Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Donna Hay's Caramel Sponge Cake

Light and fluffy sponge cake, mounds of whipped cream, and generous drizzles of caramel sauce. Evil, pure evil. That is how my boss described the caramel-sponge cake that I made for our office bake-off, to raise money for Jeans for Genes.

Prior to the day, I wasn't sure what to make and bring. I didn't want to go for anything too common, like a standard Swiss roll or carrot cake. (I'm glad I didn't, as other people brought them!) Having said that, I didn't want to make anything too weird and challenging.

In the end I chose a recipe I'd had my eye on for a while, but never tried - Donna Hay's caramel sponge cake recipe, from Modern Classics 2. It ticked all the boxes - cheap and quick to make, a little different, but not inaccessibly so. I never used to be good with whipped sponge cakes, but buoyed by the success of my recent Swiss roll, I thought it'd be alright.

The cake is a very simple sponge - just whipped eggs and sugar, with flour and melted butter folded through. The volume decreased a little as I folded the flour in, but it didn't seem to affect the finished product too much. I must say it smelled a little eggy after being baked, but I had a sneaky taste test (scooped some out of the middle with a teaspoon), and it tasted like normal cake. Next time I might use some vanilla extract to counter the egginess.

While the cakes were cooling, we went out and watched I Love You Phillip Morris at the MIFF. It was awesome - mega-love for Rodrigo Santoro and Ewan MacGregor! I assembled the cake after we came home. (See, this is why I needed a cake that could be made quickly!)

The caramel sauce itself is very easy, no scary spluttering sugar required. It's just cream and brown sugar...

...which you simmer rapidly for 8 minutes until well mixed and thickened slightly. (It thickens more as it cools). I used light muscovado sugar, as that was all that I had, and I think it gave the finished product a nice, deep caramel flavour.

Pardon me while I do a few (dozen) taste tests!

Then I had to whip the cream. I was in a mad rush, as it was already midnight by this stage, and I still hadn't packed my bag for the next day or cleaned anything up, and in the distraction I, er... whipped the cream quite a bit more than I normally do. Oops.

Super-stiff (heh).

I was scared it had turned to butter, but I tested it and it seemed fine. Just. (Do we see a theme here?) This was lucky, as it was 12:30am and I didn't have any more cream. Phew!

Anyhoo... assembling the cake is easy, as it looks better a little messy. I think you're aiming for the "billowing clouds" look with the cream, and the "Jackson Pollock" look with the caramel.

Layer 1

Repeat with the next sponge cake, and you are done!

The next day, I carried it on the tram all the way to work, and luckily, it arrived unharmed. We had about 15 cakes all up, and mine came 2nd and was auctioned for $40. Yay! My boss (who judged the bake-off) described the cake as pure evil. It tastes all light and fluffy, but definitely packs a mega calorific-bomb. I recommend small slices, if you can restrain yourself! I think of this cake as an easy crowd-pleaser.

And yes, that means that someone actually beat me in a bake-off! Yeah, I was shocked too. (Just kidding!!)

Don't forget to enter the draw to win your very own Panasonic Lumix TZ10! Just leave a comment on my post here. The competition closes this Friday!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

From the pantry...

When I made Nigella's double potato and halloumi bake, I mentioned that I hadn't been cooking at home enough. (Excuses, excuses!) That frustration resulted in me searching through the kitchen to see what ingredients we actually had in the pantry...

In the freezer...

And on the shelfy thing that lives between the stove and the fridge.

And boy, I have accumulated a lot of food in the few short months I've been here! Rice, pasta, curry pastes, oils, packet-fixes, frozen veggies and other leftovers. After this, I made a big effort to actually cook at home, using up ingredients we already had. I'm happy to say the following meals were the result!

Rindfleischtopf mit Rotwein

This dinner, from my Dr. Oetker Eintopf (one-pot) recipe book, was a deliciously soupy beef stew, with a lot of red wine added. The red wine in question was the cheap red wine which we'd bought for Glühwein.

For the last 20 minutes or so, I chucked in a few handfuls of short tube pasta which had been in my pantry for months.

These little circles of pasta cooked in the stew, absorbing all the delicious beefy, winey flavours.

