Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Big V

Ahh the big V. The chasm come Feb 14 between those who love to embrace it and those who’s only V is a “two to the valley” hand gesture at the very thought of it. Love it or hate it, I think it provides a splendid excuse for eating well. And if you don’t want to sit amidst other love struck couples attempting to spoon each other over the table linen and cutlery,
I've put together a menu with plenty of bits you can do ahead. You dont want to spend the entire evening tizzing about the kitchen so prepare the soup ahead, the pasta and the chocolate tarts - making the day more about assembly than any great cooking efforts.

  • Bloody Mary Gazpacho with Candied Maple Bacon
  • Squid ink pasta with chilli, basil, lemon and bug meat
  • Espresso chocolate tarts with honeycomb

Bloody Mary Gazpacho with maple candied bacon

2 rashers bacon
2 tsp maple syrup

Bloody Mary
1 tsp horseradish
500ml tomato juice
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch celery salt*
½ tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp chili sauce

To garnish
A small handful of chopped celery leaves and flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Line a tray with baking paper. Place the bacon on the paper, drizzle over the maple syrup and bake for 8-10 minutes or until crisp. Allow to cool.
Add the remaining ingredients to a food processor and blitz until combined. Season with salt and pepper and top with Pour into serving glasses, top with celery and parsley leaves and place bacon on top of the glasses.

* Celery salt is from specialty grocers or from Herbies Spices

Squid Ink Pasta with bug meat, chilli and lemon
You can buy squid ink pasta at specialty food stores if you’re not inclined to make it yourself. If you do this, skip the pasta making and just follow packet instructions for preparing the pasta.

Squid ink pasta
300g 00 pasta flour
3 eggs
2 tsp squid ink*
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 small red chili, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 cooked Balmain bug tails, peeled
100ml white wine
Basil leaves to scatter
Shaved parmesan to serve

To make the pasta add the flour to a bowl. Add the eggs and squid ink and knead until the ingredients have incorporated (about 3 minutes). Cover in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough and pass through a pasta machine.
Place a saucepan of water over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes or until al dente. Strain, reserving a few tablespoons of cooking water.
Place a large fry pan over medium heat. Add the butter and allow to brown slightly. Add the garlic and chilli and cook until fragrant. Add the flat leaf parsley and bug meat and cook until just warmed through. Add the white wine, swirling to combine the ingredients. Remove from heat. Add basil leaves, parmesan and pasta and toss to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve.
*Squid ink comes in 4g sachets and can be purchased from specialty grocers

Espresso and Milk Chocolate Ganache Tarts with Honeycomb
Don’t forget to sift. Poison by bicarb is not the message you want to give on such a ubiquitous occasion.  This recipe makes for left over honeycomb – a necessity when it comes to honeycomb.

Serves 2
1/2 sheet good quality sweet short crust pastry
75ml pouring cream
20ml espresso
80g dark chocolate
100g caster sugar
30g liquid glucose
20g honey
5g bicarbonate soda, sifted

Grease and line 2 x 10cm diameter individual loose-bottomed tart tins.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick on a lightly floured surface, cut out two 15cm-diameter rounds and line the two tins. Blind bake for 15 minutes, remove pastry weights and paper, continue baking until golden (5-10 minutes). Set aside.
For the ganache bring the cream and espresso to the simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chocolate, remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Refrigerate until thickened (about 30 minutes).
For the honeycomb, combine, sugar, glucose, honey and 1/2 tbsp water in a saucepan over low heat, stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil, brush down sides of pan with a clean wet pastry brush and cook until light caramel (5-7 minutes). Add the bicarbonate of soda, stir quickly (be careful as mixture will puff), then quickly pour onto a heatproof tray lined with baking paper and cool completely (15-20 minutes).
Pour the ganache into the moulds and return to the fridge to set. Just before serving, break the honeycomb into bite-sized pieces and push a few pieces into the centre of each tart. Serve cold.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cooking the Books.... Sweet Tooth

Phooarr I know you're not meant to judge a book by it's cover but judge I did. In case you hadn't noticed this little eater is one big fat fan of the colour aqua. Love would be an understatement so when I see a book by a baking guru, who long ago piqued my interest from afar, with a beautiful aqua cover and hot pink piped pages -well I was smitten. London based Lily Jones aka Lily Vanilli is considered to be the baker to the stars and I had to write a piece on her for Fairfax which meant I was elbow deep in flour making my way through her latest baking book Sweet Tooth. And let me tell you, it's a winner. Probably one of the best baking books I've come across in some time, and one I've looked forward to as much as the Momofuku Milk Bar and Philippa Sybley Desserts. So far I've cooked seven of the recipes and each have been foolproof. This will be one book I will turn to again and again.

Lily is quite up front. She never had any professional training but what she does have is a sugar load of natural baking talent. Her interest in baking was began when helping her grandmother make scones and victoria sponge and then what was largely a hobby has turned into a thriving business. She started selling a few cakes at the markets and now she does events catering, cake sculptures and opens a bakery one day a week to the public which has lines running down the street. There is quite a nice little video about her here.
I'm genuinely unsure how to answer this one as I have been having success after success with the recipes. So far my easy favourites have been the bitter chocolate cake and I think my gong goes to the ultimate pillow soft vanilla sponge. If I was to die tomorrow and needed a final resting place for my head, it would be face down in one of these vanilla sponges. In fact I'm a little tired now, and wondering if I could pop a pillow case on it and swindle it onto my bed. Oh lordy its good. No scrap that, its amazeballs. Its a sponge (page 38) that will change your life and something that is going to be an absolute baking fixture for me as I add bits and bobs and flavours as I go. I'll also be posting some adaptations of the bitter chocolate cake in a few weeks - watch this space.
The only thing I've found with the book is that I've often had to double the cooking times. This is not a criticism of the book because as far as I'm concerned, ovens vary and its not about time but when it is ready. Its actually a criticism of Joan, my oven, because I think she's on the fritz. It would be interesting to know how you fare.

Here are a few recipes for you to try.

As I've found so much lately, local bookstores can leave you wanting, and thats never a good thing when it comes to baking. I try hard to support local bookstores but when they never ever seem to have any titles in stock and tell you it will take over a week to arrive, I'm left ordering online like everyone else. I really do wish that this wasn't the book buying landscape in our country but it is and I think we need more speciality cookery book stores to help alleviate the problem of keeping the great titles, such as this one, on the shelf. Online I've found it accessible on all the usual suspects and I'm unsure if its available as an e-book, if you know otherwise please let me know so I can update.
The best bit to a lot of Lily's recipes is starting with the flour in the mixer. Rather than beating your eggs and sugar then folding through your flour as with most recipes, lily starts with the dry ingredient base then adds the liquids/fats. And it makes perfect sense, taking the principles of pastry and coating the flour with the fats to prevent the gluten from being overworked - resulting in delightfully light cakes. Its foolproof and a must for the more heavy handed bakers among us. I am a complete convert and will be using this as my way of baking from this point on.

Lily is one to talk about the science of baking - not in an insulting way - just to arm you with enough of the basics to understand the way ingredients work and their impact alone or combined on the end result and I really like her philosophy - start strictly with a recipe then you can enjoy its freedom - nothing could be more true.
Don't, unless you already own a copy or plan on it being a big fat glorious gift to yourself.  Or gift it, if you are cunning, and know that it will end in an invite for a cup of tea and cake.
Aside from the really workable recipes, Lily gives you hints and tips for crystallised flowers, flavoured milks and sugars as well as caramelising fruits and making hard candy. She also provides insight into handy substitutes - like buttermilk; elements you are likely to want to incorporate with your baking which many baking books don't give.