Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Colour of Food, by Anne Else

I met Anne Else about three years ago, at a food blogger gathering, when there were only a handful of us in Wellington and it was a bit of a weird thing to do (at least back then when I told people I had a blog I then had to explain it and usually they still didn’t really get it!). Anne was delightful and embracing the modern despite (I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning her age!) being a generation or more older than most of the rest of us. In fact, it has made her blog more interesting and perhaps more real in some ways – where the 20-somethings are fanciful and impractical Anne is grounded (but far from boring) and has many more stories to tell.

So when Anne announced she was writing her food memoir I was pretty keen to read it - I love biographies and they're even better when there's a personal connection. Despite looking forward to its release (and as luck would have it got a pre-release copy for review, so didn’t have to wait as long as I thought), I hadn’t quite anticipated how she would draw me in with her incredibly vivid storytelling - I ended up reading the whole thing in less than 24 hours. The meals she served up made me feel like part of her family, and starting on familiar ground (her oh-so-Kiwi-childhood in Auckland) somehow meant when she travelled to Albania with her young family I went along for the journey, even though I don't have much common ground there! Her experiences are rich and varied, she is open and honest, and the emotions - at both ends of the spectrum - reach out of the book and grab you the whole way through.

If you enjoy food and/or memoirs I definitely recommend this - and as an eBook it's very affordable. If you don't have an eReader you can read it on your laptop, tablet, or even smartphone - I read on my iPad at home and on my phone on the bus on the way home from work. The only drawback to the book being in this format is that the adorable cover photo of a young Anne is not seen so much on an eBook as it might be on a bookmarked hard copy on the coffee table!

Are you an eBook fan, or do you prefer being able to turn pages the old-fashioned way?

The Colour of Food is available in eBook format via the following links: Kobo     Amazon     iBooks

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Chocolate Carrot Cake

After a long absence, I’ve decided I need to get back into blogging. There are a lot of exciting things happening in foodland and I need to do something a little more constructive than watching mind-numbing television and something a little less expensive than constantly renovating and improving our home. And I have missed you guys! 
I think I needed a break, because I had gotten to a point where it didn’t matter how many gorgeous and luscious-looking recipes I saw, I wasn’t inspired to try anything new. This recipe broke that spell for me, even though I had to wade through a dodgy Google Translate version to produce it – there was a close call with the raising agent (the ingredient list said yeast, but I trusted my instinct and used baking powder), and I still don’t know if the nut content is supposed to be pecans or walnuts – but it doesn’t really matter, either will be delicious.

I was intrigued by the idea of mixing together two of the best cake flavours – chocolate and carrot – and to be honest didn’t expect too much, as I often find that the pretty (and sometimes no so pretty) pictures which do the rounds on Pinterest fit firmly in the gilded-lily category. And often less is more, even when it comes to food. But in this case – OTT works.

Everyone who has tried it has raved about it and the cake is really easy to make, being a carrot cake made with oil there’s no creaming involved. The icing, which is a little bit tricker but still definitely not rocket science, would benefit from a mixer, electric beaters or at least old-fashioned egg beaters to get nice and smooth – but is worth every bit of washing up you have to do – it is so rich, so creamy, so delicious…

Unfortunately my Pinterest-trawling must have brainwashed me a bit because apparently I forgot how to take photos for a blog - notably, no pretty-cake-at-the-end pictures (I can't decide if it's ironic that I forgot the photos when inspired by someone else's food porn, or if it's a result of the very visual inspiration). So I'm going to make it again, in the next couple of days, and update this post with a picture of the (hopefully) pretty end result then - but in the meantime, here's the recipe - and if you click the source link below you can check out the gorgeous photos which made me want to make it. 

Have you ever translated a recipe, and did the language barrier cause any puzzling moments? 

A hastily made and hastily photographed version of this cake - better than no photo but only just!

