Monday, 6 April 2015

Rustic buttermilk chocolate cake

It's been a big baking weekend. Numerous batches of hot cross buns, birthday cakes and party food has seen my kitchen buzzing quite a lot recently.

My mouth watered at the sight of this rustic chocolate cake. I love baking with buttermilk and baked this cake twice this weekend, once as an 8" round cake and once as an 8" ring. Both took similar times to cook but neither rose evenly. I also discovered that its soft, crumbly finish meant that it would have been better served layered with chocolate ganache or topped with whipped cream than shaped into a birthday cake and decorated with fondant. Oh well - it still tasted amazing!

I found the layout of the original recipe quite confusing, so here is my simplified version of it with metric measurements.

Rustic buttermilk chocolate cake

  • 1 cup hot strong coffee
  • 85 g dark chocolate
  • 1 3/4 c (245 g) flour
  • 3/4 c (60 g) dutched cocoa
  • 1 3/4 c (385 g) sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 t vanilla essence
  • 1/2 c canola oil
  • 1 c buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line an 8" (20 cm) round tin.
  2. Pour hot coffee over dark chocolate and stir to melt. Set aside.
  3. Combine sifted flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda with salt and sugar.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla essence, canola oil and buttermilk to combine.
  5. With your mixer on a slow speed, gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Add the coffee mixture next and mix slowly until just combined. (Do not over-mix.)
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. This is a very thin mixture.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Serve frosted with ganache or whipped cream.
Rustic buttermilk chocolate cake
- pre-frosting

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Hot cross buns

Mmmm, hot cross buns. Baking and eating hot cross buns is one of my favourite Easter activities. I have experimented with a few different recipes for hot cross buns and keep coming back to the original one in my Panasonic breadmaker book with a few variations.

I don't usually bother with glazing the buns (we certainly don't need more sugar in our diets) but this is easily made by boiling together 3 T each of milk and caster sugar until syrupy, then brushing over the cooked buns as soon as they are removed from the oven. I also use sultanas instead of currents and leave out the citrus peel.

Hot cross buns

  • 3 t Surebake yeast
  • 450 g high grade flour
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T milk powder
  • 6 T (90 g) butter
  • 3 T brown sugar
  • 4 t spices (see below)
  • 200 ml water
  • 1 medium egg
  • 3/4 c sultanas
Any combination of spices that adds up to 3-4 teaspoons will work. Here's my favourite combination:
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1 t cloves
  • 1/2 t mixed spice
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 T canola oil
  • water to mix
  1. Add ingredients to the pan in the order specified by your breadmaker instructions. Set to BASIC - DOUGH RAISIN (2 hours 20 minutes). Remove dough from pan when finished and leave to rest for another 20 minutes.
  2. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. [I weigh mine into ~80 g balls to ensure they rise evenly.] Roll each portion into a smooth ball and place onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Space each ball with a 1 cm gap in between.
  3. Lightly spray with canola spray and cover loosely with cling film. Leave to rise in a warm place (30-35°C) for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. [I use the proof dough setting on my oven.]
  4. Preheat oven to 200°C. Prepare the crosses by mixing together flour and oil then adding water to make a thick paste. Thin with more water until smooth. Spoon mixture into a piping bag and pipe crosses over the buns. [I do this in long lines across the whole mixture, firstly horizontal then vertical.]
  5. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Brush with glaze while still hot, if desired.
Hot cross buns

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Villa Maria wine tasting

This month's wine club tasting was hosted by Villa Maria

The development of Villa Maria is a great success story. From modest beginnings in 1961 to having 250 employees in more than 50 countries, this family owned business has grown and survived due to a focus on quality, hard work and innovation. For example, 2001 was Villa Maria's first cork-free wine bottle year. They also have armfuls of awards from around the world.

As a testament to how much Villa Maria Estate founder, Sir George Fistonich, loves wine, he was quoted as saying something like, "I love wine. During the past 50 years, there are only three days where I have not drunk wine." [Badly paraphrased by me, but you get the picture.] Wow, he must really love the stuff! We couldn't help wondering though which three days were the ones where he took a break from wine and why. A hospital visit? Bad planning on a public holiday? In transit to another world where wine doesn't exist?

Villa Maria produces a huge range of wines from vineyards all around the country. We got to try three wines from their Private Bin Light range. We were given detailed tasting notes, meaning that all I really had to do was enjoy each sample then put a tick or cross on each page once I'd decided whether I liked it or not.
  • Pinot Gris 2014 - Private Bin Light. With just 9% alcohol, this was a really light wine and pale in appearance. It's produced in Marlborough and tasted ok, but I didn't really like the floral aftertaste.
  • Rosé 2014 - Private Bin Light. I'm coming to like light rosés, but this dry rosé was far too light for me, so much so that there really wasn't much flavour to it at all. Made from Hawkes Bay pinot gris and merlot grapes, it was served lightly chilled.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2014 - Private Bin Light. I enjoy a dry Marlborough sav, but I just couldn't get a full taste from this 9% alcohol wine. I think I'll stick to full bodied wines in future.
During the second half of the evening, we were introduced to Left Field, a new wine range from Te Awa Collection that was only launched a few weeks ago. These full bodied wines boast "something a bit different", either in the way they are made or their palette.
On paper, it doesn't look like we had a very successful night. However, I find wine tastings a great way to find out more about what I like, even if it's just to rule something out, instead of having to randomly buy a full bottle and risk trusting the tasting notes.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Wellington Wine and Food Festival

The Wellington Wine and Food Festival hit town this weekend. Frank Kitts Park was the venue for this newly revamped event, a huge step up from similar events held at the soulless Westpac Stadium years ago.

