Thursday 13 December 2012

Inappropriate Christmas Joy

Last year I made gingerbread men as Christmas presents for some of my friends. They were all decorated lovingly and put in gft bags. Unfortunately I overlooked the fact that where I live, it's really hot at Christmas time and things get a bit sticky. So by the time my friends opened their little gingerbread baggies, some of the men had formed inappropriate liaisons with each other.

Now perhaps for other people this would have been a less than optimal outcome but for my friends, it was probably better than just getting regular gingerbread men. The only real disappointment was mine, that they came out as hard biscuits rather than soft ones. I might be completely wrong but I've always felt like gingerbread should be almost chewy and definitely not hard... otherwise why would it be called bread?

So this year, I set out with two goals: to make softer, hopefully chewy gingerbread, and to make them completely inappropriate. My mum found me a good recipe from the Women's Weekly Kids Cookbook and it's turned out pretty well, they are definitely softer than last year. I think to make them chewier, you'd need to change the sugar/golden syrup ratio because I think something magical happens between the syrup and the bicarb to get chewy gingerbread. Next time I'll try 2/3 cup of golden syrup ad 1/4 brown sugar. I don't care if the maths of that doesn't make sense.

As for inappropriate... If you fold the arms of the person over before you bake them then they can portray a great many emotions with the right embellishments. However, you need to be a better artist  han me to do the details. So instead I went for the standard kind then mixed up a few to be reindeer, which had my flatmate confused for quite a while.

Soft Gingerbread men

125gm butter
1/3 cup firmly packed soft brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger (or more if you're a real ginger fan)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional but I thought it was quite nice)
2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

To decorate
1 small packet of mini m&ms, or currants
Icing mixture (I used store bought writing icing because it has a good consistency)

Preheat oven to 180c, line biscuit trays with baking paper.

Melt the butter, sugar, and golden syrup together in a large bowl for 1 minute in the microwave. Stir to combine and then allow mixture to cool.

Sift flour, spices, and bicarb soda into butter mixture, then add the egg and vanilla. Stir until combined.

Knead dough lightly on floured board until it is solid enough to roll out. (I had to refrigerate mine for 10 minutes and add some extra flour because it was a hot day).

Roll out to 5mm thick between two sheets of baking paper to avoid sticking, then cut out in desired shapes. Press on m&ms or currants before cooking, then bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on trays before icing.

Makes about 25 little ginger bread men (5cm high)

Monday 6 August 2012


Recently, some people have made comments about my competitive nature in ways that made it sound like it was something I was aware of. Actually, this came as quite a surprise because I'd never considered myself a competitive person.

However, my entire reason for deciding I was not competitive was based on the idea that I don't like sports. But once these comments started, I realised that I might have this concept the wrong way around. I enjoy many physical activities but have have found that most don't like me. I am in no way aerodynamic and in the words of Hannah Gadsby "independent flesh is the enemy of speed". Because I am apparently competitive, if I can't win it, I'm not interested.

Upon further reflection, yes, you might be right. In fact I've actually "won" things that aren't, never have been, and never will be, competitions. My particular favourite is yoga. I love yoga because I'm super flexible. I can therefore win because I can bend further than you, get closer to my toes than you, look more like a pretzel than you, and generally be more awesome than you. I come away with a happy, glowing feeling that I suspect has less to do with reaching a zen state than your usual yogi.

For my birthday, some friends & I went to the coast. Our plan was to drink wine, watch DVDs and do some sedate bushwalking. The most satisfying part of this for me was when we walked along the rocky side of a bay, the perfect opportunity for winning. Since I was a kid, the goal of the competition has always been to travel across the rocks as fast as you can, as close to the sea as you can without either drowning or breaking a bone while everyone else walks along the path. Needless to say, I won. I still maintain that it doesn't matter if the other contestants actually know they're competing or not.

A side effect of this lovely weekend was that I ended up with a bag of uneaten cashews & cranberries after it turned out that our hikes were so sedate we didn't really need "supplies" beyond m&ms and an apple. So here is a fabulous way to get rid of your unwanted trail mix... Winning :)

A note on these brownies, they are the only ones on here so far that don't have chocolate in them. I found that I wasn't too thrilled with them on the day they were made but after leaving them in a box overnight, they turned awesome.

