Monday, April 28, 2008

figs and honey

This weeks TWD recipe is Polenta and Ricotta cake, a mediterranean style cake with figs and honey, chosen by Caitlin of Engineer Baker . I love polenta, so was interested to try a cake recipe using it. I used Rata honey, a NZ bush honey which has quite a strong flavour. I halved the recipe and still filled (to the brim) a medium sized tart tin, so the whole recipe must make an enormous tart.

I did find the cake was a little sweet, I wish I had read other TWD comments earlier about cutting down the sugar. However served with greek yoghurt it was better.

The recipe specifies putting little dots of butter on top of the cake mix before baking. I was skeptical about this but did it anyway, and it resulted in funny little square patches on top of the cake which looked really odd - so I dusted it with icing sugar to try and improve things!

The inside of the cake is lovely and moist with quite a dense crumb (although is is not heavy to eat). Dried figs of the fat, moist kind are essential for this cake. This is a nice, if plain cake, it would be good served as a lighter dessert, maybe with some poached figs or stonefruit.

back to market...

I was in Christchurch in the weekend so I made a reappearance at the farmers market on Saturday morning. My Nelson fruit purchases provided inspiration...on the menu were quince and pear crumbles with oats and almonds, spiced apple shortcake (picture above) sticky date puddings with toffee sauce (of course) and pear and gingerbread upside down puddings. It was a beautiful day and a busy market, with lots of stalls, it was nice to be back!

Also made little chocolate and roast almond cookies, and little gingerbread loaves with the extra gingerbread mixture from the puddings.

And date and caramello slice as always....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

a plug for poesy

As far as convenience food goes this flatbread from Poesy (means poetry) is right up there with Pitango. For around $5 you get a pack of three flatbreads, made from the same ingredients you would use at home, that lasts for a few weeks on the fridge or ages in the freezer. I would usually make my own pizza dough, but there are times when you don't need a whole batch, or want food fast.

We ate it for lunch today topped with some reduced tinned tomatoes (had been in the freezer from pizzas last time), the last bit of feta from the fridge, some roasted red peppers and some bog standard grated cheese, topped with basil leaves. Recommended.

You also get a little poem like this in each pack of bread...cute.

a cupcake full of carrot

This weeks TWD recipe was carrot cake. Admittedly this didn't inspire me too much, as I already have a carrot cake recipe I love to use that is pretty much unbeatable...check out the link for more details.

We didn't need a whole cake this week so halved the recipe and instead made cupcakes. Although I loved Dorie's suggestion to make it as a layer cake...the problem I always find with eating a piece of carrot cake is that it will have a lovely thick layer of icing on the top which requires self discipline to ensure it is rationed out to make it last all of the cake bit. Layering the icing through the cake would solve this problem perfectly!

To the basic mixture I chose to add finely diced dates and a mixture of toasted pumpkin, sunflower seeds and flaked almonds (because this was what I had in the cupboard for sprinkling on my bircher muesli). Usually I prefer carrot cake to be unadulterated ie. pure carrot, but the nuts added a nice bite. In keeping with the 'using what is on hand' theme, I substituted sour cream for cream cheese in the icing, which worked fine. The consistency was perhaps slightly thinner than normal but it still piped perfectly well.

I usually top my carrot cakes with toasted thread coconut, so for something different I thought I would make a praline. In the absence of any pecans or walnuts I used some more toasted pumpkin seeds...they also have a 'wholesome' feel about them, in the way that carrot cake does too (misguided I know!) They worked really well as when toasted their flavour and texture is very nutty, the taste reminded me of caramel popcorn.

This recipe was nice enough but I still think I will stick to my tried and true favourite...

Bill's Big Carrot Cake

Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Yields 10 servings


For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted w/ a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick ( 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound or 3 and ¾ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Getting ready:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.
If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting.
Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.
Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Pumpkin seed praline

1/2 c sugar - castor is better
1/4 c water
1/4 c roughly chopped toasted pumpkin seeds
Heat sugar and water in a heavy pot over high heat until sugar dissolves. Stop stirring, remove the spoon and leave sugar to caramelise, watching carefully. As soon as it changes to a light golden colour add the pumpkin seeds, swirling the saucepan to combine them into the sugar mixture. Continue cooking until colour is a dark gold, then quickly tip onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Carefully tilt the tray to spread the mixture. Leave til set - this only takes about ten minutes - then break into shards.

Monday, April 21, 2008

giant feijoas and jesters

I have just spent the weekend up around Nelson. I love the Nelson area and all the farmgate fruit stalls. We picked up braeburn apples, pears, and lots and lots of feijoas, all at bargain prices. Some of the feijoas are enormous, I am having to restrain myself to wait for them to ripen a little more.The market was on at Motueka so we called in. This is not a farmers markets as there was a lot of flea market stuff but some interesting food stalls that were worth a look, and a good vege stall, where I bought these red onions.

We stopped for a coffee at Jester House Cafe near Motueka. This place is very cute. They had a quince tree full of fruit with lots on the ground that they let me collect and take home. Apparently their chef had more than enough quinces to deal with already...

Their hot chocolates are presented as below, whether you are four or forty...when at Jesters I guess...It was a nice place to sit, with lovely gardens and next time I would have lunch there. (We went to the Mapua wharf for fish and chips...)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

cupcake heaven

I have been searching for the perfect cupcake recipe. So many seem to produce cupcakes that are dry and crumbly. This recipe is adapted from the Crabapple Bakery recipe. And it makes the best cupcakes I have tried so far.

