Parmigiano and prosciutto

This might sound strange, given I earn my living by tapping away at a keyboard, but one of my resolutions for 2013 is to spend less time online. It’s so easy now to get caught in the interweb that some days I feel I spend more time interacting with virtual life than the real thing. That doesn’t mean I’ll be giving up entirely – I mean, I have this blog to feed, delectable things like this to marvel at and a shoe habit to maintain – but I want to spend more time doing things that don’t require a broadband connection. Pottering about in the kitchen with friends over the holidays was a good reminder of the benefits of actual reality.

Parmigiano e prosciutto alla Bess
This was one of the things lovely Bess whipped up for our New Year’s Eve feast. Her brother, a chef who divides his time between Martha’s Vineyard and New Zealand, taught it to her and in an ideal world, I’d be at your place making it for you. Instead, invite someone over to your place and show them how to make it.

a small block of Parmigiano Reggiano (or best local equivalent)
a packet of prosciutto (or best local equivalent)
extra virgin olive oil (I have been using this delicious fennel-infused Wairarapa oil)

Lay the slices of prosciutto on a flat plate. Grate over the cheese, then drizzle with the oil. Serve with glasses of prosecco (or best local equivalent). Cheers!

What foodie trick have you learned in ‘real life’ lately?

Gougeres that will make you talk

One of the things I love about the Boy Wonder is his gregariousness. In his gung-ho reporter days he’d winkle stories out of anyone – if they were bad eggs it was often to their regret – and I used to give him a stern talking-to before we went anywhere so he wouldn’t accidentally-on-purpose interrogate my friends.

“I can’t help it,” he’d say. “People just tell me things.”

If he’s not making people divulge their life story, he’s probably telling them to come over for a drink. At times last summer I felt like we were running a bar and I was a short order canape maker. I came across these photos the other day and remembered churning out lots of these little cheesy puffs. I think I’m just about ready to make them again.

Gougeres

I’ve made these for years in all sorts of places, some better equipped than others. While beating the mixture in a food processor does make it a bit easier, I think the hassle of washing all the parts afterwards is hardly worth it. Equip yourself with a sturdy wooden spoon and go to it. Line the tray with baking paper and you’ll only have one pot to wash. 

Gougeres are orginally from Burgundy and if you’re doing them the proper French way you should use gruyere. But I say, use whatever cheese comes to hand. No one will complain, trust me.

1 cup (250ml) water

50g butter

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (155g) flour

3 eggs

3/4 cup grated cheese

Heat the oven to 210C and line a tray with nonstick baking paper. 

Put the butter, water and salt in a large pot and bring to the boil. When the butter has melted, tip in the flour and stir well. Turn down the heat and keep stirring until the dough forms a ball. Keep stirring this ball around the pot for about another minute, then remove from the heat and add one of the eggs. Beat like fury until it is all amalgamated, then repeat with the remaining eggs, one at a time. When the mixture is smooth and shiny, beat in the cheese.

Scrape spoonful-sized heaps onto the baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the gougeres are golden and puffed up. Eat immediately with a glass of something cold.

Do you have a favourite recipe for what Nigella calls ‘unhappy hour’?

Secret cheese and onion bread

Next time I plan to spend the weekend in the garden I’m going to check the weather forecast first. For instead of sitting on the back steps thinking about doing some weeding, I spent both days indoors, worried that either our roof was going to lift off or the windows were going to blow out.
The one good thing about being housebound was that I transformed a few basic ingredients into a magic loaf of bread. Who needs gardening, anyway?

Recipe-For-Cheese-Stuffed-Bread

Secret cheese and onion bread
This magic loaf and its secret molten centre is inspired by Lora at CakeDuchess and her TwelveLoaves project with Jamie at Life’s A Feast and Barbara at Creative Culinary.
I’ve also used some of the principles I learned last weekend with Dean in making the dough, which are easy to do but slightly difficult to explain. There’s a very short video that shows how easy it is to knead this way.

500g strong or high-grade flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
320ml warm water
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tsp brown sugar
olive oil for brushing
120g cheese, sliced into pieces about 2cm x 1cm x 0.25cm thick
4 Tbsp good chutney (I use this recipe, or if you are buying it, this one is amazing)
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper

Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl and stir well, then add the salt and stir again. Make a well in the centre and add the oil and water. Mix well with your hand until a soft, sticky dough forms. Tip this out onto the bench. Pick up one side of the dough, stretch it up, then bring it down again on top of itself. Repeat from the opposite corner.
Do this another three times, then scrape the dough from your hands and walk away. Seriously. Leave the dough to rest for five minutes, then come back and repeat the pick up and stretch process again. Then leave it again for five minutes. Do this process twice more, then scoop the dough into a well-oiled large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for an hour or so, or until doubled.

While the dough is rising, cook the sliced onions in a tablespoon of olive oil over low heat, stirring occasionally. When they are soft, turn the heat up a little and sprinkle over a teaspoon of brown sugar. Let caramelise for another five minutes, then set aside to cool.

