Ricotta dumplings

I decided to venture to Eastlakes on the weekend – mainly because I’d lived nearby (less than 5km) for a couple of years now, but hadn’t visited. It’s an old little shopping plaza that probably needs a makeover, but has quite a few cheap greengrocers and butchers, a Woolies, an Aldi and a few other “specialty” stores. I knew of the little Eastern European store (Stolichniy Minimart) from this review of the shopping centre, so I had to pop in.

Much to my delight, I found some “Herbal pepper” from Poland – something that I came across earlier this year when I went home for a couple of weeks and visited a Polish restaurant in Dandenong. It was possibly the best thing from that lunch but discovered was a mix of herbs I didn’t like or don’t know if I like (coriander, caraway seeds, marjoram, chilli, horseradish powder and savory are amongst the spices listed on various websites with Pieprz Ziołowy recipes).

Polish herbal pepper, now on my spice shelf.

I thought of making pierogi, but couldn’t be bothered coming up with a gluten-free wrap or boiling potatoes for the filling. So I ended up making ricotta gnocchi, which I then pan-fried with bacon and onion (which is how mum and her mum serve pierogi – although they chop the bacon into small bits, and I was lazy and kept it in thin slices). The gnocchi recipe came from Simply Gluten Free, which I changed by replacing the nutmeg with the herbal pepper, and I drained the ricotta by wrapping it in a muslin cloth and squeezing the excess moisture out. I suspect the amount of potato starch (aka flour in Australia) would vary with how much moisture is left in the ricotta.

Ricotta gnocchi pan-fried with bacon and onion – light and fluffy dumplings!

The gnocchi were lovely on their own, but next time I’ll add more of the herbal pepper as its subtle flavour was lost with the addition of the bacon and onion. I’ll definitely make these again – especially since I only need to buy ricotta to make these as all the other ingredients are regulars of my pantry and fridge.

Kitchen company

Kookaburra sits in not-a-gum-tree; Merry, merry, king of the bush is he…

Not baking related, but still to do with my kitchen. I love/hate my kitchen. I hate the oven, I hate the orientation and I would like it to be a little bigger. But I love that it faces north (hello sun!) and that I have some of the strata complex’s garden to look at as I wash my dishes, wait for coffee to brew or stand-up eat in the kitchen. Sometimes I get our native fauna dropping by, with a kookaburra hanging out on the tree one morning, resulting in a children’s song popping into my head.

Home-made marshmallow

A marshmallow slab!

I made marshmallows for the zumborons and while it was fun and the marshmallows were tasty, they were stabilised with gelatine. Making them interesting to work with given I was making toasted marshmallow macarons. It didn’t matter so much that they “melted” during toasting as I needed to beat the toasted marshmallow into creme patisserie, but these home-made marshmallows would be a traumatic experience by a campfire.

I might give agar-agar a go one day, in the meantime these marshmallows just can’t be toasted! I think it’s a sweet to keep in the back of my mind for morning teas as I can start to experiment with flavourings or swirling two colours within the slab… or even swirling two flavours within a slab!

Mini carrot cupcakes

I don’t know why, but I have developed an anti-taste for carrots. I used to love them and found it weird that Dad wasn’t a fan… and now I’ve joined him! But sometimes I’ll come home from the shops with a 1kg bag of carrots, use a few in something or other, and then end up with the rest in the fridge for quite a while! Enter the humble carrot cake!

Mini carrot cupcakes at uni. They were meant to be given away but I ended up eating most. Oops.

I didn’t think about it when I started mixing up the batter for this cake, but having a fibrous base meant that the texture didn’t change significantly when using my gluten-free flour mix! I’ve been lucky so far with my substitutes, first opera cake jaconde (predominantly almond flour) and now carrot cake! I think I might even be able to make this one sugar-free and low-carb with a few more rounds of tweaking.

The recipe I used came from based on the Australian Women’s Weekly Afternoon Tea book – the same one as that I used to make the lime macarons. I tweaked it a little – replacing half of the brown sugar in the recipe with Natvia. I felt it tasted a little sweet, but I’m still getting to know Natvia. The best thing about making them mini-sized, is that they only take 1tsp of batter each, so it’s unlikely others would notice the sweetness unless they had a few of them!

White chocolate and coconut opera cake

Coconut and white chocolate opera cake

Sacrilege? Somewhat – I do like to make my first attempts at something to either be the traditional version or from a recipe akin to a traditional version. I should have made my first opera cake using dark chocolate and espresso, but the theme for Baking Society’s weekly meeting was white chocolate, so I had to think about flavour combinations! Coconut popped into my head first, although while baking I also thought pistachio or green tea would have been fun as I’d then get some variation in colour. While I had the right ingredients in the kitchen to do this, I didn’t want to suddenly change my mind. White chocolate and coconut it was.

I essentially followed this recipe by Nic and Rosso of My Kitchen Rules fame, but with coconut essence and water in place of espresso, white chocolate in place of dark chocolate, and coconut in place of cocoa. It actually wasn’t that difficult, once I’d rescued the buttercream icing! A minor moment of disaster, averted by whipping it (so easy, but I had to Google to check!) and assembly was complete!

