Good things: August 2014

Last week I got an advertising-type email from a gym that reminded all recipients that ‘summer bodies are made in winter’. Reader, I threw it in the rubbish.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping kaftans and elasticated waistbands are going to be the height of fashion in summer 2015. Various things – birthdays, parties, stressful life events – are conspiring against my ‘summer body’.

Homemade-Pasta-Atlas-Marcato-Machine

Firstly, I found this – a pasta machine at a charity shop for $20, still in its original box, with its original warranty and instructions. I’ve always, always wanted one to play with and although I’ve only used it once so far, I can see plenty of pasta in my future.

Eclairs-With-Coffee-Custard-Chocolate-Icing-And-Walnut-Praline
Eclair image thanks to my colleague and co-baker Lisa

I know DIY pasta has a difficult reputation but it was a cinch compared to some of the things I’ve been making lately. In a moment of weakness I joined the Wellington On a Plate Bake Club team at work, which has meant many a late Sunday night making pies, slices, cakes and eclairs.

The upshot of all of this is that I won our in-house contest against some seriously tough competition and now I have to join the winners of 80+ Bake Clubs this Sunday morning for the final Bake-Off. I normally go for a run on Sunday mornings – but if the gods have decided I need to be in a room full of cakes, I can only go along with their wishes.

Perhaps I’ll take inspiration from these cute cupcakes – these are made by 15-year-old Emily, of three winners in the Better With BRITA contest. Emily, who made bespoke cupcakes for each of the judges – it takes a special kind of talent to make a miniature BRITA water jug out of icing – joins Alex, who made gluten-free brownies and Rekha, who made samosas, at The Big Feastival in London at the end of the month.

I’d love to join them, but my real goal for August is to make something out of My Paris Kitchen. If you haven’t got a copy of this yet, you’re missing out. My lovely sister-in-law gave it to me for my birthday and I think it’s a strong contender for book of the year.

My-Paris-Kitchen-David-Lebovitz-Book-Of-The-Year!

How has August been for you?

What to do with a Buddha’s hand

Ever shaken a Buddha’s hand? I wouldn’t recommend it; the ‘skin’ is pitted and lumpy and the fingers are disturbingly claw-like. But the scent makes you see past its horror-movie looks – it’s light, floral and lemony, the sort of perfume you wish they’d bottle.

What-To-Do-With-A-Buddha's-Hand

The Buddha’s Hand, also known as Fingered Citron, Buddha’s Fingers or, by it’s botanical name, citrus medica, is apparently one of the most ancient forms of citrus fruit still in existence. There’s no juicy interior -slice into one and it’s all bright white pith. But beyond using them as a conversation starter or a scary prop for tricks (imagine getting into bed and having one of these at your feet!), there are lots of ways to use one.

You can take follow David Lebovitz’s advice and turn it into candied citron, you can come over all Martha Stewart and use it to scent a room (though a rather small room, unless you want the scent to be very faint). You can zest a little skin over fish, or use it to scent a butter cake or shortbread. But this is my favourite way to use it: Buddha’s Hand Vodka.

How-To-Make-Buddha's-Hand-Vodka


Buddha’s Hand Vodka
You can adapt this to suit whatever amount of vodka you have, just adjust to suit.
For 250ml vodka, pare off about a third of the Buddha’s Hand rind, trying to avoid as much pith as possible. Put this in a screwtop jar, along with 1/3 cup of sugar. Add the vodka, apply the lid and shake well until the sugar has dissolved. Make sure the Buddha’s Hand peel is below the surface of the vodka. Leave for at least three days (a week is better), shaking once a day. You can strain out the peel if you like, but it gives a suitably freakish appearance to the liquid and it will continue to flavour the liquid if you leave it in.

Do you have any interesting ways to use a Buddha’s Hand?

The ultimate chocolate beetroot cake

Do you love cake? Then I URGE you to stop whatever you’re doing and make this cake.

Chocolate-Beetroot-Cake-With-Caramel-Cream-Cheese-Frosting

The photo isn’t the best – harsh work lighting – but hopefully you can get a sense of what a mighty cake this is. It’s Nigel Slater’s chocolate beetroot cake, taken from his beautiful book Tender (vol 1). It’s quite an involved cake to make – pureed beetroot, melted chocolate, whisked egg whites – but the results are absolutely worth it.

Nigel-Slater-Chocolate-Beetroot-Cake-Twitter-Photo

Nigel was right (I can’t believe I doubted him) – it’s probably the world’s best chocolate cake, full of dark, rich, complex flavours. He tops it with creme fraiche and poppy seeds, but because I was making it for our Bake Club I knew I needed to add a little more wow factor. I topped mine with caramel cream cheese frosting, then scattered over some shards of 72 per cent chocolate and some candied purple carrot. I used this recipe for candied carrot curls as a guide, but on my first attempt I ended up with a smoke-filled kitchen and a tray of burnt carrot strips. I’d recommend cooking the carrot in the syrup for a shorter time period and lowering the oven temperature.

