Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flavours Column: Whisked Sponge

Sponge cake is my ultimate cake. That's all I have to say aside from a big thank you to Quinn & Katie Photography for giving me an excuse to make such a pretty cake and for taking these beautiful photos. I hope Skye Florence loved it. x

Image: Quinn & Katie Photography

Whisked Sponge
Published in the Bay of Plenty Times, Wednesday 24th April, 2013

For such a light and elegant creation, sponge cake has the strange ability to impart fear into even the most experienced home-baker. 

If you saw the MasterChef episode where the contestants were asked to bake a sponge using a recipe from Dulcie May Kitchen, you’ll understand just how these fairy-light, classic cakes can create such a stir. Their simplicity is what makes them so daunting – flaws are hard to hide.

This recipe has, so far, been fail-safe for me. Sponge cake is one of my all time favourites and first pick for a birthday cake, stuffed full with fresh whipped cream and raspberries.

The pretty cake pictured is my take on the popular trend of ‘rainbow’ cakes; individually coloured cake layers stacked to create a rainbow effect. They look incredibly fun but use a lot of artificial colouring. For something less intense, but still playful and impressive, I layered this whisked sponge with soft pastel coloured frosting.

Image: Quinn & Katie Photography

5 eggs
230g caster sugar
180g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder                 
80g melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease and line two 23cm cake tins. Preheat oven to 180°C. Sift flour and baking powder together, set aside. Melt butter, add vanilla and set aside to cool. In a large bowl or stand mixer whisk eggs and sugar until VERY thick and pale. This may take around 5 minutes or more. This is what makes the sponge airy and light – it’s crucial, so don’t skip it! You’ve whisked enough when the mixture leaves a trail over itself. A little at a time, sift the flour and baking powder over the mix and gently fold until just combined. Scoop out a big spoon of the cake batter and combine with the melted butter. Add buttery mix gently back into the cake mix and fold again briefly. Pour evenly into cake tins and bake for 25-30mins. Sponges are ready when they shrink away from the sides of the tin and spring back when pressed gently with a fingertip. When cool, split cakes and layer with your favourite filling.

Weekly Tip: I know it’s tempting but don’t open the oven door until at least 20 minutes is up! Otherwise your sponges may lose air and sink. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Flavours Column: Salted Caramel

Image: Greta Kenyon

Two things I've come to understand and accept recently:
  1. food photography is ridiculously messy
  2. just because your food tastes good doesn't mean it automatically looks good.
Thankfully I had the pleasure of working with Shaye Woolford from On My Hand, who provided props and styling, and the lovely Greta Kenyon for this photo shoot. 

Their jobs are to make things look good and they are dab hands at it. They make it look easy. It's not. Especially when you're photographing caramel next to an apple orchard with bees. By the end of it I was basically covered in caramel, icing sugar, chocolate ganache, grass and a touch of cinnamon, as were all the props. It was great fun. 

Just so you know, making caramel at home is much easier than photographing it in an apple orchard. Here's this weeks recipe! x

Image: Greta Kenyon

Salted Caramel
Published in the Bay of Plenty Times, Wednesday 17th April 2013

Salted Caramel has been the flavour de jour for quite some time now. It’s stickability as a flavour is due to the fact that it’s downright delicious. When you add salt to sweet it creates an unexpected pop in your mouth that deepens flavours and rounds out sweetness. It’s all very clever really.

This caramel is what I used to flavour these mini cheesecakes.

It’s a ridiculously versatile, impressive dessert sauce. Not only does it work in cheesecakes, it can be poured over ice cream or puddings; swirled into whipped cream for a decadent dollop atop grilled fruit; and drizzled over crumbles or cakes. As the weather cools, simple baked apples served with this sauce become the ultimate in winter comfort.

Inspired by dessert genius David Lebovitz’ recipe I've made a few tweaks to make it my own. The trick is to get the sugar to a beautiful, deep bronze colour. 

220g white sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/3 cup cream
1 tablespoon butter, room temp
Squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Heilala vanilla extract
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt (I like Maldon)

Place the sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan and, without stirring, melt over a medium heat. You will start to smell the sugar caramelising. Once you see the sugar melting, gently stir with a wooden spoon. The sugar may look pebbly but keep going; it will melt down. Once all the sugar is melted continue cooking until it turns a rich, deep bronze colour and is a little smoky. Remove the saucepan from the heat and very carefully (watch for spitting, bubbling caramel!) pour in half the cream and stir to combine. You may need to put it back over the heat if the caramel seizes a little. Stir in the rest of the cream and add the butter, lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt to taste. If you’re not sure about the salt, start with a little then add more as you please. Pour into a heatproof container and cool. Keeps in the fridge for a week.

Weekly Tip: In this sauce, regular table salt won’t cut it. You really do need a good quality flaky sea salt. Regular table salt is too intense and will overwhelm the sauce. I speak from experience!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Flavours Column: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Image: Quinn & Katie Photography

The day this recipe was originally published in the paper I was excited for three reasons:
  1. because it's a great recipe,
  2. because of the beautiful photos taken by Quinn & Katie Photography and,
  3. because it's based on the ever popular Cookie Time cookies!
But alas, this final point, and the recipe's point of difference was edited from my published piece. I was disappointed but understand that the paper had to protect itself, and printing what I claim is the recipe for Cookie Time cookies is probably not the smartest idea. So instead I publish it, in full un-edited glory, on my blog. Power to the blogosphere!

