Thursday, December 8, 2011

You mightn't think that penguins have all that much to do - go fishing, waddle about, slide across the ice, shiver a little - and yet, it seems to have been inordinately busy around these parts over the past few weeks. Here are a few snippets of the latest goings on...

A fading rose is still quite lovely Studying colourfully Too much Coke Zero
Taking time to notice that things can be beautiful without being perfect
Studying colourfully, hopefully for the very last time - studying colourfully doesn't come close enough to embodying Kate Spade's maxim of living colourfully
Far, far too much caffeine (and far, far too little sleep)
Caramelised white chocolate and 'the whole package' gelato at Gelato Messina Step away from the vending machine - too late! Chicken and avocado sandwich on Brasserie Bread sourdough
A long walk in the sunshine, with a detour for gelato. This one was caramelised white chocolate and ‘the whole package’ (peanut butter, banana and salted caramel) from Gelato Messina. Much as I love to try something new, my heart (or its arteries, at least) belongs to the salted caramel and white chocolate. And my curiosity hankers after the strawbachio (strawberry and pistachio – another long walk will be needed very soon...)
A spell of subsisting on the offerings of the vending machine at work (thank goodness that's over!)
The cafe downstairs has wonderful chicken and avocado sandwiches on Brasserie Bread sourdough - a good way to recover from a deadline. Getting away from the vending machine's good, but getting further than the foyer will be even better
Cherry calissons with lemon icing Unexpected glamour Pecan, caramel  pumpkin Sans Rival for Daring Bakers
Making calissons for the first time – these ones are cherry flavoured, with lemon icing (a bit of pink icing never goes astray)
A very late night combining glamour (unusually for me, and apparently second nature for many of the others) and sobriety (second nature for me, and apparently entirely anathema for many of the others)
Taking time to prepare things that aren’t perfect to be a little more beautiful can be rewarding (I’m starting to realise that instagram is handy for test shots, too)
Potato and rosemary sourdough from Bourke St Bakery's new Potts Point store Some sweet reading Everything's better when you're wearing something sparkly
Fresh, warm potato and rosemary sourdough from the new Bourke Street Bakery in Potts Point
Some light and sugary reading for the week.
Because I can’t just bounce between Daring Bakers and batches of brownies forever, when there are so many wonderful cakes to be made
A little something sparkly picked up on the walk home – a flippy metallic skirt from Minty Meets Munt

Wherever you are, I hope you're having a lovely (and sparkly) week...


Nutty But Thankful - Pecan, Maple and Pumpkin Sans Rival Cake

Monday, December 5, 2011

In the midst of chaos, being told (or even gently encouraged) to be thankful can be akin to having the Trifle-Eating Cat's Dad shout "Dropped it!" on hearing a crash from an adjacent room. That is, it's completely true, patently obvious even if you don't want to hear it, and therefore entirely infuriating*. And yet, there can be a lot to be thankful for, even if you have to poke under a few rocks to think of it. Good friends. Sleeping in. The prospect of Christmas. The absence of bagpipes. More occasions than usual to justify wearing sparkly shoes. The limitless patience of the Other Penguin.

Pecan, caramel and pumpkin Sans Rival cake
Pecan, caramel and pumpkin Sans Rival cake - an innocent buttercream exterior hides nutty meringue inside...

Thanksgiving, a holiday that (unsurprisingly, given its origins) passes in Australia with barely so much as a peep, has just been and gone for another year (passing with a much louder peep indeed on the food blogs, where pumpkins and pecans abound in every possible incarnation). This was on my mind when I tackled this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious sans rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog. In a rare application of common sense, I decided that, much as I did want to try an additional dessert (when do I not...?), it was wiser to tackle one thing with conviction than bite off more than I could chew and end up grumpy (and with a pair of baking fails).

Pecan, caramel and pumpkin Sans Rival cake
Alternating layers of pecan meringue and caramel buttercream, with pumpkin cookie dough for good measure and to add to the festive flavours

A sans rival cake is a form of dacquoise which involves alternating layers of (traditionally) cashew meringue and buttercream. When I first read about the resulting crunchy, silky, rich confection, it sounded like eating a generously buttered cloud. Half the fun of Daring Bakers is trying to find a creative way to interpret the given recipe (the other half, I often have to remind myself while muttering intently at something untried and initially seemingly impossible, is the challenge bit of it). So, I decided to combine my Filipino dessert with a US celebration, and bring Thanksgiving to the Sans Rival...

My sans rival incorporated layers of pecan meringue and caramel buttercream with, for good measure, gooey pumpkin cookie dough with more pecans added.

The finished recipe was a mix of invention and evolution. It began with the discovery that pumpkin was thin on the ground in my local supermarket, unless I felt inclined to roast and puree it myself (which I didn't). This led to some improvising with pumpkin soup and brown sugar, which produced a satisfyingly rich and pumpkin-y syrup. I also discovered that this was another recipe that didn't lend itself to a rustic baker - the assembly process had more in common with bricklaying than with Donna Hay.

Pecan, caramel and pumpkin Sans Rival cake
The rustic effort in icing the cake didn't detract from its indulgent taste (phew!)

However, after the finished cake had been put in the fridge to cool down and set, it turned out surprisingly well. It wasn't particularly cloud-like, as the nuttiness of the meringue gave it more substance and texture than the melting crunch of the regular variety. The deep caramel flavour kept the taste of the buttercream from being dominated by, well, butter. Combined with the pumpkin cookie dough, the finished cake had a complexity that was belied by its rather cobbled-together look. Still, it was very indulgent, and a little cake went a long way.

