Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Egg Cupcakes

It’s a given that if you like chocolate you’re going to think you’re in seventh heaven around Easter time.  Chocolate galore and, thanks to Easter starting shortly after Christmas in supermarkets, plenty of time to enjoy it. 

There’s always the usual favourites in this house – a large Cadbury rabbit for daughter (“it’s a tradition, Mum!”) and a cute little Lindt golden bunny bought for me, by me (no point in leaving yourself out of the equation is there?).   And, if Bill’s been good, the Easter Bunny may just bring him something too.  He has to eat his fast though – you snooze, you loose when I’m around chocolate.

In true form, I scoffed the first packet of Cadbury mini-eggs bought to decorate the cupcakes before I’d even got to weekend baking and had to buy another pack. These ones made it safely to the topping and they are rather cute with their speckled coating.

Thanks to Alessandra and Sweet NewZealand, I’d been given some Fresh As freeze-dried raspberry powder and used that to dust the icing.  It gives a nice sharp tang to counteract the sweetness of the cupcake.  I also had a Christmas gift of Vahlrona chocolate pearls.  I originally thought these were pure chocolate balls ready for melting (well, there’s nothing on the pack to say otherwise!). Thankfully I Googled them before making the horrible mistake of melting what were actually crunchy little chocolate-coated biscuit bites.  They added a nice crunchy texture and I was pretty pleased with the end result. 

I’m always a bit apprehensive when it comes to icing cupcakes but after a couple of re-runs of the lovely Lydia Bakes' icing tutorial, I reckon I made an acceptable attempt even if I was lacking in consistency of style.

I made these cupcakes on a Saturday morning and, after sampling a couple over the weekend and giving most away, I popped two in the fridge.  Happily, Bill didn’t notice his share (may have been the placing at the back of the fridge? J) and I was able to polish it off for morning tea on Tuesday – and it tasted good.  Just to show I'm not completely selfish, I am sharing this post with We Should Cocoa for the chocolate and Easter special hosted by Rachel and also with Marnelli at Sweets and Brains who is hosting Sweet New Zealand.

Happy Easter everyone.

Easter Egg Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes 

100g standard flour
20g good quality cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g butter, at room temperature
120ml whole milk
1 egg
¼ tsp vanilla essence

Cream cheese icing 

300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
125g cream cheese
Food colouring of your choice


Decorate with chocolate sprinkles or easter themed decorations.  I dusted the Fresh As freeze-dried raspberry powder on top of the icing and sprinkled on a few Vahlrona crunchy pearls (tiny beads of biscuit filled chocolate).  To finish each cupcake, I decorated with Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, which resemble real eggs with their speckled candy shells, and a little fresh flower.

Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F).  Place some paper cupcake cases in a cupcake or muffin tin(s).

Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a cake mixing bowl and add the sugar, salt and butter.  Using the paddle attachment, beat on a slow speed until the ingredients are combined and resemble a sandy consistency.

In a jug, whisk the milk, egg and vanilla together.  Slowly pour about half the liquid into the flour mixture with the mixer on a low speed then turn up high for a short burst to get rid of any lumps.

Slowly pour in the remaining milk mixture with the mixer on slow, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Mix until smooth (do not overmix).

Spoon into the paper cases about half to two-thirds full (this will depend on the size of your cases as there are so many variants). 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Leave for 5 minutes in the tin then transfer to a wired cake rack to cool. 

Ice and decorate when cool.

Cream Cheese Icing 

Place the icing sugar and butter in a cake mixing bowl with paddle attachment (or use a hand-held electric whisk).  With the cake mixer on a slow to medium speed, beat until the mix comes together and is well mixed.

Add the cream cheese and beat until incorporated.  Turn mixer up to medium-high and beat at least 5 minutes until icing is light and fluffy (do not overbeat).

Add your choice of food colouring and beat until incorporated.  I split the mix into two equal parts then added tiny drops of food colouring to get a lemon and a pink shade.

Recipes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Saturday, March 29, 2014

etcetera ... fabulous Fridays

I work 4 days a week so when Fridays come around, I try to do something special.  Now that may mean catching up with a friend, going to a movie or sampling some of the cafes that keep on opening up in Auckland.  It seems that every week there is a new cafĂ© or restaurant, or two or three, on the scene.  How do they all survive?

