Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers August: Chocolate Eclairs

You should probably grab a cup of tea ... this is going to be a long post!

This month Meeta from What’s For Lunch, Honey? and Tony Tahhan challenged us to make Pierre Hermé’s éclairs. My first thought ... yum! However, my first Daring Bakers Challenge was an almost complete disaster as I didn't get a single edible eclair from the recipe.

First of all I knew I was going to have oven issues. My two choices are a 30 year old electric oven with base elements that cooks unevenly and lets a lot of heat escape. Or the convection setting on our microwave (the only time we use it) which is fan forced, has limited temperature settings and tends to cook very quickly.

I decided I would follow the recipe exactly, and as it stated that after a certain amount of cooking the door had to left ajar, clearly I had to use the older oven. I don't know of any microwaves that start with the door open!

I prepared all 3 chocolate components first thing Saturday morning and they were a breeze. At the time I thought the quantities were excessive and I was right. I definitely should have halved (or third-ed?) the amounts.

Eclairs Round #1

I was keen to try out my new piping bag and nozzle and carefully piped out 9 chubby lengths onto the baking tray. The mixture seemed a bit thinner than I thought it would be and some oozed out the end as I filled the bag. They also spread a lot on the tray once they were piped.

After 7 minutes baking as instructed, I propped the door open and continued to cook. After 20 minutes, they were puffed and slightly golden and I felt quite chuffed! It didn't last long though. As soon as I removed them I noticed the bottoms were very dark, almost burnt, and they weren't as golden on top as I had thought. They also began to sink before our eyes and within minutes were as flat as pancakes.

Once they were cool I attempted to slice off the top (the whole thing was only about 1cm high so it wasn't easy!) only to discover a stodgy middle that released a disgusting scrambled eggs smell. Ewww! Not cooked!

As I naively thought this batch would work, I had piped the rest into rounds to make profiteroles. I decided to check online for other eclair/profiterole recipes to see if there were any tips. This is a summary of what I found:

1. a cooking time of eat least 30 minutes, whereas this one said only 20
2. prick the tops with a knife once the cooking was finished to release the steam and prevent them from going soggy
3. leave them in the turned off oven for at least 15 minutes to dry out before removing them to cool

All of this is logical so I decided to incorporate the advice.

Profiteroles Round #1

This time I decided to use the convection setting and fiddle with the time and temps. I put them in for 10 minutes at 180 deg C then dropped it to 160 deg for 20 minutes. At this stage they were puffed and beautifully golden so I left them in the turned off oven for 15 minutes and then left them to cool for another 15.

When I came back they were again flat as pancakes and when I sliced the top off one I found more doughy, stodgy, egginess. Aaaaaah!!!!!!

In a fit of temper I threw them back in the oven at 180 for a further 15 minutes not really caring what would happen.

Yet again, when cooled and sliced, they were still eggy and uncooked.

Clearly there is something going on here and I think it was that there was just far too much egg to begin with. Perhaps if I wasn't a choux pastry virgin I would have been able to assess it and leave 1 or 2 eggs out and make it work. The mixture did come together beautifully, it folded in thick ribbons at the end but still it didn't work for me. (the photo below was about half way through - it was thicker by the end!)

By this stage it was nearly 5 pm and I was totally over it. I also had 3 separate containers filled with chocolate glaze, chocolate sauce and chocolate pastry cream and nothing to do with it. What was annoying me more was having to throw all of those eclairs in the bin. Such a waste of ingredients!

Having now almost run out of eggs I hunted online for another recipe. I decided this was a better option than trying to doctor the original recipe which I have never been able to do very well. This time ... success!

