Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cinnamon & raisin pinwheels

When I first arrived in New Zealand, I began looking for a recipe book of New Zealand recipes, preferably one categorised by seasons because as I’ve mentioned previously, I was having difficulties convincing myself that apricots in February were totally seasonal.  However, this wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d expected and even the guy in the bookshop that I found that specialises entirely in cookbooks (uh-oh…) said that there weren’t really many books like that around.  However, apparently there is a big baking tradition, and judging by most of the recipes, this seems to have been brought over by British settlers.  So I walked out of the aforementioned bookshop with A Treasury of New Zealand Baking (after paying, obviously), which is made up of recipes by a whole host of the top Kiwi chefs, bakers and food writers, and there’s a range of recipes for all occasions, importantly using ingredients and fruits available here.  I hadn’t baked from this book yet, so I picked it for this month’s Random Recipes, the theme of which was “If I knew you were coming…” which meant we had to bake something to celebrate the 2nd birthday of Belleau Kitchen.  Happy blog-birthday, Dom!

The random number button on my trusty calculator referred me to page 200, which were the variations on a scone recipe.  I decided to go for the cinnamon pinwheels option, because, well, they sounded delicious.  I’ve never made scones before – to be honest, they’ve always intimidated me a little (a lot).  Scones just seem to be one of those baked goods that are straightforward, but can go wrong so easily, and if you do them wrong, they can turn out inedible.  So I was a little daunted at trying this recipe out, but rules are rules, so I got on with it…

I decided to throw some raisins in, so they turned into cinnamon and raisin pinwheels, and they turned out rather tasty.  I was expecting them to rise a little more than they did, but I think this might have been because I don’t quite have the “lightness of touch” required for scone-making.  I’m sure it’s a skill I just need to practice…  Don’t be surprised if scone recipes start popping up on Sharky Oven Gloves left, right and centre (and if you never see another scone recipe again… you’ll know that the “lightness of touch” skill is still eluding me).  I’m also entering these into this month’s Breakfast Club, being hosted by Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, who happens to be a Kiwi living in the UK (and I’m sure she can correct me if I’ve got the Kiwi food scene completely wrong!).  She chose “Sweet treats and pastries” as the theme – these might not quite count as a pastry, but they definitely count as a sweet treat!

Cinnamon & raisin pinwheels

Makes 12-14 pinwheels
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

These make a delicious breakfast, although they do take a little bit of time to put together.  You can make them the evening before and they’ll keep if wrapped well.  It is important to work these lightly or they will lose their lightness.  They didn’t rise quite as much as I was expecting, but I think that might be because I wasn’t quite as gentle with the dough as I should have been – they were still delectable though!

Ingredients

6 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
375g all-purpose flour
3 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp icing sugar
Pinch of salt
50g unsalted butter, cold
100g raisins
1 egg
300g unsweetened natural yoghurt
Milk, to brush

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 240°C/fan oven 220°C.

2.  Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a little ramekin.  Set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, icing sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir together.  Dice the cold butter and rub into the flour mixture using your fingertips.  Stir in the raisins.

4.  Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl.  Add the yoghurt and mix together, before pouring into the dry ingredients and stir with a fork to bring the dough together into a soft, sticky dough (add a splash of milk if the mixture is too dry, but it will get stickier as you roll it).

5.  Turn out onto a floured work surface and pull the dough together quickly so that it is soft and smooth.  Lightly roll out into a rectangle of about 20 x 40 cm and 1cm thickness.  Brush the dough with a little bit of milk.  Keep aside about 3 tbsp of the cinnamon sugar mix and sprinkle the rest evenly over the dough.  Roll the dough up from the long side and gently pressure it to make it an even thickness along the roll.  Cut into 2.5cm slices, and place cut side up on the prepared baking tray, leaving about 2cm between each pinwheel.

6.  Brush the tops with a little milk and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar mixture.  Bake for 12-14 mins or until risen and golden.

Enjoy!

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Anzac Day

Today (the 25th of April) is Anzac Day, the New Zealand (and Australian) equivalent to Remembrance Day in the UK or the Armistice in France.  97 years ago today the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed in Gallipoli at dawn, which marked the start of a campaign that, like so many of the campaigns of WWI led to huge losses of life on both sides.

Since WWII, Anzac Day is associated with remembering all those who have lost their lives in military service for their country.  The commemorations began this past weekend with a projection of a 12-minute film of archival footage and photographs from the 24th New Zealand Infantry Battalion which was established during WWII, and served in North Africa, Greece and Italy.  The film was dedicated to the 522 men who lost their lives serving in the battalion between 1940-1945, and was shown on Saturday and Sunday evening, projected onto the walls of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which was lit in poppy red for the occasion.