I have also been searching for the perfect buttercream icing recipe, one that is not heavy and icing sugar laden (or falls off the cake when you go to take a bite) I tried a buttercream recipe from 'Baking, from my home to yours' by Dorie Greenspan. This has a meringue base so makes an icing that is very light and silky, perfect! It is a bit more time consuming to make but very much worth the effort. The texture of the icing is perfect with the cakes, it literally melts in your mouth.

Vanilla cupcakes

100g butter, softened
1 c castor sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
1 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c milk

In a cake mixer beat the butter and sugar until very light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time and beat well to combine. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Using a spatula,gently fold in half the flour mix, followed by half the milk. Repeat. Spoon into paper cases and bake at 160-170c for 15 minutes or until they feel spongy when gently touched. Makes 15.


2 egg whites
1/2 c castor sugar
150g butter
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl that is sitting over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk continuously for around 3 minutes or until the mixture feels hot to touch. (I used an electric beater). Remove from the heat and keep beating for another 5 minutes or until the mixture is cool. Transfer to a cake mixer with the paddle attached. Mix on medium speed, gradually incorporating the butter. Beat for another 8 minutes or until icing is thick and smooth. Add lemon juice and vanilla to taste, icing is ready to use immediately.

The crumb of these cakes is very moist and soft and not at all dry - which a lot of cupcakes seem to be. You can see the Heilala vanilla paste I used in the cake batter which has the seeds through it, which looks good and gives the cupcakes a beautiful concentrated vanilla flavour. The quality of the vanilla would make a huge difference to the taste of cupcakes, as they are quite plain, so I would only make them using proper extract or paste.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

marshmallow mousse

Marshmallow was the recipe chosen this week for Tuesdays with Dorie. The idea of plain marshmallow didn't really appeal, so I decided to combine it with a base and make marshmallow shortcake.
I don't have a candy thermometer so guessed the timing of cooking the sugar syrup. I also estimated the amount of gelatin required, and also the volume of egg whites (I had some frozen I wanted to use up, and figured 4 smallish egg whites may equal the 3 large ones specified in the recipe). All this estimation no doubt contributed to marshmallow that was less than 'marshmallowy'. Rather than a firm, smooth texture my marshmallow was very light and fluffy and more like a mousse. Suspect there was too much egg white in there for the gelatine to set. I added half a cup of raspberry puree to the mixture, so that may have contributed too...
It set ok, and was firm enough to cut, but collapsed a little on standing and the marshmallow seeped into the shortcake layer a bit too. It didn't taste terrible, just not how it was supposed to!

Monday, April 14, 2008

new additions to the garden...

I have succumbed to the desire to own my own feijoa tree! This one I planted in a huge pot so it is 100% relocatable...otherwise suspect we would not reap much fruit from it. It has four baby feijoas on it so that is something to look forward to (and savour). They are very tiny and very cute. In a few years when my feijoa tree is all grown up it will have the potential to make some people very jealous...

Also decided we needed a kaffir lime tree. This one is beautiful with so many leaves and even has few little limes growing already. I used some leaves last night in a panang curry but sadly was a little heavy handed with the curry paste so it was a bit disappointing.

Here is my garden at week four, I am amazed by how fast it is growing, the silverbeet is ready for picking already. Have made a few trips down to the river for stones to cover the weeds that are growing around the edges, but it is slow going loading and unloading into the car, will keep working at it...

Pictured below is the newest 'architectural' feature of the garden...I paid a visit to the local Mitre 10 last week to purchase some timber to build a new garden bed. I had crammed far too many seedlings into the garden at the beginning, and they were starting to fight for space. So I transplanted a few into the new bed, hoping they survive the journey into their new low density home without too much wear and tear. The brussel sprouts are looking a bit droopy at the moment... but in the meantime you can admire the craftsmanship shown in the carpentry.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

lemon tart

This tart was the first recipe I made for the Tuesdays with Dorie blog challenge. Instead of a traditional lemon curd filling you make a curd mix without butter and instead whip the soft butter into the egg/lemon/sugar mixture once it has thickened (using a food processor, as you would make mayo). The recipe suggests using a thermometer to get the curd temperature up to 80c but i only manged to make 70c - it had thickened up well by then so I don't think it made any difference. The lemon filling was really nice, this method resulting in a lighter and creamier texture than normal lemon curd. It is even nicer after a few days in the fridge I think.

While the pastry was nice and sweet and 'biscuity' it was very short and crisp and shattered when I cut time I would use it to make little tartlets.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

a random find...and tin filling

Stumbled across this very cute Emma Bridgewater biscuit tin today at the supermarket of all places... I already have some bits and pieces from her Toast and Marmalade collection so quickly snapped up this wee find which was gracing an aisle end of New World Hokitika!

The occasion clearly demanded bisuits be made, so I tried the recipe for peanut butter and sea salt cookies from Belinda Jeffery's Mix and Bake (yes I do own other cook books, am just going through a phase!) I love the combination of salty and sweet, these cookies were good.

peanut butter and sea salt cookies

180g butter
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
110g peanut butter
2 c flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c salted peanuts chopped
sea salt to sprinkle - I used Pacific flaky salt
Cream the butter and sugars in the food processor. Add the vanilla and egg and combine well, then the peanut butter. Pulse in the dry ingredients only enough to combine. Mix in the chopped peanuts by hand. Roll dough into a log, wrap and chill for a couple of hours until it can be easily sliced. Slice, sprinkle cookies with sea salt to taste and bake at 150c for approx 20 minutes.