Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daring Bakers December - Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Wow, what a great challenge for December! I chose Y's recipe and it was an absolute breeze to put together. I will let my photos do most of the talking for this post :)

My house plan - found of Click above for all the details

In progress

My little helper guarding the pieces

Welcome to my home!

Step on down the tic tac path to be greeted by the gingerbread zombie

Do you like what I've done with the place? These chuppa chup shrubs are all the rage!

A little snow dusting the freckle covered roof and wonky chimney

Thanks for stopping by!

And thanks to Anna and Y for a fabulous festive challenge for December! You can find the recipes and instructions on each of their blogs.

I had a lot of fun doing this and it didn't take nearly as long as I thought it might. If you haven't made a gingerbread house before I challenge you to have a go!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spiced Sugared Nuts

With all the Christmassey fare I've made over the years, I can't believe I've never made nuts. Until now, that is! I saw the recipe for these spiced sugared nuts in the December/January edition of Super Food Ideas magazine and knew they would be perfect as a gift.

They have a crisp, crackly coating of sugar and spices and the chilli adds just enough heat to cut through the sweetness. These nuts are definitely moreish!

Spiced Sugared Nuts

3/4 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
400g assorted, unsalted mixed nuts
1 eggwhite, lightly whisked

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350F). Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Place the nuts and eggwhite in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add the spice mixture to the nut mixture and mix well.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Spread over the nut mixture in a single layer and bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool completely on the tray. Break up any large clusters. Serve immediately or wrap in a cellophane bag tied with ribbon for a lovely Christmas gift.

Makes 4 cups.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: My Favourite Pecan Pie

I have to admit I wasn't that excited about making pecan pie this week. I've been in Christmas baking mode for weeks now and have been snacking on lots of goodies. Pecan pie is SO sweet that just the thought of it made me want to eat a truckload of veges.

BUT this pecan pie is a little bit different. First of all there is way less sugar/corn syrup than in some versions plus it has a few extras like chocolate and coffee powder. To boost the chocolate factor I decided to do a chocolate crust as well (using Dorie's Chocolate Shortbread Tart Dough from p 476 of Baking).

The taste test ...

Oooh boy, this is one hell of a pecan pie! While it's definitely rich it's not too sweet, with the coffee and chocolate notes providing the perfect balance. The chocolate crust was fantastic! It got a little browner than I planned (but not at all burnt even though it appears that way in the top photo). We served it with a big scoop of Cappucino Indulgence icecream. Yummmmmm.

Coming after one of the best Sunday dinners I think I've ever made (chargrilled Angus beef with avocado bearnaise sauce and mashed potato), it was a wonderful end to a great weekend!

Thanks to Beth of Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina for this week's pick! You can find the recipe on her blog under today's date.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Individual Rum Christmas Cakes

I have to confess, I am one of those people. Those people who actually like fruitcake! There is a lot of anti-fruitcake sentiment out there, particularly at this time of year, but around here we are in fruitcake heaven.

In addition to making the full size cakes I make every year, I decided to try a new recipe and make some smaller cakes to go in our gift hampers. These little beauties are rich and moist and fragrant. And oh yeah, they are also packed with rum!

Individual Rum* Christmas Cakes
Recipe source TBA

840g mixed dried fruit (apricots, cherries, figs, raisins, currants, cranberries, sultanas or whatever takes your fancy)
3/4 cup rum
250g unsalted butter, chopped
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup treacle
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
2 ts ground nutmeg
2 ts ground ginger
2 ts ground cinnamon
12 tbs rum, extra

Chop all the dried fruit into small pieces. Place in a large bowl with the rum and mix well. Cover and leave overnight (I left mine for a week), stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to slow (150 degrees C). Lightly grease 12 x 1 cup muffin holes and line the bases with a circle of baking paper.

Beat the butter, sugar and treacle in a large bowl until just combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the soaked fruit mixture, pecans and then the sifted flours and spices and mix well.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the tins, smoothing the surface of each with wet fingers. Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cover the tops of the cakes with foil if over-browning. Once cooked and still hot, brush the tops the cakes with half the extra rum, cover with baking paper, then seal firmly with foil and cool completely in the tins.

Once cool, remove from the tins, brush with remaining rum and wrap firmly with cling film and leave for 2 weeks before decorating.

Decorating Options

1. Soft Icing - Roll out 100g of soft, ready made white icing the the size of each cake. Brush the cakes with warmed apricot jam, then lay the icing over the top and smooth down. Decorate with ribbon.

2. Royal Icing - Beat 1 egg white with a wooden spoon, gradually adding 2 cups of pure icing sugar, beating until smooth. Drizzle in 2-3 ts lemon juice until the icing becomes a little runny. Spread a tablespoon of the icing over each cake, allowing it to run down the sides a little. Top with holly and berries before the icing sets hard.

* The original recipe called for bourbon. We're not big bourbon drinkers in this house so we used good old Bundy Rum instead!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Daring Cooks December - Beef Wellington

Well this will be short and sweet because my Beef Wellington was an epic fail. I can't even show the photo I took because it looks like road kill. In spite of using our super-duper meat thermometer it was massively overcooked and dry as sawdust. Picture a shriveled piece of beef surrounded by brown stuff and pastry crumbs. We couldn't even eat it :(

I imagine if cooked well it would be absolutely sensational!

The official line: The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

For some examples of how Beef Wellington or Salmon en Croute SHOULD be done, visit the other Daring Cooks here.

