easy, quick and very tasty.  I have made it once with and once without the walnuts.  If I'm serving a little meat alongside, the walnuts seem a bit much and I leave them out.  I did get some really gorgeous walnuts at the market, but they are so good they are best eaten out of hand or with cheese.

Mushroom and Ricotta Pasta
6 T unsalted butter
2 lb. mixed mushrooms, such as chanterelles, cremini, hen of the woods, oyster, and porcini, cut into bite-size pieces (if you just have a nice box of baby bellas/creminis that's fine too)
1 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. pasta (pappardelle, linguini or even medium shapes whatever you like)
1 cup ricotta, fresh if you can find it
½ cup toasted walnut pieces, optional

Melt butter in a large skillet and cook mushrooms (possibly in batches if your skillet is not big enough for 2 pounds to cook without being crowded), 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, garlic, salt and pepper about 10-15 minutes stirring often until mushrooms are tender and golden.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (use at least 1 T of kosher salt in the water for the tastiest pasta). Cook pasta as directed until al dente, but before draining ladle out 1 C of the pasta water into a measuring cup to use in the sauce.  Drain the pasta and toss in a large bowl with the ricotta and 1/2 C of the reserved pasta water to combine. Use a little more pasta water if needed for the right consistency (fresh ricotta can be a bit thinner and need less water than packaged ricotta). Gently toss in the cooked mushrooms.  Garnish with a little more fresh thyme and the toasted walnuts, if desired.  

Serves 4-6 people