Monthly Archives: November 2012

Sharky Oven Gloves turns two!

Guess what?  Guess what?  Today is Sharky Oven Gloves‘ second birthday (in case you haven’t read the title of the blog post…).  Exciting stuff!  And what the blog title doesn’t tell you is that this also happens to be my 200th blog post.  I can’t quite wrap my head around both of those facts.  Two years’ of blogging and 200 blog posts.  Goodness.  That’s a fair bit of procrastination…

A fair bit has happened since my first blog birthday , so here’s a little re-cap:

One tamarillo & walnut cake.

  • I managed to make some rather spiffing stollen, which I must admit is my only ever successful foray into baking with yeast, so I’m still pretty chuffed about that.

Drip drip drop, little caramel… uhm… drips.  Uhm, ya…

  • One of our technicians doesn’t eat egg, so I’ve ventured into occasional egg-free baking over the last few months, which is not something I’ve ever actively done before – most of the egg-free baking I’ve done before has been by accident more than an actual decision to make a recipe egg-free, so it’s been interesting.  Learning about the banana substitution trick certainly helped.
  • I won “best-tasting” in a baking competition with some “radioactive” lemon macarons (ok there wasn’t a great deal of competition, but still…), which was totally exciting.

The irony of a French person bringing in nuclear-themed baked goods to a baking competition in New Zealand is not lost on me.

  • Something I decided to try for my Kir macarons ended up sparking a minor obsession with swirly-shelled macarons, and I’ve since tried the effect out in my Mojito macarons, the non-radioactive version of my lemon macarons and my Leiter Fluid macarons.  So basically all of the macarons I’ve made since arriving in NZ.  Perhaps I should calm down on the swirly shells a little.  (But they’re so pretty…)

When you've run out of wine… fill the glass with macarons.  Sorted.

  • A few months ago I started my weekly Sunday Smiles feature, a weekly recap of things that have made me smile or laugh through the week.  It’s something a little different and all about focussing on the positive things in life.

Drinking gin out of an Edinburgh Gin glass is as close as I can get to real Edinburgh Gin here.  Sad times.

Now, today is also St Andrew’s Day, which I feel is largely eclipsed by Burns’ Night by Scots actually in Scotland, but celebrated by many Scots abroad (at least that’s the case based on my experience – it’s funny how as an expat you suddenly latch on to any excuse to celebrate your home country).  So to celebrate Sharky Oven Gloves‘ second birthday and 200th post and St Andrew’s Day, I decided that I’d post a Scottish recipe but with a Kiwi twist as a nod to my current home.  Hokey pokey is a crunchy butterscotch honeycomb type thing and very popular here apparently (especially in ice-cream it seems), so I thought it would be a fabulous idea to make hokey pokey shortbread.  Now, if I’d thought about it, I’d have realised that putting hokey pokey, which mostly consists of sugar and air, in the oven was not a good idea at all, but I went full steam ahead (I hope I get points for enthusiasm).  Result: the hokey pokey melted in the oven leaving unattractive cavities of caramelised sugar all over the shortbread.  Bugger.

Oh…  101 Dalmatians-themed shortbread anyone?  Ahem.

Of course, I could have just glossed over this particular experiment and pretended that it never happened, but you know, I figured I might as well give you a laugh.  And hey, sometimes I have kitchen failures.  Well ok, the shortbread wasn’t a total failure because it still tasted good, but it certainly wasn’t presentable…  Anyway, I even made a shark fin-shaped shortbread biscuit especially for the occasion, which sort of morphed out of shape a little – perhaps failed shark fins could be a theme for blog birthdays.

So I fed the failed shark fin shortbread to Toothy.  Obviously.

Anyway, giggle away at my recipe mishap, and here’s to another year of blogging, of both successes and failures (but mostly successes).

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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White chocolate sloe gin cupcakes

I’ve already submitted an entry to this month’s Baking with Spirit blog challenge, but I’m going to be a little over-eager and submit a second one.  “Gin” is the spirit of choice this month, and well, if you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I have a bit of a thing for gin.  In fact, Janice, the host, very kindly mentioned this fact in her challenge post – I felt rather honoured at being lauded as a baking-with-gin expert.  The flip side of that is that I wanted to come up with something worthy of such praise.  The Leiter Fluid macarons are rather fabulous (if I do say so myself) but I’d already been planning on making them anyway for Skyfall’s NZ release.  I wanted to make something specifically for Baking with Spirit.

I’ve been rather busy and stressed out so I didn’t think I’d actually have enough time to make something in the end.  However, I had a bit of a super crappy day on Tuesday, and when I got home, I knew I had a date with my oven.  It’s an electric oven, so nobody panic.  I meant a date to bake with it and thus de-stress, just to make that clear.  Awkward.  Soooo anyway, moving swiftly on…  I decided to make some white chocolate sloe gin cupcakes since I bought a bottle of sloe gin on a whim (it was on sale…) a few weeks ago but it was still unopened.  A situation that obviously needed rectifying.  And rectifying with panache, obviously, accompanied by a Sloe Gin & Tonic.

