Wednesday, 30 January 2013

pretty on the inside

not the most appealing-looking muffin you'll come across, but definitely one of the most delicious. don't mistake these muffins for the usual flour-heavy cannonballs, or even the meal-sized, if fluffy, ones you find in cafes that cater to business people. nope. these are small but perfectly proportioned, tender morsels of cake-masquerading-as-muffin. just try not to love them, and, upon eating, know that you'll never again judge on appearance.

these can be happily gluten-free - just substitute your favourite coeliac-friendly plain flour mix and proceed as normal.

p.s. I know all manner of bakery uglinesses can be, are frequently are, covered by a lavish application of icing or icing sugar. not these. that would nullify the whole point; and besides, no muffin in its right mind would ever allow itself to be iced.

1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
125g butter, melted
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 medium bananas, mashed
good handful of flaked almonds
1 - 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 tablespoon honey
vanilla to taste (I have a heavy hand - about 1/2 a tablespoon)
good handful of dark chocolate chips

line a muffin or cupcake pan with papers or those strange plasticky things (you'll need about 12). preheat your oven to 170 degrees.
find two large-ish bowl for mixing. in the first one, put the flour, ground almonds (not the flaked ones - they're for later), baking powder, bicarb, cinnamon and spice and mix together. in the second bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until smooth. now add in the eggs, honey and the banana, and mix a little more until smooth again. add the flaked almonds, chocolate and vanilla. once they're mixed in, add the contents of the first bowl in two lots, mixing gently in between. spoon the batter into the pans and bake for about 30 minutes. At 25, check with a cake tester - it should come out clean; if not, just slide them back in for that last 5 minutes. when done, they should look gorgeously ugly: lumpy, golden brown and just right. eat warm.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

more ass than class cookies

There's a funny urban myth about these cookies (not their original name, by the way, which has been lost in the myths of internet history)... that the recipe was leaked by the disgruntled former employee of the company who concocted it... Anyway, these bikkies are quite scandalous enough on their own. They are not refined or classy or clever in component parts, but they are about as addictive as crack cocaine. The recipe makes heaps, so either freeze half the dough, or start selling them on the side. 

I have the one and only Bunny to thank for this recipe. Make it, and you will want to thank her too.

200g butter, soft
1 cup caster sugar (I like unrefined)
1 cup soft brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups plain flour
150g ground hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
350g (approx - just see how many are in the packet) dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups flaked almonds

Note: if you have ground almonds and whole hazelnuts instead of the above (for some reason I always seem to), just toast and chop the hazelnuts a bit and reverse the nut combo.

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celcius. Cream the soft butter and the sugars, using an electric mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix til just combined. Gently mix in the flour, salt, baking powder, bicarb soda and ground hazelnuts (or almonds if that's what you're using) til just combined. Add the chocolate chips and almonds (or chopped hazelnuts) and mix til just combined. Line some baking trays with non-stick paper. Roll the soft, sticky dough into balls between your palms, aiming for about a 3cm diameter. Place them about 3cm apart on the lined trays (you may have to do several batches). 
Bake bikkies in oven until turning golden but still soft-ish (not too puffy though) - about 10 - 15 minutes. I have made these in several ovens and they do tend to vary, so keep any eye on them from about 8 minutes. 

This will deliver you about 50 - 60 cookies, so do share the love. Oh, and a cookie-ice-cream sandwich never goes astray. Don't scoff until you try one! Then scoff the lot.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

soup for comfort

For the gentle and systematic re-assembling of the self. That is all.

1 large brown onion, finely chopped
1 long celery stick, finely diced (no leaves)
1 carrot, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small green apple, peeled and finely diced
1/2 smallish sweet potato, finely diced
1 glass white wine
2-3 chicken stock cubes
1 400g tin tomatoes
1 400g tin mixed beans, drained and rinsed
2 handfuls of red lentils
1.5 litres boiling water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Hefty dash chilli powder

Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan or stockpot. Add the onion and fry gently, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes or until it is soft and translucent. Then add the carrots and celery. Fry them together for about 5 minutes then add the wine, garlic, apple and sweet potato. Cook gently with the lid on, about 20 minutes or until softened. At this point, add the tomatoes, beans, lentils, stock cubes, chilli, thyme and water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Taste to see if it's salty enough; you may need to add more, or another stock cube.

Ladle the delicate, sweet broth and tender veggies and legumes in big bowlfuls and add a bit of fresh parsley. 

Monday, 28 May 2012

the resurgence of the golden syrup dumpling

If there's one thing that will prevent gens y and z from overtaking their predecessors in almost every way possible, it's this: the fact that golden syrup dumplings are missing from their lexicon. They are, incomprehensibly, totally out of vogue. I'm no child of the Depression, and these certainly hail from then, but there is so much more to them than mere economy. They are synonymous with childhood, with safety, with tenderness. Plus they are incredibly easy to make and quick to cook, whilst being perfectly fluffy and absolutely rolling in caramelly syrup. You don't even need an oven. So, if you have little people, or you just want to feel like one momentarily, make these. And watch the world get better.

