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Chocolate Pear Tart

For Christmas this year I was lucky enough to get a Mix Master from my family. It is amazing and I could not wait to christen it, but wanted to do something special. It was also close to the birthday of a very close friend, so I thought it would be nice to bake her a tart. Really what better reason to cook but for others to enjoy it.

What would I cook though? Well Francine is always happy and bubbly and I know she likes chocolate as all the kids in my family and hers used to love eating a rich chocolate mousse cake at her house since we were young. But now we are older and I thought something a little lighter might be appropriate. I have always loved the look of tarts in which whole fruits were pushed on the top and then baked but did not particularly want to make a marzipan filling as I am not so fond of them, and honestly, how much more boring are they to chocolate. So I found the tart I would make…..a chocolate pear tart (and it is a tart as I am completely in love with pastry and now find it so rewarding to make perfect pastry that is crisp and crumbly, but not overly, just right).

This tart however is different to my signature chocolate caramel tart in which you cook the pastry before adding the filling as you cook the filling to so it all cooks together. I was a bit skeptical at the beginning as I thought the pastry would not cook enough and would be soggy but the filling rose quite a lot and was light so the pastry was able to cook through and go hard.

It looked beautiful when it came out, although the pears weren’t perfectly placed, but it was a little difficult to cut as you would need a very sharp knife to cut through the pear so you don’t pull them out of the filling. I was not game enough as I was out at a restaurant, so decided to give Francine (birthday girl) a whole line of pears and me none. I actually preferred that as I just wanted chocolate. As we were at an Italian restaurant we also got some vanilla bean and hazelnut gelato to go with the tart and I must admit I preferred the latter (surely I am not biased as it is my favourite flavour) but I really do think it just added a little bit more to the whole tart.

There was about 7/8 left of the tart so I sent it home with Francine for her family to enjoy.

Happy Birthday Francine!!!

Chocolate Pear Tart

Perfect tart pastry

3 Pears (ripe and firm)
8 oz good semisweet chocolate
3/4 cups of heavy cream
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar for sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F
Peel, core and cut the pear into quarters. Cook it in a microwave until they are just about tender.
Take out and let it cool.
In a double broiler melt the chocolate with cream. Whisk thoroughly so that it all incorporates well.
Then add sugar to the chocolate and mix it till the sugar dissolves well.
Set it aside and let it cool.
Whisk egg and egg yolk in a mixer. Add vanilla beans or extract and mix it together.
Once the chocolate and cream mixture is cool enough pour it into the egg with mixer on medium low to combine everything together.
Take out the tart pan from the freezer. Arrange the pears and then pour the custard into the pan carefully not to pour on top of the pears but from the sides.
Place it into the oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes but I start peeking after 40 minutes.
When the chocolate custard is puffed and set, its done. It should be a little firm to touch and slightly cracked from the edges.
Take it out and let it cool before serving, only if you can resist!


Brioche

I am very much a ‘when in Rome’ type of person, and so is a very close friend of mine, Kelly. Kelly lived in Paris for a year and adopted the lifestyle very easily…..including the traditions of a sweet breakfast from the Boulangerie, where she bought brioche every couple of days so she could make toast in her apartment which she then topped with Nutella. Coming home to Sydney, Kelly was starting to have withdrawal symptoms as she claims she could not find anywhere that made good Brioche to satisfy her breakfast needs, so I did two things for her:
1) Gave her a list of good bakeries which do make exceptional brioche including Iggy’s in Bronte and Bourke St Bakery in Surry Hills, both of which are not too far away from her home in Coogee;
2) BUT I also accepted the challenge to recreate this bread and see if it meets her expectations or if it at all lives up to the standards she enjoyed in Paris.

But how does one find the perfect recipe? Where does one look? I figured first thing is first, if I was going to find a recipe, it would have to come from a born and bread French(wo)man. I knew that many of the top blogs are French based, and so I read read read, finally narrowing my search down to two types of recipes. The first which some might argue is the ‘proper’ was to make brioche required starting the day ahead and making your own started and letting it ferment overnight. Although I do like making things completely from scratch, I have tried this once before and my house is always so cold, it never works, so I decided the second style would have to do, even though I would use dried packet yeast. The recipe is from a blog called “Tartlette“.

