Monday, April 27, 2020

Sémola con vino

April 2, 2020

I've been using these lock-down weeks to methodically work through the dessert recipes in the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and it has been a treat. This pudding from Linda is something I'd already had the good fortune to taste at a past Lab Culinary Competition. She explained that it's a typical Chilean dessert, with quantities chosen by eye and lots of flexibility as to how runny or firmly set you prepare each layer.

I proceeded with a little caution because I recalled this being a rich dessert. Since there's only two of us at home, I decided to quarter the quantity and serve it in cups rather than making an entire flan. I ended up wishing I'd made a little more. (The recipe below shows the regular quantity, and I'd estimate that it would make around 8 serves.)

The texture of this pudding is velvety smooth, and its flavour has a two-tone contrast of milky-mild semolina, steeped with cinnamon, up against a darkly fruity red wine sauce. I thought it looked pretty in individual glasses, and I think I'd choose this serving style again even if I was making enough for a larger group.

Sémola con vino
(a recipe shared by Linda in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 cup semolina
1 L full cream milk
500 mL red wine
3-4 tablespoons cornflour
sugar, to taste
cinnamon stick
~5 cloves
piece of orange or lemon peel

Choose your serving dish: you could use a flan dish, a baking tray or individual bowls or cups.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the cinnamon stick, adding a little sugar to taste. Bring the milk up to a simmer, then whisk in the semolina and stir it regularly. When the semolina has thickened, pour it into your serving dish(es) and allow it to set.

Pour the wine into a clean saucepan, leaving half a cup aside. Mix the cornflour into that half a cup, until there are no lumps left. Add the cloves, orange peel and a little sugar to the wine in the saucepan and bring it all to a simmer. Gradually stir in the cornflour, continuing to stir as the mixture thickens. Pour the wine over the semolina and allow it to set before serving. Eat within 3-4 days.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sweet yoghurt plait bread

March 29, 2020

A lot of folks in lock-down have been baking bread, and our local supermarket has been consistently cleared of yeast. We had a couple of sachets and some bread flour in reserve at home from our irregular pizza making, so I could go right ahead with my own autumn plan for sweet yoghurt plait bread.

This is yet another recipe from the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and it comes from my long-time colleague Victoria. The bread is really a lightly sweet bun, spiced with cinnamon, studded with dried figs and smothered in a thick lemon icing. With all the proving and plaiting it's a solid afternoon's work, but I was ready for it, even pulling out the heavy old mixmaster with the dough hook. 

I'm not sure that I've ever plaited dough before, but it was easier than I expected! Any imperfections are slightly magnified during proving, then hidden again by icing and slicing. The one slight alteration I made was to use a bit less lemon juice when icing the second loaf - I love the tanginess, but the extra liquid means that most of the icing runs off the bun.

The loaves are sticky stunners, both whole and sliced. I made sure to show off a piece in my workplace's weekly morning tea skype session.

Sweet yoghurt plait bread
(a recipe shared by Victoria in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to Jane Lawson's Spice Market)

650g white bread flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons (9g) instant dried yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
60g unsalted butter, chopped and at room temperature
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped

1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

3 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Set up an electric mixer with a bowl and dough hook, or a large bowl (with a wooden spoon and strong arms at the ready!). Stir together 600g of the flour with the cinnamon, yeast and salt.

Very gently heat the milk in a small saucepan to just barely more than lukewarm. Take it off the heat, then whisk in the eggs, yoghurt and honey. Pour this mixture into the flour bowl. If you're using a stand mixer, mix for 3 minutes at the lowest speed. Add the butter and figs, and mix for a further 10 minutes at medium speed, until you have a smooth and elastic dough (mine was very sticky, and I added a bit more flour). If you're mixing by hand, work through the ingredients in the same order and turn the dough onto a clean surface and knead it for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl and drop the dough into it, tossing it around to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place to rise for 1.5-2 hours, or until it has doubled in volume. Gently punch the dough and turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal-sized portions, and roll each one into a length of about 30cm. Plait together three lengths at a time to form two loaves, and tuck the ends underneath. Place the loaves on lightly greased baking trays, cover them with damp cloths, and allow them to rise for a further 30 minutes. Use this time to preheat an oven to 220°C.

Make the glaze by whisking together the egg and milk in a mug; brush it over the tops of the loaves. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for 20 minutes more. The bread should be golden on top. Allow the loaves to cool.

When the loaves are cool, whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice to form the icing. Drizzle it over the loaves and allow it to set before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


March 28, 2020

One of the terrific little surprises in my Lab Farewell Cookbook was that the compilers tracked down my friend and mentor Louisa for a recipe. Louisa and I were officemates over a decade ago, and we're still in touch even though neither of us has been employed in that office for years.

Louisa knows my tastes well, and shared a simple cookie recipe that's gluten-free and includes a vegan option. Louisa explained that Almendrados are a traditional Jewish recipe eaten during the Passover week. They're are made mostly from almonds and sugar, bound together with an egg (or potentially tofu!) and flavoured with lemon.