Cashew & Cranberry Brownies
140g butter
1 cup sugar
80g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
70g flour (2/3 cup I think but that's a guess)
1/3 cup of dried cranberries
1/3 cup raw cashews

20 cm square cake pan lined with baking paper                                        Oven @ 160°c

Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa together and allow to cool.
Stir in the vanilla, then eggs one at a time, and then the flour. Mix until smooth but don't overdo it.
Spread cake mix in the baking pan and sprinkle with the cranberries and cashews, pressing them in lightly.
Bake for 30 minutes or until centre is slightly soft. Allow to cool in the pan.

Monday 16 July 2012

It's alive...!

I'd like to be able to say that I had some sort of fabulous, life-changing goings on that meant I was temporarily unable to write posts... like I was stuck on a tiny island with no oven, only a basketball for company and had some sort of epiphany... unfortunately that's not really the case. I think it was much closer to a work-stress induced writer's block combined with a really ridiculous number of extra-curricular activities.

Mostly, I started this job where I had visions of showing people how wonderful policies really are, and then they would naturally get as much joy out of their correct application as I do. Call me naïve but this reality has not eventuated and the people I work with now don't seem to understand, leaving me a bit of a sad sack and not inclined to bake. Their loss I say.

Anyway, things are looking up. With almost no effort at all (beyond complaining, that is) I'll soon be shot of the job so all of a sudden, there's two batches of brownies on my bench. Before we get to those however, here's something I made for dinner with my Gran a little while ago. There are endless recipes for Chocolate Almond Tortes around but this one seemed to combine the good points of most of them - rich but somehow not too sweet and great for winter nights. Sorry about the dodgy picture, there were screaming kids in the vicinity. It was chocolatey and didn't ditch in the middle like some can.

Flourless Chocolate Torte   

1 tsp instant coffee powder
125g butter
150g dark chocolate
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
200g ground almonds

Oven at 180c
20cm round cake tin, lined with baking paper

Melt the butter, chocolate and vanilla together, then stir in the coffee powder until it dissolves. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Separate the eggs making sure none of the yolk gets into the whites. Beat the egg whites and about half the sugar together until soft peaks form. Then in a separate bowl, beat the yolks and the rest of the sugar until thick and light in colour.

Gently fold cooled chocolate mixture into the egg yolks, then fold in the almonds. Then gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in two lots. Fold in until just combined (If you don't know what I mean by folding, look here... it's a skill for life).

Carefully spread the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 40 minutes. Cover and allow to cool in the pan.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

How to make family discussions incomprehensible

Christmas in my family is one of the happy times of the year where I get to organise my family and write as many lists as I please. Usually this means telling my father and brother where to show up and what food to bring but for my mother it also usually means some intense discussions about exactly who's getting baked goodies, what kind and how much chocolate we needed to buy. Our conversations probably don't make a lot of sense to spectators because we tend to give our biscuits nicknames.

One of our most frequently used recipes is Bugs. What we mean is this recipe for Italian almond biscuits, not the creepy kind of bugs. Bugs are a beautiful but simple-tasting treat that are always popular and can be made ahead of time. They also look a bit like caterpillars which I thought was pretty tops as a kid. Everyone seems to love them and they are gluten-free.
See, it really is big!

The only bad thing about bugs is that they require a large star-shaped piping flute. I've never seen them in the shops and I'm pretty sure my mum's is about 30 years old. That being said, you could probably pick one up at a specialty cake-making store. Or you could use a large, smooth piping tube instead, I've seen those around.

Italian Almond Biscuits
250 gms ground almonds
1 cup pure icing sugar
whites of 2 large eggs
1/2 packet of red glace cherries, quartered

2 tsp gelatine
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp water

Combine the almonds ad icing sugar and then mix in egg whites until well combined. The mixture should be a firm paste but if you think it's too dry, add a teaspoon or so of water (not too much!).

Spoon the mixture into a strong fabric piping bag fitted with a large star piping nozzle and pipe 4cm caterpillars onto trays lined with baking paper. Push a little bit harder at the start to give each caterpillar a nice, fat bottom.

Push a piece of cherry firmly onto the end of each biscuit (so it looks like a head/nose).
Cover the biscuits loosely with foil and leave to dry out for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
Bake biscuits in oven at 180c for 8-10 minutes until just starting to turn golden.

For the glaze
Put gelatine, sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir while bringing to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes, brushing down the sides of the pan.
Brush cool biscuits with glaze and allow to dry for a few hours.

