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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sukiyaki with the Yakitori lady

Chawan Mushi - the special bonus course our yakitori lady suddenly produced from behind her little bench

Well, yes, it's cold here in Osaka, but our welcome has been warm and we're trying as much Japanese food as possible. After our first full day we were taken to Lucas's favourite local streetside yakitori bar, where he's become friends with the owner and one of the locals. Until now they've only been known to us as "Yakitori Lady" and "Mr Okinawa Man", so we were determined to find out their names.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting by the actual yakitori bar. Lucas had told us it only seated 6 people, but I guess I was thinking of the little cafes in Melbourne's laneways which seat less than 10 people - at tables, with room for a waiter to approach. But this place was so small we had to stand on the street to take off our coats! There was literally no room to do anything inside. The space between the eating bench and the sliding door to the street was about 50cm, and we sat with our bums virtually on the footpath! Lucas said he started turning up often when he realised nobody there spoke any English, so it was a good place to practice his Japanese. Local dining at its finest. To go to the toilet you had to slide off your seat and extricate yourself through the door onto the street and walk to a door nest door, which opened out onto the street. We soon realised it was a good idea when you finished to open it slowly just in case you decapitated any passing cyclist. Bike riders all over the footpaths here!

Our Teriyaki Lady, whose name we discovered is Yuriko, had planned to make Osaka-style sukiyaki for us. You can see the Aussie flag we brought along as a present. She treats Lucas very well, making all kinds of different Japanese foods for him to try. Sukiyaki is not on her regualar menu, but for us she went all out. Our New Years Eve dinner with her included enough fresh crab for 10 people, but that's another post.

This sukiyaki we had was a large bowl of soup stock, which had a slightly sweet flavour, and packed with paper-thin slices of beef, leeks, onion, shiitake mushrooms, silken tofu, konnyaku noodles (translucent noodles made from a yam-like plant) and fu, a glutinous rice dumpling that I have to admit none of us really took to. It had a disturbing texture like chewing on a soggy pillow. I guess they're like a Japanese version of a crouton.
As we took each piece of filling from the bowl we dipped it in a bowl of beaten whole egg, which allegedly was lightly cooked by the heat of the meat or vegetable or whatever you'd taken. I say allegedly because I really didn't see any cooking going on. Luckily I like runny egg yolk, so I took it in my stride, but I imagine the more squeamish might not cope so well.
It was a very filling meal, but as we were eating Yuriko mentioned that with the stock left after we'd eaten the fillings she would beat a few eggs into the soup and fill it up with cooked udon noodles. Cos we weren't already full or anything. Also, it was very hot and smoky in her little bar, and we were drinking a fair bit of chu-hai; a mixed drink like a vodka and lime, but made with shochu - a potently strong rice spirit. Plus a few Kirin beers.....so our increasingly frequent trips out onto the footpath to go to the toilet were well appreciated!

Between finishing the sukiyaki fillings and having the bowl returned full of noodles Yuriko presented us with small, lidded bowls of chawan-mushi, a delicate, stock-enriched, nonsweet egg custard containing prawns, ginko nuts and fish cake. The custard sat on, with the seafood-rich stock underneath. The green strips on top are yuzu - a Japanese citrus fruit, used to flavour sweets in summer. The scent was similar to mandarin. I loved the lightness of the custard and the strong seafood flavours. For me it was the best part of the meal. (see photo above)

Above is the bowl returned to us with a egg beaten into the stock and a rather large amount of udon noodles added. Needless to say we couldn't finish all she gave us!

Yuriko and Matayoshi getting into their song....

After we finished dinner, Mr Okinawa Man, aka Matayoshi-san, who had turned up for his daily sashimi, decided he would take us to karaoke, which was quite an experience. Most places here have private rooms you rent for a couple of hours to sing away to your drunken heart's content, but the place we found ourselves in seemed like some old couple's private loungeroom! We came blowing in and fell onto their couches, to sing 3 hours of baaaad 80s rock songs. So much fun! The only other customer was a really old bloke who was there to sing Enka, old-fashioned Japanese easy listening music that nobody much listens to nowdays but old people and Lucas. Now, I'm very open to different cultural musical experiences, but this man was pretty woeful. However, he looked so damn cute up there getting right into his songs, emoting away, that we couldn't help but applaud and shake our tambourines whenever he hit a really high note, his lips quivering and neck straining. Lucas reckons he wants to be just like that old man when he gets old. :-)
All up, a thoroughly enjoyable night of good food and great karaoke.