Chocolate carrot cake (adapted from Food and Cook) 
100g walnuts or pecans
340g grated carrot
1 tin of pineapple pieces, drained
4 eggs 

200g sugar
100g brown sugar

240ml sunflower or canola oil 
2 tsp vanilla essence
280g flour 

25g cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

 1/4 tsp nutmeg
270g dark chocolate
170g cream cheese
85g butter (at room temperature) 

240g icing sugar
4 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp salt 

160g sour cream or plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Roast nuts for about 8 minutes, watching carefully to ensure they don't burn. Grate carrot and nuts and set aside with drained pineapple. 
Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.In another bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until fluffy, then add the oil and vanilla and continue beating until well blended and light.Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix until combined, then add the carrots, nuts and pineapple and mix in. Grease two 22cm round cake tins and divide the batter between them. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
When the cakes are cool prepare the icing. Melt the chocolate, either with short bursts (1 minute then 10 second intervals, stirring in between) or over a double boiler.
Beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa in and beat until well combined.
Add the sour cream or yogurt to the melted chocolate and mix to combine, then add to the butter mixture a beat well.

Spread about 1/4 of the icing on one of the cakes to form the bottom layer. Place the second cake on top, and use the rest of the icing to cover the top and sides. Store in a cool place (fridge or cool pantry) and eat within 2-3 days.
  • If you only have one tin you can bake the mixture at once to make one thick cake, but reduce the oven temperature and cook for longer, then cut in half to fill when icing it. 
  • This recipe translates well into cupcakes - bake for 15-18 minutes and pipe the icing on.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Our Wedding Dessert Table

I've written about the wedding as a whole on my wedding blog, so as to avoid boring you all with soppy details (if you like soppy wedding stuff you can read it here), but thought I'd show you my special project, which was the centrepiece of our reception and much enjoyed by guests.

For the last few years there's been a trend to present luscious banquets of sweets in style, and I've been desperately wanting an excuse to execute something over the top and completely ridiculous. Amy Atlas is my main inspiration - her tables are always stunning, and her approach is pragmatic, using unexpected household items to decorate and assemble her displays.

Anyway, a wedding seemed like the perfect excuse to pull a little something together.

The first rule was that I wasn't going to make the desserts. Well, maybe one. But definitely not the cake. Quite aside from the fact that making wedding cake is downright stressful, I know too many purveyors of excellent cake, and here was my opportunity to let them show off a bit.

Were there other rules? Not really. I compiled a list of the things I particularly wanted on the table (Denheath custard squares! Macarons from J'aime les Macarons! Bohemein chocolates!) and sought prices (ouch). And then I moved on to modelling the proposed layout in Microsoft Visio so I could source appropriately sized platters and stands (proportions are important! And yes, I'm obsessed). This is the diagram (top elevation and side elevation)(did I mention that I'm obsessed?):

Once I had done this I could start looking for platters properly. I wanted plain white, because there was enough going on already, and I thought they'd be easy to hire. Wrong! Apparently only caterers use these, and apparently caterers don't like to hire out plates for not-their-own food (fair enough). I scoured TradeMe, rang hire places, asked around... And eventually bought a stack of Maxwell Williams ones from Briscoes at half price. I also found some nice wooden trays on TradeMe, bottles and jars from Arthur Holmes, and hired some pretty glass candy jars from Oh Buttercup. At the last minute I got my Dad to chop up some bits of 2x4 to elevate the black forest jellies we made, and Mum wrapped them in tissue paper so nobody could tell they were just lumps of wood! Innovation for the win. :-)

Once we had an idea how many people were coming I ordered the goodies - over ordered in most cases, but who's complaining about leftovers? Not me!

I'm a big fan of a bargain if they're going, and if you're buying a lot of something make sure you ask if they have a bulk discount - as an example Bohemein apply their loyalty scheme so basically for every $100 you spend you get about $20 worth of chocolate free.  Also, some companies can personalise their product for you - J'aime les Macarons regularly colour-match macarons to wedding themes and it doesn't cost any extra.

I had a list of what had been ordered, when to pick it up, and if it was paid or not. Most places were paid in advance to reduce the thinking we had to do the week of the wedding - it meant I could send whichever brother-in-law or parent was available to do pick-up duty!

Pulling it all together was the part where I failed slightly. I spent some time the night before putting chocolates on plates, and then wafted about during the hair-and-make-up time putting macarons and doughnuts on plates (for me putting pretty food on pretty plates in pretty piles is pretty much the best relaxation activity around - perfect for pre-weddingitis!).

