Archive for the ‘dessert’ Category

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Sweet success: A&U annual bakeoff

July 25, 2009

cakesallThis week the Empress and I found ourselves bestowed with the extraordinary honour of judging the Allen & Unwin staff club’s Annual Bakeoff.

We arrived at Cake HQ to find a staggering twenty-seven entries awaiting consumption – from cakes and tarts to flans, shortcakes, cheesecakes, friands, cupcakes, meringues, quiches, biscuits, strudels… in three categories –  Savoury, Chocolate and General.

The task was almost overwhelming, but like the truly professional gutses we are – and despite the growing threat of sliding into diabetic coma – the Empress and I made our way through the blind tasting, separately keeping our scores out of 10 each for presentation and texture, and out of 20 for flavour.

stephjudgingWorking diligently through the morning with valiant A&U staffers slicing off slenderer and slenderer slivers – and fending off contestants desperate for their morning tea outside the door – the Empress and I were gratified to discover, when comparing scores, that for each category we had picked the same winner, and our scores were within one point of each other’s.

The standard, it must be said, was exceptional. It’s our first year of judging, but the bakeoff has been an A&U fixture for some time apparently, and competition is fierce. The winning entries were within one point of each other on the scale, and then from the three we had to choose one overall 2009 Bakeoff Champion.

And the winners were …

cakewinnersBy a whisker, the three winners were:

Savoury – Lou Blue’s Quiche Lorraine with  Pancetta

Chocolate – Anthony Bryant’s Triple Chocolate Praline Tart

General – Catherine Milne’s Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Ganache

The overall champion, by the slenderest sliver of a hair’s breadth, was Catherine’s clementine cake. (And it turns out this was something of an upset win – apparently for the past several years Anthony, who also entered an incredible chocolate and cherry cake and a divine rhubarb and amaretti tart,  has been the unstoppable reigning champ. Next year’s bakeoff should be very interesting as he attempts to wrest the crown back!)

clementinecakeOnce the presentations were made and the hordes descended on the entries for morning tea, the Empress and I prised a few recipes out of the contestants, some of which happily are available online.

Turns out that Catherine’s unbelievably moist and complex clementine cake is an Ottolenghi recipe, and can be found here; and Anthony’s incredible praline tart (the silkiest, most satiny smooth filling ever) is from Gourmet Traveller a couple of months ago and is available here.

choctart

All in all, it was an astonishing display of skill, nerve and flair. The Empress and I have begged to return and offer our greedy evaluative skills for the A&U staff club’s Great Curry Contest – can’t wait!

Oh, and in case you think all this gustatory grandeur might be a little decadent, it also has a higher purpose: everyone who joined the morning tea festivities gave a donation to Sydney PEN, and every one of the many A&U staff club activities for 2009 raises some moola which will go to Sydney PEN at the end of the year.

Hey, I sense the opportunity for a Sydney PEN fundraising challenge! Any other Sydney publishers willing to take on the A&U master chefs in a publishing industry bakeoff? Let me know – Steph & I are more than willing to go the extra mile and extend our judging skills across the land!

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My dark secrets

July 6, 2009

Organic ChocolateSenor & I are backing off on the booze this month, albeit without going the whole Dry July hog as we did last year (now that was a looong month – can’t believe I even attended the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and stayed off the vino. I see they’re being more humane this year, and putting it back to August where it belongs…).

We’re thinking of this month as Quite Damp July instead, cutting out the booze except for weekends (and yes, I do include Friday and Sunday!).

While I still find this midweek abstinence exceedingly dull, especially if socialising with friends over dinner, it’s a hell of a lot easier now I have figured out that my traditional bodily six-o’clock wine time alarm bell may actually be, apart from the signal for the welcome end-of-working-day reward, a craving for sugar as much as for the booze itself.

I discovered this because, in compensation for lack of wine, I have begun dosing self with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea at 5.30pm. Presto. No ‘GodDAMN I want a drink!’ cravings, which I used to think were entirely psychological. So unless I have created a successful self-medicating placebo effect (can you placebo-fool yourself?), I think the ol’  bod actually craves sugar at the end of the day, and because I’ve never been a dessert person or had a particularly sweet tooth (or so I thought), the only real sugar hit I get is the vino. Interesting.

So – on to the topic and my new drug of choice: chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be specific. Not too sweet, but sweet enough to get a girl through the evening. At the moment I’m swinging between Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate, which is nice and bitter, and not too sweet at all;  and Lindt’s Excellence dark chocolate with chilli – a little sweeter than the G&B’s, and with that nice added mouth-warmth from the chilli.