Mr Enka Man. Fabulous!!!

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas Cranberry Chocolate Roulade

Alongside the Christmas pudding, this was the other dessert we served in the evening on Christmas day. Our family went out to a restaurant for lunch, where the food and atmosphere were just fantastic, and then we had a late dinner at home. Naturally nobody was very hungry but we all stuffed ourselves to explosion point anyway. In fact, coming home after lunch I was so full that even the idea of eating dinner in 4 hours filled me with dread, so I power-walked 65 laps of our loungeroom, trying in desperation to make some space in my stomach. For the record 65 laps of our loungeroom is 1 kilometre...yes, it's a big room. It was pretty funny to see the rest of family join in when they realised the value of what I was doing. It was particularly amusing to see my two grandmothers getting right into it, especially when they started to overtake me!

I knew this dessert was to come later in the evening, so I had even more of a reason to try and make soom room. I've been wanting to make one of these French Buche de Noel cakes since I was about 8 and my mum bought the Women's Weekly French Cooking Made Easy cookbook. Each year I say I'll do it, but this year I bought a British baking book and there was a Cranberry version of this recipe, and it looked really simple so I gave it a go. It is really easy to make; the chocolate sponge is very simple and behaves itself, and other than that you only have to whip some cream and melt some chocolate for a ganache. A child of 8 could just about pull this one off, and yet doesn't it look like I've spent a whole day in the kitchen sweating over my piece of patisserie? I was a little worried about decorating this, especially as I tried to get a bit creative and cut a slice off to create a "branch" coming off the "log". Unfortunately my roulade wasn't quite long enough to carry this effect off with aplomb and after spreading it with ganache it looked disturbingly like a cow pat on a plate. My uncle came to the rescue with the old trick of a fork dipped in water to create some bark-resembling ridges, and between us I don't think we did too badly. My brother even immediately recognised it as a tree branch and not a cow pat when he came in! ;-)

What I, and my family, loved about this was that it really wasn't overly sweet. The ganache is made from dark chocolate, the whipped cream doesn't contain any sugar, the cranberry sauce spread over the sponge is quite tart. It's only the sponge that has any sugar in it, and that's only 1/2 a cup, so it actually wasn't even a complete blow-out for my diabetic grandmother. We all have a fondness for anything containing whipped cream, so that was another selling point for us. Additionally, as it contains no flour of any sort, it is gluten-free.
Next time I think I'd add more cranberry sauce; I think that flavour could have been brought out quite a bit more. I think folding some fresh (aka defrosted) cranberries through the whipped cream would be a great idea to really bring out that tart Christmassy flavour.

I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to post again before I leave for 2 weeks holiday in Osaka, Japan. This week it snowed, which is a very rare occurance for December (first time in 20 years), which caused some disturbance to my packing plan. An emergency trip to Kathamandu on Christmas Eve was carried out for polar-fleece everythings, and we all know that shopping on Christmas Eve is not to be recommended if you want to retain your sanity!!! Tomorrow (err...today actually) I'm spending the day touring the wineries in the Yarra Valley with my family, which will not only be lots of fun, but a very long day (plus it's going to be 35C tomorrow - not great weather to spend most of the day in a car), and then when I return I'll finish the packing I started today and then grab a few hours sleep before heading to the airport at sparrow's fart Wednesday morning. I started packing today but it's pretty hard to get inspired carrying around armloads of thermal underwear and woolly jumpers when it's damn hot and sunny outside and the rest of the family are drinking champagne cocktails by the pool!
It looks like I'll be able to download my photos straight to my friends computer, and as he also runs his own foodblog, I'm sure he'll understand when I take photos of everything I eat and hijack his laptop for my own posts. Next post will be from freezing cold, food-obsessed Osaka! :-)
Read on for the Christmas roulade recipe:

Christmas Cranberry Chocolate Roulade
Cuts into 12-14 slices.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting:
300 ml / 1/2 pint thick cream
350g / 12 oz dark chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp brandy (optional, but recommnded I say!)

For the roulade:
5 large eggs, separated
3 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted, plus extra for dusting
125g / 4 oz icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

For the filling:
175g / 6oz cranberry sauce
1-2 tbsp brandy (optional, but go for it!)
450ml / 3/4 pint double cream, whipped to soft peaks.