The Kitchen Reader Cookie Exchange - Rum Balls

Ok so I know these aren't technically cookies, but they are cookie-ish! Instead of a book review, this month Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort suggested a Christmas Cookie Exchange for the Kitchen Reader members. So while these aren't cookies they are definitely Christmassey and perfect for sharing.

I'm not sure where Rum Balls originate but there are as many different recipes as there are days in the year (I may be exaggerating slightly!). Basically if there is rum, chocolate and some sort of carb (either cake crumbs, biscuit crumbs or even weetbix) you have yourself a rum ball.

These make the perfect gift at Christmas time and are great to get the kids into as there is no baking involved. Perhaps just leave out the rum!! (cranberry juice would be a great alternative and you would end up with a choc-cranberry truffle).

Susan's Rum Balls

500g cake (a madeira or pound cake is perfect)
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 dried cranberries
1 tin (approx 400g) condensed milk
2 tbs rum plus extra
1-2 cups dessicated coconut, extra

Roughly chop the cranberries and add to a small saucepan with the 2tbs rum and 1 tbs water. Bring to the boil then simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the fruit is plump. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Tear the cake into rough chunks and add to the food processor with the cocoa. Blitz until the cake is in crumbs and the cocoa is evenly distributed.

Turn out the cake crumbs into a large bowl and add the coconut, cooled cranberries and the condensed milk. Mix thouroughly, adding extra rum if you find you need more liquid (an extra tablespoon or so will be plenty).

Roll into walnut sized balls, roll in the extra dessicated coconut then set on a tray. Refrigerate until required. These are best to make the day before you need them to allow the flavours to meld. Makes approx 30.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Cafe Volcano Cookies

A really interesting pick this week for TWD. MacDuff of The Lonely Sidecar chose Dorie's Cafe Volcano Cookies and without a photo, I had no idea what I was actually making! I had to laugh though when I read the storing instructions, essentially 'Humidity will make these go soggy.' Living in Brisbane in December, high humidity is pretty much a given!

So what are volcano cookies? Very similar to a coconut macaroon but with nuts instead of coconut, these cookies aren't exactly photogenic. Probably why there's no picture in the book! I used cocoa instead of espresso powder so my cookies are a rich chocolately colour.

I made a half batch and kept a close eye on them while baking. Just 16 minutes and they were done.

The taste test ...

Totally unexpected but absolutely delicious! I ate 3 before I could stop myself! Very light, the meringue disolves on your tongue leaving crisp toasty nuts and a hint of chocolate. I knew these would be really sweet so I'm glad I added just a pinch of salt. These were a real winner.

Thanks for a great pick, MacDuff! You can find the recipe at The Lonely Sidecar under today's date.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

White Chocolate Gingerbread

I've been thinking a lot about traditions lately. Lots of my Christmas memories involve food so with each new recipe that I try, particularly as we get closer to Christmas, I wonder whether it will be something that Oscar remembers from his childhood.

I found the recipe for this White Chocolate Gingerbread in a free Christmas magazine from Coles (one of our major supermarkets). While there were lots of yummy things this one leapt off the page. White chocolate. Gingerbread. Need I say more?

White Chocolate & Gingerbread Slice
Recipe from Coles Christmas 2009 Magazine, p37

100g unsalted butter
3/4 cup golden syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
2 cups plain flour
180g white chocolate, chopped
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350F). Grease and line a 19cm x 29cm slice pan with non-stick baking powder.

Place butter, golden syrup, sugar, ginger and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Stir on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until butter has melted and mixture is smooth.. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the eggs and milk and mix well.

Sift flour into a large bowl. Add the chocolate. Fold through the egg mixture and mix until combined.

Fill prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until firm. Cool completely in pan. Dust with icing sugar and cut into fingers to serve. Makes 18 pieces.

The verdict?

While very tasty I found it a little solid. Next time I would add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to lighten it up a little, and maybe also some crystallised ginger for some extra spice. Otherwise this is a lovely morning or afternoon tea slice, perfect for this time of year!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Lemon Sables

We're well and truly into the Christmas spirit at chez this week and thanks to Barbara of Bungalow Barbara I have found another item to add to my Christmas gift baskets ... Lemon Sables!

These are simple slice and bake cookies, basically a buttery shortbread, that can be flavoured with virtually anything. I love citrus so went with lemon and let me tell you, the smell of that lemon zest scented sugar was divine.

I found the cooking time to be way off the mark. I happened to check on these at the 12 minute mark (the recipe said 17 to 20) and they were already pretty dark around the edges.

The taste test ...

Yum, yum yum! So simple to make, no fancy ingredients but absolutely delicious. I really loved the crackly, sugar-encrusted edges. Next time though I would increase the amount of zest and maybe do a lemon-orange combo. Really though, the possibilities are endless!

Thanks Barbara, we loved these! You can find the recipe on her blog.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

Lauren of I'll Eat You chose Dorie's Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart this week, and wow, what a stunner! Absolutely perfect for the 1st of December because this beauty just screams Christmas.

I think I was lucky to find some ok pears from the very limited selection available as it's not pear season here. Once poached they were perfect, just a little on the small side.

The pastry cream was fabulous, such a full flavour, however it never got as firm as it was supposed to. You can see from the photos that my pears were already sinking into the pastry cream and once cut, it oozed everywhere. Didn't affect the taste though!

The taste test ...

This is definitely a special occasion recipe. Crisp, buttery pastry, rich pastry cream and tart pears. And that pistachio praline? An absolute revelation! It was a shame it was so messy to serve.

Thanks for a wonderful pick, Lauren. You can find the recipe on her blog.
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