Friday, 29 February 2008

Daring Bakers Feb 2008: Julia Child's French Bread

French Bread (Boule Shape)

To me, being a Daring Baker (DB) means that I get to try recipes or techniques that I would normally not attempt. This month's hosts, Breadchick and Sara chose a terrific French Bread recipe from a culinary legend, the late Julia Child. I have become accustomed to long recipes and instructions from DB challenges, but 15 pages definitely broke the record.
Just reading and thinking about the recipe took me more than an hour! With very little free time these days, I really struggled to find a "good time" to try out this recipe because it takes pretty much all day. But I had to do it, the DB in me wouldn't let me pass this recipe. I'm glad I did it because I could still do my work in between the risings.

As I've already spent so much time already on this bread, do forgive me if I keep this post short. I am sure that over 500 Daring Bakers have lots more to say, so head over to the DB blogroll and non-Blogger DB blog to check out their French Breads. Lots of different shapes and colours! A pdf copy of the recipe can be found here (thanks Dawn!) or this French Bread post by the bread guru, Breadchick.

After thoughts:
The recipe is pretty straight forward, it just requires a bit of patience, time management and arm power (I don't have a heavy duty stand mixer). All of which I don't have much these days. Staying true to the DB motto, I followed the recipe as much as my attention span can manage (admittedly, I didn't wait as long as I should between the second and final rise). All that effort was worth it though because the final result is a beautiful crispy but not hard crust and flavoursome interior. My only regret is that I didn't enjoy the process as much as I usually do, it just happen to be a stressful period for me. I would like to make this recipe again a few months down the road, when I have a clearer mind, so that I can enjoy the process more because to me, that's what I enjoy most about cooking and baking. Of course, seeing appreciative nods or positives comment from my family, Quikong or friends tucking into my homemade produce makes it all worth it too. :-)

Enjoying the fruits of my labour:
This was one of the ways we enjoyed the French Bread: Drizzle locally pressed garlic infused EVO (from Hunter Valley), chop up a few vine-ripened organic truss tomatoes, roughly tear basil picked from our garden and sprinkle some Murray River pink salt flakes on toasted slices of homemade French bread....I am so contented!

Quikong said:
"You don't have to cook dinner if you don't have time, babe. I'll be happy to have more of these for dinner!"

p/s: I am sure that you are all tired of hearing me whine about my thesis, so this will probably be my last post for the next four weeks. "See" you all again then...can't wait to be stress-free (can't even remember what that feels like!).

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Aussie-Canadian: Macadamia Maple Cake

Macadamia Maple Bundt Cakes - Photo by Em

Saying goodbye to loved ones seems to be a regular part of my life since I’ve lived in different parts of the world in pursuit of knowledge and work. Last month, I said goodbye to one of my best friends, Em, who returned to her hometown Québec City, Canada. She was (still is) not just my confidant; she was also my culinary and running buddy. We initially met due to our love for running. We’ve also had lots of wonderful adventures trying and discussing foods, as well as checking out new or interesting restaurants. She’s one of the few friends who has seen my grumpy and angry side and still loves me ;-)

When Em celebrated her last birthday in Australia in December last year, she gave me the challenge of using a “mystery” ingredient (a la Iron Chef) in her birthday cake. This mystery ingredient was soon revealed to be maple sugar:

The texture and colour of maple sugar is similar to brown sugar, but tastes distinctively like maple syrup. Maple sugar is almost impossible to find it in Sydney and it’s very costly, so I had to think very carefully about how I would utilise this precious ingredient.

Knowing that this might be the last birthday cake that I will bake for Em in Australia, I also wanted to use an Australian ingredient. Essentially making an Aussie-Canadian cake. Hence the birth of the Macadamia Maple Cake. Apparently, macadamia is the only Australian native plant crop that has been developed commercially as a food. I always thought macadamias were originally from Hawaii. More about the history of macadamia and its nutritional value after the cake recipe.