This recipe was deciphered from a list of ingredients and quantities that used to be printed on the Cookie Time packet. It was based on the world's largest cookie - a title which Cookie Time held officially until 2008 when they were usurped by some cheeky Americans. I've had this recipe stashed away for years. 

It's an ode to Cookie Time cookies. I grew up with these cookies. They were the cookie all my friends bought from the canteen at lunch time. They were the 'go to' cookie at the corner shop. They were, and are, damn fine cookies. 

I can't say that this is the Cookie Time recipe. Because it's not. It's just a recipe based on what I understood were the ingredients used in Cookie Time cookies, and therefore they taste quite similar. I highly recommend you try some and compare!

Image: Quinn & Katie Photography

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Unabridged version (abridged version published in the Bay of Plenty Times, Weds 10th April 2013).

Remember when you used to eat cookies with a glass of cold milk? I do, because it was yesterday. 

These cookies are my favourite milk-accompaniment cookies. Especially when eaten warm from the oven while the chocolate is still melty. If they taste familiar it might be because they taste like Cookie Time cookies. Years ago, during art class at college, my friend Melani and I, lacking inspiration and distracting ourselves with food, noticed on the back of the Cookie Time packet a breakdown of ingredients and quantities for Cookie Time’s ‘Biggest Cookie in the World’. Putting into practice the handy skills we’d learned in Math class, we calculated the recipe into normal cookie portions. 

I know you can easily buy Cookie Time cookies, making your own is simply more fun. Enjoy.

200gms dark chocolate (I use Whittaker’s 50% Cocoa)
240g butter
90gms white sugar
150gms soft brown sugar
2 eggs
350gms plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use Heilala)

To get the real Cookie Time effect, you need to melt down the chocolate, spread it on to a sheet of baking paper and let it set before you start the cookie dough. Once set, break it into chunks of different sizes. You could use chocolate drops but trust me, the end result won’t be as good.

To make the dough, cream the butter and both sugars together until fluffy and pale in colour. Add vanilla then the eggs, one at a time. Beat until well combined. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together and add to the butter mix. Mix until you have a nice dense cookie dough consistency. Stir in the broken up chocolate.

Roughly shape tablespoon sized lumps of dough and place onto a tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 150˚C for approximately 20mins or until golden. Cool on racks.

Weekly Tip: ‘Cream’ butter and sugar means to beat the butter and sugar together until pale. If it hasn’t lightened to a very pale yellow colour then you need to keep beating. Creaming incorporates air into your mix, stopping cookies and cakes from being heavy. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Flavours Column: Individual Cheesecakes (in jars!)

Jars, jars, jars. Yes, we have seen it all. Cupcakes in jars, crumbles in jars, drinks in jars, any dessert in a jar possible. Everything in jars! But still we love them. Jars are great! They're solid, dependable little things that have a multitude of uses. And in using them for another purpose we are re-cycling which makes everyone feel much better about themselves. Good work team. Our grandmother's would be proud! 

Embrace the jar love and whip up these individual cheesecakes for your next dinner party. Impress the pants of your friends (if you want to) with your culinary flair, ingenuity and DIY styling. Have fun. x

Update: Someone just pointed out a typo...'impress the pants of your friends'. Funny what a difference one letter can make. It made me laugh so I've left it. Impress your friends pants if you so choose.

Image: Greta Kenyon Photography

Indulgent Individual Cheesecakes
Published in the Bay of Plenty Times, Weds 3rd April 2013

It’s widely known that miniature things are adorable and basically irresistible. These individual cheesecakes are no exception. I first made these as part of a dessert buffet for my mother’s wedding last year and they flew from the table. Served in baby food jars and tied with a wooden spoon, they were hard to resist. There’s something a little indulgent about having your very own, perfectly portioned dessert to tuck into. No sharing required.

If you don’t have baby food jars anything small will do such as teacups, glasses or ramekins. You can make it into a large cheesecake although the experience won’t be quite the same.

The filling can be flavoured to taste – melted chocolate, citrus juice, fresh berries, Nutella, liqueur. Be creative! My pick is homemade salted caramel sauce. Look out for the recipe in an upcoming column.

Mini Cheesecakes
250g digestive biscuits
75g unsalted butter, melted
250g full fat cream cheese
300ml cream
Icing Sugar (to taste, depending on flavour)
Flavouring of your choice

This will fill around 15 x 110g baby food jars.

Crush the biscuits in a food processor and pour in the melted butter. Press about 1 TBSP of crushed mix into each serving jar and chill.

Beat the cream cheese briefly until smooth, pour in a little cream and beat again just to combine and loosen the cheese. Pour in the remaining cream and beat until whipped.

Depending on the flavour you are using for your filling, add icing sugar to taste, gently whipping this in. If you are using something sweet like melted chocolate or caramel sauce you may not need icing sugar at all. However if you’re flavouring with something tart like lemon or berries then you will need to add sugar. Start with a small amount and work up from there, tasting as you go.

Once flavoured, use a piping bag (saves on mess) to fill the little jars. Chill for at least 3hrs or overnight.

Weekly Tip: Be careful when replacing full fat cream cheese with low fat cream cheese. Low fat cream cheese behaves differently in baking and may not provide the best result.