Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pflaumenkuchen

Pflaumenkuchen

Each year in Germany, when plums come into season, bakery counters are awash with Pflaumenkuchen (literally: "plum cake"). In some places they're known as Zwetschgenkuchen, or Zwetschgendatschi, and I'm sure there are other regional names that I haven't heard of yet. They make them in small individual serves, like a danish, or in huge slabs or circles to buy home and share. Sometimes they're sprinkled with sugar, or covered in a Streusel (crumble) mixture. At their most basic, however, Pflaumenkuchen are a sweetened yeasted dough, topped with slices of fresh plums. Boom boom. They're sturdy and plain and delicious, perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack, with a nice cup of Kaffee, or even a little Schlagsahne (whipped cream).

We bought a big box of plums at the Boroondara Farmers Market last weekend, and couldn't think of a better use for them than this classic recipe.

I used the same base dough as Nigella's kuchen recipe (there's an apple and blackberry kuchen in Nigella Bites; there are other kuchen-variations in How to be a Domestic Goddess, all with the same base), which is a yeasted dough enriched with cinnamon, sugar, egg, milk, butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest. I chose to keep it plain and simple - no glaze, no Streusel - just dough, plum slices and a little demerara sugar.

Ready for the oven

It smells incredible as it bakes! I love how the edges get crunchy and golden brown, whilst the middle is soft and pillowy.

Pflaumenkuchen

Pflaumenkuchen

Cut into slabs

I was super excited to wake up to Pflaumenkuchen for breakfast! They were best fresh out of the oven, but lasted really well. I thought they'd go stale quickly but they stayed fresh for the better part of the week. Dee-licious!

Breakfast!

Pflaumenkuchen
Base recipe from Nigella's Apple and Blackberry Kuchen

Ingredients
350 grams - 400 grams strong white bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50 grams caster sugar
3.5 grams dried yeast (half a packet)
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125 millilitres lukewarm milk
50 grams softened unsalted butter
4 large, ripe plums
2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Method
Place the 350 grams flour, salt, caster sugar and dried yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl or jug, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, lemon zest, cinnamon and lukewarm milk. (I usually heat the milk in the microwave for 20 seconds on high to warm it up).
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to form a dough, adding the extra 50 grams of flour if required. Add the butter, and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and glossy.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm, and allow to rise in a warm spot for an hour, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200C, and line a 20 x 30 centimetre baking tray with baking paper.
Punch the dough down to release the gas, and then press out into the prepared tray. Leave it to prove for 15-20 minutes.
Wash the plums and cut into sixths. Arrange the plum slices on the dough. Sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180C and bake for a further 20 minutes, until the dough is golden brown around the edges and cooked through.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing into generous slabs to serve.
I'm submitting this German recipe to Chris' "Bloggers Around the World" challenge from the Cooking Around The World blog. This month's theme is Germany! Yay!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Attica

Attica! I'm finally blogging our visit from September last year. Attica had never been on my personal wish list, however, my good friend Adri really wanted to go, so a few of us decided to take her there as a birthday gift!

Attica
74 Glen Eira Road
Ripponlea, VIC 3185
Ph: (03) 9530-0111
Website
Attica on Urbanspoon

Attica is one of Australia's most celebrated and awarded restaurants, and in 2014 was ranked 32nd on San Pellegrino's list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants. Here's the deal, Attica offers an eight-course degustation menu for $195 per person, with the option of matching wines at $115, or non-alcoholic juice matches for $65. I was driving that night - part of the gift to Adri was my services as a chauffeur - so I went for the juice matches, and ordered a citrus and bitters deluxe as my aperitif.

Citrus & Bitters Deluxe - $8

Sourdough with wattle seed, warm crusty awesome

Attica's sourdough was baked in-house, and had the addition of native wattle seeds. It was served warm, and had a nice crust. You can't go wrong with soft cultured butter and sea salt, but I was bowled over by the macadamia puree. This was a slightly grainy, nutty puree, with the addition of macadamia oil and crisp saltbush leaves.

Soft cultured butter, salt
Macadamia puree, macadamia oil, crisp saltbush leaves

Appetisers

Before we got stuck into the eight courses, we were given a selection of appetisers. To begin, a team of waitstaff brought around a tray of fresh honeycomb...

Honeycomb

...and spooned it into individual bowls over some fresh cheese.