We had told the caterers in advance what we needed them to do during the party (plate custard squares at the beginning of the reception; pour chocolate milk at dessert time; provide plates and cutlery) but I didn't leave instructions for putting things on the table, so Mr Cake and I went off to have photos taken and get married and stuff, and when we arrived at the reception the table still needed to be set up. It was fine, as the caterers were supremely helpful and we got it all sorted in a matter of minutes, but would have been a bit better to have sorted it out earlier.

My table isn't as styled as some of those I admire, but then adding much more might have been over the top - and a pet peeve of mine is that the pretty tables tend to have plates with, say, eight items on it. Are there more than eight people at your party? Yes? Then that is just mean! So my focus was ensuring that the supply was ample, which does affect aesthetics.

Most items were just set out on their plates. The doughnuts were piled high (and yes, I planned the number of doughnuts perfectly so that I could make them into pyramids, don't judge me) and the jellies we on the aforementioned timber. The custard squares, which come frozen, were set out at the beginning of the reception and defrosted on the table, which meant they were just right at dessert time - otherwise chilled things would need to go out when dessert was served. And the chocolate milk was poured (with a funnel!) into the mini milk bottles just before serving, because warm milk is not all that awesome.

The desserts were:
  • wedding cake (carrot, chocolate and red velvet cake layers) by Sweet Kitchen
  • jellybeans from The Lolly Shop (jars from Oh Buttercup)
  • treat size custard squares from Denheath
  • sea salt caramel and melting passion ganache chocolates from Bohemein
  • black forest jellies, made by us (very easy - recipe to follow!)
  • caramel hit and dusted sugar doughnuts from Couplands
  • passionfruit and salted butter caramel macarons from J'aime les Macarons
  • chocolate milk from the supermarket 
  • dessert cakes from Just Desserts 

What do you think? Completely over the top, or within acceptable parameters for Mr and Mrs Cake? Would you (or have you) ever planned something like this? 

Photos by the amazing Frank Visser

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chocolate Degustation at Chameleon

One of the (okay, many) things I was sad to miss during last year's Wellington on a Plate was the chocolate degustation at Chameleon, so when Mr Cake asked me where we should have dinner on Monday night it was top of my list of things to do. In the very early days of the blog we went to a three course chocolate dinner at Vivant, which was interesting, but not particularly impressive. This one was a different story, though. :-D

The first course was an aperitif, a shot of Tuatara London Porter with Valrhona 66% chocolate. The cracker on top was delicious, particularly the cheese which was good and strong. The porter was okay but isn't really my thing so Mr Cake got extra - he loved it (disclaimer: I'm not too much of a fan of the hoppy/malty flavour profile. And it wasn't bad, which is pretty much high praise from me).

The next course was scallops, poached in pinot noir and served on swede mash. And yes, a little chocolate on top, as well as some dehydrated ginger. We weren't too impressed by this one - the swede was a little on the sweet side and the scallops were quite bland. But fear not - things are looking up!

Course 3 is a chorizo lasagne, which was rich and morish, with the chocolatey sauce balancing out the spicy sausage. A nice twist on comfort food.

Of the savoury courses (and they were generally pretty savoury, in case anyone was worried) the main was definitely the star, though. The venison chop was succulent and tender, green beans (which were cooked just so, crunchy and fresh) have never been so welcome, and the pie - I can only hope that Chameleon might keep this on their menu a little longer. The filling is beautifully cooked, hearty, rich, chocolatey, meaty, and the mashed potato topping is crispy on the outside and fluffy within, and melds perfectly with the filling. My biggest complaint: too much food! It mightn't look like much but the gigantic plate distorts reality almost as much as eating it distorted my belly. ;-)  (full disclosure: I actually left some of the pie filling, for fear I might not be able to enjoy dessert which would clearly have been a disaster)

And speaking of dessert - oh my word! It was AMAZING. Caps are necessary. It was described as a mille-feuille of Valrhona Ivoire parfait and Kapiti marscapone with Ivoire mousse and a bitter orange salad. Translated, that reads: utter deliciousness, perfectly balanced sweet with bitter, creamy with crisp, rich with tangy. The parfait itself was a delight to eat, and the oranges/orange foam/orange zest made great accompaniments. The dark chocolate pouring sauce (which we think might have featured Grand Marnier) was scrummy too. I wanted to lick my plate clean (I didn't though).

