Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Food Styling and Photography Masterclass in Daylesford

It started with a beautiful image of a cake in my instagram feed; cake, an orange, a pomegranate, and the simple text overlay;

Daylesford
Food. Photography. Workshop

I investigated, followed links to the brochure, "Join us for 4 days in regional Victoria to explore food, photography and the rural charms of Daylesford" who could resist? I emailed the link to Mr B, subject heading, birthday gift?, just as a joke really, but 2 days later I was booked in, and 10 days later, on the plane!

This is quite out of character for me; I find spending large amounts of cash on myself uncomfortable, and flying interstate to spend 4 days in a remote farmhouse with 5 people I hadn't met, definitely unnerving, bordering on risky. I blame Wolf Creek...




The drive out to Daylesford was really beautiful, golden grassy hills glowing in the light (and it's ALL about the light :) ). I stayed awake, always a bonus, I'm shocking in a car out of the city, just can't keep my eyes open! The old farmhouse was perfect, the balance of the heritage building with modern comfort, just right.  The grounds were gorgeous; enormous old oaks, herb gardens, a tyre swing, a pizza oven... Inside, features abound; marble bench top, vintage meat safes, an open fire, a claw foot bath, and cushions, cushions, cushions; I could have spent 4 days photographing the house :)
Our hosts Ewen and Billy were really welcoming, genuine and warm, the other "attendees" relaxed and friendly; no crazy people here. We settled in with a beautiful lunch, prepared by Billy, that pretty much set the food benchmark for the weekend. There was a lot of food. Billy cooked breakfast each morning, we ate at some excellent restaurants, I struck gold finding fellow late night bakers, I made brownies, recipe below! Billy and Michèle had a "scone off" rosemary vs lemonade that morphed into prosecco; prosecco was definitely the winner for me, check them out over at ironchefshellie.com. We had a midnight bonfire, ate timtams and roasted bacon instead of marshmallows. 
And the field trips! The farm tour at Jonai Farm was a highlight. Tammi is so passionate about the farm; the animals so obviously well looked after on acres and acres of land. We wandered about checking out the heritage-breed large black pigs, lowline cattle, chooks, a huge rooster called Marlon Brando, hens called Gertrude. I loved the rambling seasonal garden, the barn with a chandelier, and the refrigerated container where the charcuterie magic happens. We ate bacon and sausages from the farm and they were delicious :) 

Trash and treasure at the Daylesford market then over to the Mill Markets, vintage shopping heaven. We didn't even make it Daylesford itself. I was seriously hampered by my hand luggage only ticket.
The photography and processing sessions were excellent, Ewen really knows his stuff and is incredibly patient. He generously loaned his cameras and lenses, introduced the magic a "tilt shift". We took home gorgeous giant prints from the Epsom printer.

I learned loads, not so much that I wouldn't do it again...
I'd baked a whole load of macarons for a function the day before I left so naturally bought some along, they've never looked so pretty. Thanks so much Carly for the raw files :)

ridiculously chocolatey brownies

180g butter
180g dark chocolate
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
110g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
180g block white chocolate 
220g milk chocolate (or there abouts...)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Quick confession number 1 - the chocolate measurements in this recipe are based on the sizes of my preferred chocolate bars, I generally use nestlé club, milky bar and cadbury diary milk. I'd stick to the 180g dark chocolate, but if your white and milk chocolate weight varies your brownies will be fine :)

Quick confession number 2 - I love the image, but the brownies in the photos above were horribly over cooked; unfamiliar oven, cooked in 2 small tins, excuses, excuses, but they are usually fantastic, I promise, my "go to" brownie recipe

