Tag Archives: honey

Not quite World Cup: cashew & nutella candies

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There’s Brazil and World Cup fever in the air. Friends are flying over to Brazil to watch the matches, Brazil travel documentaries are all over the TV, and suddenly it’s all about those soups and snacks sold on Brazilian beaches.

Paçoca or pacoquinha is a peanut candy that is as Brazilian as you get. And no wonder, as it is supposed to taste a little like a Reese’s peanut cup! The peanut version of the candy was created during colonial Brazil, and the internet also tells me that there is a tradition of eating paçoca during lent or on Good Friday. As a bonus, because the candies are made using cassava / tapioca / manioc flour, these are also gluten free.

The basic ingredients are roasted peanuts, sugar, dulce de leche or condensed milk, and cassava or tapioca flour (though I’ve also seen recipes calling for biscuit crumbs or bread crumbs, which obviously may not be GF).

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I have wanted to make Brazilian peanut candies for a while. But, we never seem to have peanuts in the house, instead we are always overrun by cashews, almonds or walnuts. So, this candy had a makeover in the kitchen and emerged as not-quite-Brazilian cashew candies.

Roasted cashews replaced peanuts, nutella plus a spoonful of honey replaced dulce de leche, and we were ready to whiz and roll.

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Sun-drenched fig and zucchini salad

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I have been flirting with thoughts of other jobs, other countries. The big wide world, new faces, a different smell in the air. Maybe that travel bug rearing its head again.

These thoughts – idle fancies, what you will – are unsettling yet exciting. Unexpectedly they have also prompted me to look at my street, city, country with fresh eyes.

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Like the layers of light on a humid summer’s beach. So bright, impossibly bright, up close. Shimmering-pale-lilac-blue in the distance, the colours muted as though coming through a fog.

Cliched as it might be, this made me think of Dorothy Mackellar’s iconic poem as she describes –

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –

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Wilful, with our legends of outlaws, and 146km of dead straight road across the Nullabor. Lavish, with super-abundant light, and summer’s fresh produce that seem to be ripening by the minute: berries, peaches, watermelons, figs, mangos, papayas, zucchinis, beetroot, okra.

During these hot, humid, languid days, summer fruit and veges can make the simplest snacks or meals. Like mangoes with a squeeze of lime and a splash of hot sauce; cucumbers with salt-smashed garlic, experiments with watermelon curry, Vietnamese pickled daikons.

Like this fig and zucchini salad.

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A Sicilian Christmas: buccellato

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I was walking through the maze-like backstreets of Newtown, and stopped in my tracks. In the air was a scent that was heady, sweet, fresh and just dive in and luxuriate. I think, am almost sure, it was the scent of jasmine flowers.

The memory of it so strong that I was still thinking about it days later, when I read about jasmine scented confectionaries and pastries that were made in Sicilian convents. Jasmine-scented ricotta, Sicilian pastries, the legendary fruits of the nuns’ labour. These ideas lingered like a line of poetry or music. Like a food earworm.

I didn’t have jasmine water, instead, I had lots of Sicilian pastries bookmarked under ‘must make this soon, really soon’. One of the recipes was Buccellato. 

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That’s how two of the Sicilian Christmas/new year ‘cakes’ found their way into our Christmas gift boxes, along with other goodies like thousand-layer spiral mooncakes (pictured above). I made a Sicilian version of Buccellato based on a recipe from Manu’s Menu, which is more like a giant cookie log with a fig-chocolate-wine filling. After I made it, I realised it’s like a larger version of the cuccidati or fig cookies from the Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) group, using a recipe from Baking with Julia.

Another version of Buccellato, from further North in Italy, is a yeast cake with the filling ingredients folded into the dough (see here, for example). But I couldn’t go past a Sicilian recipe just now, especially something that can be described as a giant cookie.

It’s a forgiving recipe. My circles weren’t perfectly circular, the pastry was perhaps unusually dimpled, but they still had an appealing home made look. The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze topped with pistachio and glace cherries. I also drizzled royal icing and sprinkled over finely grated dark chocolate. Gilding the lily? Me?

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Pumpernickel, poems and party season

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Pumpernickel. The stuff of life and the stuff of dreams.