Choux Pastry
recipe from

80ml water
40 g butter, cubed and at room temperature
50g plain flour
2 eggs, at room temperature

Place water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until butter melts and mixture just comes to the boil. Add all the flour to the butter mixture at once and use a wooden spoon to beat until well combined. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture forms a ball and begins to come away from the side of the saucepan. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

Whisk 1 egg in a small bowl and set aside. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, then add it to the flour mixture, beating well with a wooden spoon. Gradually add a little of the reserved egg and beat until the mixture just falls from the spoon but still holds its shape.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Brush a baking tray with oil to lightly grease. Spoon 25-30 teaspoonsful of the mixture onto tray, about 3cm apart (I made 15 larger ones). Alternatively, use a pastry bag fitted with a 1.5cm-diameter plain piping nozzle to pipe the profiteroles onto the baking tray. Brush the tops with a little of the remaining egg. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the profiteroles are puffed and golden.

Remove from oven and turn the oven off. Using a skewer or a small knife, pierce the base (or top) of each profiterole to release the steam. Return the profiteroles to the oven and leave them for 15 minutes to dry out. Remove the profiteroles from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

The results of the 2 recipes could not be more different. This time around the mixture was a lot thicker and didn't ooze out of the piping bag. They were puffed, golden brown and dry to the touch. They also felt as light as air when cooked, whereas the others were heavy and solid.

Having said all that there are about a thousand other Daring Bakers and from reading the forums it seems this recipe worked brilliantly for 90% of them, so make sure you check out their results!

Overall this was a major challenge. But that's why I joined the Daring Bakers ... to stretch myself, try new things and not ignore recipes that look too hard. The fact is I can now add choux pastry to my repertoire, even if it is not Pierre Hermé’s éclairs. Bring on September!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chicken Pie

I love pie. There is something so homey, so comforting, so rustic about a pie. At least the way I make them anyway! They never taste the same twice but you can't go too far wrong whatever filling or flavours you decide upon. Buttery, flaky shortcrust pastry encasing a warm, savoury filling. Yum!

Basic Shortcrust Pastry
Recipe from Modern Classics No1 by Donna Hay, p155

2 cups plain flour
145g (5oz) cold butter
2-3 tbs ice cold water

Blitz the flour and butter together in a food processor until it resembles course breadcrumbs. With the mixer on low, drizzle in enough cold water to form a smooth dough.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead very lightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When ready to use, roll out until 3mm thick. This quantity will line up to a 25cm (10in) pie dish.

(I normally need 1 1/2 times this quantity for my pie dish)

Chicken Pie
A Food.Baby original

There really isn't a recipe as such for this. You choose whatever vegetables and herbs you like. The only thing to watch is that you cook the filling until it is thick enough and cool it slightly before using. Here is what I used for this particular pie:

750g chicken thigh fillets, cut into small chunks
6 large field mushrooms, diced
2 large carrots in small dice
1 onion, chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic
2 leeks, quartered and chopped finely
500ml chicken stock
1 tbs plain flour
1 bouqet garni
corn flour to thicken

Heat some oil in a heavy based pan over medium-high heat. Toss the chicken pieces with the flour and then cook until they are browned on all sides. Remove and place the pan back on the heat. Add a little more oil if needed and fry the onion, garlic, carrots and leeks until they are starting to soften.

Return the chicken to the pan with the vegetables. Add the bouquet garni and any other herbs you like. Pour in the stock. Bring to the boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for around 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the chopped mushrooms and stir well. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is too liquid at this stage, add a few teaspoons of cornflour mixed with a small amount of water. When you are happy with the taste and consistency, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 200 deg C. Roll out 1/2 the pastry to line the base of your pie dish. Pour in the cooled filling then roll out the other half of the pastry to cover. Pinch the edges to seal and make a few slits in the middle to allow some steam to escape. Brush lightly with beaten egg.

Bake for approx 45 minutes or until the pie is puffed, bubbling and golden. Cool for 10 minutes before serving with a green salad or vegetables.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte

To be honest my torte doesn't really have bands as such, more wobbles, swirls and waves!

This recipe really caught my eye when I first flicked through my copy of Baking. Dorie's torte is stunning in its simplicity, precision and colour. I guess 1 out of 3 isn't bad? Only raspberries can give you that shocking pink colour!

This happened purely because I tried to cheat by not freezing the layers as long as recommended (I was too tired to stay awake that long) and the results speak for themselves! When I placed the icecream layer on top and smoothed it out it pushed the chocolate to the edges. But if I hadn't made it when I did it wouldn't have been made at all.