• preheat your oven to 175ºC
• line the base of a 23cm square cake tin with baking paper, lightly grease the sides
• put the butter and dark chocolate in a pan over a low heat and stir until melted and smooth, set aside to cool
• sift together the flour and cocoa and set aside
• break the milk and white chocolate into squares and put them in the freezer
• in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a large bowl and electric hand whisk) whisk together the eggs and sugar until really thick, creamy and pale, then fold through the melted chocolate and butter
• gently fold through the flour and cocoa, then take your chocolate out of the freezer and stir through
• pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, and bake in the centre of your oven for 30 mins if you like your brownies fudgy, 40 mins if you prefer them firmer.
• leave brownies to cool completely, then slice into squares; if you've opted for fudgier brownies I'd refrigerate them for an hour or so before slicing.
• brownies should keep in an airtight container for about a week; if they start to dry out, pop them in the microwave and serve them with ice-cream!


~•~


Oh, back to Daylesford, there was also fire writing, Milkyway shots (that's actual shots of the stars, not a drink), lots of instagramming, inappropriate hash tags, much hilarity when the only station available in the car was the BBC World Service, and finally an "oscars selfie". Thanks so much Ewen, Billy, Shellie, Carly and Maureen, there's not a lot better than making new friends :)







Friday, 14 March 2014

Experimenting...


Do you stash things, put them in a safe place then forget about them and/or their location? I do it all the time; Christmas presents, important notes for school, chocolate...

Last week, in a moment of weakness, I let my kids make slime; my 7 year old loves experiments, google has a lot to answer for. The slime was a disaster, clag clearly is not pva glue; our second attempt, with my quite possibly toxic craft glue, was deemed a health hazard, we binned the lot. The upside of gluegate, we found my stash of popping candy, purchased on a trip to the US last year, and very carefully hidden in the food colouring container on the highest pantry shelf. I don't use food colouring often, even my red velvet cakes are "nude"!

I'd bought the popping candy to add to the ganache for some macarons, I had visions of a fabulously smooth, but crackling centre. IT DID NOT WORK, it mostly vanished with a few crunchy remnants. There must a product out there, it works for Cadbury, and I've definitely had fancy popping truffles. The macarons themselves were lovely, if a bit sedate! It was my mum's birthday, so naturally I made jaffarons, recipe here.


We also got crafty and made a birthday card, totally stole the idea from Jane at emerald and ella. I spent a lovely escapist half hour in a florist, choosing the most beautiful flowers, then belted them in on the front seat and hit the road...






Thursday, 6 March 2014

Salt and Pepper Silken Tofu with Szechuan Berries


Salt and pepper tofu is one of my favourite things to order at a restaurant, it's often my favourite dish on the menu, dessert included! We don't eat out regularly, and when we do we end up at one of a handful of restaurants, friends may mock, but when it's a rare treat who wants to risk disappointment? Maybe I need to take more risks or just get out more...

Fried tofu is a really simple dish, its contrasts make it special; the crispy crunchy exterior and silky smooth centre, the creamy, almost bland, tofu perfect for the super salty, peppery crust; throw in some chilli sauce or a sweet tangy dipping sauce and I could eat it all night. It's that "share" dish I want to order just for me. The szechuan berries add another dimension, citrusy and tongue tingling; it was fun watching the kids try them for the first time!

It takes a quite a bit of frying to achieve the golden crust, but the tofu is crisp long before it turns golden, so if you lose patience just fish it out and enjoy its crispy, pale, salty goodness! I used tapioca flour because it turns super crispy and I have loads of it in the cupboard. I'm pretty sure most flours will work, it's such a light coating, you can even fry the tofu naked, it's not as crunchy, but browns in a flash and puffs up beautifully.




salt and pepper tofu

300g silken firm tofu
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp szechuan berries
60 tapioca flour*
canola oil for frying, I used about 600ml
1 red bird's eye chilli
1 shallot (spring onion, green onion, scallion - I never know what to call them...)
small handful coriander leaves
chilli sauce
ginger dipping sauce (recipe below)

