Feats Of Daring - Macadamia & Lemon Myrtle Baklava

Monday, June 27, 2011

Foodie. It's a term that can make some people quail* and others bristle with indignation (or indigestion, perhaps). There's a resemblance to greenie or hippie, with connotations of smug righteousness and well-intended but rather impractical passion. A hint of the facile. "I eat, therefore I am". Or worse, "I eat, therefore I'm going to gloat about it to everybody".

Like it or not, I realised I was a foodie on my honeymoon last year. Roaming Paris and perusing Rome with a long list of patisseries and pasticceria and purposeful intent to visit each and every one. Skyping restaurants in New York from the other side of the world to secure dinner reservations weeks before arrival. Squeaking with glee on first encountering the astonishment of the grande epicerie at Bon Marche. Foraging through cookbook shops, snaffling my way across markets and walking for miles on end in pursuit of all manner of comestibles. Gulp! Or should that be gobble...?

Similarly, I was reluctant to claim the "baker" moniker. Of course I'm not a baker. They know what they're doing. I just make occasional batches of brownies (seven batches in a weekend, for instance). I'm far too rustic and messy to be a real baker. I'm only tinkering in the margins, experimenting. And taking morning tea for my group at work at least once a week. With the occasional evening class thrown in, to learn something a bit more unusual. Much as I can dream up gooey, squishy, crunchy and excessive things to put into a brownie for hours on end, I decided it was time for a bit more of a challenge. After seeing the beautiful confections created by so many others online, I bit the bullet and signed up to Daring Bakers.

For anybody not already familiar with Daring Bakers (the dessert-obsessed counterpart to Daring Cooks), it's an online group which takes on a monthly challenge to test their skills, creativity... and patience. There's a base recipe provided, which provides plenty of scope for variations while helping you learn the basic (or not-so-basic) techniques involved. When I discovered the theme for this month, I wondered quite what on earth I'd got myself into. Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava. Baklava. From scratch. Eeeep!

Sticky Penguin's Macadamia & Lemon Myrtle Baklava

I decided to put my own spin on the baklava by adding some local ingredients to give it a different flavour - macadamias, lemon myrtle, and blue box honey. If you'd like to try making it, here's how it was done...

Note: recipes are my adaptation of the Daring Bakers recipes:
- phyllo dough recipe originally from Kaffeehaus - Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague, by Rick Rodgers
- baklava recipe originally from Alton Brown, Food Network

Macadamia and Lemon Myrtle Baklava
I doubled the basic recipe for the phyllo dough to make enough to fill a 23 cm (9 inch) square tin and a mini version in a 10 cm (4 inch) round springform tin. Had I been a little more careful with my trimmings, the recipe would've made enough for at least another second mini version. The syrup quantities below have been increased from the original recipe to allow enough for this additional tin. There was plenty of filling (and a little left over) without any changes to quantities (although I was using quite a different nut mixture).

Sticky Penguin's Macadamia & Lemon Myrtle Baklava

What you need
For the phyllo dough
370 g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
210 ml water
4 tbsp / 60 ml vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil), plus a little extra to brush the dough
1 tsp / 5 ml apple cider vinegar
For the filling
180 g macadamias
180 g almonds, blanched
105 g walnuts
1½ tsp ground lemon myrtle
¼ tsp mixed spice
150 g brown sugar
For the syrup
300 ml honey (I used blue box)
100 ml golden syrup
400 ml water
300 g granulated sugar
3 strips of lemon zest
2 tbsp / 30 ml lemon juice

What you do
Phyllo dough
1. Sieve the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.
2. Combine the water, oil and vinegar in a separate bowl or measuring jug.
3. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing with the paddle attachment until it becomes a soft dough. If it doesn't come together, it may be necessary to add a little more water to get to this consistency (although mine was just right with the specified quantities, and quite sticky enough).
4. Change from the paddle attachment to the dough hook with the stand mixer, and let the dough knead for 10 minutes. After this time, it should be smooth, squishy and stretchy.
5. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead by hand for another couple of minutes. During this process, pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto the benchtop several times (which makes a very satisfying thwack, as well as developing the gluten in the flour). I kneaded my dough on a sheet of baking paper and found it didn't need any flour added at this stage to avoid any sticking.
6. Shape the dough into a ball, and lightly cover it with a thin film of oil. Wrap up tightly with plastic wrap and leave to rest for 30-90 minutes (the longer the better). As suggested in the recipe, I left mine for 2 hours and found it very easy to work with. Although, as it got easier to work with as I reached the end of the dough later on, it might be even better left for 3 hours (or perhaps it just improves with practice!).

