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Best cocoa brownies from Food52 Genius Desserts

30 Sep

 

Last year December, I bought Food52‘s incredible book, Genius Desserts. To say that this book is an inspiration, is an understatement. It is one of the best baking books out there for people with a serious sweet tooth that want to explore decadent, professionally tested, winning recipes. It also specifically resonates with me, because it is written in a language that speaks to my word-obsessed, food-adoring, recipe-focused brain.

As I’ve declared before: I. LOVE. BROWNIES. I dream about them. I search for them. I inhale them. I have long conversations about them. I sometimes bake them, but I more often test other people’s offerings. I’ve eaten some incredible versions in my life, but I don’t have a go-to version recently, to be honest. This post will rectify that, I assure you. So let’s start with the facts: brownies should be decadently chocolatey, fudgy and squidgy, not overly dominated by nuts, but with the addition of a soft walnut/pecan crunch here and there for texture. It should be cakey only in the way that it’s not completely dense like a no-bake chocolate fudge square. But dense enough to be considered almost underbaked, like a flourless chocolate cake, but less fragile. There’s that fine line between a great brownie and a perfect brownie, and I think I’ve just found the recipe (written by Alice Medrich) that allows you to create simple perfection. As the book states: “Alice knows chocolate. It speaks to her. We’re lucky to have her as a translator.”

 

The incredible thing is this: the best brownies are usually made with good quality (expensive) chocolate, but this recipe only uses cocoa powder and a few other simple ingredients – butter, flour, eggs, vanilla, salt, walnuts. The magic is in the way it is mixed and heated, starting over a water bath and later vigorously beaten for an exact “40 strokes”, leaving you slightly breathless yet exhilarated with your bowl of rich, thick, oozing, dark treasure. It is baked for a mere 25 minutes at 165 C, resulting in something that you might consider under-baked at first. But when it sets to room temperature, it is just perfect: intensely chocolatey, so moist that it will actually be spreadable if you try, but holds together just barely enough to be cut and held. Lastly, the added salt flakes provide lyrical depth.

Here it is – apart from the slightly finicky water bath, the rest is straight forward wooden spoon stirring. If you’re prepared to follow the recipe to a T, you will be richly (ahem) rewarded . For brownie connoisseurs, this recipe is an incredible find, and a must-try.

 

Ingredients: makes 24 square brownies (recipe slightly adapted* from Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies via Food 52 Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore)

*Notes: I don’t own a square 20 x 20 cm pan, so I made a batch that’s 1,5 times the original to fit a more commonly found baking tin size in South Africa, namely 20 x 30 cm. I also used salted butter instead of unsalted, upped the added salt and vanilla ratios slightly and used XL eggs instead of large. I chose to bake with Gideon Milling’s stone ground cake wheat flour, which is in my experience the best substitute for American recipes calling for all purpose flour.

  • 230 g salted butter
  • 375 g sugar
  • 125 g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ml vanilla extract
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 100 g cake flour (see notes above)
  • about 100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • salt flakes, for garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 165 C. Line the bottom and sides of a 20 x 30 cm rectangular baking pan/tin with non-stick baking paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water (the bowl can touch the water directly, in this case, but should “sit” on the edges of the pot and not on the bottom). Stir with a wooden spoon from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. (It might look gritty here but don’t worry, it will smooth out later.) Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts. Spread evenly in the lined pan, edging it into the corners.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter. Let cool completely on a rack in the tin.
  5. Lift up the ends of the lined paper, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares. If your room temperature is very warm, refrigerate the brownies before cutting for a more neat, even edge. Serve at room temperature, optionally sprinkled with salt flakes just before serving (can be stored in a covered container for a few days, without the salt flakes as they will draw water and “melt” into the brownies).
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Stephanie Alexander’s “best-ever cheesecake”

3 Jun

A silky, creamy cheesecake with an almost custard-like consistency. Served with fresh passion fruit pulp.