Pecan, caramel and pumpkin Sans Rival cake
Don't be taken in by its small size - even a half-size Sans Rival packs a serious sugar hit

If you'd like to make your own Thanksgiving Sans Rival, here's what to do...

What you need
For the pecan meringue
(note: this was half the quantity in the original recipe, as I decided to make a smaller cake)
120 g chopped pecans
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ cream of tartar
113 g sugar
For the caramel sauce
(note: this makes more than needed for the recipe - I simply can't imagine what leftover caramel sauce could be useful for, though!)
115 g butter
200 g sugar
120 ml cream
For the maple buttercream
(note: this is the full quantity from the original recipe, as adapted for my flavourings. Why twice as much buttercream as meringue? Well, it matched the number of egg yolks remaining, as well as giving a bit of room for trial and error. But there was still way too much - enough to ice a batch of small cupcakes as well, for instance...
5 egg yolks, at room temperature
225 g  sugar
60 ml water
275 g butter
2½ tbsp maple syrup
180 ml caramel sauce
For the pumpkin cookie dough
560 ml pumpkin soup (I used Darikay)
150 g dark brown sugar
75 g butter
125 g dark brown sugar, additional
200 g flour
1½ tbsp molasses
130 g roughly chopped pecans

What to do
For the pecan meringue
1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line the base of two 10 cm springform cake tins (or four if you have them - I needed to do two batches of two) with baking paper, and grease the sides with butter, taking care not to miss any spots as the meringue will stick very easily.
2. Whiz the pecans in a food processor until they are roughly ground. (The recipe recommends not processing them so much that they become an even powder, as the textural contrast of the nuts is an important part of the cake).
3. Whisk the egg whites until frothy (around 2 minutes in a stand mixer), then add the cream of tartar. Continue whisking on high speed, adding the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, until firm glossy peaks form.
4. Gently fold the ground pecans into the egg whites.
5. Carefully dollop the meringue batter into the prepared cake tins. Plonk the tins down on the kitchen bench to ensure there aren't any gaps (just the once or it'll knock out all the air), and level the top with a knife or an offset spatula
6. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cooked meringues from the tins 2-3 minutes after removing from the oven, and place on a wire rack to cool. Then, wash, re-line and grease the cake tins, fill with the second batch of meringue batter and bake.
Important notes on baking time: I scaled back the original meringue recipe by half, and cooked it in smaller tins. Even after this, I ended up filling the cake tin each time. In hindsight, thinner, flatter meringues would have cooked more quickly and evenly, and then been easier to work with when assembling the finished sans rival.
Interestingly, the results varied quite significantly between batches - while the same quantity was put in the tins, the first batch came out thinner and crispier, and the second batch was thicker and chewier. I left both batches in the warm oven overnight and then, before preparing to assemble them, cooked them (on the wire rack, not in their tins) for a further 60 minutes at 120°C. This helped dry them out and crisp them up appreciably more. And taught me (yet again) that tinkering with recipes I've never attempted before can have mixed results and need a bit of tweaking.
For the caramel sauce
7. Put the butter and sugar in a large saucepan and heat, stirring only minimally, until it turns golden brown. When it's ready, it will be starting to turn a darker brown, and may still look almost frothy. If you leave it till it's going too much darker, it'll get beyond salvation as it keeps cooking after removed from the heat.
8. Remove the pan from the stove and add the cream, ¼ cup at a time, stirring in between. The mixture will froth and bubble up as the cream is added, so be careful not to get scalded. Also, be careful not to sound like a little old woman when writing recipes full of boiling sugar...
9. Allow the caramel sauce to cool to room temperature before using it in the buttercream.
For the maple buttercream
10. Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and beat on high speed until they are thick and pale yellow, and almost double in size (this took quite a bit longer than I expected).
11. Put the sugar and water in a large saucepan, and heat until it reaches 112°C. As it heats, brush the sides of the pan occasionally with water to avoid sugar crystals forming.
12. Make sure the splash guard is on your mixer, and very carefully, slowly pour the scarily hot sugar syrup into the egg yolks. Mix at high speed until the egg and sugar mixture has cooled to room temperature, which takes around 15 minutes.
13. Add the room temperature butter about a tablespoon at a time, and continue beating on high. It helps to make sure that each addition of butter is incorporated before adding more. Then, add the maple syrup and beat in until well combined.
Important note on adding the sugar syrup: The recipe requires this to be done with the mixer on high speed, but my wariness around boiling sugar meant it was on about middling speed, and the syrup went in far quicker than it should've. I was very, very nervous indeed that it was going to turn into scrambled eggs. While it wasn't perfect, it ended up not being too bad for my first ever attempt at French buttercream. It improved significantly as the rest of the steps were completed.
14. Refrigerate the buttercream for at least an hour (mine was in the fridge for over 12 hours, to enable baking to fit round important things like sleeping and going for brunch with the Penguin Wrangler). This is the finished buttercream as adapted from the original recipe - it reminded me that I find buttercream, well, entirely too buttery and without enough other flavour, so I decided now that it needed something else to give it some depth. That something was caramel...
15. When ready to assemble the sans rival, remove the buttercream from the fridge and beat on high speed. Add 180 ml of caramel sauce, a little at a time, and beat until thoroughly incorporated.
For the pumpkin cookie dough
16. Put the pumpkin soup and 150 g of dark brown sugar in a saucepan and heat until thick and syrupy - about 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
17. Beat the butter until pale, add  125 g of dark brown sugar and cream together with the butter until light and pale.
18. Alternately add the syrupy soup and the flour, a little at a time of each, to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well at a slow speed after each addition.
19. Add the molasses and mix thoroughly, then add the chopped pecans and mix again to distribute evenly through the cookie dough. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
To assemble the sans rival
20. Trim the edges of the meringue so that the layers are an even roundness. I also sliced each of the two meringues from my second batch into two thinner layers, so they were consistent with the thickness of the layers from the first batch.
21. Starting with a layer of meringue, alternate layers of meringue and buttercream, spreading the buttercream to the edges, Every third layer, add a layer of pumpkin cookie dough.
22. Spread the sans rival with buttercream and decorate with additional crushed pecans. I also added some chopped pecans in caramel sauce to the top of the cake.
23. Refrigerate the finished cake until ready to serve, and before cutting it.
Assembly is resoundingly not my strong suit, not by a long shot. My initial reaction to the sans rival was that it would have plenty of rivals, and would succeed on appearances only by pulling a proverbial Steven Bradbury... I ended up with a badly engineered tower with an uneven smeary coat of buttercream. Paddington Bear would have been very proud.