1: Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Bring the cream to the boil over a medium heat. Remove from heat and add all of the chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in the brandy if using and pour into a medium bowl. Cool and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

2: Lightly oil and line a 39x26 cm / 15.5x10.5 inch Swiss roll tin with non-stick baking paper. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg yolks until thick and creamy. Slowly beat in the cocoa powder and half the icing sugar and put aside. Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar into soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining sguar until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites with a metal spoon or rubber spatula. Spread evenly into the tin.

3: Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove and invert to a large sheet of greaseproof paper, dusted with cocoa powder. Cut off the crisp edges of the cake then roll up. Leave on a wire rack until cold

4: For the filling, heat the cranberry sauce with the brandy until warm and spreadable. Unroll the cooled cake and spread with the cranberry sauce mixture. Allow to cool and set. Carefully spoon the whipped cream over the surface and spread to within 2.5cm/1in of the edges. Re-roll the cake. Transfer to a cake plate or tray.

5: Allow the chocolate ganache to soften slightly then beat until soft and of a spreadable consistency. Spread over the roulade and, using a fork, mark the roulade with ridges to resemble tree bark. Dust with icing sugar. Decorate with orange strips and/or dried cranberries.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Rich Pecan Shortbread

More commonly known in the USA (and Mexico, I guess?) as Mexican Wedding Cookies. These buttery little shortbread rounds were part of my Blogging By Mail gift from Jocelyn in San Francisco and I was so blown away by their gorgeous texture and taste that I had to make some for my Christmas.
Plain shortbread at Christmas is a tradition in my family, and only my mum can make it with the perfect light, buttery, flaky texture. My attempts have all failed before, so it was with some trepidation that I started on this recipe. But everything was fine and I am really impressed with myself at making such perfect tasting and looking cookies. This is really not very Niki-like. I'm pretty hopeless at pulling off little gorgeous things that actually look gorgeous.

The addition of the chopped pecans gives a really different flavour, which surprises most people who are expecting the usual plain buttery, sugary taste. They're very, very addictive and very easy to make.
It was a pretty warm night when I made these and I was worried that rolling the dough in my palms would end up with me covered in dough and dough covering most of the kitchen surfaces, so I had a bowl of iced water nearby to for plunging my hands to cool down my palms. But this is some very amenable dough and it behaved perfectly. No stickiness anywhere - another selling point!

I had to laugh at a comment from Pille on my previous post. She was horrified at the prospect of us spending Christmas Day in 25C (77F) degree heat. Believe me, 25 degrees in December is not hot at all and we're looking forward to having such a temperate weather to enjoy!! Yesterday, for example, was 36C (97F) ,overcast and humid, and it was still over 30 degrees at 10pm when my friends and I were singing Christmas carols outside my house for the rampaging crowds. Truly, whoever suggested singing "In the bleak midwinter" deserved a kick up the bum! Just awful. But it's just as likely in Melbourne to have a Christmas Day of lashing rain, cold winds and a top of 16 degrees. That's Melbourne. ;-)
But for real stress factor and incredulity, get this: I spoke to my friend who made our Christmas pudding as he was driving from Canberra to Adelaide across western New South Wales, and he casually commented that the temperature outside was a scorching 45 degrees!!!!! That 113 Farenheit, and yes, you could quite easily fry an egg on the boot of his car.
One day I'd love to experience a true northern hemisphere "White Christmas" with all the traditional hot food and hot drinks that entails. I'm sure I'd love it, but somehow I know inside it just wouldn't feel right - like Christmas from the movies or something. Christmas is hot weather and scorching footpaths, and bare feet and outdoor cold seafood buffets in the late, golden twilight after traditional hot roast dinners prepared in the heat of an Australian summer afternoon. That's the Christmas tradition for me.

This afternoon I'll continue the last minute cooking for tomorrow before I head off to sing at midnight mass, which for me is the most significant part of Christmas day. Surrounded by friends and family, singing the final hymn of O Come All Ye Faithful while I perform my once-a-year Christmas tradition of joining the sopranos in the final verse descant (not a pretty sound for this alto!) because it's just not Christmas without screeching at the top of my lungs, then exchanging gifts and chocolates and drinking champagne with everyone after the service and getting home at 3am. Now, that's what I love. :-)
Read on for the recipe for Rich Pecan Shortbread:

Rich Pecan Shortbread (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies)

1 pound (450g) soft unsalted butter
1 cup powdered (icing) sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans
5 cups sifted plain flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F degrees (175C). Beat butter and powdered sugar in mixer until light and fluffy, about 10-15 minutes. Add vanilla, salt and pecans. Remove from mixer and stir in pastry flour by hand being careful not to overmix. Form into football shapes about the size of small walnuts and place on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until just beginning to get the slightest bit colored on the bottom. Remove upon the first sign of color and set on a rack to cool. When cool enough to touch place in a bowl with powdered sugar on top and bottom and toss gently. Occasionally toss with sugar while cooling, trying to get as much sugar as possible to stick. When cold, place cookies in airtight container and cover until ready to serve.