 

My friend Tasha Seccombe and I share a love for baking, and for all things sweet and indulgent. Over the years, she has told me numerously about one of her favourite cookbooks, The Cook’s Companion, by Stephanie Alexander. It’s an Australian “food bible” of sorts and has sold more than 500 000 copies since it’s first print in 1996. In this book, Tasha said, is a recipe for a cheesecake that is the silkiest she had ever tasted, with a texture that barely holds together as it wobbles from the oven and finally sets in the fridge. I was more than a little intrigued and finally asked her to send me the recipe last week.

I’ve published a few cheesecake recipes on my blog before, and I feel that all of them have a specific place in the world of cheesecakes. Whether it’s a more crumbly crustless ricotta cheesecake, or a classic cheesecake, a pecan cheesecake, a white chocolate cheesecake, or even a freezer cheesecake, I love them all. It’s weird though, because in my mind, I associate cheesecake with coffee chops in the 1990’s. Classic as it is, it surely isn’t currently trending in any way and has kind of slipped my mind as an option to make at home or order in a restaurant.

In Stephanie Alexander’s book, she had taken the bold step to actually call it “Best-Ever Cheesecake”. For a woman of her stature and expertise, this should surely mean something! As with many other baked cheesecake recipes, this recipe calls for digestive biscuits and butter in the base. The difference comes in with the cheesecake being baked in a water bath, with quite a runny filling (lining the pan with foil over the base is imperative – just follow the instructions). It spends 1 hour at 180 C (Stephanie says 50 min, but I found that 1 hour is better for my oven), then another hour with the oven turned off. It is still very wobbly when it is taken from the oven to cool on the counter, and only really sets in the fridge after a few hours. The result is a truly silky, smooth and creamy cheesecake with no grainy or crumbly texture, not too sweet, just the essence of cool, comforting, dairy indulgence with a classic cookie base that holds everything together.

Is it the best-ever? That might depend on how you like your cheesecake. It sure is incredibly good – you were right, Tasha. So good that I ate half of that cheesecake myself, within a day. This recipe is a keeper and I’ll surely make it again.

Ingredients:

  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 250 g wheatmeal/digestive biscuits (Stephanie uses 300g, but I’ve found that 250g is enough)
  • 500 g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 15 ml cornflour
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 30 ml lemon juice
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (500 ml) sour cream

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Use a little melted butter to brush the sides and base of the 22 x 6 cm spring-form cake tin.
  2. Prepare the tin: Remove the base from the tin. Cut a round of baking paper the same size of the base, brush with butter and set aside. Cut 2 sheets of foil, 40 x 40 cm, and place them on top of each other on the brushed base. Place the baking paper round on top of the foils, then sit the springform tin over the stack and lock the triple-lined base firmly into place. Fold the overhanging foil sides to the top and out of the way to create a water tight container.
  3. For the base: crush the cookies in a food processor, then add the remaining butter and mix to combine. Press it firmly into the base of the prepared tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a drinking/whiskey glass.
  4. For the filling: Using an electric mixer with a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and caster sugar until smooth. Add the cornflour and then add the egg one at a time, beating until just smooth (do not beat too much air into it). Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt, then beat until just combined, scraping the sides. Lastly, add the sour cream and beat briefly until just mixed. Pour into the prepared base, then put the tin into a larger deep baking tray and fill it with boiling water to come half way up the sides of the tin.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes at 180 C, then turn off the oven without opening the door and leave the cheesecake for another hour in the oven. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack (remove it from the water bath and open up the sides of the foil to release any trapped water). Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to set fully.
  6. Run a knife around the inside of the tin, then release the sides and remove the lined base. Transfer the cheesecake to a plate. Slice and serve, topped with fresh passion fruit pulp or fresh berries.

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Pecan shortbread cookies

23 May

Freshly baked pecan shortbread cookies, dusted with icing sugar. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

This is a magnificent recipe from my very first handwritten recipe book that I compiled as a child in the early 1990’s. It reminds me of the icing sugar dusted shortbread that I saw in almost every confectionery shop while traveling in Greece in 2010 (except they mostly had a crescent shape).