On Anzac Day itself, there is an outdoor Dawn Service held at the Auckland Cenotaph, which is just in front of the museum.  I think that there are Dawn Services all across NZ (and Australia), but Auckland is the largest in the country, and I think it is also televised.  This service is very much a military affair, with the flags of the three Forces flying on the Cenotaph.  After the service, the little paper poppies that many people choose to wear are then pinned to crosses or just lain on the Cenotaph in memory of family members who have served.  Later in the morning there is also a Civic Service where the military flags are replaced by the New Zealand and Australian flags and the Union Jack (because the ANZAC forces fought under the Union Jack), and wreaths are laid by community groups, religious groups, the various forces and many foreign representatives.  Veterans are present at both services, and march alongside currently serving members of the NZ military, and this year there were members of the Australian Navy present as well.  Throughout the day the museum is open to the public for free, and there are various tours through the war memorial galleries.

A friend and I decided to go to the Dawn Service, and we duly turned up at 5am in order to get a fairly good view of the proceedings, which started at around 5:30am.  Despite the horrific time at which I had to roll out of bed (I’m not really a morning person), it was definitely worth it – I found the service very moving – and we actually spent most of the day at the museum.  I don’t have any links to the NZ or Australian military whatsoever, but I wanted to go partially because I don’t really know anything about the ANZAC forces, and partially because it is an important occasion in the country that is now my home, but also as a mark of respect to those who sacrificed their lives in wars (both WWI and WWII) that didn’t really directly affect NZ (as far as I can tell).  These young men died so dreadfully far from home, fighting for the freedom that I have always had the luxury of enjoying without question, and which I often take for granted.  I apologise if this isn’t all that coherent (I was up at 4am after all…) but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.  I’ve rambled more than enough by this point, so I’ll finish off this post with various photos from the memorial film projection over the weekend and today’s commemorations.

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Lest we forget.

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Fig, goat’s cheese & chocolate tartlets

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge ingredient, hosted by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, is “cheese.”  That’s right, we’re supposed to make something involving cheese… and chocolate.  I think the most obvious way of combining the two would be in the form of a cheesecake, but I’m not a fan of cheesecake (to put it mildly).  I have made cheesecake a grand total of once in my entire life, as a birthday gift for somebody who absolutely adored cheesecake.  However, the cheesecake, which, by the way, was delicious – and I know that for a fact because Kat and Craig tested the trial run for me, and I definitely trust them to tell me the truth, especially in this particular situation – suffered a terrible fate which I’m just going to refer to as the “cheesecake incident” (but if you desperately want to know what happened, I’ll refer you to point number 4 in this post) and move on, because the incident still irks me, over a year later (in case you couldn’t tell).  Somewhat ironically, the white chocolate and lime cheesecake in question was my entry for the We Should Cocoa challenge back in March 2011.

Since it’ll clearly be a while before I ever attempt another cheesecake, I had to come up with some other way of combining cheese and chocolate.  I’ve just remembered the cream cheese Kahlúa brownies that I made a few months ago – they would also have been perfect for this challenge (a bit late to think of that now though!).  Now I must admit that I’m what can only be described as a cheese fiend, but I have never considered combining cheese (proper cheese, not cream cheese) with chocolate and I was at a bit of a loss.  For inspiration, I looked the combination up in the Flavour Thesaurus, which only had an entry for chocolate and goat’s cheese, but said that they went surprisingly well together.  Initially I wasn’t sure how I could combine the chocolate and goat’s cheese, but then I hit upon the idea of a chocolate pastry case and a goat’s cheese filling of some sort.  My inspiration sort of stopped there though, and it wasn’t until a few days later that somebody mentioned something about figs and I suddenly thought of the roast figs with honey and goat’s cheese that I’ve previously posted, and wondered if I could do something similar… but in a chocolate pastry case.  There was only one way to find out…

I picked up some delicious figs at the Farmers’ Market this morning, headed home, dug out a chocolate shortcrust pastry recipe, and gave it a go.  Conveniently, the pastry requires some resting time, so I got some reading done (though unfortunately it was really boring – the biochemical workings of elasmobranch electroreceptors anyone…?  No?  You surprise me.).  I’d never tried the pastry recipe before – it tasted good, but it was very fragile, possibly because I might have rolled it a little too thinly, so I had difficulties getting a couple of the tartlets out of their tins in one piece.  I’ll have to try it again but not rolled as thinly to see if it’s a problem with the pastry in general or just this particular attempt.  The chocolate isn’t an overpowering flavour in the tartlets, but you can definitely taste it, and it goes wonderfully with the fig and goat’s cheese filling.  All in all, except for the pastry, I’m really pleased with how these turned out!  And they would definitely make an unusual but super-tasty dessert.  Since figs are in season here (did you know that they grow figs in NZ?  I didn’t!), I’m also submitting this to the Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food – although the pastry is a bit of a faff, they’re actually super simple to throw together.

