Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dotty Chocolate Smarties Cookies

I've been eating a lot of junk food recently. Smarties are my current favourite.


The switch from "healthy greens with every meal" to "Pocky sticks and coffee for breakfast" wasn't intentional. I believe it to be a symptom of the overall unstructured nature of my life recently. Without the structure of university lectures, hospital rounds, and group study sessions, my research year has quickly degenerated into a seemingly endless and timeless continuum of number-crunching, data-manipulating, and journal article-perusing. Most of the time I walk around in a semi-asleep state. It doesn't help that I only interact with other human beings (who are not family) maybe once or twice a week. That's the thing - I miss people. I miss social interactions. I miss the hustle and bustle of the hospital environment, the beeping of machines, the charts, talking with patients, listening to hearts and lungs...all those things about my clinical placement which overwhelmed me last year, I miss with an almost painful intensity now.


Not that I dislike research. A few days ago I realised that I had recoded the variables in my dataset with the wrong values, and that was why the results weren't making any sense. I corrected the values, and suddenly, there were trends and correlations and associations. Not just any associations, but significant ones. As in, 'p < 0.05' significance. I got a massive high out of the findings. If research was all about ground-breaking discoveries, then I may very well consider it as a long-term career. However, the reality is that most of it is number-crunching, data-manipulating, and journal article-perusing. But when you do make that discovery, it's all the more rewarding.


Anyway, the fact that I don't have to see my peers on a regular basis has meant that I've kinda...let myself go. Not in the sense of gaining huge amounts of weight. Just...very out of shape. Compared to last year, where I was eating a lot of protein and fibre and exercising almost every day, my current lifestyle is ridiculously unhealthy. I feel breathless walking uphill to the shops, where as last year I could have sprinted the entire distance and not broken a sweat. I can't even run 2km anymore, let alone the 14km that I did for City2Surf last year.


Moreover, I've found myself getting quite moody around noon, and quite predictably so. I suspect it has a lot to do with crashing from the refined sugar highs induced by my junk food breakfasts. My cognition has also suffered a lot. I had such brain fog one day that I couldn't remember how I got from one place to the other. It felt like I'd suddenly materialised at the shopping center, and I had very little recollection of the actual trip. What mode of transport had I taken? How long did my journey take? It was a very disturbing sensation indeed.


Therefore, I've made a pledge to myself to go back to eating proper, wholesome foods from now on. These cookies are my way of using up the last of my Smarties stash, while also acting as a remind that there is nothing inherently wrong with refined carbohydrates and these so-called "empty" calories. I admit it - while I was actively trying to lose weight, and for the first few months of maintenance, I was very neurotic about food. I could eat this, but not that. Some foods were "bad" and should never be consumed. Protein bars were okay, but chocolate bars were not (even though the former was probably just as lacking in real nutrition). I didn't allow myself to have any junk food, and as a result of that I went nutso and ate EVERYTHING once I couldn't stand my restrictive, "healthy" diet anymore.


Since then, I've learnt moderation, and that junk food doesn't make you gain weight as long as you don't overeat in calories. It's how it makes you feel that should make you think twice about consuming it in excess. I want a good-looking, healthy body, but a healthy mind also. I don't want to have a depressive slump every afternoon. I don't want my brain to be so fogged over by high blood sugar levels that I can't interpret lab results, or fall asleep over my textbook. The point is, by all means eat junk food, but don't use it as a replacement for real nutrition. It's common sense to most people probably, but it's taken my own experiences to make me actually believe it.


Healthy or no, these cookies are delicious, and oh-so-adorable. I love multi-coloured dots, whether it be in fashion or food. They are super-easy to make. Just combine the ingredients for the cookie dough, pop it in the fridge to firm up a little (so that the cookie doesn't spread too much while baking), shape it into small discs, then press on the smarties. They take around 8-10 minutes to bake. The texture is a little harder than cakey, but not quite crunchy, I suspect that if you bake it for an extra minute, you'll end up with a crisp, chocolatey cookie.



Dotty Chocolate Smarties Cookies
Makes 32 palm-sized cookies

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter, softened
300g white granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
350g plain flour, sifted
50g cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Smarties to decorate (enough for 5 per cookie)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Place baking rack at the bottom 1/3 of the oven.

2. In a dry bowl, stir together the sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric or hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and continue to mix until fully incorporated.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture, and mix at low speed until just combined. Do not overmix or your cookies will be tough. If necessary, use hands or a wooden spoon to finish mixing together the dough.