Pecan, caramel and pumpkin Sans Rival cake

* It may not surprise you after hearing this to hear that the Trifle-Eating Cat's Dad has prior form in consulting, which involves saying much the same things, only about technical matters and getting paid for it...


Yes Sir! Three Bags Full (Of Breakfast)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sometimes, the prospect of a holiday can be a more powerful motivation than the holiday itself. It's all about anticipation (which might be a point that's reinforced by my family's tendency to open their Christmas presents in, at best, late afternoon - and not just because we're too busy grazing). One of my favourite things to look forward to about a holiday is the very important matter of where to eat. It's where my holiday planning efforts begin and (perhaps to the occasional frustration of the Other Penguin) often where they end, too.

Sticky gingerbread for breakfast at Three Bags Full
Sticky gingerbread with mascarpone, cumquats and pistachios

Time Out's list of the best breakfasts in Melbourne was one of my starting points on the trail for promising restaurants and cafes before a recent long weekend visit. The combination of tea cup light shades and "grungy warehouse chic" at Three Bags Full sounded intriguing, so I popped over to its website. And it had me at Sticky Black Gingerbread. Hook, line and sinker.

The menu at Three Bags Full
The menu at Three Bags Full

It was a good thing I was committed and, perhaps, an even better thing that there aren't too many other brekky options in the vicinity of Three Bags Full on a wide but surprisingly peaceful road in Abbotsford. Because the rest of Melbourne's discovered it too. And when we got there, at a pleasantly civilised hour of mid-morning, they all seemed to be ahead of us in the queue. We fidgeted and chatted, eyeing the rather hardy souls game to sit in the still-rather-nippy fresh air at outside table under the hungry gaze of the waiting hordes, and held out for a table indoors.

The cafe felt comfortably modern and quirky, and rather reminded me of the artfully curated style at Anthropologie. The tea cup lights above the counter added a spark of whimsical colour, while road signs turned into stools and vintage finds brought an industrial edge and hinted at the building's past. I had plenty of time to take it all in as, being so busy, service was a little stretched (but also friendly).

Inside at Three Bags Full in Melbourne
The cosy interior - love the teacup lights

Looking at the menu was a bit of a cursory effort for me - I already knew exactly what I was going to order. Although twice-baked French toast sounded pretty appealing, too. And so did the braised leek and potato omelette with gruyere.

The Other Penguin opted for the big breakfast, which was very true to its name - even after the appetite-whetting queue, it was a bit too big to finish. It included eggs, bacon, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, a rich and slightly obscene looking cheese kransky, relish and toast.

Big breakfast at Three Bags Full

Cheese kransky - part of the big breakfast at Three Bags Full
The (very) big brekky at Three Bags Full

The keenly-anticipated gingerbread initially concerned me with its crunchy-edged appearance. Where was the stickiness I was hoping for? As it turned out, though, toasting the gingerbread was a great move - it gave it a textural contrast to the rich smoothness of the vanilla bean mascarpone and the syrupy tang of the candied cumquats that accompanied it. And the sprinkle of pistachios brought it together. The menu grouped it into the 'Sweet Tooth' section, and it was definitely indulgent - but not tooth-achingly so. Looking forward to a particular dish for a fortnight could have created an almost-insurmountable expectation, but this was the perfect beginning to set up a hungry penguin for a day of pootling across town.

Sticky gingerbread with vanilla mascarpone, candied cumquats and pistachios at Three Bags Full

The menu of reliable favourites plus some more unusual options and the friendly laid-back atmosphere make Three Bags Full worth the wait. Which is lucky, because it could be quite a while before I make it back to Melbourne to have more gingerbread for breakfast... but it all just adds to the anticipation.

Three Bags Full on Urbanspoon


Take An Umbrella In Case There Are Cupcakes

Sunday, November 20, 2011

When it's raining and sunny at the same time, there are rainbows. But if it's raining while you eat a cupcake... does that mean you end up with sprinkles?

Or do you just end up with soggy icing, feeling like you've ended up in MacArthur Park?

With cupcakes like these, you might not even notice it was raining...