There are three steps to this recipe.  The cupcakes themselves, which I based on my white chocolate and hazelnut “naked” cupcakes, are pretty basic – they’re just white chocolate cupcakes.  The fancy-pants part of the cupcakes starts with the hidden ganache centre, an idea I borrowed from my knock-your-socks-off Cointreau-filled Masquerade Black Tie cupcakes.  Ganache, incidentally, is a great way of getting a good dose of alcohol into cupcakes or any other baked goods.  The cupcakes are then topped off with a white chocolate and cream cheese icing which includes a little extra dash of sloe gin, because one might as well go the whole hog.  I made the icing swirly, just because I could.  And it looks pretty.

Now, I’ll be perfectly honest – these cupcakes aren’t the lightest cupcakes you’ll ever eat and they’re also pretty high on the sugar front.  They are not cupcakes for eating every day, unless you’d like to land yourself in a more or less permanent sugar coma.  But for a one-off or a special occasion, they’re rather phenomenal.  The sloe gin goes marvellously with the white chocolate, though it does make for a rather sweet combination.  They’re also suitably sloe gin-y since none of the sloe gin that goes into these cupcakes is baked off – it’s all in either the ganache or the icing.  And that, my friends, is the secret to making alcoholic cupcakes like a pro.

White chocolate sloe gin cupcakes

Makes 14 cupcakes
Cupcakes adapted from Saved by Cake
Ganache by Sharky Oven Gloves
Icing adapted from Home Bake

Just a warning in case you’ve skipped the preamble, these are quite alcoholic and very sweet.  Do use a good sloe gin, whether shop-bought or homemade, since the flavour comes through pretty strongly, particularly in the ganache.  Colouring the icing is obviously optional, but it makes it fun.  You could also colour the ganache if you wanted – add the colour once the chocolate has fully melted as this will help you judge the colour better.  Any leftover icing can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight container in the fridge.  These are best eaten on the day, but will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box – like most cupcakes, they are best eaten sooner rather than later though.

Ingredients

For the cakes:
300g white chocolate
100g unsalted butter
180g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
100g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:
40g double or whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g white chocolate
40g sloe gin

For the icing:
55g white chocolate
150g cream cheese, softened
75g unsalted butter, softened
2-3 tsp sloe gin
375g icing sugar
Red food colouring gel or paste (optional)

Directions

To make the cakes:
1.  Set out 14 silicone cupcake moulds on a baking tray or line two cupcake/muffin tins with liners.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

2.  Break 200g of the white chocolate into pieces and add to a heatproof bowl with the cubed butter.  Gently melt together over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring often (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl as white chocolate can burn very easily and keep an eye on the mixture).  Remove from the heat as soon as the chocolate and butter are smoothly melted together.

3.  Meanwhile, roughly chop the remaining chocolate and set aside.  Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a medium bowl, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until the mixture is smooth, thickened and creamy.  Whisk in the vanilla extract and the melted chocolate mixture.  Add the flour mixture and fold in with a spatula until just combined.  Finally, fold in the chopped chocolate.

5.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake moulds or liners, not filling the liners more than ¾ full.  Bake for 20-22 mins until risen, golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Allow to sit in the silicone moulds for a couple of minutes for the cupcakes to firm up a little before removing and them and transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

To make the ganache:
6.  Whilst the cupcakes are baking, make the ganache.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces) and the sloe gin, mixing with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool fully.

7.  Once both the cupcakes and ganache are fully cooled, use an apple corer to hollow out a hole in the top of each cupcake (make sure not to go through the bottom of the cupcake).  Fill a piping bag (or zip-lock bag with a corner cut off) with the ganache and fill each hole with the ganache (the piping bag makes it way quicker and is also easier to do neatly).

To make the icing:
8.  Break the white chocolate into pieces and melt in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (again, make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl as white chocolate can burn very easily and keep an eye on it). Once smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool whilst preparing the rest of the icing ingredients.

9.  Prepare a piping bag with the tip of your choice (I used a Wilton 1M large star tip).  If you want the two-tone icing effect, paint three stripes of the red food colouring gel up the inside of the bag.

10.  Add the cream cheese and butter to a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk until smooth.  Add the room temperature white chocolate and sloe gin and beat until smooth.  On a low setting, whisk in the icing sugar in several additions (this helps to avoid an icing sugar cloud).  Add a few drops of red food colouring to get the colour you want and whisk until the colour is uniform.