Philip Schulz wrote a poem about it. Please have a read, if only for the image of the steam curling off the black crust like a strip of pure sunlight, and of holding up a slice of bread in all its absurd splendour:

Monday mornings Grandma rose an hour early to make rye,
onion & challah, but it was pumpernickel she broke her hands for,
pumpernickel that demanded cornmeal, ripe caraway, mashed potatoes
& several Old Testament stories about patience & fortitude & for
which she cursed in five languages if it didn’t pop out fat
as an apple-cheeked peasant bride. But bread, after all,
is only bread & who has time to fuss all day & end up
with a dead heart if it flops? Why bother? I’ll tell you why.
For the moment when the steam curls off the black crust like a strip
of pure sunlight & the hard oily flesh breaks open like a poem
pulling out of its own stubborn complexity a single glistening truth
& who can help but wonder at the mystery of the human heart when you
hold a slice up to the light in all its absurd splendor & I tell you
we must risk everything for the raw recipe of our passion.

With this encouragement and warning, I pulled pumpernickel out of the oven on Sunday afternoon.

The recipe didn’t require several Old Testament stories about patience and fortitude, for which I was thankful. Sadly, it didn’t quite have the ‘absurd splendour’ of Schultz’s idealised pumpernickel. But then, can any pumpernickel be better than Grandma’s, especially a Grandma that can talk bread in five languages?

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Don’t get me wrong. The loaves had the dense, even crumb, and rye and caraway flavour, and was a good rye bread. The dough was fine to knead by hand, and everything went smoothly (almost exactly) according to the recipe. The finished loaves formed a good foil for a slather of fresh ricotta, crumbled goat’s milk fetta, walnuts, and honey. The goat cheese and walnut strong enough to stand up to the rye and caraway, while the milder ricotta and honey helped to turn it into an easy crowd pleaser.

In fact, I’ve learned this bread just in time for party season in Australia, with Melbourne Cup Day or the race that stops the nation (first Tuesday of November), summer afternoon picnics, summer evening parties, and never ending Christmas get-togethers.

It’s just … I like the pumpernickel that can break the baker’s hands, is black from up to 24 hours of slow baking, barely risen, and heavy with whole rye berries. In other words, the romantic idea of Grandma’s black pumpernickel.

Wordsworth and Coleridge would be proud.

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In the meantime, here is a good loaf of rye bread or modern pumpernickel. Don’t be put off by my impractical ramblings, it’s a tasty loaf. As for the long list of slightly strange ingredients, they look pretty similar to the ingredients for Russian black bread and other rye breads. And it’s a handy bread for dinner party canapes.

Too much bread? Rye bread crumbs make an interesting change from white bread crumbs. And, old rye bread can be used to make altus – old bread soaked in water and added to dough, to intensify the flavour, though not sure if wheat-rye bread can be used?

Changes from the recipe: I could only find fine rye flour, not medium or coarse rye flour. Also, instead of the novel method of proofing the dough inside hanging tea towels, I used a couple of baskets. Lastly, I ran out of eggs (what kind of baker runs out of eggs?), so instead of an egg white glaze I artistically sprinkled flour onto the loaves.

Lastly, I found the video of the episode useful.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pumpernickel is this week’s TWD assignment. We are baking from the book, Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan. Please go to the TWD blog and see what other TWD bakers have done.

Pumpernickel

(Available in Baking with Julia. Also available on contributing baker Lauren Groveman’s website. The version that appears on Lauren’s website is reproduced below.)

Special Equipment

8-quart mixing bowl, to rise dough
Wooden surface for kneading
Pastry scraper
Quarry tiles or a pizza stone (use dark steel shallow baking sheet as a substitute)
Baker’s peel, to transfer loaves to oven (use a flat cookie sheet as a substitute)
Oven sweep, to brush meal off tiles after baking, optional

Ingredients

3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter, for greasing
2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature or, as a substitute, use tepid water (warm to the touch)
1 stick (approx 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into small cubes
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup prune lekvar (also called prune butter. See here for a prune lekvar recipe)
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 squares (2 1/2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, broken (note I used 85% cocoa chocolate and only used a tiny, tiny pinch of sugar to compensate)
2 tablespoons ground caraway seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
1 tablespoon fine table salt
2 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
Pinch of sugar
3 1/2 cups coarse rye meal (if unavailable, substitute medium rye flour)
Up to 6 cups (approx 800 grams) high gluten bread flour, including flour for dusting and shaping
Glaze: 1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Topping: sesame seeds and/or caraway seeds (optional)
Cornmeal (medium ground), for bakers peel

Method

1. To set up: Brush an 8-quart bowl (I used a large mixing bowl) with melted butter and set aside to rise dough. Take out your pastry scraper, another large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.