Cupcakes with cupcakes on top - eep! These ones are from Baked Perfection

I love this colour combination, too (they're actually truffles, but they're so pretty I'll let them off)...

Cupcake truffles from The Family Kitchen

Or, for something (slightly) more understated, there are these sandwich cookies...

Banilla sandwich cookies by Bakers Royale

If I was going to eat cupcakes in the rain, this might be the perfect skirt to wear while I'm out there...

Twinkle Lights pencil skirt from Anthropologie

I think I'd wear it with a simple black top and black patent wellies. It's important to look glamorous when you're out in the rain eating a cupcake, after all.

It's hard not to feel cheerful surrounded by sprinkles (or sparkles). You might even feel like dancing...

Photo by diastema via weheartit

Dancing in the rain with a cupcake? Just perfect...


Sweet Dreams

Friday, November 18, 2011

In the list of trade-offs to try and do seven impossible things before breakfast, sleep is almost always the first thing to go (and that's before reconciling myself to the notion that sometimes, doing two and a bit things by afternoon tea is as good as it's going to get). Sticky Penguin, brought to you by an Awful Lot Of Caffeine - so much that it requires capital letters to convey just how much.

But, even after going to bed, sleep can be elusive. There are things to think about, to worry about, to plan. Terribly pressing matters of global significance, like what sort of filling should go in the next batch of brownies, when on earth I'll get my Daring Bakers done, and whether wearing black to work three days out of five is unimaginative. And the dreams that follow can sometimes be much the same...

Would those dreams be that much sweeter if you went to sleep snuggled in crisp, clean layers of... chocolate?

Chocolate sheets from Bed Toppings 
(not to be confused with bed hopping, which is something else entirely - or so I hear)

The pillows are the same sort of too-cute-for-words as Japanese food erasers (and if you've noticed the new profile picture lately, you might spot a certain weakness there!)...

Chocolate pillow case from Bed Toppings 

Sadly, they're only available for kids - the size of kids that sleep in single beds, that is. Those of us bigger kids who dream of dozing off in more of a family-sized block of chocolate will just have to... keep dreaming.

Bed Toppings was discovered while pottering on - source of all sorts of distractions and covetable (or, in this case, duvetable? Nope, that really doesn't work...), and which hasn't had anything to do with this post - the only sort of sponsoring of penguins happens here.


Not Over The Rainbow Yet

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A sure-fire way to crave a particular food more than ever is when you Just. Can’t. Have. It. Recent hankerings after viennoise au chocolat, crack pie, fondant fancies and (absurdly after all that sugar overload) diet Cherry Coke support this highly scientific allegation based on a gluttonous sample of one.

The difficulty in obtaining some (although by no means all) of the various things to eat that skitter distractedly across the bit of my brain that is permanently devoted to thoughts of food is their belonging to a particular place or a specific point in time. The power of food to transport you somewhere else is simply amazing.

When I came across this photo, it immediately made me think of food...

Rainbow piano photo
Photo via Satellite True

Probably not the reaction you’d expect from a picture like that! But it took me straight back to being a small girl in New Zealand, waiting with my dad for a Friday-night order of fish and chips to be ready. The takeaway shop had walls panelled with wood-printed laminate, and a tank of tropical fish that I never thought to connect with the coming meal. The fish – often shark – was thickly coated with batter that never seemed soggy in the middle and was extra-specially crunchy towards the head and the tail. And the chips were crispy and golden with fluffy middles and a generous sprinkling of salt, in the days before people worried about high blood pressure.

Sometimes, after the fish and chips, there might be the promise of a rainbow bar. Like a bigger, better version of a licorice allsort, rainbow bars were long and thin and came in packs of six, each a different colour. I was convinced the candy exteriors had distinguishable flavours, and whether they really did was maybe less important than your imagining it was true. I almost wonder whether I imagined the rainbow bars themselves, because when I went in search of them, they were nowhere to be found...

That’s a lot of memories to come from a brightly coloured piano. What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve come across that’s made you think of a particular food? I’d love to hear about it...


Comfort Food From Outside The Comfort Zone - South East Asian Food

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What does 1970s food make you think of? Retro dinner party classics like prawn cocktail and beef wellington, perhaps. The sweet nostalgia of blancmange, peach melba, knickerbocker glory and trifle (always trifle). Pot luck dinners and so-uncool-it-never-goes-out-of-style fondue. Leaving for work or school only after a Proper Cooked Breakfast. More pre-packaging – TV dinners and fish fingers anybody? (didn’t think so...).

Lots of those things have a rather stodgy waft of comfortable familiarity. Some are rib-sticking and hearty and even dishes that once seemed the height of sophistication (devils on horseback and duck a l’orange?) are something to be tucked into and enjoyed, rather than a delicate morsel artfully arranged on a plate.  They can evoke feelings of childhood and a sense of innocent – even naive? – pleasure in food, even in people who didn’t grow up in the 70s. But not all the recipes from back conjure up images of Kath & Kim crossed with Enid Blyton.

South East Asian Food by Rosemary Brissenden
South East Asian Food by Rosemary Brissenden

The idea of what was exotic was very different to now. Unless they were part of your native culture, things as simple as espresso, pumpernickel, souvlaki and felafel were curiosities that didn’t lurk on every corner (although 20 odd years later, I used to get funny looks eating pate sandwiches for lunch at school…). Chinese food was likely to begin with spring rolls and end with sweet and sour pork. But some people had a broader frame of reference…

Rosemary Brissenden first visited South East Asia in 1957 when she was a student at Melbourne University. South East Asian cuisine was largely unknown beyond those who’d experienced it first-hand and Australian food at that time was yet to stake out its territory as a global pick-n-mix held together with something of its own. Brissenden set to and wrote South East Asian Food, which was first published in 1969 and was the definitive guide to food from that region.