Fig, goat’s cheese & chocolate tartlets

Makes 6 tartlets
Pastry recipe from Petits plats entre amis
Filling recipe from my imagination

The number of figs required may differ depending on the size of the figs that you are using.  The rosemary is totally optional, but it adds a subtle flavour that’s a little different and unexpected.  For the chocolate pastry, make sure not to roll it too thin as I found that it’s very fragile and quite difficult to get out of the tins without breaking.  Mini springform pans would be ideal, or silicone bakeware that can easily be “peeled off” the tartlets.  The pastry needs to rest for 2h before being used, so remember to plan accordingly!  The pastry recipe makes twice the amount required for the recipe, so either double the filling ingredients or make something else with it (it works for biscuits).  These tartlets won’t keep very well, so they are best eaten the day they are made.

Ingredients

For the pastry (makes double the amount required):
250g all-purpose flour
200g unsalted butter
120g icing sugar
50g cocoa powder
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water

For the filling:
12 medium-sized figs
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary (optional)
100g crumbly creamy goat’s cheese
6 tbsp walnut pieces
6 tbsp honey

Directions

For the pastry:
1.  Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the middle.  Add the rest of the pastry ingredients, and mix together with a fork.  Then, knead together until the pastry comes together and is well incorporated (don’t worry if this seems to be taking a while – it does come together eventually).  Form into a ball, wrap in cling-film and rest for 2h in the fridge.

Assembling the tartlets:
2.  Remove the pastry from the fridge, and allow to acclimatise a little for about 10-15 mins.  Meanwhile butter six 10cm tartlet tins and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

3.  Split the pastry into six even pieces, and roll each one out individually to fit a tartlet tin.  Make sure not to roll it too thinly (no less than about 6mm).  Line the tins with the pastry, and prick it with a fork.  Line each pastry case with a piece of baking paper and some baking beans, and bake blind for 12 mins.

4.  Meanwhile, quarter the figs.  When the tartlets have been blind-baked, remove from the oven, and remove the baking beans.  Make sure that the pastry case loosens from the tin.  Arrange the fig quarters in the pastry cases (8 quarters per tartlet).  Strip the sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle the leaves evenly between the tartlets, followed by the crumbled goat’s cheese and walnut pieces.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of honey over each tartlet and bake for 15-20 mins.

5.  Once baked, allow the tartlets to cool a little in their tins (the liquid will bubble down a bit and become a little less liquid-y) before turning out onto a wire rack.  Eat warm or cooled.

Enjoy!

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For the love of butter

The random letter for this month’s AlphaBakes blog challenge, started by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker (who is currently hosting) and Caroline at Caroline Makes is “B“.  Easy-peasy (lemon squeezy), I thought to myself when I read it, I can submit the blueberry jam that I’ve got planned.  It wasn’t until I was halfway through writing the blueberry jam post that I realised that jam doesn’t count as baked goods…  Not my brightest moment there.  As I mentioned in that post, if I’d been smart, I’d have bought twice as many blueberries and frozen half for baking.  But I wasn’t smart, and I didn’t.  So baking something with blueberries was out (although I have since found frozen blueberries at the supermarket).  With my not-so- genius plan scuppered, I wasn’t too sure what I was going to make for my entry.  And then, as I opened my fridge suddenly it hit me (almost literally as a pack of butter came tumbling out).

Anybody who has looked in my fridge can tell you that I usually have quite a reserve of butter.  At the moment I have just under 1.5kg stored in there.  1.5kg of butter for one person, I know.  I don’t usually stockpile quite as much, but butter is sold in 500g packs here and the supermarket is currently running a 2-for-1 promotion.  Between making quiche pastry on a very regular basis, general baking and occasionally (or not so occasionally…) things like buttercream icing, I do get through quite a bit of butter, so since I know it definitely won’t be going to waste, I’d quite like a pack of free butter, thank you very much.  I also seem to have a (slightly) irrational fear of running out of butter, and so I seem to stockpile it anyway (like I said, it doesn’t go to waste).  If there’s ever a butter shortage, I’ll probably make a fortune on the black market.  Anyway, I digress, so as a stray pack of butter tumbled out of my fridge, I realised that I should make boterkoek!!  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before…  By the way, I think one of the AlphaBakes rules is that a standard ingredient doesn’t count as the letter (such as “flour” for F), so I know that butter probably doesn’t count, but since boterkoek obviously starts with a B, I think that this is still a valid entry (right?).

