pita pita patter

When I did my experimenting with sourdough (starter and loaf) at the end of last year I became a little obsessed with reading about different kinds of bread; how they are all made, the differences in each process and the origins and stories behind them.

My main question that I desperately needed answered was how pita bread gets the big bubble of air in the middle, that convenient little pocket we all use to stuff in our favourite ingredients.

SAM_3678

Surprisingly it has nothing to do with a cleverly shaped or hollowed out wheel of dough but it actually is all on the way it’s cooked.

Similar to the way a naan bread is speckled with charred air bubbles from the immense heat of the oven they are cooked in, the expansion of a pita bread comes from the heat of the pan or oven they’re cooked in. Essentially, as the active yeast begins to rise, the water within the dough begins evaporating – splitting the dough in half as it tries to escape, forming the helpful hollow we find so useful.

And this is how easy they are to make:

1 cup of warm water
2 teaspoons of instant yeast
2 ½ cups of flour
2 teaspoons of sea salt
2 teaspoons of olive oil

Step one: mix it all together.

Step two: knead I for five minutes.

SAM_3660

Step three: place in a bow, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for an hour.

Step four: divide into eight equally sized discs, a bit like a UFO.

SAM_3665

(Note: step 3.5 should be heat the oven to 240°C with a tray in to heat as well)

Only once the oven is hot enough should you even think about cooking your pita breads, if it isn’t hot enough then they won’t balloon up and you may as well have just made bread rolls.

SAM_3681

Keep an eye on them: they will only need about 3 minutes – oh, the beauty of a hot oven!

They are best served hot, but delicious at room temperature too. I smeared mine with roast pepper hummus and stuffed them with pomegranate meatballs and fresh spinach. But to be completely honest, I would have eaten them plain, that’s how good they are.

 

Advertisements

salted caramel chocolate brownie tart

Since we are in December now, it’s totally okay to start talking about Christmas, and by that, I mean what we are all planning to eat on Christmas. In my family I am put in charge of the menu each year and the pressure to start planning is applied as early as September.

Even though I like to use Christmas as a time to experiment with new recipes, I know there is a lot riding on everything coming off as a success. Desserts are always the area that make me the most anxious – it’s not as easy to wing it with something that requires a strict set of ingredients, so I decided to do a test run of my planned salted caramel chocolate brownie tart.

20151201_105806[1]

The name of this recipe is a bit of a mouthful, and it’s just as much of a process making it – a chocolate biscuit base, a layer of gooey caramel topped with a rich, dark chocolate brownie and glazed with a layer of even richer chocolate ganache.

SAM_3558

I adapted a recipe from the Akaroa Cooking School and used a sweet pastry base for my test run because I had some I needed to get rid of and wasn’t sure if all of the chocolate was going to be a sensory overload.

While the pastry was blind baking, I heated a can of condensed milk with 75grams of butter and several tablespoons of honey. I also added a teaspoon of sea salt because I love that salty juxtaposition. Once the butter was melted and the condensed milk had morphed several shades darker, I poured it over top of the base and baked for 10 minutes at 170°C. The caramel comes out another shade darker and had thickened nicely.

SAM_3537

While the caramel was cooking I got started on the brownie – 150grams of melted butter, ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¾ cup of sugar combined to a thick paste. I whisked in two eggs and folded through a cup of flour, a pinch of salt and another of baking powder. This makes a rather thick mixture and since I want it to pour evenly over the caramel layer, I might thin it with a bit of water next time.

SAM_3541

I popped it back into the oven for another 20 minutes before leaving it to cool.

SAM_3546

The ganache is simple enough; ½ cup of warm cream and 200grams of dark chocolate poured over the cooled brownie and refrigerated until set.

20151206_144508[1]

This slice of heaven is definitely a chocolate lover’s fantasy, and while the pastry base is a nice touch I think I will be making a chocolate base come Christmas time – in my mind, you can never have too much chocolate!