That was the first thing I did, made my yeast mixture with milk (which the original recipe has) however, I started it three different times and none of them fermented. I first warmed the milk in the microwave, WHICH YOU SHOULD NOT DO, as the microwave kills some of the amino acids which are required for the fermentation. So I then tried to warm the milk in a pot and then add the yeast. FAIL. It still did not work. I was so upset, and by this stage I had already mixed all the other ingredients and was just waiting for the final bit, the yeast. I then ditched the milk and used lukewarm water and a little sugar, and presto, within 5 minutes I could already see the frothing start. To compensate no milk, I added more butter to my recipe than originally stated, and once the yeast was ready I added it in a thin stream, mixed, and let the dough rise and rise and rise.

first rise

second rise

egg wash

When making any bread, you must be patient at this point and I find even allow more time than stated to let the dough rise. After it was chilled, kneaded and then left to rise again it was into the oven for 25 minutes and out it came with a gorgeous golden brown crust, but was so soft and fluffy on the inside it was the type of thing which you could eat and eat and eat without realizing how much you are consuming as it is just so light.

The test now was to recreate this for Kelly for the final tick of approval, but at least I am confident now that mine has a chance to please her high standards.

Yes! She loved it….although I did not make my own nutella, she did thoroughly enjoy it! As for me, I decided smearing a few slices in melted dark chocolate would do fine!

Brioche

1⁄3 cup lukewarm milk (not too hot so that it kills the yeast!)
1⁄4 cup sugar + 1 tbsp
2 1/2 tbsp dry yeast
splash of orange blossom water
5 eggs, at room temperature
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
225g unsalted butter

1. To get the starter going mix the milk, 1 tbsp sugar and the yeast in a bowl. Leave it in a warm place for 15 minutes so it rises and bubbles.

2. Whisk in the rest of the sugar, 4 eggs and the orange blossom water until well combined.

3. Transfer to a kitchen aid and using the paddle handle on a low speed add the flour and salt and butter. Mix until just combined then increase the speed until well combined and a clean dough that comes off the handle forms.

4. Transfer to a buttered bowl and place in a warm area. Let the rise for one hour or until it doubles in size.

5. Knock the dough back, cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

6. Now form your loaves (this recipe will yield 2) and place on baking trays. Again let them rise for 1 hour. (They will need to be on seperate trays as they will rise a lot and combine)

7.Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Beat the last egg to make an egg wash and brush over the loaves. Bake until golden brown, approx 25 mins.


Alfajores

So last time I made alfores they were OKAAAY, but nowhere near great. The biscuits were inconsistent and irregular shapes, but worst of all, the dulce de leche was not cooked long enough so the cookies melted and went all over the tray I used to transport them to my Spanish class.

This time I used a little more guidance from a proper source. My boyfriend bought me a Peruvian cookbook when he was there last year and I have slowly been getting through the recipes, but this is one have not touched. I did alter a few things, but in the end, they were 100 times better than my first attempt YES! I suppose tonight when I take them to Capoeira, all the South American’s can be my judges and tell me if I got it right or completely missed the mark……

The key, in my opinion, to a good Alfajores is a thick round cookie, well cooked dulce de leche that wont run all down your fingers as you bite into it and it must be a god thick layer at that, no vegemite like spreading here we want thick quantity of smooth sweet dulce de leche. The biscuit it not so sweet so they work very well together and are yummo.

What I did differently this time is made sure my douch was very smooth and not too crumby, don’t be scared to add extra butter to help it combine, remember you want a smooth cookie to work with…..it will look prettier! Next thing to do is to roll out logs of the dough and wrap it in glad wrap so they stay in this shape, then refrigerate for at least an hour so they are nice and firm. The reason to do this is so your cookies are a consistent size and shape, which is very important when making ’sandwich cookies’.

Finally I hard core cooked the condensed milk to make sure the dulce de leche was a thick, and dark brown consistency. I cooked it on high for 4 hrs (mind you I have an electric stove top, so gas will need less time).