Unfortunately I have no idea where this recipe came from, and thus cannot give the rightful credit to the writer. If anyone out there recognizes this exact recipe or can identify the origin, please let me know.

This cookie is like an ultimate nut-flavoured shortbread. It is luxurious, yet really easy to make. I absolutely love pecan nuts, and this cookie catches the essence of pecans in one buttery, delightful bite.

Note: These cookies were photographed in 2015, but I never posted it on my blog! Now that I’ve recently settled into a new kitchen that is much bigger than my previous one, I’ve got my baking mojo on and I’m ready to explore some of my best older recipes and definitely many new ones. Hope you love this one!

Pecans are (along with almonds) my favourite nuts to bake with. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

Ingredients: (makes 20-24)

  • 125 g butter, soft
  • 250 ml (140 g) self-raising flour
  • 50 g pecan nuts, finely chopped
  • 2,5 ml vanilla extract
  • 50 ml (25 g) icing sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 20-24 whole pecan nuts

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160 C and line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
  2. Place all the ingredients except for the whole pecan nuts in a food processor or stand mixer and mix until it comes together in a ball of dough. Do not overmix.
  3. Roll balls of dough about the size of a small walnut and place on the lined tray, leaving enough space in between. Use the back of a water/whiskey glass (flat surface) to flatten each cookie. Dip the flat glass surface in flour if it starts to stick.
  4. Place a whole pecan nut in the middle of each cookie and gently press to stick. Bake for 25 minutes until lightly straw coloured, not brown.
  5. Remove from the oven, then immediately dust with icing sugar using a sieve. Leave to cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
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Plum tarte tatin

5 Apr

Simple, seasonal plum tarte tatin with creme fraiche.

 

Last week we had a “sibling dinner” at my sister’s place. I am the second oldest of 4 siblings, my sister being a year older and two brothers younger than me (4 years and 6 years younger). Between the four of us, we have 3 kids. Each of us has a partner too. So that makes for a loud, lovely bunch together!

My sister and her husband cooked homemade gnocchi with flame grilled steak and mushroom sauce for dinner – just incredible. We’re all huge food lovers and we all love cooking, so no effort is spared. For dessert, my sister asked to help her put a quick tarte tatin together, using some of the last plums of the season left on the trees across the road. I haven’t made a tarte tatin for years, because in June 2015 I had a dangerous mishap in the kitchen while demonstrating a party-size tarte tatin to a crowd: I flipped the bubbling hot caramel pan over using a plate that didn’t quite fit the pan, and the hot caramel landed all over my chest. Needless to say, I still bare the scars.

It was a reminder that one should always take time and care while cooking, never to rush things when you’re tired or overworked, and pausing to rethink situations that might be potentially dangerous. Yet, making this simple tarte tatin with my sister again, reminded me of how four simple ingredients can be turned into the most delicious dessert imaginable – so simple, so elegant, so celebratory of the season.

Isn’t that what life is about? Pausing, learning, overcoming fears, being present, enjoying life’s simple pleasures. I went home with a bag of freshly picked plums and cooked another plum tarte tatin a day later, wrapping the hot pan and plate in an old towel before carefully flipping it over. A little spillage (not on my skin this time), but so much delight! I’ll be making this tart again and again this year.

A slice of plum tarte tatin with creme fraiche. Linens from Design Team / Peppertree Bags: Runner – Succulent, charcoal on parchment. Napkin: Stilo – sage on parchment.