Makes approx: 50

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Surprise Delivery

Well, look what I received on the front porch tonight when I came home from work. What a great surprise; the Christmas pudding all made and posted down from Canberra. Yarralumla in fact - very ooh ahh. Seeing that suburb on the box always gives me the feeling that I'm getting something direct from the Prime Minister's Lodge.
Three years ago my boyfriend's cousin offered to make an extra Christmas pudding for me. He used to work as a pastry chef, so who was I to say no? His family live in Canberra, so just before Christmas he went up to see his parents and used their kitchen for the mass pudding creation. This tradition continued last year, but this year I wasn't expecting anything as my boyfriend and I have ended our relationship a few weeks ago. However, he phoned me last week and said I was one of the few people who truly understood the effort he put into the puddings and really appreciated the quality, so he'd like the tradition to continue. Yay - my puddings will keep coming!

He uses a Roux Brothers recipe, and each year has modified it slightly. Last year he felt it was a little too "bright" and fruity, so he increased the spices this year and reduced the citrus. This year the pudding is also wheat-free as he used a flour with mostly maize in it. Low-carb is always fine in my eyes, especially after a huge day of constant food-consumption. Apparently I have to phone him on the day and let him know what I think.
The Christmas day forecast looks to be about 25C and sunny. Perfect! Not too hot, so we can sit by the pool with a few drinks in the evening.
Now I should go off and make the fabulous brandy sauce that is my contribution to the Great Pudding Tradition.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Brandy & Orange biscuits

Well, I've made these once before, for my friends hen's party and they just tasted so darn Christmassy that I decided then that they'd get a repeat performance. The taste of these is just fabulous; orange, spices, brown sugar and lashing of brandy. Oh yes, the great Christmas tradition of alcohol! To me they taste a little like the fantastic brandy sauce I made to pour over our Christmas pudding, crossed with the thin German lebkuchen biscuits....and with an orange flavour. Seriously, they are a must-make.

I had crumbling issues again with this dough, like last time and if it weren't for the fact they taste so bloody good, I probably would strike them from my list. I had to keep adding more and more brandy to make the dough pliable enough to roll out. I mean, more brandy is not a BAD thing, but really the recipe should indicate that this could be a problem. In the end, after cutting and lifting and baking about 3 million of the fingers, I was hot and sweaty and the kitchen bench, taps, oven door and floor was covered in flour. I really don't like roll-out/cut-out biscuits and all the faffing about they require. I'd much rather dollop a spoon of mixture straight onto a baking tray, so with the rest of the mixture I did just that. Add some more brandy (wheeee!) and a little milk to make a wetter mixture and made free-form roundish cookies that tastes just as good, but didn't have the same high-stress factor. I recommend this approach for your pre-Christmas mental health.

I used up my free-form discs in my cookie packages I gave to my friends, so I photographed a few of the several million fingers I baked. Placing them next to the ceramic nativity scene our family friend painted herself (isn't it incredible?) I thought it'd be amusing to place the plate near the camels, who seemed to be eyeing off the contents speculatively. I had a real laugh at this shot when I realised it would only take a slight adjustment to the three kings to turn their attentions away from baby Jesus and hungrily toward the plate of biscuits. Yes, the biscuits are that good - go on boys, give them your gold, frankinscence and myrrh!! ;-)
The recipe for these can be found in this post.

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Music for a European Christmas

I gave out these little packets of home-made biscuits last night just before my vocal ensemble gave its final concert for the year. They include one each of a brandy, orange and cardamom biscuit, a cranberry, choc-chip and walnut biscuit and a rich pecan shortbread (a Mexican wedding cookie, actually). I've already posted about the cranberry cookies, and the pecan shortbread are to come. I made the brandy & orange biscuits a few months ago for my friends hen's party and decided they'd be perfect for Christmas.
I must say I felt quite proud of myself handing being organised enough to not only make three (yes 3!!!) types of Christmas biscuits, but packaging them all up in time for the concert. Despite being a student for how many decades of my life and never being terribly busy during the day around this time of year before, it was only this year, now as a full-time wage-slave that I got myself together before Christmas eve.

