Prison Bake Brownies & Good Bitches’ Truffles

I did a lot of cool food-related things in 2018. I wrote a book about burgers, I helped judge the second Outstanding Food Producer Awards and I ate in some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. But the very best thing I did was join a group of volunteers teaching baking at one of New Zealand’s largest prisons.

That might not sound very interesting in and of itself (though I can tell you, being behind the wire at a prison is a huge learning experience) until you realise that baking was a bit of a Trojan horse. What we were really trying to teach – along with a few tips and tricks about successfully making biscuits and cakes – was the redemptive power of kindness. The Prison Bake programme, which ran as a short pilot in August and then a three-week stint before Christmas, was the brainchild of Good Bitches Baking. This charity, set up by Marie Fitzgerald and Nic Murray in 2014, now has about 1600 volunteers baking for 135 different recipient organisations every week. Prison Bake is another way of reaching out to the community and spreading what Fitzgerald and Murray call ‘moments of sweetness’.

You might take a dim view of prison rehab, preferring to think of jail being a place where they lock you and and lose the key. You might not think baking a cake is much of a help to someone having a tough time. But it’s hard to argue with the feedback from the prisoners themselves. When asked what they’d learned during the pilot programme, one of them said he’d learned that he could be a kind person – and he didn’t think that was possible. You don’t have to be behind bars to have that kind of learning experience (but it’s even more remarkable if you are).

PRISON BAKE BROWNIES

These brownies were part of the pre-Christmas Prison Bake programme. They’re very simple to mix and make, and you can change it up by using different chocolate or fruit. I think dark chocolate chips and brandy-soaked prunes might be a good combo (though perhaps not quite so prison-friendly).

125g butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 cup plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup frozen raspberries

1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a brownie pan (about 20x30cm) with baking paper.

Set a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and cocoa, stirring until it melts. Cook for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch (about 10 minutes).

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Fold together gently, then fold in the chocolate. Pour into the prepared pan and dot the raspberries on top (press them in lightly).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are set in the middle. Cool in the pan before slicing.

Of course, if going to prison isn’t your thing there are plenty of other ways to support Good Bitches Baking. They’ve got a whole bunch of cool things you can buy to support their fundraising efforts, including the most beautiful cake sprinkles I’ve ever seen. If you wanted to be a very kind person you could buy some sprinkles, make these truffles and then give them away to a person in need of cheering up. (It’s ok if that person is you – self-care takes many forms.)

GOOD BITCHES TRUFFLES

This is more-or-less a Julie Le Clerc recipe from issue 100 of Cuisine magazine (a deeply precious issue that sparks much joy).

250g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana)
50g butter
125ml cream
3 Tbsp dark rum (or brandy, or whisky, or a liqueur of your choice)
1 egg yolk
1 packet Good Bitches Baking Kindness Sprinkles

Put the chocolate, butter, cream and rum into a heatproof bowl and put into a low oven – or over a saucepan of simmering water, or in a microwave – and melt, stirring occasionally. The oven method is really easy, as long as you don’t forget it’s there. 
Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in the egg yolk until well mixed. Let cool for 10 minutes, then chill in the fridge until set (about an hour).
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls – this is a sticky job, don’t even think about answering the phone etc while you’re doing it – then roll in the sprinkles. Store in the fridge, eat at room temperature. Makes about 22 truffles if you don’t accidentally eat the mixture.

To learn more about Good Bitches Baking, visit www.gbb.org.nz

Common Household Biscuits & Slices Of New Zealand

Are you a ‘lickalda jamoffit’ kind of person? Or do you prefer a ‘picquanacium fuchsia’ to brighten up your morning tea break? Either way, I wager that you’ll be delighted by the new tea towel and poster edition of Common Household Biscuits & Slices of New Zealand.

This brilliant concept, which mixes scientific accuracy with subversive humour, caused quite a storm in a biscuit jar when it was first released as part of the beautiful children’s compendium, Annual 2, in 2017. Biscuit eaters across the nation (and from further afield) were gratified and grumpy in equal parts when they discovered that some of their most detested biscuits and slices had made the cut while their favourites had missed out.

For me, the icing on the, err, biscuits and slices is the Latin names found under each one. Illustrator Giselle Clarkson has used her Latin knowledge to come up with names like ‘Lestwee forgetum’ (the noble Anzac biscuit), ‘Custurdis betwixtus’ (the melting moment) and ‘Disappointus minora’ (the much-maligned sultana pasty).