To add more Ausssie-ness to this cake, of course I had to turn to an Australian cookbook for inspiration. This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe I found in Jane Lawson’s Grub: Favourite Food Memories, which is filled with delectable photos and very straight forward recipes. The original recipe is for a macadamia cake with lime syrup. Since I was given the challenge to make a cake with maple sugar, I replaced the sugar with the maple sugar and made a maple glaze instead. As I didn't have enough macadamia nuts for the full recipe, I made half the quantity and used 3 mini bundt pans that Eva (Sweet Sins) gave me last Christmas. The cakes turned out moist and had a lovely crumb which was surprisingly light. A rich and decadent cake, perfect as a special birthday treat for a very special friend.

Macadamia Maple Bundt Cakes - Photo by Em

Macadamia Maple Cake
Adapted from Jane Lawson’s Grub
Makes 6 mini bundt cakes

200g organic macadamia nuts
185g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
200g reduced-salt butter, softened
230g maple sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
80ml (1/3 cup) milk

Warm Maple Glaze, to finish

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease a 25 cm wide non-stick bundt mould or 6 mini non-stick bundt moulds.

Grind the macadamia nuts very finely using a food processor (or in a few batches in a blender) and place into a mixing bowl. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda over the nuts and mix well.

Beat the butter and sugar til pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Mix in half the flour mixture, then half the milk. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk, until all the ingredients are well combined.

Spoon into the prepared tin and smooth over. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake is dark golden and comes away slightly from the side of the tin. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Allow the cake to rest in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes, before inverting onto the rack to cool completely. Drizzle with warm maple glaze and devour.

The unglazed cake can be stored in a airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, refrigerated for a week, or frozen for a few months.

Maple Glaze
A dollop of butter (about 50g, or less than ¼ cup)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons cream
6 tablespoons maple sugar

Melt butter with maple syrup and cream in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add maple and whisk until smooth. Cool glaze until slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Drizzle glaze over the cakes.

This will be my contribution to WHB #122, a weekly event created by Kalyn, and this week hosted by Lia from Swirling Notions. Last month, I introduced the King of Fruits (Durian). This week it’s all about the King of Nuts - Macadamia.

The Macadamia Story
(From Australian Macadamia Society Ltd)

It is believed that long before Australia was mapped by European explorers, Aboriginal people would congregate on the eastern slopes of Australia's Great Dividing Range to feed on the seed of two evergreen trees, one of which they called 'Kindal Kindal'.

In the 1850's these trees were noticed by a British botanist Ferdinand Von Meuller and Walter Hill, the Director of the Botanical Gardens of Brisbane, Australia. The two men were struck with the majestic beauty of the specimens found growing in the rain forests of Queensland. A distinction was made between Macadamia integrifolia (smooth shelled) and Macadamia tetraphylla (rough shelled) which also produces a nut that is edible, although not as good for roasting as Macadamia integrifolia. The genus Macadamia was named after a prominent scientist of that time, Dr John McAdam.

In the early 1900s, a group of American horticulturists took some seeds to Hawaii and began growing and eventually selecting the best varieties. It wasn't until the 1960s that Australians planted trees in north-eastern New South Wales using the improved Hawaiian stocks. Today Australia is the world's largest producer of macadamia nuts with the Northern Rivers area of NSW accounting for about 60 per cent of national production.

The Healthy Nut- Nutritional Information:

When eaten in moderation (since these nuts contain 74% natural oils), raw Macadamias are a healthy snack choice. They contain a high percentage of good monounsaturated fats, which are also found in olive oil, avocados and almonds. The percentage of the good monounsaturated fats in Macadamias is nearly double that of almonds. The oil in macadamias is largely monounsaturated which is often described as the “good oil”. Macadamias contain a higher percentage of monounsaturated oils than any other natural product. Macadamia oil is similar to olive oil in its composition and use.

Roasting macadamia nuts:
One of the easiest ways to roast macadamia nuts is to scatter them over an oven tray. Cook in an oven, about 160°C, for about seven to eight minutes or as soon as they start to tan as the browning process continues after removal from the oven. As there are variations in nuts, oven temperature regulators etc, it is best to watch closely and adjust time and temperature to meet your own conditions and tastes. By roasting these nuts in the oven, they will be of an even colour. If you try roasting them in a dry pan, they can scorch more easily because of their high oil content. The following flavourings may be sprinkled on the nuts: salt, curry powder, garlic powder, paprika, lemon-pepper seasoning, cayenne or chilli powder. Serve hot or cool.