 

speculoos – belgian spice cookies

What I love about travelling is how easy it is to carry on dreaming about the holiday long after it has finished; flicking through an album of photos on a rainy day, recreating dishes in your own home, or getting really desperate and taking a tour through a city on street view on Google Maps.

923065_10151418508536305_1772783746_n

My first trip when I arrived in Europe was to Brussels, where I discovered the magic that is speculoos – a bronze coloured treasure that I was delighted to find, accompanied almost any cup of coffee ever served in France. They were so readily available that it never occurred to me that I was more than capable of giving them a whirl in my own kitchen.

936388_10151418511056305_2130631608_n

I am happy to announce that I have since remedied this problem.

SAM_3447

Speculoos, also known as Belgian Spice Cookies, are dark caramel in colour, sweet and gingery in flavour and brittle in texture. Describing them almost as a crunchy piece of gingerbread may not be the most glamourous of definitions, but it is certainly the most accurate. The perfect consistency for dunking into a cup of coffee or steaming hot chocolate, they are also decorated with the cutest little pictures.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon of allspice (or you could use ground cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of butter
  • ½ cup of white sugar
  • ¼ cup of raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

I know it sounds like a bucket load of ingredients but that’s all part of the punch of flavour that comes hand in hand with these biscuits!

SAM_3427

Begin by sifting the flour with the spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl cream the butter with the two sugars and vanilla extract. Even though I have used raw sugar here, you can use brown sugar if you wanted; it will give it a smoother finish but I like them a little granulated for extra crunch.

SAM_3431

Gradually combine the dry ingredients with the creamed butter until you have dough that is soft, yet firm. As with any dough mixture; if it’s too dry, add a bit of water; and if it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. You shouldn’t have this problem because it is almost saturated with butter, keeping it smooth and silky.

SAM_3432

Form into a ball, wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate from at least an hour.

SAM_3441

On a layer of baking parchment, roll your dough into a thin, flat rectangle. For a nice finishing touch, roll over the layer with a patterned rolling pin (aren’t these so cool?!)

SAM_3445

Baking at 175°C for 25 minutes, the dough will still be soft and spongey when it comes out – don’t continue baking it! It will harden as it cools down, and it’s at a perfect consistency to slice into squares with a pizza cutter (or a knife, should that be easier).

SAM_3446

Enjoy with a cup of coffee at break, or after lunch, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect for a bit of happiness when the weather is grey and dreary.

the chapter continues: making sourdough

I have always imagined that becoming an artisanal baker would be a rather idyllic and romantic way of living life. That is probably because while my imagination cascaded ideas of kneading dough and eating crusty bread, drenched in olive oil, it also conjured up an image of doing so in a 17th century villa surrounded by fields of sunflowers that doubled as my (currently non-existent) children’s magical forest play land.

I know the reality of that ever happening is slimmer than a slice of biscotti, but it’s nice to have dreams, isn’t it? Maybe I would settle for having a house with a wood fire oven, that way I could make pizza too!

It’s great to have things we want to attain in life, but most of the time we have to start out small; in this case, a small oven – this is how my first attempt at making sourdough went.

SAM_3473

To say it was a dreary morning sounds like the beginning of an unoriginal film noir script, but it was. I only mention that because the drear filled me with dread that I was not in the best of weather conditions for bread making. But I did it anyway – I’m a trooper.

SAM_3455

I measured out two cups of my pungently fresh sourdough starter and swirled through a tablespoon of melted butter and ½ of a cup of warm milk. Next, I sprinkled in a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar before sifting in 3 cups of plain white flour.

SAM_3461

The best way to make bread dough is with your hands, though I do suggest loosely combining the mixture with a wooden spoon before taking to it with fist one and fist two. Tip the dough (and any particles that haven’t stuck together) onto a floured surface and knead with the heel of both hands for about 5 minutes. You will probably definitely need to add a touch more flour.

