Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choc and Cheese

Our current Japanese homestay guest loves muffins, so before we start our big health kick, I thought I'd try my hand at some baking. Apart from the odd birthday cake, I'm not really a huge baker. I definitely don't have the perfectionism required for beautiful baked goods, so my attempts are of the rustic variety! 

We were going on a road trip so I decided to bake some savoury broccoli, ham and cheese muffins, a recipe I found on the internet, as well as some sweet cappuccino and white chocolate muffins from my breakfast bible, the Marie Claire Breakfast cookbook. The techniques and ingredients for both sets of muffins were completely different, leading to two contrasting but equally tasty outcomes.

The savoury muffins were delicious. I substituted the plain flour for wholemeal flour in an effort be a bit healthier. It was a really interesting use of broccoli to pack them with goodness! There was a lot more egg in these muffins, and the lightness came from whisking up eggs. They were more akin to frittata than a cake, but that worked really well with the savoury ingredients and made them less heavy and a great breakfast on the road snack.

The sweet muffins were light and fluffy from the buttermilk added in these. The coffee flavour was subtle and balanced the sweetness of the chocolate. There were however, some hitches along the way! The muffins were prepared wrapped in baking paper lined ramekins. Whilst they were moist and tasted great, they were quite a strange shape given some of my inconsistent baking paper cylinders. The white chocolate chips kind of sunk to the bottom of the muffins too! And they certainly didn't look much like the picture.

All in all though, my efforts were pretty good and those tucking in came back for seconds reinforcing that they were actually very tasty!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bumper Birthday

Both of my cousin's kids have their birthday in the same month and for a few years now we've made the cake for the youngest whose birthday falls earlier in the month. Last year, however, he declared that he "wanted a different cake" than the very cool (we thought) "4" chocolate cake with orange coloured butter icing, and decoration. Turns out he is not a fan of anything but chocolate cake that looks like chocolate (and not fluorescent orange!) This year we ended up baking a cake for both of them for their joint birthday party.

As fortune would have it, I just received a copy of Fiona Cairns' Bake & Decorate from a competition run by Chris Dreyfus' Silver and Claret  and the Family Chocolate Cake looked perfect for the chocolate lover birthday boys. It's a very succulent cake which I have now perfected after making the recipe a few times for enough mixture for the two cakes - a figure eight and a figure five.

My hubbie loves decorating cakes and took on the icing of the racing track figure eight with a cocoa butter cream, whilst I stuck with a chocolate ganache (from the chocolate celebration cake, also in Bake & Decorate) for the plainer 5. It was the first time I'd made ganache frosting, but it was quite easy to work with, as I just let it drip down the sides, and spent more time wiping around the cake!

The cakes were a great success and both birthday boys were very excited and impressed, and they both tasted fantastic!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's the Bombe!

My Strawberry Bombe Alaska
To celebrate the end of Series 3 of MasterChef, I thought I'd go a bit outside my comfort zone, and add a bit of MasterChef pressure to my kitchen! I thought I'd try a version on Bombe Alaska. Now the MasterChef recipe looks fantastic, with coconut ice cream, cherry sorbet and a 10 egg yolk sponge, which is really a bit much for my busy weekend, so I searched around for a slightly easier version. It turned out pretty hard to find a less complex version where you actually make all the components. If I am going to the trouble of using a sugar thermometer and a blow torch on my creation, I at least want to know I've put the effort into the easy parts myself! Here is my Strawberry Bombe Alaska:

The Ice Cream and Sponge should be made in advance so they have time to cool (and freeze into the bombe shape in the case of the ice cream) so actually, this is quite a good dessert for a dinner party as it looks impressive and can be prepared before the guests have arrived! The gadgets I use are an ice cream maker, food processor, sugar thermometer and a blow torch. It is much easier with these, but I'm sure possible without (although a sugar thermometer is crucial for getting the Italian meringue right.)

Strawberry Ice Cream
1 cup of milk
1 cup of cream
4 egg yolks
½ cup of caster sugar

Strawberry puree
500g strawberries
1/3 cup of caster sugar

Sponge Base
62g butter
Dash of vanilla essence
¼ cup caster sugar
1 egg
¾ cup self raising flour 
1/6 cup of milk
1 tbsp brandy

Italian Meringue
4 egg whites
1 ½ cups caster sugar

Make the Ice Cream (I did this the night before)
Heat the milk and the cream until almost boiling;
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and ribbony;
Whisk the milk mixture into the egg yolks, then quickly put back on the stove in a clean saucepan;
Stir until thick and coats the back of the spoon;
Cool the custard (to prevent a skin forming on the top, rest some cling film over the surface of the custard).
Meanwhile, whizz up the hulled strawberries in a food processor, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds;
Heat in a pan with 1/3 cup caster sugar and reduce till you have around 1 cup of puree;
Cool the puree.