Honeycomb with fresh cheese

Baby corn

I'm used to having canned baby corn in terrible Thai takeaway curries, so it was a real treat to have fresh baby corn. It was very fresh, very buttery and delicious.

Wallaby Pikelets with Davidsonia jam and beer cream

I knew that we'd be getting wallaby pikelets as part of the meal - my boss Andy had been to Attica earlier in the year to celebrate his wedding anniversary, and kept the recipe card for the Wallaby pikelets to give to me.

The vegetarian alternative for the wallaby pikelets was this beautifully presented walnut cream.

Walnut cream

Broadbean Flowers on Yogurt

I love broadbeans, but had never seen their flowers before. How pretty!

And then we moved onto the "proper" courses. As per usual, I went for the standard menu, (as did most of us on the table), whilst seafood-and-rare-meat-avoider Sandra did the vegetarian menu.


First Course
"Snow Crab and Sour Leaves"
Juice match: White Grapefruit

Snow crab and sour leaves

Snow crab and Sour leaves

I really liked this course, with its perfect crab threads and crunchy kernels of roast buckwheat. The vegetarian version (not pictured as it looked very similar), was cauliflower and sorrel.


Second Course
"Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya"
Juice match: Tomato and Verjus

Tomato and Verjus juice

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

The kangaroo dish was also very impressive - it had a very distinctive taste, quite like Chinese fermented bean paste, with soft raw squares of kangaroo. The vegetarian version of this dish was called: "Carrots, Ground Berries and Bunya Bunya" with soft melty eggplant in place of the kangaroo. 


Third Course
"Minted Potato, Medium Rare"
Juice match: Pumpkin and Dark Wattleseed

Pumpkin and Wattleseed

Minted Potato, Medium Rare

The potato was intentionally cooked "medium rare", and was quite firm. I think most of us on the table would have preferred a more traditionally cooked soft potato, but the sauce - a mixture of butter, cheese, and mint - was fantastic! The sweet earthiness of the pumpkin juice matched the potato well.


Fourth Course
"142 Days on Earth"
Juice match: Beetroot and Alpine Pepper

Beetroot and Alpine Pepper

The fourth course was called "142 days on earth", which refers to the age of the cabbage. This makes me wonder if Attica have a garden somewhere with rows and rows of cabbages, each planted one day after the other, so that they can be harvested on the 142nd day in time for the dinner service...

At any rate, the dish was presented very impressively. Large red cabbages were brought around, each housing small wedges of braised cabbage, which were individually served up to each diner, and smothered in a spicy sauce.

Red cabbage, sauces

Emu

The omnivores received emu meat, in a spicy Thai-style broth (I think I detected a hint of lemongrass), whilst the vegetarian version was made with butter beans.

Butter beans

Fifth Course
King George Whiting in Paperbark
Juice match: Cold-Smoked Granny Smith Apple

Cold-Smoked Granny Smith Apple

The fifth course was my favourite of the night - King George whiting served in paperbark. The smoky flavour from the paperbark was echoed in the matching cold-smoked granny smith apple juice. Others at the table thought the apple juice was overly smoky (it was a very strong smoky flavour), but I really liked it.

King George Whiting in Paperbark

King George Whiting in Paperbark

At first I thought the whiting was covered in garlic, but it was actually finely chopped pearl oyster meat. Delicious.

The vegetarian dish for this course was quite different from the omnivore dish: toasted wild mustards with corn broth. The broth had a pure corn flavour, with a mild spiciness from the various mustard leaves.

Toasted Wild Mustards with Corn Broth

Sixth Course
Pork, Rotten Corn and Lemon Aspen
Juice: Sweet fennel

Pork, Rotten Corn and Lemon Aspen

The sixth course was perhaps the most conventional course of the evening, but no less enjoyable for that - pork loin, with corn sauce and broad bean leaves. The pork tasted, to me, like kassler (i.e. bacon steak), and whilst the "rotten corn" sauce had an intimidating name, it had a mild taste. The juice match, however, just did not work for me. I found the sweet fennel juice very aniseedy, and I found that the strong flavour overpowered this dish.

The vegetarian course here was called "Ella's Mushrooms", inspired by Chef Ben Shewry and his daughter Ella's mushroom foraging expeditions. I'm sure there were other mushrooms in there too, but I remember it contained raw button and pine mushrooms, with a little baby thyme.

