Sunday, January 24, 2016

Panna Cotta with baked orange blossom rhubarb

I'm not ashamed to admit I am hooked on Masterchef Australia's current season showing here in New Zealand. It does appear to be a bit "kinder" than most of these types of shows. Granted it's still a competition, but the focus is less on "who did/said what to who" and more on the food.

Well there's been a few panna cottas whipped up in the Masterchef  kitchen which has got me in the mood to revisit, even though I've made a similar one a few years back. It's such a simple, prepare-ahead dessert perfect for a balmy, summer evening  - something else which we've been having a few of recently.

This latest is topped with some exquisitely fragrant orange blossom rhubarb (recipe from Sweet Treats from Little & Friday cookbook). I cut back heavily on the sugar stated in the book (1 to 2 cups - either that's a typo or someone has a very sweet tooth!) as a 1/2 cup was plenty.

Bake the rhubarb in advance and leave it to cool in the fridge. It will keep for a few days in a sealed container in the fridge and you can use the rest in your breakfast cereal.

A small biscuit such as shortbread (whole or crumbed) or tuile is a nice touch and adds some extra texture.

For a superior vanilla flavour, I urge you to use either the seeds scraped from a vanilla pod or vanilla extract or even vanilla essence in preference to imitation vanilla which has an artificial flavour and will really do nothing for the taste.

I like that you can see the vanilla seeds in the final result but if you don't want the seeds showing in your panna cotta, strain the final mix through a very fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Lastly, I admit to being a bit of a coward. I didn't go the whole Masterchef way and upend the panna cotta onto a plate from a mould fearing a disaster! One day I must give it a try...

For the Baked Orange Blossom Rhubarb

5 stalks rhubarb, washed & trimmed*
juice and zest of 3-5 oranges
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/8 to 1/4 cup orange blossom water

*I had more stalks but there was a mix of thick and thin so I cut the thick stalks horizontally to ensure they were all of a similar thickness to cook evenly.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Cut rhubarb into 4cm-5cm slices and place in a large bowl. Add the orange juice and zest, sugar and orange blossom water and toss to coat evenly.  Transfer to a baking tray and cook in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until rhubarb is tender.

Cool and store in the fridge in a sealed container.

For the Panna Cotta (makes approximately 6-8 serves)

3 level tsp gelatine powder
2 tbsp cold water
2 cups single cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp vanilla paste concentrate (or substitute with scraped seeds from vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract or essence)
1/3 cup caster sugar

Have 6-8 ramekins or glasses ready.

Whisk the gelatine powder into the cold water until it is fully mixed and set aside while you make panna cotta.

In a heavy based saucepan, slowly bring the cream, milk, vanilla and sugar to the boil and just as it bubbles, remove from heat.

Give the gelatine mix a final whisk, then whisk it into the panna cotta mix in the saucepan until it has all dissolved.  Leave to cool slightly.

Pour the mixture evenly amongst the ramekins or glasses.  Transfer to the fridge to chill until set.

To serve: Top panna cottas with about 3 pieces of baked rhubarb (choose the pink ones!) or other fruit of your choice and shortbread or tuiles if desired.

Panna cottas will keep in the fridge for about 2 days.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Banana, walnut & sultana cake

I don't make banana cakes too often as I don't particularly like them. There's too many large, bland (and often dry) ones. Or else they have that slight stickiness and a none too pleasant banana smell about them. Instead I've been happier to freeze my ultra ripe bananas for smoothies instead for their luscious creaminess.

But there is one banana cake recipe I've always kept. Many moons ago one of the playgroup mothers made this cake and it's about the only one I've ever loved.  

It's not a deep, high-rise cake but sits low in the tin, is wonderfully moist, slightly spicy and has the crunchiness of the walnuts and chewy sultanas.  

Serve it as a cake but it's just as good straight from the oven as a dessert with some whipped cream or vanilla mascarpone. I like to serve it with Greek yoghurt.

Banana, walnut & sultana cake

2 bananas, peeled and chopped
1 cup walnuts, quartered
1 cup sultanas
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
100g butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup self-raising flour 
2 teaspoons mixed spice

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Mix the bananas, walnuts, sultanas and sugar in a mixing bowl. 

Beat the egg and melted butter together and stir in to the banana mixture. 

Sift the flour and spices together then add them to the mix, stirring gently just to incorporate.

Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes or until the top springs back when pressed and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Lemon & yoghurt cake with lemon curd

I’m all for celebrations but that makes me the minority in our small family. I go ahead anyway and hope that people come to the party - literally!  It helps that whilst I may want to jump up and down for the occasion I am definitely not one for large, full blown parties. Intimate gatherings with family and close friends are preferred - something you can look back on with fondness in years to come. A gentle marking of the occasion. This is what I did for my daughter's 21st.  