11.  Transfer the icing to the prepared piping bag and pipe big swirls on top of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

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Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

One of the things I love about New Zealand is the lamb.  The lamb here tastes wonderful.  So I was rather pleased when a lamb recipe was thrown my way by this month’s Random Recipes challenge.  The theme for this month was “random birthday number” – we had to use our birth date to pick our book – in my case, the 14th book on the shelf, which was Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant, a French student cook book which was a gift from my French aunt and uncle.  It’s a good book because it has a range of straightforward recipes for one, two and groups of people, so covers all sorts of occasions.  The random number button on my calculator directed me to page 147, which is a recipe for keftas, or North African lamb meatballs.

Now, the original recipe calls for ras-el-hanout, but I couldn’t find any – I have seen some here, but I can’t remember where, which is obviously super helpful.  So I had to make up a substitution based on various articles online.  Thankfully it worked out and the meatballs were actually fantastically delicious, although perhaps a little too oniony, so I’ve reduced the amount of onion in the recipe here.  What I also love about these meatballs is that they can be fried or baked (I personally preferred baked), and they’d probably work wonderfully on the BBQ as well.  I served the keftas with a side of raisin and almond couscous, which is easy to prepare whilst the meatballs are cooking.  I’m also submitting these keftas to this month’s Simple and in Season over at Fabulicious Food! since lamb is in season here, and this recipe is definitely super simple to prepare!

Keftas with raisin & almond couscous

Serves 3-4
Keftas adapted from Guide de cuisine de l’Étudiant
Couscous recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

I thought there was a little too much onion when I made these, so I’ve reduced the quantity in the recipe given here (so yours won’t look quite as oniony as the photos in the post).  Don’t be put off by the number of spices in the recipe – if you’re missing one you can probably get away with leaving it out, particularly if it’s a spice that you don’t often (or ever) use.  The skewers are optional, but fun.  I’ve read that you should soak skewers in water before using them so that they don’t burn when cooking, but I forgot to do this and didn’t have a problem with burnt skewers.

Ingredients

For the keftas:
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
500g minced lamb
1 medium onion
Bamboo skewers (optional)
1½ tsp olive oil (if frying)

For the couscous:
75g raisins
½ tbsp olive oil
150g wholemeal couscous
50g flaked almonds
Knob of butter
Salt & freshly ground pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Fresh parsley, to serve

Directions

1.  Place the raisins for the couscous in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave to soak whilst preparing the rest of the meal.

To make the keftas:
2.  If cooking the meatballs in the oven, pre-heat to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.

3.  Add the spices to a large bowl and stir together.  Add the lamb to the bowl and mix well with your hands so that the spices are evenly distributed.

4.  Finely chop the onion and mix it in with the lamb.  Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls, slightly flattening them.  Slide the meatballs onto the skewers (this is optional, particularly if baking the keftas, but recommended if frying them or cooking them on the BBQ).

5.  If baking the meatballs then place them in an oven-proof dish and bake for about 25 mins until browned all over and cooked through.  If frying them, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat.  Add the meatballs and fry for 7 mins before turning them over and frying a further 7 mins.  If BBQing, you’ll have to figure it out yourself.

To make the couscous:
6.  Meanwhile, prepare the accompanying couscous.  Drain the raisins and pour the soaking water into a measuring jug. Set the raisins aside.  Top the raisin soaking liquid up to 175 ml with water and to a saucepan.  Add the olive oil and bring to the boil.  As soon as it begins to boil, add the couscous, stir, cover and remove from the heat.  Allow the couscous to soak up the liquid (this should take about 10 mins).

7.  Toast the flaked almonds until fragrant in a frying pan over a medium heat, taking care not to let them burn.  Once the couscous is ready, add a knob of butter and fluff up the grains with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper and add the ground cinnamon, raisins and almonds and stir through.  Cover to keep warm until the keftas are ready.

8.  Serve the keftas immediately, accompanied by the couscous, sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: Skyfall. That is all. Well, ok, not quite… (but it rhymes)

This hasn’t been the best of weeks – I feel like I’ve spent most of it running into a brick wall.  Actually that more or less covers the last few months, but this week feels like I’ve been sprinting into said brick wall.  Happy days.  Anyway, I don’t really want to go into details – this isn’t meant to be a wallow-in-pity post.