Perhaps I should back up a little and explain what boterkoek (pronounced botter-cook) actually is…  Boterkoek is a Dutch cake, best served alongside coffee.  The name translates as “butter cake” – butter makes up ⅓ of the total ingredients that go into this cake.  Now would probably be a good time to mention that this isn’t exactly the healthiest thing in the world.  In case you hadn’t realised that already.  If you’re on a diet, you should probably just stop reading.  Or stop your diet (clearly the better option).  I adore boterkoek – it might well be my favourite Dutch food ever – but you don’t come across it particularly often.  I’m not really sure why, perhaps because it’s not super healthy.  It’s a dense and compact crumbly cake, quite heavy and very buttery (you don’t say?).  It’s best eaten in small quantities and with a good, strong, black coffee to cut through the butteriness.  I don’t think I’m selling this very well.  It’s not like eating a stick of butter or anything, and although the texture is quite heavy, the flavour is fairly delicate (and yes, a bit buttery, but in a good way).  The best description that I can think of is that it’s just… lekker, but as that’s Dutch and this is an English blog, that doesn’t help much (unless you happen to speak Dutch).  Basically, it’s totally delicious, I promise!  One word of warning though: I find that it’s also a little bit addictive.  And by a little bit I mean a lot, because despite everything that I’ve just said, I can easily eat about a third of the cake in one go.  On its own, with no coffee to wash it down.  It went down a storm during our lab coffee break yesterday, with everybody helping themselves to seconds (thirds in some cases)… how’s that for a recommendation?

Boterkoek

Makes about 20 slices
Recipe from one of my mum’s friend

This makes a perfect coffe-time treat, and is incredibly easy and quick to throw together (and you probably already have all the ingredients), although it does take a while to cool.  It’s best served in small portions as it is quite rich – people can always help themselves to more if they wish!  Adding the egg makes the boterkoek more moist (and delicious), but apparently you can choose to omit it (though I’ve never tried without the egg).  If you choose not to use the egg, then brush the top of the cake with a little bit of milk instead.  The boterkoek will keep for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container.

Ingredients

300g all-purpose flour
300g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
300g unsalted butter
1 egg

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking parchment (lining the tin means that it’s much easier to lift the cake out once it’s baked.  You can choose not to line the tin because there’s enough butter in the recipe for the cake not to stick, but it will probably get a little messy).  Pre-heat the oven to fan 175°C.

2.  Add the flour, sugar and vanilla sugar to a large mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the bowl.  Rub together with chilled hands (or cut through with two knives, but with your hands is better – and more fun!) to form a crumbly mixture that starts to come together.

3.  Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl, and add ½ of the egg to the butter mixture (yes, ½.  I know that’s a stupid amount, but if you add any more, the dough will be too soggy and wet).  Set the remaining egg aside.  Knead together to form a slightly sticky dough (there are a couple of photos of the dough at the end if you’re unsure).

4.  Transfer the dough to the lined baking tin and press it down evenly across the tin (make sure to get it into the corners and everything – it won’t spread too much, and shouldn’t be too thick or it won’t bake properly) and so that the top is smooth.  Brush the top of the cake with the remaining egg and score pretty patterns across the top using a fork.  Bake for about 35 mins until wonderfully golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

5.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 30-35 mins in the tin before lifting out and transferring it to a wire rack to cool fully before cutting up and serving.

Enjoy!

I’ve been asked to put up a photo of the dough before baking – it should come together as a slightly sticky dough, but still a bit crumbly when you handle it:

When you transfer it to the lined baking tin, press it into the edges so that it’s an even thickness across the whole baking tray.  Make sure to get it right into the corners and smooth the top (I haven’t quite finished with the dough below, but you get the idea) before brushing with the egg and scoring with a fork, and then popping into the oven.