• slice the chilli and shallot and set aside
• pour the oil into a small wok or deep frying pan, gently heat to 185ºC (approx 370ºF) if you don't have a thermometer, drop in a cube of bread, it should turn golden brown within a minute 
• combine the salt, pepper and szechaun berries in a mortar and pestle and roughly grind until you have a mix of fine power and lumpier bits!
• sieve the flour into a bowl, add half of your salt/pepper mix and combine
• drain the liquid from the tofu and carefully tip it onto a board, slice into 12 cubes, carefully turn your cubes of tofu in the flour to coat all sides
• use a slotted spoon to lower the tofu into the oil, I fried 6 at at time
• remove when golden, or when you've lost patience, and drain on kitchen paper
• pile your tofu on a plate, sprinkle with a pinch of the reserved salt/pepper, the chilli and shallot
• serve with chilli sauce, ginger dipping sauce and the remaining salt/pepper powder 



ginger dipping sauce

75 ml rice wine vinegar
2cm piece ginger, sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp sugar

• put all ingredients into a small pan, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, leave to cool
• when cool, strain into your serving bowl
• add a couple of slices of chilli and shallot, stolen from the tofu recipe, no taste benefit, purely aesthetic :)

I plunge my tofu in this sauce then dip a corner into the salt/pepper powder; crispy, salty and zingy,  soft and sweet, the best!




Do you tofu? 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sticky Gingerbread with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting


This is quite a "grown up" cake, dark and dense, damp with treacle and stout; quite sophisticated too, lightly spiced with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, cardamon and cloves. It's my modern interpretation of the Jamaican ginger cake we bought occasionally at the supermarket when I was a kid.  I'm surprised I liked it, ginger cake is polarising, like liquorice, which I hated, and still do.  

I don't make this cake often as I'm the only one in the house who likes it, so when I do, I make a mini version in 6 inch tins. It looks quite cute, erring on the ridiculous, but it's cheerful with its sunny, lemon topped frosting. I've used my favourite mascarpone frosting, but it also works really well with a super lemony, almost astringent, water based icing or a boiled icing, try Martha's recipe for seven minute frosting, swapping out the vanilla for the juice and zest of a lemon or 2. Frosted, iced or unadorned I really like this old fashioned little cake.




Gingerbread

155g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1⁄8 tspn ground cardamom
pinch salt
150ml stout, eg. guinness
180ml treacle
½ tsp bicarb soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature
170g granulated sugar
110g light brown sugar
125ml vegetable oil

• preheat the oven to 180ºC



• butter two 6 by 3 inch cake tins and dust with flour

• sift together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt into a bowl and set aside


• pour the treacle and stout into a small pan, stir together over medium heat, and bring to a boil (don't walk away at this point or at best you'll be left with sticky black ash that's a nightmare to get off your stove, at worst you'll be dousing a fire; I speak from experience...) • whisk in the bicarb soda, take care as it will bubble and foam, immediately take off the heat and leave the vile smelling mixture to cool to room temperature.


• whisk together the eggs, granulated and brown sugar on medium speed until well combined and lightened in colour, 3 to 4 minutes • slowly drizzle in the oil and beat until combined • reduce speed to low and slowly add the stout mixture • scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, on low speed slowly add the dry ingredients, beating just until combined • fold by hand a few times with the spatula and divide the batter between the tins.
• bake in the centre of your oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and lightly browned at the edges, transfer to wire racks and let cool in the tins for 20 minutes • run a knife around the edges of the tins, invert the cakes onto the racks and cool for another 20 minutes • wrap tightly in plastic wrap and pop in the fridge for at least an hour to cool completely • choose the best shaped cake for the top, trim the base cake so that it sits flat on your cake stand or plate • spread the base with a generous layer of mascarpone frosting, top with the remaining cake, slather with frosting then zest a lemon over the top
• store the cake in the fridge until ready to serve, allow it to come to room temperature before you hoe in :) the frosted cake will keep in the fridge for 3 days, unfrosted cakes can be frozen for up to 2 months

gingerbread recipe adapted from the miette bakery book

Mascarpone frosting

250g mascarpone
250g soft cream cheese 
250ml thickened cream
160g icing sugar
zest of 2 lemons (some reserved to decorate)
juice of 1/2 lemon

• in a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the mascarpone, cream cheese and sugar until combined • add the lemon zest, juice and thickened cream, beat until smooth

• store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days


mascarpone frosting adapted from the Australian Women's Weekly pink velvet cake, another great recipe!