While the dough rests, make the filling, so that as soon as the dough is ready, you can begin assembling the baklava. This will avoid the messy predicament of ending up with sheets of phyllo all over the kitchen!
Place all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and process on high until finely chopped.

Roll out the phyllo dough
After the dough has rested, it needs to be rolled out as thinly as possible. So thin you can see through it. It sounds scary, but it turned out to be much less of an impossible task, especially after a bit of experimenting with the technique.
1. Tear off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball, making sure you re-wrap the remaining dough so it doesn't dry out.
2. Liberally flour your work area, rolling pin and hands. I used a piece of dowelling, and it made the process much lighter and easier than a regular rolling pin.
3. Roll the dough out a bit to flatten it out. I then found that the most effective way to roll the dough as thin as needed was to roll with one hand, while using the other hand to gently pull the dough away from the direction I was rolling. After repeating a couple of times, I then turned the dough 90 degrees and continued, so that it ended up evenly shaped.
4. The original recipe suggests wrapping the lightly-rolled dough around your dowel or rolling pin, and roll quickly back and forth, after which the dough neatly unrolls from the pin, thinner and larger. When I tried this, I ended up with a sticky muddle which would not unroll from the pin. But the roll-and-stretch approach produced good results.
5. Keep rolling until the dough is as thin as possible. If it has some small tears, this doesn't matter and won't show, as long as you have one neat and tidy sheet for the very top of the finished baklava. Also, as you cut the phyllo to fit the shape of your tin, if it isn't as thin around the very edges this won't matter as this area will be trimmed away.
6. Towards the end, it can be easiest to pick the dough up and stretch it out with your hands (a little like pizza dough).

Assemble the baklava
1. Line the tin with baking paper and brush with melted butter. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) (I didn't use the fan setting).
2. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the first sheet of phyllo to fit the base of the tin. As I have several 9 inch square pans (they're the perfect size for brownies), I used an empty tin as a template for cutting out the sheets. If you just have one tin, cutting a piece of paper to the right size would also work well.
3. Carefully place the sheet into the tin, making sure it is flat and not curled up in the corners.
4. Brush the phyllo sheet very lightly with melted butter.
5. Repeat this process with another 4 phyllo sheets, brushing lightly with butter in between. After this, you should have five layers of phyllo in the tin, with butter brushed in between and on the top layer.
6. Add an even layer of the filling on top of the phyllo, making sure it goes right to the edges. The recipe advocates adding 1/3 of the filling, but I found I had so much filling it was more like a bit less than a quarter.
7. Repeat the process with another 5 sheets of buttered phyllo and then add more filling.
8. Repeat the process again.
9. Finish with 5 layers of buttered phyllo. Make sure your final sheet is even and rip-free.
10. Gently tuck any stray edges of phyllo down the sides of the tin using a spatula. Pat the baklava down so that it's even and to remove any air bubbles.
11. Using a sharp knife (a small paring knife worked well, as it was easy to maneuver in the tin), cut the baklava into pieces. I cut mine into 25 squares (5 by 5), then cut each square on the diagonal. If it's tricky to get all the way to the bottom, don't worry as this can be finished part-way through baking, although I found it ok to do fully before baking).
12. Brush liberally with melted butter, ensuring the phyllo is completely covered and there are no bare spots.
13. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and, if necessary, finish cutting all the way through to the bottom of the tin. Return the tin to the oven for around another 30 minutes, or until the top of the baklava is an even light golden brown. Mine took exactly one hour in total.

