As much as I love a good kitchen-based project, there some things that I would rarely, if ever, bother to make myself. I’d put pastry pretty high on that list, especially when you can buy such fantastic stuff ready-made by companies like Auckland-based French bakery Paneton*. I’ve loved their products for years and the buttery, super-flaky puff pastry has saved me on many a desperate dinner occasion.  In exciting news for chocolate lovers, their chocolate pastry is brilliant too.

My go-to showstopper dessert for a big crowd of people is the Pecan Praline Tart in Dean Brettschneider’s Pie book – essentially, chocolate pastry filled with praline-studded milk chocolate ganache, topped with dark chocolate ganache and a scattering of praline crumbs. But on a long run recently (which is when I do my best thinking about food), I started thinking about something lighter that would have more of a contrast with the pastry. Here’s the result…

Easy Raspberry Ripple Tart

Raspberry ripple tart

I used the Paneton brand discussed above for this tart – it’s very dark, rich and buttery – but if you want to make your own I’d recommend the Dean Brettschneider recipe above. It will be delicious either way. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

For the raspberry curd:

2 cups frozen raspberries

1 Tbsp water

juice of 1 lemon

6 egg yolks

1 cup caster sugar

80g unsalted butter

For the tart:

About 300g chocolate pastry

1 cup cream

Extra raspberries, for garnishing

Start by preparing the tart shell. Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 30 x 10cm tart tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, leaving plenty of overhang. Chill for 20 minutes.

Bake blind for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and paper and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is dry to touch and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool. Trim any overhang (the resulting pieces are a good cook’s perk, though you will struggle to get any if there are little helpers around) and set aside.

To make the raspberry curd, put the raspberries and the water in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook for three to five minutes, until the fruit collapses, then remove from the heat. Push the raspberries through a fine sieve, discarding any seeds. This should make about 120ml (just under half a cup) of puree. Squeeze in enough lemon juice to make it up to 150ml. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, then pour into the saucepan you used earlier. Add the butter and raspberry-lemon juice. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly (this will take about five minutes). When the mixture is bubbling, remove from the heat. Stir well and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the tart.

About an hour before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold in the curd to create a ripple effect, then pour this mixture into the pastry shell. Carefully put the tart in the fridge until ready to serve. Decorate with more raspberries before serving. A shower of grated chocolate – white or dark – wouldn’t go amiss on top, either. This serves 8-10 depending on greed.

But wait, there’s more…

It’s highly likely that you’ll end up with some leftover pastry when making this tart. If you can stop yourself from eating it raw, I recommend turning it into easy ice cream sandwiches. All you need to do is cut the pastry into rounds, bake for about 10 mins at 180C and let cool. While you’re waiting, cut the ice cream into the same shapes and freeze. Sandwich the biscuits together with ice cream, dust with icing sugar and serve. This makes about 10 tiny ice cream sandwiches, which is just enough to leave them all wanting more.

*Please note, this is NOT a ‘sponsored’ post. In other words, I have not received any payment to say nice things about Paneton. In the interests of full disclosure, Paneton did send me a packet of their chocolate pastry to try recently. I was so impressed by it that I’ve since bought it twice more with my own hard-earned money (and I’ll definitely buy it again). I don’t think you can get a better recommendation than that!

Remember when coconut oil was going to save us all? I’m not sure it’s happened yet, given that the world needs saving more now than ever before. If you’ve doubted that coconut oil is a miracle product, this podcast will be music to your ears. If you’re like me, and love coconut purely for reasons of greed and culinary usefulness, you might be interested in this week’s Three Ways With… column, which features three delectable recipes for coconut in various forms (including oil, though it is most definitely not a recipe with any health claims).

I make no health claims for the following recipe either, except to say that making – and eating – it makes me extremely happy. Since happiness is closely related to wellness, I think I can justifiably say that a slice of this is very good for you.

Spicy Persian Love Cake
This recipe is an adaptation of Sam Mannering’s Persian Love Cake, which seems itself to be adapted from an internet-famous recipe by Australian chef Gerard Yaxley. I was inspired to make this version after Karen Dennison of Coyo sent me some of her wares to try. While Coyo’s chocolate coconut yoghurt is outrageously good (rich, yet with a tangy finish) and the passionfruit one is lovely, I was most taken with the chai version, which is made with Hakanoa ginger syrup. To stop myself from eating through a tub in one go, I turned the rest into this just-as-addictive cake.