Click on over to the sticky and sweet and check out Sophie's "mars bar slice cupcakes" then follow the links at the bottom to see other bloggers childhood favourite treats...

ps. I'm just loving my new (very old) butcher's block, my mum is moving house and won't have a spot for it, luck me :) thanks mum! 


Love to hear from you, comments link is below, right at the bottom :)


Friday, 20 December 2013

Passionfruit Truffles



I wasn't sure these truffles were going to make it; it's the week before Christmas and sweltering in my kitchen, but I like a challenge! JJ from 84th and 3rd chose holiday truffles as the December theme for the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, such a prefect choice for the festive season. Truffles are a great home made treat for guests and perfect for a gift; decadent, luxurious and quite easy to make. Easy, but messy, they really challenged my slightly obsessive hand washing! These truffles are basically a flavoured ganache; I added passionfruit juice, but anything goes really, chopped nuts, alcohol, dried fruit, mmmm dried sour cherries. I failed to achieve the perfect spheres I was after, so next time I'll abandon the pursuit of perfection and get the kids to roll them, better their sticky hands than mine. I wanted to temper the chocolate for the coating, but at 35ºC in my kitchen it was a lost cause; check out the photos, not a beautiful tempered shine, but condensation! There is lots of great advice on the web for chocolate tempering, if you have a nice, cool kitchen it's worth the effort. Have a safe and happy holiday, I'll no doubt be back in the new year with a cleansing something...



Passionfruit Truffles

220g milk chocolate
80g dark chocolate
100ml passionfruit juice (pulp strained through a fine sieve)
150ml thick cream
15ml cointreau or orange liquor

 finely chop the milk and dark chocolate, tip into a small heatproof bowl or jug
 pour the passionfruit juice into the smallest pan you have, simmer over a gentle heat to reduce by half
 in another small pan bring the cream to the boil, pour both the cream and reduced passionfruit juice over the chocolate and leave for 5 minutes, do not be tempted to stir, walk away...
 after 5 minutes stir the chocolate/cream/passionfruit juice until it is shiny and evenly blended, stir in the cointreau
 pour the ganache into a shallow container and refrigerate until set
 scoop a heaped teaspoon of ganache and roll between your palms to form a ball, this stage is unbelievably messy, place the ball on a plate and continue rolling until you are out of ganache
 put the plate of ganache balls into the fridge or freezer to set



to decorate

cocoa powder
120g dark chocolate
50g white chocolate

when the ganache balls are firm and you are ready to decorate the truffles, it helps if you have everything set ready to go
 line a baking tray with baking paper, lightly grease a wire cooling rack and stand it in the lined tray
 sieve the cocoa powder into a shallow bowl
 melt the dark chocolate (I do this in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, I find microwaving the chocolate in small bursts both frustrating and stress inducing, but if it works for you...) and pour into a small bowl
 take half of the ganache balls out of the freezer and drop, one at a time into the melted dark chocolate, retrieve the truffle using a fork, allow the excess chocolate to drip from the fork, gently scrape the base of the fork on the edge of the bowl then ease the truffle onto the wire rack
 in an ideal situation the truffles would be left to set in a cool place, but I live in Sydney, it's summer, I have no air-conditioning and my kitchen is mostly, horribly hot so it's back into the fridge for the truffles
 take the remaining ganache balls out of the freezer and, one at a time roll in the cocoa powder, pop into a sieve and gently shake to remove the excess then return to the fridge; if your kitchen is as hot as mine you may need put the truffles back into the fridge as you go
 melt the white chocolate, pour into a piping bag fitted with a tiny plain tip (Wilton 1or 2)
 remove the chocolate coated truffles from the fridge, and leaving them on the wire rack, decorate with the melted white chocolate, return to the fridge to set
 store your chocolates in an airtight container, in a cool place; in my case, that's back in the fridge
 allow the truffles to come to room temperature or indulge straight from the fridge :)




