sweets

MONDAY + TUESDAY

I started my week in the kitchen.

On Monday I thought the cold weather was all too much so came straight home from work and poached a few pears in vanilla, cinnamon, star anise and cloves. The house smelt like Christmas, so toasty and warm. I used Mark's recipe, but cut the (brown) sugar by half and added the other spices. My friend D and I have a Porridge Club at work (which is really just us making porridge first thing in the morning - and actually just I call it Porridge Club, he calls it breakfast). Anyway, these pears were so good I have officially declared myself Queen of Porridge Club.

On Tuesday I had friends over for dinner and made the most amazing molasses ginger cake. I'd saved it from the paper and pinned it to the fridge a few weeks ago just knowing it would be good (now online here). The golden syrup, the brown sugar, the cloves and ALL THE GINGER. I probably went a bit far with the ginger because I love it so much, but this cake was all the better for it. It was one of the best I've made (and I have made a lot of cakes). I'm already thinking about when I can make it again, and suspect it will be one of those cakes I make for the rest of my life.

And because you can't serve your friends just cake (or even just cake and wine), I also grilled some chicken and made a beautiful winter salad from Ostro. Another one I will be looking to make again, and soon - I loved the sweet beetroot, the walnuts, the lemony greens and hearty lentils. Just right for a rainy night in with a bottle of red.

That's a good Monday, a good Tuesday.

* Image, B Chaet

OFFICIALLY THE YEAR OF THE DONUT

20140707-210023-75623905.jpgI suppose it's time I made this official. I mean, I've been working up to it for sometime (see here and here) and it's important to be honest about these things. So, henceforth, I will happily and hungrily refer to 2014 as The Year of the Donut. Are you with me?* * You kind of have to have bought a donut tin on eBay, if you want to be with me.

These were a kind of autumnal / wintry 'let's put root vegetables in our cake' recipe that I dreamed and adapted from a few around Pinterest. Last year I made pumpkin and nutmeg muffins with pecan streusel (and cream cheese filling)(seriously), and this year it was donuts. As you do. They were easy as could be and I shared a few with my grandmother and cousin on Sunday, and a few with friends after a lovely dinner last night.

OK, and one for breakfast this morning while I was walking to the train. My lips felt sticky from the sugar all morning which was about the best thing ever.

PUMPKIN, GINGER AND CINNAMON DONUTS

INGREDIENTS * 1 3/4 cups of flour * 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder * a pinch of salt * 1 teaspoon of ground ginger * 
1 teaspoon of cinnamon * 1/2 a teaspoon of nutmeg * 1/2 a teaspoon of allspice * 1/3 of a cup of vegetable oil * 1/2 a cup of brown sugar * 1 egg * 
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
 (I used the good stuff) * 3/4 of a cup of steamed and pureed pumpkin (I used a quarter of a kent pumpkin, which I had prepared the night before) * 1/3 of a cup of milk (add a little at a time, as this will depend on how runny your pumpkin mix is) * 50 grams of butter, melted * 2/3 of a cup of sugar
 (half white, half brown) * 1 tablespoon of cinnamon

METHOD Preheat the oven to about 180 C and lightly grease a donut pan.

In a medium bowl mix the flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. I use a whisk to make sure there aren’t any lumps without having to actually sift anything. In a large bow, or a mixer, lightly beat together the veggie oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, pumpkin and half of the milk. Slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing till smooth and creamy. Add a little more of the milk if the batter seems too dry.

I then spooned it all into a plastic lunch bag (because I don’t have a pastry bag), snipped the end off, and piped the mix neatly into the donut tin. You can spoon it into the tin, but I found this messy because I get impatient and have two left hands. Fill each space about two thirds full, to allow them to rise nicely. Bake for about ten minutes and allow to cool on a wire rack while you get ready with the topping. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly in a bowl, and on a plate gently rub together the sugar and the cinnamon till fine and even. Then lightly dip the donuts in the warm butter, and coat in the sugar and cinnamon mix.

They are best eaten immediately, or within the hour – if you leave them too long the coating becomes a little greasy and grainy and you can't feel quite as smug about your amazing kitchen skills.

PEAR AND BURNT-BUTTER DREAMS

20140507-234521.jpg Or, 'the one where it becomes apparent that I've just learnt all about burnt-butter and feel the need to put it in everything'.

I mean, obviously I knew about burnt-butter before (the gnocchi and sage combination is one of the best), but of late, the idea of burning it back and cooking off all that water (water! ha! who needs water in their cake anyway!) is all I can think about - so it's just nutty brown, speckled, flavoursome oozy butter that will kick-start your sweets like nothing else. From last month's donuts, to this little dream, the burnt-butter has not let me down.