Delicious! A bowl of this with a DVD of Mad Men is a great night in!

Frikadellen with Sweet Potato Chips

This wasn't quite as glamorous as the red wine stew, but it was a nice and easy little dinner nonetheless. I took the Frikadellen out of the freezer, and chucked them in the oven with some McCain Sweet Potato Superfries that a nice PR lady sent me a while back. The Frikadellen are, well, better when freshly cooked, but I quite liked the superfries - I think of them like roast sweet potatoes, but without the peeling and chopping.

Chicken Tikka Masala with Pilaf and Cucumber Raita

Shortly after I bought Jamie's Ministry of Food, which has a whole chapter devoted to make-at-home curries, I went out and bought a bunch of curry pastes, thinking that freshly made curries would be a great weeknight dinner. That, of course, was some months ago, and with the pastes rapidly approaching their use-by date, I thought I'd better get cracking!

The first curry I made was chicken tikka masala, (Patak's brand) made even more aromatic by the addition of onions, coriander root and chilli.

Very inauthentically (even considering that chicken tikka masala is an inauthentic dish itself), we added carrots and cauliflower for a higher veggie content.

Jamie's recipe makes a huge amount - even though I halved his recipe (which serves 4), there was way too much for the 2 of us! But leftovers were good the next day!

To go with, I made a pilaf (just plain rice, with stock, spices, nuts and onions), and a cucumber raita.

Roast Chicken "Tikka Masala" with Muttar Halloumi

Another Indian style meal, this one to use up the remainder of the tikka masala curry paste. Rather than making a curry again, I mixed the paste with natural yoghurt and used it to marinate a chicken. (Wear gloves! Marinating a raw chicken in hot curry paste is an unpleasant task!) I let it sit in the fridge overnight, and I put it in the oven as soon as I got home from work the next day. While it was cooking, I made a muttar paneer, but with halloumi instead of paneer. (I'd luckily found some cheap halloumi at the market and thought this might be a nice way to use it). I hadn't made muttar paneer in over 5 years (see here for proof!) but now I'm thinking I really should make it more often! It's delicious.

The chicken was a little brown coming out of the oven due to the marinade, but didn't taste burnt at all. In fact, it was lovely and juicy thanks to the yoghurt! There were heaps of delicious pan juices too.


And finally, the madeleines you see at the top of this post. I can't really say that making these helped to clear out my pantry, but they certainly are a storecupboard recipe. Flour, butter, baking powder, vanilla, honey, sugar... and that's about it! The Roux Brothers' recipe doesn't even need an electric mixer, just some light folding with a spatula. 15 minutes of easy work and 6 minutes in the oven (and an hour of resting time in bewteen if you can be bothered) and you have a tray of delicious, light, fragrant cakelets.

What foods do you have lurking in your pantry?

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This post is sponsored by Nuffnang.

Federation Square
Cnr Flinders & Swanston St
Melbourne 3000
Ph: (03) 9663-9900

When I was approached by the folks from Nuffnang to visit Arintji, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I used to visit Federation Square quite often when it first opened, for drinks, cultural festivals and meals. That was 8 years ago, however - and just typing that makes me feel so very old! These days, apart from the odd film festival or exhibition, I don't find myself down at Fed Square too often, and haven't been keeping up with the changes. I think this may have been a good thing, as I didn't come to the restaurant with any preconceptions of what it should be like.

We visited Arintji last week on Friday evening. After an extremely gruelling week, (which involved heaps of late-night meetings), you can't imagine how happy I was to cast off the shackles, and step into the warm and welcoming restaurant. Over the night, it was pleasantly busy, without being noisy or overcrowded.

We began the evening with a couple of drinks as we perused the menu. Sparkling for me (of course)...
Grant Burge “Blanc de Noirs” - $12

And a sweet wine for Sandra (of course).

Margan Botrytis Semillon - $10

The wine list is reasonably extensive and well priced, with a strong focus on Australian and New Zealand wines. The majority of bottles cost between $50 - $70, with a couple of premium wines at over $100. Importantly, they offer a good selection of wines by the glass! Perfect for me, as I would struggle to finish a whole bottle of wine over dinner, and I like to try different ones.

