Saturday, July 12, 2014

Caramel Apples. Eat 'em or weep.

Making caramel takes commitment. That statement may (sadly) stop some of you from making it but I know there's someone out there with the determination and chutzpah to make this goodness happen – if that's you, you will be handsomely rewarded! 

Caramel apples are time machines in disguise. Just one bite and you'll understand. The holding of the stick, the awkward angling of the head (and apple) so you can take that first bite, the tang of the apple, the stickiness of the caramel and the juice running down your chin...it's what kids do. Not what adults do. No kid would ever expect to come home and find that their parents had made them a batch of caramel apples just for fun. If you make these your parent cred will go up exponentially (in the eyes of your child...possibly not in the eyes of other parents but who cares what they think, besides there are apples involved so you're totally providing a balanced meal).

The two toughest things about making caramel are the constant stirring and the heat. You can’t leave caramel to its own devices or you’ll end up with a lumpy, pebbly, potentially burnt mess. You also can’t be careless with it as caramel can give a nasty burn. No matter how tempted you are to dip in a finger or lick the spoon, don’t. Just don't. Making caramel involves heating sugar to a very high temperature and sugar burns are pure evil. 

So now that I’ve scared you all away (I hope there are still a few of you left!) below is the caramel apple recipe that I promised a few weeks back. Contrary to the above it’s actually quite easy and it results in a delicious, slightly chewy, creamy caramel that is the perfect partner to a crisp, tart apple. Do it for the kids.

Special thanks to Little Miss Rose for the photos. 


Caramel Apples 
225g butter 
2 cups brown sugar 
1 cup golden syrup 
1 can (395g) condensed milk 
1-2 tsps vanilla extract 
8-10 apples, Granny Smith are best
Chopsticks or clean twigs 
Candy thermometer 

Grease a large sheet of baking paper with butter. Wash apples and push a chopstick into the top of each. Dip apples in boiling water for 5 seconds and dry to remove any wax. 

Place the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Stir constantly from start to finish otherwise it may crystallise or burn. Once the caramel starts to bubble insert a candy thermometer and continue stirring until it reaches 118-120°C (around 15 minutes). Remove caramel from heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool for a few minutes then dip each apple in, rotating to cover the apple and shaking a little to remove excess. Stand on the greased baking paper to set. 

*Weekly Tip: For extra good times, dip the caramel apples in crushed nuts, cookie pieces, mini marshmallows or chocolate chips. 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pear Clafoutis. What's not to love?

People! Meet my new favourite dessert, Clafoutis. 

I can see many winter nights on my couch with a bowl of this custardy, flan-like goodness cradled in my hands. Clafoutis has always intrigued me and I’m disappointed in myself that it took me this long to make it. Clafoutis, where have you been all my life? Oh that’s right, on the tables of French bistros being served up to intellects and artistes (because that's what I think all French people are). Now you’re also snuggling with me on my couch in Tauranga.

Clafoutis is traditionally made with cherries but you can substitute all sorts of other fruits. Originally I was just going to roll with pears until I remembered the glut of feijoas I had out on the lawn. So in they went. And thank goodness for that. Pear and feijoa are a great match together, let alone with a delicious custard blanket encasing them. And did I mention cream? Heavy pouring cream. Oh my.

I read somewhere (i.e. wikipedia) that a clafoutis made without cherries is a 'flaugnarde'. Both are excellent words to say. Either way, clafoutis or flaugnarde, you are delicious and you are most definitely here to stay. Make this immediately, so you too can bundle up on the couch under a blanket and enjoy this deeply comforting dessert. Tonight this is going to accompany a screening of Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. I'm a lucky girl.

Pear & Feijoa Clafoutis

Butter, for greasing
Sugar, for sprinkling
1 large pear
10 feijoas (or use a different fruit if you prefer)
4 eggs
135g brown sugar
100ml cream
190ml milk
1 tsp Heilala Vanilla Extract
½ tsp almond extract (optional)
¼ tsp salt
70g flour

Grease a baking dish with butter and sprinkle sugar over so it sticks to the butter. Preheat oven to 170°C. Whisk the eggs and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy. Combine cream, milk, extracts and salt and stir into egg mix. Sift the flour over top and whisk to combine. Let sit while you prepare the fruit. Core and slice pear into thin wedges and scoop out feijoa flesh, place fruit in a single layer on the bottom of the dish and gently pour the batter over top. Bake for 35mins or until golden and the custard is firm. Sprinkle with icing sugar and enjoy.
                 