I am sorry to say that  can't tell you where I found the recipe (what a dill), but I do remember that it was taken then adapted from Heidi's Super Natural Everyday with what I had in my pantry. It's a book I've been wanting to buy for a while, and the origins of this delight might now be my official excuse. Plenty more good where that came from, methinks...

INGREDIENTS

* 1.5 cups of plain flour * 1 cup of spelt flour * 1 tablespoon of baking powder * ½ a teaspoon of ground ginger * ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon * ¼ of a teaspoon of all-spice * ½ a cup of brown sugar * ½ a teaspoon of salt * 2 eggs * 1 cup of buttermilk * ¼ of a cup of butter, melted until brown and cooled (see here for how-to) * zest of ½ a lemon * 1 medium-sized pear, grated

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180c and grease and line a tin.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, all-spice, sugar and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk, then slowly add in the melted butter, the lemon zest and the grated pear. Pour the wet mixture over the flour mixture and stir until just combined (best not to over-mix).

Bake for 40-60 minutes or until cake is golden brown and a knife comes out clean (or, in my case, a small screwdriver that you found in the second drawer and have never actually used as a screwdriver)(in my defence, it is as narrow as a tooth-pick so rather more dainty to pierce the cake with that a big old knife).

I made this a couple of weeks ago, when my family was in town. I was lucky enough to have Daisy as my wooden spoon sidekick and chief bowl-licker and we were both of us very happy with our work. I think this one will be in high-rotation over winter - so soft (the buttermilk), warming (the ginger and all-spice) and fruity (the pear). Just right with a pot of Earl Grey or Orange Pekoe, in case you have the kettle on.

SUNDAY / 14

20140428-202319.jpgAfter a week off work, this past Sunday felt slow and good. It's a while since I've felt so rested and blissed out. I woke early, and with nothing much needing to be done, just some dinner at the pub with friends much later, and a whole heap of rain and leaves falling outside, I thought it might be a good time to make Joy's apple baked doughnuts with burnt-butter glaze. And it was. It was the best time, because I went ahead and made a big pot of French press while I was at it and spent a fair amount of the morning by the open window, reading the paper and stuffing my face. These donuts were a beautiful balance of soft apple, some cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg-y warmth and a nutty and sugary kick of burnt-butter. They were autumn in the form of baked-goods and I can't wait to make them again and again.

INGREDIENTS * 1cup of plain flour * 3/4s teaspoon of baking powder * 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda * pinch of salt * 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon * 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg * 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger * 1/3 cup of brown sugar * 50 grams of unsalted butter * 1 egg * 1/2 cup of buttermilk * 2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract * 1/2 cup of grated fresh apple * 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar * 3 to 4 tablespoons of milk

METHOD Pre-heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a donut pan (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and brown sugar. Whisking is a nice way of not bothering to sift your flour and still getting away with a smooth batter.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. To get that lovely, dark brown-butter, you will need to wait until it begins to crackle as the water melts out.  It will slow down a little and start darkening after a few minutes. You know it's good when it smells nutty and caramely and looks all warm and speckled. Some of this butter will be used in the batter, some in the icing.

In a small bowl mix together the egg, buttermilk, and a teaspoon of the vanilla with two tablespoons of the brown-butter. Once smooth, add this to the dry ingredients and fold through until just combined. Don’t overfill the casings as I did, or your donuts will be a bit pudgy and ill-shaped (see above). About two thirds should do it.

They will take about ten minutes, or just under – keep an eye on them.

Allow them to cool a little in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack and get started on the icing. Mix together the icing sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, two tablespoons of the brown-butter and half the milk. Stir to combine and add a little more milk as needed – you want the icing soft, but not too runny it will drip down the sides of the donuts.

Once cool, ice these babies and congratulate yourself on an hour WELL SPENT.

LAST YEAR. 

BAKING MY WAY TO HEALTH

20140404-081607.jpg Last week, when I thought I was on the mend from this cold and cough, I decided to venture down to the kitchen and do the one thing that always makes me feel better: BAKE. The bad news is I wasn't on the mend at all - one week, two doctors visits, a secondary respiratory infection and a dose of antibiotics later, I'm feeling much better (as my friend Sean says, 'better living through science'). And the good news about the whole business is that the scones I made were amazing, and might just be my new favourite thing to have with tea.

I hadn't really wanted to leave the house, so decided to wing it and pull together a batch of warm, sugary goodness with the bits and pieces I had to hand. Tola and I are pretty good at making sure we always have the basics well stocked; flour, sugar, butter, eggs. I browsed through a few bookmarks I keep on hand for just such an occasion, and thought Heidi's wholewheat blackberry ricotta scones were as wonderful a place as any to start. Well, it turns out they were from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook I got the Christmas before last (thanks Jordy). And while I didn't have blackberries, or ricotta, I knew I had frozen raspberries and some buttermilk, so this is kind of how things worked out...

