Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hazlenut, chocolate & brown butter cake

I believe Winter may be having an identity crisis...

I expected frosty mornings and rain drenched nights with nothing but leaden gray smothering the sky. What I got instead was, for all intensive purposes, Spring. I'm not the only one who thinks so, the blossom trees were in full bloom weeks before Winter's end and fruit that normally ripens in September's embrace are already lining grocer's shelves. I feel I may have to change my thoughts on what a 'season' is...

The fact that the last weeks of Winter have been nothing but blue skies and sunshine - the kind of days where a t-shirt will suffice for warmth and an ice cream savoured on a park bench seems the thing to do, sent me into a 'Winter baking' frenzy. Recipes I'd decided were best eaten on cold nights with hot drinks were pulled out and lined up ready to be transmogrified from paper to plate before the last drop of rain dried on the pavement and the first blackbird laid its eggs. There was one recipe that found its way to the top of that pile. A cake made of luscious vanilla-flecked browned butter, toasty hazelnuts and seductive dark chocolate; a cake meant for Winter...

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 30mins.
cooking time: 35mins to cook plus 30mins cooling.
total: 1hour & 35mins.

taste: 4/5 (hubby says 4.5). Chocolate & hazelnut bliss.

I cannot described this cake any better than the quote pictured above - it is all those things in one.

The cake itself flirts with sweetness without diving in. The hazelnuts give it character and adds a wonderful slight crunch to the moist cake that is laced with vanilla-kissed browned butter. The draping dark chocolate with a hint of coffee adds depth and a little bitterness that gives this cake an edge. It's a cake a man can enjoy as much as a woman without feeling he is eating something that's too 'girly.'

would I make it again: Yes. Everyone enjoyed it, even those who don't normally like cakes. It also kept quite well unrefrigerated.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Salted caramel & vanilla baked cheesecake

It was 'drool' at first sight for me and this recipe. As soon as I spied its glorious butterscotch-coloured center with its cloudlike topping and ooozy caramel dripping on the cover of the latest Donna Hay magazine I knew I had to make it. In fact I ended up making this a day early as I just couldn't wait another moment to dive into it with a side -turned spoon. A gigantic dessert side-turned spoon.

I had two slices (well, slice is putting it lightly, more like slabs) straight after each other and had to practically bind my wrists not to have a third before dinner. After hearing my moans of gastronomic pleasure, my husband, who has never liked cheesecake, was so curious as to what could elicit such happiness from me asked to have a try. Alas, he still doesn't like cheesecake, although he did say it was the nicest cheesecake he didn't like...

If you like cheesecake then I have three words for you; GET. ON. IT.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 2.5hours until cheesecake rests in fridge.
cooking time: 3hours chilling time.
total: 5.5hours.

taste: 5/5. Possibly the best cheesecake I have eaten.

The flavours are simple; caramel, vanilla, salt and a touch of sour cream. Together they create a perfect whole. At first I thought the sour cream topping would be too sour but it balanced the sweetness of the crust (which I had a slight crumbling problem with upon cutting) and the delicious caramel tones of the cheesecake. For my caramel sauce I added 1/4-1/2tsp fleur de sel salt, instead of sprinkling actual salt on top of the cake. The sauce was to die for, great balance between sweet and salty and the perfect accompaniment to the cake. The texture of the cheesecake layer was smooth and almost fluffy.

Next time though I would use a vanilla bean for the cheesecake part rather than vanilla extract.

As I couldn't eat a whole cake by myself (hubby finds cheesecakes too rich) I gave some to family and they absolutely raved about it. I even had my dad come back for seconds.

would I make it again: Yes. At first I was going to say no as I am the only one in our house who eats cheesecake, and making a whole cheesecake just for me to eat is asking for trouble. But after all the raves from my family cheesecake-eaters I will be keeping this recipe for when I need to bring a dessert.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chocolate brownie cookies

Not more than a few days ago I had my Mother's Blessing.

The women in my life gathered to share their stories of motherhood and to give me strength (and many freezer meals) when the time comes that I too will experience the journey of birth. We talked and laughed over mugs of hot chocolate and bowls of plump, cerise strawberries. We each decorated our own gingerbread men with a rainbow of lollies and added our artistic touches to tiny white jumpsuits for the baby (thanks to Claudia for the wonderful idea). The end of the day was marked with a bead ceremony, where each woman gave a bead that represented them, along with their own blessing for the baby. Those beads now lie together in a bracelet, for my child to wrap their fingers around whenever they feel the need to be comforted by the love of all the women in its life.

