Tag Archives: chocolate

Not your average box mix brownies

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Lately, it feels like life is spinning, rushing past, so, so quickly, and I barely have time to say “woa!”.

Times like this, I like to bake and cook, take time out, slow down, and feel (slightly more) grounded. Baking and cooking helps me to remember that I don’t have to do everything at work before we head off on holiday. Other people will step in and help out, because they are good colleagues, smart people and good friends, and we’ve always helped each other out.

But, when baking starts at 9 or 10pm at night, I’ve been at a loss about what to bake. Nothing that takes too long (baking past midnight is fun but slightly surreal), or requires the Bosch kitchen mixer (our neighbours will start to give me odd looks). And I don’t want to beat eggwhite by hand and develop hausfrau muscles in my right arm only (that would be funny, but surreal and possibly impractical clothes-wise).

Last night, I found the answer. Box mix brownies – with home made box mix.

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I was thinking about house warming presents for some friends we’ve known forever. They have never wanted very much, and have always been happy with what they have. Instead of giving them the usual wine glasses or home furnishings, we wanted to give them something that won’t end up cluttering their modestly minimalist life.

And last night, it came back to me: box mix brownies. I give them the mix of dry ingredients and add-ins, and all they need to do is add butter and eggs. Home made brownies within 30-40 minutes, including baking time.

I used an Alice Medrich cocoa brownies recipe to make up a box mix. I first saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb explained how she was converted to the idea of a good cocoa brownie, where cocoa is intentionally used in preference to blocks of dark, shiny chocolate. I was intrigued, and this idea lingered in the back of my mind like one of those cat pictures that never quite stop doing the rounds of office emails.

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Eurovision! brioche pockets, blinged-up cookies

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Can you believe it’s 30 years of Eurovision song contest?

Eurovision has a surprisingly large fan base in Australia, probably since we fell in love with ABBA way back when. These days, our multicultural broadcaster SBS despatches two commentators to the host city, dedicated to living, breathing, and relaying every sparkle, tassel, costume reveal, key change (intentional or otherwise) and pyrotechnics from the extravaganza. It’s almost like Tour de France season. We even got a mention from the presenter Petra Mede this year, *squeal*.

Some fans in Australia are pretty seriously committed. A previous Australian commentator got in trouble with some fans when he made fun of the show. (Really? They don’t find it mesmerising-funny that Cesar from Romania was channeling Dracula, and then broke out in a magnificent falsetto?)

On Sunday night, when Eurovision was broadcast on Australian TV, we were at an Eurovision party dressed up to the crazy nines. I was dressed as one of the Russian grandmothers or babushkas from last year. Anyone remember them? They brought out trays of cookies from an oven while singing on stage! My costume of course included a tray of freshly baked cookies – food as costume, wowza.

It’s not a proper Eurovision party without a smorgasbord of dishes from the contestant countries. Someone brought Portuguese chicken, which was technically not permitted because Portugal didn’t enter this year’s contest, but we ate the chicken anyway. I had two food entries: savoury brioche pockets, which was this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, and blinged up chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, which was part of my babushka costume.

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Musings on autumn and persimmon bread

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Autumn is such a Tween.

We have vacillated between nippy mornings and warm days (apparently, we were in the middle of an autumnal heat wave in Sydney, but you wouldn’t know it at 6am); grey skies and yellow-gold sunsets. The weather, like a girl-child hesitating between two stages of life, can’t make up its mind to put away summer’s strapless dresses and bring out winter’s tea cosies and mittens.

The only certainty is the shorter days that herald every winter. More and more often, I’m leaving work in the dark, and waking up to a dimmer sky.

Poets of every age have written about autumn. Its tempestuous weather, ravishing colours, just-ripened fruits and harvests of grains. The words autumn and fall evoke images of bucolic plenty, but also ideas about the fleeting passage of time. No wonder autumn is such a fickle character.

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It wasn’t until this morning that I had time to sit down, reflect, and notice, I mean really notice, the colours of the season. At the end of a crazy-hectic week, sitting down at the dining table with a large weekend-sized mug of tea was … a moment of quiet gladness.

I had made a persimmon bread-cake during the week. Persimmon seems the right kind of fruit to have in the house while we are surrounded by such gorgeously red leaves falling from neighbouring trees. I love how the fruit becomes soft, squishy, a bag of orange-red goo that you can spoon and slurp. With porridge, yoghurt, or by itself by the spoonful, so I lose none of its unique, slightly buttery yet crisp flavour. Perhaps it’s because persimmons were one of the hallmark fruits of autumn and winter in my part of China, their bright orange-red a reminder of festivities past and to come. Tied with string, they looked like little lanterns.

Edible lanterns!

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From German chocolate cake to truffle

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A couple of weeks ago, I made a gf Germany chocolate layer cake for a good friend.

I had a few bits of the cake left over, including bits trimmed off to make the layer cake prettier. I don’t know enough about baking and desserts to invent a Christina Tosi-like Germany chocolate birthday crumbs (German chocolate cake birthday crumbs. Now there’s an idea. It might be good in a chocolate-chip-german-chocolate-cake-crumbs cookie…) But I did come across a recipe for truffles made of chocolate cake and other things that make your dentist happy and are possibly not good for you.

Problem solved.

If having too much chocolate cake can ever be a problem.

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The chocolate cake was crumbled up into a large mixing bowl, mixed with extra butter, cocoa powder, chocolate ganache, and the coconut-custard mix that was used for the layer cake filling. The mixture was thick, dark, dark brown, buttery-cocoa-y smelling. This mixture is rolled into balls, which are covered in a thick, dark chocolate ganache and topped with multi-coloured silvery cachous and dried rose petals.

Not every truffle was a perfect round or perfectly decorated, but together, they made a pretty plate and exuded the most enticing chocolate-y smell.

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Layered birthday cake (gf)

David Lebovitz.

A name that acts like a comfort blanket in the kitchen. When I use one of David’s recipes, I relax and let my hands get into the rhythm of measuring, sifting, creaming, folding. Because I know it’s going to work, so well, and so easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I love reading and discovering new food blogs. I would be that much more productive and better informed about non-food news* if WordPress, Blogger and Google didn’t point me to all those food blogs and websites.

* Though I had to smile at twitter messages this week asking “Who was Margaret Thatcher?”. Or, maybe I’m just showing my age, and the company I keep?

But. When I am baking for a friend and it’s her birthday, and it’s a gluten free cake (and I have no idea about the chemistry behind gf baking), and I’m taking this cake into work, and there is no time to make a second cake when the first one goes wrong, the recipe just. has. to. work.

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That’s when I saw a recipe for a layered German chocolate cake on Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, which was adapted from David Lebovitz. Shauna Ahern + David Lebovitz = phew.

This is not the first time I’ve baked a gluten free cake, though my last proper gf cake was at Christmas, where the batter was more or less something to hold the brandy-drunken fruit together. This time, the cake will stand or fall by the taste and texture of the chocolate cake batter. What’s more, we all have our own idea of the perfect chocolate cake, our palates are honed since childhood to pick up the nuances of a chocolate cake that differ from our ideal.

So, attempting a gf chocolate cake? That was scary. But I muttered David and Shauna’s names like a mantra and boldly went where no saucy gander has gone before.

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