 

Ingredients: (serves 8)

  • 1 cup (200 g) white sugar
  • 90 g butter
  • roughly 800 g ripe yet firm plums, halved, pits removed
  • 500 g frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • creme fraiche of vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Method:

  1. Using a 23-28 cm wide x 5cm deep round pan that is oven-safe (choose a suitably sized turning-out-plate for your pan before you go ahead with the cooking – test it to see if it fits, and set it aside for later), melt the butter slowly and add the sugar. Bring to a slow boil, then quickly arrange the plum halves tightly in the pan, cut sides down.
  2. Turn the heat up, and boil until the sugar and butter for about 5 minutes to form a golden caramel, carefully shaking the pan now and then. Watch it closely and remove from heat to prevent it from boiling over. Remove from heat to cool completely in the pan – about 30 minutes is fine, but can be left longer.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 200 C. Roll out puff pastry and cut into a circle that is slightly larger than the pan (cut and paste your sheet of rectangular pastry to first form a square, if necessary). Cover the plums with the pastry, tucking in the edges so that the fruit is contained. Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits for the steam to escape, then bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.
  4. Remove from oven, then place a serving dish on top of the pan and carefully turn upside down (work quickly, but be very careful!). Remove the pan. If any fruit has moved out of place, now is the time to carefully put them back in place if necessary.
  5. Slice and serve warm, with or without cream / creme fraiche / ice cream.

Tip: Only use a tin or a pan that is completely made from metal/iron – plastic handles will melt in the oven. Always remember to use a heat-proof cloth to handle the hot pan.

The simplicity of this dish is the key to its success.

Crispy pastry soaked with fruity caramel syrup, against soft, sweet and tart fruit.

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Fig frangipane tart

4 Mar

Buttery, flaky pastry on the outside, squishy sweet almond filling on the inside. (Table runner & napkins by Design Team Fabrics & Peppertree Bags. Plate & bowl by Hertex HAUS. Photography & styling by Ilse van der Merwe.)

 

I recently bought a 10kg crate of beautiful, purple figs for making preserves. After processing the ripest fruit into jars of soft set conserves, spiced sweet pickles and two large racks of dried figs, a bowl full of firmer figs were set aside for making a tart or two.

Squidgy almond pastries are the stuff my dreams are made of, and this fig frangipane tart ticks all the boxes. The pastry base is buttery and flaky (no blind baking required), the frangipane filling is moist and gooey, and the beautiful figs bake to a soft consistency that showcases their natural jammy goodness.

This tart is best served at room temperature, with or without a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Linen by Design Team | Napkins: Garden Bloom, parchment on sky. Table Runner: Small Line Protea, prime parchment OP on charcoal.

For the pastry base: (enough for 2 tart bases, recipe adapted from The Ultimate Snowflake Collection by Heilie Pienaar)

  • 500 ml (280 g) cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2,5 ml) salt
  • 15 ml caster sugar
  • 200 g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 XL egg yolk
  • about 20 ml ice-cold water
  • 5 ml fresh lemon juice

Method:

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and process to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk the yolk, water and lemon juice together, then add it to the flour/butter mixture. Process until it comes together in a ball, then transfer to a sheet of cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up.

Spray a 23 cm fluted loose bottom tart tin with non-stick baking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the pastry dough to a thickness of about 3 mm. The pastry will easily tear, but don’t worry – you can patch it easily by pressing excess dough into the cracks. Transfer the rolled out dough carefully into the tin and press it neatly into the corners. Cut the excess pastry neatly off on the edges. Use a fork to prick the bottom of the tart all over. Now it is ready for the filling (see below).

Note: The second half of the pastry can be frozen for another time, otherwise refrigerate and use within 3 days.

For the filling:

  • 90 g soft butter
  • 1/2 cup (105 g) caster sugar
  • 2 XL eggs
  • 5 ml almond essence
  • 100 g ground almonds
  • 15 ml cake flour
  • about 10 medium or 15 small figs, halved
  • 10 ml smooth apricot/fig jam, heated, for brushing

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Place the butter and caster sugar in a food processor and mix until creamy (you can also use electric beaters). Add the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping the sides. Add the essence, ground almonds and flour and mix well. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin lined with pastry, and tilt it to evenly fill the bottom. Arrange the fig halves cut sides up in the tin (the filling will rise a little inbetween, so don’t be alarmed if it seems to be a little “shallow”).