*Weekly Tip: If you chill clafoutis it takes on a nice firm texture making it easy to slice into wedges. So, if (for some strange reason) you find yourself with any leftover, it makes a great lunch snack.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

V is for Vanilla Cake...

Photo: Greta Kenyon Photography. Location: Post Bank Restaurant.

It’s time to spoil your significant other. Or treat a friend. Every once in awhile it’s nice to put in a little extra effort to celebrate someone or something special in your life. I’m not one to overtly embrace that Valentine’s Day but I’m also not so opposed that I’m going to ignore it! No harm ever came from showing someone a little extra love and if your loved one has a sweet tooth this cake is a perfect way to do just that.

Vanilla and raspberry are one of the best couples I know. They never fight. Always compliment each other and look damn fine side by side too. I think it's the contrast. As Paula Abdul said...opposites attract.

Look at this cake – it’s so pretty and actually does taste as good it looks. Cutting into the lush white cake to reveal the layers of vanilla and raspberry inside is so indulgent. Can you tell I love this cake? I really do. And, I'm pretty sure, so will your better half or best buddy or neighbour or anyone. 

A couple of tips... 
  • Make the effort to make the three layer cake. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say 'ooooh look at the layers!' when they see a three layer cake (two is just standard, four sends them into a frenzy).   
  • Don't scrimp on the vanilla. Buy the good stuff (I use Heilala). It's worth it.
For the raspberry coulis and vanilla buttercream recipes click here and here.

Photo: Greta Kenyon Photography. Location: Post Bank Restaurant.

Vanilla Cake
Makes an 8-inch round 3 layer cake
300g unsalted butter
300g caster sugar
1 teaspoon Heilala Vanilla Extract
6 eggs
300g self-raising flour*

Preheat oven to 160°C (fan bake). Grease and line two 8-inch (23cm) round tins. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, mixing well between additions. Sift the flour over the mix and stir to form a smooth batter. Divide the batter into thirds. Place a third each in the two tins - you will have one third remaining. Bake the first two cakes for 30mins or until the centre springs back when gently pressed. Once cool enough turn out the cakes and bake the third layer. Sandwich together with raspberry coulis and vanilla bean buttercream.

*Weekly Tip: If you don’t have self-raising flour make your own by simply adding 2 teaspoons of baking powder to 300g of plain flour. Sift to combine.

Raspberry Coulis. Making everything taste better except venison.

Simple, sweet, saucy goodness. Serve it alongside any sweet treat and it's almost guaranteed to make it taste better. You can see it here in action in a classic vanilla cake.

I once had raspberry coulis served with venison at a supposedly 'up market' restaurant where I live. Let's just say that it's definitely a dessert sauce. Don't serve it with venison or anything savoury for that matter, not even cheese. Why would they do that? It's crazy talk. I guess I am guilty of ordering it though.

This sauce is tangy, sweet and jam packed with berry flavour. Great with cake, ice cream, chocolate, mousse, fruit, pancakes...the list (of desserts) goes on.


Raspberry Coulis
350g fresh or fozen raspberries
1/3 cup (75g) sugar 
2 tablespoons water

Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer over a medium heat for around 5 minutes or until all the sugar has dissolved. Cool slightly then pulse in a blender to puree. At this point you can strain the sauce to remove the pips but sometimes I like to leave them in for a bit of texture.

Keep covered in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for 3 mths.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blueberry Lemon Pan Cake


Wedding season is in full swing so much of my time lately has been spent working on complex and decorative cakes. Whipping up anything from chocolate fudge cakes with dark chocolate peppermint ganache to genoise sponge with fresh raspberry filling. Then decorating them with all kinds of gorgeous finishes, from delicious buttercream to hand-painted fondant. Creating a cake for one of the most important days in a couple’s lives can be a lot of pressure so when I can I like to take it back to basics - which leads me to this lovely cake.

This cake isn’t flashy but it is beautiful. Simply whack the batter into a pan, bake, slice and enjoy. No icing required. No faff. Most ingredients, if not all, will already be in your kitchen – and if blueberries aren’t, they should be! Blueberries are in abundance right now, are delicious and inexpensive.

Thanks to Post Bank Restaurant for the shoot location (they've just opened a cute outdoor courtyard area), to Paper Plane and On My Hand for the pretty props and to Greta Kenyon Photography for the gorgeous pics!