SAM_3464

Using your fingertips, roll the dough into a big, flat oval and roll up like you would if you were making a cinnamon roll. Knit the edges together between thumb and forefinger, place on a tray and leave to rise for about 3 hours.

SAM_3465

If you’re a little bit phobic about it not reaching the optimal rising temperature like me, try putting it in a warm oven for the time it takes to rise.

SAM_3470

Remove the loaf from the oven and heat to 190°C. Bake the bread at this temperature for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 175°C and baking for further 40 minutes.

SAM_3471

It is ready to eat at soon as you pull it out of the oven. Dense and zingy, it is perfect just smeared with a layer of butter, but it also makes a great accompaniment for dinner because it is so flavoursome and savoury. Serve on the side of a stew or top with left over tamarillo salsa!

a chapter on baking: sourdough starter

They say a holiday has been successful once you start missing reality; once you have reached your capacity of relaxation and have exhausted your to-do list of enjoyable activities. In the meantime, it is helpful to use this new found free time constructively as well as lying about lazily, curled up with a book and a glass of wine.

I spent the last week doing just that at my parents’ house in the countryside. The fresh air, the warm breeze, nature, paddocks and orchards as far as the eye can see; the perfect environment for making a sourdough starter.

SAM_3451

Sourdough uses wild yeast as a rising agent, so there is something ancient and traditional in the process; very at one with the earth if you don’t mind my hippy frame of reference. Catching nature’s own yeast particles from the rolling spring breeze is what gives the bread its unique and zingy flavour, a palate that will be specific only to that ball of dough – an imprint of the landscape in bread form, if you will.

SAM_3413

Like most things medieval, the process takes several days and is far from methodical. Begin with ½ a cup of flour and mix with an equal amount of water. You can use any flour; because the dough will have no commercial grade yeast, it will be denser than a loaf we would expect to buy today – so fluffy, refined white flour isn’t a bad choice. I used a bag of organic flour I found in the cupboard. A shade of mousy brown, I can only assume that it was wholegrain, bran or rye, but I really have no idea – all part of the mystery I say!

SAM_3416

Cover the bowl with cling film or (preferably) a tea towel and leave somewhere warm – near the fireplace or oven, and ideally somewhere near an open window and leave the yeast to work its magic.

SAM_3419

The following day, add another ½ cup of water and flour, combine well and leave to grow.

Repeat again on day three, the yeast should be becoming quite strong by now, and the mixture should smell of old beer. Bubbles should be forming on the surface as small bursts of carbon dioxide begin to form.

The next day, after the fourth addition of flour, the mixture should have the consistency of thick custard and the aroma of sulphur. Like me, your first thought will probably be that it’s all gone terribly wrong and you have somehow created a bucketful of caramel coloured toxic waste; don’t panic, it’s meant to smell like that. You may want to add a little less water than flour on the last day if it looks a little watery.

Based on how much wild yeast has inoculated and environmental factors such as temperature, your starter may need a fifth day with an additional dose of flour. But if it’s nice and bubbly, and perfuming the room like the Heineken Brewery, you know it’s ready to rock and roll!

Tune in next time for my recipe on how to make the dough!

peppermint chocolate cake – an experiment with italian meringue

Recently, a friend of mine and I decided that it would be a good idea to establish a local chapter of the Clandestine Cake Club but following my recent botched attempts at cake-making, I thought it wise to give myself a little more practice before unleashing any more of my creations onto the general public. I was also recently gifted a bottle of peppermint syrup. These two mutually exclusive factors coincided over the weekend into a chocolate sponge cake with peppermint meringue icing. I can now say that I will never be making Italian meringue ever again.

