Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

To all my family, friends, and all the readers who read my blog and leave lovely comments, I hope you have a happy festive season, and may the new year be everything you hope for and more.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Yes, it's all finished. Exactly two weeks after starting work on my 2010 Christmas Cookie List, it's done. I've made a few substitutions, some things went horribly wrong, and I had a few happy surprises. I'm not going to lie to you and say that I've enjoyed every minute of it - I most definitely did not. But it is very nice looking at the end product, and knowing (hoping, actually) that people will enjoy it.

You'll notice that I actually didn't do 12 cookies. I did 11 cookies, including the gingerbread house, and then some fabulous caramel corn for a bit of variation. The recipe I used is from Not Quite Nigella, and you can find the recipe here. I followed the recipe to the letter, except for one thing. If you're wondering why my popcorn looks as if it has melted chocolate stirred through, it's because it has melted chocolate stirred through. I decided at the last minute that this was the perfect occasion to get rid of some chocolate chips I had in the cupboard. They melted very quickly, though, and didn't stay the little chunks I envisioned originally. But I tell you, I started scoffing this down before it was even cooled down. It is by far the most delicious thing I've eaten in quite a while. Please make it your New Year's resolution to try this as soon as possible. At least it will be one resolution you're likely to keep.

You'll also notice that I only made 1 gingerbread house, for us, instead of 11 to give to all our friends and family. Let's blame the new house and Little Girl. Next year I'll start earlier and make more. Also, I heard one family member say last year that he hates gingerbread. Maybe I should reconsider if it is the best possible gift to make.

I love this gingerbread. It is very spicy, with added coffee and dark rum. I use ginger, mixed spice, black pepper and cardamom, my ultimate favourite spice. The Fabulous Man is a massive gingerbread fan, which is why I started making it in the first place, and even though I've never heard the magic words "This gingerbread is not as good as my wife's", it's the recipe I'm sticking to. The Royal Icing recipe is from Dorie Greenspan, and I'm sticking to it too. It's easy to make, stays nice and moist in the bowl, but dries rock hard on the cookies. I realise that it's not the best to use for the gingerbread, and next year I might use it only for the decoration, and try melted chocolate for the actual construction. Next year.

Speaking of decoration, I realise that this is probably the ugliest gingerbread house on the block. I'm not sure why I'm struggling so much this year with my icing. Then again, when the Little Girl saw the house all assembled, she kept on saying "Wow! Wow!", while trying to get herself a piece. And that is after all what this is all about.

A final few photos, then. Until next Christmas.

Under construction

Filled with Christmas cookies

Suspect icing skills

Gingerbread House
Double the recipe for a house, otherwise makes about 30 cookies, depending on the size of your cutter.

2 cups (300g) plain flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed
90g butter
1/2 cup (80g) brown sugar
1/3 cup (125g) treacle
2 tablespoons good instant coffee, disolved in a little bit of boiling water
1 tablespoon dark rum

Sift flour, soda and ginger into a bowl. Place butter, sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan. Cook over low heat, until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Add the coffee and the rum, mix. Cool.

Pour the treacle into the flour mixture, and combine. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead until smooth. Cover with plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Cut out shapes and carefully place onto trays. Bake for 8 minutes.

Cool biscuits on trays for 5 minutes, then onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Dorie Greenspan's Royal Icing

3 1/4 cups (or more) powdered sugar, sifted
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice

Using electric mixer, beat 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar and egg whites until thick and shiny, adding more powdered sugar by tablespoonfuls if mixture is too thin to spread, about 3 minutes. Add lemon juice. Divide icing into portions, if desired, and add different food coloring to each. Cover until ready to use.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Almost there...

I didn't think it possible, but I'm a bit over cookies. The last 2 weeks have been filled with cookies morning, noon and night and all I really feel like at the moment is a chicken sandwich. You won't catch me baking a cookie for at least a week. Which is just as well, as Christmas is around the corner and I'm having 18 people over for lunch.

Please excuse my two-in-one post. I am a bit tired and don't really feel like fuffing about too much with photos and writing and the lot. Just a quick few notes and the recipes.

First up is the Lemon Wreaths. I really looked forward to making these, and I thought that after my fabulous Candy Cane Christmas Cookies these would be a breeze. Unfortunately not. I had a real struggle trying to master the art of wreath making, and in the end I don't think I succeeded. The ones that looked good eventually turned out to be the worst with the lemon glaze, because the opening in the middle was too small and clogged up with the icing. Then again, in the end they looked fine and tasted delicious, but if you make them, make sure to leave a large opening in the middle.

Next up are the Cranberry, Pistachio and White Chocolate Chip Cookies. Everything considered, if I have to choose only one Christmas cookie to make, this will be it. It's quick, easy, look nice and Christmassy with the red and green and white, and taste delicious. I made them last year, and initially thought that I didn't want to do any repeats, but I think you should always hang on to a winner. Also, you don't have the problem of palates to consider, because let's be honest, if you don't like a chocolate chip cookie you're just plain weird.

I hope everybody's Christmas baking is coming along nicely. The last two parts of my 2010 Christmas Cookie List will hopefully be up tomorrow, then it's on to bigger and better things. Have a nice weekend!

Lemon Glazed Christmas Wreaths
Adapted from AWW
Makes about 36 cookies

3 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125g) butter
1/4 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 eggs, room temperature

Lemon Icing

3 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180ºC.

Sift flour into medium bowl, rub in butter, or pulse it in your food processor.

Combine milk & sugar in small saucepan, stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved, add lemon zest; cool 5-10 mins.

Stir combined warm milk mixture and egg into flour mixture. Knead dough on floured surface until smooth.

Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into 12cm rope. Twist two ropes together, form into circles; press edges together. Place about 2cm apart on oven trays. Bake about 15 mins. Cool on wire racks. When the cookies are completely cooled drizzle the lemon icing on the cookies. (I dunked the cookies upside down into the glaze, then fished them out with the back of a spoon. Don't take the glaze off the heat while you do this, as it becomes thick very quickly.)

Lemon Icing

Sift powdered sugar into a heat proof bowl; stir in enough juice to make a firm paste. Stir over small saucepan of simmering water until pourable.

Cranberry, Pistachio and White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

1 cup (220g) firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1 1/2 cups (225g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1 cup (140g) coarsely chopped pistachios
185g butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
200g white chocolate, broken into pieces
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 180ºC.

Combine sugars, flours and pistachios in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk butter, egg and egg yolk until combined. Stir into sugar mixture until it forms a soft dough. Stir in chocolate and cranberries.