So the dessert - I would go back for anytime. The waitress expressed surprise we had finished it - personally, I can't see how we could have not finished it. Even Mr Cake, who was disappointed to see the dessert was white chocolate centred, polished it all off.

The chocolate degustation is on until the 26th of August, so you only have a few more days. It's $85 per person, which I think is pretty good value. My advice if you're worried about running out of belly real estate would be to ease up on the swede mash, and make sure you save room for dessert.

What have you eaten as part of this year's Wellington on a Plate? I can't wait for the Food Bloggers' Conference this weekend, which incorporates the Chocolate Festival - and I guess next week I'll be on salad and soup in preparation to pay penance. ;-)

The chocolate degustation is available at Chameleon in the Intercontinental Hotel, 2 Grey Street, Wellington, until 26 August 2012. Ph 04 495 7841,

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Titanic Dinner

First, I must confess that this was ages ago - April in fact. I have been very distracted with wedding stuff (so much fun!) and know this poor old blog has been quite neglected. Hopefully in about 8 weeks, once I'm really a Mrs, you might see the frequency of posts picking up again. ;-)

A couple of weeks before Mr Cake's birthday I was chatting to an old friend on Facebook and he told me he was coming to Wellington for a Titanic dinner to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the sinking. I had been desperately trying to think of a cool birthday present, and this seemed to tick the box.

The event was hosted by Wellington Coastguard as a fundraiser, and the tickets were pretty snazzy. It was on the anniversary of the sinking and featured a menu based on one of the menus served in one of the ship's restaurants. The original menu was 11 courses; our chef combined them into a restrained eight courses. ;-)

For some of the dishes only the name of the dish is known, so some improvisation would have been required on the part of the chef.

The first course was oyster - which were quite nice, with a zingy salsa-type garnish. The second was consomme Olga (a beef broth) and cream of barley, which was served with little toasts. Both broths were very tasty, and I enjoyed the cream of barley in particular - though perhaps not something I'd expect to be served in a high-end restaurant these days.

Poached salmon with mousseline sauce was course three - pretty tasty, and would stand its own on a modern menu.

The main was somewhat overwhelming, with three kinds of meat on the same plate! Not something you would encounter in many restaurants these days, but I think this was where courses were combined and perhaps 100 years ago it was more common to combine proteins in this way. The side dish seemed more of an afterthought but the unadulterated broccoli was a refreshing change.

This 'course' was delicious - a very sweet champagne cocktail. I was so keen I drank half before I remembered to take a photo. Oops!

Roast squab turned out to be quail, and was quite tasty, and the pate was also lovely. Another slightly unusual combination by modern standards (but again I think this was a combined course).

Dessert was interesting - I didn't much like the Waldorf pudding, which is one of the unknowns - it was particular to White Star Line and no verifiable recipes are known, so this version was improvised with walnuts and apple - I guess the dessert version of Waldorf salad. Unfortunately it was quite heavy and dry. The ice-cream was very nice, though, and helped. The little chocolate eclair was nice enough, and though it didn't really fit with the meal our chef was just being true to the original menu! By far the star of this course was the peaches in chartreuse jelly - I really enjoyed the sweet, not too jellyish jelly. If that makes sense. ;-)

As well as endless food, the evening featured a talk by a gent who has gone down on the submarine to see the Titanic wreck, and a very moving letter read by a woman whose grandparents were on the sailing - her grandmother made it onto a lifeboat, but her grandfather didn't. Quite sobering!

It was pointed out that many of our current coastguard practices originated from that terrible event - so the fundraising element was certainly apt.

I see there's another interpretation of the Titanic dinner being put on at the Wellesley Boutique Hotel as part of Wellington on a Plate - and if you're anything like us, you'll seize the opportunity to dress the part:

Have you ever been to an event like this? Do you enjoy dressing up?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Visa Wellington on a Plate - my picks

Unbelievably it's almost that time again... It seems that just when my waistline has forgiven me for my transgressions at last year's Wellington on a Plate events it's here again to taunt me with amazing food and fantastic but bank-account-draining events.

I thought I'd give you a rundown of my top picks for this year. My favourites are always the one-off events - out-of-the-ordinary and behind-the-scenes stuff you don't usually get the chance to do.

Pecha Kucha: Imbibe looks entertaining, and furthers my goal for this years festival of still being able to fit my wedding dress at the end of it. Talking about food = low calorie fun! ;-) At $10 per person it's also at the more affordable end of the scale.

