Sweet sweet Friday: Empty tins

If you were to turn up at my house today I would make you a cup of tea and say in an apologetic voice, “I’m sorry, the best I can offer you is a Superwine, I haven’t had time to bake this week.”
If you were standing in my kitchen I’m sure you would look at the detritus around us and say, “What? No baking?” and then be so amazed by my tea making (take cup, insert tea bag, add just-boiled water) that you wouldn’t think any less of me.

However, since you’re not here (and in all honesty, I am quite relieved) I feel I have to offer you some other distractions. I could entertain you with scurrilous gossip, such as telling you about my discovery  that a food writer I previously admired has shamelessly ripped off Bill Granger in a national newspaper, but I think it’s best done in person so I can point out the similarities between Bill’s book and the recipe stuck to my fridge door. Instead, I’d like to tell you about the baking I could have done.

If you had turned up at breakfast time (and I had been really, really organised) we could have listened to Moaning Report and eaten these spiced sweet potato doughnuts to cheer ourselves up.

I also really wish I’d made these incredible miso cookies, for then we could have sat on the back steps and drunk some jasmine tea after I hung out the washing. You could have told me where to plant the lemon verbena and fig trees languishing on the deck, too.

If I didn’t have loads of work to do this afternoon (and a child sleeping upstairs, and a man delivering a skip any time now) then I could whip out to the grocer in the eastern suburbs where I saw that big basket of kumquats and we could have these kumquat friands for afternoon tea.

And if I hadn’t given up chocolate I could indulge my inner Heston and make this chocolate mousse for pudding.

But, as it is, I haven’t had time to do any of those things. I hope you’ll forgive me. Come back next week – I’m sure I’ll be more organised. No, really, I will…

Sweet sweet Friday: Biffo Biscuits

I’ve felt very out of sorts with the world this week. You’d think running 21.1km through the scenic Buller Gorge would have drained me of all aggression and anxiety, but apparently not. (It did leave me unable to move without wincing for a day or two, but that’s different.)

So when I found a recipe for cookies that promised to help get rid of any excess anger, I couldn’t wait to try it. Even if you don’t make these you must read this fantastic post from the archives of Rhode Island blogger Lydia Walshin, who imagines the life of baking powder as an opera libretto. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve read all week – and the fact that there’s a cookie recipe at the end of it makes it all the better. When I emailed Lydia, who has a whole swag of blogs on the go, to ask if I could link to her post and adapt the recipe, she told me that “all recipes are meant to be played with”. I think she’s my new favourite person.

Biffo Biscuits
Do you know what biffo is? It’s Antipodean slang for violence or bother, ie, you might come home with a black eye after getting into a bit of biffo at the pub.
The Small Girl and I made these yesterday after our usual Thursday visit to the supermarket (which is often full of people who look like they would love to give you a broken arm or two).
It was surprisingly therapeutic, partly because she had such a good time eating most of the mixture. We did have a bit of a fight at the end when I tried to get her to wash her hands, but there were no black eyes.

125g soft butter
120g soft brown sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cloves
3/4tsp baking powder
80g wholemeal flour
100g rolled oats
60g whole oats

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until soft. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well, using a spoon and your fingers. It’s especially good, messy fun to squelch the mixture through your hands. When you have played with it long enough, or your mother tells you that if you eat any more you won’t eat your lunch, roll into small balls and place on the prepared tray. Press each one lightly – using a small fist or a fork – and bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Leave on the tray for a few minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Makes 16-20 small cookies, depending how much gets eaten/goes on the floor in the process.

Have a great weekend, everyone. The Boy Wonder has been doing a lot of cooking at our place recently so I’ve got some fun things to show you next week…

Tangzhong Bread

My powers of concentration are shot at the moment, so bear with me if this post goes awry. That said, even though I can’t be relied upon to make a cup of tea, successfully go to the shop to buy a paper or remember to leave a key out, I did manage to make this bread for January’s Fresh From The Oven challenge.

I’d never heard of the Tangzhong method, which involves making a flour and water roux (rhymes with – and looks like – glue), and at first glance this seemed horribly complicated. But I followed Silvia and Ivan‘s advice and all was well. Mostly. The point I’m trying to make is that if I can get this to work, you can.

Tangzhong Bread
The glue-roux may seem odd but it is supposed to make the bread very light and fluffy, with good keeping qualities. The former is definitely true, but we’ve eaten both the loaves I made too quickly for me to confirm the latter. Do not attempt this without a freestanding mixer, unless you are a masochist or very strong.

30g flour
155ml cold water

125ml milk
1tsp dried yeast
350g strong flour
55g sugar
1tsp salt
1 egg
30g butter

First, prepare the tangzhong. Whisk together the cold water and flour (there should be no lumps) in a small saucepan and cook over low heat (stirring all the time) until the temperature reaches 65C. This takes about five minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, cook until the spoon you’re stirring with leaves a trace. Pour the tangzhong into a small bowl and leave to cool to room temperature (by the time you have everything organised it should be fine).
Wash out the tangzhong saucepan and scald the milk, then pour into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and let cool to blood heat. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve.
Wash out the saucepan AGAIN and use it to melt the butter. Set aside.
Add the flour, salt, sugar, egg and 120g of the tangzhong to the yeast and milk. (Don’t throw the remainder of the tangzhong out, you’ll need it later.)
Stir to a soft dough, then add the melted butter. Turn the mixer to low speed and let the dough hooks work their magic for 15-20 minutes. The dough is very soft and sticky. You can tell if it’s ready by taking a small piece of it and stretching it to a very thin membrane before it tears.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover and sit it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (around 90 minutes).
Knock the dough down on a lightly floured counter top and knead gently to let the gas escape. Form it into a loaf shape – I took advice from here (though I found it very difficult to roll out and just pressed it out with my fingertips, then rolled up). Put in a well-greased loaf tin, cover with plastic and let double in size again (about an hour).
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Carefully brush the risen dough with the rest of the tangzhong (it will be quite solid by now, so thin it down a bit with milk or water) and bake for around 30 – 35 minutes until golden.