Make the Sponge
While you're waiting for the ice cream components to cool, start on the sponge base. Preheat the oven to 180º; 
Grease and line a 20 cm round baking tin;
In the food processor, beat butter and vanilla essence until light in colour, add the sugar and beat till creamy;
Add one egg and beat till combined;
Add 1/2 of the flour and beat, then 1/2 the milk and beat till combined; 
Add the remainder of the flour, beat and then add the remainder of the milk and beat till combined and has formed a smooth mixture;
Scrape the mixture in the prepared baking tin and bake in the preheated oven until lightly golden (about 15 min in my oven) and a skewer comes out clean;
Remove from oven, and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Churn and freeze the ice cream
When the ice cream mixtures (custard and puree) are cold, mix them together well and churn as per your ice cream maker's instructions.

Line a pudding basin (just under 20 cm in diametre and 1 litre capacity) with cling film. When the ice cream has churned, scoop the ice cream into the pudding basin and place in the freezer to freeze completely.

Italian Meringue

I used the recipe from the MasterChef magazine, also found HERE which is outlined below.

"Combine sugar and 60ml (1/4 cup) water in a saucepan over low–medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Brush down the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals forming. Increase heat to medium and cook, without stirring, for 4 minutes or until syrup reaches 115C on a sugar thermometer.

Using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and a pinch of salt to soft peaks. With mixer on low speed, gradually add syrup in a slow, steady stream, then increase speed to high and whisk for 10 minutes or until stiff and glossy." (

Assemble the Bombe Alaska

When the Italian Meringue is stiff and glossy, it is time to assemble the bombe. Lay the sponge on a serving dish and sprinkle a tablespoon of brandy (or liqueur of your choice) over it to moisten. Turn out the ice cream out on to the sponge round. Trim the sponge if it's a little bigger than the ice cream pudding basin shape. Quickly cover the ice cream in Italian Meringue and then create your pattern with the spatula or a knife. Quickly caramelise sections all over with a blow torch.
Serve and Enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Christmas on a Stick!

Home-made Christmas in July Pudding
Vicky has hosted her famous Christmas in July party for many years now, and it's come to be expected every July. Also expected and hoped for is my "Christmas on a Stick" a simple canapé that has become a favourite at the party. The remit for guests is to bring something that reminds you of Christmas in your home country and being hosted by a fellow Brit, it's a chance for us to remember our warming Christmas feasts from home. Being a cocktail party though, a fully fledge roast turkey, with stuffing and cranberry sauce isn't going to work, but that's why I designed this delightful bite. It's nice and easy, and can be adapted to suit your favourite Christmas stuffing flavours! You can also jazz it up as much as you like - mine have to be transported across town and heated in my friends oven, competing with the other guests' creations, so I'm less precious about the finesse (and no one cares, they just want to get to it!)

Christmas on a Stick
Christmas on a Stick - makes about 50-60 bite sized pieces

Small Pre packed cooked oven roasted turkey breast*
500g pack of sausage meat
1 onion
few sprigs of sage
cranberry sauce
parsley (or any other green leafy herb to decorate)
cocktail sticks

For the Stuffing
  1. Pre heat the oven to 180C°;
  2. Finely dice the onion;
  3. Finely chop the sage;
  4. Mix sausage meat, onion, sage in a bowl;
  5. Shape into a square sausage shape and wrap in foil;
  6. Bake for 35-45 mins until cooked through (you're going to cut it up anyway, so feel free to have a quick check!);
  7. Cool the stuffing.
Assembling Christmas on a Stick

  1. Cut the turkey breast into 1cm cubes;
  2. Cut the stuffing into 1cm cubes;
  3. Lay the turkey out on a baking tray, place the stuffing on top and skewer with a cocktail stick;
  4. Heat for about 15 mins in a preheated oven (around 180C° - 200C°) till heated through;
  5. When hot, lay out on serving plate;
  6. Spoon a little blob of cranberry sauce on each;
  7. Decorate with a festive little piece of parsley for greenery;
Serve and be prepared to heat another batch because they go quick!

*you can buy this all year round in the same section of the supermarket as the hams
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