INGREDIENTS * 1 cup of plain flour * 1 cup of spelt flour (I use Bob's Red Mill, so gloriously available in Australia now) * 1 tablespoon of baking powder * 1/4 cup of brown sugar * 75 grams of unsalted butter, grated (or chopped into small pieces) *  1 cup of buttermilk * 1 tablespoon of maple syrup * ground nutmeg * 1 cup or so of frozen raspberries

METHOD Pre-heat the oven to 180 and line a tray with baking paper. Start by mixing the two flours, then add the baking powder and sugar and stir till everything is nicely combined. Use a box-grater to grate in the cold butter in, straight from the fridge. This is the easiest way I know to make a nice crumb without using a food processor. Then, using your fingers, rub the butter into the mixture till the batch feels pretty even, and it resembles course breadcrumbs. Add in the buttermilk, the maple syrup and a little nutmeg and mix together with a wooden spoon. You may need to add a little more buttermilk - you don't want the batter too wet as you are going to roll it out on the counter, but you also want to make sure the scones are nice and moist.

Lightly flour the surface of the bench and cover the batter in a little more flour, enough to allow you to easily stretch it out into a 1 inch thick round. You can then use a biscuit cutter or glass to make round scones, or, as I did, just slice the round into six equal wedges. This is the American style, so you have lovely big triangles of scone, and I have to say, I don't mind it at all.

* Inspired by Heidi making Deb's scones.

PEAR

20140312-203710.jpgI always love the idea of pears more than I actually like pears. By which I mean, I love the mottled look of them - always like a French still life - and I love that they're so much juicier and more refined than an apple. But I've had too many bruised, or too firm, or just plain floury to be singing their praises all that much. When it comes to poaching them or baking them, however, I'm all about pears. And these beauties were a lovely way to work them back into my diet after a summer of mangoes. I found the recipe over on Sprouted Kitchen and the winning combination of pear, oats and hazelnut had me bookmarking it straight up. Then I saw the buttermilk and knew I was quite at home.

I made them last week and they didn't last long. I ended up using a little spelt flour instead of pastry flour (because it was what I had), and was happy with the taste. And I couldn't find the cardamom so left it out too. My only issues was that my muffins came out a little dry. I think I'd increase the buttermilk next time around by at least another quarter cup.

PEAR, OAT AND HAZELNUT MUFFINS

INGREDIENTS * 3/4 cup of oats * 1 cup of plain flour * 1/2 cup of spell flour * 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda * 2 teaspoons of baking powder * 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon * 1/2 ground nutmeg * pinch of salt * 2 pears, grated * half a cup of brown sugar * 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter * 1 cup of buttermilk * 2 eggs, beaten * 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract * 1 cup of hazelnuts, lightly roasted and chopped

METHOD Pre-heat the oven to 180 or so and grease a muffin tin (I didn't use paper cases, and had no trouble with the batter sticking). In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flours, baking powder and soda, spices and salt and mix together. I used my Kitchen Aid to mix the soft butter and sugar to a smooth paste, then added the pear, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Fold in the flour mix gradually and stir well until combined. Add in 2/3 of the hazelnuts to the mix and spoon into the tin, then top with the remaining hazelnuts. Bake for about 25 minute and allow to cool a little in the pan before removing.

I took mine to work to share with friends and we smothered them in butter, drank tea and avoided emails for a good ten minutes.

CAKE DREAMS

20140202-143740.jpg Another baking post, because it's been that kind of week.

This is actually one I've been meaning to share for a while. It's such an easy and lovely cake, I come back to it all the time. It is also a nice and dense, flavourful gluten-free option, if you have anyone in your life that is troubled by flour. My friend Addy has been GF for years, and this one is good to pull out in all kinds of dressed-up and dressed-down ways. It's a take on a Nigella Lawson lemon and polenta cake, which I use for dinner parties as more of  pudding - served warm with the lemony syrup and a big dollop of Greek yoghurt. It's easy and fresh, but still feels like an indulgence.

The below I have adapted a bit to suit my tastes - coconut instead of the semolina for a smoother texture and a richer flavour, and orange instead of lemon, because, well, I just like it. I would say that it is worth doing a double-batch, or using a small tin, as GF cakes never give much in the way of rise. For Addy's 30th, I did three times the quantity, iced it with a zesty orange and passionfruit buttercream and piled it high with lisianthus.