Bake at 200 C for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180 C and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until the filling has puffed up and is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven, then gently brush all over with the heated jam, taking care not to break up the tender surface. Let it cool completely, then remove the tin casing and serve in slices.

This fig frangipane tart makes an elegant tea time treat, and can also be served as a dessert.

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How to make soft hamburger buns

14 Aug

Soft and perfectly golden hamburger buns, fresh from the oven.

A few weeks ago I started a new collaboration with Kenwood South Africa. In my role as brand ambassador over the next few months, I have received their Chef XL Titanium – you’ll see it featuring in some of my upcoming recipes and videos. I’ve been using this machine for some time now and it is such an incredible tool! From macaroons to butter icing, ciabatta to Italian meringue – what a joy to use it. In my next post, I’ll do a full review of this premium mixer, so stay tuned.

More and more people are welcoming the craft of making the perfect hamburger at home. Most of us have the 100% beef patties down (or know where to buy a really good one from a local butcher), many of us can make a killer mayo (or aioli – even better), and then it’s up to you to add what you love: pickles, tomato, lettuce, relish, caramelized onions, cheddar etc. One of the most key parts of the burger, however, is the bun. If you’re stacking all that incredible stuff on a bun that’s going to fall apart when you bite it, or worse – a bun that’s too tough to bite through, your burger will be ruined. What you are looking for, is a soft brioche bun that’s about the same diameter as your cooked pattie (patties shrink in the pan), not too high so that you can still bite through your assembled burger, with or without sesame seeds on top (I prefer sesame), sliced horizontally, buttered and pan toasted to a golden perfection. It should be light enough to easily bite through without much resistance, but sturdy enough to hold together when all the juicy bits drizzle down towards the bottom half. So next time you’re going the full monty with making burgers at home, start with making these incredibly soft hamburger buns – it’ll change your burger game forever.

Note: You’re going to need an electric mixer for this recipe. I used my Kenwood Chef XL Titanium – it’s an absolute pleasure to use. The light around the attachment port shines right into the bowl, and although it’s quite a big bowl you can always see what’s going on inside. The machine is very strong and makes light work of the dough. The solid stainless steel attachments are very easy to change and along with the stainless steel bowl they are easy to clean. Keep an eye out for a full review of this machine within the next week, and watch my video of how to make soft hamburger buns below.

Ingredients:

 

  • 200 g butter, cubed
  • 500 ml (2 cups) milk
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) honey
  • 1 kg stone ground white bread flour (divided in two halves)
  • 30 g (45 ml) instant yeast
  • 20 ml (4 teaspoons) sugar
  • 10 ml salt (2 teaspoons) fine salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg, whisked, for brushing (optional)
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, add the butter, milk and honey and stir until the butter has melted (do not boil). Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with K-beater, add 500 g flour with the yeast, sugar and salt. Mix gently.
  3. Add the warm milk mixture to the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Add the eggs and continue to mix until incorporated (about 30 seconds), then add the second half of the flour and continue to mix for about 1 minute.
  4. Change from K-beater to dough hook (scrape any excess dough mixture using a spatula), then mix with the dough hook on medium-low speed for about 5-10 minutes or until the dough is very smooth and elastic.
  5. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into portions (I prefer to weigh it individually – you’re looking for balls of about 110-120 g each). Shape each piece of dough into a ball by tucking the seams in underneath, then flatten it slightly and place it on a lined baking tray, leaving enough space inbetween for rising.
  6. Cover lightly with plastic and leave to rise in a warm area for about 25 minutes or until doubled in size. While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 200 C.
  7. When the buns are risen, use a pastry brush to paint it with whisked egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds (or just leave plain, if you prefer). Bake for 12 minutes (in the middle of the oven) or until golden brown and cooked. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. Store in an airtight container or covered plastic bag, and use within 3 days. Best for hamburgers when sliced, buttered and toasted in a hot pan. ​

Note: Baked cooled buns can be successfully frozen for up to 3 months.