SAM_3368

The cake itself turned out rather well, aside from forgetting to add any baking powder to the batter. I actually think I prefer it without too much spring, the batter still comes out light and fluffy; pillowy like a sponge cake but not as aerated – it still feels substantial as you sink your teeth into it. Unlike the last attempt at sponge cake, the sea of pots and pans that is my kitchen cupboards parted to reveal the electric mixer, which makes beating together eggs, flour, sugar and butter easy and breezy. I definitely recommend it.

SAM_3354

The failures began with the cake icing. For starters, I didn’t have any icing sugar so I wasn’t able to make a standard icing. Instead, I opted for an Italian meringue icing because I could use regular sugar to make syrup and I like how it spreads like a thick layer of cloud.

Whisk one egg white to firm peaks, soft peaks won’t cut it and you will end up whisking for what seems like days. I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of peppermint syrup.

Heat 200grams of sugar with a ¼ cup of water to make a boiling simple syrup. Once it is as clear as glacier water and looks like molten glass, it’s ready. One of the (only) draw cards of Italian meringue is that there is no need to cook it, so you need the syrup to be terrifyingly hot to cook the egg whites. The heat also gives the egg fluff that little shock it needs to puff up nicely.

SAM_3361

I thought that was the final step; ready to lather over my perfect chocolate circle. Not the case. The meringue needs to be whipped until room temperature; by getting as much air into it as possible we get the fluffiest, smoothest result. This result is not achievable in less than 15 minutes, by which stage my arm was numb and my kitchen was covered in pale flecks of meringue from each time I lost control of the beater.

What an ordeal. And after all of my struggle, I realised that I had far too much meringue – out of fear of having too little, I doubled the recipe. Isn’t it always the way?

SAM_3374

Luckily for me, it freezes well and coincidently makes a great base for sorbet… watch this space!

today i made a cake

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I get this burning desire to bake a cake. And that is what happened today.

I enjoy eating cake as much as the next person, probably more. Even though I am completely adequate at making them myself, my experimentations don’t always work out. I don’t think they even equate to failure, more often I would describe it as a lack of success. Delicious as it was, my latest cake lacked the finesse and technical completion that I was ideally after.

SAM_3307

Oftentimes my cake’s shortcomings occur because of my lack of discipline with my measuring cups, but this time it was a prime example of my ideas not being totally thought through from the get-go. I was trying to get creative with the simple concept of a Victoria sponge cake. Fluffy clouds of sunshine yellow batter cut in half by a thick layer of sweet cream and crimson strawberry jam, elegantly topped off with a dusting of icing sugar. What could be better?! I thought my idea was going to be better; I wanted to replace the layer of cream with a layer of meringue.

I hate cutting a cake in half to add the centre; I brilliantly decided to bake the meringue in between two layers of cake batter and safe myself some time.

Here’s how it played out.

The whole event was a bit of a trial – to begin with I couldn’t find my electric beater. Even though sponge is so light and fluffy when its cooked, the batter is unusually dense and I had a very difficult time incorporating the butter into the sugar and flour with an old-fashioned beater – a task similar to mixing cement with a wooden spoon. I fought back tears and curse words, and gave up at least twice before I was ‘happy’ with the batter. And then I moved on to the meringue with as much positivity as I could muster.

SAM_3309

I love making meringue, even when I have to use a hand-held beater; I love watching the egg whites fluff up and adding the sugar teaspoon by teaspoon makes it seem like there isn’t that much sugar going into it. As I added the final dash of sugar and a whisper of vanilla, a new sense of optimism had been whipped into me. That feeling didn’t last long.

SAM_3312

After smearing the bottom of my cake tin with half of the sponge batter, I topped it with the meringue and dotted it with flecks of blood-red jam. It was at this precise moment, as I stood there admiring the how smooth and plump my meringue layer was, that I put two and two together – I was about to cover my meringue, silky and light, with this thick and heavy cake mix.

Gravity is a thing that we have known about for centuries; what goes up must come down and all that jazz. Like a multi-coloured cocktail, a heavier substance will sink to the bottom of a lighter one. I almost lost it as I watched the top layer of cake getting swallowed up into a pure white sea of sugar. I baked it anyway.