Place tablespoons full onto prepared trys, allowing for room to spread. Bake for 12 minutes, until lightly brown. Cool on trays.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Candy Cane Christmas Cookies

Oh my goodness, people! I think I've just had my best moment ever. Up to now I thought my best moment was my Hot Cross Bunnies with Chocolate in the Tummies, but these Candy Cane Cookies kick those cute bunnies' sugary little behinds. I wish I was a better photographer, because honestly, the photos don't do them justice. They are not the weird orange colour you see, which is what happens if you try and take photos in the middle of the night. I promise, these cookies are beyond adorable.

Again, they are the result of a few problems, which seems to happen a lot around here lately. I had a recipe for candy cane cookies with a cookie press, but as I don't have a cookies press, and never got around to getting one, I had to come up with a Plan B. Another recipe I've seen had two little ropes of dough twisted together, bent into a candy cane shape, and flavoured with cinnamon sugar. Which sounds nice, but I wondered about making it look more like a proper candy cane. And then I thought how nice it will be if I use red and vanilla dough, but after twisting them together I'd roll them just enough to blend the colours, so that it looks like one piece of dough. Now isn't that the cleverest thing you've heard all day?

To be honest, I do realise there's nothing new under the sun, and I'm sure if I Google Candy Cane Cookies there will be around 6 million people who have been there, done that. But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to pretend I'm the first person in the universe to come up with these gorgeous little things, and make myself a cup of tea to have with one of my cute cookies to celebrate.

And they taste good too. I've decided to make life easy for myself and use the same recipe as for the Chocolate Coffee Crumble Cookies. It's easy to make and doesn't use 500 different ingredients you've never heard of before. I know it is better to colour dough with food paste colouring, but I only had the liquid stuff, and it worked fine. I've also dressed up one of the cookies in white chocolate and little bits of crushed peppermint candy cane. I was only going to do the one to show you good people, but after eating it, I'm considering giving all of them the special treatment. Normally I don't really like peppermint, but here it is a nice contrast with the buttery cookie. Plus there's the white chocolate. Anything surely is better with white chocolate.

So it is with pride that I bring you Candy Cane Chrismas Cookies. Please humour me and pretend you've never seen anything like it before. Thank you very much.

Candy Cane Christmas Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

175g (3/4 cup) butter, softened

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
red food colouring
Beat butter in your mixer for 30 seconds. Beat in sugar, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer, and stir in the remaining flour by hand.

Divide the dough in two, and colour one half with red food colouring (I needed 5ml). Divide each dough portion in half. Cover and chill for an hour, or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Work with only about half a cup of dough of each colour at a time, and keep the rest in the fridge until needed. Pinch of a piece of dough the size of a small marble from each colour. I know this doesn't seem like much, but I promise you it's enough.

Roll each bit out until it is about 10cm long and about 5mm thick. If one piece is a lot longer than the other one, trim it a bit. This isn't an exact science. You'll get the swing of it after making a few.

Twist the two pieces together to form a rope. Try to make the coils as tight as possible without breaking the dough.

Lightly roll the rope until the colours just blend together, about the size of a pencil. You can twist it again a few times to increase the number of swirls.

Before baking

Put on a baking sheet, and bend into a candy cane shape. Bake for 6-8min, or until slightly brown around the edges.

After baking

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 5min, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
If you want to decorate the cookies further, you can dip the bottom halves in melted white chocolate, and sprinkle with some crushed peppermint candy cane. Leave on some baking paper to set.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fruit Mince Shortbread Stars

When I came across these in the December issue of Good Taste magazine, I knew I had to make them, but that I won't like them. Yes, that's right. My name is Adele and I hate Fruit Mince. OK, maybe hate is too strong a word, because if I have to choose between tofu (which I really hate) and fruit mince, I'll take the fruit mince every time. Let's say I strongly dislike fruit mince, and anything made with it: fruit mince pies, fruit cake, Christmas puddings, etc. etc. (Not like my Baby Brother, who always ate all us children's share of the fruit cake when we went to weddings).

This choice for the 2010 Christmas Cookie List is there for the members of our family with traditional tastes, in our case mostly the grandmothers and uncles and so forth. The ones who didn't grow up with chocolate and didn't know any better. You have to cater for everybody. I also think no Christmas Cookie List is complete without shortbread (I do actually like shortbread), and I really like the idea of this recipe. It's like a fruit mince pie and a shortbread cookie in one.

As you can see from the recipe, it's not exactly traditional fruit mince, and if you don't feel like this slightly tropical one, substitute your own. I can also suggest some orange zest mixed in with the dough. Not that the cookies turned out bad. In fact, even I liked them. The biscuit is very buttery and crumbly, like a proper shortbread should be. The small bit of filling is just enough to make this cookie interesting, and doesn't overpower with it's fruit minciness (I'm sure I've seen this word before). Next time I might try an alternative fruit mince filling, something like dried pears with chocolate and Frangelico. I also think they will taste great with just a bit of chocolate sandwiched in-between. Not sure what the traditionalists will make of that.

According to Good Taste this recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies, but I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. I only just got 2 dozen. If you want more, double the biscuit recipe. The filling is more than enough for 4 dozen.

Fruit Mince Shortbread Stars
Makes about 2 dozen, but it depends on who you talk to

125g butter, chopped
80g (1/2 cup) pure icing sugar
150g (1 cup) plain flour
2 tablespoons rice flour
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons self-rasing flour
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
icing sugar, to dust

50g dried pineapple
50g soft dried apricots
50g glace ginger
25g red glace cherries
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Process the butter, icing sugar and combined flours in a food processor until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and process until just combined. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until the dough comes together. Shape into a disc, cover and rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.

For the filling, process the pineapple, apricots, ginger and cherries in a food processor until finely chopped. Stir in the Grand Marnier.

Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper until 3mm thick. Use a 5.5cm star pastry cutter to cut stars from the dough. Arrange half of the stars on the baking sheets. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of filling in the centre of each star.

Brush the remaining stars with milk, and place milk-side down over the stars with the filling, pressing gently to seal. Brush the tops of the stars with remaining milk. Bake for 10min or until just golden. Transfer the stars to wire racks to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Orange Polenta Cookies

I am really sorry to admit that these wonderful little cookies weren't part of my original 2010 Christmas Cookies List. I liked the idea of having a cookie with polenta, to add a bit of texture, and were originally fancying these caramel polenta cookies. Don't they sound lovely? Crunchy polenta cookies with little pockets of melted caramel. Double yum. Except they turned out a disaster. They were way too sweet, and way too gooey. I actually threw the rest of the uncooked dough away after my first two batches of cookies came out of the oven inedible, something I've never before had to do.