The only thing I did wrong this time was overestimate how much condensed milk I actually needed to cook. I was scared 2 cans would not be enough, and also I would hate it if one did not work, so it is better to have to much….but I ended up with about 1.5 cans left over…..so be confident that you will cook it correctly otherwise you will be working out ways to include it in all of your cooking for a week, then not be able to eat it for a long long time.

My suggestion is to try to give some away, then use it in hot milk on a cold night or over ice cream mmmmmmmmmmm


the leftovers

All in all though, they were soooo good this time, and did not take that long to make, it depends on how long it takes you to make the dulce de leche. Believe me though, if you know any South American’s, they will be offering you money for what you have made, so I suggest to make them in bulk!

Alfajores

Makes 10-12

250g Self raising flour

250g cornflour (cornstarch)

3 tbsp icing sugar

100g butter, softened

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp milk

400g dulce de leche (1 can condensed milk cooked*)

 

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees.

2. Sift flour, cornflour and icing sugar into a bowl.

3. Rub through the butter with your hands to form dry crumbs and then add the egg yolk and milk, then knead until it forms a soft dough.

4. Roll out a log the size of the cookies and wrap in cling wrap. Refrigerate.

5. Once hard take cookies out of the fridge and cut them out to be 4mm thick. Prick each with a fork twice, then bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Cool the cookies.

6. Spread dulce de leche over one cookie and sandwich it with another. Sift with icing sugar to serve.

* To make dulce de leche, cook the condensed milk can in a pot of boiling water, which is continually topped up, for 4.5 hrs. This dulce de leche needs to be quite firm so it is not bad to cook it a little longer than normal for more runny dulce de leche, which would be 3.5 hrs.

 


Panetonne

I am constantly looking for new challenges and since I am extremely interested in baking I thought something that is not usually attempted is Panettone. This Italian bread is eaten at Christmas and enjoyed all over the world, but because it is so time consuming to make, people just buy it. There are some fantastic packaged ones, although they can get quite expensive, but I think they will always have more chemicals and so on to keep them fresh.

My partner eats Panettone every Christmas eve once the clock strikes 12, so I thought I would make a fresh one which I know exactly what has gone into it. surely all those preservatives aren’t good for you. Finding a recipe was one of the hardest parts. I looked on the internet, in books and asked around, but all I found was a heap of webpages which were not written in English. I could have translated them but I worried that some expressions might not convert over quite the same. Then the second time I looked it up on the new I found that Gourmet Traveller had done a version of Panettone which was all laid out, easy to read, and so this is what I based my recipe on. (Find GT version here)

I know it would take a long time so I started early….7am. It was quite a warm day so the rising actually did not take as long as expected. The whole process was relatively easy, it was just long and time consuming as you leave it to rise 3 times for 1-2 hours each time. It was not too bad though as I went down to tan by the pool in the meantime, so time went quickly.


first rise


second rise


third rise

By the time the last rise was finished my dough was going out of control and had started to overflow out of the baking tin…even though the estimated amount of rising time had not finished, I knew it was ready to go in.

Ok so this is where I had a problem. I followed the instructions and browned it at 190 degrees for 10 minutes then cooked it on 170 degrees. However, I skewered the bread after half an hour and it seemed fine so I took it out and cooled it.It looked great I thought, a part from the overflowing side, but not too bad for my first attempt.

It wasn’t until it cooled completely that I tried to cut it in half when I discovered the centre was not cooked. The skewer test had failed me. So back into the oven it went but with foil over the top.

So I suppose my message is that it does need to be in the oven for a total of 1 hour, and do not be scared of using alfoil, it will save you from my horror. My first attempt did turn out fine in the end, a little bit ugly and mangled, but it tasted good and as I am not in a 3 star restaurant, that is good enough for me…..this time, next time I bake it for Christmas it has to be perfect, but that is why I did a test bake as I knew there were things I would get wrong out of such a long process.

Next week I know how to alter my method and just tweak things here and there and it should work out great…..until then I will enjoy my mangled panettone tonight.