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Spinach and feta “quichelets”

I have a tendency to bookmark recipes involving spinach. It’s a habit that I picked up in St Andrews, thanks to Kat. She’s on medication that basically limits the amount of alcohol that she can drink to about 2 glasses of wine a day. Which wasn’t ideal for dinner parties (because unfortunately the 2 glasses a day aren’t transferable to the next day if you haven’t consumed them). However, she also had to limit the amount of vitamin K because it has the opposite effect on the medication to alcohol. So clearly, if she ate more vitamin K, she just had to balance it with an extra glass of wine or three and vice versa… Spinach is jam-packed full of vitamin K, so whenever I had Kat for dinner, it was highly likely that spinach would feature at some point. I didn’t want Kat to have to feel limited to drinking less than everybody else, because that’s just not fair. Of course, the obviously sensible thing to do would have been for everybody else to cut down on the amount of wine being consumed… but as fourth year undergrads, let’s be realistic here.

In fact, Kat was first prescribed this medication over the summer of 2010, which she unexpectedly spent living with me in St Andrews – this was the summer that definitely cemented our friendship. We spent a large part of the summer perfecting the amount of spinach required to balance out various quantities of wine and gin. We got it down to a fine art. This wasn’t quite as irresponsible as it sounds since Kat was conveniently having plenty of check-ups to check the levels of her medication throughout the summer. Kids: don’t read this and think it’s a smart idea to play Russian Roulette with your health, it’s not and that’s really not what I’m suggesting you should do. Rather hypocritical, I know, but I felt a disclaimer was probably a good idea.

So anyway, as a result of this, I have lots and lots of bookmarked recipes involving spinach. This particular recipe is adapted from a wonderful little cookbook that Craig (who was also involved in many of the spinach vs wine/gin experiments) gave me for Graduation, so I never got around to trying it out before I moved from St Andrews. The original recipe has been bookmarked for a long time, partly out of habit, partly because it uses egg yolks (I’m always looking for recipes that use up egg yolks) and partly because it sounded delicious. And it turned out scrumptious, as I was expecting – I’ve tried the spinach and feta combination before, and have always enjoyed it. I decided to make these as mini quiches (or “quichelets” as I like to call them), as suggested in the book, but it would also work as a larger quiche, particularly if you want to make this as a main course rather than a starter or light lunch.

Spinach & feta “quichelets”

Serves 6 as a starter
Adapted from Baking – 100 everyday recipes

You could, of course, just make one big quiche, but making the mini quiches doesn’t take that much more time and effort (just the time to cut the pastry from the tartlet tins). A larger quiche will take longer to bake – I can’t give you a time estimate, so I’d suggest just monitoring it, and toasting the pine nuts in a small frying pan and just topping the quiche with them when it comes out of the oven. I always add a tiny bit of Dijon mustard to the bottom of all my savoury tarts and quiches because I find that it subtly heightens the flavours, but it is entirely optional. If you’re not a big fan of cheese, you may wish to reduce the quantity of cheese down to about 100g.

Ingredients

Quiche pastry (click for recipe – it’ll make twice as much as you need)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
250g fresh spinach
1 tbsp butter
150g crème fraîche
3 egg yolks
2 tsp ground nutmeg
150g feta (pick one that crumbles easily)
25g pine nuts

Directions

1. Grease and flour six 9 cm tartlet tins (or one large quiche tin). Divide the pastry equally into six and roll out each portion to about 4mm thick and line one of the tartlet tins. Prick with a fork and refrigerate for about 30 mins. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2. Line each pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 10 mins.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat together the egg yolks, crème fraîche and ground nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper (don’t be afraid to be a little heavy-handed with the pepper). Set aside.

4. Blanch the spinach for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Drain and squeeze all the water out (having just been in boiling water, the spinach is very hot – I’m not sure how you would do this if you don’t happen to have asbestos hands like me… Use the back of a spoon perhaps?). Roughly chop the spinach (again, good luck if you don’t have asbestos hands). In a frying pan or wok, melt the butter and add the spinach and cook over a low heat to evaporate any remaining water.

5. Add a tiny dollop of mustard to each blind-baked pastry case and spread evenly. Crumble the feta and split evenly between the six tartlets. Stir the creamy egg mixture into the spinach, mix well, and spoon over the feta. Bake for 10 mins (if you’re making a large quiche, the cooking time will be a bit longer).

6. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the mini quiches and bake a further 5 mins.

7. Remove from the oven and serve immediately accompanied with a green salad or allow to cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

PS – Kat, I wish I could have shared these quichelets with you!

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Last blueberries of the season? I’ll take 1kg please!