INGREDIENTS * 175 grams of unsalted butter, softened * 1 cup of white sugar * 2 cups of almond meal * 3/4 of a cup of desiccated coconut * 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder (GF options available) * 3 eggs * zest of one orange

METHOD Beat down the butter and sugar till they are a soft, creamy paste. In a separate bowl, mix the almond meal, the coconut and the baking powder and add the mix slowly to the butter and sugar, a little at a time, alternating with the eggs. I used a Kitchen Aid but you'd be fine to beat it by hand. Grate in the orange zest and mix thoroughly before baking in a moderate oven (180 celsius or so) for about 45 minutes. It will brown quite quickly with all that butter, so I recommend turning the oven a little lower for another ten minutes, to make sure it is cooked through nicely. I always line a springform pan with baking paper, to avoid any issues once the cake has cooked and cooled.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson.

THIS IS A THING

20140202-143650.jpg Oh golly. I warned you about this the other day, and gave full and colourful hints over on my Instagram and now here we are. Brown butter baked doughnuts.

Yep, BROWN BUTTER BAKED DOUGHNUTS are actually a thing - and of course it took Joy to tell it to me. No one cares like Joy. I'm not going to detail the recipe here, I'll direct you right to the source because it's important you get this right. But I will say that it took 5 weeks for my doughnut tin to arrive from ebay and it was worth every damn day.

The funny thing is, I would never buy a chocolate iced doughnut from the bakery. It wouldn't occur to me - I'm always distracted by glossy pastries or chewy biscuits. So this was a bit of a revelation.

SUNDAY / 48

20131226-165718.jpgSunday baking, and just what I needed. I landed in Adelaide only yesterday and after a huge year and a fairly big week finishing up at work and saying goodbye to friends, it felt good to be in my folks' kitchen and taking it slow. My nieces were with us for the day and Daisy was so sweet, patiently helping me stir and roll out a batch of blueberry, lemon and buttermilk scones. They were moist, zesty and a pretty wonderful way to eat up some of the local produce here in the Adelaide Hills.

INGREDIENTS * 3 cups of plain flour * 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder * 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda * a pinch of ginger (and I'd have added a little nutmeg if I'd had it on hand) * 1/4 cup of white sugar * zest of one lemon * 170 grams of butter (grated) * 1 egg * 3/4 cup of buttermilk * a punnet of blueberries

METHOD Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, lemon and sugar in a large bowl.Then grate in the cold butter using a cheese grater - this helps to break it up and, using your hands, rub the butter into the dry mix till the whole thing resembles rough breadcrumbs. It won't be perfectly even, but it should feel consistent. In a smaller bowl, stir together the egg and the buttermilk and once combined, mix it into the dry ingredients. I folded in the blueberries last, so they didn't bruise or break too much, then rolled it out on the counter with a little more flour to stop it from sticking. I used an old glass to cut the circles for the scones and laid them on some baking paper.

They baked for about 20 minutes and tasted like a dream.

And just look at those little hands - could they be any sweeter?

HOMEMADE SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

20131107-212052.jpgSo, yeah. This is a must. I'm not going to lie to you, this is without question the best thing that has ever happened in any kitchen of mine involving butter, brown sugar and cream. Last Sunday was a usual day of quiet that happened to end with a glorious dinner for twelve. One of Tola's signature roasts with three chooks, mountains of sweet potato and pumpkin, a beetroot and pear salad with fresh mint and soft-as-chalk feta, brussel sprouts all warm and sweet with balsamic and honey, rather too many bottles of red and - to follow - my first foray into homemade caramel.

I used Stephanie's lovely 3191 recipe because I defer to her in all matters, and also it was about the only recipe that didn't necessitate a cooking thermometer. And glory be, if I knew things were this easy I'd have done so years ago and never looked back (and probably never fit into my shorty shorts, but there you have it). I skipped the cardamom, as we served our friends a kind of vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, crumbly peanut, banana sundae thing, but I think it would otherwise be a lovely addition.

INGREDIENTS: * 1/4 cup of heavy cream * 4 tablespoons of butter, roughly chopped * 1/2 cup of firmly packed brown sugar * 1/2 a vanilla bean * a generous pinch of salt (I used Maldon's)

METHOD Mix the vanilla bean and cream in the base of a small pot, then add the butter and brown sugar and heat over a medium to high flame until the butter has melted and the sides of the pot are bubbling along nicely. Reduce the heat to its lowest and simmer, uncovered, for five minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add in the salt (you might like a little more, for a kick - but please do go slow to start with). I let mine cool a few minutes before pouring over ice cream and spoiling my friends with.

* IMPORTANT NOTE: Is this picture taken in glary overhead lights at nightime using my phone, I hear you ask? Yes. Do I have a lovely camera that I spent good money on that would produce much better pictures than this? Obviously. Have I currently misplaced the charger for it following my move? Maybe. Is this completely forgivable since it is the fourth time I've moved in 12 months and sometimes you just need to worry about more important things like washing your hair and reading the paper? I couldn't agree more...