5. Wrap the dough in cling wrap, and chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

6. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Grab a ball of dough slightly smaller than the size of a golf ball. Roll it into smooth ball, then flatten into a disc. Place onto baking paper, and press 5 Smarties on top of each disc.

7. Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly and harden before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely. But, by all means, eat them while they're still warm and soft! :D


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dorie Greenspan's Carrot Cake

Salutations! Once again, I've somehow allowed months to lapse in between posts. It's not like I've been super busy or anything. Despite being back at uni for almost a month now, I'm still getting my full 8-hours of sleep each night, and taking the time to go for walks, and baking two-layered carrot cakes. Isn't that just disgusting? I should be ashamed to call myself a student.


Photo courtesy of the UNSW Baking Society

I've posted a recipe for carrot cake before, but that particular one has nothing, NOTHING on the one I share with you today. THIS is the mother of all carrot cakes. Once I had my first bite, I knew for certain that this would be the start of a beautiful and complex relationship - between myself, and the most perfect, most gorgeous, most sublime carrot cake on earth. I know that bakers (especially ones who blog about their handiwork) have a tendency to throw in superlatives like they're going out of fashion, but merely calling this the "best" carrot cake recipe would be to do it a supreme injustice (and there I go again...)


I made this cake for a very special occasion indeed. Did you know that the University of New South Wales, my residence away from home for the past three-going-on-four years, has it's own baking society? It's mind-blowing, isn't it. A baking society, dedicated to all things cake and baked, right there on my doorstep. Well, BakeSoc, as it is known, had it's first event of the year a few days ago; a Welcome Brunch for the members. We were invited to bring something (preferably home-baked, of course!) to share with one another. Dorie Greenspan's recipes are always a safe bet when it comes to taste and presentation, and so it was her "Bill's Big Carrot Cake" that I offered up to my fellow cake-lovers.


And the rest is history. This cake features toasted nuts and dried coconut slivers in the batter, which makes for an exciting mouthful. I used mixed nuts - a combination of walnuts, macadamias, cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and almonds. By all means, stick with one type, but that was what I had lying around. 

Photo courtesy of the UNSW Baking Society

If you compare the inside of this cake with that of my previous carrot cake recipe, you'll immediately be able to tell that this one is a lot fluffier and less dense. The reason for that, I believe, is the fact that I grated the carrots more coarsely this time round. I suspect that I grated the carrots too finely for the other cake, resulting in a dense, pudding-like texture. Don't be alarmed by the size of the carrot pieces when you use a coarse grater on them! Yes, they'll show up quite visibly in the baked cake and yes, people will be able to tell there are carrots in there (a potentially alarming concept for the uninitiated). But for those who have experienced the wonder that is a well-made carrot cake in the past, cutting into this cake will prompt all those fond memories (of tea at Grandma's, of cafe brunches, of chillaxed afternoons sipping tea at a girlfriend's place) to re-enter into their consciousness and, awash in the waves of nostalgia, the will turn to you with shining eyes and whisper "what a marvelous, marvelous thing it is you have done."

Photo courtesy of UNSW BakeSoc

Okay, so maybe I've been indulging in one too many Jodi Picoult novels. But bringing the cake to a dinner party or afternoon tea will guarantee you a dramatic entrance. Double-layered and generously covered with thick, cream cheese frosting, it's home-baked charm at it's best. Dorie's version consists of three cake layers, but I chose to go with two because my cake pans are slightly larger and there wasn't even batter for three. I also halved the amount of icing sugar that went into the frosting. Dorie, you've made me a fan for life with this recipe, but a whole pound of icing sugar?! Trust me on this, guys - go with half a pound (250g) lest your teeth fall out :D


Bill's Big Carrot Cake 2.0
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: from my home to yours

Ingredients
(Makes a 2-layered 23cm cake)

For the cakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups coarsely grated carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted/roasted mixed nuts (unsalted)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 cups white granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (anything mild-flavoured is fine; I used olive but canola or safflower is also okay)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:
250g cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g confectioners' or icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For decoration:
8 walnut halves

Method

To make the cakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius (or 325 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the baking rack towards the lower one-third of the oven. Prepare two round cake pans (23cm in diameter) by lining with baking paper or aluminium foil.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the grated carrots, chopped nuts, coconut and dried cranberries.