Fun fact: I arrived in Auckland two months today.  Part of me feels like it can’t possibly have been that long already – there are still plenty of things that I’m not sure how they work (I only cracked the bus system the other week) or where to find certain things.  But then part of me feels I’ve been here so much longer, probably because I’ve finally more or less got a routine going and am feeling more settled.  Part of my routine involves going to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings.  There are several farmers’ markets across Auckland, and when I first arrived, I tried the one in the centre of town (and closest to me) a few times, but I was distinctly disappointed.  Plenty of food to eat on the spot but not much in the way of produce, which for me is the whole point of a farmers’ market.  A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to trying the Parnell Farmer’s Market, which I’d heard was much better.  And indeed it was, although there didn’t seem to be much meat for sale.  There were plenty of fruit and vegetables though, including a whole blueberry stand.  I hadn’t really planned on buying any, but on being told that they were the very last blueberries of the season, I happily trotted off with 1kg of blueberries.

You might think that 1kg is a little excessive, especially since I hadn’t actually planned on buying any… but I had a very specific plan for these very-last-of-the-season blueberries.  I’m still struggling with the seasons being six months out of sync, so I know that come June and July when the Northern hemisphere (and many of the food blogs that I follow) will be full of summer berries, I’ll be really jealous, because it’ll be the middle of winter here.  But I can still have blueberries this winter, because I made blueberry jam.  Actually, if I’d been really smart, I’d have bought 2kg, used half for jam and frozen the other half for baking throughout winter.  Didn’t think of that at the time though…  Never mind.

I love home-made jam – it always makes me think of France.  Making jam has to be one of the easiest things in the world.  I know in my last post I said that tarts are super easy, but jam is even more straightforward.  It is literally just fruit and sugar.  And you only need 1 pot (granted, a big one), so it’s not a particularly space-intensive thing to make (which is excellent when you have a small kitchen without much counter space), and it also means minimal washing up (always a bonus).  Many jam recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar, but I find that these jams often tend to be far too sweet, particularly for a fruit like blueberries which aren’t particularly bitter to start with.  None of my recipe books had a blueberry jam recipe, which surprised me a little, and the internet wasn’t terribly helpful either.  Is blueberry jam a really uncommon thing?  Why?  Do people just not like it?  So I asked my mum, and none of her recipe books were much help either.  Even the one specifically about jams.  We decided that I should go for 750g of jam sugar to 1kg of fruit and just see how it turned out.  Thankfully, it turned out rather well.  Terrific in fact.  There’s an intense blueberry flavour, it’s a beautiful colour, and it’s not too sweet.  Hurrah!  So now I can have blueberries in winter…

Blueberry jam

Makes about 3 x 375ml jars
Very loosely based on BBC Good Food (June 2011)

This jam is wonderful for breakfast, but would also be delicious on scones with afternoon tea.  To sterilise the jam jars, wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water before placing on a baking tray and placing in an oven on low heat until fully dried (about 10 mins or so).  I tend to like my jam without too many whole berries in so I mashed them quite a bit at the end, but that’s entirely up to you.  You could probably reduce the jam sugar down to 700g (maybe even 650g), but will probably have to boil the jam a little longer.

Ingredients

1 kg blueberries
750g jam sugar
1 lemon

Directions

1.  Pop a few saucers in the freezer to be used later (I ended up using 2).

2.  Place the blueberries in a preserving pan or large pot (remember that the jam will increase in volume when bubbling away, so make sure the pot is large enough).  Stir in the sugar and place the pan over a low heat, stirring regularly (the sugar will slowly turn pink and liquify), and taking care that the jam does not boil.

3.  Once all the sugar has dissolved, stir in the juice from the lemon and turn up the heat.  Once a fast boil – 105°C on a preserving thermometer – has been reached, time the jam for 8 mins.  After 8 mins, place 1 tsp of jam onto one of the frozen saucers and place in the fridge (allow the jam to continue on fast boil in the meantime).  After 1 min in the fridge, push your finger through the jam on the saucer.  If the jam wrinkles (this may sound strange, but you’ll be able to tell exactly what I mean when it happens), then it is ready.  If not, allow the jam to continue on fast boil for a further 2 mins before testing again.  As soon as the jam is ready, remove the pan from the heat.

4.  Allow to cool for 20 mins, then skim away any scum from the top of the jam.  Using a potato masher, mash the jam as necessary (this depends entirely on your taste – I tend to mash it quite a bit, but you may find that you don’t want to mash it all).  Ladle the jam into sterilised jars (a jam funnel helps considerably).

Enjoy!

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It’s Easter! It’s spring! No wait, autumn! Uhm what?

