Sponge. Again.

This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.

UnknownPreviously, on BakeClass: rhubarb cake; self-saucing pudding; the book itself.

When I tried to make lamingtons, I mentioned that I have yet to conquer The Sponge. I thought that maybe BakeClass would help; after all, it’s got step by step instructions that are pretty clear.

The setting: one friend who saw The Fifth Element about eight years ago; another who had maybe seen bits; and a third who had never seen it. The perfect excuse to test my sponge-making abilities.

I carefully read the instructions, and they seemed to make sense. I got the eggs out hours before I was going to make the cake, so they would definitely be at room temperature. I measured everything scrupulously. I even did the grease the tin – line the tin – grease the paper thing as commanded.
I came unstuck at the last instruction: after sifting over the flour and cornflour, and then the warm milk and butter, I was to beat briefly until flour was combined – but not for TOO long. My panic was this: how do I KNOW when it’s combined? There was still a speck of IMG_0895flour on the top; I presume that means it’s not combined? That cake-y type consistency at the bottom of the bowl, is that good or bad? Does it mean I’ve over-beaten? OH NO WHAT HAVE I DONE. This is the first instruction I’ve found in the book that’s not as precise as I would have appreciated.

And then it seemed to take longer to bake then it ought to have. Maybe it’s my oven. I should get on that.

Anyway, once cooked the sponge had this effect on the top. I think this was as a result of the cake-y consistency and that it means it was over-beaten.

IMG_0896They didn’t rise as much as I would have hoped, as you can see. Still it must be said that these were better than the sponges I made last time, so I guess there’s hope? They were a bit fluffier, for sure.

I filled the cake with whipped cream, of course, and with Kate’s What Eve Did Next  – an apple and lavender jelly that’s just amazing. I sprinkled some lavender on top and everything. How fancy is that?

ETA: how could I have forgotten the result?? Despite my misgivings, five of us managed to polish the entire thing off over the course of the movie (which was only two serves each; the beloved managed to get one…). It wasn’t as airy as I would have liked, and a couple of spots tasted a bit… eggy, maybe? I think it was the swirly bit featured on top. The Eve was delicious but probably could have had a bit more added – the recipe called for something like 225g of raspberry jam, and I used nowhere near that much because it sounded far too over the top!


BakeClass: the book itself

UnknownBakeClass was provided to me at no cost by the publisher, Murdoch Books. Available from March 2016; RRP $45.

(Previously, on BakeClass… )

I took BakeClass away with me last weekend to show a couple of other baking-type people (who both quite liked it), and it made me sit down and actually read the opening pages. I had previously just flicked through the recipes and glanced over the actual lesson pages – I rarely read the introduction etc to a book like this, regarding them more like reference books than chronologically-ordered-type books. But now I have.Unknown

(I’ve also taken off the dust jacket to reveal the cover on the right, which I think I prefer.)

As the name suggested, and the organisation into lessons, this is a book largely designed for someone who’s not especially comfortable with baking. This is not me – I may be disgruntled with sponges, but I’m not afraid to jump in and have a go at most any recipe – as long as I’ve got the time and the inspiration.

That’s not to say I don’t have anything to learn from a book like this. As a friend put it, you read and say “uhuh, uhuh, uhuh – oh! – uhuh, uhuh…” – and that’s quite useful. It’s nice to know you’re basically on the right track, and learning new stuff is always nice.

I will never nuke butter to cheat-soften it again. I pinky-promise to be more organised with my baking (…hmm…) and either cube or grate the butter if I get impatient.

I like Anneka’s approach: here are reasons why you might think you can’t bake, and here are some reasons to rethink; here are some things to consider to make it more excellent (time, for whom, what do YOU like, etc). I also like her explanation of some of the fundamentals (different creams!), and the list of recommended cake tins means I might need to go shopping… (plus I recently encountered a rectangular tart tin I NEED YOU IN MY LIFE).

The lessons themselves progress logically, from very straightforward to the more complex. I love that there’s a ‘Mix in the Food Processor’ step! I am intrigued that you’re meant to keep your palms upwards while rubbing in; I think I do this, but not consciously. I have tried the pushing+pulling kneading trick a couple of times but I’m still not convinced I’ve got it.