The same can't be said for the Enchanted Cinderella Feast, which is definitely at the pricier end of the scale but hey, it sounds pretty good to me - especially if Ruth Pretty serves up any more of the incredible chocolate creme brulee she provided for the VWOAP launch event.

Chocoholics are well catered for with both the Chocolate Festival (loved it last year, will definitely be back!) and this most excellent tasting event at L'affaire au Chocolat. Mmm, chocolate...

The festival coincides with the opening of the Wellington Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, so they're hosting some interesting events - you can bet on seeing me at the Patisserie Introduction, and I'm also quite interested in the Reviewing the Reviewers discussion.

Also in the food blogging vein there's a food photography workshop which looks pretty promising, and a special festival viewing of the movie Julie & Julia, followed by a three-course meal inspired by Julia Childs. And last but not least I'm hoping to get to Finishing Touches, to glean some presentation skills that might assist both blogging and wedding planning.

What are your picks?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tips for the Time-Poor - Menu Planning

I'm probably not as time-poor as some of you, but still struggle to fit everything I want to into the constraint of the 24-hour day. And let's be honest, it's not just about time - it's also about motivation. Both of these things have been affecting my presence here, but they affect other things too - like how healthily we eat. A recent revelation to me is that planning your menu precisely not only saves you money but also makes cooking easier.

The saving money part is logical - if you know what you're cooking you buy exactly what you need and don't end up turfing out limp lettuce or droopy carrots at the end of the week. It becomes easier to make shopping lists and easier to stick to them (no point being tempted by some exotic new foodstuff if it's not on the menu - but if you're keen enough you can put it on the roster for the next round).

There are tons of different ways of planning your meals - you can do a week, fortnight or month in advance; you can plan new meals all the time, one or two new meals a week, or stick with family favourites; you can record your meals on paper, on a snazzy fridge chart, or electronically... Pretty much you can do what suits you.

We have planned our meals loosely for the last couple of years, by thinking of vague ideas of what we will eat over the next week when we make our shopping list. This didn't work as well for us for a couple of reasons. For one, we usually only shopped for 5-6 dinners, and though we do eat out sometimes, once a week is more than our optimal frequency - so we'd end up eating junk at the end of the week or revisiting the supermarket. Also, without specific meals mapped to days I would often come home from work at 5.30pm hoping Mr Cake would acquiesce to some unhealthy substitute in order to avoid cooking. Weak! So I decided we were going to get serious. Not that serious, but you know, a little bit serious. Here is what I reckon you need to do to make this work:

Step 1 - List your meals
Our meal planning is electronic, so I created a Google spreadsheet and listed all the meals we usually make for dinner. I find that this makes it easier to choose meals for a given day, since they're all listed. I try to choose a red meat meal for each week to make sure I get enough iron, and then just to get a reasonable variety. My sister has a prettier system - fridge magnets for each meal they have often. She does her planning monthly, so puts a printed calendar of the month on the fridge and sticks the magnets to the days.

Sister Cake's excellent magnet system
Step 2 - Plan when you'll eat what
Working out which day of the week you eat each meal is also important - you probably want to make sure that veggies that benefit from quick turnaround (like the bok choi we have on hand for tomorrow's Thai green curry) get used early in the cycle. Also, you probably want to make sure you're not going to wind up with really similar meals grouped together. This is the putting-the-magnets-on-the-calendar part - we don't have magnets, but a Google calendar. This has the added bonus of me being able to check the menu before I leave work so I can psych myself into the cooking process. ;-) I also spied this simple but effective peg system on Pinterest the other day, which might suit some of you.

Step 3 - Shop
Self-explanatory, really - the only notable part of shopping is that you should now only need to buy the ingredients for what is on the list for dinners, and hopefully you'll end up with a lower grocery bill (we've easily carved $20-30 a week off ours, which, ahem, may have been a bit on the generous side). We do our main groceries fortnightly via Countdown online shopping, but buy our produce ourselves weekly (cheaper and we can perform quality control).

Step 4 - Cook
And the final part - making the food. Unfortunately there's no magic to this part (I'd love if fairies came and made my dinner sometimes, after a long day at work), but at least you shouldn't need any panic supermarket trips before you get into the cooking.