Happy Easter!   I must admit that I haven’t really been feeling particularly Easter-y this year.  As I’m not religious, Easter doesn’t have any particular significance to me, but I always associate it with spring.  If it’s Easter, then it means that spring is definitely here, or very nearly on its way.  Soon there will be super-cute (and delicious) lambs in the fields, ducklings in the ponds and daffodils in the parks.  Except it’s not spring here, it’s autumn.  Daylight Savings time has ended, the leaves are starting to change colour and fall from the trees, and it’s getting noticeably cooler at night.  That said, we seem to be having an Indian summer – most days are still warm and sunny, and everybody is still in shorts and skirts (one of the technicians told me the other day that by April she’s usually in jeans and boots) – so I can’t complain too much.  Confusingly, the Easter cards and decorations in the shops here are all spring-themed – little bunnies, chicks, daffodils.  New Zealand is, of course, famous for its sheep, but I can’t share any super-cute lamb photos since there aren’t any about.  I can, however, offer you a slightly fuzzy photo of some baby sharks that I took the other day when we delivered the eagle rays that I’ll be using for my MSc research to Kelly Tarlton’s (Auckland’s aquarium).  They let us go around the aquarium afterwards (it’s a serious business being a marine biologist…), so I only had my phone with me and apparently it’s not great at taking aquarium photos.  Everybody say awwwwww:

Aside from Jesus and cute baby animals, the other big thing about Easter is chocolate eggs (at least in the UK and it seems here in NZ, too).  Now I think I’m probably in the minority, but I’m really not a fan of this whole chocolate egg thing.  I’m not that much of a chocolate person to start with – I quite like (good) chocolate in things (like cake, brownies, etc.), but I don’t tend to eat chocolate on its own, and I certainly don’t enjoy cheap, bad quality chocolate on its own, whether in the shape of an egg or not.  They make me feel sick.  And I don’t really see the point of that.  I know that it stems from having given up rich foods for lent, but after 40 days of voluntary privation, surely you’d want to eat something decent and truly delicious?  Actually, the complete commercialisation of Easter really annoys me – and as I’ve already said, I’m not even religious.  Anyway, before this turns into a full-blown rant, I’ll move on…

I’d only planned on briefly mentioning my confusion over spring-themed Easter cards in autumn and the baby sharks before getting to the main point of this post: a plum and almond tart.  450 words into the post, I’ve only just mentioned it.  Woops.  Clearly being a post-grad has done nothing to help me write more concisely and keep to the point…  Despite not celebrating it, I felt a bit odd letting Easter slip by unmentioned.  In my family, it has always been an occasion that involved good food (ok, not so much if my grandma was cooking, but whenever my mum was in charge, everything was delicious).  Since it’s autumn, lamb is obviously not on the menu today for me, but it just felt so weird posting a recipe with butternut squash or venison for Easter.  So I thought I’d go for a dessert (you know, for a change).

Something chocolate-y would have been the obvious choice, but it just feels too warm outside for chocolate.  I want to eat fruit!  I was going to go down the apples and pears route, since they are very much in season at the moment, but then I got distracted by what must be the very last plums of the season.  As soon as I saw them, I knew exactly what I was going to make: plum and almond tart.  I adore tarts (har har har, etc.) – they’re so basic to make that it’s difficult to go wrong.  And their simplicity is what makes them so delicious.  I would almost always pick a fruit tart over any other kind of dessert (except perhaps crème brûlée).  This tart is no exception.  Pastry.  Sugar.  Ground almonds.  Plums.  A bit more sugar.  Oven.  Boom, done.  Simple as (good Kiwi expression that – though simple as what, I have no idea).  Oh and I threw a few slivered almonds on top, too, just for effect.  The plums turn all juicy and delicious in the oven, the ground almonds soak up any overflowing juices, and the sugar adds just the perfect balance of sweetness.  This would make a perfect end to a huge meal, or just an afternoon snack.  It’s a little difficult not to make a bit of a mess of the plums when serving the tart, but it’s so delicious that you’ll quickly be forgiven!

Plum & almond tart

Serves 6-8
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

The amount of plums required obviously depends on the size of the plums and the size of the tart tin that you’re using, but as a rough guide, I used a dozen medium-large plums.  This tart is best eaten the same day that it is made as the pastry will start to go a little soft if left out for too long.  Add more sugar if you are using particularly tart plums.

Ingredients

Tart pastry (click for recipe – it’ll make twice as much as you need)
About 900g of plums
80g light brown sugar
20g ground almonds
Handful slivered or flaked almonds

Directions

1.  Butter a 24 cm fluted tart tin and dust with flour.  Roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 4mm and line the tart tin with it.  Trim the edges and prick the pastry with a fork.  Leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 mins.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

2.  Meanwhile, cut all the plums in half and remove the stone.  Set aside.

3.  Line the pastry case with a sheet of baking paper and spread baking beans evenly over the paper.  Blind-bake the pastry for 10 mins.