The taste test ...

I LOVE the combination of chocolate and raspberries and the colour was fabulous. It just wasn't as pretty as it could have been :)

Thanks to Amy of Food, Family and Fun for choosing such a great recipe. I will definitely be making this again in the future and next time will follow the directions exactly.

Next week we have Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters. Try and say that 3 times fast!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

(Almost) Perfection Pound Cake

I was inspired to make another Dorie recipe this week in honour of some visiting relatives. I thought a pound cake would be ideal as it is simple, not too sweet and lovely with tea or coffee.

The cake was really easy to prepare but I was wary of overcooking it. When this cake was made as a TWD recipe lots of people found it very dry. Once it cooled I wrapped it in gladwrap and left it overnight before slicing it which I'm sure improved both the taste and texture.

As it was a bit on the dry side, I made a lemon simple syrup to brush over it (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water and zest of 1/2 lemon brought to the boil and cooled). I then topped each with a smear of good raspberry jam and a dollop of pure whipped cream. Delicious!

Perfection Pound Cake
from Baking: From my Home to Yours, p222

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
230g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 150 deg c (fan forced). Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan and line the base with baking paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater and reduce the speed to medium. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg goes in. As you are working, scrape down the bowl and beater often. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Reduce speed to low and add the flour, mixing until it’s incorporated- DON’T OVERMIX. In fact, you might want to fold in the last of the flour, or even all of it by hand with a rubber spatula.

Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top. Put the cake into the oven to bake, and check on it after 45 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly cover it loosely with foil. Depending on your pan size, your cake might need to be in oven from 70 to 95 minutes (Mine took 75 minutes).

The cake is baked properly when a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven, and transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Run a blunt knife between the cake and sides of pan and turn the cake out, then turn it right side up on the rack and cool to room temperature.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Granola Grabbers

This week's recipe was chosen by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. Having just received my copy of Baking I can see literally dozens of recipes I would have picked before this one. After reading through the receipe I realised I liked all the ingredients, it was just too close to what I have for breakfast everyday. BUT ... I was very pleasantly surprised!

The cooked biscuit has a slightly salty, sandy texture reminiscent of shortbread which I love. I also made a few alterations, using all coconut instead of the wheatgerm, all peanuts instead of the almonds and adding dark chocolate chunks instead of raisins (for N). We also don't have granola as such here in Australia, so I used an organic, fruit-free, toasted muesli.

The mix was really dry and I was worried it wouldn't come together, but it did eventually and was similar to a crumble topping in consistency. I also made them quite big and got 30 biscuits instead of 40.

The taste test ...

Yum! Beautiful contrast between the smooth chocolate, crunch of the peanuts and buttery biscuit. Perfect for afternoon tea. I will be freezing most of these and can see them coming in handy for the 4pm munchies.

Next week: Chocolate Banded Ice Cream Torte.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quick Macaroni and Cheese

This to me is the ultimate in comfort food and this version is quick and easy. We had this last night with pan fried pork steak on the side. No veggies as we were too lazy!

Quick Macaroni and Cheese
A Food.Baby original

500g macaroni
1 tin of tomato soup
1 tin's worth of chicken stock
1 tin's worth of milk
1 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
50g butter
2 heaped tbs plain flour
2 cups grated cheese (gruyere, a sharp cheddar or a combination of both work well)

Cook the macaroni as per packet directions until just done, drain and return to the pan (off the heat). Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Combine the soup, stock and milk and stir well, Set aside.

In a frypan melt the butter and when it starts to foam add the onion and garlic. Saute until translucent and fragrant. Add the flour and cook, stirring continuously for 2 - 3 minutes.

A little at a time, pour the soup/stock/milk mix into the pan, stirring continuously to prevent lumps. Continue until all the liquid has been added. The sauce will thicken quite a bit. Taste and season with salt and plenty of pepper.