A quick search on Google didn't reveal any other caramel polenta cookies, so I had to abandon the whole idea. However, I still think it sounds great, and I will try them again in the near future, after the mad Christmas Cookie rush is over. Next time I might increase the amount of flour, and use less honey, like suggested in some of te comments. Recipes are after all made to be fiddled with.

While searcing for the elusive alternative caramel polenta cookie, I came across quite a few versions of orange polenta cookies. They are actually quite plain: a polenta and flour dough with some orange zest mixed in. More importantly, though, they are ridiculously quick and easy to make. Throw everything in your food processor, mix, rest, bake and ta-da! Which is a welcome change from most of the cookies I've attempted so far. The final recipe I settled on is the one from Jamie Oliver, and no, I am not in love with this man, which I'm sure seems like the case if you look at the amount of Jamie Oliver I've done over the last few weeks. There just seems to be a whole lot of nice ones from him around at the moment.

The orange aroma in my cookies were quite pronounced. I left my dough in the fridge overnight, and I'm not sure if that is what gave the orange chance to permeate everything. Just to be sure, though, I'm definitely doing it again next time I make these. They smell like heaven. (Normally I'd say heaven must surely be made of chocolate, but it just goes to show how good these cookies actually are).

Orange Polenta Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen
Recipe Jamie Oliver via Food and Wine

1 1/2 cups medium non-instant polenta or yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces or 175g) chilled unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs

In a food processor, combine the polenta with the butter, sugar, flour, orange zest and salt and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the eggs and pulse just until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a bowl and refrigerate until slightly firm, about 1 hour. (I left mine overnight)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop slightly rounded teaspoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 4cm apart. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges and on the bottoms. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week or frozen for 1 month. .

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chai Spice Girls

I have to admit I chose these cookies because of the name. I really like cute names. To me the battle is half won if you can come up with a name that make people sit up and notice, like I discussed in an earlier post. These sassy ladies hail from the Better Homes and Gardens website, which is packed with many wonderful cookies. I had a great time browsing the site for candidates for my 2010 Christmas Cookie List, which is, to be honest, my favourite part of the whole exercise. So many great recipes to audition, it's a shame Christmas comes only once a year.

But what's in a name? Well, in this case, it's pretty self-explanatory, really. Little girl-shaped cookies flavoured with chai tea and some other spices. We happen to have chai tea bags, because we bought some chamomile tea which turned out to be spiced chai tea when we opened the box. Which is like having a blind date with Mary, but when you meet up with her she's really called Delilah.

As you can see from the photos, I don't have a girl-shaped cookie cutter, but I decided my boy-shaped ones could be dressed up to look like girls. A bit like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show. But also like Tim Curry, I don't think they're fooling anybody. It's my non-existing icing skills, you see, paired with the smaller cookie cutter I used to get more cookies. Like yesterday, I only dressed one for the photos, because I want to freeze them naked, so to speak. I might need to turn them into proper guys, so I'm not required to pull of little icing sugar tutu's, but that will be a shame. "Chai spice boys" just doesn't have the same ring to it. But, like they say, a cookie by any other name...

Chai Spice Girls
Recipe from here

2 spiced chai-flavored tea bags
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I used mixed spice)
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons molasses (I used treacle)

1 recipe Powdered Sugar Icing

Remove tea bag contents (3 teaspoons); discard bags. In medium bowl combine tea, flour, and spice; set aside.

In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and molasses. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can; stir in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and refrigerate about 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/2cm thickness. Cut dough with gingerbread girl cutters.

Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. Decorate with Powdered Sugar Icing. Makes 18 to 20 cookies.

Powdered Sugar Icing: In medium bowl combine 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and 4 teaspoons milk. Stir in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until piping consistency.

To Store: Layer cookies between waxed paper is covered airtight container. Store at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chocolate Christmas Mice

I know I say it all the time, but I really do love technology. Did you notice I was on holiday the whole of the week? No? Because of technology, in this case Blogger who lets you schedule your blog postings. Genius, if you ask me. The Little Girl and I went for a quick beach holiday while The Fabulous Man went to China on a business trip. Apart from the beach bit, we had a great time. It turned out the Little Girl doesn't really like sand between her toes. She would run around after the seagulls, but then stop every few steps to wipe the sand of her feet. Very Cute.

But I'm sure by now you have had more than enough about my family, so let's talk cookies. Chocolate mice, to be precise. Every year I spend a small fortune on all the Christmas magazines. One of my annual favourites is the American Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookie edition.  I always find several recipes that look great, and turn out fantastic too. This year I also bought the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies edition (so far), and in it found these little chocolate mice. How gorgeous are they? They immediately went on the 2010 Christmas cookie-to-make list. Like with most recipes these days, I changed it just a smidgeon. The original recipe has slivered almonds for the mice's ears, and licorice laces for the tails, and although I think this is a fabulous idea, I don't think they will keep as well when I start to pack them, so I decided to just ice mine on. My cookies also turned out a bit cracked on top, unlike Martha's perfect creations (surely nobody's versions ever look as good as hers?). I'm sure there's an explanation for that, but I don't know. Please feel free to enlighten me. I'm freezing mine undecorated, but I have finished one to show you what I'm planning to do.

So without any further chitchat, I offer you Christmas Mice. But only if you've been... naughty. Being nice is just not as much fun.

Christmas Mice
Makes about 3 dozen

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
100g white chocolate, chopped

Combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually, beating until mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla, and beat until mixed. Gradually add the flour and mix until combined. Halve the dough and shape into disks. Wrap each in plastic and chill for 2 hours or up to one day.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll about 1 tablespoon of dough (about the size of a walnut) into a ball, and shape the one end into a pointy nose. Place shapes on lined baking sheets, about 3cm apart. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Transfer sheets to wire racks, and let cookies cool completely.

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Pipe eyes, whiskers, ears and a tail onto each mouse. Chill until the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wiggles. And some more cookies.

I feel as if I'm saying this every month, but the Little Girl is at such a delightful age. She's really starting to use her words - some Afrikaans, some English - and it's great listening to her. One of her words is "star", and whenever Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is played, she sings along, with special emphasis every time "star" comes along. She is indeed a little star.

Other words are daddy and mamma, ball, bath, car and dis klaar (it's finished), usually said to me in case I didn't notice that the DVD is back at the home menu. The DVD's we mostly watch these days are the Wiggles, probably her favourite word. Now, if you feel like judging me for plonking my child in front of the television once a day to watch her DVD, please feel free. I'm just thankful that there is something that keeps her entertained, and more importantly, sitting still for an hour. During that hour I can shower, eat something, clean the kitchen, make dinner, do some laundry. Whatever needs to be done, basically, without me worrying that she's trying to climb onto something, into something, breaking into something, breaking out of something, or generally engaging in some sort of behaviour that adds to my already greying hair.