So there are four almond sponge cake layers (“joconde” apparently) that have been soaked in a coconut syrup, and sandwiched together with alternate layers of coconut flavoured buttercream and white chocolate ganache. I then topped it with some desiccated coconut, and trimmed the sides to show off the gorgeous layers. Clearly I don’t have the most perfect layers, but I’m happy with how they look and am sure I’ll make everything more even the second time I make this. There are far too many ingredients and components to tell you what to do and with what at the same time, so here we have a more traditional appearing recipe style post!

Almond sponge cake

5 eggs
40g unsalted butter, melted
180g icing sugar, sifted
180g ground almonds, sifted
35g gluten-free flour*, sifted
5 egg whites
55g caster sugar

As per the original recipe – mix the whole eggs until thick and creamy and add the melted butter. Fold in the icing sugar, ground almonds and flour. The thicker and creamier the eggs become, the more air that will go into the mix, and so once you add the dry ingredients it will still be a light and fluffy texture. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites, gradually adding the caster sugar until soft peaks form. While doing this I realised that I really needed a second big mixing bowl as I ended up with egg whites all over the kitchen bench. I ended up using 6 egg whites as an estimate of how much was whipped out of the bowl initially. Of course if I had just used my normal mixer here, I doubt it would have happened. Instead, I used the whipping attachment to my StickMixer Pro (I don’t have the blender component as it was exceptionally difficult to clean, had food stuck inside it and subsequently stunk. It ended up in the rubbish bin a long time ago and was replaced with a Bamix. I’m not sure if Sunbeam has updated the model, but hopefully they’ve addressed the cleaning/food stuck/smell issue as I wasn’t the only one who had that problem). Pour mixture equally into two lined trays and bake for 15 – 20 minutes at 200°C. I know that the original recipe recommended 15 minutes, but I found that this produced a sponge that was light and cooked, but also difficult to handle as it would split into two more easily. My 20 minute tray was a lot easier to handle, and I don’t think it really lost any textural qualities.

Almond sponge with lots of air pockets to take up the coconut syrup

*You could just use ordinary flour. If you wish to use gluten-free flour, my cake flour mix consists of 2 cups brown rice flour1 cup white rice flour1 cup of potato starch (referred to as potato flour here in Australia), ½ cup of tapioca flour (aka arrowroot) and 1¼ tsp xanthan gum.

Coconut syrup

I ended up with a lot of syrup and would likely make the second quantities of water and sugar 100mL and 80g in future batches.

125mL water
130g caster sugar
Approx. 3 tsp coconut essence
200 mL water
165g caster sugar

First, my ingredient list is not an error – I’m just saving you the hassle of calculating 295 minus 130. Second, I recommend that you make both the coconut syrup and buttercream at the same time – it saves you washing one bowl. As you use a lot of of bowls and utensils to make this cake, I will save washing up where possible. Even if it is just the one bowl. Place 125mL water, 130g caster sugar and coconut essence in a small saucepan over medium heat. I never stir my sugar and water mixes when heating them on the stove. Not sure why, I just don’t. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce heat and simmer until thick and syrupy. Set aside 80mL (or just put directly into buttercream mix), add remaining caster sugar and water and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves and comes to the boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Buttercream

150g caster sugar
100ml water
3 egg yolks
250g unsalted butter, chopped, at room temperature

This was a lot of fun in the sense that I didn’t read the recipe properly (or was impatient) and subsequently ended up with a very liquidy concoction. While I got there in the end, I suspect that I would just repeat what I did rather than follow the recipe properly. So, as a reminder, here is the original recipe. Now we proceed my way.

Combine sugar and 100ml water in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes. In a clean bowl, whisk egg yolks until smooth, then add the hot syrup until combined. This will effectively cook the egg yolks (or you can tell yourself that if you’re concerned about using raw eggs in cooking). Add the 80mL syrup from the coconut syrup component and whisk in the butter, 1 cube at a time. Place in fridge to cool. Once the mix has thickened considerably, you can whip it up. It will lighten in colour and become a gorgeous fluffy mixture. I don’t know about you, but as someone who loves friands/financiers and macarons, and hates sifting, I will be making this style of buttercream for icing in the future rather than combining butter and icing sugar.

Chocolate ganache

300ml thickened cream
400g white chocolate, broken into squares
20g unsalted butter, softened

I love ganache. It’s so easy to prepare! I also tend to make a lot of it, as everyone should love ganache. Bring cream to boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, and add chocolate and butter. Stir until smooth and place in fridge to cool. Once the mix has thickened considerably, you can whip it up. Easy. Yum.

