salted butter caramels

Good morning, starshine! The earth says hello. Particularly this little corner of it, over here in PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA!

I’m just a little excited to be here, I don’t know if you can tell. It’s sunny, the mangoes are abundant and there are lots of awesome people around. Also, I got my nails done and they’re pretty. There’s a lot to be exited about. Continue reading

not your mama’s nutella

Well, unless your mama is Stella of Bravetart. Then, yeah, I stole your mama’s nutella recipe. However, I’m fairly sure Stella doesn’t have kids, so no, this is not your mama’s nutella. Really, it’s not nutella at all, because Nutella is trademarked.

This is a chocolate hazelnut spread that is much better than nutella. Trust me. I know. It took me a while to get there, but it was worth it. (Whether it was worth the procrastination it took – the time away from my essays – only time will tell.) Oh, it was a real hassle but we got there in the end.

So, why make chocolate hazelnut spread yourself, you ask? Good question. The thing is, I’m trying (slowly, painfully, with not much success) to bring my life back to the ground. The earth. So I’m planting stuff and making bread and sitting in the spaces but I don’t have a lot of time and I make a lot of lame excuses.

I want to eat less processed food, more local and organic food. I want to celebrate life properly. It’s a long hard slog but I’m getting there. Sometimes I feel like I say that WAY too much. I’m getting there. Getting to a place where I’m at peace. Getting to the end of my tether. Getting to the top of the mountain. Getting back down again. Getting to God. Getting further away.

Getting there is usually positive, however, because positivity breeds positivity. I am not great at being positive all the time, however, I do my best. And physical activity plus healthy food equals a pretty positive day.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Adapted from Bravetart

Dude, this was a fiasco and a half, let me tell you. I started off with my sister in the kitchen and I should say right here, I am not good at sharing a kitchen with anyone, let alone family. Then the brittle didn’t become brittle, which I figured out later was because I didn’t cook it enough (so either get yourself a candy thermometer or cook until lovely golden brown) so I got sticky non-brittle EVERYWHERE and then it was like nine o’ clock before I even started the dishes. Oh my goodness.

But was it worth it? Yes, definitely. It’s amazing. Make this, and you will never buy storebought Nutella again.

7 ounces (205 mL) water

15 ounces (425g)

6 ounces (170g) honey or corn syrup

3 ounces (85g) butter

1 vanilla bean

10 ounces (285g) hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed, chopped coarsely

8 ounces (200g) dark chocolate (72% cocoa is preferred) melted and cooled

1 ounce (28g) cocoa powder

3/4 tsp salt

6-8 ounces (170-225g) hazelnut oil (We couldn’t find hazelnut oil in the supermarket so we used macadamia nut oil instead and it was fine. I only used about 5 ounces all up.)

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out all the lovely insides and put it into the sugar. Slice the two halves lengthwise again and mince them as finely as you can. Rub all that vanilla goodness into the sugar so you have vanilla sugar (this is also a good way to clean off your hands and knife from all that clingy vanilla bean paste.)

Place the sugar, butter, honey/corn syrup and water into a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and stir continuously until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil, not stirring, until the mixture reaches about 300 degrees (Farenheit, I think) on a candy thermometer (this is about 150 degrees Celsius) or pale golden brown. Or lovely deep golden brown, if you want to go that way.

Take off the heat and stir in the hazelnuts. As you can probably see from my pictures, I didn’t chop the hazelnuts beforehand but I chopped up my brittle fairly well after it set so it turned out ok.

Grease a baking tray and pour the brittle mixture in.

While you’re waiting for the brittle to set is a good time to melt your chocolate.

When it’s set, carefully remove it from the pan and break it into manageable chunks (I fairly well chopped mine because I was scared my small slightly-cracked-but-still-useable food processor might not hold up to the pressure.) Be careful not to cut yourself on the sharp brittle!

Pulse half the brittle in the food processor. As it keeps running, add in the rest of the brittle piece by piece until it’s pretty much powder. Stop the food processor and dump in the cocoa, chocolate and salt. Keep the processor running until it’s pretty well homogenised, then as it keeps running, carefully pour the oil in until it reaches your desired consistency.

Now is the time you dip everything you can get your hands on into this liquid gold and stuff it in your mouth. Soft white bread, crunchy baguette, chopped fruit – anything and everything tastes better dipped in nutella. Then pour it into jars, seal tightly and keep indefinitely at room temperature.

strawberry cupcakes

I know that it’s winter here in Melbourne. Living, as I do, in the hills, it gets cold here. We have a wood fire and piles of wood ready to be burnt, and as the weather gets colder I’m increasingly appreciative of our ducted heating system. Sometimes, all you want to do is snuggle down in bed for a few more minutes hours.