So let’s move right along to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • To be honest, this week was more or less single-handedly saved by Skyfall, which was finally released in NZ on Thursday.  I’ve already mentioned how amazing it was, but I just feel the need to re-iterate that.  It’s a serious contender for my favourite Bond film ever.  I could almost stop my Sunday Smiles here – finally seeing Skyfall actually made me week.
  • But I’ll carry on with these adorable photos of baby hedgehogs, or hedgehoglets.  Hedgehogs are actually covered in fleas, which is a little disgusting, but they’re so cute (from a distance further than a flea can jump).  And I’m guessing these adorable little ones haven’t been infested yet, so we can just revel in their cuteness: everybody saw awwwwww!  (Photo source)

  • One of the main purposes of the internet is to provide us with cute baby animals (right?) and it came up trumps twice this week, because there’s also a hilarious baby red panda that is even cuter when it gets taken by surprise.
  • Ok, enough cute baby animals, let’s move onto some killer whales that made an appearance in Mathesons Bay near Leigh.  One of them came right up close to the beach and seemed to be seriously considering snacking on the dog that was paddling around in the shallows.  By the way, this isn’t in Sunday Smiles because of the poor dog (which displays a fabulous doggy version of the “oh shit! face), but rather because it’s rather awesome to see them so close to the beach, and the free-diver’s not-so-elegant clamber onto the rocks.  I did actually think the whale was going to beach itself to try and catch the dog.  A couple of my labmates went free-diving in the same area a week or so later but didn’t see the whales.
  • Mt Tongariro had a little eruption this week (this is the same volcano that erupted back in August).  It seems that it wasn’t really that big of a deal, just venting off some steam – kind of like the volcanic version of a burp from what I can gather.  Rather awkwardly, apparently the scientists thought that Mt Ruapehu was likely to go off in the next two weeks, rather than Tongariro (lucky we’re not in Italy then…).  Anyway, since nobody died or anything, we’re allowed to laugh and what with The Hobbit premiere next week, the NZ Herald’s cartoon made me laugh. (Cartoon source)

  • Time for some low-brow now, courtesy of Susan Boyle’s PR company.  Apparently she’s releasing/has released a new album, so they decided to come up with a hashtag for it and settled on… #susanalbumparty.  Uhm, woops?  How unfortunate, but it did keep me amused for a whole day (it’s been a bad week… and my immaturity always wins out).
  • Public safety videos are usually either all school-marmy or overly graphic and shocking.  Here’s one that’s fun, clever and animated (so it won’t put you off your lunch): Dumb ways to die.  My favourite one is “use your private parts as piranha bait” just because it’s such an idiotic idea.
  • And finally, apparently Christmas is officially here because today was the Farmers’ Santa Parade, an Auckland institution which consists of lots of floats on a parade around the centre of town.  (Farmers is a department store here by the way, not farmers as in agriculture.)  I’m usually a total scrooge about Christmas until the 1st of December, but I made an exception today.  Anyway, it was slightly surreal to see children dressed as snowmen when it’s 20°C outside, but my favourite surreal part was the floats that were shooting out fake snow.  A lot of it wasn’t particularly Christmas-themed (a haunted house float (?), Chinese dragons, cheerleading squads, etc.) which was somewhat perplexing but it was still fun to watch.  And of course, there was Santa, and all the kids in the crowd got totally excited, which was lovely to see.  I was minorly disappointed that Santa’s sleigh isn’t pulled by kiwis here – how amazing would that be?  But no, he has reindeer here, too.  Oh well.

What made you smile this week?

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A Bond-themed Cocktail in a Macaron: Leiter Fluid

Super-duper exciting news: Skyfall was finally released in New Zealand yesterday!!  I’ve been vastly unimpressed at having to wait a month after its release in the UK to see it, particularly since I’ve been hearing how good it is.  Miraculously, I’ve managed to avoid hearing about or seeing any spoilers, which, over the course of an entire month spent on facebook and Twitter, is a rather impressive feat, though I’m assuming that I’ve managed this mostly through sheer luck.  And I suspect that perhaps some of my closest friends who share my Bond love have carefully avoided posting spoilers since they knew I wouldn’t be able to watch it yet.  If so, I’m incredibly grateful.  Anyway, the suspense has been killing me.  Not helped by having to walk past a giant Skyfall billboard every day…

I was finally able to watch Skyfall yesterday evening with some of my labmates.  Wow.  Fantastic.  I can’t really say much more without giving away any spoilers, but I loved it.  Whilst Kat, Craig and I were watching our way through all the Bond films during the summer between our third and fourth years of undergrad, Craig made us a particular cocktail one evening.  I believe it’s mentioned in one of the books (possibly Casino Royale), so we didn’t really invent it, but I think he slightly adapted it and then we re-named it.  It consists of equal parts of gin, red vermouth and Campari and then topped off with tonic to fill the glass.  So basically a Negroni with tonic.

But we wanted a Bond-themed name for the cocktail, and we eventually settled on Leiter Fluid (that’s Leiter as in Felix Leiter).  By “we” I really mean Kat and Craig – I’m not particularly inventive, so I was probably more focussed on sampling the drink itself.  Anyway, in honour of Skyfall’s release and also of this month’s Baking with Spirit theme of “gin,” I decided to take the Leiter Fluid and turn it into a macaron.  Leiter Fluid macarons – oh yes.  I decided that the flavours of the drink (particularly the Campari) would pair well with a dark chocolate ganache, and indeed they did, although they ended up coming through rather more subtly than I expected.  Which is no bad thing.  And the sweet shells balance the bitter ganache perfectly.  My only gripe is that the shells didn’t come out quite as swirly as I wanted, but luckily that doesn’t affect the taste!