The menu is designed for sharing, and is divided into 3 sections: Food with Drinks, Food with Friends, and Food for After. I'll go through each of these sections in turn.

The items under Food for Drinks are priced from $3 (for a single oyster) to $8.50 for a more substantial eat, and include items such as grilled chorizo, salt cod fritters with saffron aioli and a gorgonzola and leek tart.

To start, we ordered a beef burger and some duck-liver parfait. The parfait was actually from a separate specials menu. I hope it stays on for a while, because I quite enjoyed it!

The beef burger was a cute little patty, wodged between soft buns, with lettuce, cheese and relish.
Beef burger, tomato relish, cheese and caramelised onion - $8.50

Duck liver parfait with toasted brioche condiments - $9.50

I thought the little jenga-tower of brioche sticks was very cute, although there was way too much parfait for them to accomodate. The condiments on the side were little cornichons, mustard fruits, and an apple-and-pear chutney. I particularly liked the sweetness of that chutney against the creamy and smooth parfait.

Food with Friends - These meals are entrée sized and designed to be shared. You can choose any 2 items for $35, or 3 for $50. Between 2 of us, we ordered 2 items, which I felt was a good amount. Your own appetite may be more or less voracious than mine.

This part of the menu is quite varied, with items such as smoked duck breast, pickled cherries, sweet potato and frisee; chicken wings with spiced salt, chilli and mint; and terrine of wild and farmed mushrooms with braised shallots. I think we played it quite safe, with a steak and some stuffed calamari.

Grain fed Angus, green beans and roast garlic butter

This was a good steak, tastily charred on the outside, and quite tender, even though we had it well-done. (Sandra's request, not mine!) The accompanying beans were crispy and fresh.

Stuffed calamari, preserved lemon and currants

The 3 little calamari were stuffed with a soupy rice mixture - somewhere between a risotto and congee - and was studded with sharp preserved lemon and sweet currants. Whilst the calamari were fresh and well-cooked, I found the stuffing very salty for my taste. I much preferred the steak!

Sides are priced separately, and based on what we ordered, I'd definitely recommend getting a side with your meal.

Rocket, radicchio and grana salad - $8

This salad is a classic combo, and I found it a nice refreshing counterpoint to the richer food we'd eaten. I also liked that the radicchio had been shredded finely, so that its bitterness was not overpowering.

Fries - $6

Fries were crispy, hot and fried in fresh oil! I know it seems odd to critique French fries, but so many places get it wrong! And it is so disappointing when you get a bowl of poorly cooked chips. These, however, were fantastic.

A little rest... and then it was on to dessert, or as they call it at Arintji, Food for After. Much like the Food with Friends, the desserts are designed for sharing. You can get a choice of 2 for $15, or 4 for $28. Again, I'd go for 2 desserts between 2 people, but the 2 ladies sitting next to us shared 4 between them. Well done!

English Breakfast Tea

Tart of milk chocolate and coffee ice-cream

When I saw "milk chocolate" on the menu, I just had to order the tart. I don't quite understand why foodies go crazy for very dark chocolate, when milk chocolate just tastes so good! The scoop of coffee ice-cream slid off the tart as it was placed on our table, but tasted no less delicious for it. The tart was made of a short and crumbly pastry, filled with a rich milk-chocolate ganache. Quite intense on its own, but the strong coffee ice-cream really cut through the richness.

Vanilla Brulee, Shortbread Cookies

The brûlée was covered with a thin and crispy sugar topping, revealing a creamy, vanilla-flecked custard below. A good version of a ubiquitous dessert. Being an absolute biscuit-fiend, I loved the addition of shortbread cookies!

We had a lovely time at Arintji, and given its central location, it would make a great spot for after-work drinks, a pre-theatre dinner, or even a mid-week meal. Based on what we had, the sharing items under Food with Friends can vary a lot in size, so value-for-money would really depend on what you order. The food is, overall, well executed without being too adventurous, which I think is important for a menu that is designed to be shared amongst a group.

Giveaway: Arintji has offered a $75 meal voucher to give away to one of my readers. To enter the draw, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post, answering the question: "If you could share a meal at Arintji with anyone in the world, who would it be?"