Blueberry Lemon Pan Cake
250g butter
220g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs
180ml yoghurt
250g flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 punnet blueberries

Preheat oven to 170°C (fan bake). Grease and line a pan (any standard sized pan will do but I used a 18x28cm rectangular one). Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest together then add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each. Whisk the dry ingredients together then fold into the creamed mix alternating with the yoghurt. Gently fold in almost all of the blueberries. Spoon batter into the pan and dot with the remaining blueberries. Sprinkle the top with a little caster sugar then bake for 50minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool and serve wedges cut straight out of the pan. If you do want to fancy it up a little, serve with a dollop of thick yoghurt on the side. 

Weekly Tip: Sometimes berries can sink to the bottom of a cake when baked. Although not necessary for this recipe, to avoid this happening toss them in a little flour before adding them to your batter. 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Royal Icing

The is officially my shortest blog post ever. A recipe for royal icing, used for piping decorative effects onto cookies, cupcakes and cakes. This icing is great for piping delicate, fine lines and details and sets hard. A little goes a long way - you should be able to decorate at least a dozen cookies with this quantity if not two!

Royal Icing
One egg white
300g icing sugar
Lemon juice

In a bowl beat egg white and icing sugar together on a slow speed. You aren't aiming to create air bubbles in this icing, you simply want to gently combine. Keep beating for 5 minutes then add lemon juice a few drops at a time to create a suitable consistency - for piping thin lines (like on these Halloween cookies) you don't want it to be too runny but if you were 'flooding' cookies - which means to fill the area between lines you want the mix to be runnier so add a little more juice. Practice is the best way to get the consistency right. Keep unused royal icing in the fridge covered with cling-wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the icing to keep it from drying out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Flavours Column: Spooky Gingerdead Men

In the spirit of Halloween I decided to get a little spooky recently and whip up some Gingerdead Men. Actually they are more of a Gingerdead Family, cat included. Which, given that just days after I made these cookies we lost a beloved cat member of the family, sits a little uncomfortably now. I wish it wasn't the case but alas, we can't turn back time. R.I.P. Milly-Moo. I hope your mischevious, stubborn, seriously cute and chunky cat spirit comes to visit us this Halloween. We'd offer you Whiska's Temptations as treats. And you would probably play a trick on us. Just like old times. 

Avoid the tricks on All Hallow's Eve and offer costumed kids these creepy cookies instead. They are so much more impressive than store-bought candy! 


Gingerdead Men 
Published in the Bay of Plenty Times, Weds 23rd Oct 2013

Halloween is on the horizon so this week I’m sharing a fun recipe for ‘Gingerdead’ Men. I picked up the Gingerdead Man cookie cutter when I was overseas but you can find a great selection of Halloween themed cutters at most kitchen stores. Bats, cats, pumpkins, witches, ghosts, your Halloween cookie dreams are covered! 

These cookies make perfect treats for the spooky little trick-or-treaters that come knocking on October 31st. I wish we embraced Halloween more in New Zealand. There’s no harm in acknowledging the ‘dark side’ a little and it encourages kids to use their imaginations. My nephew and niece in America have their costumes ready, as does my brother’s dog Tuesday who will be making her Halloween debut as Wonder Woman (or maybe Wonder Dog).

There are tonnes of ideas for Halloween treats online – Pinterest alone is enough to keep any creative Halloween crafter or baker happy. Be inspired, get spooky and have some fun. 

Ingredients
125g butter 
125g brown sugar 
75g white sugar 
½ cup golden syrup 
425g flour 
2 teaspoons ginger 
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon 
1 teaspoon allspice 
40ml milk 
1 teaspoon baking soda 

Melt butter, sugars and golden syrup in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and keep boiling for a few minutes, stirring as it bubbles away. Sift flour and spices together into a bowl. Pour the melted butter mix over the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Mix milk and baking soda together and stir into the dough. The dough will be warm so rest it, covered with cling-wrap, for 10mins in the fridge. Heat the oven to 170°C. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of baking paper until 4mm thick. Cut out shapes and bake for 10 minutes. Cool and decorate with royal icing.

Weekly Tip: Roll dough between two sheets of baking paper. This creates a non-stick surface making it both easier and less messy. After cutting your shapes peel away excess dough from around your cookies and bake on the paper as is.