Sweet sweet Friday: Krummeltorte

One last post before 2011 comes to a close – and just enough time to fit in Random Recipe for December. I felt quite aggrieved when Dom suggested we use a recipe from a book we were intending to give to charity, considering that I’d done a pre-move book purge just weeks before. But yesterday, when trying to fit more books on the shelves than was good for them (or me), I realised several more could find new homes.
Top of the pile was the 10th anniversary edition of Sophie Gray’s Stunning Food From Small Change, which I acquired when I interviewed her in 2010.  Gray, who changed her cooking and eating habits when she and her husband decided to become self-employed (and took a massive cut in income), was a bit of a novelty when this was first published in 2000. She did radical things like suggesting meatless meals, avoiding convenience foods and generally going in for a bit of kitchen DIY (I know, I know, some people don’t know this stuff…)
It’s not the most inspiring book, but I have found myself turning to it in times of severe economic hardship. Even so, I think it’s time for someone else to benefit from Sophie’s choices.

It’s not all red lentils and ways to stretch one sausage to feed four in Gray’s book – here’s a slightly tweaked version of a recipe from the ‘Decadence’ chapter. It’s a great high-speed pud to have up your sleeve, especially at this time of year when visitors seem to be forever knocking on the door.
If you don’t have lemon curd and sour cream (I had both in the fridge rapidly approaching use-by dates), some tart, stewed fruit would be fab.

2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
100g cold butter, cubed
2 eggs
2 cups lemon curd
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 24cm springform cake tin or loose-bottomed tart tin.
Put the flour, sugar and butter into the food processor and blitz until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the eggs and blitz again until it just forms a dough. Turn out and press together, then press two-thirds of the mixture into the prepared tin. Mix the curd and sour cream together, then pour on top of the dough. Crumble the remaining mixture over the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. Dust with icing sugar before serving with a dollop of cream or yoghurt.

Now, the best thing about doing this was not only did our lunch guests wolf this down like there was no tomorrow, but I made some space on the bookshelf (and in the fridge) AND found the beautiful cake stencils my sister sent me for Christmas about a decade ago. Now, what shall I throw out next…

Hope you welcome the New Year in style, wherever you are. See you in 2012!

Chocolate Orange Wreath

Most people have leftovers to cope with after Christmas; I have leftover blogging events. Well, they’re not leftovers as such, more that I couldn’t quite squeeze them in before December 25. But in the spirit of caring and sharing, let me present you with the We Should Cocoa/Fresh From The Oven mash-up: a Chocolate Orange Wreath.

The We Should Cocoa guest ingredient for December is orange and I have cunningly worked it and chocolate into the festive wreath recipe set by Michelle of Utterly Scrummy for this month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge. You can omit the chocolate of course, but it does add a suitably OTT dimension. I made this the weekend before Christmas and it was just what we needed to keep us going. I had thought about making it again for Boxing Day breakfast but with litres of cream and sherry flowing through my veins from the day before I decided discretion was the better part of valour. You could, however, make it on December 31 and it will be perfect for a late New Year’s Day brunch (and any leftovers will be great toast the day after that).

Chocolate Orange Wreath

Don’t be put off by the lengthy instructions, this is really quite simple to make. Anyway, it’s the holidays – what else would you be doing but playing in the kitchen? Use whatever fruit/nut/chocolate combo you like in the filling, but keep more or less to the amounts specified.


3tsp dried yeast

315ml lukewarm milk
1Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
50g soft, but not melted, butter
1tsp mixed spice
420g plain flour


50g soft, but not melted, butter
2Tbsp brown sugar
45g plain flour
1tsp almond essence
1/2 -3/4 cup mixed peel

1/2 cup white or dark chocolate bits (just smash up a block)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

To finish:

1 egg beaten with 1tsp milk

Vanilla icing: 1 cup icing sugar, 2tsp vanilla extract and 1 – 1 1/2 Tblsp hot water

Pour the milk into a large bowl (or the bowl of a freestanding mixer with a dough hook) and sprinkle over the yeast. Leave in a warm place to start acting for five minutes, then add the other ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon. Knead by hand for 10 minutes, or with the dough hook for three or four, until you have a soft, springy, satiny dough. Grease the bowl and return the dough to it. Cover with plastic and leave in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).

While the bread is proving, make the filling by beating together the softened butter, sugar, essence/extract and flour to make a paste and then fold in the fruit and nuts. Now is also a good time to line a baking tray with nonstick baking paper so you don’t have to rush later.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and punch down. Knead for a minute or two, then roll it out into a large rectangle shape. Spread the filling over the dough and then roll it up, starting from the longest side. 

Now comes the fun bit. Using a sharp knife slice the roll in half lengthwise. Put the dough onto the lined baking sheet. Twist the two halves lightly together, cut sides out, and form into a circle, pinching the ends together. Leave to prove again for about 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size and then brush with the lightly beaten egg and milk.

Bake at 200C for 20 – 30 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Transfer to a rack to cool. Drizzle with vanilla icing if the mood takes you and serve. If you’re making this a day in advance and would like to reheat it, skip the icing stage. Wrap it well in foil when cool and reheat in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes. You can work your magic with the icing just before serving.