Leiter Fluid macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by me

I used Gordon’s gin in the ganache since I find that the Campari and red vermouth mask any real subtleties of good gins.  The ganache can be a little finnicky and is best if you can avoid cooling it in the fridge as it may cool too quickly and harden.  If you do need to cool it in the fridge, just make sure not to forget about it!  (Not that I’m speaking from experience…)  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Red food colouring paste or gel (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar

For the ganache filling:
50g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
20g Campari
20g gin
20g red vermouth
A small glug of tonic

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.  If you want to make the macarons swirly, brush three or four lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy.  I did three stripes).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  If you want to make the shells a uniform colour, add a few drops of food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the chocolate (broken into pieces), the Campari, gin, red vermouth and a glug of tonic and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

10.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

11.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Indulging a minor PB&J obsession…

I read somewhere that some schools ban children from bringing in any food containing nuts in case some other child has a nut allergy.  Those poor deprived children who can’t have PB&J sandwiches for lunch!  (That’s peanut butter & jelly for anybody not as deeply in love with that particular lunchtime delicacy as I am.)  I know it’s unusual, but I’m not being sarcastic.  PB&J deprivation is not a joking matter.  I picked up my enthusiasm for PB&J whilst we lived in the USA when I was little.  So whenever I see PB&J-themed recipes, I prick up my ears…

By the way, when I refer to jelly in this post, I mean the American version of jelly, or what we would call gelée in French, not the wibbly-wobbly British version of jelly (which in the US would be called Jell-O…).  It really bugs me that there’s no British word equivalent – ‘jam without bits’ is just too wordy.  Anyway, my favourite jam (whether with or without bits) to pair with peanut butter is blackcurrant.  I’ve always adored blackcurrant jam, but now I love it even more as it always reminds me of making blackcurrant jelly with my mum and French grandma using blackcurrants from my grandparents’ garden.  But back to PB&J.  I came across a recipe for PB&J slices a wee while ago, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

A little cupboard re-organisation session over the weekend unearthed more (unopened) jars of peanut butter than I’d care to admit to (I clearly did some serious stockpiling when there was a 2-for-1 offer on), so I decided it was time that the PB&J slice recipe had its moment.  A few tweaks later – I used my usual shortbread recipe for the base and, unsurprisingly, used blackcurrant jam – and some scrumptious PB&J slices made their way out of the oven.  The shortbread base is slightly crisp and crumbly, the jam gets all sticky and chewy from the baking and between the two is a tasty layer of slightly-salted peanut butter which counterbalances the rich base and sweet jam.  I also love the crumbled shortbread over the top – not only is it tasty, it makes the slices a little easier to eat, too.  I’m submitting these PB&J slices to this month’s AlphaBakes, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, since the letter is “J” – J for the jelly (or jam) component of PB&J.  Not the most imaginative possibility for J perhaps, but definitely a yummy one!

PB&J slices

Makes 20 slices
Adapted from The Boy Who Bakes

You can use either crunchy or smooth peanut butter – I chose crunchy for the texture, but smooth would probably be easier to spread.  By ‘natural peanut butter’ I mean peanut butter that literally just consists of peanuts, perhaps a tiny bit of oil and only a bit of added salt.  Likewise, using homemade blackcurrant jam would be ideal, but if you don’t have any, choose a good quality one with a high fruit content and minimal additives.  If you can’t find blackcurrant jam, raspberry, blackberry or blueberry would work as well.  These slices will keep in an airtight box for a couple of days.

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
260g all-purpose flour
40g cornflour
Pinch of salt
150g natural salted peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
300g blackcurrant jam (with or without bits)

Directions

1.  Line a 25 x 19 cm baking tin with tin foil.

2.  In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric whisk or wooden spoon.  Slowly add the sugar and cream together until light and fluffy.  Sift the flour, cornflour and salt into the bowl and rub into the butter mixture using your hands until well combined (this may take a little while, but it will come together although it will still be a bit of a crumbly dough).

3.  Take ⅔ of the pastry and press it into the baking tin in an even layer.  Refrigerate for 15 mins.  Wrap the remaining dough in clingfilm and refrigerate as well.  Whilst the dough is chilling, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

4.  Bake the shortbread base for 25-30 mins until lightly golden around the edges.  Remove from the oven and allow the base to cool in the baking tin for 20 mins.  Keep the oven on.