Last Friday, although strictly speaking it was last week’s Friday, not yesterday (confused?), I had such a lovely day where everything turned out just the way I’d want.

First up I headed for coffee and cake at L’Oeuf in Mt Albert.  I must be one of the few who haven’t had un oeuf at L’Oeuf (an egg for those without the benefit of my school taught French), mainly because I seldom go out for breakfast or brunch – I will have had my breakfast early and by mid-morning I am more than ready for a coffee, especially after a drive into the city.  Anyhow, in my book, cake and coffee go so much better than eggs and coffee (just saying…). 

Do you ever get that anxious feeling when you step inside somewhere new?  I do, but at L’Oeuf I was instantly made to feel genuinely welcome by the waitstaff. So much so that after all their warm attention I practically skipped out the door.  Great service, guys. 

I chose this delicious pear and cardamom cake, along with a latte.  The waitress placed them in front of me and explained they had a new barista so if anything was not up to scratch I was to let them know (it was all perfect).  Later she came by to check and to have a little chat.

Now the really annoying thing is that I used to live close to this cafe and now I don’t.  I sat there wishing L’Oeuf had been around then.  C’est la vie.

Moving on and a short drive to the Capitol Cinema to see Wadjda.  This is a little gem of a movie about a spirited young girl (played so captivatingly by Waad Mohammed that it’s almost like watching a documentary) who comes up with some ingenuous ways to save money for a bike she covets.  As we follow her daily life and attendance at a strict religious school, the film gently illustrates the restrictions of women and children in Saudi Arabia. Directed by a female Saudi Arabian, the movie explores the issues simply and effectively and in a way that leaves you with hope.  My feminist hackles rose several times but I was heartened a few days later hearing a radio movie reviewer say that since the film’s release, bicycle areas had been introduced in Saudi Arabia for young girls to use (one of the problems Wadjda faced was that it wasn’t seemly for girls to ride bikes in public).

The last thing to put a smile on my face before leaving the city behind was missing all the normal Friday afternoon traffic and cruising home with no delays.  Bliss.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fudgy Chocolate Macaroons

Not to be confused with the highly popular macarons (although it can be quite confusing as macarons are also known as macaroons), I'm distinguishing them like this - French macarons for coloured meringue discs sandwiched with filling and macaroons for chewy coconut  confections with a crispy outer.

I never took a liking to the plain coconut macaroons which were usually pyramid shaped morsels with toasted coconut on the outside but these ones are on chocolate overload and are really something. If you can imagine a meringue based brownie you'd be close to the taste and texture of these - fudgy, chewy chocolate and coconut covered with a crisp baked outer shell. Highly addictive.

Fudgy Chocolate Macaroons

Makes 16-18

250g good quality dark chocolate (72% or more cocoa)
2 egg whites
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups coconut (best with long thread coconut but you can substitute desiccated coconut)

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C.  Line a large tray with baking paper.

Chop or break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don't let the water touch the base of the bowl or let it splash onto the chocolate).  Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted.  Put aside to cool.

Place the egg whites, salt and 1/2 cup of the caster sugar into the spotlessly clean (no grease!) mixing bowl of your cake mixer and, using the whisk attachment, whisk until stiff.  Add the remainder of the sugar about a heaped tablespoonful at a time, whisking each addition for a few minutes.

Turn your cake mixer onto lowest setting and briefly mix in the vanilla and melted chocolate. Using a metal spoon, fold in the coconut carefully.

Place small scoops onto the baking tray.   I used a mini ice cream scoop which holds just over a tablespoon of mix, depends on how big you want the macaroons.  I think next time I'd go with just using a spoon to get a more rustic look at these were too rounded for my liking.

Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until crisp on the outside but soft and chewy in the centre.

I'm sharing these with Sweet New Zealand hosted this month by Frances at Bake Club.

I'm also pleased to be participating in We Should Cocoa as this has been on my food blogging To Do list since, oh I don't know how long.  We Should Cocoa is also a monthly food blogging event all about chocolate and whatever other ingredient the guest hosts come up with.  This month's host I'd Much Rather Bake Than ... has chosen coconut so it seems I am lucky in that all my stars converged (drum roll, please) resulting in my first ever entry.

And if you want more chocolate and coconut loveliness, don't miss this previous post - another favourite of mine!