Do you plan your menu in advance, or do you prefer to cook on a whim?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Ultimate Custard Square Hunt - Asda Reading, United Kingdom

So it's been a pretty long time since I've posted a custard square review - I just haven't encountered many new ones lately, sorry! But my friend Belinda has come to the rescue of the custard square with her review from afar.

Today we bought a box of four bakery treats at Asda. One of the treats was a custard slice. I thought it would be wrong not to do a review for Mrs. Cake!

The icing was lovely, sweet and not sickly, no coconut but it didn't matter, and as this is England, I didn't set my hopes too high anyway! The custard filling was so delicious, it had an almost caramelized vanilla flavour, if that is possible! The pastry was perfectly acceptable, broke easily enough when bitten or cut and wasn't chewy.

I'm actually going to award it a surprising 9/10.

(the scone, chocolate éclair and cream doughnut were yummy too)

Asda Tilehurst is located at Honey End Lane, Tilehurst, Reading, RG30 4EL, Berkshire, UK.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why I have been suspiciously absent for the last 5 months

I know I've been pretty scarce around here for the last wee while. There are lots of things that have distracted me from blogging - work is busy, my little sister got married a few weeks ago, there's lots of other stuff going on - but one big thing I've been keeping secret.

My moniker here is Mrs Cake - but really that's a bit misleading, it should be Ms Cake. Except that Mr Cake proposed to me in November - on the night I came home from the inaugural New Zealand Food Bloggers' Conference - so in September I will become Mrs Cake for real. ;-)

We've only just announced it - so I had to keep it under wraps here too. And unfortunately for this poor little blog, gazing at pretty wedding photos and imagining the possibilities for our celebration can suck up a lot of time (very enjoyably, I might add, it's not like I'm suffering - it just means I haven't been baking so much).

I will still blog here (I still gotta eat, after all!) but since I have wedding brain I've decided to dedicate a blog to that obsession, so if you're interested in weddingy stuff feel free to follow my train of thought over at The Wedding Hacker - and if you're not I'll try not to mention too much here. Just thought I should let you all know. :-)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter Rocky Road

On Monday my office had an Easter bake-off. We've had a couple of bake-offs this year, and it's quite fun - full participation is not necessary but a bit of healthy competitive spirit makes for fun office banter in the days leading up to the event - not to mention a great morning tea on the day itself.

On Sunday afternoon I was feeling particularly lazy and uninspired, when I recalled the magic of rocky road. So if you want to make people happy on Sunday and haven't figured out yet, this is your easy key to success. And apparently the key to winning a giant bunny (well, it worked for me). 

This is less a recipe than a method, and my rule of thumb is: 
  • chocolate to bind
  • something chewy (Turkish delight, caramels)
  • something squidgy (usually marshmallow)
  • something crunchy (I tend towards nuts, with a strong preference for almonds)
I used all the ingredients above (well, only a handful of the almonds) - the white chocolate was to drizzle on top. 

Then you melt the chocolate, chop up every thing else, stir everything through the chocolate, and set it in a pan. So easy - and yet so good. I Easterified my rocky road by using marshmallow eggs instead of marshmallows, and I also put caramel filled eggs on top. Hint: for extra decadent looking rocky road, save some of your add-ins to sprinkle on top. 

I made my rocky road in brownie pans, and it goes a pretty long way - or at least, there was enough for people to have seconds and thirds. ;-) Once it's set just cut it into squares or break into chunks - it might not be pretty, but taste overcomes that.

Credit goes to my workmate Fraser for these pretty photos - and also to colleagues Sarah and Stacey who made amazingly pretty Easter treats - check out Stacey's fantastic cookies: 

(Sarah made gorgeous cupcakes with coconut nests on top, each with a couple of wee eggs inside - adorable!)

I'm heading for a quiet Easter weekend with lots of reading and hopefully lots of chocolate - do you have any plans for over the break, or are you, like me, looking forward to some R&R? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Excuses and Black Forest Trifle

It's been a while. I'm sorry about that - but only a little bit, if I'm honest. I'm sorry I haven't been writing, and hearing back from everyone and all of those things - but I'm glad to have had a bit of time out. Thanks for your patience!