1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup walnut halves (about 40g)
1 1/2 cups whole almonds (about 200g)
1 scant cup lightly packed brown sugar
80g soft unsalted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup Coyo Chai coconut yoghurt
finely grated zest of two oranges

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm tart tin (or springform cake tin).
Soak the dates in boiling water for five minutes, then drain.
Put the nuts in a food processor and whiz to fine crumbs. Add the dates, sugar and butter and whiz again until well combined. Press half of this mixture evenly into the prepared tin, creating a 1cm-ish rim at the sides.
Add the egg, yoghurt and orange zest to the remaining mixture in the food processor and whiz again until smooth. Carefully pour this mixture into the tin.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is dark golden and the middle is just set (it will continue to firm up as it cools). Cool on a rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into thin wedges – a little goes a long way – and serve with more yoghurt or whipped cream. Any leftovers keep well in the fridge.

How do you feel about the so-called healing powers of coconut?

I read something last week about how ‘invisible prisons’ – jobs, societal pressures, parenting, caring for older relatives – meant that modern women are shackled with more responsibilities than their mothers and grandmothers. I don’t know if that’s true. Personally, if that’s the price I have to pay for being able to vote, drive, own property and be generally free to do what I like, I’m fine with it. But last week I did find myself wishing I did a bit less. There’s nothing like racing home after work on the night of the school production and remembering en route that you were supposed to bake something for the cake stall to give you conniptions, is there?

Now, I know I could have ignored the cake stall request, or I could have been more organised and done it a few days in advance. But I didn’t do either of those things. Instead, I whipped up this slab of deliciousness in 20 minutes, while concurrently making boiled eggs for dinner and getting the child in and out of the bath. We then made it to the show on time, and all the lovely mothers (it’s always mothers, isn’t it?) who are so good they even RUN THE CAKESTALL cooed over the slice and wanted the recipe. In that moment, I felt a little bit less like a failure and more like a contributing member of society, even if my child was appearing in the show with a whopper of a black eye. But that’s another story.

Chunky white choc, orange and cranberry slice
There are a zillion versions of this slice and the world probably doesn’t need another one, but if you have weeks where the wheels are coming off and yet you still need to ‘bake’, this will save your bacon. Or bakin’. Or something.
Anyway, this version is better than all the others because it’s big and chunky, and therefore more satisfying to eat. It’s also slightly less sweet than some versions. If you’re very, very short of time, you may like to know that it’s possible to pre-crush the packet of biscuits with the full tin of condensed milk while you’re stopped at the lights. Also, if you don’t have quite enough biscuits, add a little more coconut. Or use less butter. If you’re reading this while running to the shops, a 200g packet of dried cranberries will give you enough for the base and the topping, while a 250g block of Whittaker’s white chocolate will fulfill all your chocolate needs.

100g butter
1/2 a tin (about 3/4 cup) condensed milk
300g plain sweet biscuits, bashed to large crumbs (keep a few big pieces in there for texture)
1 cup desiccated coconut
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped
zest of an orange
1 cup dried cranberries
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped

For the icing:
125g white chocolate
50g butter
1 cup icing sugar
juice of an orange (use the one you zested above)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Line a 20 x 25cm tin (or thereabouts) with baking paper, leaving enough overhanging the sides that you can use to pull it out later.
Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot. Let cool briefly, then tip in the biscuits, coconut, most of the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate. Stir to mix, then tip into the prepared tin. Press down (the overhanging paper will help here) to smooth the top. Put in the freezer.
Use the same pot to make the icing. Melt the butter and white chocolate over very, very low heat. Sift in the icing sugar and stir well, then squeeze in a little orange juice at a time until it forms a thick, spreadable mixture. Pour over the biscuit base, then sprinkle the cranberries and reserved orange zest on top. Return to the freezer for 5-10 minutes before slicing and racing out the door.
If your life is more leisurely, let the icing set in the fridge before slicing. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

“Mu-umm,” she says, bedraggled and worn-out at the end of a busy day at school. “I’m very hot and bothered. Do you think it’s a good day to have an iceblock?”

This is what’s known as parental roulette. Say yes, and you’ve got a 10-minute walk to the village, followed by a five-minute high, which will not be enough to get you all the way home again.  Say no, and you get a stompy six-year-old who is less than impressed with your suggestion that a nice glass of cold water when you get home will help her cool down.

After roadtesting the Zoku Quick Pop Maker, I may have found the solution.

Zoku’s Quick Pop Makers are benchtop instant freezing units. You keep them in your freezer (the three-pop maker takes up about the same amount of space as a two-litre ice cream container), then whip them out to make DIY ice ‘pops’ (that’s ice blocks to Kiwis and ice lollies to the British) in less than 10 minutes. You can make them as simple or as fancy as you like (Zoku even have a dazzling recipe book full of inspiring ideas) and – best of all – you get to control exactly what goes into them. We made the Mint Choc Chip Pops from the recipe book, using organic whole milk, agave nectar, peppermint essence and Whittaker’s 72 per cent cacao chocolate – and they were fabulous.