4.  Remove from the oven, remove the baking beans and baking paper, and sprinkle the base of the pastry case evenly with the ground almonds and about 20g of the sugar.  Add the plums cut side up (so the round bit is against the pastry case), as tightly packed as possible.  Sprinkle with about 40g of the sugar and bake for 15 mins.

5.  Sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top of the plums and bake a further 10-15 mins (the plums should bake a total of 25-30 mins).

6.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool fully on a wire rack.  Sprinkle with the remaining sugar just before serving.

Enjoy!

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Sharky Oven Gloves goes vegan…

Guess what?  It’s already April 1st in my time zone, which means…  April Fools’!!  Nobody panic, Sharky Oven Gloves is most certainly not launching into veganism (like I’d ever choose to cut butter and cheese out of my life…).  Well, except for today’s post which does actually feature a vegan recipe (shock horror, I know).  You see, this is my entry to the March Breakfast Club challenge, and I’m cutting it extremely fine with the deadline since it’s already April for me, but thankfully the timezones are totally playing into my favour with this!  The challenge is being hosted by Makey Cakey and she chose the theme “deliciously dairy-free“, which was definitely a real challenge for me.  I’m a total dairy fiend, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: one of my greatest fears is to suddenly develop lactose-intolerance.  I drink a glass of milk every morning, I eat a heck of a lot of cheese and you are guaranteed to find at least three different types of cream hanging out in my fridge at any given time.  So it’s taken me the entire month to actually come up with something to make for the challenge.

Initially on reading the challenge theme, I thought it wouldn’t be too hard, I could just make something that doesn’t involve milk or yoghurt.  Or cheese, which I don’t usually have for breakfast anyway.  Simple.  And then I realised that butter is also dairy product.  Oh.  That complicates matters somewhat.  Which is how I ended up with a vegan recipe for today’s post – I’ll be honest, dairy-free or vegan foods are not usually my top choice when it comes to trying out recipes.  And by not usually I mean never.

I didn’t want to mess with the original recipe too much – baking without eggs, butter or milk is something that I never do so it’s difficult to judge the effects of changing the ingredients.  I used wholewheat flour instead of normal flour, and added some banana chips and left it at that.  After my new-found love of the combination of mango and chocolate, I very nearly threw some chocolate chips in, but then remembered that chocolate isn’t dairy-free.  I also very nearly buttered the tin, but luckily realised that that would defeat the entire point of this.  I wasn’t terribly convinced by how the recipe was going to turn out.  The batter seemed odd to me, but I put it in the oven, crossed my fingers and contemplated drinking a big glass of milk whilst waiting for it to come out…  It turned out better than I was expecting – it tastes totally delicious and although it seems a little dry, luckily the mango chunks give the loaf some moistness, which balances it out.  As a result of this, I’m now slightly less distressed at the prospect of vegan or dairy-free baking, but my huge fear of suddenly developing lactose-intolerance still stands.

Mango banana bread

Makes 1 loaf
Slightly adapted from Joy the Baker

The batter seemed a bit odd and rather dry as it went into the tin, but it came out well – the mango chunks help to moisten the loaf whilst it bakes.  I would perhaps suggest adding an extra half banana for moistness though.  The banana chips are totally optional but add a lovely little crunch.  This loaf will keep for a few days if wrapped and kept at room temperature.

Ingredients

1 mango
2 large, very ripe bananas
70ml organic rapeseed oil
80g soft brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
250g whole wheat flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
Pinch salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Handful of banana chips (reserve some for the topping)
Demerara sugar, for topping (optional)

Directions

1.  Line a 12 x 20 cm loaf tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.

2.  Chop the mango into about 1cm chunks.  Set aside.

3.  Using a fork, mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk in the oil, sugar and vanilla extract.

4.  Sift the flour, spices, salt and bicarbonate into the wet ingredients.  Tip the bran bits of the whole wheat flour in as well.  Stir together with a spoon until just combined.

5.  Add the chopped mango and crumbled banana chips, and fold in (don’t panic if it seems very dry).  Spread the batter evenly in the prepared loaf tin, and sprinkle with the sugar and a few more crumbled banana chips.  Bake for 45-50 mins, until lightly brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out just clean.  Allow to sit in the tin for 20 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

Enjoy!

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