The judges loved it enough – I knocked out the competition easily. Most importantly, I got to savour the very last piece. I might not ever experience it again, but I’ve finally tasted success.

French crumpets

Something strange is happening to my friends. It seems like it was only yesterday that we were going to each others’ 21st birthday parties, bearing bottles of cheap wine, rimu CD towers and wrought-iron candelabras (it was the ’90s). Now, without warning, they are suddenly all turning 40.

How To Cure A Hangover With French Crumpets

The parties, in many ways, are the same as they ever were. So are the faces at them, even if they are a little more lived in. But our lives are so different. Then, we acted like children. Now, we talk about our children and discuss after-school care and how to manage the holidays and coping with nits. On Saturday night the party raged on while the host’s three-year-old twins slept solidly in their beds and their seven-year-old brother practiced passing canapes. And on Sunday morning, after three glasses of wine the night before and less than six hours’ sleep, I felt that time had been very, very cruel.

Then I remembered I was an adult and that if I wanted things to change, I had to be the change. So I got out of bed, made a strong cup of tea and some French crumpets. And life didn’t seem so bad after all.

French Crumpets
If you’re feeling a little delicate the morning after the night before – and sometimes all it takes for that to happen is for me to think about having a glass of wine – then this is an excellent curative. It won’t make you feel 21 again, but you should feel at least 35. If you feel particularly terrible, you could always top the crumpets with a fried egg or some fried tomatoes – or both.

For one serving:

1 egg
1/4 cup milk
pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
2-3 crumpets (the large, square ones made by Golden Crumpets are particularly good)
a decent knob of butter
Toppings – jam, honey, lemon juice and sugar

Put the egg, milk, salt and sugar into a shallow bowl and whisk well. Dip the crumpets in the mixture, letting them soak up as much of the liquid as possible.
Put a frying pan over medium heat and add the butter. When it foams, add the dipped crumpets. Cook for three or four minutes each side, until golden brown.
Slide onto a waiting plate, anoint with the toppings suggested above, and eat while drinking a very strong cup of tea and reading yesterday’s newspaper (that’s what old folks like us do).

The ultimate chocolate cake

This month the We Should Cocoa challenge has been all about making a chocolate cake for less than £1 (NZ$1.97). I have to confess I didn’t even try.

Instead, I can share with you the way to make your favourite chocolate cake taste – and look – like a million dollars. It’s this – a cloud of chocolate meringue buttercream that will make people close their eyes in bliss as they eat it. It defies all current trends in that it is resolutely full of sugar, butter and eggs. And it is worth every single mouthful.

The ultimate chocolate meringue buttercream
If you find ordinary buttercream icing – the sort you make with icing sugar and butter – too sweet and somewhat gritty, then this is the icing for you. It’s still sweet and quite rich, but incredibly light. It’s stable enough to pipe, spreads like a dream and keeps well in the freezer if you don’t use it all in one go. I have to leave the house to stop myself eating it straight from the bowl before it reaches the cake. It’s THAT good.

320g caster sugar
170g water
4 egg yolks
2 eggs
350g butter, at room temperature, sliced into 2cm chunks
2 tsp pure vanilla
150g good quality dark chocolate, at least 60 per cent cocoa solids, melted and at room temperature

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir well, then boil until the temperature reaches 118C. While the syrup is boiling, put the egg yolks and eggs in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and whisk until they are light and fluffy. When the syrup has reached 118C, carefully drizzle it into the egg mixture (beating all the time). Beat on high until the mixture is thick and pale, and the sides of the bowl are cool to touch. At this point, switch from the whisk to the paddle attachment and start adding the butter, a piece at a time, until it is all mixed in. Don’t fret if it starts to look a bit like mayonnaise, just keep beating it.
When the butter is all in, and the buttercream is very light and fluffy, add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat until well mixed in. You can use this straight away, or leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours (as long as it doesn’t get too hot or cold). It also keeps in the fridge for a week, though you’ll need to beat it again.

Best Chocolate Meringue Buttercream Cake Recipe: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake
If you want to make the ultimate chocolate cake, make two batches of this easy chocolate cake. When the cakes have completely cooled, chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes. Spread the surfaces of three of the cakes with good boysenberry jam, then a layer of chocolate meringue buttercream. Stack them on top of each other, then cover the lot with a thin ‘crumb coat’ of buttercream. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes to set, then cover in the remainder of the buttercream (you can go crazy here with a piping bag if you like). The cake can be left in the fridge overnight, but let it come to room temperature before serving.

Have a great weekend, everyone x