5.  Spread the peanut butter evenly over the baked shortbread base, followed by the jam (try to resist the temptation to spread the jam right to the edge, because it will stick to the foil and make it really difficult to unpeel once the jam has cooled).  Crumble the remaining shortbread dough over the top and bake for a further 20-25 mins until the shortbread on top starts to colour lightly.  Allow to cool for 10 mins in the tin before transferring to a wire rack and peeling back the foil from the sides before the jam hardens (otherwise it will be impossible).  Allow to cool fully before cutting up into squares to serve.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: (Don’t) stare into the sun

We’ve been treated to every weather multiple times every day for the past couple of weeks (so just like Scotland, but warmer).  We even had hail on Monday (it was 16°C outside, so I’m not sure what that was about).  Spring weather in Auckland isn’t turning out to be as lovely as I’d hoped.  According to my labmates this seems to be a particularly damp year and one of our technicians has been complaining that it’s November and she’s still in jeans instead of shorts.  Never mind El Niño and La Niña, I’m pretty sure my presence in a country is enough to attract all the rainy weather systems.

So in order to ignore the current simultaneous sunshine and downpour situation happening outside my window, on to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • I heard what may well be my favourite ever description of Boris Johnson on Russell Howard’s Good News: “How can you hate Boris Johnson?  He’s like a human bumblebee that’s swallowed a thesaurus.”  A very good point.  And also a brilliant mental image.
  • On Tuesday we were treated to a partial solar eclipse (you had to be in northwestern Australia to see the full eclipse).  I find eclipses terribly exciting, and since this one rather conveniently lined up perfectly with our coffee break we spent a good half hour looking at it through bits of x-ray and camera film that we’d scavenged from the lab and (unsuccessfully) trying to project it onto a piece of paper using various microscope lenses.  Obviously at no point did any of us look  directly at the sun, because that’s a really silly (and dangerous) thing to do.  Ahem.  This may well be the only time I’ve ever been happy about there being clouds since they decreased the brightness enough for our phones to be able to take photos.

  • I know the US elections are well and truly over, but I only just came across this Gangnam Style (you know that really annoying South Korean song that seems to be number 1 in the charts everywhere) spoof this week: Mitt Romney style.  It amused me, though having the tune stuck in my head was not quite as amusing.
  • I came across these photos of a winter light festival in Japan.  It looks utterly stunning, particularly the second one, and the fourth one which has dolphins (not real dolphins, just to clarify).  Just wow.
  • If you’ve ever pretend-thrown a stick or a ball for a dog then you’ll be familiar with the adorable look of doggy confusion.  I know it’s mean, but it’s a look that never gets old…  (Source)

  • Have you seen this new library in The Netherlands?  Apparently it’s been named ‘Book Mountain‘ and it looks rather amazing inside (it does look a little weird from the outside) and is full of natural light.  And books, obviously.
  • Speaking of books, I finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel this week.  It’s the prequel to her latest book Bring Up the Bodies which was awarded this year’s Man Booker prize.  Wolf Hall actually won the Man Booker prize in 2009, so no pressure for her next novel…  It follows Thomas Cromwell during Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn and of course the huge schism with the Catholic church that resulted.  I really enjoyed it – it makes you think through what’s happening in the story since some thought processes aren’t explained straightaway and you do have to keep track of the characters and their various names and titles which are used interchangeably (it probably helps to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of that period of history) but I like that because it means you actually have to pay attention and think as you read.  I just had one gripe – I didn’t really like the tense that the book was written in.  I found it rather frustrating and a little confusing at times.  Despite that, I’ve added Bring Up The Bodies to my to-read list.  Have you read Wolf Hall?  What did you think?
  • After finishing such a tome, I started something completely different: Michael Pollan’s Food Rules which is a short little book and a quick read.  I was aware of Michael Pollan’s quote “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” since it gets bandied about a fair bit, but I’d never actually read any of his books.  Food Rules seems to sum up his general advice on eating well (I believe the nutritional science bases behind his statements are covered in his other books), though I must admit that so far, it’s mostly been common sense – don’t eat super processed foods, etc. – but he writes well so it’s an enjoyable read, and refreshing, too.

What made you smile this week?

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The rhubarb cake that’ll be right

Here’s a tip-top baking secret: don’t overfill a cake tin – if it looks too full, it probably is.  I know, I know, I’m just too generous giving you such ground-breaking advice for free.  What can I say?  I’m really nice like that (please, don’t kill yourself laughing).  Unfortunately, this advice is based on first-hand experience.  An experience which comes courtesy of my (non-existent) entry for last month’s Simple and in Season event.  As I poured the batter into my prepared cake tin, I watched the batter level creep further and further up the side of the tin.  The batter level stopped about 5mm below the rim of the tin and I thought to myself well that looks a bit full.  Should I transfer some of it to a different tin?  Nah, she’ll be right.  “She’ll be right” is the Kiwi version of “it’ll be fine” – I’m clearly doing a fabulous job of adapting to my current host country.  So I popped the cake into the oven, expecting some sort of magic to take place.