This recipe is a mash-up of a variety of ideas and is really pretty flexible - it can be astonishingly easy, or a little more complicated if you want. It's a trifle, but perhaps not as you know it. 

Firstly, please excuse the slightly burnt cake - I've done so little baking lately (our apartment gets so hot in summer that increasing the temperature further by turning on the oven seems folly) that I forgot our zealous oven overshoots the mark on temperature by about 15 degrees. However, that sort of helps illustrate one of the best parts of this recipe - it's a great way of making people rave about a seemingly ruined cake. Just scrape/break off the charred parts and it'll be all good!

You don't have to use cake - if you're going for the path of least resistance and don't have a charred cake to rescue use a supermarket cake or trifle sponge (better than regular sponge, though I'm still not sure why). It'll probably even be cheaper (sad though that is).

And if the path of least resistance doesn't beckon go ahead and make a chocolate cake like I did - and if you still hanker to exert yourself go ahead and make chocolate custard from scratch too. Me, I'm sticking with Meadow Fresh.

To make the regular vanilla custard chocolate, simply melt in a block of Whittaker's chocolate. I say simply but there is a wee trick to this - add about 1/4 of the custard to the chocolate as you melt it, so that it becomes more akin to ganache and doesn't seize up when you add it to the rest of the custard. You could heat the whole lot but it will take longer to chill so only do that if you have plenty of time up your sleeves.

The most time consuming part of making this trifle was actually the bowl. We made it to take to a barbeque, and though I have wanted a trifle bowl for some time (oh the desserts I could make!) so far I've only managed to acquire individual serving ones - probably not the best look to show up to a barbie with four mini trifles. ;-) So Mr Cake offered to go on a mission to get the bowl while I made the cake. Off to Moore Wilson's he went - I knew they had them, I had seen and approved. Alas - sold out! He rang me to consult, and agreed to go to Briscoes, since we had both seen them there. I think you can see where this is going... Next was The Warehouse - perhaps not the most logical place but the website said they had them - before he finally found success at Stevens. And in the end we decided the salad bowl (sans pedestal) was a better bet, at half the price and with potentially more applications. It is perfect for its job, but how ridiculous acquiring it was!

Trifle/salad bowl, not without its share of angst

The recipe below will make a lot of trifle - feel free to only make half the quantity if you're not feeding masses of people. Of course, if you (like me) enjoy leftover trifle for breakfast, lunch and dinner go ahead and make the full recipe. ;-)

The jelly is made with the liquid from the cherries, so the flavour is a bit more cherry-centric (I use raspberry jelly which works fine, though if you can find cherry jelly that will obviously also work), and the mixture is then poured over the cherries and cake. Slather the custard on top, and then the optional presentation bonus is to grate a little bit of chocolate over the top and pop a couple of leftover cherries on top.

Trifle always seems to be a hit but this one gets people raving - I couldn't believe how many comments it got. If you wanted to glam it up you could serve it in cute little glasses but I love spooning a generous dollop into a bowl and scoffing it down, carefully balancing each spoonful to contain some of each layer.

Have you got any hit barbeque/potluck recipes that get everyone going back for seconds?

Black Forest Trifle
20cm cake or sponge
1 jar morello cherries (600-700g)
1 packet raspberry jelly (to make 500mls jelly)
1 litre of thick custard
250g 70% dark chocolate

Break up the chocolate and place in a microwave-proof bowl with about 1/4 of the custard. Microwave for one minute then stir to melt the chocolate. If after a couple of minutes of stirring some chocolate remains unmelted, blitz in 10 second intervals, stirring between each one until smooth. Stir in the rest of the custard and chill until needed.

Break the cake or sponge into a large trifle bowl. Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup, and scatter over the broken cake.

Make the cherry syrup up to 500ml with water and microwave or simmer in a saucepan to bring to the boil. Dissolve the jelly as per instructions on the packet and pour over the cake and fruit, distributing as evenly as possible. Chill for half an hour then spread the custard on top and chill for a further 2-3 hours or until needed. Grate chocolate on top to serve, and top with a couple of leftover cherries.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Afghans and Bathrooms

A large part of the reason I've been a bit infrequent with my blog posts lately is a family project that has consumed quite a lot of my time for the last two months. If you've been reading for a while you might already be aware that my family have an old home, Merchiston, in Christchurch - it was built in 1879, and has been in our family for over 80 years. It's a rather unique situation, as the house is in a trust and is used for family, church and community events.