3. Cream together the oil and sugar until smooth with a hand electric beater, or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one by one, and continue to beat until the batter is smooth and thick. Add the flour mixture, and stir into the egg mixture by hand until just combined. Add the carrot, chopped nuts etc., and stir in until everything is combined.

4. Divide the batter between the two cake pans. Place into oven, and bake for 50-60 minutes. Cake is done baking when a skewer or cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 5 minutes, before inverting onto cooling racks. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting

To make the frosting:

5. Using a hand electric beater or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Gradually add in the sifted icing sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is smooth and aerated.

To assemble and serve the cake:

6. Put one cake layer on a cardboard cake round or plate. Dollop on half the cream cheese frosting, and smooth over the cake evenly with a spatula. Put the second cake layer on top, and on top of that dollop on the rest of the frosting. Smooth evenly with a spatula. Decorate with the walnut halves.

7. Chill the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (preferably overnight) to firm up the icing. Take the cake out of the fridge 15 minutes prior to serving. The frosted cake will last for 5 days in the fridge, and the oil in the batter means that it won't dry out if covered. Cake tastes the best 1-2 days after it's made!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Black Forest Gateau

Some recipes are just too good not to share, and this is one of them. This Black Forest Gateau was made for a dinner party I threw for some friends last night. It was such a hit that my siblings, who are usually only mildly interested in my baked goods, actually squabbled over the left overs.


Black Forest has long been my favourite type of layer cake. And what's not to like? Cherries soaked in kirsch (or some other liquer), sandwiched between layers of intensely chocolatey sponge cake, and the whole thing smothered with freshly whipped cream. The contrast of textures and flavours - plump, juicy cherries against soft, yielding cake, the dulcet creaminess of the fresh cream against the bite from the alcohol - makes a well-made Black Forest a true pleasure to eat.


The key, as always, is to use the best base ingredients possible. In this case, the chocolate cake involved copious amounts of insanely expensive Ecuadorian cacao powder. A slight overkill? Perhaps. But these were very good friends that were coming over, and I like feeding the people I love the real deal in edibles. And also because this was the only cocoa powder I had lying around. Just avoid the nasty cheap stuff that doesn't even smell like chocolate (which, embarrassingly, I have used before in thriftier times) and you should be fine.


Just so you don't end up broke by the time you're done making this cake, you can cut some corners when it comes to the cherries and opt for fresh ones soaked in a liqueur of your choice instead of going out of your way to acquire maraschino cherries. I know it's not traditional, and some people would argue that it's not Black Forest unless it's soaked in kirsch (a cherry liqueur), but as long as it tastes good, right? I myself used a mixture of vodka, schnapps and rum. Add the amount to taste. Drain the cherries when you're ready to assemble the cake, but don't throw away the liquid! You'll need that for brushing onto your cake layers.


A nicely assembled layer cake is a thing of beauty, but it takes a bit of fussing around with levelling the cake layers, and applying a crumb-coat (as seen in the picture above). Since this was to be served amongst friends, I didn't go nutso on the decorating. Just a bit of piping, and going around the edge with a comb tool. You can see bits of the cake showing through the cream frosting, but I quite like the effect.


For the cake itself, I consulted my beloved copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes and went with the chocolate cake recipe used in her German chocolate cake. True to her word, this chocolate cake does indeed remain soft when chilled in the fridge, but has enough structural integrity to lend itself well to carving. The texture is a thing to marvel at - fudgy, almost like mudcake, yet the recipe requires only cocoa powder, not melted chocolate. I think I've found a winner in this recipe, and can see it becoming my default choice for future birthday cake bases.



Recipe for Black Forest Gateau
Makes two cake layers, around 23cm (9 inch) in diameter

Ingredients

For the chocolate cake:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (66 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (118g) boiling water
1/2 cup (108g) canola oil
4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 whites
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (75g) cake flour
2/3 cup (75g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (300g) caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the liqueur-soaked cherries
Around 30 medium-sized sweet cherries
5 tablespoons liqueur of your choice

For the whipped cream filling and frosting
600ml thickened cream, suitable for whipping, chilled
6 tablespoons confectioner's (icing) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For decorating
6 medium-sized cherries, with stem attached
Chocolate block at room temperature

Method

1. A day before baking the cakes, remove the stones from the cherries. (I used a specialty cherry de-stoner which allowed me to keep the cherries whole, but you can also cut the cherries in half and pry the stones out that way.) Douse the destoned cherries with the liqueur and toss everything around. Place in an airtight container, and keep in the fridge overnight.