Saturday, 16 November 2013

Chocolate Orange Macarons, or as I like to call them, Jaffarons



Chocolate and orange, I love the combination, and these chocolate shelled, orange ganache filled babies are the macaron of choice in our house at the moment.  I made them for my son's birthday, macarons and maccas, he has varied taste, and would have made them for my daughter's birthday had I not been swanning around in the US. Mr B and the now 11 year old Milly coped brilliantly without me, made red velvet cupcakes and a chocolate cake; she did well in the gift department too, lots of guilt shopping stateside :)

This is another birthday batch, simmer & boyle turned 1 this month, 12 months of slightly macaron biased blogging! It's been busy year, moving interstate, then moving again 3 months later, settling back into life in Sydney. I miss Melbourne but we're all happy to be home. The US trip was my first ever without the family, almost 17 years since the last; it took a week for that slightly panicked, omg I've forgotten something, feeling not to ambush me whenever I left a shop, restaurant or "restroom", or hopped off the subway. Without the kids I regressed, there were 3 of us, but I was squished in the doors of a subway train, in the lift at Saks and constantly needed bandaids for the worst blisters of my life! Hopefully this next year will be just as full, I'm hoping to post more often but not holding my breath...


Back to the macarons! The ganache softens the shells from the inside, but they maintain their crisp outer shell with an almost truffle like centre. They are so worth the effort, even if you end up with craparons they should taste delicious :)




macaron shells

75g egg white
90g ground almonds
90g icing sugar
20g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
25ml water

 line 2 baking trays with baking paper
 combine the caster sugar and water in a small, heavy based pan and set aside
 put the ground almonds, icing sugar and cocoa powder in a blender and blitz on the pulse setting for a minute or so • push the nut powder through a sieve into a large bowl, if you have a small amount that won't be pushed through the sieve just toss it out, any more than a teaspoon and it's worth repeating the blitzing stage
 divide the egg white in half, use scales for this stage, you may need to lightly beat the egg white with a fork to break it up • put half in the bowl of a stand mixer, set the other half aside
 over a low heat stir the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves • increase heat to high and bring the syrup to a boil, it's ok to swirl the pan but do not stir (!) • use a wet pastry brush to remove any crystals that form on the side of the pan • check the temperature with a sugar thermometer, you are aiming for 118ºC, but when the temperature reaches 110ºC whisk the egg whites until firm peaks form
 when the sugar syrup reaches 118ºC turn the mixer to low and slowly pour into the bowl, once all the syrup is in, turn the speed to high and whisk until cool
 pour the unbeaten egg white over the nut/sugar/cocoa powder, tip the meringue on top and using a spatula, mix together in a circular motion, lifting the batter from underneath • this method takes a bit of mixing, the batter is ready when a ribbon of batter falls from your spatula and disappears back into the mix within 20-30 seconds
• use a spot of batter under the corners of the baking paper to stick it to the trays
• fit a piping bag with a 10mm nozzle and fill with the batter • pipe 3cm rounds, about 2cm apart, onto the baking paper • tap the trays on the bench, turn through 90º and tap again
• preheat the oven to 150ºC while the macarons rest on the bench for half an hour or so
• bake for 18 minutes, lightly push a macaron from the side, if it moves away from the ruffled foot around the base put them back in the oven for another couple of minutes, then check again
• cool on the tray for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack
• pair each shell with a similar sized partner; pipe the ganache filling on the underside of one shell and gently press its partner on top
• store in an airtight container in the fridge overnight
allow to come to room temperature to eat and enjoy!!