It didn’t.  The cake proceeded to slowly rise and – you guessed it – spill down over the sides of the cake tin in what looked rather like lava flows.  I’d had a moment of clarity and put the cake tin on a baking tray which thankfully caught all the cake lava, so I didn’t have to deal with a cake-covered oven.  Too bad that moment of clarity didn’t extend to not overfilling the cake tin in the first place…  Needless to say that, whilst totally delicious, the resulting rhubarb cake was not particularly presentable, so I didn’t get my entry in (obviously this didn’t happen the evening before the deadline… ahem).  Luckily my labmates don’t discriminate against misshapen cakes as long as they taste good.

I made the cake again last night, but with reduced quantities to avoid another overfilled-cake-tin situation.  It was all going well… until I realised that I’d used up all the eggs in the omelette I’d made myself for dinner…  Great planning skills right there.  I could have nipped down to the dairy (corner shop) across the road, but it was raining and cold outside and I had a bunch of bananas, so I decided to just go for the banana-instead-of-egg approach – she’ll be right.  Because that attitude worked so well for me the first time I made the cake…  Thankfully this time I was rather more successful and out of the oven came a presentable, moist, spiced, rhubarb-y cake with a slightly crunchy cinnamon sugar topping.  Phew!  Since rhubarb is still in season here, I’m submitting it to this month’s Simple and in Season event which is back over at Fabulicious Food! where Ren is also celebrating her second blog birthday.  So here’s a rhubarb cake to wish you a happy blog birthday, Ren!

Rhubarb cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook

If you don’t have any buttermilk, just use 315 ml of normal milk and add 2 tbsp lemon juice, mix and allow to stand for about 10 mins.  Then just add it as instructed (though sieve it first in case any lemon pips snuck in).  You can use two eggs instead of the mashed ½ banana – when the recipe specifies to whisk in the banana, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  A lot of the rhubarb seems to sink to the bottom of the cake, so you may wish to try dusting the rhubarb with flour before folding it in (I haven’t tried this though, so no guarantees that it will prevent the rhubarb from sinking!).  The cake will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
400g rhubarb
Caster sugar, to sprinkle
335g all-purpose flour
1⅓ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Good pinch of salt
400g dark brown sugar
150g unsalted butter, softened
½ banana
315 ml buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:
65g light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Wash the rhubarb stalks and slice into 1 to 1.5 cm pieces.  Place in a sieve or colander over a bowl, lightly sprinkle with some caster sugar, mix together and allow to stand until whilst preparing the rest of the cake.

2.  Preheat the oven to 195°C/fan oven 175°C.  Line a 24 cm round cake tin (at least 5cm deep) with baking paper (the baking paper makes it easier to lift the cake out.  If you have a deep enough springform tin, this would be a great time to make use of it).

3.  Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom, cinnamon and salt to a medium mixing bowl and stir together.  Set aside.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter with an electric whisk until creamy.  Mash the banana in with a fork in a small bowl, and whisk into the sugar and butter mixture.  Then add the buttermilk and vanilla extract and whisk well until smooth (at this point, the mixture may curdle a little and it might not look terribly appetising, but adding the flour will sort that out, I promise).

5.  Add the flour mixture a third at a time, whisking until just combined between each addition.  Fold in the rhubarb and pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the top with a spatula.

6.  Make the topping by stirring together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over the cake and bake for 1h10 to 1h20 until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for about 10 mins before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cut into slices or squares and serve.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Smiles: A surprise and a relief

We acquired a new labmate this week – a Kiwi guy, which puts him firmly in the minority… twice.  I acquired a sudden keen interest in horse racing which lasted for the whole 3 minutes of the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.  This may be more to do with the fact that it was an excuse to temporarily escape the lab and watch the race in the nearest pub than anything else.  And I lost $1 because the horse I picked in the sweepstakes didn’t finish anywhere interesting.  I won’t be launching myself into a gambling addiction any time soon.  I’m afraid not many funny things came my way this week, so today’s Sunday Smiles is rather short on content (I’ve made up for that with rambling though…).

On to this week’s (rambly) Sunday Smiles:

  • I went to the Armistice Day memorial service at the Auckland Cenotaph this morning and was rather surprised to discover that Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were also in attendance.  I knew they were visiting New Zealand as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations but I didn’t think they arrived until next week.  I’m clearly a poorly-informed subject.  They did a little walkabout afterwards and I was just close enough to manage a photo of each of them (I thought it only fair to let veterans get to the front to shake their hands, but apparently not everybody felt that way).  Aside from it being a sombre occasion, it was pretty exciting, I won’t lie.  I think I may be in the minority, but I actually really like Camilla.