My husband and I also gave a bead and the following blessing to our unborn child;

I wish for you to find strength when days seem dark. To draw upon all those who came before you, who may no longer be here but whose blood runs through your veins. Remember that our strength is your strength and that you are never alone.

I wish for you to be warmed by happiness as the Earth is warmed by the sun. To remember that happiness is a choice, not a set of circumstances. So dear child, choose to be happy and allow yourself to be filled with positive light even when shadows seek to smother it.

And lastly, I wish for you to find love as your father and I did. A love that makes you want to live an eternity with them so as never to be apart. A love that allows your soul to reach its highest form of being and your heart to burst with joy. A love of a best friend and a true beloved. Those are our wishes for you my sweet.

After a day filled with sweetness, it ended with a glass of milk and the most delicious morsel of a cookie.

ease: 4/5.
prep time: 25mins.
cooking time: 8mins.
total: 33mins.
taste: 4/5. My go-to chocolate cookie.
I first made these beauties almost 3 years ago and yet I never forgot them, and am quite uncertain as to why I waited so long to make them again! I prefer to make larger cookies which yield a chewier, fudgy center that compliments the crunchy meringue shell beautifully. These cookies are dark and sweet and completely addictive. With the larger cookie size I ended up with 24 cookies.
would I make it again: Yes, this is now the second time and only the beginning.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Chocolate ice cream

I must remove my hat and bow my head in apology for my tardy post. This week has seen me dusting and cleaning with a vengeance in preparation for my baby shower this weekend. With limited mobility, it has taken double the usual time to shake out the house and make it sparkle. The good news is I am on the home stretch with only a few items left unchecked on my to-do-list. The even better news is that the ice cream I began on Monday has finished its bloom and is now ready to consume. Despite making me wait five full days I don't resent it one bit as it, like your one true love, is worth the wait.

ease: 3/5.
prep time: 40mins.
freezing time: 4-5days.
total: Approx 5 days.

taste: 5/5. Nothing compares to this dark beauty.

The raves for this ice cream are too numerous to mention, which piqued my interest but still left me slightly dubious as to their legitimacy. Well, in this instance, the masses were right. This ice cream is enigmatic and deeply chocolaty with a rich, creamy texture that leaves you struggling to decide whether it's yummier straight out of the freezer or left to soften around the edges. I used Amarru's Nero to make mine, as the type of dark chocolate you use will determine the flavour.
I added a pinch of sea salt to mine to further sharpen the chocolateness.

would I make it again: Yes - already have :).


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Carpaccio of beetroot, blood orange, walnuts, feta & baby herbs

I find myself pottering about the kitchen, bare feet upon the floor and nose deep within cupboard doors searching for morsels to temper my hunger. My belly is now rotund enough to balance mugs of ginger tea or the spine of a book, although I exercise caution should the little one within decide to abruptly squirm, causing whatever may be resting above to be catapulted into the air like a geyser.
As Spring approaches, along with my due date, I treasure the days I have left to myself where I have only my own whims to tend to (when my husband is at work). Before long my hours will be filled with the needs of my child and long durations spent in the kitchen making time-intensive dishes will fall a few rungs on my ladder of desires no doubt. So it is in these moments before the impending change that I take pleasure in a sunny afternoons stretched out with pots and pans and sinks filled with the remnants of a not-so-simple meal which makes the sitting down to eat it all the more enjoyable.

ease: 3.5/5.
prep time: 10mins (prep everything else whilst beetroot cooks and cools).
cooking time: 50mins.
total: 1hour.

taste: 4/5. A salad to get excited about.

The earthy sweetness of the beetroot touched by woody time, peppery ginger, bitter orange and warming spices with the depth of red wine pairs beautifully with the creamy saltiness of goat's cheese, crunchy walnuts and vibrant blood orange. I didn't have any micro herbs but I can imagine they would only create an even more complex flavour combination that would be delicious; your taste buds will never get bored.

I peeled my beetroot before boiling them. My beetroots also took at least 40mins before they were tender all the way through.  I also didn't bother whipping the feta and used a lot more than 60gm (perhaps 100g?) and I also doubled the amount of blood orange segments.

would I make it again: Yes.