Pour the sauce over the macaroni and stir to combine. If you want to eat straight away, add the cheese and stir over low heat for a few minutes until hot and melty. Alternatively, add about half the cheese and stir well, then pour the mix into a large baking dish and cover with remaining cheese. Add a generous sprinkle of paprika and bake at 220 deg C for about 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Great served with a side salad or just on its own!
Serves 6.

Friday, August 15, 2008

TWD Update

I know I said I wasn't going to splurge on yet another cookbook but I caved and ordered Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. As this is the book Tuesdays with Dorie is based on, I can now officially join!

Can you believe how much packaging came for just one (admittedly heavy) book? I opened the front door to find a gigantic sack sitting there. It looked like something you would get potting mix or fertiliser in. Picasso helped open it :)

I'm looking forward to making next Tuesday's recipe from the book this time around!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Blueberry Sour Cream Icecream

I was really excited to make icecream this week, despite the fact that it's the middle of winter here. I felt a little ridiculous actually, preparing icecream while wearing jeans, thick socks, ugg boots and 3 layers on top including a big woolly jumper. Brrrr!

This week's recipe was chosen by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity.

I have to say I loved this recipe. I tasted the blueberry/sugar/lime mix as it was simmering and it tasted like the perfect base for a cocktail! It made for a beautiful colour too.

The taste test ...

Delicious. I thought it was like frozen blueberry cheesecake which can never be a bad thing! I ended up adding the juice of a whole lime and I'm glad I did because it needed that extra zing. Overall more like frozen yoghurt than icecream but big thumbs up all round.

Next week we have ... Granola Grabbers (??) No idea. Will have to wait and see what that is!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sesame Chicken with Ginger Rice

This is one our favourite chicken dishes and the bonus is that it's light, healthy and full of flavour. But be warned, if you don't like ginger, DO NOT make this recipe! Or at least cut down the amount of fresh ginger. The ginger beer sounds strange but it creates beautifully sticky, fragrant rice that is tasty enough to eat on its own. We always make double the recipe so there is enough for lunch the next day.

Sesame Chicken with Ginger Rice
Adapted from Simply Healthy, 1999, p82

500g chicken breast
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (I leave this out because it contains MSG)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, chopped finely
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 cup short grain rice
330ml ginger beer
1 teaspoon diced pickled ginger ( I leave this out because it is full of artificial colours etc)
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onions

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan for 2-3 minutes.Combine sesame seeds, rice wine, honey, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil together in a large bowl to create the marinade. Cut the chicken into large strips and place in the marinade for 1 hour or overnight.

For the rice, place the fresh ginger and sesame oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes and then add the rice. Stir for 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger beer and the pickled ginger. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. (We always make ours in a rice cooker and it works perfectly. Just remember to follow the recommendations given in the manual - usually 1:1 rice to liquid for white rice).

While the rice is cooking, thread the chicken onto skewers and then BBQ or grill for 10-15 minutes, brushing with the marinade as they cook. (We don't normally skewer the chicken, just cook it in a large fry pan in batches).

To serve, spoon rice into serving bowls and top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle over sliced spring onions and tasted sesame seeds. Serve with greens. Yum!

Serves 4.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

I woke up this morning feeling hot and absolutely starving. Most mornings I don't eat breakfast for at least an hour or 2 after I get up but there's something about Sunday mornings. Possibly the fact I ate too much rubbish the night before?

These are my favourite basic muffins. You can easily switch the main flavours and make banana or rhubarb or blueberry or anything else you can think of.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins
Recipe from

300g (2 cups) plain flour
1 tbs baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
150g (3/4 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
2 medium (about 375g) Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, chopped
125g (3/4 cup) seedless raisins (optional - I left these out purely because we didn't have any)
125g butter, melted, cooled
2 eggs, lightly whisked
185mls (3/4 cup) milk

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease or line 12 muffin pans.

Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon together into a large bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, apples and raisins until well combined.

Whisk together the butter, eggs and milk until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a large metal spoon until only just combined. Be careful not to over-mix or the muffins will be tough.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin pans. Sprinkle some raw or demerara sugar over the top for extra crunch. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through (when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean). Remove from oven and stand for 2-3 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 12.

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