Over forty years later, a substantial new edition of the book has been released. In the cluttered and growing cookbook market full of next big things and toqued experts, South East Asian Food has become an enduring classic while staying relevant and up to date. It can be described as a seminal work without a trace of hyperbole – an assertion supported by Elizabeth David providing a ringing endorsement on the book’s warm chartreuse cover.

A book that every serious cook should possess - Elizabeth David
"A book that every serious cook should possess" - Elizabeth David"

I first approached South East Asian Food with a degree of caution; its initial impression is of a Book That Means Business. Its heft reminded me of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion which, I learned to my surprise, was only published in 1996.

South East Asian Food isn’t like the majority of modern recipe books. It isn’t a glossy coffee table book designed for show (or showing off) as much as for cooking. Nor is it a magazine-style format to flick lazily through on a weekend afternoon before, with a rumbling tummy, pottering into the kitchen to try out whatever caught your eye. It has more in common with a textbook – investing some time reading carefully and planning your approach will reward you by unlocking flavours that – for me, at least – I’d not imagined being able to recreate at home.

Lamb and spinach curry - it tastes more exotic than it sounds
Lamb and spinach curry - its not-so-exotic name belies its depth of flavour

The book’s authoritativeness and detail could make it initially a bit intimidating for readers who are new to recipes from the region, or who favour cookbooks full of glossy pictures showing the finished product. However, Brissenden is a patient teacher. Her style is instructive and no-nonsense, a little like being taught by a slightly stern but very wise and generous aunty. The instructions are direct and clear, and explain why things are done a certain way (satisfying both my curiosity and my ignorance). A touch of lightness is provided by Daniella Germain’s illustrations (now taking centre stage of their own accord in My Abuela’s Table).

Daniella Germain's illustrations in South East Asian Food
Daniella Germain's illustrations in South East Asian Food
A couple of Daniella Germain's illustrations in South East Asian Food

South East Asian Food traverses a culinary journey from Indonesia to Vietnam, passing through Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia along the way. The recipes are arranged by country and then into categories – grills and barbecues, braises, fried dishes, curries of almost every sort and persuasion. Brissenden gives an insight into each country’s culinary history and traditions, important ingredients and how meals are served. This follows a meaty introduction to ingredients and techniques, which instructs on everything from ‘making prawns crunchy’ to the uses of fresh coconut and making your own Javanese soya sauce.

If the 1970s are, at first glance, all about comfort food, South East Asian Food took me far outside of my comfort zone. I can safely confess to being a complete novice in relation to cooking Asian food of any variety and most of my experiments tend firmly towards sweet rather than spicy. The first recipe I tried was a lamb and spinach curry from Malaysia, and involved making my own curry powder. The finished dish had a depth of flavour that grew on the Other Penguin and me with each mouthful. It was quite mild, but had a subtle intensity – the freshly made curry powder made a noticeable and refreshing difference. As it turns out, this recipe was comfort food - just perhaps not the kind I'd first think of...

Lamb and spinach curry
Lamb and spinach curry

Being in such new territory, I tried to minimise my tinkering with the recipe. There were a few items where I used some pre-ground spices because they were what I had to hand, but I was keen to stay true to the instructions to get a good sense of the intended flavours.

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

Meat Curry Powder
(The quantities below are for a quarter of the recipe shown in the book – the original recipe makes a substantial amount, and I thought it was worth seeing how it tasted before making a giant batch (especially as the Other Penguin has quite a low chilli threshold))

What you need
25 g coriander seeds
8 g cumin seeds (I used ground cumin)
8 g fennel seeds (I used ground fennel seeds)
3 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black peppercorns
9 dried chillies (or more to taste – even twice as many if you like it hot…)

What to do
1.     Roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and turmeric lightly in a dry pan for around a minute and a half.
2.     Remove the spices from the heat and place in a mortar or the bowl of a small food processor (I used the attachment for a stick blender), add the peppercorns and dried chillies and whizz (or grind with a pestle) to a powder. 

Making lamb and spinach curry
Making lamb and spinach curry

Lamb and Spinach Curry

What you need

1 tbsp grapeseed oil (the recipe uses ghee or other vegetable oil)
1 large brown onion, cut in half across and then sliced finely
1 cardamom pod, broken open
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped finely
1 tbsp meat curry powder, from the recipe above
500 g very lean lamb, cut into 2 cm cubes (I used two lamb backstraps, which felt a little extravagant, but gave a tender and juicy result)
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped or 2 tbsp yogurt (I used half a tin of peeled plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, and opted to not include yogurt)
Salt to taste
1 packet (which is a mysteriously unspecified quantity) of frozen spinach, or 500 g fresh spinach (I used 150 g of fresh baby spinach – a bit more would’ve been good, but my local shop was running out in a big way… terrible excuse, I know!)
A little chopped mint (optional, and I can’t stand it, so I left this out)
Pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala, or to taste (I also left this out as, having been positive there was some in the cupboard, I discovered I was mistaken – gah!)