The kitchen, before and after

A couple of years ago the family banded together to do a big kitchen renovation, which solved some ongoing issues with a leaky roof as well as bringing the kitchen up to a level where it's very easy to use for the various groups who come in, and easier to keep clean (key when lots of people pass through!). Shortly after that we started talking about doing the same for the main bathroom - we even ran some fundraising high teas to get some money in the (always sparse) kitty. That was July; in September Christchurch started shaking, and that changed all the priorities.

Between September and February the house suffered quite a lot, though it is still standing and will hopefully remain so for at least another couple of generations. Unfortunately, like many others in Christchurch, waiting for insurance means we can't work on remedying earthquake issues just yet (and though we'd like to be able to fix quake damage we are fortunate in that no-one needs to seek alternative accommodation while we wait, so we are better off than many). The bathroom wasn't affected by the quakes, though - and Baby Sister Cake will be having her wedding reception at Merchiston in March, so it seemed like a good time to freshen things up.

The family are all very involved in the house, so there was lots of discussion around how to best combine practicality and heritage, and the final product represents a bit of everyone - one cousin suggested the colours for the walls and ceiling; another suggested the toilet be shifted away from the window, where it can be slightly unsettling if someone walks by; my aunty picked out accent colours to pull the room together and spoke up for the stunning old shower rose (some of us thought it had seen better days but it cleaned up amazingly!); my electrician uncle gave practical advice on wiring (and more importantly, did it!); Mum located a mirror which used to hang in my great-grandparents bedroom to go over the basin; Sister Cake pointed out that wrought iron would go really well with the leadlight window; Dad did the hard yards breaking up ancient concrete to redirect the plumbing. Everyone was involved in some way!

The bathroom, before and after

It turned out to be a huge project - I went to Christchurch for two weekends to help out, and I was completely exhausted on arriving back in Wellington after both - I'm way too soft to be a labourer! Anyway, hard slog requires some good snack food - Dad is a hard taskmaster and works long days, but don't you dare get in the way of his morning and afternoon tea breaks. ;-)

Afghans are possibly my favourite biscuit - they're pretty quick to throw together, rich and chocolatey, crunchy and dangerously moreish - so I made some to take down on one of my trips. I've previously shared my afghan recipe with you, though I did add a touch more butter this time and think they're better this way (of course they are, adding butter always makes things better!).

For the icing, if you want a nice glossy pool atop your biscuit it's important to make it a bit ahead of when you need it. After it has cooled give it a quick whisk to smooth it out before spooning it onto the biscuits, and if it's too stiff you can apply a little heat, but if you make it when you plan to ice them it will be too runny (you can also add icing sugar to help with this, but I prefer not to as that can make them a bit sweet).

I also mixed things up a little with the topping - traditionally a walnut half sits proudly atop each biscuit, but alongside the walnuts in my pantry were some coffee beans I was given - and I don't drink coffee. So for a more adult twist I topped half of my afghans with two or three coffee beans, which I can definitely recommend and others seemed to enjoy as well. Feel free to make them either way, or, if you prefer leave your biscuits naked - they'll still taste good!

Definitely a favourite - and full of energy, to aid you with whatever exhausting projects you have on your agenda.

Are morning and afternoon tea compulsory break stops in your life, or reserved for special occasions?

Afghans (makes 12-14)
180g butter, room temperature
1/2 cup/100g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
1.5 cups/180g flour
3 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups/60g cornflakes
3 Tbsp water
45g butter
45g caster sugar
1 1/2 cups/190g icing sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa
walnut halves or coffee beans

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla, then sift in dry ingredients and mix together. Use your hands to crumble the cornflakes into the bowl so they are in smaller pieces, then mix in with your hands.

Form into balls, place on baking sheet and flatten (either with the palm of your hand or a fork). Bake for 12-14 minutes.

While the biscuits are cooking, mix together the water, extra butter and caster sugar in a saucepan. Heat until butter is melted then simmer for a minute to form a syrup. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and whisk to combine. When cooled, ice the biscuits with a dollop of icing (it should sort of pool on top - if you need to warm it slightly give it 10 seconds in the microwave) then press a walnut half or 2-3 coffee beans into each one.

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