So, when the Wiggles came to town, I thought I'll treat my darling Little Girl to a show. And she loved every minute of it. Not only couldn't she get enough of the guys and Captain Featherswort and Dorothy, there were other children, and lights, and music. Enough to make any little girl laugh out loud with happiness. Happy enough, also, to not only have a sleep on the way home, but to sleep straight through the night, which is still an irregular occurence in our household.

It's in the Little Girl's honour that I make these Rudolph cookies. She was too little last year to have them, but I can't wait to give them to her this Christmas. They are beyond cute, like those puppies you see in the pet shop window. I dare you to look them in the eyes and walk away. I made them with mini M&M's, but I think they will look nicer with chocolate chips for eyes and dried cranberries for the noses. If you have somebody little to bake for this year, don't look any further. Rudolph is your man.

Rudolph the Reindeer Cookies
Makes about 48 cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
250g packet small pretzels
160g packet mini M&M's

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Divide the dough in half. Cover and chill for 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Between two pieces of baking paper, roll out half of the dough until about 1/2 cm thick. Cut out oval shapes. Leftover dough can be re-rolled. Place the dough back in the refrigerator if it becomes too soft to handle.

For the antlers, lightly press the pretzels into the top corners of the oval. Use 2 brown M&M's for they eyes, and one red for the nose, or use chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

Bake in the preheated oven for for 8-9 minutes or until edges are light brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container and cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Happy Mistake

This cookie was a result of a mummy brain mistake. For those of you who don't have any children, it is completely true that a woman loses her mind once she has children. I think nature tries to keep you at home with your babies, instead of getting grand ideas and venturing out into the world to pursue them. I haven't had a grand idea in years. My memory is gone (What is the capital of France again? You know, the one with that pointy tower? What's that pointy tower called again?). I need to think hard before coming up with a coherent English sentence when I'm tired. Also, after this cookie mishap, I realised that my ability to divide by three is lost. Probably forever.

What I wanted to do was make the cookies in this photo. Last year I made both, and they were great, and this year I thought I'll make the swirls again, but with coffee instead of pistachios. You have to divide your dough in three and flavour each part with the flavouring of your choice. So I weighed my total amount of dough, which was about 760g, and did a little bit of mathematics in my head, and went ahead to flavour 340g with chocolate. Now those of you with no children, and those of you with children and calculators, will tell me very quickly that 760 divided by 3 is not 340. And I now that now. How I came to that obviously very wrong conclusion is beyond me.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. As I couldn't do swirls anymore, I decided to make chocolate and vanilla roll-ups, except I really wanted to put the coffee in there somewhere as well. After a tiny bit of brainstorming, I thought I'll make a sort of spicy crumble with walnuts (which is what I had in the cupboard) and coffee, and layer everything together. Initially I didn't want to do any nuts, as you never know who turns out to be allergic. Then again, they are my cookies, I wanted nuts in them, and if anybody doesn't want them, they don't have to eat them.

So after layering and rolling and resting my creation in the fridge, I started to cut slices from the roll. To my horror they didn't look at all as I pictured them. I was planning to make cookies that look like those cards on old television shows that you look at to put you in a trance. These looked nothing like that. It smelt good, though, and when it came round to taste testing, they were delicious. Chocolate and coffee and spices, with crunchy nuts. What more do you need in a Christmas cookie?

Next time I make these I'll work at making them look a bit more than my initial idea. I think the biggest mistake I made was making the crumble layer too thick. Maybe they will work better only layered, and not rolled as well, like the cornmeal and spicy pecan cookies I made earlier in the year. Either way, I'm very pleased my mathematical disaster turned out so delicious. If only life was always this forgiving!

Chocolate Coffee Crumble Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen

175g (3/4 cup) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
50g unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 cup walnuts, toasted

Beat butter for 30 seconds. Beat in sugar, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer, and stir in the remaining flour by hand.

Divide the dough in two, and flavour one half with the chocolate. Divide each dough portion in half. Cover and chill for an hour, or until easy to roll.

In a food processor, chop the brown sugar, coffee and walnuts until the consistency you like.

On baking paper, roll out one piece of vanilla dough into a rectangle about 1/2 cm thick, and top with the crumble. Roll out a piece of chocolate dough to the same size, and place on top of the crumble stack. Trim any edges if necessary. If you want to make pinwheels, roll up, starting from a long end, otherwise keep the rectangle stack. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 or 2 hours. Repeat with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

If making pinwheels: Slice the roll into 1/2 cm slices. Place about 2 cm apart on the baking sheet.
If making stacks: Cut each rectangle into half lenghtwise, and then into 1/2 cm slices. Place onto baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes until tops are set and edges light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To store: Layer cookies between baking paper in an airtight container and cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days of freeze for up to 3 months.

Monday, December 6, 2010

All I want for Christmas is World Peace (cookies)

Last year I had the craziest plan ever. I decided to make gingerbread houses for all of our friends and family. Not crazy at all, you say? But wait, there's more, like they say on television. Not happy with plain old gingerbread houses, I decided to fill all of them with a selection of different Christmas cookies. While trying to raise a busy and active 5 month old. And looking after a husband, whose birthday happens to be at the very inconvenient date of  23 December (yes, we had 14 people over for dinner, and fights broke out over the leftovers of the cherry cake I baked, thank you very much). 20 people were coming for Christmas lunch (turkey, ham, trifle, the works), and around 40 guests for Christmas dinner (thankfully only leftovers and drinks, no more cooking). Actually, crazy is not the word. I think psychotic is a better description.

The cookies were baked in the weeks preceding Christmas, some lovingly, others not so much, the gingerbread houses assembled and iced, and everything handed out with instructions to enjoy, as I was never ever in my whole life going to do it again. Ever.

So what am I doing this year? That's right: New and Improved Gingerbread Houses filled with an even wider selection of Christmas cookies. I can't explain it, but Christmas brings out the baker in me. More than usual, that is. No other time of year do you have all your friends and family to spoil with food, and I can't resist. So, the plan is to make 12 different types of cookies (including the gingerbread houses), pack them lovingly, and hand them out amidst ooh's and aah's.

Now, just because I say here that I'm going to do this, doesn't mean I'm going to do it. As far as I know, blogs aren't legal and binding, which means you can say whatever you want in some delirious moment, and the next day pretend nothing has happened at all. But seriously, life tends to get in the way sometimes, and you never know when your carefully made plans will be thwarted. If in a couple of days this grand vision of mine is brought to an abrupt end, I'll just have to pretend that nothing has happened. Hopefully not, though. Surely, if I could do it last year, I'll be able to do it this year? I think the secret lies in the planning. I tried to choose cookies that can be made ahead and frozen. I'm not a fan of freezing food, but last year's freezer cookies all tasted delicious. Thank goodness for technology.

