Saturday, 23 May 2015

Chocolate soufflé

As a baker, I've never been brave enough to tackle making a soufflé. These finicky savoury or sweet dishes are renown for puffing up and overflowing during cooking before spectacularly caving in on themselves. It turns out my fears were unfounded - well, at least for the recipe I eventually tried. Success on the first attempt is almost unheard of for me but this one was almost brag-worthy.

I found this recipe for chocolate soufflé for two on the Crunchy Creamy Sweet dessert baking blog. I like how they are made in mini cocotte dishes but found that the recipe has a missing step, so I've revised it here and converted it into metric. I made the soufflés using Whittaker's 72% Dark Ghana chocolate and Heilala vanilla extract, which resulted in a full, rich flavour. It's an oven dessert so a good one to have pre-prepared, then put in to cook while you're serving dinner - a yummy 'sometimes treat' for winter nights.

Chocolate soufflé

  • 1 T cocoa
  • 90 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 30 g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • dash (1/8 t) of salt
  • dash (1/8 t) of cream of tartar
  • 2 T caster sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease two mini cocotte dishes or 250 ml ramekins with additional butter. Sprinkle bottom and sides with cocoa powder, tapping off excess. Set aside.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter together. Whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. Add egg yolks to cooled chocolate mixture one at a time and whisk to combine. Add vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.
  4. In a clean bowl of a stand mixer, with a clean whisk, beat egg whites with salt, cream of tartar and caster sugar on medium speed until frothy. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Do not over beat. Keep checking the peaks. As soon as you see the stiff peaks form, stop.
  5. Add 1/3 of meringue into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold until just combined. Repeat twice until the mixture is fully combined and no streaks remain. Do not over fold.
  6. Spoon the mixture into prepared cocotte dishes. At this stage, you can cover the dishes and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  7. Place cocottes on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Chocolate soufflé

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Very Naughty Caterpillar

"HungryCaterpillar". Via Wikipedia.
I love the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The tale has delighted toddlers, parents and teachers alike for more than 45 years, with its colourful hole-punched pictures of foods eaten by the caterpillar as it bulks up for its transformation into a beautiful butterfly. My nephews have a giant hungry caterpillar soft toy that they cuddle while we read the book together. There is also a delightful Christmas version that I bought last year, with northern hemisphere Christmas variations on the foods the caterpillar ate each day.

Here is a video of the book read by its author, Eric Carle.

I'm not too enamored with hungry caterpillars in real life, though.

Two months ago, I planted a living herb wall. It started out really well and I enjoyed picking handfuls of fresh herbs to chop and add to my cooking. The violets bloomed into a rainbow of beautiful colours and the leaves were healthy, green and lush. Until one day, when holes started appearing in the leaves before being eaten away altogether. In desperation, I consulted various gardening sites who all seemed to agree that the best non-toxic solution was to find the elusive bug in the plants and remove it. I searched and searched but couldn't find anything, even among eighteen little pockets. Eventually, I pulled a snail out out from behind a chives plant! Goodbye, villain. *cue evil laugh*

The plants started growing back and I enjoyed watching them grow again. Then one day I noticed that my living herb wall was once again under attack! Each day I watched yet another healthy plant seemingly disappear before my eyes but with no culprit in sight. Until today. Victory is mine!

Here is my abridged version of the Very Hungry Caterpillar, told as a photo story without a happy ending.

The Very Naughty Caterpillar

On Monday he ate through one basil plant.
On Tuesday he ate through two oregano plants.
On Wednesday he ate through three violet plants.
On Thursday he ate through four thyme stalks.
On Friday he ate through five coriander plants.
On Saturday he tried to eat through six parsley stalks.
On Sunday he was found climbing from one pocket to another, got squashed between a paper towel and ended up unceremoniously dumped in a rubbish bin.
There will be no life as a beautiful butterfly for this very naughty caterpillar.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

A stormy commute

I love a good storm. Today, we had my favourite kind of storm: heavy rain, thunder and lightning with an absence of wind and cold. The only problem was that we had it while at work. Actually, that wasn't exactly the problem as it was fun looking out our big windows and counting the seconds between the lightning flashes and thunderbolts. The real problem came an hour or so later when we started hearing reports of flooding, rising river levels and road closures. Uh oh. Maybe this was a bit more serious than we first thought.