Monday 30 January 2012

Balls of deliciousness

I think this recipe has to be my favourite one for Christmas (apart from my mum's ice cream cake). This year, I've attempted to make mini Christmas puddings more classy but I don't know how effective it was. Usually, I just make the balls and then put a little bit of red cherry, two cherry "leaves" and a drizzle of white chocolate on the top so it looks like custard and a holly sprig. This time I've dipped them in chocolate. While this was trickier than I anticipated, they did taste awesome.

These got a little heat-effected but you get the idea
Mini Christmas Puddings
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 - 1/2 cup of cherry brandy (or regular brandy, whatever)
1 store-bought chocolate cake (about 300gms)
1/2 cup glace cherries (chopped)
1/2 cup roasted slivered almonds
200gms dark chocolate

300gms dark chocolate
1 packet of multi-coloured cherries
200gms white chocolate

Soak the raisins in 1/4 cup of brandy while you get everything else ready.
Crumble the chocolate cake into a large bowl and leave to the side. If it dries out a bit in the process, all the better.
Add the raisin mixture, cherries and almonds to the chocolate cake and stir in well.
Melt the chocolate and stir in to the cake mixture until well combined. If the mixture is too dry, add some more brandy.
Roll the mixture into small balls and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Either dip each ball into the extra melted dark chocolate or top with a drizzle of melted white chocolate and small pieces of cherry to look like holly. Refrigerate again until completely set.

Friday 9 December 2011

Shortbread for the genealogically challenged

Have you ever noticed how if you bring up the subject of shortbread in a social situation (and lets face it, who hasn't?) everyone instantly claims to have the bestest, most original, perfect textured, age-old, genuine recipe. Then they yell at each other about how their recipe is superior because it was handed down through generations from their great great great great great great, three times removed step-aunt who was, in fact a Scottish mountaineer who lived in a stone cottage and ate nothing but haggis and that shortbread? Whatever.

Photo by Leslie, hand by me
This recipe is not one of those. It hasn't been handed down to or from anyone as far as I'm aware. I can't even remember where I got it. All I can tell you is that it's in my cook book, written by my own 12-year old hand and that it's excellent.

This recipe is seriously difficult to stuff up and you can pretty well make it in any format. Personally, I prefer to cut out shapes and sprinkle liberally with sugar to make them sparkly but it's also good pressed into two 18cm square/round cake tins. Just make sure you cut it before you bake it, otherwise it crumbles after it's cooked.

One cautionary note, it doesn't really work with gluten-free flour, it gets too short.

Basic Shortbread
2 tbsp rice flour or ground rice (I prefer the flour)
1/3 cup icing sugar
2 cups of plain flour
250g salted butter, cubed & cold

Oven @160c                                        2 x 18 cm round/square cake pans, greased with butter,        
                                                             or use cookie cutters & trays covered with baking paper                                                                          
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and then rub in the butter until the mixture is even.
Press together and then knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth.

Then either:
Press into the two pans and cut into wedges. Bake 30-35 minutes until lightly golden, do not over-bake.
Roll out to about 8mm thick between two sheets of baking paper and use a cookie cutter to cut dough into shapes. I like to press caster sugar onto the top but that's optional. Bake for 5-10 minutes until lightly golden. Do not over-bake.

This recipe is quite nice with macadamia pieces, 2 tsp of lemon zest, or with one side dipped in chocolate but it has a beautiful flavour so I usually leave mine plain.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

And so it begins

Now that it is actually December, I can happily admit that it's time to start doing Christmasy things.
I started making Christmas truffles, slices and biscuits years ago and it's nice to know that people look forward to them. I thought I'd put a few favourites up cause I guess none of them are family secrets or anything... I don't think.

The first thing I've made is almond clusters because they'll keep longest. These babies are awesome because they're ridiculously easy and everyone likes them. The only bad thing is you'll need mini patty papers but they seem to be popping up in shops much more than they used to.

Almond Clusters
200 - 250g slivered almonds
200g dark chocolate (about 40% chocolate)
Mini patty papers

Pour the almonds into a large tray and bake in the oven at 160c until they're lightly browned (about 8 minutes but keep an eye on them). Allow to cool.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a double saucepan then stir in the almonds. Spoon teaspoons of the mixture into the patty papers and allow to set. Don't put them in the fridge to set unless it's really hot, the chocolate won't be as shiny.