Start making the syrup when you put the baklava into the oven, so it will have time to cool to room temperature by the time the baklava is ready. When adding the syrup to the baklava, once of the two needs to be hot, and the other at room temperature - doing it this way round seemed to be quicker and easier than waiting for baklava to cool and adding boiling syrup.
1. Combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan. Stir occasionally over a medium heat until the sugar has fully dissolved.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Set aside to cool, then strain into a jug.

Finishing off
1. As soon as you remove the baklava from the oven, pour the cooled syrup over the top, starting by pouring it along all the cut lines, and finishing by ensuring that the whole surface has been coated with the syrup. It looks like an enormous amount of syrup, but it will absorb to produce a beautifully sticky baklava.
2. Leave the baklava overnight to rest and absorb the syrup. The finished baklava can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature (if it lasts that long) or in the fridge if you prefer (which will make it firmer and less gooey).

Sticky Penguin's Macadamia & Lemon Myrtle Baklava

I was really quite thrilled with how well the baklava turned out, as I'd never made it before (or made my own phyllo pastry). It looked quite convincing, and smelled sweet and fragrant. The Other Penguin was quite impressed with the look of it, too.

The verdict on the tasting will be updated on this post tomorrow, after the finished product has been sampled at work...

* Lightly roasted and wrapped in prosciutto, perhaps? Although not for some of us, who just can't handle cute food...


Unexpected Sweetness – Sticky Date Cake

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do shiny new recipe books follow you home like wayward kittens and creep into every room of the house until they reach such epic proportions that they threaten to fall with a terrible splat! into a bowl of cake batter*? Or is that just around this neck of the woods? My name is Sticky Penguin and I’m addicted to cookbooks.
The Other Penguin has taken evasive action in an effort to slow the arrival of further cookbooks (realising that stopping them entirely is likely to be like trying to bail out the QE2 with a tea cup). He arrived home last week with two glossy books of desserts borrowed from the library. A quiet evening of reading and gluttonously plotting baking efforts followed...

Sticky Date Cake, made by the Sticky Penguin from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman

The first of the books was The Sweet Life. Not to be confused with The Sweet Life In Paris, David Lebovitz’s love affair with Paris that guided so much delicious pootling around that city last year, this is a book of desserts by Kate Zuckerman, the former pastry chef at Chanterelle in New York. Sadly, after going in search of the restaurant online in anticipation of trying some of their sweet offerings for myself, I found that after 30 years in business and being among the first wave of fine dining destinations in TriBeCa, Chanterelle had fallen foul of the financial meltdown and closed in 2009.

Zuckerman was named in 2005 as one of the ten best US pastry chefs by Pastry Art & Design and Chocolatier magazines (now combined into Dessert Professional). So she knows her onions. Or perhaps that should be her quinces. And tarts. And chocolate... Best of all, she’s keen to share her knowledge along with her creations. The Sweet Life mixes the how-to of essential dessert basics – browning butter, making caramel, even simply creaming butter and sugar – with recipes applying those skills along with a handful of variations to inspire you to venture into new territory for yourself.

Sticky Date Cake, made by the Sticky Penguin from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman

Many high-profile chefs can be all about personality, whether bubbling with butter and slapdash enthusiasm or instructing with haughty precision. Zuckerman, while leaving you in no doubt of her passion, has a pleasantly conversational tone. She offers the helpful guidance of an experienced mentor standing beside the kitchen bench, ready to let you try to scale new heights but ready with advice before you bite off more than you can chew.

Some people might find the frequent cross references to tips and techniques on other pages of the book an unwelcome distraction. However, I liked that these were largely for extra information, with the method for each recipe all found in one place so avoided the need to flick back and forth with floury hands or at crucial moments. Notes explaining the science underlying the method (written with the input of Kirsten Hubbard, a food scientist) are also a useful resource for those, like me, whose baking experiments begin with “I wonder what would happen if...”.

