Monday, 26 July 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge - July 2010

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

I have never made ice cream before but I have always wanted to try it (although an ice cream maker may have made the whole process somewhat easier) so I thought the Daring Bakers challenge this month was the perfect opportunity to stop procrastinating and start doing. I had never made a swiss roll either although the concept of swill rolls and roulades have always fascinated me. I have a lovely vegetarian cookbook by Simon Rimmer which has recipes for 2 savoury vegetarian roulades that I have never made due to the fact that I do not have a swiss roll tin. AgainI get to thank Sunita and this challenge being the excuse for me to finally go out and buy a swill roll tin, so that now I have successfully completed the swiss roll in the challenge, next stop the roulade!

I did enjoy the ice cream making process. It is easier than one would think, besides the elbow grease involved in the churning. My coconut ice cream ended up a bit harder than I thought it should be but I suspect that this is due to the fact that the coconut cream I used is not the same as the sweetened coconut cream used in the American ice cream recipe I was using. It did taste ok however so I can't complain. The lime ice cream turned out great and so did the white chocolate/vanilla/almond swiss roll that I filled with blueberry jam, so 2 out of 3 ain't bad hey?

I will definitely be trying the ice cream thing again, as well as savoury roulades, so stay posted for those posts, coming soon here! 

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Daring Cooks - Nut Butters

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

This months challenge was deceptive in its simplicity I think. I did fine it very simple and easy to do, but the effectiveness of the nut butter and the totally unique element that it added to what would otherwise have been a very simple pasta dish was extraordinary. 

I would never have thought up the idea of making a nut butter myself. I am a huge fan of peanut butter and the delicious satay sauce I have made with it, so why it has never occurred to me to make a nut butter myself and think up some applications - I don't know. I can't say that I am the world's most creative cook so that is probably why I can take someone else's recipe and put my own twist on it and make it uniquely mine, but to think up something from scratch is sadly beyond my talents I think. 

This is why I am grateful for the Daring Cooks and Bakers. It inspires me in completely unique ways, allows me the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, and try something different with the moral support and inspiration of all the other Daring Cooks. I have to admit that I was not sold on the idea of mushrooms and pecan nuts but it is a gorgeous combination and one that I will certainly be trying again. 

Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms
Yield: 4 servings
Pecan Cream:
3/4 cup (180 ml) coarsely chopped pecans*, toasted
1 cup (240 ml) water
¾ teaspoon (3 ml) salt, more as needed
½ pound (225 g) pasta
4 (6-ounce / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) deglazing liquid (water, broth, wine; optional)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped shallots
½ pound (225 g) mushrooms, sliced
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
Chopped pecans, (optional garnish)
  1. Prepare pecan cream. Grind pecans in a food processor for about a minute or so until smooth, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed. Add water and 3/4 teaspoon (3 ml) salt; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Set aside pecan cream. (*If starting with prepared pecan butter, blend ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (90 ml) pecan butter with the water and salt until smooth.)
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water. Drain, rinse, and keep warm.
  3. Cut chicken into even strips/cubes as desired. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Set aside cooked chicken on a clean plate, cover to keep warm.
  4. Add deglazing liquid to pan if using and stir up any browned bits. If needed, add another teaspoon (5 ml) of oil (or more) to pan for sautéing the shallots and mushrooms. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add fresh thyme to the pan. Stir in pecan cream; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 minutes till reduced slightly.
  5. Slice chicken into thin strips. Divide the noodles among serving plates. Add a scoop of the mushroom pecan sauce on top of noodles. Lay sliced chicken on top. Garnish with fresh thyme and/or a pinch of chopped pecans if desired.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Leek Bread Pudding

When I read this post on Smitten Kitchen I could not help being tempted. I only discovered leeks a couple of years ago. I think the delay in my leek enlightenment was due to never having had it as a child, and therefore not instinctively knowing how to use it as an adult. I think that a lot of my ingrained food ideas stem from the food I grew up with, but there are a couple of gaps as there are some things that my mom never fed us as kids, probably because one (or more) of us 4 siblings would have refused to eat it.