What to do
1.     Heat the oil (or ghee) in a pan. Add the onion, cardamom and cinnamon, and fry until the onion is deep golden (and enticing smells have suffused the kitchen).
2.     Mix the garlic and curry powder with a little water (to add enough moisture for it not to burn) and add with the lamb to the pan. Stir well to combine.
3.     Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned all over and the spices smell “cooked and fragrant”. (The scent develops a bit more complexity as this happens).
4.     Add the tomatoes or yogurt and stir well. Check for seasoning, and add salt if needed. Then, add the spinach, a splash of water if the consistency is getting a little dry. Add the mint now, too, if using it.
5.     Simmer until the meat is cooked through and the sauce and flavours are smooth. Add the cumin and garam masala before serving.

Served with jasmine rice, the recipe serves two for dinner, with enough leftovers for two (or one very hungry Other Penguin) for lunch.

Lamb and spinach curry from South East Asian Food

There are lots of other recipes I’m keen to try out in South East Asian Food after such a successful first experience. Some of these are…

- Ayam Semur Jawa (chicken in soya sauce)
- Dadar Jawa (Javanese omelette)
- Abon Daging (tasty meat floss… I’ve seen pork floss rolls in Chinese bakeries and am intrigued by the idea of trying to make meat floss – this one is an Indonesian recipe)
- Hainanese Chicken Rice
- Roti Canai (because I’ve read so much about it on other food blogs!)
- Khao Tom Kai (chicken rice porridge)
- Bubur Ketan Hitam (black rice pudding – because desserts are thin on the ground in this book, so I’d love to try at least one of those that are included)

South East Asian Food - a few desserts
A few more desserts - though I'd love to learn more about making Asian sweet treats

Brissenden explains that desserts “are few because main meals in South East Asia traditionally do not include them. Sweets are usually enjoyed as snacks and between-meal indulgences and warrant a book of their own”. Now there’s something to wish for…


Not Drowning, Swirling - Four Varieties of Povitica

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Change can be good. Especially when you unexpectedly find it down the back of the couch. But if a change is as good as a holiday, too much change can feel about as comfortable as a three month trek across the Arctic wilderness in Jimmy Choos a size too small. Is the ice going to crack underneath me? Is that polar bear eyeing me off for its next meal? Have I got my heel caught in a crevasse?

So, having moved to a new role at work, and in a new grade in dancing, with an exam lurking menacingly round the corner (a bit like a hungry polar bear), I approached the prospect of Daring Bakers with trepidation. Can’t I just come up with another flavour of brownie and not go looking for unfamiliar and difficult things and poking them with a stick to see what happens? Nope…

Traditional walnut povitica 

Some Daring Bakers challenges involving making something beautiful (as well as delicious). Lots of them involve making something that’s time-consuming (some of them, mind-bogglingly so). Almost all of them involve making something unfamiliar (because that’s the point). Not many of them involve something a little rustic round the edges, baked in a loaf tin. So, odds are that the rustic loaf is going to involve all sorts of trickiness and will take half the night. And it did. But it was so tasty I quite forgave it, through my sleep-deprived haze. And I was so pleased I gave it a try (even if it turned out a bit more resoundingly rustic than just around the edges).

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat! It’s a sweet loaf made by rolling up thin dough spread with a filling so that each slice has a beautiful swirled pattern and every bite contains a mix of flavours. The traditional recipe combines ground walnuts with cinnamon, sugar and cocoa, but the recipe lends itself very well to experimenting with other sweet or savoury fillings. The recipe makes a monster four loaves, so there was lots of opportunity to try out some new varieties. As well as the traditional recipe, I also made:
  • Caramelised white chocolate with chocolate chips (if you decide to do this version, you’ll need to have made the caramelised white chocolate in advance – or to be a vampire and so not need any sleep. Luckily, I had a jar I’d prepared earlier for the purpose... though since discovering this recipe, I’ll be needing to make some more)
  • Peanut butter and strawberry jam
  • Moreno cherry and ricotta
 The povitica has a detailed swirl pattern in each slice

The most challenging part of the recipe involves rolling and stretching the dough to the requisite thin-ness and shaping it into loaves; otherwise, the recipe is relatively straightforward. It does involve quite a lot of “process” though – getting started late on a Sunday afternoon with the added distractions of a (thankfully rare) crash of the Daring Bakers site and an (even more thankfully rare) lengthy phone call by the Other Penguin to wrangle a travel arrangements, during which the noisy machinations of the KitchenAid would not have been well received.

The finished loaves, however, were definitely well received. They came out a deep golden brown and their unexpected heft belied their light-but-filling texture. When cut open, the filling formed a clear swirl pattern – I’d been a little worried it might just become a jumbled, albeit tasty, mixture. The different fillings impacted the consistency of the loaves, as well as their cooking time – the walnut and peanut butter versions came out dense and tightly coiled, while the cherry and ricotta one took quite a bit longer to cook through as the filling was wetter. As helpfully foreshadowed in the comments for the challenge, allowing the bread to cool completely and to sit overnight in the fridge made it easier to cut evenly. Even so, it was a little crumbly round the edges, probably from how it was rolled up and coiled into the tin. 

 The crunchy golden crust on the peanut butter and strawberry jam povitica
I tried a little of the peanut butter and the walnut versions, and was pleasantly surprised. The bread itself was sweet-tasting, and reminded me of a heavier version of Chinese milk bread. Combined with the well-dispersed filling, it had an unexpectedly subtle flavour and was neither too plain nor too stodgy. The traditional walnut version was It’s well suited to a simple morning or afternoon tea, but could also be good at breakfast time (I’d be interested to see how it came out if you toasted it) or for one of those late-afternoon high teas which graze across baking, charcuterie, cheese and fruit (one of my favourite things about Christmas with my family). The bread is quite filling, so more than one of those options might leave you a little sleepily full, much as I’d love to advocate baked goods for every meal! 