Sticky Date Cake, made by the Sticky Penguin from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman

The book is grouped into chapters by type of dessert that run the gamut from tarts to ice creams and candies. There are quick options for a last-minute dessert or a rainy afternoon (flourless chocolate bête noir, strawberry-rhubarb crisp), approachable challenges (chocolate caramel tart, prune armagnac creme brûlée) and stand-out-show-off showpieces (cardamom and honey pistachio nougat glacé). Tina Rupp’s photography shows off the detail of a selection of Zuckerman’s recipes – although, for those who use the photo rather than the ingredients to make their selection, be warned that not all of the recipes are illustrated.

In an ever-more-crowded field of dessert cookbooks, The Sweet Life is a valuable guide for those eager to learn new techniques as well as expanding their repertoire.

Sticky Date Cake, made by the Sticky Penguin from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman

Trying to decide where to begin in testing out some recipes, the Date Cake with Toffee Sauce looked like the perfect way to use up a bag of fresh Medjool dates lurking neglectedly at the bottom of the fridge. While the recipe wasn’t a difficult one, I was interested in applying the guidance on effectively creaming butter and sugar to achieve a light consistency and the highly liquid cake batter was a way to put my newly repaired oven** to the test.

The recipe, with metric conversions and my extra notes and comments, is as follows:

Date Cake from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle
What you need
255 g / 9 oz fresh dates (I used around 15 Medjool dates)
2 tbsp brandy (the recipe also suggests you could use Grand Marnier)
2 tsp instant espresso powder
170 g / 6 oz / 12 tbsp butter, at room temperature
175 g / 1 cup soft brown sugar (references to cups are US cups, not metric)
4 eggs, at room temperature
220 g / 1¾ cups plain flour
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

What to do
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). 
2. Line a 23 cm (9 inch) square cake tin with baking paper.
3. Halve the dates and remove the pits. Place the dates in a mixing bowl and add the brandy and espresso powder. Add 240 ml (1 cup) of boiling water to the bowl and allow the mixture to steep for 10 minutes.
4. Puree the date mixture in a food processor (or you could use a resilient stick blender, or a stand mixer) - it doesn't have to be completely smooth.
5. Cream the butter for 1 minute in a stand mixer, then add the sugar and continue creaming for another 6 to 8 minutes, until the mixture is light, fluffy and pale. Stop periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix on low speed for around 20 seconds after each one. If it starts to look curdled, don't worry about it - it will balance out when the dry ingredients are added. 
7. In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Don't add the bicarb soda yet - just in case you were going to plonk in all the dry ingredients, and then go 'bugger' after going back to the recipe (which didn't happen this time...). With the mixer on slow speed, and half the flour mixture to the butter, sugar and eggs.
8. Add the bicarb soda to the date mixture and stir for around 10 seconds. 
9. Keeping the mixer on slow, add the date mixture to the cake batter and incorporate thoroughly. Then, add the remaining half of the flour and spices and mix until combined and no floury streaks remain. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on slow speed for 30 seconds.
10. Pour the batter into the lined tin, and level the top with a spoon or spatula. It's a very runny batter before being baked, just in case you look at it and wonder how it's going to turn into a cake (or is it just me that has those worries, borne of the until-now dodgy oven?). Bake on the centre shelf of the oven, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the centre of the cake is set when tested with a thin skewer. My cake was done after 48 minutes. Allow to cool in the cake tin, then turn out onto a wire rack.
Note: The recipe book suggests serving the cake with warm toffee sauce, although I think it would be wonderful with custard. A coffee ganache could also be interesting to try. I was taking the cake to share at work, so kept it plain (a sticky cake is so much trickier in that setting), and just sprinkled it lightly with icing sugar. 

Sticky Date Cake, made by the Sticky Penguin from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman
The novelty of an evenly baked cake after a newly fixed oven

The finished cake was the beautiful dark golden colour of a jar of treacle held up to the light. The coffee and brandy introduced deeper, subtler flavours than found in the sticky date cakes and toffee puddings on cafe menus from Double Bay to Dungog. It had a light, almost springy texture. While lovely and moist, no hint of its runny incarnation prior to baking remained. Also, to my enormous delight, the cake rose gently and evenly. Perhaps to truly experience the joy of a functional oven, you need to have suffered five years of grappling with a disgruntled Smeg.