In the end, there are stacks of recipes in here that I’m dead keen to try out, and that makes this a winner in my book. And kitchen.

It’s available from Fishpond. 

Chocolate self-saucing pudding

UnknownPreviously, on BakeClass… (provided by the publisher at no cost)

Chocolate self-saucing pudding is not new for me. It’s not quite a standard, because I keep experimenting with other things, but it’s not a novelty. Generally I have made Stephanie Alexander’s recipe, and it’s never made me sad.

There might be a new kid in town.

Context: friend comes over for dinner. I’ve not really made plans for dessert (steak by us, fig and goat’s cheese salad by her). Flicking through BakeClass looking for something straightforward, I hit Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding, and the friend makes encouraging noises.

It’s nothing new in terms of ease; it’s about the easiest pudding ever. Differences from Stephanie: she uses plain flour and baking powder, Anneka uses SR flour; this isn’t a real difference. Stephanie has 1/4 cup castor sugar; Anneka has 1/2 cup brown sugar – and this is where the difference lies, I think, because I think this pudding was that bit richer as a result. Interestingly Stephanie has 180g brown sugar in the topping, and 2 tbsp cocoa; Anneka has 100g and 30g (and a bit more boiling water).

This experiment may have been slightly led astray by the fact that apparently my oven isn’t heating consistently, so one side was a bit gooey-er than the other. Which isn’t a failing in such a pud, of course… .

Result: I think this is my-go choc self-saucer from now on. Already anticipating the double chocolate variation (add 100g chopped chocolate “with the sugar” – I presume that means with the topping).

No photos because I don’t believe anyone’s every really taken a particularly flattering picture of chocolate self-saucing pudding. It just always looks like mud… as long as you get it on a good day…


Cypriot cooking

UnknownI’d been wanting this book for quite a long time when I finally saw it on sale and cracked. I like that it doesn’t just have the standard ‘Middle Eastern’ countries that I think Anglo-Australians think of when they think of food; it’s got Armenia, The Gulf States, Yemen…. So my thought was to try and do a week or two of mostly cooking from on country. Obviously that’s going to be harder or easier depending on season, as to what we feel like; and some ingredient will make things hard. But I figure it’s a good way to try new things and make my way through bits of the book.

So my first foray was into Cyprus. It’s not the first country in the book – that’s Greece – but I thought starting with Greek was cheating because I already know at least some Greek food.

The very first recipe is for haloumi. I am intrigued by the idea of making haloumi but I can’t imagine every actually doing it. Unless I hit some holidays and I get really adventurous… which may well happen, not going to lie.

I also don’t think I will be marinating or frying brains (appetisers). Yes, I happily own to being a culinary coward.

Page-wise, the first recipe I tried was the Kolketes (pumpkin pies; appetiser). This was a bit harder than I had expected. Making the filling of pumpkin and bulgur and spices was a cinch. But the pastry wasn’t nearly as easy to deal with as I had expected, and I got a bit frustrated. This was compounded by the instruction to roll the dough out “about the thickness of a normal pie crust” which is not at all useful if you’re not accustomed to making pie crusts. As I am not. So I just had to guess. Ultimately I managed to make the IMG_0885pies; they were quite tasty. However the pastry has made me leary of trying them again.

Next was haloumi bread. Yes yes yes and yes. I can also imagine just making the Kouloura bread dough by itself.

Further on we hit vegetables, and I made Yemista – stuffed vegetables. I can’t quite imagine stuffing eggplants and my love isn’t a huge fan, so I just went with tomatoes and capsicum. I’d seen some American cooking show where the woman did ‘deconstructed’ stuffed capsicums – don’t worry, she was being sly about and knew this was entirely the cheat’s way of making them – and I had every intention of making the filling (mince, rice, tomato) and then piling the capsicum and tomato on top or something. But in the end I actually properly stuffed them (and how organised is this, I made that bit the day before and just had to cook them the next day for dinner!). They were quite tasty, although I think either the stuffing or the sauce (which was a very basic tomato sauce) needed something a bit richer. Possibly just more tomato.