I would definitely like to try making the dough again, although next time I’ll scale it back to half the quantity and just make two loaves. A marzipan version, a little like a swirly stollen, is an appealing possibility. More likely, though, is that I’ll try using the dough for loaves or small rolls without the swirled filling, or with some fruit or chocolate scattered through. A dark chocolate chip version might even tame my longing for a pain viennois chocolat, which I’ve been carrying since that wonderful discovery in Paris last year. 
If you’d like to try making povitica ("povateetsa") for yourself, here’s how it was made:

What you need
To activate the yeast
2 tsp / 9 g sugar
1 tsp 3 g plain flour
2 tbsp / 14 g dry yeast
½ cup / 120 ml warm water
2 cups / 480ml full cream milk (as we don’t tend to have this around, I referred to Joy of Baking and substituted skim milk with 50 g extra butter added)
¾ cup / 170 g sugar
3 tsp / 18 g salt
4 large eggs (at room temperature, lightly beaten)
½ cup / 115 g butter (melted and cooled)
8 cups / 1.12 kg plain flour
Walnut filling (these quantities were for one loaf – if you make the above dough recipe and want to do all of them with this filling, it’ll need to be scaled up by 4)
1 ¾ cups / 280 g walnuts (ground – I used whole ones and whizzed them in a food processor)
½ cup / 113 g sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder (this is way more than the recipe called for in the original recipe, but I wanted to go extra chocolatey, and also to have a greater colour contrast in the swirls)
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup / 60 ml milk (I used skim)
¼ cup / 56 g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten (note: the recipe for the full quantity, which makes 4 times this amount, uses 2 eggs – as others had needed to add more milk to make the filling wetter, it seemed sensible to use a whole egg and no extra milk, than to use half an egg and get rid of the other half – this worked well – the mixture didn’t need any extra milk to be spreadable)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
Peanut butter and jam filling
240 g peanut butter (I used smooth, but crunchy would work well for the textural contrast)
55 ml milk (just under ¼ cup)
400 g jam (I used strawberry)
Ricotta and cherry filling
375 g light smooth ricotta
200 g (approximately) Moreno cherries (squashed), plus 3 tbsp (45 ml) juice from the jar (a small splosh, for those of a less precise persuasion)
Caramelised white chocolate filling
1 batch of caramelised white chocolate (made from 400 g white chocolate, using this recipe)
White chocolate chips – enough to cover the dough as liberally as you wish (I used around 150 g))
Glaze (for traditional version)
¼ cup / 120 ml strong coffee (cooled)
2 tbsp / 28 g sugar (which I added to the hot coffee so that it dissolved)
Melted butter
Glaze (for the other versions)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp / 28 g sugar (which I added to the hot coffee so that it dissolved)
Melted butter 
The dough needs to be rolled our very thinly before being spread with the filling