220g (1 1/2 cups) self raising flour
150g (3/4 cup) soft brown sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) golden syrup
185ml (3/4 cup) milk
100g butter
2 cups water from the tap
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

In a medium to large saucepan, put the water, 60ml (1/4 cup) syrup, essence and 50g butter. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer.
While you're waiting, put the flour and remaining butter into your food processor and pulse until combined. You can do this by hand, rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingertips, if you don't have a processor - it just takes a little longer. Now add the remaining syrup and milk, and pulse/mix to combine. If you have a sneaky taste, you'll find the batter not at all sweet, but don't worry - the syrup will be more than enough later.
Into your hot pan of syrup, now add the batter: using two dessert spoons, form little oval-shaped dumplings (or quenelles, if you're feeling French) and just drop them in. When they're all in (don't worry, they will fit) turn the heat down so the syrup is barely simmering. Cover with a lid and leave alone, happy in the knowledge that pudding is only 20-25 minutes away.
After that time, poke a skewer in - it should come out clean. The dumplings will be hot, fluffy and perfect.
Serve them swimming in the thick sauce, and with either cream or icecream for balance.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

how to win friends and influence people

My mum's sticky date pudding... the very last word in puddings. Pudding, as opposed to dessert, of course. Pudding is for comfort, for winter, for making people love you. Feed to those whose approval you desire, and watch them melt.

1 1/4 cups dried pitted dates, chopped roughly
1 cup water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
60g butter, cubed
2 eggs
3/4 cup caster sugar (golden is my preference)
1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the sauce:
3/4 cup brown sugar
150ml cream
125g butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees celcius. Butter a 20cm square cake pan (or equivalent size) and line it with baking paper.
Place date chunks and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil, then put a lid on. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then cook gently for about 10 minutes until the dates are jammy and there are no offensively big chunks.
Mix in the bicarb soda and the butter cubes. Mix in all the other ingredients, then whisk the two eggs lightly with a fork and add them too, mixing everything gently until smooth and combined. Make sure you taste the batter, it is almost spicy from the dates. You could even add a touch of cinnamon or mixed spice to amp this up, if you wished - just a thought.
Now pour the batter into the lined pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the cake is springy under your finger. A skewer should come out clean.

While your pudding is cooling, make the sauce by combining all ingredients in a small pan. Bring them to the boil, then simmer gently for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve generous squares of the pudding, pouring the sticky, caramelly sauce over with reckless impunity.

Feed to the deserving, and bask in your well-earned love and admiration.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

the brownie to end all brownies...

In the days before these brownies entered my life, I thought, brownies, ho-hum: sugary, corn-syrup laden, american-style baking. But if you give these a go, I promise they'll change your mind, like they did mine. For good. Not just your own good, but the greater good.

200g dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa solids, for preference) chopped into rough chunks
200g butter
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
50g plain flour (1/2 cup)
25g almond meal (1/4 cup)
25g cocoa powder (1/4 cup) - use the good, if expensive, stuff - you'll taste the difference

200g (1 cup) caster sugar - if you can track it down, use golden caster sugar - again, it just tastes more fudgy and caramelly
200g white chocolate, chopped into rough chunks

1x 20cm square cake pan (or equivalent size) buttered and lined with baking paper. If you keep the paper a bit higher than the pan sides, it will be easier to lift out later.

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celcius/340 degrees fahrenheit.

Put dark chocolate and butter into a medium microwave-proof bowl. Heat for about 10 seconds, then stir. Keep going in 5 second increments, stirring in between, until everything is melted and amalgamated. Be very careful not to burn the mixture - this will happen easily, so try not to get impatient!
Cool for a few minutes, then add the vanilla essence.
In a nice wide bowl, sift the flour, almond meal and cocoa. Mix in the sugar, eggs and dark chocolate mixture until just combined. Lastly add the white chocolate chunks, again, stirring as briefly as possible.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the house smells like brownie.

Cool (if you can bear to wait) before cutting into squares and devouring. The white chocolate will have taken on an almost caramelly richness and is a perfect foil for the crumbly, dark, fudgy slice.
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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

spicy apple cake

If you live in Melbourne, winter happens quickly. Only a few weeks of crisp autumn air and warm afternoons, and then the leaves are off the trees and you're pulling out your gloves. This cake is just what you need to remind you of cold-weather pleasures. It came from my grandmother, via a venerable tome known as the Binya cookbook. The well be-splattered pages of this volume contain the collective culinary wisdom of a few generations of farmers' wives... and are the provenance of my food-love.
Eat this perfectly soft, cinnamony cake while still warm. All you need is a rainy afternoon, something wonderful to read and a cup of lady grey. Winter bliss.

170g butter, softened
170g caster sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
125ml milk (1/2 cup)
150g self-raising flour (1 1/2 cups)
50g plain flour (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon mixed spice
5 granny smith (green cooking) apples
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, extra
2 tablespoons caster sugar, extra
1/2 tablespoon mixed spice, extra

1x 20-cm, buttered, baking-paper-lined springform cake pan

Preheat your oven to moderate/180 celcius/350 fahrenheit.
Peel your granny smiths and slice them into a medium saucepan. Add about 1/4 cup water from the tap, and the extra cinnamon, sugar and mixed spice. Cook them gently for 20 minutes or so, just until they become soft but not mushy. Cool, then drain off excess liquid.
Now for your cake mixture. Using an electric mixer (handheld or freestanding, it doesn't matter) cream together the soft butter and the sugar til fluffy. You can't really overdo it, so don't worry. Now add the eggs. Beat very briefly. Now take the mixer out just for a minute and sift in your flours and spices. Continue beating and while you do, add the milk in a thin stream. As soon as all is incorporated, stop beating.

Spoon half the creamy, cinnamony batter into the prepared pan. Now gently add the apple mixture on the top. Cover the apples with the remaining batter. I find it easiest to dollop the mixture on top and then smooth it together with the back of the spoon. Be sure to cover all the apples.

Now bake your cake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is deep golden and a skewer inserted comes out sticky from the apple but not covered in batter.

Cool for a few impatient minutes, then carefully undo the springform pan. Cut into lovely generous wedges and eat just as it is. Cinnamon heaven.