If all new baking efforts turned out as well as the Sticky Date Cake, it would be a sweet life indeed...

Sticky Date Cake, made by the Sticky Penguin from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman

* And I do mean the recipe books here, not the kittens. Although I’d be so happy to have a kitten that I mightn’t mind too much having to wrangle a squirming, biting one in a bowl of soapy water to clean up the result of the splat!
** For those of you familiar with the trials of the Evil Smeg, it has lately had its thermostat replaced, causing great joy and rejoicing in one half of the penguin household, and a welcome break from (quite so many) dark mutterings from the kitchen in the other half.


Paddington Bear On A Diet – Marmalade Loaf

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sometimes, you just feel like baking something quick and easy without ending up with a kitchen full of over-indulgence waiting to happen. A little sweetness, just enough to keep you going. Something you could toast lightly and call breakfast. Or supper. Or afternoon tea.

Sticky Penguin's marmalade loaf

Something like a marmalade loaf, perhaps. It’s faintly sweeter than bread from a sunny zing of orange marmalade, a bit more unassuming than a cake, with a satisfying tender, almost scone-like consistency. At first bite, it seems so innocent – but it creeps up on you* and whispers like the angel on your shoulder (a warm, plump sort of an angel) to abandon the sinful excesses of those devilishly indulgent brownies and follow the true path to baking enlightenment. But before I lapse into any more extravagant personification, perhaps I should just get on with telling you how it’s made, and let it convince you for yourself...

Sticky Penguin's marmalade loaf

Marmalade Loaf
Adapted, very slightly, from Serious Eats 
What you need
237ml / 4 fl oz / 1 (US) cup milk (I used non-fat skim milk)
57 g / 2 oz / 4 tablespoons butter
113 g / 4 oz / ½ (US) cup orange marmalade (using good quality marmalade - or home-made - makes a big difference; I used Bonne Maman)
1 tsp lemon juice
383 g / 13½ oz / 3 (US) cups plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

What to do
1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
2. Line a loaf tin (I use one that measures 23½ x 13 cm (9¼ x 4¼ inches)) with baking paper.
3. Over a low heat, melt the butter with the milk in a saucepan. Remove from the stove and add the marmalade, mixing in well (I found the back of a fork useful to break up the marmalade-y clumps). Allow to cool for around 10 minutes, and stir in the lemon juice.
4. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir to combine. Add them to the contents of the saucepan and mix until combined (given the scone-like texture of the loaf, avoid over-mixing, as it’s likely to make it tough and chewy).
5. Spoon the batter into the lined tin and spread out evenly (if you’re using particularly chunky marmalade, poke in any bits of orange zest sticking up from the top of the batter, as they are likely to turn dark brown during baking – they still taste good, but detract a bit from the appearance, if that sort of thing is important to you).
6. Bake for around 40 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then slide out onto a wire rack to finish cooling (the loaf is delicious served still warm, but if you leave it sitting in the tin for too long, it can get a little damp underneath).

The marmalade loaf has come in handy when baking for friends who are trying to steer clear of tooth-aching quantities of sugar, and for the Other Penguin to take to work for a home-made snack that’s sustaining but doesn’t result in a sugar crash half an hour later. I also like that it’s so easy to transport compared to lots of baking, too – no sticky icing, a regular shape that can be wrapped in paper and foil (or a tea towel) and not too prone to being squished**.

I’d like to try out some variations next time I make this loaf, starting with the substitution of the quince marmalade I recently made from a David Lebovitz recipe, but also experimenting with other flavours of marmalade and jam. And a little voice in my head in wondering whether the angel and the devil can reach agreement with a nutella loaf...

Sticky Penguin's marmalade loaf

* Not literally – I’m not sure whether being crept up on by baked goods is the stuff of dreams or of cheese-on-toast-induced nightmares... 
** This is the sort of practical consideration that comes from far too many occasions of wrangling bags of dance gear with boxes of muffins, bounding out of taxis with foil-wrapped packages of cake, and walking round Centennial park with carrier bags of brownies.


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