To make the cakes:

2. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the baking rack close to the bottom of the oven. Grease two round cake pans, both 22cm in diameter and 8cm high.

3. Mix the cocoa powder with the boiling water in a bowl until a smooth paste forms. Cover with cling film to prevent the mixture from drying out. Set aside to cool slightly. Add in the oil and egg yolks to the paste, and beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer until it becomes the consistency of a soft buttercream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the vanilla. Beat for another 30 seconds.

4. In another bowl, whisk together the cake and all-purpose flours, sugar, salt and baking soda. Add half of this dry mixture to the cocoa mixture from step 3. Beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add in the rest of the dry mixture and beat on low speed until everything is moistened. Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat for 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Turn down mixer speed to low, and add in the egg whites. Gradually raise speed back up to medium, and beat until mixture resembles a thick soup. Scrape half the batter into one pan and the rest in the other. 

5. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Take out of oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes in pan, before unmolding and letting the cakes cool completely on cooling racks.

To make the whipped cream filling/frosting:

6. Pour the chilled thickened cream into a a bowl which has been chilled in the fridge. Add vanilla extract and sifted icing sugar. Beat with a whisk or electric beaters until soft peaks form.

To assemble the cake:

7. Drain the liqueur-soaked cherries, reserving the liquid. Set aside.

8. Divide the whipped cream into two portions. One portion will be used to fill and crumb-coat the cake, and the other for decoration.

9. Using a cake-leveller, (or just a serrated knife if you've got a good eye and steady hand), slice off the domed tops of the cake layers. Brush the bottom layer with the liquid from the cherries, then top with a layer of cream, the cherries, and another layer of cream. Brush the other cake layer with the cherry liquid, then place on top of the filling, brushed-side down. Brush the very top of the cake with some more cherry liquid.

10. Using a spatula, crumb-coat the cake with whipped cream. Chill the crumb-coated cake in the fridge for at least four hours, before using the remaining cream to decorate the outside of the cake. Complete the decorating with the chocolate curls (made by scraping the chocolate block with a potato peeler) and fresh cherries-with-stems-attached.

11. Return to fridge to chill. Take out from the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving.

Friday, November 30, 2012

'Festive' Cranberry-Pistachio Shortbread Rounds

We were gifted with a huge bag of craisins (i.e. dried cranberries) a while ago. My mind immediately started racing with possibilities for its use: cranberry and white chocolate chunk cookies, plumped up with rum for a fruit cake, and...well, the cranberry and pistachio combo is always a good one! Particularly during the festive season. I mean, just looking at these red and green-studded shortbread rounds conjures up images of Christmas-time.


The most fiddly part in the recipe is making sure the dough doesn't break apart when you slice through the pistachios. Once the dough is made, it is rolled up into logs, wrapped in cling film, and chilled in the fridge for an hour or so, until hard. It is then sliced into discs approximately 1cm thick, arranged onto a baking tray, and stashed into the freezer for a final firming-up. The reason why it is so important to have the dough frozen solid before baking is because of the high butter content of these cookies. If you try baking these right after making up the dough, the cookies will spread and you'll end up with palm-sized mounds, instead of nice shortbread rounds.


I think these would look lovely packaged in clear cellophane bags tied up with a golden ribbon, to be given as party favours or used as table settings. I simply cannot get over how pretty the colours are!



Recipe for Cranberry-Pistachio Shortbread Rounds

Makes 22 cookies, approximately 5cm in diameter

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (or 175g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Make the dough by stirring together all the ingredients, until a soft dough forms.

2. Divide the dough in two portions. Roll each portion into a log, and wrap each log with cling film.

3. Place the logs into the fridge and chill for an hour, or until solid.

4. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius (or 350 degrees Fahrenheit). Don't put the baking rack too close to the top, because your cookies will burn!

5. Take logs out of the fridge, and slice into round 1 cm thick. Put the dough rounds on a lined baking tray, and stash that away in the freezer for around 15 minutes, or until the dough is frozen solid.

6. When ready to bake, take the tray out of the freezer and put into oven immediately. Bake for 13-15 minutes. Don't wait for the cookies to brown, otherwise the colours won't be as pretty.