Incidentally, the concert last night was broadcast live across Australia and included music for the many liturgical feasts from Christmas to Candlemas written by the Italian Renaissance composer, Palestrina, whose music has been hailed as the polyphonic ideal. We performed beautiful music (very well, I must say!), including one fabbo piece in 12 parts.

Obviously it's too late for Australians (and those who wanted to listen online) to tune in, but as soon as we had finished, the concert was sent straight to the European Broadcasting Union for airplay there! There are 50+ stations in the EBU - from Sweden to Cyprus to the the Vatican City; what great publicity for us, especially as we're touring Europe again next year!
So, for those of you in Europe who would like to have a listen in, I do know for certain that it is being broadcast through Germany and Spain at 11pm on Sunday December 18. Those are the only countries we could confirm through their websites (ever tried deciphering sites in Danish or Hungarian?!?), but here's a list of the stations in the EBU, so you can check if they're putting us to air in your country. Enjoy! :-)

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Dicker Lebkuchen

Also known as "thick gingerbread". This recipe is from a pretty old, fairly dubious piece of research called "Encyclopaedia of European Cooking" from 1963. It covers most of Europe from a very British-centric early 60s viewpoint and the general feeling is that most of the countries' recipes should be well avoided. I've just been reading Julian Barnes A Pedant In The Kitchen (great stuff) and reckon this book fits right into one of his cookbook ownership criteria:

"Avoid books with too wide a compass - anything remotely called Great Dishes of the World - or too narrow a one: Sargasso Seafood or Waffle Wonderment. "

Love it! Anyway, I had mentioned this book once when I made a honigkeok from a pretty dubious recipe in the Dutch secion. It turned out flat as a board and just sat there in a sulk even refusing to be toasted. However, someone in Australia wrote to me a few weeks ago to say that their parents' house burnt down in a fire a few months ago, with all their belongings, and this book which contained all their treasured Christmas recipes went with it. In her searching online for a replacement she found a link to my blog and asked asked if it would be at all possible to copy a couple of pages for her so she could surprise her family with their traditional Christmas cakes and puddings this year. Absolutely. And it made me feel good. See what a tangible way we can make somebody's Christmas happier through our foodblogs. :-)
She did note that she was of a similar opinion to me regarding this book of dubious merit: "Just don't try to cook anything but the German and English recipes from it!" and in keeping with that, the recipes she asked for were from the English and German sections; Christmas pudding; Royal Icing; Christmas cake; Marble Cake; and Thick Gingerbread - this she noted was particularly good as you left it overnight.

Well, with that kind of background, family tradition, and recommendation I just had to try it, It was easy to whip up, although I was little taken back by the amount of flour and treacle it required - half a kilo of each! I didn't have any almonds at home, so I subsitituted hazelnuts which I prefer in flavour anyway. The instruction to leave overnight was one I interpreted as to leave overnight in the fridge. This is evidently not the case as the next day I had to chip bits out of the pot with a carving knife. It made smoothing the surface a bit of an issue and I resorted to pummelling with my fists. No, I believe they mean to leave overnight at room temperature. Anyway, I think the recipe benefits from it as the flavours really develop in that time. I actually added a little fresh ginger and ground cloves to my version, as both are flavours I enjoy and work well in spicy treacle-based cakes.
The instruction for oven temperature was pretty vague. "Very Moderate". Well, what's that supposed to mean?? I set my oven to 165 C and cooked it for an hour. I was disappointed when taking it out as it seemed pretty hard and overcooked. I decided I had botched the recipe. Left it in the fridge, cooked it too long... Bah! However, I offered a piece to somebody who knows about these sort of things and they commented that it looked really good, but was maybe a little soft? They reckoned it could be harder! Geez! Do German people look forward to breaking their teeth at Christmas?!?
I like the flavour of this. It's not too sweet and has a real dark spiciness. It'd be perfect in cold weather with hot, steaming mugs of whatever you drink in snowy weather. But it's just as enjoyable here in the Aussie summer.
Read on for the recipe:

Dicker Lebkuchen
(Thick Gingerbread)