Assembly

Cut sponge layers into two so you end up with four pieces of approximately similar shape and size. Spread 60g of melted white chocolate on the side of one of the layers and allow it to set. Turn over and brush coconut syrup liberally over layer. Spread half of the buttercream onto the layer and top with another piece of the sponge. Brush with coconut syrup, spread half of the ganache onto it. Repeat the process with your third layer of sponge, coconut syrup, buttercream, fourth layer of sponge, coconut syrup and ganache. Trim edges so you end up with a neat looking cube and cover with desiccated coconut. Done! Eat trimmed layers with a strong cup of coffee or tea as it is very sweet.

Trimmings – which I had for breakfast the next day. Oops.

Pre-cut pieces ready for transport thanks to Decor and Sistema working together!

Baking Society meeting: Caramel

Mmmm… doughnuts with caramel sauce (not in picture)

Baking Society is the only student society I’ve ever really been involved with across all my years at uni, and there’s been a lot of them! We have regular meetings, where we have a theme and bring something to share. The theme for this meeting was caramel – we had doughnuts with caramel sauce, caramelised popcorn, cupcakes with caramel sauce (and chocolate icing), and apple cake. No caramel there, but I was responsible for that – I had made it to take to a picnic on Saturday, but it was far too fragile, so it ended up at Monday’s meeting instead!

Caramelised popcorn

Cupcakes with caramel sauce and chocolate icing

My apple cake

My apple cake was a bit of a disaster (using Stephanie Alexander’s Aunt Elva’s apple cakerecipe from her Cook’s Companion book) but apparently it tasted nice. Like the apple muffins, these contained plenty of gluten and apples! The pastry was essentially butter and flour and it was meant to be very stiff, but I found it difficult to work with. I didn’t make a note of what my kitchen environment was like, so I have no idea if humidity or an overly warm environment contributed to the pain of a cake. I’ve resolved to never make it again as I wasn’t happy with how fiddly the pastry was!

Choir bakes

Apple cinnamon muffins

I’m part of a local amateur choir, and everytime we have a performance, we’re expected to bring something to share… with our audience. As I had just moved to a new diet where I was not consuming any gluten or any fruit for the first 14 days, but had plenty of normal gluten-containing flour and a few apples lying around, I didn’t mind making a double batch of apple muffins. I threw on some rolled oats to continue to increase the gluten content!

The recipe is based on Stephanie Alexander’s basic muffins from her Cook’s Companion book, but I doubled the recipe, added three grated apples (compared to the recommended two) and two teaspoons of cinnamon (as recommended) to the mix, and topped them with rolled oats. The topping didn’t quite turn out as I would have liked – I should have pre-toasted the oats or used a crumble topping to get  a nice change in texture to the rest of the muffin.

Lo carb gluten free wraps

Fantastic wraps: gluten-free but still flexible!

My new diet really cuts back on carbohydrates (no fruit, sugar or refined carbs – complex carbs OK for lunch and afternoon tea/meal only), and after a few days of being confined to foods that could be eaten with cutlery I sought an easy recipe for gluten free wraps. I found a good post on the Healthy Indulgences blog that not only had a recipe for gluten-free wraps but also some good information on stocking a (low carb) gluten free pantry. I have to confess that my pantry is only just starting to get some kind of order since the gluten-free supplies stock-up.

I’ve been made aware of how non-flexible gluten-free wraps can be, so I was pleasantly surprised that these came out so well! The recipe is especially easy to go through successful if you have a sandwich press, take the desired quantity of mix, press down and in a few minutes you’ll have some wraps! If you’ve overcooked them and they’ve lost their pliability let them rest on a paper towel after pressing.

My wraps generally followed the recipe in the link, but with a very minor changes due to what I had available in the pantry. I used 3 tbsp ground LSA (linseed, sunflower, almond)2 tbsp almond meal1 tbsp buckwheat flour, 1/2 tsp protein powder1/2 tsp xanthan gum, 1/8 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder. The liquid ingredients were the same as in the original recipe. Later in the week I found that my local Woolworths stocked flaxseed so I’ll substitute 2 of the LSA tablespoons with flaxseed and make it closer to the original recipe. I also found I could add a bit more water and stretch out the mix to three wraps when made in a sandwich press.

Chocolate mousse sans chocolate

Chocolate and avocado “mousse”

Early into my new diet, I decided to try making an avocado and cocoa “chocolate mousse”. I blended 2 avocadoes with about 4 tablespoons of cocoa, added a touch of vanilla essence and a little maple syrup to sweeten things a little. It’s a lot healthier than a typical mousse, without losing too much of the fun of mousse! I made a second batch later with natvia in place of the maple syrup to make it more guilt-free than before!

While it’s healthier than a real mousse, it does have a fairly high calorie count due to the (good) fats in the avocadoes. I tend to split my mix into six portions, and add a little self control.

Batch cooking, the first attempt

Zip-loc bags: fantastic in the freezer, awful for the environment! 😦

So I shouldn’t be surprised, but I kind of am because I’m short on space. And didn’t think of batch cooking as a space saver, but it is when your freezer is full of meat cuts. Trim off the fat, cook it (loses moisture and shrinks), and BAM! Five portions of cooked meat in the ice cube tray, with the little tub of lemon zest. It was the only space I really had left in the freezer!!!