Storing Macadamias:
Roasted macadamias can be stored in an airtight container for a few days before using. If you intend to keep it for a longer period, macadamia producers recommend that the nuts are stored in a tightly sealed jar in refrigerator or freezer. In Australia, especially in warmer seasons, macadamias are stored in the refrigerator to keep them fresh and 'crunchy'. It will not make you sick to eat macadamias that have not been stored in the refrigerator. You will be able to tell if a macadamia has gone rancid as soon as you taste it.

Other Macadamia Recipes - Savoury & Sweet:

Macadamia Pesto

Tomato & Macadamia Mozzarella Linguine

Macadamia Nut Chicken

Macadamia-crusted Salmon

Macadamia Maple Granola

Mini Mocha Macadamia Muffins

Chocolate Macadamia Brownies

White Chocolate & Macadamia Cookies

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Baked Chickpeas and Sweet Potato Patties

I do love my legumes so when I saw that one of my favourite bloggers, Susan (The Well-Seasoned Cook) is hosting the My Legume Love Affair event, I knew that I should join in.

I don’t have any fancy legume to showcase because my favourite one since moving to Sydney is the humble chickpea. Canned chickpeas, actually. They are versatile, nutritious, quick to use, easy to find and cheap. I always have a few cans handy in the pantry.

I originally intended to make falafel, but ended up making these patties because I wanted to use up the sweet potatoes that have been waiting to be used. I remembered seeing a recipe that used both sweet potatoes and chickpeas, so I thought why not? A bonus - these are baked and not fried.

Kitchen and Tasting notes:
- These were great warm, at room temperature and even cold.
- If you make smaller patties, they are great as finger food, or stuff them in pocket pita bread. Alternatively, make bigger patties and serve it between burger buns.
- I first had these with salad and dipped it in Thai sweet chilli sauce. I think they would be great with a sour cream or yogurt dip.
- I brought some to work for lunch two days later and had it cold in a sandwich. They were still moist and remained flavourful (maybe even a bit more robust since the flavours had time to mingle).

Other chickpea recipes from this blog:
Chickpea and Pink Peppercorn Cob
Chickpea and Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Chickpea and Spinach Curry

No chickpeas in this soup, but it is chock full of legumes and a perfect way to warm up (for those experiencing the northern hemisphere winter):
Easy Peasy Soup

Baked Chickpeas and Sweet Potato Patties
Adapted from Australian Good Taste, March 2007

500g orange sweet potato (kumara), peeled, coarsely chopped
1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ - ½ cup chopped fresh coriander (or any of your fav herbs)
Spices: freshly toasted and ground coriander seeds, cumin powder, sweet paprika
1 bird's eye chilli, chopped finely
2 tbs plain flour
Olive oil spray
Sweet chilli sauce, to serve

1. Cook the sweet potato in a saucepan of boiling water until tender (about 10 minutes) and drain. Return to the pan. Mash until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and cool. If you are in a hurry, place in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool.
2. Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil till onion is translucent and garlic fragrant.
2. Mash the chickpeas in a bowl.
3. Add the chickpeas, onion & garlic mixture, herbs, spices and flour to the sweet potato and combine. Season with salt. Divide the mixture into desired portions and shape each portion into a patty.
4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Place patties on the lined tray. Spray with olive oil spray. Bake in oven, turning once, for 30 minutes (depends on the size of your patties) or until golden.
5. Serve with salad and sweet chilli sauce.

Edit: I made another batch which had the addition of a generous teaspoon of tahini in the mixture. I then rolled the patties in some untoasted sesame seeds. If you do the latter, be careful when the patties are in the oven since the seeds might brown too quickly. Also, I like Susan's (Food Blogga) suggestion of serving the original patties with tahini sauce (a few recipes here, here and here).


Have great weekend!