However, when it’s sunny outside and there are local strawberries for sale and you want to play pretend, summer is not a bad season to pretend to be in. Especially when all the American food blogs are talking about strawberries, cherries, barbeques and summer dresses.

I like winter. I do. But sometimes, you just gotta go with the summertime flow.

So I bought the strawberries, knowing that there would be a few gunky ones – more than a few, I think I was able to use about half of them – and decided to bake them in cupcakes. When it’s summer and the berries are amazing, I’m guessing you’d just roast them maybe, or make jam or even just eat them straight out of the punnet – but it being winter, I thought cupcakes were in order.

Contrary to some opinion, I don’t think that a muffin is a bald cupcake. I’m not saying they’re good for you, I just think that muffins have a different texture, a different feel. However, cupcakes definitely need a little something on top. And so, I decided to make some buttercream.

Mind you, it being almost seven and time to go meet some friends for pizza and camp prep sesh (yay for camp! yay for hanging out with kids for two weeks! yay for sleep deprivation! wait. What? Oh yeah, cupcakes.) I decided it had to be quick buttercream, one quartered from that goddess of cake decoration, i am baker.

And then I took them to said meeting and they were gobbled up quickly. Yum.

Strawberry Cupcakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I halved this recipe because I only had a punnet of strawberries, and I used a plain and spelt flour combination because I’m quite fond of spelt at the moment. I also diced the strawberries and folded them through the batter.

3 tbsp butter

3/4 cup flour (I swapped in half a cup for wholemeal spelt. Good Idea)

pinch salt

1/2 cup sugar

small egg

1/4 cup milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

250g strawberries, diced

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and put cupcake liners into a muffin tin. I only made seven cupcakes out of this recipe.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, milk and vanilla and beat until silky smooth.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add gradually while beating until just incorporated. Gently fold in the diced strawberries.

Divide among your cupcake liners. You want them to be in between three quarters and fully loaded. Bake for five minutes on 180 degrees, then lower to 160 degrees and bake another fifteen or so minutes. Cool in the pan and then unpan them and ice them. (I put them in the fridge for a few minutes to cool right down.)

Quick Buttercream Frosting

Adapted from i am baker

I, as I mentioned, quartered this recipe, which originally would have been able to frost two eight inch (20 cm) cakes. I still had leftovers.

65 g butter

1-2 cups icing sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp rosewater (This was my addition – a pink flavour to compliment the pink strawberry cupcakes)

Put the butter, milk, vanilla and half a cup of the icing sugar into your mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Gradually add the rest of the sugar while beating, until you have a smooth, spreadable consistency. You may not need all the sugar.

stop trying

Just be. Don’t mess around, pretending, playing at life. Don’t put everything off, but don’t do everything at once, either.

Walk through the rain for a whole morning, letting people stare at the crazy girl who hasn’t got an umbrella and isn’t wearing shoes. Take yourself out for breakfast because you want to go out for breakfast and you are worth the time it takes to get there.

Take and afternoon and bake a cake, even if it doesn’t quite come out right or doesn’t quite taste like you thought it would.

Listen to music, watch a fantastic movie, call your friend. Call. Call.

Write a thank you note because thank yous are overrated and outdated. Dance in the rain. Say hello to that guy on the train.

Believe in yourself.

Take your chances.

Help someone else.

Don’t just walk past.

Stop trying. Just be.

And make that cake.

*oh hey, I know I’ve been really really lazy with recipes and such. I am sorry. This one itself was kinda a flop, and I think perhaps I should have measured it better, but hey. It’s my day off, ok?

mango tree

Sometimes, when life’s just crapping all over you, you just have to bake.

Sometimes, it’s so bad, you can’t do much. Honestly, all you want to do is sit back and eat the thing, not slave over a hot oven in humid Melbourne summer weather for something that may not work anyway.

So. Today was that day.

If you remember how to make lemon curd, make it. If you still have some left over from last time, like me, aren’t you lucky? Yep, you are.

Now take 125gm cold butter (I use salted, that’s just my preference) and chop it roughly into cubes. Put 1 2/3 cups of flour into a food processor and while it’s going, add in the butter. When it’s just about in a ball, turn it out and knead it into a ball. Refrigerate it for about 20 minutes and then roll it out on the same floured surface. Cut little circles out and put them into a patty cake tin, prick the bottoms with a fork and bake at 180°C for about 20 minutes. Let them cool and then fill them with that lemon curd.