Then there’s Afelia, which is apparently anything with cracked coriander seeds. I made mushrooms with coriander – fry them off, add some red wine, add coriander – and given I love coriander in all its forms I liked it. I would have liked more ideas in this section about what sort of food it should accompany, though. I also made the pork version, which was quite a Moment for me since I’m not sure I’ve personally cooked pork more than… once before? Basically it just tasted like coriander, though; I didn’t think the pork came through at all. Maybe that’s just pork.

Finally, fish: Psari Savoro (fish with rosemary and vinegar). I used Australian rockling. We went through a bit of a fish phase a few years ago but haven’t been back in ages; I’ve just not found a convenient and good fishmonger. There’s apparently one a bit north of where we are, though, that I’ll have to try – I think this cookbook is likely to have some good seafood recipes. Anyway: salting the fish was an intriguing suggestion, and then coating with flour of course made it crisp up a bit and leave flour to thicken the sauce. My love cooked the fish and did it very well. The sauce was made up of garlic, rosemary, vinegar (we used cider instead of brown) and white wine. It thickened up heaps more than I expected, and was basically tasty although too heavy on the vinegar for my taste. One I will quite likely be revisiting.

Starting with Cyrpus was an … interesting choice. It wasn’t an overwhelming success – I didn’t love everything – but there wasn’t anything that I hated the taste of. I’ll be a bit more cautious as I go further into the book as I’ve not always found Mallos’ instructions to be as straightforward as I’d like. With both the pork and the fish, she says to fry until ‘just cooked through’ – but no instructions about what that looks like. It’s surely not hard to say ‘until the pork is white through’ or ‘until the fish is white and flakes’? Even expert cooks aren’t going to get annoyed by a few extra words, are they?

None of these were particularly photogenic, hence the lack of pics.


IMG_0887.JPGCaution: trying to say the name of these biscuits as an Anglo can have dangerous consequences for earworms.

These biscuits were my first foray into the Greek chapter of Tess Mallos’ Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook. They’re honey-dipped cookies and they were, of course, a winner. They were a bit fiddly to make what with the kneading and then the pinching off and the adding the filling and then pinching shut, but in the end it was totally worth it.

The pastry is a pretty straightforward sweet one; it has both oil and butter which surprised me a little but they don’t come out particularly oily or anything. Orange zest and juice is a nice touch.

The filling is honey and cinnamon and walnuts and orange juice; it’s meant to have some almond essence but I decided it wasn’t necessary. You grab a bit of pastry, make a flat disc, put some filling in the middle and then pinch it together. Like I said, a bit time-consuming… but I made just over 40. (The recipe says 60; I presume my biscuits were IMG_0886.JPGbigger than they’re meant to be.)

After they’ve cooked you also dip them in a honey syrup; you only dip the ones you’re going to eat immediately. I made some for friends, but didn’t dip them all; I’m not sure how long they’ll last. Ate some that had been dipped the day before – they still tasted fine, although yes probably a bit better when they were fresh.

I can imagine making these again although it will have to be an important event to make the time worth it.

Dehydrate! Vacuum seal!

IMG_0882.JPGThat’s right sports fans, no longer are we just dehydrating… we’re now vacuum sealing too. Because apparently we think the apocalypse is coming.

Actually it’s about camping and taking food on long trips away, but same outcome.

This incredibly appetising mess on the left is actually (what I call) bolognese. I have a feeling it’s pretty close to what Americans call chilli. Minced beef, lots of tomato paste and crushed tomato, mushroom, kidney beans, onion and garlic basically. This is what it looks like when it’s been dehydrated and then vacuum sealed and then taken out to some remote location in order to feed us. Below is what it looks like when it’s had boiling water poured on it and then been left to sit for a while… then simmered gently to reduce the liquid a bit:
IMG_0883.JPGAnd it tasted… basically like bolognese. The beans were perhaps a touch on the rubbery side, but really overall it was perfectly tasty. Add a little pasta and cheese and you feel very smug compared to the people either burning sausages nearby or people who are just eating something straight out of a can. Took about 14 hours in the dehydrator.

IMG_0890.JPGThis here is a vegetarian dhal, dehydrated and vacuum sealed. Haven’t rehydrated this one yet; it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I can’t imagine that lentils are going to be terribly fussed by the process, so I think this should be another winner. It’s so very easy.