The cookies I'm going to start this wonderful cookie journey with is the World Peace cookies from Dorie Greenspan, via Smitten Kitchen, so-called because supposedly a couple of them a day will take the will to be nasty out of anybody. With a name like that it's got Christmas cookie written all over it, methinks. Initially I was a bit apprehensive. I've made cookies from Smitten Kitchen before which I was less than impressed with, and as I am a bit restricted schedule-wise, I don't really have the time for trial and error. So while I mixed and rolled and cut I was willing these cookies to be fabulous.

Thankfully the cookies obliged. More then obliged, as a matter of fact. They turned out absolutely fabulous. I had a couple. The Little Girl had a couple. I was tempted to have a couple more, but remembered that they were actually meant for somebody else, and packed them away promising that we'll meet again.

As good as these are, they are a pain to make. The dough is VERY crumbly, and I had to push together bits of cookie dough with every slice I cut. Don't let this deter you, dear reader, because it will be more than worth while in the end. I promise. I think they are best eaten warm out of the oven with a glass of cold milk, but cold is pretty awesome as well. Make a batch and decide for yourself.

Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Add the flour to the mixture, and mix at low speed, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Add the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are about 4cm in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving a couple of centimetres between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Club catch-up part 2: Chicken Tagine with Dates and Honey

Sometimes, if you make a mistake, it's best to just deny any knowledge of the situation alltogether, as proven by politicians all over the world on a daily basis. Except, if your name is in print as having made the original decision, unfortunately you just have to own up, apologise, and move on. Which is what I'm going to do right now.

The October book choice for This Book Makes Me Cook was The Caliph's House, by Tahir Shah. It's the story about a writer who moves to Casablanca into a magnificent old house, and all the stories about his new life, including the renovations of said house. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? I know, that's what I thought. Which is why I chose it when Simran asked me to nominate a few books for the members to choose from. I thought I'll do an African theme. I chose two South African, a Moroccan and an Egyptian book to chose from. Admittedly, I didn't know anything about the Moroccan and Egyptian books, but I gathered that that is what Amazon reviews are for. One review of Caliph's House reads: "This is a very funny and readable account of Tahir Shah's ordeals trying to remodel a decrepit palace in Casablanca. In some ways, Shah's account reads like a man's Moroccan version of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. It's less romantic and food-oriented, but references the similar nightmares and pleasures involved with restoring an ancient dwelling." Forgive me for thinking this sounded like a good story.

Except it wasn't. I'll give you a few highlights:
  • Seconds after receiving the keys to the house, a terrorist bomb explodes outside the building. Not a good start, in my humble opinion.
  • The house is basically inhabitable, and the whole family is forced to sleep in one room on the floor, together with rats.
  • The house came with staff, who believe they are really in charge, not the new owner. Hence all requests and orders fall on deaf ears.
  • The jinns. Wether you believe in them or not, they really run the show. Everything bad that happens are due to them. Everything good that happens are due to them. You need to avoid them, placate them, make sacrifices, etc.etc. You catch my drift.
  • The author's first assistant abandons him because her jinn told her to.
  • The author is required to acquire a second wife to cut through some red tape. I think there was also a jinn involved somehow.
  • The neighbours are part of the local mafia.
I found the whole story extremely frustrating, and I promise that if it were us, we would have been back in England within a couple of months. You've got to chose your battles. Now, I'm really worried that I'm offending somebody by saying all this. I thoroughly believe that every person on earth should be allowed to believe in anything he or she choses to believe in, and as long as nobody gets hurt, the details are really none of anybody's business. What got to me here was the absolute frustration of the whole book. Every single thing became a battle with no rules and no hope of ever understanding exactly what is going on.

However, like most things in life, it wasn't all bad. I did learn some interesting things about Casablancan history and architecture. I learned that there are people going around the world who watch the movie Casablanca in as many different countries as possible. And then there's the food. At least this poor family managed to eat well. There is mention of spices, lamb, couscous, coffee, tagines, and everything else you expect to read about in a book about Morocco. One consolitation I had was that our book club members won't have any difficulty in deciding what to cook.

I decided pretty early on that it will have to be a tagine, and I decided on a chicken, honey and date version. Now, as bad as this book was, that's how good this recipe is. I found it on Epicurious, and adapted it according to some of the comments. The original recipe called for dried apricots, but because the Fabulous Man has a thing about fruit in food other than dessert, I substituted it with dates so it can blend in a bit better. I also cut the amount of honey, and doubled the spices, as suggested by some readers. To call this dish fabulous is an absolute understatement. I'm always on the lookout for dishes that are quick and easy to make, but the fact that this one doesn't taste quick and easy is a plus. Which just goes to show: if everything in life goes haywire, just focus on the food. You'll always feel better.

Chicken Tagine with Honey, Dates and Almonds
Serves 4

 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
olive oil
6 chicken thigh fillets
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
a small handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
a small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon mild honey
1 cup water
1  cinnamon stick
1/2 cup dried dates, chopped
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds

Stir together ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, ras el hanout, pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat well.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in base of tagine (or in skillet), uncovered, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook half of the chicken until browned both sides. Transfer to a plate. Brown remaining chicken in same manner, adding any spice mixture left in bowl.

Add onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add to the tagine 1/2 cup chicken stock, chicken, and any juices accumulated on plate. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

While chicken cooks, bring honey, water, cinnamon stick, and dates to a boil in a  heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until dates are very tender (add more water if necessary). Once dates are tender, simmer until liquid is reduced to a glaze.

While the dates cook, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over moderate heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally, until just golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Ten minutes before chicken is done, add the date mixture and the chopped herbs to tagine. Discard the cinnamon stick, and serve chicken sprinkled with almonds on top.

Book Club catch-up part 1: Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue

I have a theory: You can tell a great book by the first sentence. I'll give you a couple of examples: "I wish Giovanni would kiss me", Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. "When you are just the right age, as Mma Ramotswe was, and when you have seen a bit of life, as Mma Ramotswe certainly had, then there are certain things that you just know." Blue Shoes and Happiness, Alexander McCall Smith. "You gonna eat that?" Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl.

Garlic and Sapphires was This Book Makes Me Cook July book choice. I can't remember if I voted for this book or not, but if I did, it was a random, but very lucky choice. Ruth is the new food critic for the New York Times, moving from Los Angeles. Except, being as serious as New Yorkers are about their food and restaurants, everybody knows what she looks like long before she arrives. Reportedly her photo is up in every kitchen in Manhattan and beyond, and Ruth is forced to don several different disguises to make sure her visits to the restaurants remain unnoticed.