orange ganache

175g dark chocolate (or a 50/50 combination of milk and dark)
125ml cream
1-2 drops of orange oil (or a teaspoon of finely grated orange zest)
1 tbsp cointreau

 chop the chocolate into small pieces and put in a heat proof bowl 
 heat cream in a small pan until just simmering, allow to simmer for a minute then pour over the chocolate 
 leave for 5 minutes, do not stir! 
 stir cream and chocolate together until smooth and glossy, add the orange oil or zest and the cointreau, mix until just combined
 allow to cool at room temperature until it reaches a piping consistency, you can put it in the fridge to speed the process up, but the ganache will lose its gloss


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Black Velvet Cupcakes



Well, not really black velvet, more of a "nude" velvet; the amount of colouring required to dye these cakes black was truly frightening so I left it out entirely... My nod to Halloween, a subtle nod; the autumnal coloured Reese's pieces, black nonpareils, the attempted black velvet.  Not obviously scary or gruesome, but if you consider the volume of ganache required for the mountainous swirl and the price I paid for the Reese's pieces, they're actually quite terrifying!

As a child in the UK Halloween was a big thing, not America big, but lots of trick or treating, bobbing for apples, collecting lollies and chocolate. We had a great party one year, all the kids from the street in our garden, festivities ending prematurely when collecting frogs, I fell in the pond... I don't remember any specific food traditions, aside from the apples, so choosing a Halloween themed recipe was refreshingly easy, unencumbered by nostalgia.

I love the texture and flavour of red velvet cakes, I've tested many recipes, but am still searching for one that looks as good as it tastes, that's nicely domed and not wrinkly when baked.  This recipe, adapted from the Australian Women's Weekly is my favourite so far, really moist and light, but still a bit of an ugly cake that needs its frosting! The traditional cream cheese frosting is perfect but these are topped with a salted caramel ganache, hiding a vanilla cream centre to balance the sweetness. I really did intend to colour these black, but after about a tablespoon of colouring the buttermilk was an merely an insipid grey, my food colouring aversion took over and I chose to go natural.  With all the ganache these cakes are beyond rich; maybe top with a smaller swirl or find a chocolate lover to share with, a couple of forks and a plate, things will get messy!




Black (well, nude) Velvet Cupcakes

63g softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
165g caster sugar
1 large egg
115g plain flour
1 tbps cornflour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
125ml buttermilk
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1 quantity salted caramel ganache, recipe here
1 quantity vanilla cream, recipe below

preheat oven to 180ºC, line 9 holes of a cupcake pan with cupcake liners
 combine butter, vanilla, sugar and egg in a mixing bowl and beat together until light and fluffy
 sift together the cornflour, cocoa and flour
 in 2 batches add half of the flour/cornflour/cocoa combo, then half of the butter milk, mix to combine
 repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk
 combine the vinegar and bicarb soda, when the fizzing stops fold into the cake batter
 divide between the cupcake liners and bake for 20 minutes
 cool on a wire rack
 when completely cold use a small, sharp knife to remove around a dessert spoonful of sponge from the centre of each cake
 using a piping bag or spoon, fill the holes with vanilla cream
 using a piping bag fitted with an open star tip, starting at the outside of the cupcake and working your way in and up, pipe a swirl (check out the many youtube tutorials for help with cupcake frosting) 
 pour a large glass of water and share with friends :)
 cakes will keep for 2/3 days in an airtight container in the fridge


Vanilla Cream

125ml thickened cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 dessert spoon caster sugar

• combine ingredients in a small bowl and whip until firm



This recipe is part of a blog hop, check out JJ's Halloween inspired super healthy ice-cream treats here then follow the links for other festive recipes :)