You might not have done enough for a chocolatum rotunda, but you definitely deserve one of these tea towels or posters. And just think what good presents they’ll make…

The Common Household Biscuits & Slices of New Zealand tea towel and poster are available here.

How to make mascarpone

Ever been at home and experienced a mascarpone emergency? You know, that feeling you get when you really need a tub of thick, luscious cultured cream but you know the corner shop won’t have any and you can’t be bothered going to the supermarket? Well, let me save you. Here’s a dead easy way to make mascarpone at home that doesn’t require faffing about with straining through layers of cheesecloth and other such hassles. This is a two-ingredient wonder that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Homemade mascarpone

There are more recipes for mascarpone than you can shake a stick at – and a lot of argument about which method is better, or more authentic. I’m not interested in wading into that quagmire, especially since I don’t have any claims to knowing the secrets of Italian grandmothers. However, I do know the way my mother used to make it and it works a charm. All you need is a thermometer and a bit of patience.

1 litre cream

1/4 tsp tartaric acid

Pour the cream into a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream reaches 90C. When this happens, add the tartaric acid and stir for 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the heat and stir for another two minutes (at a leisurely pace, don’t work up a sweat), then remove the bowl from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Unless you’re in a very warm climate, you can safely leave the cream at room temperature for about four hours. By this time the cream should have thickened considerably. Give it a stir, then cover and put it in the fridge for at least three hours before using – ideally overnight.

I find it thick enough by this point, but you can always strain it through a layer of new cheesecloth or similar if you want the end result to be very thick. The resulting cheese will keep for more than a week in the fridge – but since I can just about eat it straight from the bowl I never have a problem with using it up. If you need more inspiration, there’s this Black Doris and white chocolate tiramisu, this tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone and this breakfast dessert option – raspberries, walnuts and mascarpone on toast.

Broccoli and the beautiful game

When Frenchman Arsene Wenger became the manager of the Arsenal football team in 1996, the players were not amused. Marie Antoinette might have been in favour of cake but Wenger took the opposite view: half-time Mars bars were out, broccoli was in. The proof was in the (lack of) pudding – within two years the team went from being lardy losers to league and FA Cup champions.

I haven’t played football since about 1985, but broccoli is still held in high esteem in my household. We call it healing broccoli and it’s the perfect panacea if you’ve been overdoing it in any way. I can’t promise these recipes will help boost your skills when it comes to the beautiful game, but they’re highly likely to score you points at dinner time.

SPICE-ROASTED BROCCOLI STEAKS WITH TAHINI-YOGHURT DRESSING

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This should dispel any scary memories of over-boiled broccoli for good. You can skip blanching the broccoli if you like but it makes it much easier to cut it into steaks. If you can’t be bothered (and are ok with broccoli rubble going everywhere), add another 5-10 minutes to the roasting time. The dressing is optional, but addictive.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

2 Tablespoons almonds or walnuts, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspooon smoked paprika

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the dressing:

1 small clove garlic, smashed to a paste with ¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 Tablespoons tahini

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

2-3 Tablespoons water

Heat the oven to 210C and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then drain well.

Put the seeds, nuts, salt and spices in a large bowl. Mix well and add most of the oil. Stir through the broccoli until it’s evenly coated with the spice mixture.

Arrange the broccoli on the hot tray, drizzling over the remaining oil and any spice mixture that’s left in the bowl. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, turning half way through. Transfer to a platter, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with the tahini dressing on the side.

To make the dressing, put the garlic paste, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then whisk in the tahini, olive oil, yoghurt and water (add a little extra water if it seems very thick). Taste for seasoning, then set aside. This can be made in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge for a couple of days before using.

ORECCHIETTE WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS, BROCCOLI AND OLIVES

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This is a guaranteed family-friendly no-waste dinner that will both encourage your children to eat their greens and use up that rapidly staling baguette in the bread bin. Work fast and you can have this on the table in under 20 minutes.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

Salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups roughly torn stale bread

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons capers

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped

¾ cup olives

350g dried orecchiette

Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then lift out with a pair of tongs and drop into a sieve. Put the lid on the pot and set it aside – you’ll reuse this water to cook the pasta.

Set the broccoli on a board and chop into 1-2cm pieces (including the stalk). Return the pot of water to the heat. When it’s boiling, add a generous spoonful of salt and the pasta. Cook for 10-12 minutes (according to packet directions).

While the pasta is cooking, set a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, capers and sundried tomatoes. Cook for five minutes, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the olives and broccoli and toss over the heat for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Toss everything together, then divide between four bowls. Let diners help themselves to grated Parmesan at the table.

Burger Wellington – the book

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!