Sound too good to be true? After some spectacular failures when trying to make homemade pops the normal way (I find they never, ever come out of the molds cleanly enough), I was very skeptical. But the Zoku worked an absolute charm. You release the pops with the aid of the ‘Quick Tool’ (included in each kit) and it’s a mostly angst-free process. The pops are ready to eat then and there, but you can carefully wrap them in plastic and return them to the freezer to eat another day.

On the downside, they’re not completely instant. The unit has to be frozen for 24 hours before you use it, and it’s only good for two or three batches in a sitting. I found the second and third batches took a lot longer to freeze – and for the third, I actually returned the whole unit to the freezer for half an hour to make sure they set properly. You also need to wait for it to defrost before you clean it.

All things considered though, it’s a pretty fun addition to the kitchen. A Quick Pop Maker would also make a fantastic family Christmas present for the people with everything. If you’re going to buy your children a device of some kind, at least get them one that encourages real-time social interaction!

THE DETAILS
Zoku Quick Pop Makers come in three sizes – single (RRP $49.99), duo and triple (RRP $110). Each comes with a Quick Tool, sticks and drip guards, plus instructions. Find New Zealand stockists here.

GIVEAWAY
Want to win a Quick Pop Maker? Check out The Kitchenmaid on Facebook for your chance to win one!

This is the wedding cake that nearly wasn’t.

Pandoro Black Doris Plum And Mediterranean Orange Wedding Cake

When one of my oldest and dearest friends announced she was getting married, I immediately offered to make the wedding cake. She accepted the offer and that was that.

When their wedding was delayed to May, I breathed a sigh of relief and put the cake on the back burner.

Then all of a sudden it was April, the bride was talking multiple layers, chocolate ganache, and the merits of chocolate mud versus chocolate and fig, I had a million other things on my mind and I was lying awake at night, panicking about The Cake.

It was then I remembered that I’d been in this situation before. Five years ago, with a small baby and ideas above my station, I offered to make the wedding cake for some dear friends who’d blown into New Zealand from London to get married.

“Oh yes please,” they said. “Don’t go to any trouble, but we’d like it to have three layers and have licorice allsorts exploding out the top.”

Making the cakes – one chocolate and fig, one chocolate mud and one banana (the groom’s favourite flavour) – was easy. Doing the decorating was not. Not for the first time, I recalled a school report in which my teacher said I was often frustrated when my grand plans for artworks didn’t come to fruition. I handed the baby to my mother-in-law and spent 24 hours wrestling with kilos of white fondant icing, alternating between wanting to cry and wanting to cheer.

On the afternoon of the wedding, my beloved and I balanced the cake on our knees while my father-in-law drove as slowly as he could around corners. We screamed every time the cake lurched towards my silk dress, more for the sake of the cake than my outfit. By the time we got to the venue the cake had several dents in it and I needed a strong drink to settle my nerves.

It nearly killed me, but the lovely bride and groom were happy and lots of guests said nice things about the cake. Still, I swore that it was the last time I would ever do it.

With those memories flooding back, I rang the bride. “I can’t do it,” I told her. “I’m too afraid it will be a disaster and you’ll be even more disappointed in me than you feel right now.”

Like the good friend she is, she took this news on the chin. Instead of making the cake, I decided to redefine my role as chief cake wrangler. I set about getting cake quotes and set up a wedding cake Pinterest board to gather ideas. When they baulked at the quotes – a two or three tier wedding cake is in the region of $400-$500 – I came up with plan B.

Instead of requesting a wedding cake, I asked Pandoro Bakery to make us two large cakes – one a 14″ Black Doris Plum Chocolate, the other a 10″ Mediterranean Orange, which they present on gold foil cake boards. I got them to ice them identically with chocolate ganache, with the sides rolled in white chocolate shavings.

The day before the wedding, my fellow bridesmaid and I picked them up and took them on a two-hour car ride (mercifully, on very straight roads).

Later that night, the groom helped me engineer the two together, inserting dowel rods to keep the top layer from collapsing into the bottom. With no storage option, we carefully manoeuvred the cake into a beer fridge and prayed it would survive the night.

The next morning, I returned to the venue, rescued the cake from the fridge and plopped some white roses on top. Just like that, the job was done.

The cake looked beautiful, my 22-year friendship with the bride is still intact and my mental health is sound. I may never make a special occasion cake again.

Are you prone to making special occasion cake promises? Do you have any secret tips?