What to do
To activate the yeast
1.     Put 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of flour and 2 tablespoons of yeast into a jug or small bowl. Stir and then add 120 ml warm water and stir again to combine.
2.     Cover with plastic wrap, put in a warm place in the kitchen and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
Note: if you activate the yeast before starting making the dough, as I did, it ends up sitting for a lot longer than 5 minutes, although this didn’t seem to cause a problem. Next time, though, I would activate the yeast part-way through making the dough, after removing the scalded milk from the heat (step 3 below).
To make the dough
3.     Heat the milk (or, if using skim milk, the milk and 50 g extra butter) in a saucepan until just below boiling point (about 180°F/82°C), stirring regularly so that a skin doesn’t form on top. It should be scalding hot, but not boiling (this can be done using a sugar thermometer, or just by eye and experience). Allow the milk to cool slightly (until it is about 110°F/43°C, or very warm but safely bearable to the touch – this took about 10 minutes, for the avoidance of burnt fingers, for anybody else who lacks asbestos hands!).
4.     In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you’re going to mix the dough by hand), combine the cooled scalded milk, 170 g sugar, and 3 teaspoons salt.
5.     Add the lightly beaten eggs, yeast mixture, cooled melted butter, and 280 g of the sieved flour (about a quarter of the total amount).
6.     Mix thoroughly and slowly add the remaining flour (840 g if you use it all), mixing well until the dough starts to clean the bowl. Note: At this point, much as I’d seen from the challenge that the dough was meant to be quite sticky and that others didn’t need all 1.12 kg of flour, I decided it was entirely too sticky and added around another 75 g (½ cup) of flour. It was still very sticky, but at that point I decided to live with it and see what happened, which ended up turning out quite well).
7.     Change the mixer attachment from the beater to the dough hook and knead until smooth (if making the dough by hand, turn – or, perhaps more likely, scrape – the dough out onto a floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and a bit less sticky). As I was making the dough in the ever-reliable KitchenAid, I didn’t add any more flour at this stage (although I did worry whether I should – this was even stickier than brioche dough).
8.     Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (they should each weigh about 550 g).
9.     Place the dough into 4 large lightly oiled bowls (large saucepans work if you’re starting to run out of bowls – if you’re starting to run out of kitchen bench space by now, you’re in the same spot I was in...) cover loosely with a layer of plastic wrap and then a tea towel. Allow the dough to rest and rise for 1 ½ hours in a warm place, after which it should be roughly doubled in size.
Traditional walnut filling
10.  Place the ground walnuts, sugar, powder and cinnamon and cocoa powder in a bowl and stir to combine.
11.  Heat the milk and butter to boiling and pour over the nut and sugar mixture.
12.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
13.  Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to be spread on the dough. (If the mixture thickens, add a small amount of warm milk – I didn’t need to do this having scaled the recipe to use more egg).
To roll and fill the dough and make the loaves
14.  Preheat oven to moderate 180°C / 350°F, and line your loaf tins with baking paper (I only had two loaf tins, so I baked in two batches).
15.  Cover the kitchen bench with non-stick baking paper, ensuring it overlaps so there aren’t any gaps.
Note: The original recipe advocates rolling the dough, and forming the loaves, on a clean sheet or cloth – I’ve found previously, with dough – including phyllo – that baking paper seems to work just as effectively for this purpose, and creates less washing (which is important, given this recipe seems to use almost every utensil in the kitchen, as well as most of the tea towels).
16.  Sprinkle the paper with a couple of tablespoons to a handful of sieved flour (use flour sparingly, but ensure there is a light sprinkle over the whole surface as, without it, the dough may well stick when you go to roll it up).
17.  Place one of the four blobs of dough on the baking paper and roll it out with a lightly floured rolling pin, starting in the middle and working your way out, until it is roughly 40 cm square (15 inches).
18.  Using a combination of the rolling pin and your hands, roll, stretch or gently pull the dough out from the centre until it is thin and a consistently almost-translucent. You should be able to see the outline of a pattern through the dough (if you slide a picture or some writing under the baking paper). Try to keep the shape roughly square. Gently sliding your lightly floured hand, palm down, beneath the dough as you go will help make sure it doesn’t stick to the paper.
19.  Dollop filling evenly over the rolled out dough and, using a spoon or your fingers, spread over the dough until evenly covered.
20.  Gently and tightly roll up the dough. There are several ways to do this:
-        The easiest way is to just roll the dough along its horizontal edge (either from front to back or from back to front depending on which is easier – I found this was much of a muchness) until you have one long, thin sausage of dough. Then, coil the dough around itself into the base of the loaf tin (a little like in the picture shown, courtesy of the Daring Bakers website):

-        Alternatively, roll the edge of the dough nearest you into the centre, and roll the edge furthest away into the centre, so there are two long sausages of dough joined up beside each other. Then, carefully fold the long ends of the sausage on top of each other (so that you have a roughly loaf-shaped lump which is two sausages wide, and three sausages high), as shown in the diagram below from the povitica genius at Wolf's Den.

21.  Repeat the filling and rolling process with the remaining three blobs of dough to create another three loaves, coiling each sausage of dough in its own loaf tin. The different fillings I used are prepared as follows:
Peanut butter and jam
Place the peanut butter and milk in a microwave-safe bowl or a small saucepan, and heat until the peanut butter is soft. Stir thoroughly until well combined. Spread the peanut butter evenly over the rolled out dough. Then, dollop with strawberry jam and spread this evenly over the peanut butter layer. Roll up as explained above.
Ricotta and Moreno cherry
Mix the ricotta, cherries, and extra cherry juice in a small bowl until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly over the rolled out dough. Roll up as explained above.
Caramelised white chocolate
Warm the caramelised white chocolate in a microwave or small saucepan until it reaches a slow pouring consistency. Spread evenly over the rolled out dough, and sprinkle evenly (and liberally) with white chocolate chips. Roll up as explained above.
22.  Brush the top of the traditional loaf with the coffee glaze (a mixture of 60 ml of strong coffee and 2 tablespoons of sugar, cooled). For other fillings, I used a glaze of a beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of sugar).
23.  Cover tins lightly with a tea towel and allow to rest for around 15 minutes.
24.  Place the tins (without tea towels) into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes.
25.  Turn down the oven temperature to slow 150°C / 300°F/ and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until the top of the loaves are golden and crisp, the texture is firm rather than squishy when gently prodded and a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Check on the loaves after a total of about 30 minutes, to ensure they’re not getting too brown – if that looks to be happening, cover them with a sheet of aluminium foil.
Note: I did the first two loaves with the oven initially hotter, then turned down after 15 minutes, and found that the walnut and cherry versions took quite a different time to cook through (the cherry one took almost 15 minutes longer). Consequently, I decided to turn the oven up to the higher temperature for the second batch, and left it there throughout. These second loaves took around an hour to cook, and didn’t end up too dry from the hotter temperature – and it’s less faffing about with a still-rather-temperamental oven!).
26.  Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter. Allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, preferably still in the bread pan. (If it’s stupid o’clock and you’ve still got two loaves to cook and need to use the loaf pans, turning them out earlier won’t kill them, but might mean they sink a little as the baked loaves are quite heavy and cooling them in the tin helps them to hold their shape. I think the varied shapes of mine had more to do with slight differences in the rolling technique than with the cooling process).
27.  The loaves can be cut into slices with a serrated knife and it is apparently (and which I overlooked, rather to my regret) easier to do so after turning the bread upside down. I’d be interested to hear from other folks who’ve tried this recipe whether that’s the case and why. I did find they sliced more easily after being refrigerated overnight.

Warning: resting povitica dough may take over your kitchen!

But the results are worth it...


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