*Regular cake flour won’t yield the same results as stone ground white bread flour and will result in a more sticky dough that is harder to handle. Rather use stone ground white bread flour, if you want to achieve the best results possible.

This post was created in proud collaboration with Kenwood South Africa.

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Simple jam crumble tart

9 Jul

A simple tart using only a few basic pantry ingredients. Soft, buttery and chewey with crisp edges.

 

I am always inspired by recipes that require just a few basic pantry ingredients. In saying that, I also realize that there are so many people who don’t have these basics on hand, not even mentioning a proper oven or a tart tin. But bear with me as I celebrate the tighter winter months as a creative freelancer. This is why I love what I do: I can make delicious stuff out of “we-have-almost-nothing-in-the-cupboard” stuff. If you have jam, flour, butter and a few other small basics, this tart will bring some sunshine to your wintery world.

Although jam crumble squares have been around for a long time, I’ve never tried to bake it in a round tart form. I have to say that it does put a fancy jacket on this humble sweet treat. Serve it with custard or ice cream or whipped cream as a beautiful way to end a dinner. Otherwise, opt for a square tin and cut it into squares for tasty lunch box treats. They’re soft, chewy, crumbly and actually not too sweet. Weirdly, they get better on standing – more gooey and chewy. So resist the urge to gobble it down straight from the oven.

I made this batch with some homemade marmalade, seeing that I made a considerable batch at the beginning of winter. My marmalade is quite chunky with long strands of rind, so I heated it up in the microwave and gave it a whizz in my food processor. Otherwise, use any jam you love out of a jar – berry, apricot or even something like caramelized onion for an interesting savoury spin.

This recipe was adapted from The Ultimate Snowflake Collection by Heilie Pienaar – one of my trusted baking bibles.

Ingredients: (makes 1 x 23 cm tart, about 2cm thick)

  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1 XL egg
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 1,5 cups (225 g) cake flour
  • 5 ml ( 1 teaspoon) baking powder
  • 2,5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
  • 250 ml (1 cup) jam, slightly heated to a good spreading consistency
  • custard, whipped cream or ice cream, for serving (optional)

Method:

  1. Place butter and sugar in a food processor (or bowl with electric whisk) and cream until smooth. Add egg & vanilla and mix until light and creamy.
  2. Place flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and stir well with a whisk. Add it to the creamed mixture and pulse/mix until it comes together as a soft pastry. Turn out on a piece of cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, spray a 23 cm fluted loose bottom tart tin with non-stick baking spray or brush with melted butter. Pre-heat oven to 200 C.
  4. Use 2/3 of the pastry and press it into the base of the tin and slightly up the sides – I found that it works well when you wet your fingers lightly with water to prevent sticking. Prick the pastry with a fork, then place a sheet of non-stick baking paper on top. Top with dry beans or rice and bake blind for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and remove the beans/rice and paper. Lower the temperature to 180 C. Add the jam and spread evenly over the tart base with the back of a spoon – you need quite a thick layer as it will sink into the pasty when baked. Remove the remaining pastry from the fridge/freezer and use a grater to coarsely grated the pastry over the jam layer. Neaten it up slightly, then bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp on the edges.
  6. Leave to cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. If serving warm, serve plated with custard/cream/ice cream. If serving cool, it can be eaten by hand.

Step 4: Press 2/3 of the pastry into a greased 23 cm tart tin.

Step 5: Spread the blind-baked pastry with jam.

Optional: Dust with icing sugar when cool. Serve and slice at room temperature.

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Orange, olive oil and semolina cake with Chinese 5-spice

25 Jun

A wintery orange & semolina cake with Chinese 5 spice and caramel orange syrup. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

It’s finally citrus season and I’ve already made a huge batch of marmalade with the abundance of oranges all around me. I adore citrus flavours in cakes, so this recipe was a delightful experiment after doing lots of research on olive oil cakes (did you know that baking with olive oil instead of butter can extend the shelf life of a cake with up to 2 weeks?).