2. To assemble dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, cubed butter, shortening, lekvar and molasses. Dissolve instant espresso in 1 cup boiling water and pour into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add broken chocolate and melt chocolate in espresso over very low heat until smooth, stirring frequently. Add to mixing bowl with powdered and whole caraway seeds and salt.

3. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with a pinch of sugar until creamy and pour into mixing bowl along with the rye meal. Stir to combine well. Using a wooden spoon, briskly stir in enough bread flour, 1/2 to 1 cup (up to approx 130 grams) at a time, until you create a mass that’s not easily stirred, but not dry.

4. Turn the mass out onto a floured wooden board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding only as much flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking to your work surface and hands. In the beginning of the kneading process, this dough will feel quite “pasty” because of the rye flour. As always, use a pastry scraper while kneading to scrape dough off the board cleanly as you continue to knead in a sufficient amount of flour.

5. To rise dough twice: When dough is smooth and elastic, place it in the buttered rising bowl. Cover bowl with buttered plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. Punch down dough with several swift swats from the back of your hand to deflate dough totally. Turn over dough, cover and let rise again for 1 1/2 hours.

6. To shape oblong loaves: Turn out fully risen dough onto a lightly floured board and use the blade of your pastry scraper to divide dough in half. Work with half the dough at a time, keeping the other half covered.

7. Lay two clean kitchen towels on your counter and sprinkle them with bread flour. Roll dough half into a 7×10-inch rectangle. Starting at the short end farthest from you, roll dough toward you, pinching to seal as you go. Pinch to seal the ends and tuck under to attach to the bottom seam. Rotate and plump dough to finish shaping and place shaped loaf (seam side up) diagonally on a prepared towel. Form a sling by joining the corners of the towel farthest from the loaf. Secure the joined towel points within a closed drawer (in a quiet area) so the loaves hang undisturbed in their slings for 45 minutes.

8. To set up for baking loaves: While bread is rising, position the rack in the second or third lowest shelf in the oven and, if using a sheet of quarry tiles or a pizza stone, place it on the rack. On the rack below this, place a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pan, which will preheat along with the tiles. Sprinkle a baker’s peel or a flat cookie sheet with cornmeal. Thirty minutes before the end of the rise, preheat oven to 450F / about 230C.

9. If not using tiles or a stone, brush or spray 1 or 2 large (preferably dark steel) shallow baking sheets with vegetable oil and sprinkle interior with cornmeal. After mixing egg white and water, pour into a small medium-mesh sieve into another bowl to remove excess coagulation and any bubbles created while mixing. Place glaze next to your work surface.

10. To slash and glaze loaves: Working with one loaf at a time, carefully release slings and gently turn out loaves from towels (smooth side up) onto the prepared baker’s peel or baking sheet at least 3 inches apart. Use your hands gently to plump loaf into a neat shape. Using a sharp serrated knife or a razor, slash tops of each loaf three times horizontally, going 1/3 inch deep into the dough. Using a pastry brush, paint tops and sides of loaves (excluding slashes) generously with glaze.

11. To bake loaves: Just before inserting the dough into the hot oven, carefully pour ¾ cup warm water into the pan beneath the rack used to bake the loaves, then shut the door while you go get the loaves. If baking with tiles, insert the peel all the way to the back of the oven and with one swift jerk pull out the peel, leaving loaves on the hot tiles (preferably with three inches between them). If not using tiles or a stone, place loaves into the hot oven on their baking sheets as directed.

12. Bake loaves at 450o F / 230C for 10 minutes.

13. Reduce heat to 350F / 175C and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on wire racks to cool thoroughly before slicing, 2 to 3 hours.

Feeding our wanderlust: honey, lavender, pepper oatcakes; photos of Iona

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Sometimes, a phrase, an image, or an object triggers your memory and it’s as though you are transported back to another place. Last night, reading Laura’s blog, Laura’s Mess, I remembered standing under Western Australia’s big, open sky, with its sense of so much space, feeing the warm wind and warmer sun, and ouch-hot white sand under my feet.