A colleague and I made a spontaneous decision to jump in her car and try our luck getting home, along with everyone other commuter in Wellington. Trains were being cancelled and buses in rare supply. Signs on the motorway said that State Highway 2 was closed to Petone, but traffic seemed to be moving so we took our chances. We were guided by regular updates from people in Petone and the Hutt, along with various transport and emergency websites. Still, we were surprised at how slowly we crawled along the motorway and became increasingly aware of the change in scenery around us.

Here are a few pics of State Highway 2, taken from out the passenger window (and front windscreen) of the car between 12.30 and 2.30 pm today. This patch of highway from Ngauranga Interchange to the Petone turnoff is about 5 km long; the journey took us nearly two hours.

Run off from Horokiwi hill, before the BP station.
Rocks and debris fell as well as water!
Horokiwi on ramp
Between Horokiwi and Petone.
(This is a hillside, not a river.)
Petone off ramp
I'm pleased to say that we got home safely and had a warm, dry afternoon. I have no plans to leave the house any time soon and feel relieved that most of my team also made it to their various destinations safely, apart from one who is stuck on this side of the Rimutaka Hill but now camped up comfortably in a workmate's spare room. It's been raining constantly for several hours and apparently another deluge is on the way either overnight or tomorrow. I'm really thankful that we're all ok here - and that I can work from home tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ed Byrne - Roaring Forties

A couple of months ago, I thought about which stand-up comedian I'd most like to see live on stage. I commented to my partner that "if Ed Byrne ever comes to town, we'll definitely be there." The next day, the NZ International Comedy Festival announced its lineup along with an international headliner ... Mr Byrne himself! My powers of wishful thinking worked! (Next time, I'll wish for a million dollars, or world peace, or maybe something that combines the two.)

The title of Ed Byrne's show perfect coincided with a particular celebration in our home last week. I quickly jumped online and booked front row tickets for the final Wellington show of Roaring Forties. In Byrne's own words, it's all about him being a dick and supposedly middle aged at the same time. Apparently that kind of behaviour of expected of teenage boys, but it comes as a surprise when a grown man in his forties acts like a dick and this is how he gets away with it. It works for us.

Byrne explained that he loves travelling around New Zealand (don't they all say that?) but will never perform in Oamaru ever again. He has his reasons.

For me, Byrne's best comedy moments feature his retelling of seemingly mundane events, such as recovering from hernia surgery, peppered with everyday family life. His sketch about casually exhorting unreasonable demands from a partner "While you're up ... can you get me a sandwich?" regularly gets aired in our home any time one of us gets up from watching tv at night. (We've changed the punch line ever so slightly. "But I don't want a sandwich. I want *insert object of desire here*")

Roaring Forties is an hilarious look at life from inside a comedian's brain, all wrapped up in a delicious Irish accent.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Raspberry white chocolate cupcakes

I used to make cupcakes quite often for celebrations but now tend to make more cakes for birthdays. There have been several family birthdays this month, so I'm finishing off my month of baking with some decadent raspberry white chocolate cakes.

This is a modified version of a recipe from my favourite local cupcake recipe book, Divine Cupcakes by Tamara Jane, formerly of Tempt Cupcakes. I halved the quantities and still ended up with more than two dozen cupcakes! I also added a teaspoon of Fresh As freeze dried raspberry powder, popped some dried raspberries into the centre of each and added a teaspoon of raspberry powder to the vanilla frosting. Yum!

Raspberry white chocolate cupcakes

  • 300 g plain flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t freeze-dried raspberry powder
  • 250 g butter, chopped
  • 250 ml milk
  • 450 g sugar or caster sugar
  • 150 g white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1 t vanilla essence
  • freeze dried raspberries
  1. Sift flour and baking powder together into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and set aside.
  2. Put butter, milk, sugar and white chocolate into a medium saucepan and melt together over a low heat. Stir continuously with a flat-bottomed wooden stirrer until the chocolate has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Alternatively, place ingredients into a ceramic bowl and melt in the microwave on high for approximately 5 minutes, or melt gently over a bain-marie. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  3. Preheat the oven to 155°C while you wait for the chocolate mixture to cool. Line two 12-hole muffin trays with cupcake papers.
  4. Pour the cooled mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth and all lumps are dissolved. Gently stir in the eggs and vanilla essence until just combined. This is a very runny mixture.
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the cupcakes papers. They should be two-third full. Press 1-2 freeze dried raspberries into the centre of each cupcake and cover with mixture. (Beware: they will keep trying to float up to the top!)
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in the muffin trays for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Decorate by piping with vanilla or vanilla and raspberry buttercream frosting or white chocolate ganache. 
Raspberry white chocolate cupcakes

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