Where many olive oil cakes call for a very mild olive oil, this one needs the very best extra virgin olive oil that you can find. The flavour should be medium-intense to intense, to create a cake that is very moist in texture but also smells richly fragrant of the essence of olives and orange. It is a cake that can be eaten on its own, very much like a cake bread, but can also be dolled up with a syrup and some whipped cream or even a cream cheese frosting for a decadent dessert or tea-time treat.

Note: Although my recipe has been featured before on The Pretty Blog, they have since shut down their website and I’ve had a few requests for republishing it. Here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium size oranges
  • 125 g white sugar
  • 125 g soft brown sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup fine semolina
  • 10 ml baking powder
  • 5 ml baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 15 ml ground Chinese 5-spice
  • 2,5 ml salt
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 5 ml vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Place the oranges in a small saucepan filled with water and bring to a boil. Cook until soft – about 30 minutes. Remove from the water, slice in quarters, remove the seeds, then puree (with skins) and set aside.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Grease a bundt tin thoroughly with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Place the white and brown sugar in a food processor and process for about 1 minute.
  4. Add the flour, semolina, baking powder, baking soda, 5-spice and salt. Process to mix.
  5. Add the orange pulp, olive oil, eggs and vanilla and process until just mixed. Scrape the sides and pulse one last time.
  6. Transfer the batter into the bundt tin and use a spatula to smooth the surface evenly.
  7. Bake for 50-55 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean, then remove from the oven and cool in the tin.
  8. When cool, carefully tap the tin from side to side to make sure that the cake does not stick to the tin. Turn the cake out on a plate or rack.

For the caramel orange syrup: (optional)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • juice of a small lemon

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, tipping the pan from side to side (do not stir). Boil until the syrup starts to turn golden in colour, then add the orange juice and lemon juice – be careful as it will splatter. Remove from the heat and stir to combine. You can carefully pour the syrup over the cake immediately if you prefer for it to be fully absorbed by the cake (and will make it deliciously moist), or you can let it cool first for a thicker glossy syrup that will “sit” on the cake.

Serve with whipped cream (optionally).

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Baked risotto with chicken, broccoli & blue cheese

7 Mar

This is the first time I’ve attempted to make a baked risotto, after being quite skeptical about a non-stir method of making one of my favourite dishes on earth – one that many people feel quite sacred about. And I have to admit: for this little effort, the results are fantastic.

I’d say the texture is more like that of a beautifully “wet” paella, than a classic risotto. It’s all in the timing, so remove this dish from the oven when it’s still slightly saucy – it will continue to thicken on standing.

For the chicken, I’ve used a packet of free-range, deboned, skinless chicken drumsticks from Woolworths – a stunning product that is economically priced compared to deboned thighs and so very versatile and convenient.

Also featured in this recipe is the brand new extra virgin cold pressed canola oil from Cape Canola – a stunning new product with the most luminous deep yellow colour that I drizzled over the risotto just before serving. It’s also fantastic on salads, dips like hummus or even over pasta. It has a buttery, nutty flavour, and I’m sure it will make killer roast potatoes and dreamy mayonnaise. It is available from Pick ‘n Pay in 1 liter glass bottles, as well as 3 liter and 5 liter tins.