Not surprisingly the book is filled with wonderful stories about delicious food and a variety of restaurants - some better than others. I learnt about soba noodles: " They are made of buckwheat, which has no gluten. That means that getting them to hold together is an act of will. They say it takes a year to learn to mix the dough, another year to learn to roll it, a third to learn the correct cut. In Japan they like soba because they taste good. But they like them even more because they are difficult to make." Ms Reichl also tells us about a sushi restaurant she discovers by accident when she follows a stylish Japanese lady dressed in Manolo Blahnik and Hermes. She talks about tuna that melts in the mouth like whipped cream, and some abalone which was "more like some exotic mushroom than something from the ocean with a slightly musky flavor that made me think of ferns", and sea urchin:" ...this is the sexiest thing I've ever eaten. Let's stop now."

What did catch me by surprise, though, was the effect her disguises had on not only the people around her, but on Ruth herself. Dressed as the vivacious Brenda she felt alive and full of fun. Chloe was expensive and glamorous. Dressed as her mother, Mirian, she became critical and made a scene about every dish put in front of her, exactly like the real Miriam used to do. Another of her disguises were of a little old lady called Betty. Not only did she feel unnoticed, ignored and unloved, but was treated exactly like that by waiters and other people on the street. This had an even more profound effect on me than the wonderful stories about the sushi. Isn't it sad how we treat people by the way they look? Who are we to judge somebody based solely on an impression formed in the first few split seconds after having met them? I promised myself that I will at least try to treat everybody I meet with respect. I can always change my mind later. It also reminded me that the way we look has a huge effect on the way we feel, so next time I'm feeling tired and frumpy, I'll put on some make-up and a blonde wig. (You're right, that's over the top. Forget the make-up).

The book has several very delicious-looking recipes, one of spaghetti carbonara which is what I wanted to make initially. However, after having visited the Gourmet website with new eyes (Ruth Reichl left the New York Times to become the editor of Gourmet) I stumbled upon a wonderful recipe for pumpkin fondue. What you do is this: you hollow out a pumpkin, fill it with layers of cheese, bread and cream, and bake it in the oven until it all becomes one gooey delicious mess. Emphasis on the delicious. Honestly, do I need to say more than cheese, bread and cream? Isn't that enough to make you drool all over the keyboard?

Dear people, if you haven't yet read this book, please consider doing so. Not only will it make you laugh, and look at noodles with different eyes, it might even make you consider wearing an outrageous wig, just to see how you feel in it. But most of all it will make you want to eat something delicious as soon as possible, like this pumpkin fondue. Give in, dear readers. No use resisting good food.

Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue

Serves 8
Original recipe at Gourmet

1 piece of baguette, cut into 1 cm slices (200g total)
3kg orange pumpkin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère 
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Emmental
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 220°C with rack in lower third.

Toast baguette slices in 1 layer on a baking sheet in oven until tops are crisp (bread will still be pale), about 7 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a circle (about 8cm in diameter) around stem with a small sharp knife. Scrape out seeds and any loose fibers from inside pumpkin with a spoon (including top of pumpkin; reserve seeds for another use if desired). Season inside of pumpkin with 1/2 tsp salt.

Whisk together cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a bowl. Mix together cheeses in another bowl.

Put a layer of toasted bread in bottom of pumpkin, then cover with about 1 cup cheese and about 1/2 cup cream mixture. Continue layering bread, cheese, and cream mixture until pumpkin is filled to about 2cm from top, using all of cream mixture. (You may have some bread and cheese left over.)

Cover pumpkin with top and put in an oiled small roasting pan. Brush outside of pumpkin all over with olive oil. Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

 Pumpkin can be filled 2 hours before baking and chilled.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Simple Chocolate Tart

I don't know about you guys, but to me, the sight of a patisserie with shelves full of fruit tarts is enough to make me swoon with pleasure, and want to jump on the first plane to Europe. Crisp tart shell, sweet pastry cream and fruit arranged beautifully on top. This month, thanks to the Daring Bakers, I learnt what the Italian  term is for this: Crostata di frutta fresca. How cool is that? Doesn't it make you want to say it over and over again? Preferably while eating some of said crostata? Also, sweet short crust pastry is called pasta frolla. I don't think I'll say short crust pastry ever again, when I can say pasta frolla.

Easy to make too. Tart shell, pastry cream, or even some sweetened mascarpone, topped with beautiful fruit. Except I've never actually made one. And I'll tell you immediately why not: it's the blind baking bit. I once made a chocolate pecan tart which required blind baking. It turned out absolutely delicious, except it was so fiddly I wasn't keen to repeat the experience anytime soon.

Then I came across somebody called Jamie Oliver. Baby Brother and I were in Amsterdam, taking a break from drinking coffee and looking at Van Gogh, and found ourselves in an english bookstore. The title caught my eye: The Naked Chef. I'm sorry to say I couldn't take the book off the shelf quickly enough. After the initial disappointment of not seeing any beautiful naked men, I realised that the recipes are actually pretty good, and I bought the book. Back home I realised the man is actually world famous, his recipes are great, and I started cooking. One recipe I've always wanted to try, but somehow never got around to, was his Simple Chocolate Tart. Chocolate, pastry, cream. Say no more. And to make things better, he believes that if you put your pastry in the freezer before baking, you don't have to do the whole baking paper-and-beans-thing. I was sold. And when this Daring Bakers challenge came around, I decided to make, among others, this chocolate tart. I also wanted to do the whole mascarpone cream and beautiful fruit tart, as well as a cooked pastry cream one featured in the challenge. Then I sort of lost track of time, and this morning realised with a shock that posting date is today. Hence, I present you Simple Chocolate Tart. And nothing else. Hopefully I'll get round to them sometime soon.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Pasta frolla

1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar, or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.

Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.

Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).

Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.

Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.

Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.

Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Line your tart tin with the chilled dough, making sure it is as even as possible. Wrap the tin in plastic, then put in the freezer for at least an hour.

Bake the tart shell straight from the freezer at 180°C for 15 minutes. Cool.

Simple Chocolate Tart

1 tart shell, baked blind
300ml  double cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
115g softened butter
450g dark chocolate, broken up
100ml milk
cocoa powder for dusting

Place the double cream and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture has boiled, remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Stir until it has completely melted. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, stirring in the cold milk until smooth and shiny. Scrape all the mixture into the cooked and cooled pastry shell with a spatula. Shake tart to even it out, and allow to cool for around 1-2 hours until room temperature. Dust with cocoa powder. Ultimately the pastry should be short and crisp and the filling should be smooth and should cut like butter.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jamie's steak

We've had the most wonderful weekend here at the cottage. Our wonderful friend Nick came to visit, and we had a grand old time catching up. He is the new head of some important business, and has been travelling all over the globe the last few weeks. Together with us living with other people and painting every spare moment until just recently, there wasn't a lot of socialising done. A lot to discuss, then.