1 lb (500g) self-raising flour
1 lb (500g) dark treacle (or molasses)
4 oz (125g) brown sugar
3 oz (90g) chopped blanched almonds (or hazelnuts)
4 oz (125g) candied peel
4 oz (125g) butter
1 level teaspoon each: bicarbonate of soda and ground cinnamon
2 full teaspoons ground ginger
2-3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg beaten with a little milk

Boil the sugar and treacle together until the sugar has dissolved, take from the heat, and stir in the butter. Sift the flour into a bowl with the spices, stir in the almonds and peel. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the hot mixture, then as it froths, pour it into the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Leave all night (at room temperature - not in the fridge!). Next day, spread it in a greased tin to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches. Brush the smoothed surgace over twice with the beaten egg and milk. Bake in a very moderate oven (~165 C) for about 1 hour. When the gingerbread has cooled, cut into squares.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas cranberry, walnut & choc chip cookies

As I'm writing this I can feel the crowd of people outside my house staring into our windows. I've mentioned last year that I live on quite a well-known street that was the first to decorate their houses with Christmas lights back in the 50s. A Melbourne Christmas institution. It's a long street (about 2-3km) and a nice, free evening's entertainment for families to come over on a warm summer night and talk a long walk to see the lights. It's become pretty huge; the police make the road one-way and we even get tour buses from Gippsland! Last year about 100,000 people came through. Sheesh - I don't know how many millions of family Christmas photographs and videos I've appeared in, but it does make going to the toilet an exercise in modesty!
But anyway - the Christmas lights extravaganza doesn't start until Friday. When it gets dark. So why are there already hundreds of people walking down the street IN THE DAYLIGHT?!?!? Come back tomorrow WHEN IT'S DARK!! Sheesh!

So, with the Christmas spirit well upon us (thrust, some might say) I've got well into my Christmas baking. As we're going out to a restaurant this year on Christmas day, I can focus more attention on baking.
I came home last week in a baking mood, after having been sent a Choc Chip Cookie recipe to add to my collection. This one used almond meal and condensed milk in it, which attracted my attention. Mmm - biscuits with almond meal and condensed milk would equal moist, tender biscuits with a crispy crust. My sort of biscuits.
It was only as I had already started that I realised I had a packet of dried cranberries and a bag of walnuts I could use...and make these into Christmas biscuits. There are always pre-Christmas functions where cookies are welcome. So, I baked these up, and they're currently in storage in the freezer for when I need to bring them out. They seem to be freezing very well. I made them quite small as my experience has shown that people seem more likely to help themselves to a small one-bite treat when in company, rather than a huge discus, no matter how much we'd prefer to be stuffing our face with a huge choc chip discus. There's so much food around Christmas anyway that small bite items do well.
The taste combination is good, but for me I used a few too many dried cranberries. I'm not a huge fan of dried fruit, even the tangy taste of cranberries don't quite do it for me, but I'm sure others will love them when I bring them out soon. Now I'm off to do some more baking!
Read on for the recipe:

Christmas cranberry, walnut & choc chip biscuits

125g butter
1/3 cup caster sugar
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
A few drops of vanilla essence
A pinch of salt (if you remember)
3/4 cup of plain flour
3/4 cup of almond meal (or flour if you don't have almond meal)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
A few splashes of dark rum (about 2-3 tablespoons)

Cream butter, sugar, condensed milk and vanilla until light and fluffy.

Sift dry ingredients together.

Combine all ingredients including choc chips, cranberries & walnuts. Splash in the rum. If the mixture seems too moist at this stage you can add a little extra flour.

Prepare a baking tray with Glad Bake (you don't need to grease it at all).

Roll mixture into balls. Place on the tray and flatten with a fork.

Bake at 170˚C for around 12 minutes (note baking time is longer if you have used all flour and no almond meal), until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack, and try not to eat them all before they are cool!

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Low-fat Lemon, Yoghurt and Blueberry cake

Another low fat recipe?! Don't worry, the Christmas goodies are coming next, and they're all full-fat, but until then it's lean and mean...