Ingredients: (serves 6)

  • 15 ml extra virgin cold pressed canola oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
  • 700-750 g boneless skinless chicken, cut into large chunks
  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
  • 125 g blue cheese, roughly crumbled
  • 125 ml cream
  • 1 liter chicken stock, warm
  • a handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped, to serve

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C.
  2. In a large, wide, ovenproof dish (about 3 liter capacity), brush the base with oil, then arrange the chicken & broccoli in a single layer and season generously with salt & pepper.
  3. Pour the uncooked rice all over evenly, then arrange the blue cheese crumbs all over.
  4. Mix the cream and chicken stock, then pour most of it over the arranged ingredients (if your dish won’t take all of the liquid, leave some to add later when some of it has been absorbed). Gently press any ingredients down that stick out, to be covered by the liquid.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the rice is just al dente (still a gentle bite in the centre). If the top becomes too dark, cover it with foil. If it becomes too dry, add more liquid. You should remove it from the oven when it has not absorbed all of the liquid, because it will continue to absorb liquid apon standing.
  6. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve hot with a drizzle of extra virgin canola oil (or olive oil or melted butter),  scattered with parsley.
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Mini lemon meringue pies

11 Jan

Mini lemon meringue pies made with sweet shortcrust pastry and toasted Italian meringue. It’s easier than you think! Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

What is better than lemon meringue pie? The mini version. Why? Because popping one perfect miniature lemon meringue pie into your mouth in one bite is just immensely satisfying.

I usually make my lemon meringue pie crust using crushed cookies and butter, but these miniature casings work better with sweet shortcrust pastry (whip it up in the food processor). The simple filling of condensed milk and lemon juice contains no egg and thus need no baking (bonus). But the pièce de résistance is the thick and luxurious toasted Italian meringue topping. Do you need a sugar thermometer? Nope.

So if you’ve never had Italian meringue before, here’s what you’re missing out on: it’s like the inside of a “Sweetie Pie” – that white marshmallow fluff that gets coated with chocolate and set on a round wafer. It is simply egg whites whisked with piping hot sugar syrup, cooking the mixture to a point that it is very stable, glossy and thick and needs no further baking. Using a kitchen blowtorch, you can optionally toast the edges to look really cool. No weeping golden droplets that are associated with classic lemon meringues. Just perfectly creamy, toasty, dreaminess.

I bet if you try these, you won’t go back to regular lemon meringue pie for a long, long time.

Note: You’ll need a mini muffin tin to make these. I use this recipe often when I cater for a crowd and the pies store very well. Keep covered in a refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Baked mini shortcrust pastry cases, ready to be filled with a condensed milk & lemon juice filling. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

 

Ingredients: (makes at least 24)

For the filling:

  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Place the ingredients in a medium size mixing bowl and use electric beaters to beat until thick and smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use – it will thicken more on standing.

For the pastry:

  • 250 g cake flour
  • 125 g cold butter, cubed
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) caster sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 XL egg yolk
  • 2-3 tablespoons ice-cold water

Place the flour, butter, caster sugar, salt and egg yolk in a food processor. Process well, then add the cold water little by little until the pastry comes together in a ball. Immediately stop processing, turn out onto a clean surface and press together into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 180 C. Spray a mini muffin tray with non-stick baking spray.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of 2-3 cm, then cut rounds of about 8 cm to line the insides of the mini muffin tray. Carefully nudge them into the holes, then use a fork to gently prick each pastry circle on the bottom. Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden, then remove and set aside to cool. Repeat with remaining pastry.

For the Italian meringue:

  • 300 g caster sugar
  • 100 ml water
  • 4 XL egg whites

Place the caster sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, swirling it around in the beginning to melt the sugar evenly. As soon as it comes to a rapid boil, set a timer for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, start whisking your egg whites until stiff peaks form. As soon as the syrup is ready (after boiling for 5 minutes) remove it from the heat and, with the whisk running on medium-high speed, pour the syrup in a small but steady stream into the egg whites until everything is incorporated. The mixture will be very hot. Continue whisking for about 10 minutes until the mixture has cooled to room temperature and has a thick, glossy texture. Cover and refrigerate until needed, or transfer to a piping bag fitted with the desired nozzle and use at once. I prefer using a twisted wide star-shaped nozzle.

To assemble:

Place the cooled pastry cases on a serving plate. Use a teaspoon to fill each case with a dollop of filling. Pipe the meringue filling neatly on top, then use a kitchen blowtorch to add a toasty finish. Serve at room temperature.

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