French Onion Soup

I LOVE French Onion Soup. It was one of those dishes that I searched high and low for while in Paris. I even asked attendants at a store in the Louvre where I could find it, and you know what she said…..

“People don’t eat it so much anymore, but it is more for parties thrown when someone gets divorced”

I thought that was utterly stupid and was certain that was not the case. I finally did find it and it was fabulous, but I think I have seen more restaurants in Sydney offer it on their menu.

Since I was hosting the GPO Cheese Room Xmas Party at my house I though it was only fit that I use some of the cheeses we have, and what better opportunity than to use one of the favourites, Gruyere. A semi hard cooked cheese, it has a lovely smooth texture and nice fruity and nutty flavours. I used to dislike this cheese but it wasn’t until I started to learn more about ‘gruyere’ style cheeses that I began to develop a love of it and others like Comte, Swiss Appenzell or Fromage d’Alpage. I love them all!

Well enough about the cheese, that is the finishing touch, there is still a lot to do in the meantime like chopping the onions. I think I ended up dicing 3+kg of white onions and I tell you I did need quite a few tissues to wipe up those tears. You really do need to chop the onions quite fine otherwise your soup will be chunky and not as enjoyable.

Finally into the pan it was and then wait for the caramelization to start. Finally I was able to add the beef stock, boil then simmer, and simmer and simmer and simmer. The simmering itself takes over 2 hours, but by the end, the soup is delectable.

I served the soup in mini ramekins as they were meant to be an appetizer only, although I am sure we could have all eaten a whole bowl. The final touch is to toast baguette with gruyere melted on top and place in the soup so the bread soaks up all the lovely juices.

They went in a flash. Good. Job done. Take that Frenchies, I don’t need to be divorced to serve good soup!

French Onion Soup (taken from Gourmet Traveller)
serves 4

100 gm butter
2kg onions, very very thinly sliced
1L beef stock
4 thyme sprigs
3 parsley stalks
1 fresh bay leaf
8 x 1cm-thick slices of baguette cut on diagonal, lightly toasted
250 gm coarsely grated Gruyère

1. Sautee down the onions in the butter, with a lid on for 20 mins, then continue to cook until soft and caramelized (lid off) for 1 hour, at least.
2. Add 2 cups of stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and wait until it has been absorbed before adding the next lot.
3. Tie herbs in twine and add to onions. Add remaining 2 cups of stock, season.
4. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 40 mins (remember to scrape away the bottom and sides so it does not stick.
5. Ladle into ramekins. Sprinkle half the cheese on the soup, top with 1 or 2 baguettes and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in oven for 5 minutes so cheese melts.
6. Serve immediately.


Prune & Cognac Tart

A dish made famous by many people and is a match made in heaven, just like ricotta and honey, sage and burnt butter, mushrooms and thyme, it just works…..well the match actually is Prune and Armagnac, but when you only need a couple of tablespoons, you make use of what you have instead of buying a whole new bottle…..and what I had was Hennesy VSOP cognac, so I do not think it is that bad a substitution.

This tart was actually a birthday present for a friend of mine, a chef of my local restaurant, which is absolutely fantastic…..sorry about the plug, BUT you must must try it. I strongly suggest the “Trust the Chef” which is a tasting menu for $60, and when you can BYO some amazing wine, it turns out to be a fantastic night of good food that won’t leave you broke.

Peacock Trattoria
25 Kyle Parade, Kyle Bay
9546 6900

So it was Drew’s birthday and he was stuck at the restaurant for the lunch service, and I felt bad for him, not being able to celebrate on such a lovely sunny day, so I really wanted to take him something. The idea of the Prune and Armagnac actually came from their menu where they have a Bitter Chocolate tart wit Prune and Armagnac ice cream (which is absolutely delectable!) and this sparked my interest to make the actual tart. I researched and finally found a recipe I was happy with, which is by Skye Gyngell.

I bought the prunes, which I now have fallen in love with and did not realise that I actually got ones still with their seeds inside, so it took me a good 30 minutes to pip them, but the tart was reasonably easy to make. It is a simple shortcrust tart shell, then the filing is predominantly cream, egg and sugar. I was actually expecting to put the cognac in the filling, but if you think about it, it will be cooked off.