If you have leftovers, I suggest you make a lemon meringue pie like I’m going to. Just put the rest of the rolled out shortcrust pastry in a little springform tin, blind bake for oh, 20 minutes maybe? Fill with lemon curd then make meringues (also like last time) except not as much. Pile it on and bake in a 200°C oven for maybe ten minutes. Not entirely sure. I’ll let you know how mine turns out.

Hope your day was better than mine. If not, listen to this and you’ll feel better.

sugar, baby

I like to cook to music. Today I made scones, lemon curd and meringues, all from the Masterchef Cookbook (Volume One – from the first season. The first season in Australia, I should add. I couldn’t find a copy in Amazon OR on the official website, so it’s just a link to the website at the moment. Sorry!) I am a huge sweet tooth, in case you couldn’t tell – for instance, meringues, for you poor unfortunates who live under rocks, are basically sugar and egg white.  I think that the egg whites are there to make the sugar stand up on it’s own two feet, because basically it’s just SUGAR, all the way.  But that’s ok.

Back to the cooking to music – for my scone lemon curd meringue marathon (well… ) I listened to The Cat Empire’s So Many Nights – I feel that TCE (apart from being my favourite band in the world) make the best music for cooking to. I have yet to find someone who can best them for getting me upbeat when I’m down, as well. I am a big comfort eater, I have to admit, but cooking and music always cheer me up. In fact, for dinner I had one of my favourite (savoury) comfort foods: poached eggs. Thanks to Kickpleat over at Everybody Likes Sandwiches for the perfect way to poach eggs.

Happy January 2.

Buttermilk Scones

I used buttermilk instead of milk in this recipe because I had it on hand and also, I think it gives a great taste. However, I added more than the recipe called for because it was too dry. Just add as much as you feel is right without you having to overwork the dough – the death sentence for scones. Also, I like to cut my scones into triangles, because then you don’t have to re-roll the scraps.

Makes 6-8 largeish triangle scones

2 1/2 cups s.r. flour

30g butter, room temperature

1 cup buttermilk

milk to brush over

jam and cream, to serve. or butter and jam. or lemon curd, below.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a large oven tray with baking paper. Sift the flour from a height into a bowl and rub the butter in. Make a well and add the buttermilk; cut in with a knife. Turn the bowl out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead together. Flatten into a large disc shape and cut with a sharp knife into six or eight triangles. Alternatively, you could cut circles out with a cookie cutter; use a rolling pin if you like, but I don’t like to make more dishes than I need to. Place onto the baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes. (The recipe suggested 12-15; I checked at twelve minutes and put them in for another eight. Use your discretion and your knowledge of your oven.) Serve with any or all of the above suggested accompaniments.

Lemon Curd

I would probably add more lemon juice than I did today; I didn’t have many options, our tree only just squeezed out three lemons as it was. However, I do suggest you use home-grown lemons. If you don’t have a tree yourself, ask around, they tend to hide in people’s backyards. Or side yards.

3 eggs

2 egg yolks

3/4 cup caster sugar

1/4 tbsp cornflour

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

juice of 3 lemons

125g butter, chopped

Whisk together eggs, yolks, sugar and cornflour until sugar has dissolved. Whisk in zest and juice then place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (half a lemon in the saucepan will mean that the water doesn’t leave any discolouration on your pan) without letting the bowl touch the water. Stir in one piece of butter at a time, waiting until it melts before adding the next piece; the curd is done when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. I find it useful to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl at intervals. It should look like a large, sunny egg yolk. Very large. Cool and spoon into a wide-mouthed jar, package up with a gingham square and a pretty label and give to your neighbour as a gift.

Meringues

This was part of a larger recipe for Aussie Mess, based on Eton Mess – add cream and seasonal fruits and a coulis, and voila! Pudding. Or dessert, as we Aussies would say. I piped them into large nest-like shapes, to be piled with cream and berries; I’ve also seen tiny meringues served at a café with the hot drinks. Very cute.

6 egg whites

1 1/2 cups caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 120°C and line two large baking trays with non-stick paper. Beat the egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form; add sugar gradually (very gradually – you don’t want grainy bits. Let the sugar dissolve.) and beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Pipe or spoon onto prepared trays and place in oven for five minutes. Reduce heat to 100°C and bake a further 45 minutes.