My one early COVID-lockdown panic-buy was a big bag of raw almonds, so I blanched some of them myself to make these cookies. (It's easy to do, but a bit tedious to pinch the skins off 2 cups of soggy almonds.) Since they don't contain any baking powder, these cookies don't puff up or spread at all during baking: whatever shape you form the dough in is roughly how they'll look.

They're crackly with sugar on the outside, tender in the centre, with a meringue-level sweetness but an almond-based chewiness. I found that the (not so Spanish!) lemon myrtle popped up in some mouthfuls more than others. These have been just the right little treat to nibble mid-afternoon, with a cup of tea, as we've been working from home.

(a recipe shared by Louisa in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

2 cups blanched almonds, plus ~30 extra to decorate
1 cup sugar
1 egg or 1/4 cup silken tofu
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground lemon myrtle

In a food processor, thoroughly grind the 2 cups of blanched almonds to a coarse powder. Add 3/4 cup sugar, egg/tofu, lemon zest and lemon myrtle, and pulse until a dough is formed. Cover the dough in a bowl and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray or two with paper.

Line up the dough bowl, a smaller bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and the lined trays. Take scant tablespoons of the dough, roll them into balls with your hands, and roll the balls in the sugar. Place the dough balls on the baking tray and press a whole almond into the top of each one.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to go golden and are still soft on the inside.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


March 7, 2020

It's a long time since I've tried my hand at any South Asian desserts, and I welcomed the chance to learn about rosmalai. My colleague Anwar included this recipe in the Lab Farewell Cookbook, and explained to me that this style of rosmalai preparation is specific to the Cumilla district of Bangladesh. It is a recipe for the dairy lovers; made with large quantities of milk powder and fresh milk, sweetened with plenty of sugar and spiced distinctively with cardamom.

The milk powder-based dumplings were not difficult to make, but I should probably have spent a little more time kneading their dough before I dropped them into the sweetened warm milk. Anwar explained that the aim is for smooth, shiny dough that just barely holds together into small balls. 

I couldn't believe how quickly they expanded into spongey dumplings! There's abundant extra milk to serve them with, and they're very comforting both served warm on the spot, and cooled as leftovers. Based on Anwar's photos, it looks like rosmalai are usually garnished with pistachios and almonds. I didn't have any on hand and brightened up my serve with a little candied citrus peel instead.

(a recipe shared by Anwar in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups milk powder
1 teaspoon plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ghee
6-7 cardamom pods
1.5L milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
salt, to taste

In a medium-large bowl, mix together 1 cup of the milk powder, the flour, baking powder and ground cardamom. (Consider adding a pinch of salt in future.) Mix through the ghee (I used a fork to distribute it through the dry ingredients).

Crush the cardamom pods. In a large saucepan over low heat, stir together 1L of the milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the cardamom pods. Stir it to dissolve the sugar and leave it on a low, warm setting while you prepare the dough.

Thoroughly beat the egg, and add half of it to the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir the egg through, and continue adding more as needed to form a dough. Gently knead the dough. Take generous teaspoonfuls of the dough, roll them into balls and drop the balls into the saucepan of milk. When they're all in, cover the saucepan and let the dumplings cook on that low heat for about 10 minutes. They'll triple in size, look spongy, and float.

While the dumplings are cooking, get out a second saucepan and heat together the remaining 1/2 cup milk powder, 500mL milk and 1/4 cup sugar, until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat.

When the dumplings are cooked, pour in the second saucepan of sweet milk. Allow everything to cool down before served. I garnished mine with a little candied citrus peel, but I'd use pistachios or flaked almonds if I had them on hand.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Gazpacho & Tortilla Española

March 1, 2020

My Spanish colleagues kindly contributed a couple of traditional recipes to The Lab Cookbook, and I made them both on a Sunday afternoon. Guru & José shared their method for making a Spanish tortilla, while Esti and Luis illustrated a recipe for gazpacho. 

I was especially keen to try the gazpacho while the weather was warm and tomatoes were in season. The method is easy: simply blend everything together and strain it! My strained soup was silky-smooth, but I'd also be tempted to make this unstrained in the future (the prep would be even easier and feel a smidge less wasteful). It was so summery and refreshing, with the flavours of capsicum and cucumber complementing the principal tomato.

The Spanish tortilla seemed like a suitable side dish to add a bit of heft to our meal. The ingredients are short and simple - potatoes, onion, eggs, olive oil - but it takes time (and a lot of olive oil!) to cook the potatoes and then some care to form the omelette. I cooked the potatoes and onion in advance to minimise dinner-time stress, and we heartily enjoyed the result: it's dense, rich, works well both warm and at room temperature, and it extends to several meals.

Both recipes used simple ingredients, yet challenged me to take on new approaches in my kitchen that I wouldn't have otherwise. Better yet, there's a high chance I'll revisit both.

Tortilla Española
(a recipe shared by Guru & José in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 kg potatoes
1 onion
5 eggs
salt, to taste
extra-virgin olive oil (lots!)

Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly; peel and roughly chop the onion.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a frypan over moderate heat; you need enough to completely cover the potatoes. Fry the potatoes and onions until the potatoes are tender (I did mine in a small cast-iron pan in several batches). Strain the oil from the potatoes and onion, and place the potatoes and onion in a large bowl. (I strained and reserved the oil for future cooking.)

Thoroughly beat the eggs, then pour them over the potatoes and onion. Add salt, and gently stir everything together.

Heat a little oil in a small pan, and tip in the omelette mixture. Cook it over a moderate heat, using a spatula to shape the omelette into a thick cake. When the base is very well cooked, invert the omelette onto a dinner plate and slide it back into the pan to cook on the other side. You can invert it again a couple more times - if it's not too delicate, this might help with the shaping.

Slide the omelette onto a plate to serve warm, or at room temperature.

(a recipe shared by Esti & Luis in the Lab Farewell Cookbook)

1 kg tomatoes
1 green capsicum
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic
50mL olive oil
50g bread
1 cup water
30mL balsamic vinegar

Roughly chop the tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber and garlic and place them in a blender. Pour in the remaining ingredients and blend until as smooth as possible. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Serve the liquid gazpacho cool, garnished with croutons. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Brunsli chocolate cookies

March 1, 2020

We went to a barbecue in the summer, and one of the other guests brought two plates of plain-looking vegan cookies that, once tasted, we all went wild for. It turned out that they were both Ottolenghi recipes that we could easily access ourselves, veganised with the use of powdered egg replacer. These Brunsli chocolate cookies, for example, appear in Ottolenghi's book Simple.

When I found the recipe I noticed that these chocolate cookies are not just vegan-friendly, they're also low-key gluten-free, made mostly of ground almonds and sugar. The original recipe calls for granulated sugar and icing sugar, but I used up some demerara sugar that had been in our pantry a while. I ground up my own almonds, and I think this led to me needing a bit more egg replacer to bind the dough than I would have if I'd bought almond meal.

Traditionally, I think these cookies are cut into star shapes, but I chose a variety of circle sizes. The little ones had a higher proportion of crunchy border, while the large ones had more room for the soft chewiness of a brownie. They were all a bit sandy-textured from the demerara sugar. Chinese 5-spice and orange zest are the secret ingredients, bringing complexity to the chocolate flavour without being individually detectable. I took some of the cookies over to a friend for her birthday, and she was just as taken with them as we were at that barbecue.

Brunsli chocolate cookies
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

270g ground almonds
250g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
40g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Orgran egg replacer mixed into 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, stir together the ground almonds and caster sugar. Sift over the icing sugar and cocoa powder, then stir in the orange zest, Chinese 5-spice and salt until well combined. Using an electric mixer, beat in the egg replacer and vanilla. You're aiming for a firm, slightly sticky dough that will just barely hold together; I added a bit of extra egg replacer to get there. Drop the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form a big flat ball of it, and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line two baking trays with paper.

Prepare a sparkling-clean bench or roll out some more baking paper. Unwrap the biscuit dough, drop it on your work surface, and roll it out to 1.5 cm thick. Use your choice of biscuit cutters to cut shapes from the dough and place them on the baking trays. Roll out the leftover over dough again to make more shapes. When all the dough is used up, you can sprinkle some extra sugar over the biscuits (I didn't bother).

Bake the biscuits for around 12 minutes, until their bottoms are crisp but their centres are still soft.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Brother Bon

February 26, 2020

Loving Hut Northcote has had a makeover, and now goes by Brother Bon. While the distinctive yellow signage has been replaced by a more relaxed teal, there's some continuity in the staff and the menu. I stopped in strategically for a workday lunch between city meetings and an afternoon back in my suburban office.

The all-vegan menu is thoroughly marked with information about what's free of garlic/onion, gluten, nuts, soy and chilli. The variety is overwhelming: there are dozens of dishes to choose from; some light and vege-filled, and others based on mock meat with a side of chips. There are traditional dishes from across Asia like dumplings, rice paper rolls, fried noodles and pho, as well as surprise combinations such as 'big mak' cheeseburger baos and a Southern fried chicken banh mi. These are interspersed with breakfast dishes, burgers and desserts. 

I was in the mood to start small, so I chose the crispy chicken bao ($15, pictured top) to eat on the spot. I took my time breaking apart the steamed bao and filling them with super-crispy, mayo-drizzled mock chicken and finely-shredded slaw; there was plenty of filling to go around. It was everything I was anticipating.

On my way out, I picked up a La Panella-style caramel slice ($5, pictured above) to enjoy at my desk for afternoon tea.

Now that we're all housebound, Brother Bon is offering takeaway and delivery services to a number of northside suburbs. The breakfasts will have to wait a long while, but we're excited to try more of their dinner menu later this week!

Brother Bon
377-379 High St, Northcote
9077 1335
menu page 1, page 2

Accessibility: The front door is very wide and slides, floors are flat and tables are moderately spaced. I ordered at the table and paid at a low-ish counter. We haven't visited the toilets, but I previously spotted a disability-labelled unisex toilet down a wide corridor at the back of the building.