Chocolate Date Slice

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tomato Chutney in a hurry

Sometimes I can't face banging around with pots and pans and sterilizing and labelling - all those things that precede a glittering array of sealed jars of bottled fruit and preserved chutneys to see you through the winter.

For those of us who want the tastiness of a spicy tomato chutney without all the fuss, this is a quick and easy recipe adapted slightly from Anjum's New Indian cookbook.   It's been great for using up our little crop of garden tomatoes - especially good smeared over a sandwich or on top of  crackers and our local Mercer cumin gouda cheese.  I've also used it as a relish for corn fritters or add it to spice up a sauce.

It usually takes the two of us some time to polish off a jar of chutney but this one's been so popular that I ended up making another batch after we'd scoffed the first lot in record time.

Adjust the chilli flakes to how much heat you want - I used 1/4 teaspoon the first time, but upped that to 1/2 teaspoon for this last batch for a bit more fire.

Tomato Chutney

Makes 1 small jar 

1 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 - 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or dried chilli)
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt (1/4 to 1/2 tsp - adjust to your own taste)
4 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp sultanas
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp red wine vinegar
50ml water

Heat the oil in a medium sized heavy based saucepan.  Add the bay leaf, mustard seeds and chilli flakes and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop.

Add the tomatoes and turmeric and stir for a few minutes until soft.  

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil and then simmer for 5-7 minutes until thickened slightly.

Cool and place in a sterilized jar (the only amount of fiddling you'll have to do).  Keep in the fridge and use within 7 days. Not hard really.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Date & Walnut Loaf

I have loved Date & Walnut loaf for a very long time but, with a nut allergic child in the house, it hasn’t been on the menu for a while. 

Now that the bird has flown to its own little nest, I still feel incredibly guilty for reintroducing nuts into the house.  I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I found myself dropping mini packets of peanut M&Ms (I’m not sure I actually like these but they’re so moreish) and the odd jar of crunchy peanut butter into my shopping cart, much to the chagrin of the Irish one who maintains a fierce loyalty to no peanut butter but somehow doesn’t apply it to buying bags of fresh nuts for snacking.  Go figure.

The Irish one may prefer his Barm Brack which is nice, but I think the sweet stickiness of the dates against the crunch of the walnuts make this my favourite tea loaf.

Date & Walnut Loaf

225g stoned dates, chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
300ml hot water
275g self-raising flour
100g butter, chopped into pieces
50g shelled walnuts, chopped
100g soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Place the dates, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a bowl and pour over the hot water.  Set aside until cool.

Sift the flour in a bowl.  Add the butter pieces and rub into the flour until combined.  Stir in the walnuts and sugar until thoroughly combined.

Mix the dry ingredients into the cooled date mixture and beat in the egg. 

Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

Store in an airtight tin.  The loaf keeps well and even improves with age!

And this gets shared for the first of this year's Sweet New Zealand treats hosted by Sweet NZ founder, Alessandra.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


I’ll be the first to admit that this is cheat’s gazpacho made with tinned tomatoes not fresh, but when your own crop is nowhere near ripe and store bought are flavourless then I really am not going to apologize. If you’ve got tasty, ripe, fresh tomatoes go for it.

I’ve made this twice so far this summer.  First was Christmas Eve in Taranaki when I’d been rostered on for dinner on Day One.  Arriving at 3.30pm after a long drive from Auckland, I set about making it (after first refreshing with a cup of tea and slice of Christmas cake). I was under a bit of time pressure to chill the gazpacho down (yes, serves me right for using a cooked tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes!). In the end I poured small amounts to just cover the bottom of several ice cream containers and placed them in any fridge or freezer I could find and thankfully managed to get the soup to the desired chilled temperature. 

Having learnt my lesson, the second time was far easier as I made the entire soup dish at home, froze it and took it down with us early morning for a weekend in Tairua.  It was left to defrost during the day (out of the fridge), and reached perfect chill temperature just in time for dinner.  From there it was an easy assemble into glasses (I like to take these with me as I can’t always guarantee I’m going to find the right vessels at the holiday home).  It also won a gold star from me as the easiest, no-stress dish I’ve ever had to present at a shared meal.

The recipe is my adaptation and combination of two Jamie Oliver recipes – his Spanish Gazpacho from Jamie Does and his simple but wonderful tomato sauce from The Naked Chef, which I use for just about everything – pasta, pizza base, shakshouka et al.