And with discussion came food. On Saturday night The Fabulous Man and Nick decided they're going to have a braai, ie a barbeque over proper fire, not sissy gas (I know there are fire restrictions and all that, but still). They made beef sausages and a butterflied leg of lamb, and I thought I was in heaven. That wood smoky taste you only get from cooking over fire is second to none, and I felt like crying thinking about home. (Sometimes I still find myself thinking of "home" as South Africa. I'm sorry fellow Australians, I'm working on it). Sunday morning was spent over cups of tea and good old english breakfast, and a lazy walk into town. All in all a great weekend.

Back to normality on Monday night, and I decided to try a recipe of Jamie Oliver I've been saving for a while. It's roast beef cooked half over the coals, and finished off in the oven, served with a capsicum and chilli salsa. It's the salsa that caught my eye initially. I think it's good to have a little something up your sleeve that's easy to make, but jazzes up a normal meal. This sounded the perfect accompaniment to the barbeque that can unfortunately so easily turn into burnt sausages in bread and overcooked lamb chops. We've all been to those.

Of course the recipe is vintage Jamie, which means six hundred different ingredients cooked meticulously from scratch. He suggests you roast red peppers, red onion and chillies over the coals for about half an hour until nicely charred, and then fiddle with them a bit more. Then chop it all up with all the other ingredients. Now, in a perfect world, this is what I would do, but in my world, not so much. Actually, dinner time in our house is turning out to be a bit of a stressful time. The Little Girl is usually tired and grumpy by now, usually still needs a bath, and the Fabulous Man is trying to recover if he's been away during the day. And I'm trying to cook dinner. It sort of works if I feed the girl early, have dinner cooked late afternoon, and then give the girl a bath while the Man catches his breath. Sort of. Mostly not. Hence anything cooked over coals for hours doesn't get done on a Monday night if it can be bought ready made from the shop. My recipe then contains a jar of red peppers from the supermarket, and I slowly cooked my onions in some olive oil in a pan while chopping up the rest of the ingredients. The meat was cooked on the stove. No woodfire either, alas.

I substituted the beef with sirloin steaks, as suggested by Jamie, however, I am keen to try the rib-eye next time I make this. And there will definitely be a next time. This dish was sensational. We loved the marinade for the beef, and the salsa lifted the whole meal from the ordinary to the divine. Highly recommended, dear readers.

Seared herby beef with spicy capsicum salsa
Serves 6

Bunch of thyme
3 garlic cloves
olive oil
1kg piece rib-eye (on or off the bone), or 4 250g sirloin steaks
3 red chillies, seeds removed
4 red capsicums, halved, seeds removed (or a jar of ready-roasted capsicums)
1 red onion, cut into wedges
50g capers
6 anchovy fillets (or, if you're anchovy-shy like I am, only one)
small bunch of basil, leaves picked, smaller leaves reserved
red wine vinegar
1 lemon

If you're using a gas barbeque, preheat it to high heat, otherwise light the fire. If you're in South Africa the men will take care of this. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Pick leaves from half the thyme, then pound in a pestle and mortar with garlic and some salt. Mix in some olive oil until marinade-conistency, then massage into the meat. Leave for at least 30 minutes. Use the remaining thyme sprigs as a brush. You can tie them together with string if you could be bothered.

Meanwhile, for the salsa, chargrill your chilli, capsicum and onion on a medium barbeque for 20 minutes, turning occasionally until slightly charred all over. Alternatively, use bottled chargrilled capsicums, and caramelise the onions on the stovetop. Put in a food processor with the capers, anchovies and basil and process until finely chopped. Add a generous splash of vinegar and some olive oil until you've got a good dipping consistency. Taste, and season if needed.

Put a roasting pan in the oven to get hot. Put the beef on the barbeque and cook for 10 minutes, turning every minute to give a good colour. Use the thyme brush to brush with any remaining marinade. Transfer the meat to the roasting pan and cook in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until done to your liking.

Alternatively you can use 250g sirloin steaks. Marinade them the same way, then barbeque for 7 minutes, turning every minute. They will cook through on the barbeque or in the pan.

Serve the meat sliced with some rocket dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, and the salsa on the side.Yum!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cottage

I was about to apologise for my very long absence, and then remembered that my name is not Julie, and I don't delude myself into thinking people are having sleepless nights in front of their computers just to see what I'm up to next. Coming up is a story, then. Not an excuse.

The Fabulous Man and I bought a house. At last. We looked for ages, and couldn't find exactly what we wanted where we wanted. Then we stumbled across a lovely little house called The Cottage in the foothills, rather than on the mountain itself. It's about a quarter of the size of our previous house, but we loved it, and our very first offer was accepted. We were, and still are, very happy with our purchase.

The Cottage

The Cottage was built in 1890, and luckily for us maintained very well. There were no major problems at all, but it still needed some paint and a few other small things. The walls were horrible. You know that very course sandpaper-like stuff you find on the outside of some houses? This was what covered our inside walls. So, before painting, the walls needed sanding, and we couldn't find one painter who was willing to tackle the job. They all said that they're sure the stuff is there for a reason, and the reason is probably that the walls underneath are in pretty bad shape.

The Fabulous Man decided to do it himself, and with the help of our lovely uncle Andrew, accepted the challenge. Together they spent the next few weeks, in-between day jobs, sanding and patching walls. Yes, the walls underneath were less than perfect. Wonky, to be kind. We bought buckets and buckets of plaster-like stuff from the hardware store to patch them up. My poor husband returned home every night covered with dust. I did my bit, and had paint under my nails for weeks. I'm happy to say I can also now use the words "caulking gun" in a meaningful sentence.

In the meantime we lived with my lovely mother-in-law. It was great. We took turns making tea for each other. The Little Girl had a fabulous time exploring new horizons and playing with her cousins on a daily basis. I even cooked a few times. No blog cooking, I'm sorry to say. Every time I try something new, there's always the very distinct possibility that I at the very least wreck something, possibly even burn down the kitchen. I didn't want to do this to her. Hence, no posts for months.

The kitchen. Yes, that is an open fireplace. And yes, that is a very tiny oven. No twelve course dinners, I'm afraid.