I know there are serious chocolate connoisseurs out there, but suspect I’ll never become one of them – too much of a salt fiend to get seriously into the choccies. However, I did come across this nice piece  in the New Yorker, in which a chocolatier called Rick Mast, “New York City’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker”, pairs different literary masterpieces with the appropriate chocolate, from Leaves of Grass to Pride and Prejudice to Walden. And here I found mention of something I might seriously like: a chocolate called 81% with fleur de selcan such a perfect combo really exist?! I’m not sure if this is a joke or no, but here’s Mr Mast on Shakespeare and my fantasy chocolate:

Othello, “Othello,” by William Shakespeare
81% with Fleur de Sel
This proud, lovesick Moor should be paired with eighty-one per cent dark chocolate, seasoned with chocolate’s version of the Venetian Sea, fleur de sel. The sea salt gives context to the sugar, intensifying not only the floral and cinnamon notes but also the sweetness. The complexity of the delicately salted chocolate may even surpass Othello’s jealousy, but at least your mouth will have a happy ending. Avoid your own jealous rampage by not sharing.

Hmm. Investigation needed, methinks.

Oh and if you are looking for a chocolate cake recipe, as it’s the only kind of cake I seem to make (apart from my new love, the whole l’orange variety…), I can vouch for the following two chocolate triumphs. These  both involve little more than melting some of the good stuff and bunging in ovens, but as usual I end up cooking these for much longer than the recipes say.

The first is the chocolate fudge cake in Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous eponymous cookbook (he of the excellent New Vegetarian column in the Guardian) – I highly recommend this book, as it’s full of surprising, flavoursome dishes that are incredibly simple to make but have beautiful complexity of flavour, and heaps of it is vego. Not to mention that the book is a beautiful shiny luscious thing in itself.

The second is Maggie Beer’s absolutely divine chocolate cake with whisky-soaked raisins and orange zest. Oh, my. I think this recipe title speaks for itself, don’t you? It’s from her book Maggie’s Kitchen, about which I have raved before.

OK. I’m feeling quite faint with all this cacao-bean chaos on the loose, so I must go and have another cup of tea and a good lie down. But while I’m resting, do tell me  all your dark chocolatey secrets? Favourites to buy or make? July is a long month, after all …


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Rice is (gulp) nice?

June 9, 2009

stephricepuddingThe Empress  and her Three-of-a-Kind column today made me gag, I’m afraid.

I’m sure all of you will love it, but childhood memory makes me distinctly bilious at the mention of rice pudding.

If it weren’t for this (literally) gut-level aversion of mine, Steph’s column would be interesting for the cultural combo of what different folks do with rice pud, but sadly since the age of twelve I have not been able look, smell, hear of the stuff.

(That, and much worse, bread-and-butter pudding. Ugh, even typing that made my reverse-peristalsis-muscles twitch. Nobody in my whole family can go there, thanks to a visiting stand-in mother while our mum was in hospital for some procedure or other, probably either another baby or varicose vein surgery – no wonder she died young! – and this woman must have done something godawful with B&BP; none of us know what the problem was, but we all knew even then it was horrific and have never eaten it since).

Anyhoo for some reason – probably the combination of five whining children, hungry husband, no money and the sedative effect of seven stomachfuls of stodgy carbohydrate – our mum was a big fan of the rice pud. Too big a fan. But I ate every bowl, of course. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Holy cannoli

May 27, 2009

Missy Empress’s Good Living column this week is on cannoli – sounds too good.

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Holus bolus – whole orange cake

April 26, 2009

orangecakeThe dimpled things in life are often the best.

Why does the idea of making a cake using a whole orange – peel, pith, flesh & all – appeal to me so deeply? Apart from the taste and texture of the purely gorgeous orange and quince cake we’ve made twice in the last couple of weeks, from Jared Ingersoll’s Danks Street Depot Sharing Plates book, there’s just something I absolutely love about chucking a whole piece of otherwise fiddly fruit into a cake. 

There are lots of different variations on this cake, which seems to have originated with the classic Claudia Roden Middle Eastern Orange Cake. Some (like hers & Jared’s, which I will now refer to as ours) use almond meal instead of flour (and are thus perfect for gluten-intolerant folk)  but otherwise whole-orange-cake devotees appear to divide into two camps – old boilers and cold callers. Read the rest of this entry ?