SAM_3313

It was edible, it was delicious, it was not at all what I had wanted to create. The base was light and spongey, bright yellow from all of the egg yolks that I had used and the top was sweet and crunchy. It was kind of like a spongey, jammy version of my meringue cake, funny that!

SAM_3316

Even though the main event was a bit of a fail, each component worked relatively well, here are the recipes I used:
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 cup of diced, slightly warmer than room-temperature butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 egg whites and 1/2 of a cup of sugar made more than enough meringue. Because of the meringue, the cooking time was longer than a usual sponge – 40 minutes at 170°C as opposed to 20 minutes normally.

nostalgia moment: slutty brownie

I know I have been a little bit slack on my ‘Will Write for Food’ posts recently, I haven posted anything since the beginning of Blogging 201 but I am back, with a vengeance, and some nostalgic culinary anecdotes.

“Maybe you didn’t flush meringue down the toilet, but surely you have some stories about food that readers would enjoy.”

Using this statement as a springboard, the ideas that come to mind are endless, some of which are too embarrassing or ridiculous to mention – I want to maintain a certain level of dignity, providing hilarity is important, but dignity is paramount. However, one particular failure stands out above the rest, a failure of quite epic proportions. Everyone who doesn’t currently live under a rock has heard of Slutty Brownie, but for anyone not so familiar, let me enlighten you; a layer of cookie dough, a layer of Oreos and a layer of chocolate brownie. Gooey goodness dripping with naughtiness.

“oh so easy, and more than a little bit filthy”

It sounds rather straightforward, doesn’t it? Rosie uses one box of cookie dough mixture, a couple of boxes of Oreos and a box of brownie batter. All you need to do is add a couple of eggs. A student at the time, I decided to make my own batters – more economic than buying the boxes of mixture, and you know what’s actually going into it. So that’s what I did.

Worst mistake ever.

I don’t know what to blame; the variation in density, the quantities I used, maybe a slight difference in ingredients or just my dumb luck. The air in our tiny flat was dense with  chocolaty aromas and the scent of burning sugar, the minutes ticked by, and with our noses but an inch from the oven’s blackened door, we deemed the brownie done. It seemed like it took hours to cool, when in reality it was really only 15 minutes. I tapped the top, noting the satisfying crunch but because of the layer of cookies inside, I couldn’t get a knife the whole way in to test the baked-ness of the cookie dough.

I held the bottom of the tray steady, Flatmate 1 and 2 slowly guided the outside of the tin down while Flatmate 3 watched in glee and excitement. A look that quickly turned to horror as liquid cookie dough rushed in every direction possible. The result was what I can only describe as the most liberal interpretation of Eton Mess you can imagine, and floors, arms and faces smeared with raw cookie dough. Delicious, yet disastrous. Flatmate 4 did not seem amused when she emerged from her room to four messy grownups eating the mixture straight out of the mixing bowl, licking our spoons with the joy of children who are given pudding before dinner.

I still have never built up the courage to try making Slutty Brownie again, I prefer to keep the three elements separate when possible.

banana almond muffin pudding

The heart wants what it wants, and so does the stomach. During winter I don’t give strawberries a second thought but I could eat them any day of the week when they are in season. But there are some foods that you can’t help but crave – regardless of the season and once your head starts asking for it, your stomach won’t stop needing it until it is satisfied. The other day, despite the humidity, I decided that I needed bread pudding.

SAM_3227

Maybe it was the little bout of rain we had last week that make we want to curl up on the couch with a nice, steaming bowl of pudding. I am not one to ever deprive my stomach of what it wants – it really is the force that drives, and controls me, so I made this little variation of a traditional bread pudding.

