Thursday, 30 August 2012

mini almond lemon thyme cakes (gluten free)

mini almond lemon thyme cake.

I love all things citrus, so it only makes sense that I love this herb called lemon thyme, with its refreshing fragrance and flavour, reminiscent of lemon zest, but with an additional, elusive herbal allure.

I had recently stocked up my pantry with some almond meal, which was just begging to be used in a baking project, so when I subsequently picked up a sleeve of lemon thyme from the markets not too long afterwards, the conclusion was clear: mini gluten-free lemon thyme almond cakes was the answer.

For my almond cakes, I decided to first create a lemon thyme syrup which does triple duty - it goes into the batter, pours over the cakes to finish, and the leftovers are beautiful as a cordial (which tastes remarkably like a more wholesome homemade version of the popular Australian lemon squash soft drink, Solo).

lemon thyme.

lemon thyme syrup / lemon thyme cordial

1 cup water
1 cup raw sugar
1 handful/bunch lemon thyme - I had about 10 sprigs, and I reckon the more the merrier*
1/2 cup lemon juice

Prepare lemon thyme by trimming and discarding the roots. Give them a good rinse to clean, then snip each sprig into sections so that they will fit in the saucepan later.
Bring water and sugar to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then continue to let it boil, uncovered, for 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat and immediately immerse lemon thyme sprigs in the sugar syrup. Press down the lemon thyme so that the sprigs are completely submerged, and lightly bruise the leaves with a pestle or muddler.
Cover and steep for 30 minutes. Add lemon juice. Continue to steep for another 2 hours - preferably overnight for a greater flavour intensity. Strain before using.
This will make more than enough lemon thyme syrup for the cake recipe below. Just know that the syrup also makes a pretty awesome cordial. I mix it with cold sparkling or soda water to create a refreshing fizzy lemonade!

*I suspect other lemony herbs such as lemon verbena, lemon myrtle, lemon balm could work as substitutes. Otherwise, perhaps a couple lemons' worth of zest plus a few sprigs of regular thyme?

mini lemon thyme almond cakes.

mini almond lemon thyme cakes
(makes 6)

1 cup almond meal (100g)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup lemon thyme syrup
2 eggs
pinch of salt
olive oil, to grease 6 muffin cases

Preheat oven to 160°C/320°F fan forced (180°C/350°F conventional).
Mix almond meal and baking powder in a bowl.
Blend lemon thyme syrup, eggs and salt until smooth. Combine with almond meal mixture, stirring. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to absorb and thicken, then stir again to combine.
Divide the batter into 6 greased muffin cases. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from oven, prick the tops with a fork and trickle in about 2 teaspoons syrup for each mini cake.
Let them cool for at least 10 minutes before carefully removing from cases. These mini lemon thyme almond cakes should keep for at least 2 days in an airtight container on the counter, or 4 days in the fridge.
Serve on their own, with a cup of tea, or with a refreshing dollop of yoghurt, sorbet or ice cream.

cross section of mini lemon thyme almond cake.

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Thursday, 23 August 2012

grace cafe, fitzroy

Wall art on the exterior of Grace Cafe in Fitzroy, by Australian graffiti artist, Matt Adnate.

It was a rainy Friday, well past noon and I was still curled up in bed, browsing on Simon's laptop when I came across this post by Fitzroyalty on the recently opened Grace Cafe (76 Rose St, Fitzroy). Immediately enthused by its proximity and the nice looking food, I suggested to Simon that we have brunch there and in no time at all we were off, the housemate's fluffy dog in tow, to brave the cold and the drizzle.

The cafe is quite ambiguously housed in a cottage with an interesting history - it has, apparently, operated as a brothel and a BDSM film editing studio in the past. Now, street art is splashed across the outside walls; walk in and it's all warm, rustic and friendly. We sat outside, perching ourselves upon wooden seats attached on top of recycled plastic crates, unwittingly providing free advertising for the cafe, if the intrigued looks from passers-by were any indication.

Hot drinks to warm us up? Yes please! Simon had a cappuccino, and I had a chai, which was served adorably on a framed page featuring the tea party text from Alice in Wonderland. This was okay - we're still looking for a chai in Melbourne that's as wonderfully spicy as the one Simon brought home from India, but mostly we've given up and I've taken to making my own instead, with great success. But I digress...

loose leaf calmer sutra chai, $4.5.