The filling was cooked to perfection then the time had come to pour the cognac over the hot tart fresh out of the oven so it is absorbed right through. One tip……don’t be conservative, pour it over so it gets in every section of the tart, I was convinced the little piece I had did not have any cognac in it.

Once done I took it over to the restaurant and Drew had a huge smile on his face…..my job was nearly done but the ultimate result was from the taste test. He cut it up into slices and tasted……….and LOVED it!

I was so happy that I can even please a chef who is able to make the most amazing dishes.

Prune & Cognac Tart

Tart pastry
filing
300g pitted prunes
30g unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
120g caster sugar
vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange blossom water
5 tbsp double cream
3 tbsp almond meal
5 tbsp cognac (or armagnac)…..so I added a little extra!

1. Prepare the tart shell as directed in the link above and only blind bake, do not completely brown. Cool.
2. Soak prunes in hot water for 10 minutes then drain and pat dry. Arrange prunes over the base of the cooled tart shell.
3. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange blossom, cream and almond meal. Then stir in melted butter.
4. Pour over the prunes in the tart shell – carefully so you do not ruin their arrangement.
5. Bake in the 180 degree oven for 25-30 mins or until the top is a nice golden brown.
6. While still hot, pour the cognac over the tart evenly, then once fully absorbed, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with creme fraiche.


Melting Moments

I recently fell in love with these cookies on a recent holiday to Queensland. I remember the crisp cookie sandwiched a smooth and lemony butter cream, which when bitten into completely melted into your mouth, the name does not lie! For that moment I did not care about anything, not the people walking by, the noise of other customers around me or the strong summer sun on my face, I was completely consumed by this cookie and had developed a special love for them. I repeated this experience every morning tea until I left. There was only one thing which was disappointing about this cookie – the not so fresh butter cream which had turned hard and clearly had preservatives in it to keep fine out of the fridge for days on end.

How enjoyable would it be to bite into a thick, crisp biscuit with this creamy light butter cream hitting your tongue? I couldn’t think of anything better for morning tea with a good cup of coffee, you get everything – cookie and cream all in one, isn’t that why they made cookies and cream ice cream, cause it is just so good!

From making alfajores recently, I discovered the key to consistent shaped biscuits, you need to roll the dough into a cylinder in cling wrap then refrigerate it for an hour at least, so it is quite firm, then when you cut your pieces the will not soften and deform into other shapes. A lot of other melting moment recipes tell you to make little balls and press a fork into them, but I like the consistency of this method. It also makes the sandwiches easy to stack as they are all flat, which will make for great presents of for platters at a party, which is what this was for.

When whipping the cream, remember that butter can over churn, so watch it like a hawk. You want it to still be light and fluffy and not thick and stiff. If you make the cream ahead of time, you can put it in the fridge, but remember it will firm up so before you start to assemble your cookies you must take it out of the fridge to come back to room temperature, which will take at least an hour depending on the weather.

The making them is actually quite fun, but it ends up in such a way that it is, a little cream for it, a little for me, a little for it, a little for me. It is just SOOOOO yummy, and you do not want to remember that you are basically eating butter with sugar. It tastes better if you don’t think about this and just enjoy, think about it tomorrow when you tell yourself that you need to hit the gym, but at that moment, it will bring you so much enjoyment, believe me, I must have eaten about 1/4 of the bowl!

Melting Moments

250g butter, softened
50g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
50g cornflour

lemon buttercream
75g butter
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsps lemon juice

1. For cookie cream butter and icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract and then sift the flours until the mixture comes together.
2. Roll into logs the size of the cookie and wrap with cling wrap. Refrigerate until firm.
3. Preheat oven to 175 degrees.
4. Cut cookies about 1cm thick and bake for 12 minutes or until just browning.
(do not brown like a normal cookie as you want them to melt)
5. Cool cookies on racks.
6. Prepare the buttercream by beating butter and icing sugar until fluffy.
7. Add vanilla extract and lemon juice and combine well.
8. Spoon a dollop of cream onto one cookie and sandwich with another! Presto!


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