I am not a huge stickler for sticking too close to a traditional recipe; if you can change it to make it better – do it! While a bread pudding usually uses bread (as per the name), I have seen it made with brioche and croissants so I don’t think anyone is going to be too scandalised by the fact that I made mine with muffins.

SAM_3219

To begin, break or cut three large and slightly stale muffins into eight chunks each. You could use three croissants or pain-au-chocolat instead of muffins, or six slices of white bread. The muffins I used were banana and almond flavoured which I knew would give the pudding a lovely moreish flavour and it also meant that I wasn’t going to have to add much else to make it delicious – the work was already done for me!

Place the muffin pieces into a baking dish and set aside. In a recipe using just bread, pouring a little melted butter over top of the bread chucks is recommended, but these muffins were practically bleeding butter so I decided to skip this step for time’s sake.

For each muffin that you use (or for each two slices of bread) whisk one egg, a ¼ cup of sugar and a ½ cup of milk with a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon. This is essentially going to form he custard that the bread absorbs.

SAM_3221

“Custard-soaked bread” is not a description that does this dish any justice, so we need to make it a little more exciting. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of dried fruit or chocolate drops over the bread and pour over the custard mixture. You could use raisins, pistachio nuts or even cubes of apple. As I mentioned, my muffins already had banana in them and were topped with almond slithers, but I topped mine with fresh slices of banana and a few dried cranberries for a little colour.

SAM_3223

Bake your assembled pudding at 175°C for 45minutes until crisp and golden on top.

A nice crunch on top, and an oozy warmth in the centre; folds of bread filled with bursts of custard – just what the doctor ordered! And by doctor, I mean my stomach. Enjoy piping hot while staring out the window as the rain runs down the window, like tears at the realisation that summer will eventually finish, or refrigerate overnight to enjoy as a cooling treat in the midday heat. Or eat the leftovers for breakfast. I did, and trust me, your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds surely will!

SAM_3226

wanted: blogging buddy

Like the task from the other day, today’s task is about growing your blogging network. On day 7 we focused on widening our horizons on who reads our blogs and today we are looking at growing that network in regards to who we are writing with, rather than writing for. Which brings me back to what I’m looking for: a blogging buddy.

I think it is important to have a network of people following your blog who know you in real life, seeing a friend and being told that they loved that post you did on chocolate, or the quote you posted was really funny, is thrilling. As much as I love the blogging community, nothing beats a little face-to-face interaction! I also find it so helpful to have friends who are contributing to the blogging world at the same time as you; being able to talk about things that you are planning on writing about and when your next post is coming out is a really great motivator.

SAM_2637

And then there is taking it to the next level; a blog contributor. Deciding to have someone writing on your blog, on your baby, is a big step, albeit a relatively easy one in comparison to the tasks that come next. How do you decide what kind of blogger you want to feature? How do you find them? How do you build up the courage to ask them? Memories of shy 12-year old you, too shy to ask someone out, so getting your friend to do it for you flood back. Oh, the adolescent agony and uncertainty!

What should you look for in a blog contributor? It is obvious that you need to choose someone who shares some vague common interests with you; after all, you want your readers to want to read it. But they have to be different enough to make it interesting, or what is the point of their contribution – you could have just written it yourself?

I have been pondering all morning about variations of things I like to talk about that I think my followers would still enjoy in hope of creating the draft of my idea blog contributor.

SAM_0701

Travel
Slightly budgeted and slightly off the beaten track à either extreme; really budgeted and off the radar, or something unimaginably luxurious!

Food
European, Middle Eastern, chocolate, experimenting on classics à Asian, South American, Health-focused or a variation on any of the current food fads

Culture
I don’t often post about culture as a whole, while I do try and integrate aspects of it into other things I do, I don’t find it particularly easy to write about on its own, I would love to include someone who has some great things to say about it!

I suppose looking for a blogging buddy isn’t going to be the worst job in the world; I can spend hour upon hour browsing interesting topics and claim its ‘research’!