For the gazpacho, I cook the sauce first and then, once chilled, add the additional elements for the soup.

It’s the perfect little starter for an outdoor evening meal or serve it at lunch with breads, cheese and antipasto platters.


Basic sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
½ - 1 red chilli, chopped & seeds removed or 1 small dried chilli, crumbled
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tins whole Italian cherry tomatoes (or Italian tomatoes)
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
a handful of fresh basil or marjoram or Italian parsley (or combo of two)
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil

Additional elements to make the Gazpacho 

¼ of a day-old ciabatta loaf (250g)
1 tsp harissa (I use Greg Malouf Red Harissa)
¾ Lebanese cucumber, peeled, roughly chopped
1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded & roughly chopped
splash olive oil
splash balsamic vinegar

To serve

finely chopped red pepper
fresh herbs
extra virgin olive oil
good balsamic vinegar
sea salt & freshly ground pepper

For the tomato sauce

In a thick-bottomed pan, gently fry the garlic with the olive oil, then add the chilli, oregano and tomatoes.  Mix gently, being careful not to break the whole tomatoes (according to Jamie, this will make the sauce slightly bitter).

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1 hour.  Stir in the balsamic vinegar and sugar.  If you’re using as a sauce only, either chop or use a potato masher and crush the tomatoes into the sauce. Add the herbs.  Season well to taste and stir in the extra virgin olive oil.

Use as a sauce or leave to cool for the following Gazpacho recipe.

For the gazpacho

Slice the bread and remove crusts.  Place in a bowl with 100ml cold water for about 5-10 minutes.

Place cooled tomato sauce mix in liquidizer or food processor and whiz.  Squeeze the water from the bread and add the bread, pepper, cucumber, harissa and a splash of cold water to the bowl and whiz again.  The colour will change to a more pinky-orange because of the bread.  Add more water if required to get to the right “soup” consistency.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Add more sugar if necessary. Either place in a covered jug in the fridge to chill or freeze. 

Serve at chilled temperature in soup bowls or glass (I prefer glasses). 

Drizzle the top with good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or sherry vinegar, if you have it).  Garnish with finely chopped red pepper and finely chopped fresh herbs e.g. basil, thyme, marjoram, Italian parsley.

I offer teaspoons, but it can be either spooned or sipped from the glass.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

I was going to head this Bread for tired people.  Perhaps it was just the relief of Christmas and New Year being over.  Whilst I don’t want to sound like the Grinch   - “and the more the Grinch thought of what Christmas would bring the more the Grinch thought ... I must stop this whole thing” - I do love Christmas and the whole family thing, but the run-up to Christmas had left me stressed, closely followed by plain, just tired (and I know I'm not the only one).

But, on the first day of a new year, my inner Earth Mother was glowing warm and mellow with thoughts of baking bread and I began to unwind (in a good way). 

It had to be simple though, so a no-knead soda bread was the chosen one and luckily I just happened to have buttermilk in the fridge as I'd used a little in a dressing the previous night. 

I started on it after a breakfast with my sister and her partner who had stayed overnight on a break on their drive down to Tongariro National Park.  It’s an insanely casual thrust of ingredients into a bowl, a quick bring together, shape, rest awhile (you and the bread), into the oven and it's done. 

The visitors weren’t around to sample the results but I guess if they’d smelt the bread baking they might have been tempted to hang around a bit longer and I may have gotten the chance to redeem myself at Scrabble.

Although soda bread is best eaten on the day, it does toasts up well the next day – cut in thick slabs and slather with good butter.  The Irish one, of course, loves it.

Irish soda bread

500g plain (standard) flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
420ml buttermilk

Line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with flour.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift in the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and stir to combine.

Pour the buttermilk into the mixture and, with your hand, bring it together to a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. 

Don’t knead the bread, just gently roll it together and shape it into a smooth round by turning it on the board between your cupped hands.  Flatten it gently with your hand.  

Using a large knife, score the loaf to make quarters, cutting almost to the base (but don’t cut through) to make a cross on top.  Gently ease the quarters apart (you will probably need to flour your hands to do this or use a pastry scraper).  This allows the heat to reach the centre of the bread (or the fairies to get out).

Heat the oven to 200°C, leaving your bread to do its thing while the oven heats up.

Bake the loaf for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.  When tapped on the base, it should sound hollow.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.