7. When done baking, take tray out of the oven. Allow cookies to cool on tray for 5 minutes, before transferring cookies onto a cooling rack. Let cookies cool completely before packing it away in an airtight container (that's if you don't eat them straight away!). Cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool part of the house for around 5 days.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cowbell 808, Surry Hills

I got to hang with some of my oldest and closest pals yesterday, and we found the perfect lunching spot at Cowbell 808, a cafe located on Bourke Street in Surry Hills. And when I say "perfect lunching spot", I mean that it was perfect in every sense of the word. Not only was the food and service excellent, the table we chose was situated right next to a ginormous open window, and we were caressed by gentle gusts of cool air the whole time we were there. I don't think you can appreciate how welcome a phenomenon that is unless you've experienced summer (or the lead-up to it) in Sydney. 


Despite the warm weather, I ordered a long black. Having just spent the past few weeks subsisting on watery instant coffee, this freshly made long black sent my brain's pleasure centre into overdrive. I enjoyed the full-bodied smokiness of the black coffee with a few more sips before I asked for a small glass of milk to add to my beverage. 

The window we were seated next too. Natural air-conditioning.

For lunch, I ordered the roasted beetroot salad with orange cous cous and mint. Whoever plated the dish did a totally awesome job. It came out on a wooden board, looking like an artwork and oh-so-fresh. The cous cous was generously drizzled with olive oil and was still warm, which went nicely with the cool, sweet beetroot and mandarin slices. 

 
Roasted beetroot salad with orange cous cous and mint ($10). Pretty as a picture!

My friend L. went straight for the Cowbell 808 burger, which came with a side of onion rings. L. was totally awed by the size and height of the burger, and we spent some time debating the best way to eat it (she eventually settled on using a knife and fork, the dainty creature she is). The patty looked so juicy, and when she cut into it, we saw that it was nicely pink (my favourite way to eat meat!) I tried some of the patty and it was very tender, though perhaps slightly under-seasoned. I didn't try the onion rings, but L. seemed to like it very much.

Cowbell 808 burger, with fried onion rings ($18)

My other friend H. chose the poached chicken sambo. A 'sambo', H. explained upon our quizzical looks, is simply the Aussie slang for 'sandwich'. L., who has always lacked the propensity to let things go (I love you dear, but you know it's true), asked why you would replace a two-syllable word with a two-syllable slang. Just...eat your burger, L. ;P

Poached chicken sambo (didn't note down the price)

H.'s sambo came piled high with alfalfa sprouts and chicken pieces mixed with mayonnaise. H. said she liked it a lot.

 

We enjoyed our meals at a leisurely pace, then spent some time chatting about nothing in particular, and admiring the deco. I thought the basketball hoop in the middle of the room was very cool, and H. wanted to shoot some goals with our used napkins (I talked her out of it). 

Graffiti!

I can see Cowbell becoming 'our special place'; somewhere to return to again and again for the ever-changing specials, the calming atmosphere, and the attentive and welcoming staff. 


Cowbell 808
616 Bourke Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5044

Cowbell 808 on Urbanspoon

Easy not-at-all-dry Panettone!

I'm back!!! Back to updating this blog, back to catching up with friends, and back to waking up each morning without the imprint of a medical textbook across my face. I'm done with uni for the year, and the first thing I did once I got back home from my final exam was to assemble the ingredients for this Panettone.


I love seasonal baking, and there is no other time in the year as euphoria-inducing as the Christmas season for bakers. Christmas cookies, fruit cakes, mince pies, gingerbread houses, and...panettone! Baking funsies all around. Panettone is a fruit-studded bread loaf, enriched with eggs and butter and leavened with yeast. It has its origins in Milan, Italy, and is traditionally prepared for eating at Christmas and New Year functions. I've seen them being sold all year round at small grocers, and recently popping up at the bigger supermarkets.


I baked this panettone at my brother's request. He studies Italian at school, and they must have been learning about the country's cuisine at the time, because he came home one day with an empty panettone box (a learning tool from his teacher, I presume), and lamenting over the fact that he didn't actually get to eat its contents. My grandmother offered to buy him one the very next day, at which point I intervened with the promise to make one from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!



Even though I've accumulated somewhere upwards of fifty baking texts, it was to the internet I turned for a panettone recipe. The keyword in the search box? "Easy". An easy panettone recipe was what I wanted; one which didn't require a sourdough starter, or 16 hours of proofing in the fridge. I found this recipe, and as you can see from the pictures, the result was fantastic! It still took me around 5 hours to make, but for panettone, that really is nothing. Especially considering how good it tasted.