The cake is from The Best of Annabel Langbein. I added the lemon curd filling as I had reduced the tin size and made a taller cake (the original version is noted below). 

I was pretty pleased with how the cake decoration turned out. My inspiration came from the stunningly pretty cakes from The Caker in Auckland.

Lemon & yoghurt cake with lemon curd

3 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
juice and finely grated rind of 4 lemons
2 cups rice bran oil (or any mild flavoured oil)
1 3/4 cups unsweetened Greek yoghurt
4 cups self-raising flour
a pinch of salt

Lemon Curd filling
about 1/4 cup lemon curd or enough for a 0.4cm layer


75g butter, softened but not melted
250g cream cheese
juice & finely grated rind of 1 lemon
4 cups icing sugar

Topping (optional - feel free to decorate as you wish). I used the following.

Fresh As freeze dried raspberry powder
Fresh As freeze dried blueberry slices
2 small packets of edible flowers (or pick your own but ensure they are clean and spray/insect free before placing on cake)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 28-30cm cake tin. 

In a large food processor or cake mixer, blend together the sugar, eggs, lemon juice and zest, oil and yoghurt.  Add flour and salt and blend briefly until just combined. Pour the mix into the prepared tin and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool for 10-20 minutes in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.  Once completely cold, use a large serrated knife to split the cake horizontally through the centre. Spread the lemon curd about 0.4cm thick and replace the top of the cake. 


Mix icing ingredients until smooth in a large food processor or cake mixer (you may have to split this if your food processing bowl is small). Spread the icing over the entire cake and decorate as desired. I used a palette knife to smooth the top and make angled swoops on the side.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Salted Caramel Slice

I gave up lunch for these. Not because I was too busy baking to eat lunch. No, I was too busy snaffling a bite here and there that I figured the best thing in the world to do would be to call it lunch and move on. So I did. Sometimes you've just got to make those sacrifices.

This slice differs slightly from most caramel slices I've baked in that it uses polenta. This is clever as it gives a good crunchiness to the base.  The topping is fairly typical in its mouth-sticking caramel toffee but there's salvation to all that sweetness with the odd salty flake on top. No chocolate layer on this one but I didn't miss it.

The recipe came from the New Zealand Herald's website but wasn't attributed to anyone. Scroll down a bit and there's a jacket photo of The Cook & Baker cookbook (authors Cherie Bevan & Tass Tauroa) so I guess it belongs there and a quick look at the cookbook's reviews online seems to confirm this. The Cook & Baker is a Sydney based cafe and bakery with a Kiwi connection.

Even though I tried dipping my knife in boiling water before slicing I still ended up with rugged edges! Not quite the impeccably smooth look in their photo but they sure taste good. I went for smaller slices than stated and ended up with about eighteen pieces.

Trust me, this is a really good and easy to make slice. Here's the link to the recipe

Saturday, September 5, 2015

etcetera ... London calling

Rewind time.  By way of explanation for the absence of posts in the past two months, I've been overseas for a wee while. Back to Edinburgh for a fabulous home visit and walk, walk, walk the city streets. Loved it, even though we went mid-summer and the weather was similar to Auckland's winter. Never mind, any sunshine we get is always a bonus. Similar stuff in Dublin visiting Bill's family. It was only when we reached Whitchurch village in Buckinghamshire, England that the temperature upped a bit - but the shorts stayed in the suitcase!

It was while we were at Bill's sister's that we took a day trip to London on the train. Something we do each time we visit. I've been encouraged to do a post on this cafe by a friend who wants to look it up next time she's in London. Happy to recommend. 

We were fortunate indeed to come across The Black Penny cafe (or coffee house, as they call it) as I was just about to lose it with caffeine withdrawal symptoms (sad, I know). We'd ditched the plan to have coffee first to take advantage of a quieter moment at the nearby Sir John Soane museum (more on that below). I instinctively knew the coffee would be good (after a rather hit and miss sampling in the UK) and it was. That and one look at the salads and I wasn't going anywhere else. 

I thought we were in for a bit of a wait as the place was bustling but luckily we got seated in the back room right away.  A large communal table filled the room which had that lovely mix of modern and old with exposed brickwork, wooden panelling and unusual lights, plus a few books to keep this bibliophile happy! 