Cheese-And-Onion-Bread

When the dough has risen, tip it out onto a lightly floured bench and roll out until it measures about 30cm x 40cm. Cut in half lengthways. Brush one side of each strip with olive oil, then spread the other side with chutney. Layer the cooked onions and cheese on top, then season well with salt and pepper. Fold each strip in half lengthways again to enclose the filling and press down to seal. Pick up the end of the folded strip and concertina it – as if you are folding a piece of ribbon so you end up with a square pile. Repeat with the other strip. Pack both gently into a large, well-greased loaf tin.
Cover the tin loosely with plastic and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 200C. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg, then bake for 35 minutes, until well-risen and golden. Carefully tip out of the tin and let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Bake Club: Savoury Scones

Last week I had a rush of blood to the head and encouraged my workmates to make up a team for Wellington On A Plate’s Bake Club contest. “It’ll be great,” I told them. “Of course you can do it.”

As we unveiled our savoury scones for the first challenge on Monday, I realised they had all been bluffing about their baking skills and I am a serious contender for the wooden spoon.
This will be a bad look professionally – I mean, I look at recipes all day for work (well, some of the day) – three of the others are hotshot reporters, one is the building’s receptionist (and she bakes professionally) and the other is an entertainment editor – who won with some super-spicy beer and sausage scones. So while I took the moral high ground and didn’t vote for my own triple cheese scones on Monday, next week I’m going to play dirty.

Triple cheese and salami scones
This is a really easy way to make scones because there’s no rubbing in of butter (which is helpful when you’re making them before work). One of the rules of Bake Club is to include as many ‘Wellington’ ingredients as possible. I used Zany Zeus feta (made in Lower Hutt), and Little Wolf salami (from Wainuiomata), but you can use whatever you like. This makes a huge amount, but they freeze well. Oh, and since you ask, I got third. Out of six. Please don’t let that put you off, I still reckon these are prize-winners.

4 cups self-raising flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp mustard powder
3 cups grated cheese – crumbled feta, parmesan, cheddar, plus about 1/2 -1 cup grated cheddar to sprinkle on the top
200g salami, diced      
125ml cream
500ml milk
      
Preheat oven to 220C and put the oven tray in to heat up.
Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Toss through the cheese and salami.
Mix the milk and cream together in a jug, then pour into the dry ingredients. Fold together until just mixed, then turn out onto a floured work surface and form into a shape about 2.5cm high. Stamp out rounds or cut into wedges.
Transfer gently onto the hot tray and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Grind over some black pepper and bake for 10-15 minutes, until risen and golden on top.

Are you taking part in Bake Club this year?

Sweet sweet Friday: Chocolate Swirl Cake

I have always, always wanted to make this cake. Well, maybe not always, but at least since 2004, when it graced the front cover of Julie Le Clerc’s Feast @ home. It’s a blessed union of chocolate, cream cheese, butter and eggs and I have thought about making it for years, even when my copy of the book was 12,000 miles away in a box in my brother’s shed. Especially then, in fact.
Now, with the remains of it wrapped in tinfoil in the fridge, I can’t wait to make it again. Once you’ve made it, you’ll feel the same way.

Chocolate Swirl Sliver Cake
It took the April edition of We Should Cocoa, hosted by Choclette, to prompt me to dig out Feast @ Home (which naturally fell open to the page the cake is on). Julie Le Clerc says eating it will “remain with you as one of those ‘died and gone to heaven’ experiences”, which is true. She also says to serve it in small slivers, as it is very rich. This is also true, but in our house at least we have found that one small sliver is not as good as two. Or three. Julie also says it serves 16, but at the moment it is serving two very greedy adults (one of whom claims not to like cream cheese in anything) perfectly nicely and neither of us are interested in sharing it.

250g cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1tsp pure vanilla extract

150g butter
300g good quality dark chocolate (I used Whittakers 72% Dark Ghana)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1Tbsp strong coffee, cooled
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 150C fan bake. Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin (Julie says some people find it overflows a 22cm tin, but it was fine for me).
Put the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine, then set aside.
Melt the chocolate and butter together, either in the oven as it heats up (the way I always do it), in a double boiler or in the microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place the eggs, sugar, coffee and salt in another bowl and whisk with an electric mixer for five minutes, or until very thick and pale. Gradually add the melted chocolate and butter mixture while continuing to whisk until combined.
Pour this batter into the prepared cake tin. Dollop big spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture on top. Push a blunt knife or small spatula into the mixture and swirl around to marble it (this is good fun). Knock the tin with your hand to settle the mixtures, then bake for 40-45 minutes untila skewer inserted comes out sticky but not liquid coated. Leave to cool completely in the tin before serving.

Recipe from Feast @ Home (Penguin NZ, 2004) reproduced with the kind permission of Julie Le Clerc.

Have a great weekend, everyone – see you for some non-baking-related fun next week!