Ella's Mushrooms

After this, we were led out into the garden for a little break, where we got to see the kitchen garden. were given billy tea (apple tea, I believe, brewed with salt), and "Anzac biscuits", which were delicious little marshmallows with pieces of Anzac biscuit inside. It was nice to have a diversion from all the sitting and eating!

Billy tea!

Anzac Biscuits

Billy tea

Seventh Course
"Pears and Maidenii"
Juice: Beurre Bosc Pear and Ginger

Pears and Maidenii

The first dessert was a pear and Maidenii ice-cream, with pretty petals and miniature pears on top. (That's right, miniature pears! How cuuuute!) I'd never heard of Maidenii before, but I've since learned that it is a type of fortified vermouth. The ice-cream was made with liquid nitrogen (you could see the dessert kitchen from where we were sitting), and was incredibly cold and smooth! I enjoyed this course a lot.


Eighth Course
The Industrious Beet
Juice: Slightly Bitter Orange and Mandarin

The name of the second dessert, "The Industrious Beet", doesn't refer to beetroot, but rather sugar beet, a plant whose root contains a high concentration of sucrose and is grown commercially to produce sugar. 

The Industrious Beet

This dessert comprised Italian meringue, whipped cream, mandarin sorbet, compressed apple, dehydrated mandarin segments and a mandarin sauce - kind of like a very high end Eton mess.

The Industrious Beet with Mandarin Sauce

I enjoyed the different flavours in this dish, especially the freshness of the compressed apple and the zingy mandarin sauce.


Petit Four
Pukeko Eggs

Both desserts were on the sour side, and we were craving some sweetness to signify an end to the meal. These white chocolate eggs, filled with salted caramel, were just perfect.

Pukeko Eggs

And that was our meal at Attica! The service was attentive and efficient, if a little formal. I thought that the food, on the whole, was excellent, with a lot of different flavours, colours and textures going on. The juice matches were a nice idea, and I think it's great that something interesting is offered for non-drinkers, but many just did not work for us. I also found that the dominant flavour in many of the dishes was sour, and with all the sour juices it ended up being quite an acidic meal overall.

Importantly, Adri enjoyed her birthday dinner! A lot of my friends have asked me if I thought the meal was worth it - $195 per person is not cheap - and my answer to that is yes. It was clear that a lot of work had gone into the dishes and the menu, and as a customer, it was fun to see the menu unfold as the evening went on. I hadn't read a lot about Attica's menu before this dinner, and found the progression of dishes inventive and delightful.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Espresso Martinis

Espresso Martini, Tiramisu

Ta-dah! Espresso martinis! When I made the tiramisu, I remembered just how much I love the combination of rich coffee and alcohol, so I thought... why not whip up some espresso martinis to go with? We had all the ingredients anyway, and I don't really need an excuse for caffeinated alcoholic deliciousness. Here's the recipe - super easy! Enjoy.

Espresso Martini
Sarah's version of a classic recipe

Ingredients
30 millilitres espresso
30 millilitres vodka
30 millilitres Kahlua

Method
Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a coffee bean or a dusting of cocoa powder to serve.
Serves 1
And while we're here, I thought I might take the opportunity to trawl through my backlog of photos and share some photos of espresso martinis I've had over the past couple of years. I like having them if I'm going out on a Friday night after work for a little pick-me-up. Yay!

Espresso Martini - vodka, coffee & kahlua
The Bottom End, November 2012

The Vodka Pour Over - Belvedere vodka, single estate coffee
The Lui Bar, February 2013

The Vodka Pour Over - Belvedere vodka, single estate coffee
The Lui Bar, February 2013

Gentleman’s Espresso - Single barrel Tennesse whiskey, five spice syrup and fresh espresso - $18
Spice Temple, January 2013

After Midday Espresso - Vodka, chocolate liqueur, Kahlua, cold drip espresso - $19
Charlie Dumpling, February 2014

Espresso Martini
No. 8 by John Lawson, April 2014

Martini al caffe - freshly brewed espresso coffee, vodka and kahlua - $16
Tutto Bene, March 2015

Espresso Martinis (and an Aperol Spritz)
Heart Attack and Vine, March 2015

Espresso Flip - garnished with BellaVitano Espresso Cheese - $18
Milk the Cow, March 2015