The food here celebrates tried-and-true flavours that just work. Take, for example, the baked eggs, cooked with chickpeas, eggplant, tomatoes, onion, garlic and cumin, garnished with fresh herbs and fetta. One of the eggs was more cooked than the other, but it was still satisfyingly delicious.

baked eggs, $15.

Then there are the juicy field mushrooms served on sourdough with roasted beetroot, rocket, pine nuts and herbs. Our cheerful waitress suggested an upgrade with a topping of goats fetta, which made it a little pricier but also all the more pleasurable to eat.

field mushrooms, $14 (+$3 for fetta for a total of $17).

I like Grace. With a sustainable sway towards kind, locally-sourced quality ingredients, and a menu that easily caters for those on gluten-free and vegetarian diets, it's a charming addition to Fitzroy's residential area. I can foresee more visits in the future, on those lazy days when we want a good wholesome feed without doing the hard yards in the kitchen...

Grace on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

chocolate-pistachio fudge (and toffee)

look! it's chocolate-pistachio fudge!

Making candy is a science, and one that I believe can be more treacherous than baking, especially since you have to deal with that hot and bubbling molten sugar on the stove.

However, when I had a random craving for fudge one night, I just threw together a bunch of ingredients, then went for it, relying entirely on (very limited) experience, and visual cues.

Fortunately, miraculously, it turned out perfectly. This was most certainly a fluke, however, as subsequent attempts have yielded not just fudge, but also chewy and crunchy toffee, thanks to timing issues. Not that I'm complaining. Any kind of sweetly, deliciously edible outcome is hardly a terrible tragedy.

chocolate-pistachio toffee, aka not a terrible tragedy, aka a still-delicious accident.

If you've got your heart set on a particular type of treat, though, get thee to a candy thermometer, or just make sure you have a glass of icy-cold water and very deft reflexes! Also, lots and lots of practice.

This following recipe makes enough to fill a 20 cm / 8 inch square cake pan, but if you're not quite sure about making the commitment, if you just feel like some playful experimentation, reduce the amounts and use a proportionally smaller pan. I always make half a batch, but they're so addictive that I always wish I had made more. Tricky stuff, that.

chocolate-pistachio fudge (and toffee)

1/2 cup pistachios, roughly chopped, and, if you like, toasted for extra flavour
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt

Line a 20 cm / 8 inch square cake pan with non-stick baking paper or well-buttered foil. Sprinkle pistachios evenly across.
In a saucepan, preferably a heavy-bottomed one, combine sugar, butter, milk, cocoa powder and salt over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the candy thermometer reaches 240°F / 115°C or until it forms a soft ball (sometimes mine are more like a teardrop or comet, but forms a ball easily when kneaded gently between the fingers) when a little of the mixture is dropped in cold water.
Remove from heat - at this point, if you can plunge the pan into a sink shallowly filled with cold water to stop the mixture from continuing to cook, that would be good. Allow to cool to 45°C or 110°F. Beat vigorously until mixture starts to lose its gloss, then pour into the prepared pan. I'd just like to say, though, that I've also done a successful shortcut in which after removing the saucepan from the heat source, I just beat the mixture for a few seconds and poured it merrily into the prepared pan, so who knows what makes it tick really.
Let the fudge set (mine usually takes a couple hours, but it depends on temperature, humidity, etc.) before cutting into pieces.

another shot of the pistachio chocolate fudge.

If you do cook the mixture way beyond the soft ball stage to make toffee, the cooling step should be omitted, and in fact, don't waste too much time before pouring it into the prepared pan, otherwise it will start setting in the saucepan itself. And we don't want that!

Here are the temperatures for making toffee:

Chewy toffee: Soft crack stage, 135°C or 270°F.
Crunchy Toffee: Hard crack stage, 150°C or 300°F.

Read more about candy stages here.

Other general notes:

To yield thinner candies, retain the amount of pistachios used, but slightly reduce the amounts of all the other ingredients so that there is less candy batter.

And of course, feel free to use other nuts as a substitute for the pistachios, if you like!

Finally, remember, you're making candy. It's not always easy, and you may not always get it right, but... you're making candy! Just be careful (and this is VERY important - be VERY careful), and enjoy the ride. I'm still learning through trial and error, and I don't know if I'll ever get it consistently perfect, but I'm having fun along the way.

another shot of the pistachio chocolate toffee.

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

bundo raya: padang indonesian food, prahran

My parents have been visiting Australia very, very frequently in recent years. So much so, in fact, that they're now the ones introducing me to places to eat. Bundo Raya, a modest and friendly little family-run Indonesian restaurant which serves up tasty regional Padang food, (9/176 Commercial Rd, Prahran) is one of those places.

sambal chicken.