  • Speaking of royalty and, by extension, the aristocracy, series three of Downton Abbey came to a close this week.  Goodness, it was a roller-coaster of a season and kind of all over the place, but still totally addictive.  I can’t wait for the Christmas Special!
  • Yesterday I headed across the Waitemata Harbour to Devonport to go climb Mount Victoria and North Head, both volcanoes on the North Shore of Auckland.  They aren’t particularly especially high – at 87m Mount Victoria is the taller of the two – but they make excellent view points, especially of Rangitoto, Auckland’s most recent volcano.  It was wonderfully sunny and warm yesterday so perfect weather for a little picnic lunch on top of a volcano (as you do).

  • I don’t know if you heard, but the US elections were held this week (it wasn’t mentioned much on the news).  Unlike the last elections the time zones were very much in my favour with the results coming in through the day rather than in the middle of the night.  Did you see Chris Rock’s hilarious (and swear-word-containing) endorsement of Obama?  From a rest-of-the-world point of view, I was mightily relieved that Obama has been re-elected.  And I was amused by many of the election-related memes that exploded across the internet, particularly the ones involving Sesame Street.  And then, once the election was called for Obama, we switched to Fox News in the lab, which turned out to be a great source of amusement (I’m a bad person, I know).
  • Still on the topic of the US elections, I can’t remember which of the debates it was but I’m sure you’ve heard of Romney’s infamous “binders full of women” quote.  Not only was it turned into a whole bunch of memes (this is my favourite), but I’ve just discovered that it bubbled over into Amazon’s review section as well.
  • To finish on an uplifting note, though still on the subject of the US election, apparently Obama’s victory Tweet became the most retweeted Tweet ever – a record previously held by… Justin Bieber.  Thank you Obama, perhaps there is some hope for humanity.

What made you smile this week?

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Lemon macarons of the award-winning variety…

I mentioned the School of Biology baking competition in my last Sunday Smiles.  We later found out that it was actually a pretence to lure us all into the tea room so that we could get ambushed by a Health & Safety lecture.  The theme of the baking competition was ‘Health & Safety,’ so perhaps we should have actually seen that coming…  Anyway, when the theme was announced, for some reason the first science-related H&S thing I thought of were hazard symbols.  Possibly because we have a variety of them all over the various cabinets in the lab.  Plus a lovely biohazard sign on each door to the lab.

Now I could have done hazard symbol-themed cupcakes or something, but I figured that a rather flash entry was in order – it was a baking competition after all…  I decided on macarons with little hazard symbols drawn on top, because macarons tend to look rather fancy-pants and thus seem impressive.  Most of the hazard symbols are black on a yellow background, so I needed yellow shells, and since I like to match a macaron’s colour to its taste, I had to think of a yellow flavour.  Lemon seemed a little obvious, but I was rather stumped for alternatives.

I needn’t have worried though, because I ended up winning “Best Tasting.”  Yay!  To draw the hazard signs I used a handy edible food colouring pen.  I initially thought of doing the biohazard symbol, but my drawing skills aren’t quite up to that, so I limited myself to the radioactivity sign.  Halfway through drawing the radioactivity symbols on the shells, I realised the irony of a French person presenting radioactivity-themed French baked goods at a baking competition in New Zealand…  Awkward.

Several of my labmates missed the competition and were upset that they didn’t get to try the “award-winning” macarons, so I made them a second batch (but with swirly shells this time) since I had plenty of the lemon curd filling left over.  I’m nice like that.  Plus these are just so good that everybody deserves to try one – not only are they fantastically lemony, but the zingy filling perfectly cuts through and balances the sweetness of the shells.  Of the people that I’ve spoken to who aren’t really fans of macarons, most say that they find them too overwhelmingly sweet, which I can totally understand.  If you’re one of those people, these might be the macarons for you.

Lemon macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!

The lemon curd recipe makes more curd than you’ll need, but there are plenty of other uses for it (including just eating it out of the jar…), so don’t worry about that.  Make sure you leave the macarons at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the curd to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Yellow food colouring paste or gel (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Raw sugar or golden granulated sugar, to decorate (optional)
Black edible food colouring pen (optional)

For the filling:
About 150g lemon curd (you won’t need the whole recipe)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.  If you’re planning on making swirly shells, brush three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add three or four of drops of yellow food colouring gel or paste to get a pale yellow colour just before the end and mix well.  If making ‘radioactive’ macarons, add a few more drops to get a stronger yellow colour.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar (only if you’re not planning on drawing on them later) and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.  If making ‘radioactive’ macarons, draw the symbols on the shells using the edible food colouring pen (if any of the shells are looking a little less-than-perfect, they make good practice runs).

To assemble:
8.  Once the shells have fully cooled, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of lemon curd onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to push the shell down onto the filling evenly.

9.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

PS – This is the marine H&S-themed cake baked by one of our technicians that won the “Best Looking” prize.  Isn’t it amazing?  She even made the little chocolate decorations.  Between the two of us, the Marine Lab cleaned the competition up.  Not that we’re competitive or anything…  Ahem.

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