The end result is a dream. We are both very impressed with how it turned out. It is by far the friendliest house I've ever lived in, and the garden is full of beautiful shrubs, some roses, and, to my delight, a lemon tree. Opposite the house is a little french deli, for which I had grand plans of visiting each morning for coffee and croissants. Alas, the prices are higher than heaven, and the people are unfriendly. Hence, the Little Girl and I walk into town each day, talking to anybody and everybody. I am amazed every day by how friendly everybody is here. We love it.

I am almost fully back into cooking mode, and will try my best to come up with lovely recipes for you to drool over. In the meantime, I hope everybody is having a great week.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Brown Butter and Coffee Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alasa or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I remember making Baked Alaska when I was little. I can't remember much about it, except that the recipe I used always made too little meringue (this was before I realised that you just double a recipe if you don't have enough). Years went by, and this challenge was the first I thought about this recipe again. Cake, ice cream and meringue. Can't go wrong, can you? Plus I don't need much of an excuse to make ice cream these days, after my roaring success with the chocolate ice cream with chocolate covered pecans.

I also remember once making brown butter biscuits. For some reason I was not impressed. A lot of trouble with not much of a result. I'm not sure what I did wrong. Probably I didn't heat the butter long enough (I usually err on the side of safety when it comes to possibly burning something). This time I did better. In fact, it was so good, I wonder if shouldn't just use brown butter whenever I need butter in a recipe from now on. Brown butter chocolate chip cookies, anyone?

For the ice cream, I initially thought about making a maple syrup flavoured one, but realised I didn't have enough after making some dessert the other night, which I'll tell you all about later. It happens to me a lot these days. I look for inspiration to use up an ingredient, then find so many good things I want to try that I end up having to buy more of the stuff. Like maple syrup. Watch this space.

Anyway, looking for inspiration in this wonderful book, I came across coffee meringue, and remembered a recipe I bookmarked ages ago. Vietnamese Coffee ice cream, recipe from The Master courtesy of Cafe Fernando. Except I forgot to add coffee to the meringue in the end, so this version has only plain meringue. Not that it was a problem. This ice cream is so bloody fabulous, I cannot urge you enough to get up, get in your car, buy some condensed milk and good coffee if you don't have any, and make this ice cream as soon as you can. It is that good. And easy. No fuffing about trying to make a custard with a one year old hanging onto your legs.

Also, this recipe had no problem with too little meringue. In fact, there was so much left over, I made some extra. Coffee (to make up for the previous forgetfulness), rose petal and vanilla. They were delicious, as meringues tend to be. Don't you just love leftovers?

Thus, revisiting a childhood memory, I bring you Brown Butter and Coffee Baked Alaska. A lot better than I remember. (Honestly, don't bother with the meringue. Just make the ice cream.)

David's Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

Recipe from David Lebovitz
1 tin (400g) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup ( 1.3 oz or 40 g) + 1 tbsp dark roast ground coffee, divided
1/3 cup whole milk

1.Brew a very strong coffee with 1+1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of ground coffee. With a paper filter, that will yield 1 cup of very strongly brewed coffee. You can substitute with a cup of strongly brewed espresso.

2.Whisk together the condensed milk, espresso, milk and ground coffee. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Brown Butter Pound Cake

275g unsalted butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. (I used a round cake tin)

2. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.

3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.

5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.

6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

8 large egg whites
½ teaspoon (3g) cream of tartar
½ teaspoon (3g) salt
1 cup (220g) sugar

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar gradually in a slow stream until stiff peaks form.

Assembly Instructions
1. Line four 4” (10cm) diameter tea cups with plastic wrap, so that plastic wrap covers all the sides and hangs over the edge. Fill to the top with ice cream. Cover the top with the overhanging plastic wrap and freeze for several hours, or until solid.

2. Level the top of the brown butter pound cake with a serrated knife or with a cake leveler. Cut out four 4” (10cm) diameter circles from the cake. Discard the scraps or use for another purpose.

3. Make the meringue (see above.)

4. Unwrap the ice cream “cups” and invert on top of a cake round. Trim any extra cake if necessary.

5. Pipe the meringue over the ice cream and cake, or smooth it over with a spatula, so that none of the ice cream or cake is exposed. Freeze for one hour or up to a day.

6. Burn the tips of the meringue with a cooking blow torch. Or, bake the meringue-topped Baked Alaska on a rimmed baking sheet in a 500°F/260°C oven for 5 minutes until lightly golden. Serve immediately.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Daring Cooks: Butterscotch Banana Pierogi

The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

In my case, that means I should have pierogi with either kangaroo, vegemite, or boerewors (South African farmer's sausage). As you can see, I came up with butterscotch bananas. I decided "my locale" also loosely translates into "my kitchen", and what I have in my kitchen at the moment is overripe bananas. Sounds perfect with some butter, brown sugar and dark rum, doesn't it? Except, I didn't have any rum, so I used some butterscotch schnapps instead. (I realise it's unforgivable to have butterscotch schnapps in your house, but it's leftover from the time I tried to recreate the butter beer from Harry Potter. Which turned out delicious, thank you very much.)

I'm going to be completely honest with you, ladies and gentlemen. I am exhausted. The Fabulous Man has been away on business most of the week, and I'm worn out from looking after the Little Girl on my lonesome. To all you single mums out there: Respect, girlfriends. I don't know how you do it. It's a combination of the Little Girl refusing to miss out on anything, and being a bit out of sorts because she's missing Daddy. Just taking a shower is a challenge, since she realised that she can crawl in while I'm washing my hair and can't see or hear her. She's done it once (soaked through clothes put on only minutes before), and now she tries to do it every time. I dare you to try and wash your hair with one hand while keeping the shower door closed with the other, as the Little Girl bangs on it with all her might.

Falling asleep has always been a battle, but that's now combined with waking up way too often during the night for a one year old. Anyway, all this to explain that I'm tired, I'm not going to write fabulous posts tonights. Luckily this challenge was a fairly easy one, otherwise I would've missed out.

So without further ado, I bring you Butterscotch Banana Pierogi.

Butterscotch Banana Pierogi
Serves 4


½ cup (125 ml) milk (can be whole milk, 2% or skim milk)
½ cup (125 ml) whipping cream
3 large egg whites
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
3 cups (450 gm) all-purpose flour

1. Mix flour and salt, add other ingredients, and knead dough until you have a smooth dough.

2. On a floured surface roll out fairly thin (1/8” or about 3 millimeters), cut into 2” (5 cm) squares, and fill with 1 tsp (5ml) banana filling (see below).

2 bananas, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon butterscotch schnapps or rum (optional)

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar until frothy.
Add the bananas, and fry until soft and fragrant.
Add the schnapps.

Keep separate until needed.

To finish

Fry the cooked pierogi in the leftover caramel until nice and golden, and serve with some cream and some schnapps on the side if you're letting your hair down.