And she was probably right. There are a whole lot of things that I didn't like as a child; Mushrooms (always picked them out of my mom's chicken-a-la-king), green pepper (also picked them out of my mom's chicken-a-la-king), other colour peppers, mayonnaise (don't know why, I was just scared of it); but thankfully my tastes have since matured and enjoy an array of colours, textures and flavours I did not know as a child.

So one of the challenges with this recipe was that I could not find a brioche loaf at the shop. I'm sure that they must be available somewhere, maybe from a bakery or deli, but I thought the easiest solution would be for me to make one. I have made bread plenty of times in the past and I have good, strong kneading arms so a little bread doesn't scare me. I am sure that there must be many brioche recipes out there with various merits, and to be honest the one I used was not great, so I am not going to post the recipe for it. I'm sure that I, or you, could do a lot better so there are a couple of pictures but not gory details.

The leek bread pudding itself was a new experience for me. Although the English do love their bread and butter pudding, I am not a native English-person and it does not appeal to me that much really. I find it a bit stodgy and the thought of bread for dessert after dinner is a bit intimidating. But this idea of a bread pudding, with leek herbs and cheese, for dinner itself... now thats something that does tickle a few of my tastebuds.

It was not a difficult or time-consuming recipe, and the smells of cooking leeks and browning brioche go a long way towards stirring up your appetite on a Sunday afternoon. I also find something so homely any comforting about home-cooking smells. No matter how bad a day I may have had or how rainy and grey the day is, the warm, welcoming smells of my kitchen never fail to make me smile. It also reminds me of how I have my own kitchen, and how lucky I am for that. And also how far I have come from the days when I used to make pinwheel biscuits and lamingtons in my mom's kitchen when I was in my early to mid teens. I didn't realise back then how much I enjoyed cooking/baking. Maybe if I had I would have pursued a food-related career, but how it turned out, cooking is my solace and my escape. My mind has always been methodical and logical and following and developing a recipe allows brain work without complications. I love it.

This bread pudding tastes great the next day to, maybe even better from it overnight chance for the flavours to settle and cosy together. So don't be intimidated by the size of a whole loaf, go for it - you won't regret it.

Leek Bread Pudding

Makes one loaf. Double the recipe to fit in a 9×13 baking dish.
Serves 6 as a side dish

1 cup leeks in 1/2-inch thick slices, white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1-inch-cubed crustless brioche
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives
1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 cups whole milk, heavy cream or a combination thereof
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded Emmanthaler or Swiss cheese

Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, drain excess water from leeks, and add to pan. Season with salt, and sauté until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 15 to 20 minutes (my already-stale brioche took less time to brown), turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.

Add leeks, chives and thyme to the bowl of bread; toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the egg and egg yolks, then whisk in milk or cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons shredded cheese in bottom of a buttered 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Spread 1/2 of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 2 tablespoons cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.

Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 55 to 65 minutes. Serve hot or cold 

Friday, 2 July 2010

A Big, Beautiful Almond & Raspberry Layer Cake

There are no 2 ways about it, I love making cakes. Don't get me wrong, I like all my other cooking as well and the Daring Cooks challenge for the month that I completed last night was wonderful, but somehow they don't stand up to a rich, almondy, 3 layer, jam filled, ganache covered bohemoth of a cake. The problem is that there are only 2 of us in the house and if I had to make one of these beauties every week, well we'd very quickly have to buy larger jean sizes. As my waistline is something that I run at least 30kms a week to try and keep under control, I cannot take that risk. So when the opportunity arises that I can make a cake for someone else, and only have one lovely piece and then offload the rest, I tend to jump at it.

This is yet another gem from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Sky High. A cake book which she raves about and one I am dying to invest in. Maybe I shall treat myself (and everyone else who gets to eat my cakey creations) next month.

Now this recipe calls for some American thing called 'almond paste' which after my google-research turned out to be a marzipan-type thing. So as we do not have this conveniently in a tube/tub/bag or however it is packaged in the US of A, I made up a simple marzipan and used that instead (pics above), and I cannot fault it as the cake turned out beautifully.