Earlier that evening, we were planning a dinner party for 12 (!). Cheese and oatcakes got on the menu. And I remembered the oatcakes we had in Scotland. And that story on a packet of oatcakes, solemnly explaining that oatcakes began from the Scottish people’s frugal habits, when they would save their morning porridge by drying it into a cake for supper.

Dried leftover porridge. Yum.

So it was that I found myself making oatcakes that evening.

I used a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who introduced it thus: “This recipe is Bill Cowie’s, island manager of Rona in the Inner Hebrides. He made a batch when we were filming and fishing with him in July. We devoured every last one, with cheese and homemade chutney.”

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I almost followed the recipe, the only changes I made were adding a bare half teaspoon of crushed lavender, and an overflowing teaspoon of honey, into the oatcake mix. I’ve been reading about lavender pepper spice mixes, and oats just love honey, and the whole thing just came together.

The oatcakes had a healthy back of the throat kick from a mixture of black and white pepper – I’d like to use the sweeter pink pepper next time – a bare hint of open grassland from the lavender, and the barest mellowness from the honey. Their flavours played off each other and made me want to use the lavender, honey and pepper combination in other things. 

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Blue Mountains before bushfires, and the simplest granola cookies

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(Recipe for granola cookies at the end of this post)

Blue Mountains, part of our Great Dividing Range and the stuff of pioneering Australian stories. It’s particularly famous for the Three Sisters – a rock formation that attracts all kinds of tourists to the town of Katoomba. Since it is a 1-2 hour drive or a train ride out of Sydney, it has long been a place for Sydneysiders to spend a weekend, a few days or even weeks, unwinding, remembering a slower pace of life.

It is also one of the places that are in danger from bushfires every year, during the annual October to March ‘bushfire season’.

This year, the bushfires have started early around Sydney and in the Blue Mountains. Thursday afternoon saw Sydney’s famous blue sky turn an ominous orange-yellow from the smoke – even this morning, our cityscape looked unnaturally sepia, as though we woke up in the world of Instagram. A colleague who has a house in the lower Blue Mountains is at home soaking their house with water, and having the rural fire service doing back burning just outside of their backyard. Gulp. Anyone who has driven around rural Australia has probably seen the hectares of black tree stumps, running over hills and down into valleys to the edges of rivers, and also hectares of living trees with trunks and branches blackened by fire.

But after each fire, the bush regenerates – and some plants have evolved to do so. The black stumps grow green shoots, seeds sprout; flowers tempt insects and animals back. Our plants may not have the softest petals, or the most ornamental leaves, but you’ve got to give them kudos for being tough enough to survive our sunburnt country, with droughts and flooding rains – and fires.

The photos in this post are from the Blue Mountains, taken just before bushfire season. The area isn’t yet affected by bushfires, and I hope it will be unscathed this year.

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We spent the first weekend of this month in Blackheath, a town nestled into the quieter back half of the Blue Mountains. It was a long, three-day weekend, and we spent most of it walking around tracks in the surrounding bushland, catching up around bottles of red wine, and eating good food.

The bush around Blackheath wowed me, again. This is such a quintessential “Australian” landscape with bleached colours and too-harsh sun. 

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Once our eyes adjusted to the brightness around us, I found layers of textures, patterns and contours all around us. Walking on ridges, we saw trees silhouetted against the empty space and bright, blue sky. The cicadas were out in full force. On the way back, we saw so many cicada shells – almost looking like jewelled brooches – clinging to a bushfire-blacked tree.

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Fig-honey-caramel

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Sometimes, we need very few words to explain. This may be one of those times.

Fig. Honey. Caramel.

I made the fig-raspberry tartlets again, with a few tweaks and in longform. While the tart was baking, I had fig and cardamon poaching liquid sitting in the pan, and a jar of blackbutt honey on the bench. The two came together, simmered, boiled, turned a deeper golden caramel, and fig-honey-caramel was born.

It was the essence of figs and honey. Drizzle the caramel on the sesame-almond tart pastry, drip it onto the tart filling. Watch the caramel form a Jackson Pollock-esque pattern on bits of pastry, before running into sticky, semi translucent pools on nestling fig.

Place the tart under the grill for a minute or so, until the caramel bubbles up. Drop a few sprigs of rosemary on top, so its woody savoury smell mingles with the honey overnight.

My slight obsession with figs continues.

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