Please comment on this post by midnight on 9th September 2010 to enter. (Include your email address so I can contact you!). I will choose the winner based on the most creative response, and will announce the winner on my blog on the 10th September. My decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into! Good luck, guys!

Sarah and Sandra dined as guests of Arintji.

Arintji on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hünchensuppe mit Markklöβchen

Or... chicken soup with bone marrow dumplings.

Did you get caught in the incredible rain outside today? It is totally chicken soup weather! You may remember my "chicken soup with semolina dumplings" post, and indeed it was delicious, but this version is the one we eat most often at home. The marrow dumplings are ordinary German bread dumplings, with melted beef marrow as the delicious binding agent. (I daresay it's better than butter - a big call, I know!)

Beef marrow bones are pretty cheap, but not available everywhere, so it makes sense to buy a lot when you see them, dig the delicious marrow out of the bones and stash them in the freezer. I think I have 2 mini zip-lock bags full at the moment! (We make this soup all the time).

This is an original recipe - not my original recipe, I must add - it was handed down from a German grandma who never writes her recipes down. As it's an original, unpublished recipe, I'd normally publish it in full, including weights and measurements, but it's really not that kind of dish. You just have to go by feel.

First, you make a mixture of breadcrumbs, a few spoons of flour, an egg, salt, pepper, nutmeg, chopped chives and parsley.

Then, you soak a white bread roll in water for a few minutes until softened. Then, squeeze out the excess water and add the squishy wet bread roll to the mixture. (Same technique as the Frikadellen!)

Heating the marrow in a pan until it melts like oil. Let it cool slightly before adding it to the previous mixture.

Stir it all together until amalgamated. If the mixture is very wet, add more breadcrumbs to help it hold its shape. (Apparently if you add too much it makes the final dumplings tough, so go easy!)

Now comes the fun part - shape it into little balls (heh). I suggest wearing gloves because the mixture is sticky!

Then it's just a matter of dropping them into boiling soup and letting them cook through. They'll be ready when they float to the surface, usually 1-2 minutes depending on the size. If you want to test (and I always want to test, hehe), then cut one open. It should look like, well, a dumpling! But for those of you not familiar with German dumplings, they should look fluffy on the inside, like dense bread.

Then you can turn off the heat, and start slurping! I love these dumplings! They have a delicious salty tang from the marrow, perked up by the fresh herbs. Perfect for colder weather, or when you need a comforting little boost to get you through the week.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Magnolia Bakery's Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies

The title says it all, really. I don't know why I chose to make these, over the zillions of breakfast buns, babkas and Gugelhupfs on my mental to-do list, but when my friend Kristine organised an impromptu going away party, brownies were the first thing that sprung to mind. I wanted to try a new recipe (not that I don't have a huge back-catalogue of brownies!), and these decadent, peanut-butter fudge brownies from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook fit the bill perfectly.

They have a shortbready base made of ground peanuts, sugar, butter and flour. I forgot to buy peanuts in my after-work trip to the supermarket, so I substituted with the macadamias I already had in the pantry.

The topping is a swirly combo of chocolate brownie mixture, and peanut butter swirl.

The peanut butter swirl has smooth peanut butter, egg, cream cheese and sugar...

Dolloping on the peanut butter...

... and swirling it in.

As soon as it comes out of the oven, you're supposed to dump peanut butter chips on top, but I'm not sure where we can get these here in Oz. I used milk chocolate chips.

I love the pretty swirls you get when you spread them out!

And there it is!

These were a slightly cakier brownie than what I'm used to; ordinarily I prefer a fudgier one. I also really liked the salty touch in the peanut butter swirl. I personally would have liked a thinner biscuit crust, but 2 of my foodie friends who tried them thought the biscuit base was the best part! Oh, and because it was a Magnolia recipe, I immediately halved the sugar - a winning move, as the final prduct was just the right sweetness.

We took half of them to work, and the remaining tray to Kristine's place. (There was also a Tyler Florence coleslaw, courtesy of Su, a delicious bacon and leek quiche, courtesy of Sophia, and some Crust pizza!) I didn't get to the party until 10:20 at night, thanks to a super-late work meeting. So glad my friends saved me some food!!

Edit: 21/09/2013. The recipe for these brownies can be found here.