 It may look intimidating but this cake really is not hard work at all and it does not take long to make, and the ooohs and aaaahs of appreciation that you get will be well worth the effort. Assuming that your taste-audience like almond that is. Personally the rich almond flacour in this cake, punctuated by the tang of the raspberry jam is just a perfect match. However, I would not use the chocolate ganache icing again as it did not give credit to the cake itself I don't think, I would definitely investigate a more complimentary icing if you are going to give this a go.


As far as the cake constuction goes, I trimmed the tops of my 3 cakes as they had risen a little more round the enges than in the middle and it is important when building a cake up that the building blocks are as flat as possible. I did it with a long bread knife by eye as I am not going to crack out the spirit level just for a ckae but if you want to use a spirit level or other exact-measuring device, please do go ahead. The consistency of the cakes is fairly firm so they co-operate with the cutting and stacking process quite well and don't threaten to break unless you really manhandle them. As for the jam filling, I warmed up my jar of seedless raspberry jam in the microwave for 20 seconds or so just to make it easier to spread as its room-temperature consistency was a very stiff jammy, and not condusive to crumbless spreading (on cake that is, I'm sure on toast it would have been perfectly fine).

Almond Paste

225g/8oz icing sugar
225g/8oz caster sugar
450g/1lb ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 lemon, juice only

Preparation method
1.Sift the icing sugar into a mixing bowl and add the caster sugar. Toss in the almonds and stir.

2.Add the lemon juice. Now stir in the eggs, bit by bit to make a firm, stiff dough.
3.Roll into a ball and knead lightly. Place into a plastic bag until you need it.

Almond Rasberry Layer Cake

Makes a 9-inch triple layer cake that serves 16 to 20 people

4 1/2 cups cake flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup prepared almond paste (7 ounces)
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
10 egg whites
1 1/2 cups whole milk
For assembly:
1 cup simple syrup (to keep cake moist)(optional - I found I didn't need it as the cake was beautifully moist already)
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves

Frosting ideas: Swiss Buttercream (with or without two teaspoons of almond extract for flavoring), Cream Cheese Frosting or Whipped Bittersweet Frosting (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch (but 9-inch will work just fine) round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.
3. Place the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Begin to cream the mixture on low speed to break up the almond paste, then increase the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until the paste is broken into fine particles.
4. Add the butter and almond extract and beat it well, then the egg whites, two or three at a time, beating just long enough to incoperate after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times to make sure it is evenly mixed.
5. Dust about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in with a large rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in about half the milk. Fold in half the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk. Finally, fold in the last of the dry ingredients just until no streaks of white remain. Use a light hand and do not overmix. Divide the batter among the three prepared cake pans.
6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out on to wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners and let them cool completely, about one hour.
7. Assemble the cake: Place one layer flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Slide small strips of waxed paper under the edges to protect the plate from any messiness accumulated while decorating. Brush first layer with simple syrup, if using. Spread 1/2 cup of the raspberry preserves over the cake, leaving a 1/4 inch margin around the edges. Repeat with the second layer, brushing syrup if using and using remaining preserves. Add the third layer and brush with syrup if using.
8. Spread a thin layer frosting of your choice over the top and sides of the cake. Let frosting set in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes (this is your crumb coat) then spread a thicker, decorative coat over the base coat. If you have any frosting remaining, pipe a decoration of your choice.

Whipped Bittersweet Frosting
Makes about 3 cups, or enough to coat a three layer 8- or 9-inch cake. You’ll want 1 1/2 this amount if you’re using it for filling as well.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler or metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk to blend well. Remove from heat and let stand, whisking occasionally, until the chocolate mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. (No doubt, exactly what you want to think about when making chocolate frosting).
2. Place the butter in a large mixer bowl and with an electric mixer on medium speed, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate cream and whip until lighter in color and somewhat stiff, about three minutes. Do not whip too long or the frosting may begin to separate.