We've been there for lunch a few times now, and we always order from the daily bain marie offerings. At the moment, $10 gets you a plate of rice with two meaty selections and one vegetable dish. They also have a set menu where you can order nasi goreng, mie goreng, bakso padang, sate padang, and soto padang, just to mention a few. So far, we've only tried the gado-gado from that menu, or maybe it was the ketoprak, but we weren't a fan - the sweet and salty peanut sauce, for us, lacked richness and complexity, and the crackers on top were alarmingly pink. We're definitely still keen on trying the other menu items, though!

this was either gado gado, or ketoprak.

Meanwhile, the bain marie items have yet to fail us. The home-style methods do occasionally cause a little inconsistency - for example, the curry chicken, which we frequently order, has ranged, at times, from being slightly oversalted to exuding absolute perfection in a glorious harmony of spices. But overall, we've always enjoyed our meals and found them to be great value.

Here's a little snapshot of what we've had this year... P.S. I'm not tremendously familiar with Indonesian food, and the bain marie items are not labelled, so I've given them my very simple best guesses. If anyone knows the correct or traditional names of the dishes featured here, please do let me know!

Curry chicken. Green beans with tempeh (a traditional fermented soy product).

lovely curry chicken, and green beans with tempeh.

Fried fish with sambal.

sambal fried fish.

Sambal chicken. Curried kale.

Another type of sambal chicken, and some sort of kale curry.

Beef tendon curry.

tender, chewy beef tendons in curry sauce.

Oh, and for some extra heat, don't forget to help yourself to their deliciously spicy sambal ijo / sambal lado mudo, a green chilli sambal popular in Padang cuisine, on the side of the counter. That's the good stuff, right there.

scrumptious padang-style green sambal.

Budo Raya Padang Indonesian Food on Urbanspoon

Bundo Raya on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

gooey blueberry honey yoghurt cake

blueberry honey yoghurt cake with gooey, puddingy insides and a thick chewy bread-like crust.

Gooey cake, chewy crust.

This is what happens when you're feeling a little bit peckish on a Friday night and decide to just throw some ingredients together to see what happens. You're skeptical about the results, as it wasn't quite what you expected - but it grows on you, and the boyfriend comes back for seconds. So, somehow, you find yourself making it again on Saturday morning.

It's all about flour and yoghurt and honey and blueberries... coming together mysteriously to create this strangely quite delicious concoction.

soft and gooey blueberry yoghurt honey cake.

Crazy soft, moist, spongy insides are held together - just - with a bread-like frame.

This pudding-cake is best served while it's still snuggly-warm from the oven. Due to its unique texture, it's easiest to treat it like bread - just slice it with a serrated knife, then simply take it by the hand. If you're feeling extra decadent, though, you might pair it with a scoop of ice cream, and drizzle all over with, say, honey, maple syrup, caramel or butterscotch sauce.

P.S. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the chewy crust - I think I would probably prefer it crisp. But it seems to be a natural side effect that comes with the comfortingly gooey filling, so we'll roll with it!

P.P.S. Apologies for the depth of field in these photos, which doesn't capture the texture of the cake as well as I'd like. I was experimenting with Simon's DSLR camera, and clearly not very good at using it yet!

chewy, gooey cake with vanilla ice cream.

gooey blueberry honey yoghurt pudding-cake
(serves 2+)
(mini loaf pan dimensions: 18cm (l) x 10cm (w) x 5.5cm (h) exterior, 15cm x 8cm x 5.5cm interior.)

3/4 cup wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup plain natural or Greek yoghurt
1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F fan-forced or 200°C/390°F conventional.
Mix wholemeal flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and make a well in the middle.
In another bowl, dissolve honey in water. Stir in yoghurt, then the blueberries.
Pour the liquid mixture into the well of the bowl with the dry ingredients, then stir a few times in the same direction until just combined.
Pour the pudding-cake batter into a greased mini loaf tin.
Bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown.
Let the pudding-cake cool slightly for at least 5 minutes before running a butter knife around the edges and gently tipping it out. (Note - this pudding-cake will rise quite high but sink quite rapidly after being taken out of the oven, this is completely fine.)
Cut into thick slices with a serrated bread knife and serve while it's still super-warm for a hot gooey experience.

gooey blueberry honey yoghurt pudding-cake.

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