This cake is gorgeous. Light, moist, tangy, sweet...it's just perfect. And only 1 egg and 70g (2.5 oz) of butter! Hard to believe, really.
I had some yoghurt I needed to use up ASAP and quite a few lemons. I hadn't baked anything in quite a while and felt itchy feet to get back in the kitchen. Interesting that one of
the recent cakes I baked on a whim was also because I needed to use up some elderly yoghurt. Evidently I have some yoghurt-consupmption issues. I remember seeing a few yoghurt and lemon cakes on different blogs, but I didn't have the computer on and I really did want to make use of these many new cookbooks I have. The Alice Medrich Chocolate & the art of low-fat desserts was still sitting open from the last post I did and it provided me with inspiration for this cake.
Seeing her Orange-flavoured Cranberry Pecan cake, I thought "oh yeah, I reckon I can adapt that". It was a yoghurt-based cake, with citrus flavour, and berries folded through, so varying it to my needs wasn't so hard. I had a punnet of fresh blueberries hanging around, and decided to throw them in to the batter. A good choice 'cos lemons and blueberries are complementary flavours and really turn this cake into something perfect for summer. Additionally, I replaced 1/2 cup of the flour with ground almonds to give it a moister, lighter texture. Very highly recommended if you have ground almonds hanging about, as I did (I have a big bag I store in the freezer now cos I was getting so pi**ed off paying megabucks for those tiny little packets at the supermarket. Funding Caribbean cruises for the nut company owners, I reckon...)
Again, I found Medrich's instructions a little tedious, and required too many bowls happening at once, but in terms of difficulty it was very low. It was also really quick to whip up and bung in the oven. Again though, be careful when turning it out, as low-fat cakes are very fragile and can break easily. I had a few hairy moments turning this one out and nearly lost it completely.
I recommend this recipe very highly. Its lightness and tangyness make it perfect for warm weather, or for breakfasts and brunches. The added advantage that it's low-fat makes it even more attractive to everyone!
Read on for the recipe

Low-fat Lemon, Yoghurt and Blueberry cake
Adapted from Alice Medrich.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup almond meal (or flour if you don't have ground almonds)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 whole egg
1 egg white
5 tablespoons butter (70g / 2.5 oz)
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup sugar
1 cup low or nonfat yoghurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 punnet blueberries
Juice of 1 lemon
~6 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar

1: Preheat oven to 350F (175 C) and position a tray in the lower third of the oven. Spray a ring shaped pan with vegetable oil spray.

2: Whisk together the flour, almonds, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In another small bowl, lightly whisk the whole egg with the egg white. Set aside.

3: Cut the butter into pieces and place in an electric mixer bowl. Add the lemon zest and beat for about 1 minute to soften. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat on high speed for about 3 minutes. Dribble eggs in slowly, about tablespoon at a time, beating constantly for about 2 minutes. On low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture. On medium-high speed, beat in half of the yoghurt. On low-speed, beat in half of the remaining flour. On high speed, beat in the rest of the yoghurt and vanilla essence. On low speed, beat in the rest of the flour. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the blueberries.

4: Scrape into the prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out dry. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes in a rack .

5: Meanwhile whisk lemon juice and powdered sugar to form a glaze. Unmold the cake. Brush the glaze over the top and sides of the cake until all the glaze is used. Cool cake completely before serving or storing.
Cake may be stored for 3-4 days, or frozen up to 2 months.

Calories per serving: 256
Fat: 8.5g
(figures based on original Cranberry Pecan cake. I don't know how the addition of some almond meal and omission of the pecans would affect these figures)

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Low-fat chocolate birthday cake

So...this should attract a few people! I think it is a birthday cake recipe worth bookmarking. A few weeks after I received my copy of Alice Medrich's Chocolate & the art of low fat desserts my mum asked if I would be able to make something from it for the birthday of one of the girls in her office. The girls are all on a perpetual weight-loss program; they go walking every lunch time and analyse each morsel they put in their mouth for Weight Watchers points. She wanted to offer them a birthday cake, but was a bit stumped about how to do it in a "guilt-free" fashion. If it were my birthday I'd use the opportunity to make and eat the gooiest, stickiest most chocolatey cake you can imagine, but not everyone is me.

Alice Medrich is a well-known American chocolatier, with some truly decadent chocolate publications, but who always refused to countenance the idea of low-fat chocolate recipes. Eventually she started experimenting with some recipes, and being quite a perfectionist, she refined and modified her calorie-laden recipes for years until she created lower fat alternatives that still used natural ingredients. Real butter, real chocolate - just in different quanitites, and with a greater focus on techniques and textures. I first read about her low-fat chocolate cakes on
Shiokadelicious and A Spoonful of Sugar and tried for ages to track down a copy of the book in Australia with no luck. Eventually I found a second-hand copy on Amazon and I was set. It's got some fabulous looking recipes in there, not only for decadent chocolate cakes, but regualar non-chocolate cakes and desserts. The low-fat chocolate souffles I made for a recent IMBB were from this book.