Most of the sweetness of the panettone came from the dried cranberries and raisins, which I'd soaked in rum for two days (you can omit this step). The bread itself was buttery and soft. I was very happy with the texture of the crumb, and I give all the credit to my KitchenAid mixer, which transformed the lumpy wet mixture into a satiny, elastic dough in no time at all. I used to knead all my bread dough by hand, and I can tell you that it is almost impossible to achieve the "gluten windowpane" manually. So for y'all without nifty mixers or bread machines...just try your best :D


Recipe for Raisin & Cranberry Panettone

Makes one panettone, around 15 cm high and 10cm in diameter

Adapted from Maison Cupcake

Ingredients

7g dried instant yeast
400g strong white bread flour
75g white granulated sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks at room temperature
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
half teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of finely grated orange zest
half teaspoon salt
175g softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons rum diluted with 2 tablespoons water
40g butter to finish
1 egg for the egg wash

Method

1. (optional step) Two days before making the panettone dough, soak the raisins and dried cranberries in the rum+ 2 tablespoons water mixture in an airtight container. Store in fridge. Take out of fridge and bring to room temperature 30 minutes before incorporating it into the dough.

2. Mix 125g of the strong bread flour with the yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add two whole eggs and 3 tablespoons lukewarm water and stir until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle a little dry flour over the surface (to stop a skin from forming). Cover the bowl with cling film, and leave in a warm place for an hour.

3. Once the hour is up, stir in the two egg yolks, vanilla extract and grated orange zest. Gradually stir in 175g of strong white bread flour until a soft sticky dough (more like putty!) is formed.

4. Transfer the putty-dough into the mixer bowl and, using the dough-hook attachment, mix on medium  speed for 30 seconds. Add in the softened butter, and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Add in the remaining flour and mix for another 6 minutes. You may have to stop the mixture and scrap down the sides of the bowl now and then. Dough is done mixing when you can stretch it out so thinly that light can shine through (as seen in this image).

5. Cover the mixer bowl with cling film, and leave the dough in a warm place to rise for 2 to 2.5 hours, until doubled in size.

6. Uncover the dough and punch it to deflate it. Add in the dried fruit (if you've soaked them in rum, make sure you drain and dry them with a paper towel before adding). Using your hand, incorporate the fruit into the dough by mixing and folding.

7. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a panettone tin (or some other deep round tin) lined with foil. Using a knife, cut a shallow cross into the top of the dough. Cover the tin loosely with cling film, and place in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size.

8. 15 minutes before you put the dough into the oven to bake, turn the oven on to preheat at 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit). Put the baking rack towards the very bottom of the oven. When ready to bake, brush some melted butter over the top of the dough, and put a 2cm x 2 cm knob of butter at the centre of the cross.

9. Put the panettone dough into the oven and bake at 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit) for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit) and bake for another 40 minutes. You may have to cover the top of the loaf with a piece of foil 20 minutes into baking to stop it from burning. 10 minutes before you take the loaf out of the oven, quickly brush the top of the loaf with egg wash, and remove the foil covering the top so that the heat will turn the egg wash into a nice, bronzed glaze.

10. When panettone is done baking, take it out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes, before tipping it out onto a cooling rack and letting it cool completely before slicing into it.




Saturday, August 11, 2012

Apple pie: go homemade, or go home.

Happy Sunday, everyone! I'm feeling quite sedate at the moment, owing to the fact that I did the City2Surf this morning! 14. freaking. kilometres. With 2 kilometres of continuous ascent up 'Heartbreak Hill' *faints*. I think the few slices of apple pie I had last night won't cause too much damage in the waistline department, wouldn't you agree?


Apple pie is one of my favourite desserts, and despite what the title of this post may suggest, I'm no pie-snob. I'm a sucker for all kinds of apple pie. The one from the Golden Arches with the thin, tacky crust and the gluey insides? Love it. The pre-made, frozen ones that go all soggy when you reheat it at home? Love those too. I haven't had the privilege of trying the sky-high 'pie that ate Newtown' version from The Pie Tin, but just looking at pictures of it is enough to elicit a Pavlovian flood of drool outta me. 


When it comes to pies, the thing which people seem to obsess over is the crust. More specifically, that it be "flaky". Personally, I don't mind a doughy or soggy crust on a meat pie, but when it comes to dessert pies, I like a crumbly, buttery, so-flaky-it-shatters crust as much as the next pie enthusiast. 