Everything we ate last night was delicious - and that's not something I say very often. Or maybe I was just really good at picking the best stuff? I'll admit it wasn't easy with so much on offer. My strategy was to try things outside of the usual market offerings and seeking out vendors I'd not been to before. It paid off.

Here is our main course menu for the evening. We divided each serving in two so we could try as many dishes as possible before getting too full - and avoid arguments over who had taken a bigger bite.
  • Tom Khem, (caramelised braised pork belly with cripsy rice balls), steamed pork buns and beef meatballs with sweet sticky sauce from Taste Lao (Dai and Dal). So yummy! Pork buns are my new food obsession.
  • Beer battered warehou with chips and tartare sauce from The Chippery. Absolutely delicious! (This is high praise from someone who doesn't eat fish and chips.)
  • GChả Gio` from Nam D, which is crispy ground pork and glass noodle spring rolls, served with tangy dipping sauce. We'd already tried these before at City Market so knew how good they were.
  • Whitebait fritter sandwich in white bread with tartare sauce from The Tasting Room. Oh my! Actual whitebait inside and not too much egg. Divine.
  • Pulled pork long dog with hot siracha sauce from Zibibbo with really tender pork. Nom!
Dinner was washed down with Tuatara Hefe and Black Dog Chomp. (Good to keep the whānau gainfully employed, lol.) I think there was also a glass of sav somewhere along the way.

We tried some samples of Heavenly Fudge but were too full for dessert. Instead, I got a takeaway box from Sweet Release Cakes and Treats to waddle home with. Here is their salted caramel rum cookie and Kit Kat brownie, an idea I might try baking myself.

Salted caramel rum cookie and Kit Kat brownie
Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about the event itself, more specifically, the $39 entry fee. I am really lucky to have won free tickets, which was the difference for me between going or not. Although I'm a foodie who is always keen to support local producers and vendors, I didn't see much bang for buck on entry. I wasn't alone; friends I bumped into made similar remarks. Given the number of giveaways from vendors and last minute $29 discount deals, it looks like numbers of paying punters were low.

We spent quite a bit of money buying food and drinks, which I am really happy to do in support of local businesses. Sure, we may have spent a similar amount at a restaurant, but a restaurant or bar wouldn't have charged almost $80 for two of us to walk in the door, even one with a band. Once inside, we faced many of the usual suspects that we would find at City Market each Sunday and other free events and fairs around town. I understand that events like this need organisation and promotion and that there are expenses involved, but I wouldn't have been in a position to go if I had to pay the expensive entry fee.

A huge thank you to New World Thorndon for the complimentary tickets. We had a fantastic time and have made lots of food discoveries to follow up next time we go to the markets.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant

Yesterday, I treated a foodie colleague to afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant in Featherston Street. From the moment you pull open the wide, heavy door you get the feeling of entering a French salon - not that I've ever experienced this for myself but this is how I imagine they would be. Tables were buzzing with conversation over delightful treats. What's not to love?

My phone was out of my bag as quickly as my eyes popped out of my head and I instantly became one of 'those' foodies who feel compelled to photograph everything I'd eaten, as well as things I hadn't. Feast your eyes on this beautiful display counter full of immaculately constructed treats.

Feast your eyes
More to drool over
It was incredibly hard to choose. I settled on a hot chocolate with Religieuse Belle Hélène, choux pastry filled with a 70% dark chocolate mousse and a light pear puree. The pear puree balanced the richness of the dark chocolate beautifully and the smooth mousse inside the choux pastry melted in my mouth.

Religieuse Belle Hélène
Afternoon tea at Louis Sergeant was just what we needed for a mid-week treat and to break our 3.30-itis. We can't wait to come back for high tea!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Living herb wall

I'm no gardener by any stretch of the imagination. Still, the cook in me likes the idea of cooking and eating fresh. Also, have you seen how much it costs to buy herbs these days?? Two years on from tending a basic herb garden, a pot of thyme remains intact. Although the other herbs have sadly passed on, I did use the parsley, chives and rosemary several times in my cooking before they died off. Perhaps they were only supposed to last a while? Hopefully.

One of my summer projects was to set up living wall of herbs on a patch of trellis in the back yard. The area is sheltered but also gets good sun. After scouring garden shops and daily deals for a few months, we came across this design which has individual pockets made of felt. This means that I can plant and water each herb separately and any excess water just drains through the felt.

I looked through my spice rack to see which herbs I use the most in my cooking and bought a few varieties of each in small pots to transplant into my wall. From top to bottom, I have planted:
  • Italian and flat parsley
  • lemon and pizza thyme
  • Greek oregano
  • garlic and regular chives
  • sweet basil (I know this one will probably need to come inside during winter)
  • rosemary to drape over the bottom edges.
There is also a tub of coriander hanging beneath the wall.
Living herb wall
I have planted little violets and violas in between the herb pockets in a checkerboard shape. Hopefully their pretty colours will attract bees and also allow room for the taller herbs to grow upwards without getting in the way of others.