So, the recipe is quite easy to make, but is pretty pedantic to be honest. At one stage I looked around and noticed I had about 4 bowls on the go, plus a stand mixer and a hand beater. The instructions for adding the ingredients at slow speed, then changing to high speed then to low speed, then back to high speed, then back to medium etc. etc. got me muttering under my breath about impossibly bossy recipe writers. I know she's just reflecting the amount of research she has put in to creating the perfectly textured cake; a feat made all the more difficult with the very low levels of fat, but really, I just ignored them after a while and just bunged everything in on the one speed. I don't think the finished result suffered so much, so it's your choice really.

The final result is a very rich and moist cake that tastes extremely chocolatey. It'd be excellent served on its own with icecream or similar. In fact, it is presented as its own separate recipe, "Chocolate Pound Cake" - the first in the book. However, it should be noted that due to the very low levels of fat and eggs, and high levels of sugar the final cake is very fragile. I was assembling the creation early one morning before work, and in my half-asleep state I picked up one of the cake layers to have it break cleanly in half. I had some serious issues attempting to keep the top layer "glued" together, and had to resort to tying a large bow around the cake's perimeter to squeeze everything together. Caused a bit of a mess. So, do take care; low fat cakes are frangible. Use a wide spatula.

The rich chocolate glaze is very effective. No, it's not sweet. With a whole cup of unsweetened cocoa it's definitely a chocolate sauce for adult tastes. I found it tasted very much of uncooked chocolate pudding mixture. I'm not completely sold on its taste alone, but combined with the cake it worked well to create a very rich, bittersweet birthday cake. If making it again I think I'd flavour it with a strong liqueur such as Amaretto or Frangelico. I found it never really thickened enough for me either, despite boiling the mixture for more than the time specified. That may have added to my feeling of it tasting like pudding mix.

The final creation was a real hit, despite some presentation issues with my floating cake layer. The general consensus was "I cannot believe this is low-fat! It's just too good!".
It is an effective recipe, and I recommend it. No, it's not as easy as your regualar, basic 2 bowl cake batter, but the small amount of extra work invovolved will more than pay off as you present something that not only looks and tastes excellent, but is low in calories as well. I bet you suddenly find yourself much more popular than you were before!

The recipe for the pound cake base can be found in this post. The recipe she posted is for a half quantity, which is what you need for this birthday cake. Use 2 round 8 inch pans rather than a loaf tin. Incidentally, I agree with Angela's comments about the amount of sugar, and would probably cut it down a little next time. It would reduce some of the sweetness, and make the cake a bit less fragile.
Nutrition information for the cake plus the glaze:
Calories per serving: 242
Fat: 7.8g
% calories from fat: 27%
Protein: 4.2g
Carbohydrates: 42.9g
Cholesterol: 33.9mg

Read on for the recipe for the rich chocolate glaze:

Rich Chocolate Glaze
Chocolate and the art of low-fat desserts" - Alice Medrich.
Makes 2 1/4 cups.

1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups low-fat (1%) milk
1 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
2.5 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Work time: 20 minutes
1: Combine the sugar and cocoa in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Use a wire whisk to stir in jus enough milk to form a smooth paste. Stir in the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the mixtures simmer and begins to boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan. Boil gently for 3 minutes (or 2 minutes if making only half the recipe), stirring constantly to prevent burning and create a thick consistency. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
2: Coool 5 minutes. Add 21/2 ounces finely chopped milk chocolate. Stir until completely melted.
3: Pour through a fine strainer. Allow to cool. Cover, placing plastic wrap directly on the surpace to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for several hours or overnight. Frosting will thicken as it cools. May be refrigerated for at least a week.

Note: The boiling time is very important. This glaze makes a thick, smooth covering for a cake or torte but is not stiff enough to frost with swirls and peaks. If you cheat on the boiling time, it will not thicken enough (even after chilling) to coat a cake without dripping mostly off the sides, nor will it have the intensity of flavour it needs to be a great chocolate sauce.

Nutrition Information:
Calories per tablespoon: 66
Fat: 1.2 g
% calories from fat: 14%
Protein: 1.5g
Carbohydrates: 15.2g
Cholesterol: .5mg

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