The food was the star though. Not surprisingly I chose the option of a selection of salads which made me feel virtuous and were just lovely. The other two had generous portions of slow braised chicken legs with roasted fennel, sumac, burnt lemon and feta and proclaimed them delicious. Around our communal table I heard nothing but praise for the food. As much as I wanted to try the cakes or dessert, I was plenty full. If you find yourself in the Bloomsbury/Covent Garden area, go there!

And whilst you are in the area you'd be well advised to pay a visit to the Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields.  It had been on my TO DO list for years. I wasn't aware of it when I lived in London (even though it was only a short walk from where I worked). Funnily enough, while telling sister-in-law about it, I discovered an article on it in one of those homes and gardens magazines in her house and then found out she'd already been there. Thankfully she was happy to return. Over the years it has gone from being a relative unknown to a must do on the tourist schedule. A mesmerizing and eclectic collection of art, architecture and curiosities, with lots of little surprises, you simply must go! It's unique.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sweet Caramel & Oat Slice

I must have got my baking mojo back this weekend. As well as having another batch of homemade muesli ready for the working week ahead, I've been busy baking my favourite lemon cake, this time done as a slice instead of a cake. I was on a roll by then and thought my daughter and her flatmates might appreciate a bit of homemade baking. 

I remembered this slice.  I pestered someone for the recipe after tasting it at work many years ago. A mother had made it for a school camp, or some other trip. I'm not sure (or don't remember!) how it found its way to the staff room but I'm glad it did. It's a wonderfully gooey mix of crunch and caramel that we all fell in love with that day and still tastes as good as I remember.

Sweet Caramel & Oat Slice

Makes approximately 24 small slices

For the filling
385g tin sweetened condensed milk
50 grams butter
2 tbsp golden syrup

For the base
175g butter, softened
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups standard flour
1/2 cup rolled oats

Place the condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a medium sized saucepan and stir over a low heat for about 5 minutes until the butter has melted and the mixture is golden. Leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and line a 23cm x 23cm slice tin with baking paper.

In a cake mixer, or by hand, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until pale and creamy. Sift the flour into the mixture, along with the oats and mix them in until incorporated. The mix will be moist and crumbly.  

Press three-quarters of this mix into the base of the prepared tin, ensuring you have an even surface without gaps.

Pour over the caramel filling and spread out evenly with a palette knife. 

Scatter the remaining quarter of the crumble evenly across the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool (you should be able to lift out the whole lot by holding onto the overlap of baking paper.  You can refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight and it will be easier to slice.

Once cool, cut into small slices or squares. You don't need to cut the slices too large as it is quite rich. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chocolate, Raspberry & Coconut Slice

It pays to have your eyes tested before reading a recipe.  Lesson learned after I delivered these with a third of the amount of raspberry jam filling required.  That was after checking the recipe twice (I'm blaming the ratio of distance from eye to cookbook!) and not following my own intuition when it spread as a thin layer on the base. Luckily, after they'd cooled I was able to slice the base horizontally and add more jam to each individual slice. It made all the difference to the balance of tastes.

These slices are based on the Louise slice - a base layer of cake topped with raspberry jam and coconut meringue - and given a twist for chocoholics with a chocolate cake base and coconut and chocolate meringue. 

If the thought of three layers troubles you, don't worry, this was a breeze to make. The only strenuous chore was grating the chocolate. I thought there must be a better way but didn't find anything worthwhile on Google - so if you have any tips, let me know. At least it was cold and didn't melt in my hand as it did in summer.

I added a dusting of freeze-dried powder to give a tart burst of raspberry flavour in contrast to the sweetness, plus it looks rather vibrant.

The recipe comes from Fiona Smith in the Treasury of New Zealand Baking (edited by Lauraine Jacobs). It's a keeper of a cookbook full of delicious and reliable recipes.

Chocolate, Raspberry & Coconut Slice

125g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups standard flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 cup raspberry jam
100g dark chocolate, grated
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

Optional: freeze-dried raspberry powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Grease and line a 18x28 cm baking tin.

Cream the butter and half the sugar in a cake mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time until incorporated. 

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder together and mix into the creamed butter and sugar. As it's quite crumbly, I found the easiest way to do this was to do a short burst on slow whisk to incorporate everything.  Press the mix into the prepared tray. Spread the raspberry jam evenly over the base.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly (about a tablespoonful at a time) beat in the remaining sugar until stiff. Fold in the grated chocolate and coconut. Using a palette knife or spatula, spread the meringue mixture evenly over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes or until meringue is golden and firm to touch.

Cool in the tin.  Remove from the tin carefully and cut into squares or slices.  Dust a little freeze-dried raspberry powder over the top of the cakes.

Makes about 16 squares.  Keeps for up to 3 days in an airtight container.