I do believe I've mastered the art of the flaky pie crust with this apple pie. The bakers out there would have heard this a million times, but for those who are looking to make the pie crust from scratch for the very first time - here are a few pointers for the perfect, flaky pie crust:

1. Keep the butter COLD. I took mine out of the fridge right before I incorporated into the dough. It's probably easier to use a food processor to "cut" the butter into the flour, but I just used my fingers to rub it in. Cold fingers help! Or just use one of them fancy hand-held pastry cutters.

2. Do not overwork the dough! After you add in the water, you will need to knead the dough slightly get it all into one heap, but kneading it too much isn't a good idea because it 1) encourages gluten formation, which will make your crust hard and tacky and 2) all the handling will make those precious lumps of butter in the dough melt, which leads to my next point...

3. Visible lumps of butter in the dough is good! It means that, when you bake it, the butter will melt and leave distinct layers of pastry behind (manifesting as the "flakes"). 

4. Lastly, adding in a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per pie crust helps to prevent gluten formation. You learn something new everyday.


For the pie filling, I forwent the usual Granny Smiths and opted for Fujis instead, as we have a whole box of those to get through from when we visited the Flemington Markets a fortnight ago. Contrary to popular belief, those are not too sweet to use in an apple pie. If an overly sweet pie filling is what you're worried about, simply add less sugar to it. The Fujis yielded a good texture once baked - soft, but not mushy. I used Joy the Baker's recipe for the filling (I love her site!), and it turned out great. 


I had to roll my pastry out very thinly because the recipe I used was for an open-faced pie (should have thought of that beforehand!), but I managed to get everything sealed, and even put some decorative markings along the sides. The love heart cut-out ended up looking apple-shaped by the time it was done baking, which is just as well! :D



Classic Apple Pie, with the perfect flaky crust

Makes one 29cm pie

Ingredients

For the pie crust: (adapted from The Purple Foodie)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
170g cold butter, cut into 2cm cubes
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg yolk (to glaze the crust)


For the pie filling: (adapted from Joy the Baker)
800g apples of the baking variety (Granny Smith, Fuji, Pink Lady, etc,), peeled, cored and cut into 5mm slices
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Method

1. Start by making the dough for the pie crust. Stir together the flour and sugar. Add the cubes of butter, and using your hands/pastry cutter, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs, with a few odd chunks of butter here and there. Add the apple cider vinegar. Add the water spoonful by spoonful (using your hands to gather together the dough) until the dough forms one cohesive mass.

2. Divide the dough into two pieces: 2/3 of the dough for one piece and 1/3 for the other. Flatten both pieces into discs. Wrap with cling wrap, and put it into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.

3. To make the pie filling: In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, allspice and salt, and stir to mix. Cover the bowl and and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. After that time, there should be a puddle of juices at the bottom of the bowl. Strain the apples (keep the juice!). Put the juice in a small saucepan with the 2 butter, and heat it over medium heat until it starts to boil. Turn down the heat, and let it bubble away until you have about 3/4 the original volume. Take off heat, and set aside.

4. Toss the apples in the cornstarch until well-coated. Pour in the reduced butter and juice mixture. Stir to coat.

5. (You can start this step while the apples are still straining): Take the large dough disc out of the fridge, and roll it out to around 3mm thick. Transfer it into the pie dish, and push the dough into the edges of the dish. Return the dish to the fridge for about 10 minutes.

6. Take the pie dish which has been lined with dough out of the fridge, and pour in the apple filling. Take the smaller dough disc out of the fridge, and roll it out to form the top crust. Cut a hole in the centre, or make a few slits along the sides so that hot air which builds up inside the pie during baking can get out. Drape the top crust over the apple filling, and seal the edges. Use a fork to make some decorative markings. 

7. Cover the unbaked pie loosely with cling wrap, and return to the fridge to chill for an hour.

8. At least 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the baking rack towards the bottom of the oven. Take the pie out of the fridge, remove the cling wrap cover, and brush the top crust with egg yolk. Place in oven, and bake for 45-50 minutes. Halfway through baking, you may have to cover the top of the pie with a piece of foil to stop it from burning. The pie is done baking when the apples are nice and soft.

9. Remove pie from oven, and allow to cool on a cooling rack for at least 4 hours before serving.